Archive for February, 2013


Clones can think creatively, you will find them immensely superior to droids
–Taun We, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Okay, we get it. We shouldn’t rely on “Death Star” weapon systems. They promise too much, come in over-budget, and come with all sorts of pesky design flaws.

But that doesn’t  mean we should rely too heavily on droids to carry out our foreign policy.  As our Empire has moved away from traditional fleet-on-fleet warfare, we’ve taken on more policing actions in the ungoverned ares of the Outer Rim, which require the use of droids to carry out our dirty work.  But our battle droids have yet to encounter a hardened, competent opponent.  Sure, they’re great for hunting Jawas, Ewoks and Gungans.  But what if they came up against a conventional, or “hybrid” force?

In one incident, an eight-year old child  flew an N-1 Starfighter into a Droid Control Ship, disabling the primary controls for an entire droid army.  Moreover, droids are increasingly reliant on the Electromagnetic Spectrum, making them susceptible to hacking and jamming.

Sure, we can produce autonomous, hunter-killer Vulture Droids…but would we really want to take a Neimoidian out of the loop?

Let’s face it, we need to invest in people, rather than technology.  We need well-trained, educated Clone Troops who can adapt to any situation.  We need to reverse a decade’s worth of growth acceleration and allow our Clones the opportunity for broadening assignments and leader development.

Unfortunately, hundreds of Imperial Senators have fallen under the control of a Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, who stands to personally profit from the construction of a Death Star.  And by spreading out contracts for the Death Star among his cohorts in the Techno Union, the Corporate Alliance, and the Intergalactic Banking Clan, components of the Death Star superlaser are built in seemingly pacifistic systems, such as Alderaan and Naboo.

If the Imperial Senate can’t kill this project, I’m afraid nothing will, with the possible exception of a proton torpedo fired down a conveniently-located exhaust port.

With this sort of Senatorial gridlock, it seems that Clone training, education, and leader development will be the first thing we sacrifice, should the Imperial budget be cut.  Already, Clone Pilots are unable to maintain currency in their LAAT/i Gunships.  Marksmanship training has been cut so significantly, I fear that our Stormtroopers–legendary for their “precise” marksmanship–won’t be able to hit the broad side of a barn.

So forget Battle Droids; invest in people.

Invest in our Clones.


Hoth Symposium Comes Home 2: Late Registration

Posted: February 19, 2013 by kdatherton in Uncategorized

Some late but worthy entrants in the Hoth symposium have arrived, and it’d be a shame to let them go unread. Enjoy, as final pairing, a defense of canon: the Empire did well given the circumstances of it’s birth, and despite protagonists surviving Hoth really was a major Rebel defeat.

Let’s Cut the Imperial Fleet Some Slack

It’s difficult to tell from the original three movies, but the Imperial Fleet is a very new organization. Their operational and strategic missteps make much more sense in this light. A galactic fleet cannot be built in a day. Although we see a Star Destroyer at the end Revenge of the Sith, a fleet is comprised of more than just ships. Doctrine, tradition, staff work, planning processes, and institutional experience are just as important as the ships themselves. Even though decades elapse between Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back, it was just not enough time for the Imperial Fleet to become an elite force.

The Battle of Hoth occurs twenty-two years after Palpatine seized power.The first expeditionary operation conducted by the US Navy after their formative battles during the American Revolution occurred between 1801-1805, twenty six years after its formation. Both of these conflicts were waged against non-state actors by very new nations. Although the First Barbary War was successful for the American Fleet(thanks to a few Marines) there was an embarrassing mistake. The USS Philadelphia was run aground and captured, along with its entire crew, without a fight. Additionally the expeditionary force had to depend on third party support from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Presuming that years in the Star Wars galaxy are identical to our own, the two young fleets had a similar amount of time to develop. The Imperial Fleet that we see in Empire, while presumably leavened with
clone-veterans from its formative battles, just did not have the know-how to conduct counterinsurgency on a galactic scale. The tactical and strategic situation that the fleet faced at Hoth was, to them, a new one.

