Leadership: June 9, 2004

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While most people are concentrating on what American troops are doing in combat, there is also a wide-ranging series of reforms going on inside the Department of Defense. Wartime reforms are not unusual. The American military was a far different organization at the end of World War II in 1945, than it was in 1941. And every war since then has left the American military quite different after the war ended. But the current series of reforms is notable not only for its ambition, but for the number of things being attempted that have resisted reform for decades. 

The most ambitious reform effort is to increase the use of joint (all services) training, doctrine and procurement. This effort recognizes the fact that in wartime, the army, navy, air force and marines work closely together. But in peacetime, they go back to doing their own thing and pretty much ignoring the other services. The attitude that allows this bad habit to persist comes from the fact that each service, in peacetime, has its own budget and wants to look out for its own interests. That, plus the fact that, when there is a war, everyone quickly learns how to operate together and things sort of work out. Well, they dont work out for the troops who are killed or wounded because of all that hit-or-miss on-the-job learning. 

The reform plan being pursued is to first get the services to train with each other in peacetime. Thats going to be very difficult, and will have to wait for peace to break out before its known if the new training guidelines will work. Then theres the orders for the services to work out procedures and tactics, for joint operations, ahead of time. Thats being done now because theres a war on. It remains to be seen if such habits will survive years of peace. But the one effort that might make it all work is the ongoing project to create a battlefield Internet that links all the services, all the tanks, warplanes and warships, into one Department of Defense supported electronic network. This would allow army troops to instantly share information (voice, pictures, other data) with navy bombers overhead, or with aircraft carriers offshore, or on the other side of the planet. This network is coming together, bit by bit, because in combat, this sort of thing is very useful. It is thought that, in peacetime, this network would make it easier, and cheaper, for troops from the different services to train together. That is because new training software allows tank crews, pilots and ship crews to switch their equipment into "simulation mode" and train no matter where they are actually located. 

So the ultimate impact of the war on terror could be something as simple, and very useful, of getting all the services to talk to each other. And work together when there isnt a war on.

 


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