November 1, 2012  

In this issue

Dissent is always difficult, yet history is rife with examples of people who spoke out against consensus and saved the day. In a military context, dissent is especially tricky. Good commanders value those who can resist groupthink long enough to levy thoughtful criticism of a policy or plan, but not at the cost of good order, discipline or too much precious time.

That’s where red teams come in. These independent groups work under a commander to cast a fresh eye on everything a unit or organization does, providing — at least in theory — an antidote to groupthink, unexamined assumptions and rote. The idea is powerful enough that joint doctrine writers are looking at incorporating the idea.

Lt. Col. Brendan Mulvaney, who runs the red team for the Marine Corps commandant, applauds the move, but he also warns of a danger. Some see teams like his as a way to understand their operating environments, especially the people — allies and adversaries alike. Mulvaney argues that a red team’s highest and best use comes when its spotlight is directed at one’s own side.

AFJ, of course, works to facilitate a similarly orderly clash of ideas. This month’s cover article challenges Air Force leaders on the subject of unmanned aerial vehicles. Lt. Col. Lawrence Spinetta and Missy Cummings see disaster, or at least a long-term slide into irrelevance, in recent decisions that appear to undervalue UAVs in comparison with manned fighters and bombers. Another piece, by contributing editor Peter W. Singer, aims a dart at the ballooning fears that somewhere, a terrorist is going to hit the Return key and unleash physical mass destruction — say, by opening a dam’s floodgates. In his own article, Col. John Mauk says we may be worrying too much about China’s rising economic and military might and not enough about internal difficulties that may foment instability in the country, the region and even the world.

And just to show that we’re not always about conflict, we offer Lt. Col. John Johnson’s primer on what uniformed leaders should know about a national-security partner with whom the military is working ever more closely: the CIA.

Bradley Peniston