The fact that Palpatine was even able to marshal the resources, clone army notwithstanding, to operate a galactic fleet in so little time is impressive. The US Navy is the most powerful navy in the world, but it has spent 238 years getting to that point. The US Department of Defense uses the acronym DOTMLPF- doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities- to evaluate new programs. All of these aspects of a military organization takes years to develop, even for just a single new unit. Palpatine had to create and validate all of these aspects of the Imperial Fleet from scratch, all while Vader was force-choking officers with years of experience. Additionally, Imperial policy excluded non-humans from service, so the Empire could only draw from humans to find the knowledge and skills necessary to man a fleet. The institutional incompetence and poor staff work evident in the botched attack on Hoth is evidence of his haste and Vader’s toxic leadership.

Brett Friedman is a Marine with delusions of grandeur, and one of the editors at Grand Blog Tarkin.

Missed Opportunity: Rieekan’s Failure at Hoth

The conventional wisdom regarding the Battle of Hoth is that it was a major Imperial victory, described in terms of the Rebels as the massively overmatched ragtag band scattering before the unstoppable Imperial juggernaut. The contrary wisdom of sci-fi strategists focuses both on the tactical blunders made by the Imperial force, and the strategic factors that influenced the decision-making of key leaders. Both narratives are wrong. The Rebel Alliance was anything but a ragged insurgent mob; they were a well-equipped and well-organized hybrid threat# at the time. The Battle of Hoth should have been a decisive victory for the Rebels, perhaps even as significant as the Battle of Yavin had been. The Imperial forces bungled what should have been a fairly simple HVT capture or kill mission, their staggering incompetence playing right to the Rebels’ strengths. However, the Alliance only managed to scrape by with a strategic draw due to their failure to take advantage of key opportunities during the battle to strike a massive blow to the Imperial fleet and the Empire’s key leadership. Hoth was also not a total tactical failure for the Empire; in fact they managed to pull off a partial victory, since Echo Base was indeed reduced to rubble, and the Rebels lost a large amount of materiel in the process of their hasty withdrawal under fire. The Imperial forces managed to salvage a partial success out of what by all rights should have been a crushing defeat, thanks to the even greater failures of their Rebel opponents, in particular the criminal negligence of General Rieekan.

The Rebel failure at the Battle of Hoth started long before the fighting began. Casually disregarding the key element of Echo Base’s defense and evacuation plans—the planetary energy shield—the Rebel force did not even make an attempt at denial or deception, not bothering to conceal or camouflage the shield’s power generators with so much as a camo net. This oversight enabled an Imperial probe droid to easily obtain photographic evidence of their presence, and later for the assault force to quickly identify and destroy the generator. General Rieekan compounded this error with poor or nonexistent reconnaissance planning. He did not clearly identify his priority information requirements (PIR), had no communications plan or contingency for missing personnel, no counter-recon plan, and relied far too heavily on unmanned sensors. Because of this, there were no additional resources committed in response to a report of a suspicious meteorite (that turned out to be a probe droid), Luke Skywalker was forced to investigate alone, and was then out of communication for hours before anyone even noticed he was missing. Once the probe droid was finally discovered, it was by an unmanned sensor and a SIGINT intercept of its transmission, the damage already done by the time the impromptu QRF—consisting of Han and Chewie—was able to locate and destroy it. Once the ground invasion started, the poor reconnaissance planning was even more apparent: with no screening force forward of the main trench line, the defenders did not see the AT-AT assault force until they were within visual and ground-shaking range. Of course, the lack of scout observation posts was irrelevant because the Rebels did not even attempt to employ indirect fires or obstacles to disrupt, turn, or block the attackers. Despite being able to see the enemy main body well beyond direct-fire range, the Rebels simply allowed it to literally walk directly into its main objective, nearly unopposed. The only token resistance offered was pitifully ineffective direct fire from medium crew-served infantry weapons, a stunningly poor choice against the entirely predictable circumstance of the enemy using armored vehicles. Lacking any depth whatsoever, once the single defensive line was easily overrun, the assault force had an uninhibited path to the power generators, enabling the destruction of the base. The attempt at close air support is almost too embarrassing to mention. Lacking effective armor-defeating weapons, the snowspeeders had improvise an attack solution on the spot using harpoons and tow cables. Even after all the other failures, this might have worked if not for the cartoonishly suicidal tactics of Rogue Squadron. Ignoring their near-infinite maneuverability advantage over the AT-ATs, they insisted on attacking directly through the walkers’ incredibly narrow frontal cone of fire instead of from the flanks or rear, resulting in multiple aircraft losses. This technique also placed the speeders directly in the line of friendly fire as well, though no blue-on-blue incidents resulting from poor airspace deconfliction are shown.

