Author Topic: It is time to expunge the word synchronise from our military vocabulary  (Read 2280 times)

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Offline Dimsum

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Those of the green (or other) persuasion, discuss. 

I just thought it was interesting comparing SOF/AF v. Army with Gridiron (American Football) v. Aussie Rules Footy.

Quote
Simplicity is a principle of war. The ongoing pursuit of ‘synchronised effects’ is causing staffs, staff processes and staff systems to grow ever more complicated contrary to the simplicity principle. The resulting demand on commanders and principal staff officers is overwhelming and operations tempo is notably sluggish.

The common observation that staffs do not ‘integrate effects’ well is a symptom of this problem; but it is a symptom of the pursuit of the wrong idea rather than staff inadequacy. The mental model for synchronising effects is inconsistent with warfare’s nature. By definition it is exact, precise, mechanical. Synchronicity demands precise timing and precise action. So it encourages a reactive and methodical approach to warfare akin to France’s disastrous ‘methodical battle’ doctrine of the 1930s - a watch-and-wait attitude that is easily undermined by a bold and aggressive enemy.

The targeting and strike methodologies for special forces and air forces are therefore the exception not the rule in warfare. They play out in a mechanical and staccato rhythm rather than the fluid, uncertain and continuous flow that is warfare in general. Special forces and air forces tend to intervene at moments rather than interact with the enemy and environment continuously like general-purpose ground forces. Their operations are resource and information-intensive. Consequently, their characteristics suit a methodical approach like the set plays in a game of gridiron.

Whereas gridiron is a suitable metaphor for the mechanical and precise methods of special forces and air forces, Australian Rules football is a suitable metaphor for the function of general-purpose ground forces. Rather than the prepared and mechanical precision of the gridiron play, which has a defined start, defined end, and a regular opportunity for respite in-between, Australian Rules football has no real ‘reset’ opportunity. The players are constantly in action to some degree and have greater room for manoeuvre and scope to make their own judgements to position themselves in accordance with their intuitive assessments of a myriad of fluid factors that can change at every moment unlike gridiron players.

The fall of the ball is unpredictable. Depending on how it falls, a player may pick it up and run. Another may bump an opposition player out of the way in support. Another shepherds. Another runs to position to receive the ball. Another is caught out of position and can offer no meaningful contribution at all. None of these mutually supporting actions could usefully be planned or ‘synchronised’ in advance because a slight deviation in the fall of the ball would alter the dynamics markedly, such is the nature of complex systems and such is the nature of warfare. The relationship between forces in battle such as armour, infantry, artillery, engineers, electronic attack plays out the same in battle.

The responses of the players in Australian Rules football are necessarily fluid and infinite in their possibilities. Yet as long as the players have a rough idea of where to be and how their teammates will respond in a given moment, and a rough idea about the nature of the game and its tendencies, they can cooperate. The ‘rough idea’ derives from simple rules that enable infinitely complex yet appropriate responses. Anything other than simple rules and the team grinds down in the rigidity of the players’ methods and the need for too much information when speed is so critical. Their cooperation is therefore always imperfect; but it does not matter because speed of response is critical, opportunities to stop, think and reset are rare, and near enough is good enough just as in war.

It is folly therefore for general-purpose ground forces (artillery and aviation included) to emulate the targeting and strike methods of special and air forces. The Australian Army may benefit from abandoning the pursuit of ‘synchronisation’ and accept, explicitly, a way of warfare that is unrefined, imperfect, simple, cooperative, quick and intuitive. The dynamic and less mechanical and less structured concepts of cooperation and coordination ought to become the new hallmarks of the Australian Army’s way of warfare in lieu of synchronisation because forces need only be employed or positioned roughly and imperfectly to allow for greatest cooperation and the best chance to seize an unanticipated opportunity.

Under this alternate paradigm, control measures and coordinating instructions are still very important, but in a different way. They facilitate cooperation and prevent avoidable friction rather than rigidly synchronising everyone’s actions and the effect of those actions.

