All posts by Rich Ganske

Air Power: A Personal Theory of Power

This is a post in the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint BridgeCIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

There is insight in exploring the unique advantages of each domain. And the speed, reach, height, ubiquity, agility, and concentration advantages of air power allow us to focus on how best it can be used.[1] This essay will contrast the usage of air warfare via annihilation and attrition to highlight a third way, paralysis. One of the principal advantages of air power is its ability to create the temporal effect of paralysis. While it is not wholly unique from other forms of power in this capacity, it is better at it than most due to the combination of its unique advantages. Admittedly, this is a narrow look at paralysis via air power, but one that demands a point of departure from previous conceptualizations of its factors and uses.

Defining Air Power

The definition of air power has eluded strategists since man first tasted flight. The most important aspect of defining is that we must avoid conflation with niche capabilities, missions, or even processes that are related to its practice. “To be adequate,” as Colin Gray suggests, “a characterization or definition of air power must accommodate, end to end, the total process that produces a stream of combat and combat support aircraft.”[2] My definition of air power is the act of achieving strategic effect via the air.[3] Air power contributes to compounded strategic effect via annihilation, attrition, and paralysis.

Categorization and Explanation

Hans Delbrück, in History of the Art of War, describes two Clausewitzian strategies of warfare. The first is focused upon the annihilation of one’s adversary. The second, exhaustion, is more circumspect in its limited aims. Both are clearly subordinate to the idea that “war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means.”[4] Delbrück extended these into Niederwerfungsstrategie (the strategy of annihilation) and Ermattungsstrategie (the strategy of exhaustion, attrition). The former’s sole aim is the decisive battle, where the latter is understood to have more than one concern, which is a spectrum between both battle and maneuver with the aim of exhausting the adversary. Delbrück’s History suggests that neither annihilation nor exhaustion are inferior to one another, and that attrition is not the mere avoidance of battle. But he was emphatic that these strategies were subordinate and subject to the Clausewitzian general theory.[5]

Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport, 1948. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

While Clausewitz was, of course, focused on the land domain, air power has proven useful in both annihilation and attrition. The Desert Storm “Highways of Death” provides a useful example of the application of air power towards annihilation. And the best example of air power’s application of attrition is one where it denied exhaustion: the Berlin airlift, with over 277,000 flights in a period of 15 months lifted 2.3 million total tons of supplies. In either case, was the application of air power uniquely responsible for strategic effect? No. In both cases — and in most every case — other forms of power aided the outcome via force, or the threat of force. But outside the Delbrückian dichotomy, there is a third way for to create strategic effect — paralysis.

…the lasting effect of paralysis, like shock, is fleeting. A permanent state of paralysis is an unsustainable (and unacceptable) political objective…

The strength of air power in the combination of speed, reach, height, ubiquity, agility, and concentration also enables a fleeting form of influence in paralysis. This strategic categorization is analogous to the tactical categorization of firepower, maneuver, and shock. Where at the strategic level firepower is exhaustive and maneuver is destructive, shock seeks temporal paralysis. Paralysis is the aim to disrupt, disable, and degrade an adversary’s physical, mental, and ultimately moral capacities. The aim of such a strategy is never an end in itself; it merely seeks to minimize destruction without precluding such action.[6] Thus, the lasting effect of paralysis, like shock, is fleeting. A permanent state of paralysis is an unsustainable (and unacceptable) political objective, and its diminishing strategic effect is reinforced by empirical examination of history. This straightforward admission occurs naturally because adversaries are not inanimate objects subject to one fell swoop, but adaptive duelists constantly seeking advantage against one another.[7]

Theorists of Paralysis: John R. Boyd (L) & John A. Warden (R) (via POGO.com & Wikimedia Commons) Boyd’s theories of paralysis were more descriptive, vice Warden’s theories of paralysis are more generally associated with a more prescriptive form. Both theorized that paralysis had more enduring effect than outlined in this work.

 

Whether air power is seeking to influence non-cooperative centers of gravity via an overwhelming tempo and variety of action,[8] or complicate the adversary’s “connectedness” by seeking a degree of isolation between its leadership, organic essentials, infrastructure, population, and fielded forces,[9] paralysis has always lacked in attaining or achieving control.[10] However, this does not preclude strategies of temporal paralysis as essential precursor to, or pivot between, the strategies of annihilation or attrition where control can ultimately be achieved. In this manner, paralysis has shown some cumulative merit in exacerbating the cognitive problem posed to an adversary because it attacks their ability to understand the character of the threat they face.[11]

Paralysis and the Laplacian Fallacy in Real War

Information and knowledge are imperfect and outcomes are not predictable. This thought contrasts Pierre Simon de Laplace, who by extension of Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy suggested that the motion of heavenly bodies were mechanistic and determined completely by physical law. If you knew where one object was, you also knew where it was going in a predictable manner. Such Laplacian science cannot be effectively extended to war, as war cannot be mechanistically engineered.[12] The Clausewitzian axiom of general friction, that which “makes the apparently easy so difficult,” cannot be wished away by mechanistic approaches to war.[13]