The responsibility for all these failures falls to General Rieekan, the Rebel commander at Echo Base. Blame cannot be placed on lack of resources; the Rebel Alliance was remarkably well-equipped for a non-state actor, with capital ships, heavy weapons, and advanced fighters at its disposal. General Rieekan managed to secure anti-access/area denial capabilities to defend Echo Base (the energy shield and ion cannon); effective anti-armor systems, artillery pieces, and engineering equipment should have been easy to obtain. Rieekan simply failed to conduct a proper mission analysis. The failure was also not of Rebel Alliance military culture writ large. Disruptive thinking, tactical innovation, and maximization of limited resources was practically institutionalized at the Battle of Yavin. The Battle of Hoth turned on a failure of basic defensive preparation. If General Rieekan had made even a token effort at engagement area development, the small Imperial ground assault force would have been easily defeated. This in turn would have enabled the Rebels to target and disable the blockading Star Destroyers (which Admiral Piett clumsily positioned within range) with the ion cannon, and then call for reinforcements to finish them off, or cover a more deliberate evacuation. Instead, General Rieekan’s negligent incompetence and failure to accurately assess the situation cost the Rebel Alliance an opportunity for a major victory at Hoth.

Mike Forbes is an army officer with an IPA focus and a MENA hobby. He can be found on twitter.

Hoth Symposium Comes Home

Posted: February 18, 2013 by kdatherton in Uncategorized

It’s been a really big week for the Battle of Hoth. First, Spencer Ackerman laid into the faults of all sides fighting the battle at Danger Room. Immediately, insurgents responded with guerrilla strikes on twitter. A combined arms effort from the Duck of Minerva, Lawyers Guns and Money, and Grand Blog Tarkin succeeded in breaching Wired’s security and launching six counterarguments. More posts appeared, notably at Duck of Minerva, with a list of 5 imperial strategic errors and Sith religious objectives. Finally, the debate has returned home to Blog Tarkin, where we present three more takes on the battle today, before a symposium conclusion tomorrow. Enjoy!


In 1940, French historian Marcel Bloch wrote a slim volume entitled Strange Defeat, on the incomprehensible defeat of the superior French Army at the hands of the Wehrmacht. 60 years later, Ernest May wrote the complementary version in Strange Victory, an account of the improbable German success in defeating France. Many have written on the utter failure of the Imperial Navy to successfully crush the Rebellion once and for all at the Battle of Hoth, but few have bothered to explore the rather unlikely escape the Rebels made from their icy fortress. “How did they not lose?” Contrary to Spencer Ackerman’s view, the Alliance was faced with dire options and chose mostly the best available.

Ackerman critiques the Alliance for keeping virtually all of their key military players in the same location at Echo Base, but ignores the value of face-to-face, instantaneous communication among Rebel leaders. Collaboration is key to any successful insurgency, and while distributed cells might have a better chance of survival, they still require a core group to perform key coordination and planning functions. This is most effectively provided through close, personal cooperation.

The relative inconspicuousness of the base also worked in its favor. Recall that Admiral Ozzel in fact dismissed the Hoth probe droid’s reports – “My lord, there are so many uncharted settlements. It could be smugglers; it could be pirates; it could be…” – only to be overruled by Vader himself, because “the Force tells [him] so.” An insurgency can plan for only so many contingencies, and presumably an extrasensory religious detection of their base was perhaps not in the scenarios constructed by the Alliance.

