March 1, 2006  

Transformation bashing

As part of the media fuss over the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), critics of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have taken the opportunity to once again snipe at the concept of transformation, as Tom Donnelly did in his January editorial [“QDR’s crucial question”].

The criticisms tend to fall into two categories. The first says that transformation has been undone or derailed by events in Iraq. Critics contend that Rumsfeld’s efforts to reduce the size of the armed forces while simultaneously improving their combat punch have been abandoned because of the need to sustain stability operations in Iraq.

That is simply not true. Combat operations clearly have accelerated the pace of transformation across the department. Operation Iraqi Freedom showed clearly that relatively small U.S. ground forces, using procedures and systems that were either not routine or not ready during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, could trounce a dictator’s army and the irregulars who traveled to Iraq to fight side-by-side with it. That devastating combination of limited numbers of ground forces, working closely with air units, was transformation.

Rumsfeld’s insight was that a transformation already had taken place within the U.S. military, and that, as a result, U.S. and coalition forces could roll into Iraq and attain their military objectives so quickly that forces loyal to Saddam Hussein could offer no effective defense. The problems encountered since Operation Iraqi Freedom are real enough, but their existence should not obscure the achievement of U.S. and coalition forces in defeating Hussein’s army in April 2003. Those problems are a reflection of the compelling need for a continual transformation of the U.S. military. Simply dominating the battlefield is not sufficient to secure victory in the 21st century.

The second category of criticisms complains that transformation has focused too heavily on technology and not enough on other factors. In AFJ, Donnelly charged that “the project of ‘transformation’ was misshapen from the beginning by focusing on technology and capabilities — it has been an entirely self-referential process — and is wheezing to a halt.” That isn’t true either. If one takes the time to focus on the significant changes undertaken in the last five years, the majority of these are institutional, process-related or cultural — the very essence of what transformation should be about.

For example, the Secretary’s Office of Force Transformation has just unveiled an example of a new match of concept and technology — the revolutionary Stiletto, a composite-hull, high-speed craft developed in partnership with the Special Operations Command (SOCom). This unusual ship is not a product of the “usual” acquisition process, and it was not built by the Navy’s “usual” shipbuilding industrial base. If SOCom relied on the usual acquisition process using the usual industrial base, SOCom still would be waiting for what most likely would be just an improved version of existing small-ship designs. The importance of Stiletto is not that it meets the needs of SOCom but that it was conceived and built through a process that was very different from the one usually employed. Stiletto is proof that there is an alternative to the existing acquisition process.

Stiletto is not a unique case. It is soon to be joined by Sheriff, a standard Army Stryker equipped with a unique suite of capabilities adaptable to both peacekeeping and combat in an urban setting. Sheriff has demonstrated that Defense Department industry teams can respond quickly to the urgent needs of American combat forces, and that new and different approaches to acquisition are feasible. It’s this new approach to doing things — this unique pairing of technology with creative concepts on how to use it — that distinguishes Stiletto and Sheriff from other “emergency” acquisitions.

Unfortunately, the whole idea is attacked by commentators who assume that transformation is a gimmick, or irrelevant because of what’s happening in Iraq, or “misshapen” because of a fixation on technology. But these criticisms are incorrect and unfair. The readers of AFJ deserve to know the full story of transformation, not Mr. Donnelly’s myopic distillation.

Tom Hone

Assistant Director for Risk Management, Office of Force Transformation