The proper approach in seeking paralysis acknowledges the sub-optimal character of complexity, where simplicity is favored over ideals of greater effectiveness. Through this approach, one refuses the lure of the silver bullet or the bolt from the blue, but exchanges these for a more humble magnification of the adversary’s friction via mismatch, deception, disruption, and overload. The proper foundation of temporal paralysis is built upon the proposition that “actions taken to drive up the adversary’s friction are as vital to success as those taken to minimize your own.”[14]

The temporal advantage of paralysis is subjective to context and tied to chance, but not withstanding these practical limits, it is still extremely useful for transitioning to a complementary strategy of either annihilation or attrition, or both in parallel. This is why air forces have become accustomed to being the major — although not the sole — military force in garnering the strategic initiative in campaigns (or Phase II operations in doctrinal parlance of the American way of battle). Whether the outcome of that phasing construct is to compel de-escalation via the threat or use of additional joint force, or transition to the assertion of a degree of control via other forces as described above, it is still a priceless strategic advantage to have control of the air. Without a degree of control of the air, as a necessary but solely insufficient condition, escalation dominance is stunted and the final strategic outcome placed at risk.[15]

The ultimate consideration for deciding upon a strategy of paralysis via air power is whether or not it is prudently feasible for use. In at least two situations, it is not.

Anticipation of Paralysis

Centres of Gravity from “Nothing New Under the Sun Tzu: Timeless Principles of the Operational Art of War” by CDR Jacques P. Olivier from Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 2013, p. 57.

 

The ultimate consideration for deciding upon a strategy of paralysis via air power is whether or not it is prudently feasible for use. In at least two situations, it is not. In those contexts where center of gravity analysis is counterproductive or made counterproductive and when your war aims are mismatched against an adversary seeking an unlimited aim.

The former becomes problematic when the concept of the center of gravity becomes as Antullio Echevarria suggests, “an article of faith.” This is further exacerbated when disagreement occurs on the basis of epistemic rationality, which is logic founded on faith, typically from doctrinaire point of view. Finally, these problems are further compounded when a truly mechanistic approach is taken in center of gravity analysis that is tantamount to a “center of critical capability” analysis.[16]

The latter is problematic for paralysis on an empirical basis. Paralysis has typically performed poorly in protracted, internecine, and civil wars. One needs look no further than the recent counterinsurgencies to grip the truth of this. In these examples of war the “centers of conflict themselves tend to remain highly dispersed and deceptively diffused,” according to Echevarria, where under “such conditions, time often benefits the less technologically sophisticated adversary.”[17] As discussed above, such forms of war tend to obscure the true character of the threat sufficiently to mitigate the effectiveness of paralysis.[18]

Conclusion

While there are few truly unique aspects of domain-specific forms of power, each form has advantages that make it exceptional from others. For air power, that is speed, reach, height, ubiquity, agility, and concentration, which combine to provide it exceptional flexibility and versatility. While air power has demonstrably contributed to strategic effect via the strategies of annihilation and attrition, it has also done so via temporal paralysis. However, this transitory strategy is not conferred unlimited agency. Rather, temporal paralysis via air power is always subject to context and must never be applied mechanistically. It should be prudently avoided in cases where the adversary seeks unlimited aims. Finally, temporal paralysis is not inferior to its kindred strategies of war, annihilation and attrition.


[1] Colin S Gray, Airpower for Strategic Effect (Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Air University Press, Air Force Research Institute, 2012), 280, 281, accessed September 19, 2013.

[2] Colin S. Gray, Explorations in Strategy (Westport, Conn.; London: Praeger, 1998), 63.

[3] According to Colin Gray in The Strategy Bridge, “Strategic effect refers to the consequences of behavior upon an enemy. The effect can be material, psychological, or both.”

[4] Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 69.

[5] Gordon Alexander Craig, “Delbrück: The Military Historian,” in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), 341–342; Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 87, 594, 607–608, 610.

[6] David S. Fadok, “John Boyd and John Warden: Airpower’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis,” in The Paths Of Heaven: The Evolution Of Airpower Theory, ed. Phillip S. Meilinger (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1997), 359, accessed February 6, 2014.

[7] Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 75, 77, 79.

[8] Fadok, “Airpower’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis,” 363–370; Frans PB Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd (Routledge, 2006). Fadok, “Airpower’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis,” 363–370; Osinga, Science, Strategy and War.

[9] Fadok, “Airpower’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis,” 370–379.