Ackerman also criticizes the decision to build only one base on the planet, but Hoth, of course, is inhospitable, and presumably has only a small area of habitable terrain. As the base is located at the end of a valley, without room for maneuver, a Maginot-type static defense makes the most sense, and the Rebels are not seeking to crush any attacker; merely to fight a delaying action. This, in fact, explains the choice of most of the defensive weaponry: the ion cannon can disable enemy ships and hopefully cause additional collisions; what artillery the Alliance can even afford is designed to slow an attacker and buy time to fully evacuate. Ackerman describes the planetary defense shield as one “that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.” It’s certainly better than no shield. The small, limited openings are for the benefit of the ion cannon shots, not the transports and escorts, and in the sense of preventing an immediate and total bombardment from the Imperial Fleet is most certainly a wise decision.

If the Rebels failed anywhere, it’s in not predicting the “unknown unknowns” – that Vader was more concerned with in-person victory than annihilation and that he would be able to sense a Rebel presence from parsecs away. Mitigating Force-based black swans might be a nice idea for the armchair analysts, but faced with the prospect of frightening devastation, the Alliance’s strategy of delay and withdraw was virtually their only option.

Graham W. Jenkins is a defense analyst on nuclear issues, scenario planning, and infrastructure protection. He tweets too much and blogs less.

The Battle of Hoth and Grand Strategy

The key to understanding the Battle of Hoth is not in tactical minutia on the icy surface of the planet, nor in confused imperial strategic objectives or even in the quixotic leadership of Lord Vader, but in grand strategy. As a self-contained polity facing no external foes and only a scattered and poorly armed insurgency, the greatest potential threat to the Empire’s two-man Sith regime would likely emerge from the ranks of the imperial military itself. It was not that the Galactic Empire could not have fielded a vast, overwhelmingly powerful and incomparably competent armada against the Rebellion, it was that Darth Sidious did not dare to do so.

What is most remarkable in the Star Wars-Clone Wars saga is not the size and might of the military forces of various belligerents (Separatist, Republican and Imperial) but their relative paucity and weakness for a galactic-scale political community. On Hoth we see underequipped Rebels numbering in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands facing off against an Empire fielding six At-Ats, a division or two of stormtroopers and a small flotilla of Star Destroyers. Compared to the forces on Hoth battling to decide the fate of the galaxy, the tiny European armies of the 18th century cabinet wars were akin to Genghis Khan’s horde. This is curious. Certainly a Galactic Empire composed of thousands of star systems that in a short span of years built two incredibly expensive Death Stars, could have alternatively fielded a fleet of fifty thousand Star Destroyers and a ten billion-clone army to crush the Rebellion. That they did not was a strategic choice by Emperor Palpatine.

The closest historical Earth analog to the Empire in Star Wars was the Roman Empire, which was utterly dominant in the West between the conquest of Gaul and the migrational invasions of the Goths in the 4th century AD. During this time, the greatest threat to peace wasn’t the Parthians or barbarians but mutiny by provincial legions and Praetorian coups, which removed and installed Caesars, often in blood. Only when the legions were stretched thin and kept busy defending the frontiers did the Empire and Emperors enjoy peace and security. By extravagantly building Death Stars, Darth Sidious kept his military forces small and on a tight budget and drained all the major systems of the credits needed to build their own military forces with which they might have mounted a challenge to the Sith regime.

The poor performance of the Empire on Hoth against the Rebellion was a strategic feature, not a bug.

Mark Safranski runs Zenpundit.

May the Tech Be With You

The Star Wars world is a bleak one. Aside from the standard strata of humans, the aristocrats like Leia to the paupers like Solo, there exists a more distinct separation. The Force-enabled and the not. Able to summon electricity from thin air, jump great heights, wield weapons of light, it is no surprise that the Empire is run by those able to use the Force. Or that the Rebel Alliance, filled with battle-hardened veterans who fought day in and day out, for days, months, years in some of the most challenging environments the universe has to offer, suddenly promote the Force-empowered Luke Skywalker despite his lack of combat experience.

In a world where a wave of a hand can change minds, it is hard to say technology matters. But as the Battle of Hoth demonstrates, it invariably does. That particular engagement was an exercise in terrible technology decision making. Tanks with weapons that don’t rotate, raised onto legs reminiscent of ostriches, and move with all the finesse of an overweight wampa. Laser blasts that detonate on impact without consistent grouping. A lack of even basic infrared overlays on a ice-covered planet. The Empire’s foot-soldiers, otherwise decent men pulled from their homes and families to wage war in forsaken lands, were abandoned to the tools provided by the lowest bidder. Minor modifications could have addressed a vulnerability to harpoons. Major platform changes could have wiped out the rebel force in minutes.

