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In Buying Military Transformation, Peter Dombrowski and Eugene Gholz analyze the United States military's ongoing effort to capitalize on information technology. New ideas about military doctrine derived from comparisons to Internet Age business practices can be implemented only if the military buys technologically innovative weapons systems. Buying Military Transformation examines how political and military leaders work with the defense industry to develop the small ships, unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced communications equipment, and systems-of-systems integration that will enable the new military format.
Dombrowski and Gholz's analysis integrates the political relationship between the defense industry and Congress, the bureaucratic relationship between the firms and the military services, and the technical capabilities of different types of businesses. Many government officials and analysts believe that only entrepreneurial start-up firms or leaders in commercial information technology markets can produce the new, network-oriented military equipment. But Dombrowski and Gholz find that the existing defense industry will be best able to lead military-technology development, even for equipment modeled on the civilian Internet. The U.S. government is already spending billions of dollars each year on its "military transformation" program-money that could be easily misdirected and wasted if policymakers spend it on the wrong projects or work with the wrong firms.
In addition to this practical implication, Buying Military Transformation offers key lessons for the theory of "Revolutions in Military Affairs." A series of military analysts have argued that major social and economic changes, like the shift from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age, inherently force related changes in the military. Buying Military Transformation undermines this technologically determinist claim: commercial innovation does not directly determine military innovation; instead, political leadership and military organizations choose the trajectory of defense investment. Militaries should invest in new technology in response to strategic threats and military leaders' professional judgments about the equipment needed to improve military effectiveness. Commercial technological progress by itself does not generate an imperative for military transformation.
Clear, cogent, and engaging, Buying Military Transformation is essential reading for journalists, legislators, policymakers, and scholars.
Columbia University Press
— Lawrence D. Freedman
All right reserved.
"Military transformation" is now at the top of the American defense
policy agenda. In the 2000 election campaign, President Bush
promised a more humble foreign policy that would eschew humanitarian
operations, nation-building exercises, and other activities that
might distract the nation from America's main challenge: preparing
to defend against new threats and to exploit new opportunities in
the coming century. The president's stated goal was to revolutionize
the U.S.military by introducing Information Age computing and
telecommunications technologies to the "legacy force" that had
fought the Cold War with Industrial Age equipment. According to
transformation proponents, the information technology will vastly
increase American military effectiveness and efficiency. For the
first nine months of 2001, military transformation is exactly what
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld focused on.
With the September 11 attacks, priorities shifted to prosecuting a
war on terror and removing foreign regimes thought to provide safe
haven for terrorists or to harbor ambitions to produce weapons of
mass destruction. But even with the increased pace of operations,
the administration believes that military transformation-the process
of drawing information technology into the military sphere and
adapting the military's organization and culture to capitalize on
the new network technology-will make a vital contribution both to
the long-term security of the United States and to achieving the
near-term goal of winning the Global War on Terror.
On October 29, 2001, Secretary Rumsfeld created the Pentagon's
Office of Force Transformation. Establishing an office takes a good
deal of preparation, and this initiative had been in the works even
before September 11. Reporting directly to the secretary, the new
office became the coordinating point and the advocate for
transformation in the defense policy process. As the office noted in
the forward to its report, Elements of Defense Transformation:
"During those extraordinarily difficult days, it was easy to think
of the future of transformation in the Department as a narrow
consequence of 9/11. [But] it has become increasingly clear that
defense transformation is not simply a response to global terrorism.
While the events of September 11th triggered a 'system
perturbation' ... profound change was already occurring in that
system. Thus, the establishment of the Office of Force
Transformation signified not just a reaction to terrorism, but
rather Secretary Rumsfeld's overall commitment to the process of
transformation within the Department."
But transformation advocates quickly capitalized on the new salience
of national security threats to the public agenda: the ongoing
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan showcase transformational weapons
and highlight the benefits of the new style of operations that rely
The Office of Force Transformation set about creating official
definitions of military transformation, sponsoring experiments and
simulations to define the new military doctrine that would explain
to soldiers and seamen how to fight in a "network-centric"
environment, and interfacing with the acquisition process that was
developing and procuring the equipment for the military's future.
For example, they explained, "the concepts of NCW [Network-Centric
Warfare] and our steadily improving networkcentric capabilities are
transforming how we fight. Thus, NCW is at the very center of force
transformation." Each of the military services has adopted this
networkcentric vision as part of its service-specific transformation
planning, and the vision also permeates efforts to increase the
level of cooperation among the services.
The vital first step, then, is to improve military networking
technologies and to design weapons systems to take advantage of the
new capabilities. Over and over, military and civilian leaders have
stressed that transformation is more than a technological or
acquisition project; to date, the majority of the transformation
effort has sought to figure out how a networked force will fight in
the future. "The implementation of NCW is first of all about human
behavior as opposed to information technology. While 'network' is a
noun, 'to network' is a verb." But new behaviors will be possible
only if the network itself exists; network-centric warfare cannot
work without a network. The military must replace its legacy
equipment, in which each piece was designed to fight on its own or
with limited voice radio and data communications on the battlefield,
with new, network-centric technology.