[10] Antulio J. Echevarria, “Fusing Airpower and Land Power in the Twenty-First Century: Insights from the Army after Next,” Airpower Journal (Fall 1999): 69. Ibid.; J. C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (New Brunswick, N.J.,: Rutgers University Press, 1967), 23–29, 42–48, 71; Gray, Airpower for Strategic Effect, 74.

[11] Lukas Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy: The Effects of Sequential and Cumulative Patterns of Operations,” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 2 (January 18, 2012): 236.

[12] Barry D. Watts, The Foundations of U.S. Air Doctrine: The Problem of Friction in War (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University, December 1984), 106–107, 109, 110, accessed September 1, 2013.

[13] Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 119–121.

[14] Osinga, Science, Strategy and War, 166–172; Watts, The Foundations of US Air Doctrine, 119–121.

[15] Gray, Airpower for Strategic Effect, 284–285.

[16] Antulio J. Echevarria, “Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity Legacy,” Infinity Journal, Clausewitz & Contemporary Conflict (February 2012): 5–7.

[17] Echevarria, “Fusing Airpower and Land Power in the Twenty-First Century,” 69.

[18] Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy,” 236, 240.

Joint Action: A Personal Theory

This essay is part of the Personal Theories of Power series here at CIMSEC and The Bridge, which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

Despite the historical success of joint action, many professional warriors and strategists continually debate which military function is most decisive in the termination of war. Even today, some question whether it is indeed worth the effort to work through the complications of combining competing strategies into effective joint action. My personal theory of joint action proposes an artful blend of both sequential and cumulative strategies to conduct unified operations that most effectively achieve our national objectives. Strategic effect is reduced when either cumulative or sequential strategies are parochially subordinated to the other, since there is no single, decisive function, service, or role in war.

Landing Craft Utility 1633, departs the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) with vehicles assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) after a stern gate marriage. Ashland is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and is conducting joint force amphibious operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Raymond D. Diaz)

 

The Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 drastically changed how the US military operates. Most importantly, it required the military services to interact jointly by force of law. This legal requirement for joint operations is necessary; but is by itself insufficient to build a compelling basis for joint collaboration, integration, and interdependence. While there has been much ink spilt over the normative force of Goldwater-Nichols, few have explored the theoretical basis for joint interdependence since Sir Julian Corbett.[1] This essay attempts to expand Corbett’s theoretical foundation that gives the law its conceptual footing.

What is Jointness?

Joint action, or jointness, is the creation of complementary strategic effect across all domains towards a shared political objective. Achieving a degree of physical or psychological control over an adversary creates strategic effect and requires an appreciation for the unique specializations and inherent difficulties of each domain-focused force. This appreciation acknowledges that institutional professionalism is hardly omnicompetent or transitory between varied forms of military power.[2]

Categorization of Joint Action

Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie, U.S. Navy (Retired) (Photo Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute)

 

In Military Strategy, J.C. Wylie[3] postulated that the “common factor” to all power struggles “is the concept of control, some form or degree or extent of control exercised by one social entity over another.”[4] Wylie’s work offers a novel lens for viewing fighting, the solitary means of war.[5] This combat-centric view turns our attention to questioning the best strategy for combat operations.

Often, the territorial imperative quickly comes to the forefront. If land matters most, as some have correctly suggested,[6] then our discussion of the best strategy comes to an abrupt conclusion if we assume that land is all that matters. If only land matters, then achieving the desired effect via the continental theory of war promulgated by some strategists answers our question. As Corbett suggested:

Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided—except in the rarest cases—either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life, or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.[7]

Is this settled theory or should we concern ourselves with the nagging implications of Corbett’s fear of the possible? How should we properly understand the latter part of Corbett’s statement regarding the former’s pious and possibly sole finality? Wylie offers us insight when he suggests, “there are actually two very different categories of strategies that may be used in war.”[8] He categorized these strategies as sequential and cumulative:

Normally we consider a war as a series of discrete steps or action, with each one of this series of actions growing naturally out of, and dependent on, the one that preceded it. The total pattern of all the discrete or separate actions makes up, serially, the entire sequence of the war. If at any stage of the war one of these actions had happened differently, then the remainder of the sequence would have had a different pattern. The sequence would have been interrupted and altered. But there is another way to prosecute a war…. The other is cumulative, the less perceptible minute accumulation of little items piling on top of the other until at some unknown point the mass of accumulated actions may be large enough to be critical. They are not incompatible strategies, they are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite. In practice they are usually interdependent in their strategic result.[9]

“[A] sequential strategy would utilize the ability of force to take and protect,” Lukas Milevski suggests, “whereas a cumulative strategy would utilize the innate capacity of force to inflict damage.”[10] Sequential strategies strive for finality in achieving strategic effect, while cumulative strategies effectively deny such finality.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division descend to the ground after jumping out of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft over drop zone Sicily during Joint Operations Access Exercise at Ft. Bragg, N.C. (Photo by A1c James Richardson, USAF)

 

Both strategies are best understood as complementary sides of the same coin, rather than inherently hierarchical or opposing inferior viewpoints. Sequential strategy promotes inherently offensive assertions of control, while cumulative strategy is an inherently defensive aspect of control that saps the strength of an adversary’s assertions for control.[11] These categorizations are not exhaustive, but they are useful in explaining how merging sequential and cumulative strategies jointly enhance strategic effect.