But in a world that bleak, what else can we expect?  A geriatric Force-abusing Emperor can hardly be expected to understand weapons systems or platforms for lowly foot soldiers. His primary advisor, however, a man/machine that relies on an advanced medical chestboard apparatus to stay alive, should have a deeper appreciation for the technology that enables him to continue breathing (albeit in a more belabored kind of way than one would want). Without getting too much into Darth Vader’s childhood trauma, suffice it to say, the man/machine took a young Obi Wan Kenobi’s advice to never give up the high ground too literally, in the form of two moon-like weapons of mass destruction. Vader’s Force-receptors blinded him to making quality technology choices, ultimately resulting in the loss of his mentor, son, men, and empire.

Shlok Vaidya is a New Orleans-based tech entrepreneurs with a counter-terrorism background.

Without an empire to do its bidding, the people have been forced to crowd fund their space defense
program with a Death Star Kickstarter and an X-Wing Squadron. The Empire was not available for
comment, but one of the men behind the X-Wing Kickstarter was—Simon Kwan of LGCL Design in


Guarding the X-Wing at Celebration IV, a Star Wars convention held in 2007

Grand Blog Tarkin: Why an X-Wing Squadron? Why not simply contribute to the Death Star Kickstarter?

Simon Kwan: Not to sound any alarm bells, but my partner Ed and I also both backed the Death Star for
a bit of a laugh. That said, we were really surprised that no one had launched an opposition campaign
against it. Light bulbs went off in our heads and we decided why not us?

GBT: What are you hoping to accomplish with this Kickstarter?

SK: I think it’s obvious that our hope is to rally a passionate Rebel Alliance to stand up to and
ultimately take down the intergalactic threat of a planet killing Death Star. No government should ever
have that kind of absolute power! Seriously though, mainly, we did it for a bit of fun and some de-stress
as we were deep into final preparations for our newly launched, non-joke Kickstarter campaign for the
SIMPLcase (please do check it out). We thought that just maybe some of the nice backers on our X-Wing
campaign might have a look at our profile bio and find our other project. We decided from the start
explicitly to NOT mention SIMPLcase on the X-Wing project, and to do our best to keep those separate.
X-Wing is our inner geek enjoying itself 🙂

GBT: What does Star Wars mean to you?

SK: I can’t speak for Ed (who’s also a big fan) but Star Wars has and always will have a
mystique and emotional meaning for me. Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw as a very young
immigrant American. As you can imagine, it made quite an impact! Like many people, Star Wars is the
definitive benchmark against which we have judged all other science fiction space fantasy. Despite its
age, it retains a charm and a brilliance that no modern space adventure can match. Star Wars is a bit
of nostalgia for me, as I imagine it is for many others… taking us back to the joys of being a kid and
believing in the Force 🙂

GBT: What is the tactical advantage of an X-Wing Squadron in terms of planetary defense?

SK: A small squadron of fighters is far more agile and adaptable against any various threats.
As we know, the Empires of the world don’t view a small fighter with a single pilot to be much of a
threat… that is, until one such fighter rams a proton torpedo up their exhaust port. From a strategic
perspective, give me a motley crew of passionate Rebel pilots and a squadron of fighters over a
destroyer or lumbering space station of death any day!

GBT: How do you respond to doubts from who knocks your ability to handle
basic galactic currency conversion and thereby planetary defense?

SK: Darrell Etherington is an ally. He simply misunderstood a point that I suppose we should
have made clear, which is that the 13 million galactic credits is just for the hiring of the smuggler,
Wookie co-pilot, and ship. There’s no way you could build a YT-1300 for that little cash. We’ve been in
touch w/ Darrell, and it’s all good now 🙂

GBT: As a user who utilizes Kickstarter for professional pursuits, do you think joke posts and
projects such as the Death Star and the X-Wing squadron devalue the site as a whole?