In essence, [Network-Centric Warfare] translates information
advantage into combat power by effectively linking friendly forces
within the battlespace, providing a much improved shared awareness
of the situation, enabling more rapid and effective decision making
at all levels of military operations, and thereby allowing for
increased speed of execution. This "network" is underpinned by
information technology systems, but is exploited by the Soldiers,
Sailors, Airmen, and Marines that use the network and, at the same
time, are part of it.
The next logical question, then, is how best to acquire the
military's network equipment. Transformation advocates themselves
have argued that the military services would benefit from higher
rates of technological innovation and greater efficiency if they
reduce their reliance on traditional suppliers and switch to new,
network-oriented firms-perhaps even the very firms that drove the
transformation of the civilian economy. After all, the names of new
information-technology companies became household words during the
transition to the civilian Information Age. In the commercial world,
just-in-time logistics, lean manufacturing, flat organizations, and
a host of other developments enabled by the information revolution
have made retail giants like Wal-Mart the darlings of Wall Street.
At the same time traditional firms like Sears have struggled to
remake themselves, and Kmart went bankrupt. If Cisco Systems makes
vital networking equipment for Wal-Mart, perhaps Cisco can and
should make similar equipment for the military. Yet, even if
commercial equipment cannot be used directly in the military
context, it seems reasonable to replace the established defense
firms, which are skilled in developing and manufacturing
non-networked, traditional military equipment, with more dynamic,
information-technology specialists with new core competencies.
Visionaries of military transformation-people like retired Vice
Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, until recently the director of the Office
of Force Transformation-draw an explicit analogy between Wal-Mart's
success as a "category killer" company and their goals for the
future of American military power. A key part of the Wal-Mart story
is that computer networks link the scanners that replaced cash
registers to the firm's inventory management system: stores can be
resupplied faster and more accurately, reducing distribution costs
and speeding reaction to trends in consumer tastes. Perhaps the
combat performance of soldiers on the front lines could similarly be
improved if they were linked to depots and ammunition dumps.
Moreover, information technology has helped chains to adapt their
different stores to local tastes. The military might benefit from
similar decentralization to deal with tactical complexity.
Our book analyzes in detail the widespread claim that military
transformation requires a revolutionary approach to the defense
industrial base. In particular, we examine the quest for military
innovation and the conventional wisdom that firms outside the
established defense industry can provide the systems necessary for
twenty-first century combat. We develop and apply a new theory of
military innovation, building on insights from the literature on
business innovation and the political economy of the relationship
between the military and the defense industry. We conclude, contrary
to the expectations of transformation theorists, many military
officers, and most high-ranking officials within the Department of
Defense, that transformative weapons and supporting technologies
will come, with a few noteworthy exceptions, from the same firms
that have been supplying the nation's military needs since the end
of the Second World War.
This finding is important because military transformation presents a
tremendous challenge to military organizations and offers the
possibility of a dramatic increase in military power, vital to U.S.
national security. Given the hard work required to invent new
military concepts and to overcome institutional resistance to major
cultural change, it is fortunate that transformation advocates need
not attempt to transform business-government relations at the same
time they change the military itself. In short, if we are correct,
military transformation is more likely to succeed than it would be
if it were necessary to fight the political battles required to
dismantle the existing defense industrial base.
Of course, the policy debates about transformation continue. Some
missteps and mistakes are almost inevitable, and in fact they are
part of the transformation process itself. No one can know in
advance the exact trajectory of technological progress, and no one
can predict the best way to use new technologies until real troops
have an opportunity to experiment with them in the field. But
political and military leaders could certainly make the process much
more difficult and more expensive than it needs to be, especially by
neglecting analyses like the one presented in this book. Billions of
dollars of national security investment are at stake-more than $200
billion in the next decade, according to one estimate. Even if the
military were ultimately to succeed in exploiting information
technology developed and acquired from new suppliers, the extra
effort and political controversy would surely divert resources that
could be better spent and delay the transformation, needlessly
squandering opportunities to help the American military.
The world of information technology offers many options to the
military-many good ideas and perhaps even more bad ones. Congress
and the military services are already making hard choices regarding
the specific weapons systems and technologies that the United States
will buy, and the American taxpayers will not be willing to fund
every possible plan. In the spring of 2005, the U.S. Navy was forced
to scale back one of its most innovative shipbuilding programs, an
advanced destroyer known as the DD(X), in the face of expected
budgetary shortfalls. Finding the best industry partners to work on
transformation with America's military and political leadership is
vital to the success of transformation, which is itself a key part
of the U.S. national security strategy.
The national security policy debates about transformation reflect
underlying changes in the global economy-the shift from the
Industrial Age to the Information Age-and in the international
security environment. These debates need to be integrated with
political choices about America's strategies for dealing with the
world and about the role of defense in the economy at home. Our
research links U.S. strategic preferences, defense policies and
politics, and the technological innovations necessary to protect
America's national security in the coming decades.
Excerpted from BUYING MILITARY TRANSFORMATION
by Peter Dombrowski Eugene Gholz
Copyright © 2006 by Columbia University Press.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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