So, what aspects of joint action are typical of sequential and cumulative strategies? Conventional land power is a sequential strategy because of its unique ability to control political territory. Only conventional land power can assert control by seizing political territory, and only conventional land power can achieve control by protecting that valued territory. Alternatively, forms of power promoting cumulative strategies are sea power, air power, space power, and cyber power. Guerrilla warfare is also a cumulative strategy. All cumulative strategies, however, lack direct control upon the territorial imperative.[12]

Explanation of Joint Action via Sequential and Cumulative Strategies

A U.S. soldier shares grapes with Afghan boys in the southern province of Kandahar. (Photo by Tony Karumba)

 

It would seem inherent in Wylie’s suggestion that the “ultimate determinant” of control “in war is the man on the scene with a gun.”[13] However valid this point might be, as suggested above with the coin analogy, it illuminates only one part of the whole. War is a “duel on a larger scale” between opponents with varied capabilities and strategies at their disposal. There is room on both sides for misconceptions about the nature of the aforementioned coin.

Zealots will always promise “decisive” war termination via either type of strategy, omitting the obligatory importance of jointness. Slogans such as “Victory through air power,”[14] and “[land power] when specific outcomes matter,”[15] illustrate two such examples. Sometimes these are suggested as result of unwitting reductionism, but can also be the polemic tools of ideology or cynical competition for resources. The greatest barrier to joint action is parochial thinking that does not fully appreciate other strategic viewpoints, more precisely, a blend of sequential and cumulative strategies.

Relationship of Jointness to the Interaction of Sequential and Cumulative Strategies

While finality is possible with sequential strategies, hostility is always at play. War rarely allows for a single decisive blow, nor is the ultimate outcome of a war usually to be regarded as final. Additionally, lest we commit ourselves wholly to the lure of “decisive” strategies, one can never overlook the political constraints dictated by context in asserting control.[16] Clearly, there is more to consider than a simplified perspective of “decisiveness.”

Milevski illuminates the interplay between cumulative and sequential strategies further:

Cumulative strategy is underappreciated, in part because it cannot be ‘of itself reliably decisive’…. Its effect is limited and only works over time, anathema to those strategists whose aim is short, decisive wars. Cumulative strategy can on its own only achieve a denial of control the result of which is to obscure the choices that really are available and the consequences they may have…. Bereft of the ability to take, it cannot force a conclusion upon [an adversary] unwilling to accept it, as may be ultimately possible with sequential strategy…. To those not trained to think in terms of control, denial of control as an operational method seems inexplicable as it does not fall into more popular categories of operations such as direct and indirect or attritional or maneuver. Bereft of an intellectual framework, however implicit, practitioners facing a cumulative strategy have no way of understanding the character of the threat they face. This lack of comprehension affects not only the strategy chosen to counter it, but also practitioners’ grasp of who is more strongly affecting whom.[17]

The interaction of cumulative and sequential strategies is complex. As a result, it is useful to consider this interaction during the ongoing debate over war termination, counterinsurgency operations, and even resourcing of our future military capabilities. In each of these areas, success will be secured by balanced use of cumulative and sequential strategies in a joint and thoughtful manner.

Anticipation within a Positive View of Joint Action

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn on March 19, 2011. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Wylie’s theory of control viewed through the dichotomy of sequential and cumulative strategies is not meant to be prescriptive nor mathematical. After all, the interplay between friendly and adversarial combinations must be tested in real war.[18] Actual context requires the subjective blend of these strategies into unified action. By understanding the core of control as having two equally important strategies, sequential and cumulative, one grasps the fundamental basis of jointness as a principle in achieving a desired strategic effect.

“One can sense a very real possibility that this concept of sequential and cumulative strategies operating in coordination,” Wylie suggests, “may help us form more valid judgments of the interrelationship between ground and air, ground and sea, and sea and air forces.” Since he wrote these words, technology has irrevocably changed the modes of warfare making this interrelationship more complicated. Nevertheless, Wylie grasped the most important element of the debate when he suggested that control was best achieved via an interoperable application of both cumulative and sequential strategies.[19] It is for this reason that strategists should willfully acknowledge and be driven by a holistic understanding of the necessity for jointness, rather than by force of law. My personal theory suggests that this approach to joint action will increase success in translating tactical action into strategic effects that promote our national interests.