SK: Not at all. I think allowing the occasional joke shows a sense of humor and a Human side
to Kickstarter that really reminds us all not to take it all too seriously. The Kickstarter guys aren’t some
cynical capitalists or over-funded silicone valley tech startup. They’re a couple of guys who made a way
for their friends to finance gigs. From there, it’s exploded into something greater and game changing.
That said, let’s not forget that Kickstarter’s biggest category by way of total funding is Games. Games: as
in to play and have fun with. Those who are super critical about Kickstarter view it only through the lens
of capitalism and I think that’s a huge mistake. I hope Kickstarter never loses its humanity.

GBT: Why simply iPhone compatible? Are we to assume that iOS is the preferred system of the
rebel alliance?

SK: We make no such claim! We both just happen to own iPhones and as such, would love to
have our devices be able to talk to the X-Wing’s systems. That said, I suppose the more logical OS choice
for the Rebel Alliance might be `Droid 😉

GBT: I noticed that no Gungans will be working on the project. Is this due to a specific dislike for
Jar Jar Binks and his kind, or does it refer to a general annoyance with the prequel trilogy as a whole?

SK: Yes


This interview was conducted by Grand Blog Tarkin’s field reporter Amanda Wallace. Her portfolio can be found here, and she tweets.

Ares, Athena, and Crypto

Posted: February 12, 2013 by bafriedman in Uncategorized



Late in the book Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, through Enoch Root, presents a version of the ancient Greek god and goddess Ares and Athena to represent aspects of war. He spends thousands of words setting the stage for Root’s explanation so I’m not even going to bother trying to summarize the plot so far. In a jail cell in Manila, Root explains that Athena is the goddess of war, technology, and cunning, or cleverness, while Ares is the god of war, master of Fear and Terror, but usually incompetent (he is, after all, defeated by mortals in various stories). He presents Athena as the dispassionate, clever, scientific aspect of war and Ares as war’s passion, anger, and hatred. He further illustrates this point by noting that Athena was the patron of Odysseus who gained victory through his mind, implying that Ares is a better match with Achilles who achieves victory through blind rage and brute force.


Root’s Athena/Ares construct instantly calls to mind Clausewitz’ trinity. Clausewitz described war as a “paradoxical trinity” composed of “primordial violence, hatred, and enmity… the play of chance and probability… and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” Ares clearly embodies primordial violence, hatred, and enmity while Athena embodies partly the play of chance and probability- which a cool head is more able to assess- and partly rationality.


Root’s bipolar constructs more closely matches the attrition warfare versus maneuver warfare construct of MCDP-1 Warfighting, largely constructed from the teachings of John Boyd. Ares and Achilles are far more concerned with destruction of their enemies face to face while Athena and Odysseus would rather outsmart them.


During the conversation, Root illustrates his concepts with some examples. Obviously, Athens valued Athena, and thus cleverness, intelligence, and science, while Sparta took the opposite tack. History bears this out: although Athens lost the Peloponnesian War, they were far more apt to integrate new ideas like proto-guerilla warfare using light troops like peltasts and archers than were the Spartans. The Spartans, who favored face to face hoplite battle, were only able to adapt to changes in warfare by outsourcing to Persia to gain naval power. Root also places the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in Ares’ camp and the Allies in Athena’s. This example is less apt. While the baser instincts may have led those two combatants to atrocities, they each harnessed technology as much as they could. The Germans developed ballistic missiles and jets while the Japanese began the war with better naval gunnery equipment and tactics than the Allies. Still, strategic missteps like Hitler’s misguided invasion of Russia and Japanese overreach from the very beginning of the war may mean that Ares was guiding the rudder far more than Athena.


Also, German and Japanese history since WWII marked by commercial and industrial success driven in part by innovation and cleverness. So too in the arts. The Japanese have invented manga and anime. In the clash of World War II, did Athena excise Ares from their cultures? Can he be excised? Volumes have been written about the feelings of pacifism present in both countries and their investment in military capability is certainly less that than other, similarly advanced nations. What about the US? Our history certainly shows the influence  of both Ares and Athena. Sherman’s southern campaign is just one example. Designed by Grant, certainly shows the cleverness of Odysseus as well as the brutality of Ares. Maybe the answer is balance between the god and the goddess. Utilizing both, maybe through Clausewitz’s subordination to policy and thus rationality, may be the key. Ares’ anger can be a powerful weapon if harnessed by Athena’s wisdom.

