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Devil’s Advocate: Divergent Thinking is Salvation

13 November 2019
Cognitive edge

Our people must be leaders and integrators who contribute to multi-disciplinary teams, enabling us to thrive in uncertainty, adapt to change and generate solutions.

Accelerated Warfare: Futures Statement for an Army in Motion

Devil’s Advocate: Divergent Thinking is Salvation

Both Army in Motion and Accelerated Warfare advocate for a strong people capability. The debate on how to achieve this focuses predominantly on how to train everyone better and the use of technologies such as human-machine teamingartificial intelligence, and big data. Such technological salvation may lead, if not already, to a dystopian cyberpunk future.

This blog suggests there may be a simpler, and less expensive, method to enhance people. To do this, the blog acts as a Devil’s Advocate by posing a thought experiment: what if land capability procurement and the thinking of people joining Army is unchanging? This experiment leverages a simplified version of the Army’s Operating System to infer land capability and people entering Army are constants. It then suggests Army’s training further narrows the thinking of people. This indicates Army must focus on the problem: what to train, its balance with education, and who needs it most rather than focusing on how to train better. To set the scene, it is useful to consider the Germany Army in 1940.

Militaries love to venerate the German military for its Manoeuvre Warfare and Mission Command. Although some of this is overly romanticised, one fact is worth noting: The German Army—particularly its main tank—was technologically inferior in armour and firepower compared to France or Britain. Yet, in 46 days, Germany conquered France. One contributing factor was the education and wargaming approaches of the German Army during the inter-war period. This approach emphasised education at all levels and unrestricted free-play wargaming to immerse officers in possible environments of, and approaches to, future war.[i] Of course, this example is not perfect. Germany lacked strategic nous.[ii] However it is insightful and demonstrates education may be more important than technology. This has relevance to Accelerated Warfare.

Army accepts a system-of-systems operating system [PDF].[iii] This system, conceptualised in Figure 1, recognises the integration of people, land, and training capabilities to generate enabled command and preparedness outcomes for strategic effects. Land and enabling capabilities are procured. People are recruited. As per The Ryan Review [PDF], the training system’s role is to enable people to conceptualise, employ, and adapt land capability to the changing environment.[iv] What if these capabilities were constants?

Conceptualised Army Operating System

Pretend equipment is static. Militaries get the equipment they started to procure up to ten years ago. This is reality and unlikely to change for a range of reasons. Real lead times limit short to medium term change potential. Therefore, equipment can be assumed as a ‘constant’, and does not fundamentally enhance the people capability any time soon. The obvious point: change recruiting.

However, people may also be ‘constant’. The Australian Army is a volunteer force, leading to a bold assumption: only people with a certain mind-set will want to join. To represent this, a bell curve of divergent and convergent thinking across society can be used (Figure 2). This implies volunteers come from a limited band within society who likely already align with the military’s broad way of thinking, suggesting a degree of convergent thinking. This means the ‘people input’ is ‘static’ and unlikely to change without significant societal shift. This leaves the training system as the remaining mechanism to generate Accelerated Warfare’s vision for people and, by extension, the rest of Army’s response.

Conceptualised distribution of divergent-convergent thinking in society

The key deduction from Accelerated Warfare is this: diversity in thinking provides better outcomes in competition, conflict, and war. If equipment and people are constants, the training system must create diversity. Many say it does. The Devil Advocate’s view is this: the training system further converges thinking. For this to exist, assume Army—taking that band of convergent volunteers—further narrows volunteer paradigms towards a mean, creating a bell curve of military thinking (Figure 3, Red Line. Although not quantified, it is worth considering the possible implications.

Conceptualised distribution of divergent-convergent thinking in military

The Ryan Review indicated professional military education was lacking.[v] Such education is important. It provides first principles knowledge that enables a military to adapt current equipment, processes, and tactical methods to changing environments and contexts.[vi]It allows a force to prepare for future war by ‘learning how to learn’. Scholars recognise education was a key contributing factor to United States success in the Second World War and its failures in Vietnam.[vii]Pre-war education contributed to failures in the Iraq War.[viii] In short, effective education across all military theory areas of study diversifies military thinking, challenges technological paradigms, and creates a stronger divergent mix in people..[ix] It ‘flattens’ the military thinking bell curve (Figure 3, Blue Line).

This blog questions whether how to train better is really the right problem. Instead, it proposes a new question: what to train, its balance with education, and who needs it most? To broaden our thinking, and thereby achieve Accelerated Warfare, we must focus on diverse education by leveraging electives in current institutions—such as the Australian Defence Force Academy and Australian Command and Staff College—and expanding education across the force to increase professional knowledge of military theory and history. Army could achieve this by partnering with local universities in major barracks locations to develop programs targeting junior officers—particularly captains. In addition to the education benefit, such an approach may grow Army’s ‘thinking network’ and increase community engagement.[x]

We must broaden the paradigms of the people we recruit. If we do not, we end up like the French of the Second World War: great equipment, better technology, focused training, limited mindset, and lost country.

[i] Williamson Murray, War, Strategy, and Military Effectiveness, Kobo eBook ed. (New York, New York, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 7.15; Matthew B. Caffrey Jr, On Wargaming: How Wargames have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future, ed. Robert C. Ayer, PDF ed., vol. 43, The Newport Papers (Newport, Rhode Island, USA: United States Naval War College, 2019). 46.

[ii] Caffrey also outlines how Hitler directed the German military to not undertake any strategic wargames on possible political and economic responses by other nations. ———, On Wargaming, 43: 46.

[iii] PDF page is 47, actual document page is 54.

[iv] Mick B. Ryan, The Ryan Review: A study of Army’s education, training and doctrine needs for the future  (Canberra, ACT, Australia: Department of Defence, 2016). 27-29.

[v] Ibid., 25.

[vi] For summary, see John O'Shaughnessy, Inquiry and Decision  (Ruskin House, London, England, UK: Alden Press, 1972). 62-69, 74-79, 130, 36; Paul Davidson Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, Sixth Printing - First ed. (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA: The Bobbs-Merrill Comapny, 1976). 26-42, 104-07; Ryan, The Ryan Review: 48-51, 71.

[vii] Murray, War, Strategy, and Military Effectiveness: 3.3-12; ———, "US Naval Strategy and Japan," in Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (Cambridge, England, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 10.39-40.

[viii] Joel D. Rayburn and Frank K. Sobchak, eds., The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Invasion, Insurgency, Civil War, 2 vols., vol. 1 (Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, USA: US Army War College Press, 2019), 247-50; ———, eds., The U.S. Army in the Iraq War: Surge and Withdrawl 2007-2011, 2 vols., vol. 2 (Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, USA: US Army War College Press, 2019), 640-41.

[ix] Murray, War, Strategy, and Military Effectiveness: I.3; ———, "US Naval Strategy and Japan," 10.39-40.

[x] This idea is credited to Dr Al Palazzo and extends an earlier blog by the author (no longer available online). See: Bosio, Nicholas J. "Want the Edge? More 'ME' in 'PME'." In Land Power Forum, edited by Directorate of Future Land Warfare. Canberra, ACT, Australia: Australian Army, 2015.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.