[1] This essay is greatly indebted to the works of Clausewitz, Corbett, Colin Gray, Lukas Milevski, and especially J.C. Wylie as the means for developing a basis of joint action. The latter’s work in Military Strategy is especially useful in parsing out how cumulative and sequential strategies drive how we think about war. Also, the author would like to thank Jeremy Renken, Scott Shipman, and Nick Prime for exchanges that further illuminated Wylie’s theory of control to me.

[2] Colin S Gray, Modern Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 209–211.

[3] If Sir Julian Corbett is the first joint theorist, then J.C. Wylie’s insistence upon integrated sequential and cumulative strategies as a prerequisite for political advantage within a military context demands that he be held as a close second.

[4] J. C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (New Brunswick, N.J.,: Rutgers University Press, 1967), 110.

[5] Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 95, 97.

[6] Gray, Modern Strategy, 212–216; Wylie, Military Strategy, 85; Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 377; Lukas Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy: The Effects of Sequential and Cumulative Patterns of Operations,” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 2 (January 18, 2012): 234.

[7] Julian Stafford Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 16.

[8] Wylie, Military Strategy, 26.

[9] Ibid., 23–24, 26.

[10] Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy,” 229.

[11] Ibid., 234, 235.

[12] Ibid., 232–234.

[13] Wylie, Military Strategy, 85.

[14] H.C. Potter et al., Victory Through Air Power (Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Pictures, 1943), accessed May 23, 2014.

[15] Huba Wass De Czege, The Hard Truth about “Easy Fighting” Theories: The Army Is Needed Most When Specific Outcomes Matter, Essay, The Landpower Essay Series (Association of the United States Army, April 2013), accessed January 14, 2014.

[16] Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 75–89, 577, 593–594.

[17] Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy,” 235–236.

[18] Wylie, Military Strategy, 29.

[19] Ibid., 27–29, 33–35.

Theory Properly Constructed

This essay is the start to the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint BridgeCIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

When professionals hear the word theory, their eyes tend to glaze over. Most believe theory is purely academic. While understandable, this is only one view of theory. For those of us that will be sharing our personal theories of military power, theory frames our worldview. It changes how we approach problems. Theory shapes how we project power. Over the next couple of days, this will become blatantly apparent as you read how a broad range of national security professionals share their personal theories here on The Bridge. We are presenting our personal theories as a starting point for a wider and deeper national security and strategy discussion.

Theory is crucial to what we do, but it must be consciously acknowledged and tested. In his book The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polanyi suggests “we can know more than we can tell.” This is a useful description of our theoretical beliefs as knowledge; where knowledge, in what is irrevocably lost through unrefined English, is best understood via differentiation in the German tongue as Wissen and Können.[i]

The former, Wissen, is knowledge of awareness; here our particular gestalt is the sum of our biases and blind spots. The latter, Können, is knowledge of discernment; here we typically tend to make order of things within our perception and sub-conscious. These coupled concepts build a bridge between the creative powers of the mind and a value judgment for ordering of the operations of perception. For both these reasons, there is value in the expression of our personal theories. They expose buried subceptions, but are also practical extensions in reproductive and productive reasoning.[ii] Bringing these to the fore is the purpose of The Bridge’s efforts to gather the personal theories that follow this article: for narrow self-reflection, for wider public consideration, for discussion, for questioning, for debate, for recursion, and ultimately for improved practical application. So as a prompt for our writers and readers alike, it is useful to consider the proper construction of theory at the outset of this endeavor.

The Five Functions of Theory and their Impact on Practice

“Strategy and strategies, theory and practice, must be seen as one,” the eminent strategist and theorist Colin Gray suggests, and “[theory] should be able to help educate the realm of practice by assisting people to think strategically.”[iii] There is a unifying nature of theory, in that it informs and educates professionals towards making sense of their circumstances. Towards that end, the archetypical theory has five functions: it defines, categorizes, explains, connects, and ideally, anticipates.[iv]

Theory should provide users a description of what is being done and illuminate the purpose of what is being done.

First, theory defines the field of study. In a sense, it provides via classification a clean break with what its users are considering and what they are not. Inherent in this classification are two additional considerations: definitions ideally should provide users a description of what is being done and illuminate the purpose of what is being done. [v]

Blind Monks Examining an Elephant by Itcho Hanabusa (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Second, theory must categorize its field of study into constituent parts, thus providing some form of typology, for example, differentiating between strategy and tactics, or limited and total war. Ideally, perhaps even scientifically, this typology requires the theorist to establish criteria of exhaustiveness and mutual exclusiveness. This is logical, even purely logical, if impossible. The curb of practicality must provide limits of such logic to the user of theory in favor of pragmatic reasoning. This pragmatic reasoning is what provides grammar to a particular theory. Thus, hopefully familiar to the reader: theory’s logic is not its own—so as to provide consistency with its purpose—but its grammar in what it does is its own. This nature drives theory towards a healthy respect for empiricism rather than just glib idealism. This also means the categorization of a theory is likely never final; it will remain eternally relevant for contemplation because of either new explanations or new grouping, or some combination of both.[vi]

“Explanation is the soul of theory.”