There’s no real conclusion to this screed besides the fact that Neal Stephenson, in a book about cryptoanalysts, hackers, and one very well-written and badass Marine named Bobby Shaftoe, hit on some of the same points as academic strategic theorists. War is not solely guided by intellect and science, but neither is it purely the realm of hate and discontent. The cryptological prowess of the Allies and the resulting intelligence was certainly a boon for the Allies but it took men and women like Bobby Shaftoe to bring the Axis powers to their knees.


Meanwhile, at AKO headquarters…

Utopian science fiction has long featured highly sophisticated central computer, functioning as the ship’s central nervous system.  But the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica takes a much different approach.  In the pilot episode, we learn that Cylons have infiltrated the Colonial Defense Mainframe, allowing the Cylons to disable nearly the entire Colonial fleet in a devastating cyber-attack.  This, in turn, paves the way for the destruction of the Twelve Colonies.

Yet the series’ titular ship, the aging Battlestar Galactica, was unaffected; Galactica’s obsolete analog computer was an asset when fighting the Cylons, as it was was impervious to Cylon hacking.

As the US Army extricates itself from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its combat training centers have focused on a type of war–one which challenges many of the command and control systems we’ve become accustomed to in the last 10 years.  Multiple US Army Brigade Combat Teams have confirmed that we are over-reliant on digital communications systems–we simply do not know how to operate without them.

An Army which preaches “empowering subordinates” and “mission command” should take note.

Galactica CIC

Kara Thrace can track a battle with analog products. Could you?  From Episode 1.10, “The Hand of God”.

A modern BCT’s complete paralysis in the fact of a downed Outlook Express server is distressing for two reasons.

First, we’ve taken digital communications for granted.  Unfortunately, we can’t always count on the robust communications our forces in Afghanistan enjoy today.  We’ve had ten years to build hardened buildings, lay fiber-optic cable, and truck tons of equipment into even the most remote combat outposts.  In future conflicts, an Army Brigade Combat Team may be communicating while “on the move”, or may jump into a hostile country, with little more equipment than the radios on their backs.

Forget PowerPoint slides and CPOF (Command Post of the Future)…it’s back to paper maps and radios.

The difficulties will only multiply at the joint-force level.  If an Army Brigade is communicating through analog means, but the Air Force is communicating digitally, can we honestly say that we are a digital army?

Add to this the fact that our enemies know how reliant we are on computers, and are actively seeking to attack our computer systems, and our satellites.  In fact, our own Opposing Force (OPFOR) units are already wreaking havoc on Army brigades, the best of which are forced to plot the battlefield with acetate and markers.

Digital communications don’t necessarily make us better communicators.  Since the advent of the optical telegraph, commanders have used information technology to micromanage troops in the field.  Every advance in information technology has generated an exponential growth in the amount of information we’re able to disseminate and produce.  When organizations are unable to prioritize information, it has a deleterious effect.

This has become most evident in the case of small-unit leadership within the US Army.  After-Action reviews are finding that junior leaders are so inundated with minutiae during mission briefings that they cannot identify several critical pieces of information–most notably, their commander’s intent, and the mission statements of organizations two levels up (see page 6).  More simply put, junior leaders:

  • Do not know how they fit into the big picture
  • Do not understand what their commander’s priorities are
  • Do not know what to do if an unexpected situation arises

Interestingly, unit After-Action Reviews have indicated that units which produce a clear, concise, “mission order” are generally more successful than those who post dozens of detailed, often inane, “fragmentary orders” to their Sharepoint sites.  Just because we have the ability to disseminate a 100-slide briefing doesn’t mean we should.  In the 21st century, just as always, what we’re saying matters much more than the medium we say it with.

Much like the crew of the Galactica, we’re going to have to learn to communicate more effectively.  That’s going to mean terrain models and equipment mock-ups.  And, of course, we’ll need to communicate with simple, clear, effective language.

My Starbuck alter-ego, Lt. Kara Thrace, will demonstrate the aforementioned clear, effective language.