The Alchemist by Pietro Longhi (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Third, theory provides an explanation of occurrences, and this is theory’s most important function. Harold Winton goes so far as to suggest, “explanation is the soul of theory.” Here within theory is the convergence of both deductive and inductive examination of an object of study. Where the former is focused upon a theory’s empirical testability, the latter is more intuitive and requires creativity to recognize a paradigm shift. While this is the most important aspect of theory, it is also the most transitory. This distinction from the transitory property of categorization results from a recursive flow of analysis and synthesis via observation, hypothesis, and testing.[vii]

Carl von Clausewitz

Fourth, theory relates and connects together concepts. This part of theory progresses the conception of an object from an existential basis (inherent in the previous functions) to a form of relational construct. Without such a progression towards the latter, theory suffers from a pensiveness that precludes practical application. This relational aspect of theory applies order to things and, in other cases, also describes correlation, or even causation, and it can even be a probabilistic supposition. A familiar example of the relational concept in theory is the elegant Clausewitzian connection between violence and politics.[viii]

Hand with Reflecting Sphere by M.C. Escher (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Finally, theory anticipates the future. Theory is more than naïve empiricism, which if followed would suggest that our practical application would only be the sum of our accumulated observations. Karl Popper disputes the idea of this aggregation of observations by reminding us that, “[we] do not ‘have’ an observation, but we ‘make’ an observation.” Observation, then, is always preceded by something more theoretical that presupposes expectations for an object under consideration. Thus convinced that empiricism alone is insufficient, to what extent or limit would the prudent theorists extend their judgment from propositions, hypotheses, principles or axioms, to even laws? The complexity of this issue is discussed elsewhere, but it is sufficient to say a theorist must not abandon empiricism either. For, if they do, it is rather axiomatic that theorists will find their theories are merely visions, which I.B. Holley describes as “ideas not systematically prepared for authentication,” or illusions as “ideas that could not survive systematic preparation for authentication,” or at worst as myths where “ideas… exempt themselves from any systematic authentication.” Here it might be forgivable, falling short of being useful theorists to at least being compelling visionaries, but only the most maligned and rare theorist is caught in illusion- or myth-building.[ix]

“Questions are our best friends for the invention and refinement of strong useful theory, and they are the lethal enemies of poor theory.”

Conclusion

Now that we’ve properly wrestled with the Wissen and Können aspects of theory construction, it’s now time to set it out for review and challenge. “Questions are our best friends for the invention and refinement of strong useful theory, and they are the lethal enemies of poor theory,” Colin Gray reminds us. Now its time to put that idea to the test, ever mindful of the Master’s aim for theory:

The primary purpose of any theory is to clarify concepts and ideas that have become, as it were, confused and entangled. Not until terms and concepts have been defined can one hope to make any progress in examining the question clearly and simply and expect the reader to share one’s views.[x]

We hope you enjoy the next few days as our authors explain, likely through their own intellectual struggles, their personal and particular theories, and we challenge you to respond with your questions, counter assertions, and your own personal theories.


[i] Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, Reissue edition. (Chicago ; London: University Of Chicago Press, 2009), 4–8.

[ii] Ibid., 6–8.

[iii] Colin S. Gray, The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice (Oxford ; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011), 15.

[iv] Harold R. Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” in Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays (National Defense University Press, 2011), 20–21, accessed April 26, 2014; Harold R. Winton, “A Black Hole in the Wild Blue Yonder: The Need for a Comprehensive Theory of Airpower,” Air Power History (Winter 1992): 3.

[v] Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 20–21; Winton, “A Black Hole in the Wild Blue Yonder: The Need for a Comprehensive Theory of Airpower,” 3; Antulio Joseph Echevarria, Clausewitz and Contemporary War (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 38–40.

[vi] Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 20; Echevarria, Clausewitz and Contemporary War, 38; Paul Davidson Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction (New York; London: Allyn and Bacon, 1971), 4–5; W. Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, Reprint edition. (New York; London: Free Press, 2011), 2, 21.

[vii] Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 20–21; Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, 21–23, 26, 42–43; Frans PB Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd (Routledge, 2006), 57–64; “The Conceptual Spiral”, August 1992, 22–24, 31, 37–38, accessed May 7, 2014.

[viii] Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, 67–75, 81–82; Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 87, 605–610; Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 21.

[ix] Karl R. Popper, “The Bucket and Searchlight: Two Theories of Knowledge,” in Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, Revised edition. (Oxford Eng. : New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1972), 341–342, 344; Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, 76–81; I.B. Holley, Jr., “Reflections on the Search for Airpower Theory,” in The Paths Of Heaven: The Evolution Of Airpower Theory, ed. Phillip S. Meilinger (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1997), 580, accessed February 6, 2014.

[x] Gray, The Strategy Bridge, 17; Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 132.

Need a New Idea? Try An Old One: Revisiting PAC-10 in the Air-Sea Battle Concept

One does not need to look to far into the history of maritime operations to discern a pattern of importance: you are always attempting to locate and fix your adversary in order to destroy them, while simultaneously, your adversary is attempting the same. The sea provides a certain ubiquity that cannot be reduced in any aim of contestation by the other domains or more directly via control. Yet, when one considers the problems of a domain, there is interplay of practical constraints, which are: tactics, technology, organization, and doctrine. Here, I would briefly like to focus the reader’s attention on the latter item—doctrine—although there will be references to the other aspects throughout. Specifically, I would like to highlight the importance of the 1943 Pacific Fleet Tactical Orders and Doctrine, also known as PAC-10, and its possible relevance to the Air -Sea Battle Concept (ASBC).

The proper usage of naval aviation, and especially its carriers, has been debated since the days of Eugene Ely’s first flights launching and recovering on rudimentary aircraft carriers in 1910-11. During the interwar years between the World Wars there was vast variance in doctrine recursively revised as result of technological improvements, experimentation, and exercises. Doctrinal development and revision did not stop there, even as World War II unfolded in the Pacific, but in 1943, PAC-10 provided both timely clarity and flexibility to commanders in that theater.

Vice Admiral Richard “Terrible” Turner (Wikimedia Commons)
Vice Admiral Richard “Terrible” Turner (Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to World War II, specifically in 1937, U.S. Navy Captain Richard K. Turner presented a lecture at the Naval War College titled “The Strategic Employment of the Fleet,” and produced an associated pamphlet entitled “The Employment of Aviation in Naval Warfare.” While his lecture maintained a decisively Mahanian tenor, Turner’s pamphlet stated that “nothing behind the enemy front is entirely secure from observation and attack,” which provides rhyme to today’s “attack in-depth” in the ASBC.

According to Thomas Hone, before and during 1942, aircraft carrier doctrine focused upon three things: raids, ambushes, and covering invasion forces. Where raids attempted to fix Japanese forces in particular areas, ambushes would seek to attrit Japanese ability to control the seas, and invasion forces sought to add cumulative strategic effect by maneuvering amphibious forces to occupy specific islands for follow-on usage against Japan by joint forces.

A Japanese “Val” Dive-Bomber is shot down over the USS Enterprise on October 26, 1942 during the Battle of Santa Cruz (Wikimedia Commons)
A Japanese “Val” Dive-Bomber is shot down over the USS Enterprise on October 26, 1942 during the Battle of Santa Cruz (Wikimedia Commons)

The major shortfall of the doctrinal precursors to PAC-10 was that, while useful for thinking (and spurring debate) about the control of the maritime domain and maximizing the contest of the air and land domains, they fell short of effectively suggesting to commanders how to best employ aircraft and carriers operationally in task forces. This shortfall came into clear focus during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Enter the innovation of PAC-10.

In his Naval College Review article entitled, “Replacing Battleships with Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific in World War II,” Thomas Hone described PAC-10 as the following:

PAC-10 was a dramatic innovation. It combined existing tactical publications, tactical bulletins, task force instructions, and battle organization doctrine into one doctrinal publication that applied to the whole fleet. Its goal was to make it “possible for forces composed of diverse types, and indoctrinated under different task force commanders, to join at sea on short notice for concerted action against the enemy without interchanging a mass of special instructions.” PAC-10’s instructions covered one-carrier and multicarrier task forces, and escort- or light-carrier support operations of amphibious assaults. It established the basic framework for the four-carrier task forces—with two Essex-class ships and two of the Independence class—that would form the primary mobile striking arm of the Pacific Fleet. However, it did this within the structure of a combined naval force, a force composed of surface ships— including battleships and carriers….

 PAC-10 solved two problems. First, “the creation of a single, common doctrine allowed ships to be interchanged between task groups.” Second, “shifting the development of small-unit tactical doctrine to the fleet level and out of the hands of individual commanders increased the effectiveness of all units, particularly the fast-moving carrier task forces.”

PAC-10 was truly a watershed moment in operationally considering complement of sea and air capabilities en masse for strategic effect. It moved beyond the oversimplified “duty carrier” (self defense combat air patrol and/or antisubmarine warfare) and “strike carrier” (maritime strike and/or support to land forces ashore) concepts. “Whether a task force containing two or more carriers should separate into distinct groups . . . or remain tactically concentrated . . . may be largely dependent on circumstances peculiar to the immediate situation,” the doctrine stated, where “[no] single rule can be formulated to fit all contingencies.” Unsurprisingly, context was key in the application of PAC-10. Ultimately, PAC-10 focused commanders upon unified effort by maximizing strike, whether that is raids, ambushes, or amphibious attack, while also mitigating the risk of destruction via advanced detection.

Account of the valiant engagements off of Sumar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. (Wikimedia Commons)
Account of the valiant engagements off of Sumar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are several similarities and differences that need to be drawn from PAC-10 to now for consideration with the ASBC. First, and most importantly, the doctrinal concept did not and could not divine strategic victory. It was neither easy to accomplish, nor did it ignore the necessary requirement for termination to be chosen by the adversary, and furthermore, many heroically died in its use. However, and this is a fundamental truth that cynical detractors of the ASBC chose to ignore, many more would have died had PAC-10 not been developed. Rather, and it was apparent to them at the time, PAC-10 provided commanders an improved tool for use towards strategic effect. So say we all with concern to the ASBC.

U.S. Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Launch (SMDC Photo)
U.S. Army Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) Launch (SMDC Photo)

Second, and almost as important as the first comparison, PAC-10 was a doctrinal concept that entailed warfare. And although there were no further constraints against escalation in World War II, PAC-10 provided considerable potential for strategic effect. How such an improved tool is used is a matter of decision in either the march towards war or during warfare to be made by policy makers via strategic negotiation, careful signaling, and demonstration. One mustn’t deny the value of PAC-10, or the doctrinal aspects of the ASBC, simply because of an over-wrought conflation of a tool with its purpose.

Tactical proficiency and operational effectiveness, are best measured in peacetime from the potential ideal, with the acknowledgment that fog and friction will chew away at that ideal in exercise and practice; whereas, strategic effect is best measured relative to a status quo and desire for continued advantage. The ASBC is focused clearly upon the former, and will only contribute limited strategic effect towards the latter. Clear-eyed strategists must admit that limited effect may be sufficient, but then again it may not as determined by context. However, neither is cause for rejection of an operational concept like the ASBC as a useful tool.

U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Force (Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Force (Wikimedia Commons)

Third, the tactical combination of air and sea forces in PAC-10 combined with amphibious land attack, contributed to numerous successes in the Pacific. Similarly, a balanced ASBC, that includes a naval economy of force (relative to World War II), along with concomitant of air and land component forces, will create a complicated problem for mounting a successful defense at any one place; just like the PAC-10 doctrine similarly achieved at the Marcus, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands and elsewhere in World War II. In recent, yet more modern times, fleet defense may have been sufficient with only carrier-based aircraft. But at present, both the smaller number of available carriers, an inability to replenish weaponry while underway in the current submarine and destroyer forces, not to mention the basic prudence of joint capability, means that combined arms by way of only one service is no longer a prerogative that the United States can afford to ignore. Similar to the PAC-10 doctrine of yore, the modern ASBC doctrine of the near-future must be able to more effectively balance all joint forces. Needless to say, even if service prerogative still dominates, using carrier aviation alone will diminish strike potential in fleet defense. Dissimilar to the PAC-10 doctrine of yore, the modern ASBC doctrine of the near future must effectively raise its doctrine above that of the fleet and into the joint realm. This means finding effective ways to use Air Force assets and Army assets in roles of fleet defense and sea control just like disparate forces from various carriers in PAC-10 effectively formed a coherent and formidable task force.

Learning Large LessonsAs a guide for the ASBC, the interoperability between air forces (of all types) and land forces (of both traditional and amphibious focus) have benefited from the development of joint doctrine from the combined capabilities and tactics of the Air Land Battle Concept (ALBC). Despite some cynical “easy war” views of ASBC, the ALBC provides a useful scorecard for joint action. The latter has proven unquestionably effective in both mission success and preserving lives in battle from Operation DESERT STORM to the current fight in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM; but its equal in terms of joint combined effect does not yet exist to the same fidelity in the maritime and littoral environments. Our ability to project power, achieve strategic effect by joint combined arms, and experiment with doctrine costs relatively little compared to operational failure. Instead of playing politics — actual joint thinking costs nothing. After all, history and pragmatic thinking proves the obvious, you can’t finish without access.

Need a new idea? Try an old one. Take a look at Pacific Fleet Tactical Orders and Doctrine (PAC-10), and you might see the future of a balanced Air Sea Battle Concept doctrine.

Major Rich Ganske is a U.S. Air Force officer, B-2 pilot, and weapons officer.  He is currently assigned to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Officers Course at Fort Leavenworth.  These comments do not reflect the views of the U.S. Air Force or the Department of Defense.  You can follow him on Twitter at @richganske and he blogs via Medium at The Bridge and Whispers to a Wall.  Tip of the hat to “Sugar” for the reference to an old idea (or book).