Making cooperation the hallmark of the Army’s way of warfare (vice synchronisation) might include breaking down the arbitrary wall between ‘manoeuvre’ planning and so-called ‘joint fires and effects’ planning. Accepting the obvious fact that manoeuvre forces also cause effects, the manoeuvre/effect bifurcation is unnecessary, adding to friction and complexity. The different paradigms for each and the different planning methodologies create an unnecessary seam in the function of staffs manifest in the separation of ‘effects working groups’ and operations planning general. Staffs ought to deal with them together.

The gridiron-like ‘synchronised effects’ model, which may well be suited to the staccato and mechanical targeting operations of special forces and air forces, is unsuited for warfare generally. It is time for general-purpose ground forces to abandon the failed pursuit of effects synchronisation and replace it with the idea of Australian rules-like cooperation, which also happens to be another principle of war. The reduction in self-induced friction is likely to be profound, like breathing a mass sigh of relief.

Colonel Chris Smith is the Director General Strategic Plans - Army

http://www.army.gov.au/Our-future/Blog/Articles/2016/08/It-is-time-to-expunge-the-word-synchronise-from-our-military-vocabulary
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Offline Infanteer

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This is not the first thing I've seen from Col Smith - he's a very astute observer.

I agree with his assertion - I've seen countless hours wasted on "synch matrices" only to have them rendered obsolete upon crossing the line of departure.

Eliminating (or reducing) synchronization also means reducing our use of phasing in planning and executing operations.  We are taught that it is natural to put phasing into our concepts of operations, with some leaders even proclaiming that "you MUST have three phases!"  Phases put arbitrary restrictions on subordinates, and should only be applied if necessary.  I can forsee operations with no phasing at all, just a simple concept of operations and scheme of manoeuvre delineating broad avenues and objectives.
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr

Offline Blackadder1916

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"It is time to expunge the word synchronise from our military vocabulary"

If that happened, what would you do with your watches at the end of an O Grp?
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Offline Haggis

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"It is time to expunge the word synchronise from our military vocabulary"

If that happened, what would you do with your watches at the end of an O Grp?

Everyone uses GPS time or their smartphones today.  I was forced to retire my sundial years ago.
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Offline cavalryman

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If that happened, what would you do with your watches at the end of an O Grp?

Considering we use smartphones as watches, I'd say we capture stray Pokemon lurking in the CP tent.  Can't have any of that virtual vermin contaminating the purity of the operational planning process  ;D

Offline SupersonicMax

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This is not the first thing I've seen from Col Smith - he's a very astute observer.

I agree with his assertion - I've seen countless hours wasted on "synch matrices" only to have them rendered obsolete upon crossing the line of departure.

Eliminating (or reducing) synchronization also means reducing our use of phasing in planning and executing operations.  We are taught that it is natural to put phasing into our concepts of operations, with some leaders even proclaiming that "you MUST have three phases!"  Phases put arbitrary restrictions on subordinates, and should only be applied if necessary.  I can forsee operations with no phasing at all, just a simple concept of operations and scheme of manoeuvre delineating broad avenues and objectives.

I speak from a very Air Force centric perspective (even Fighter centric perspective) in which synchronization (we actually call it coordination) is crucial for many things but of note, avoiding flying into someone's bombs, avoiding flying into other airplanes and coordinating effects on different target sets (massing firepower).  So I am probably a bit biaised.  However, at the tactical/operational levels, I believe that coordination is crucial in achieving our common goal and it needs to be planned to some degree of detail, allowing for contingencies in case when your plan falls out.  What level of details?  I think it's very situation dependent (offensive vs defensive/geography/force dispositions, etc), but I don't believe eliminating synchronization/coordination is appropriate. 

Having said that, your tactical leaders, supervised by the operational commander should come up with the plan: not some staff guy at the Op Center.

In our world, we will be given a tactical problem about 2 days before execution and a mission commander will be designated (can be anyone with the right qualification from Captain to LCol).  He will be apportionned aircraft and weapons.  He will lead all the components leaders into devising a plan that will solve the tactical problem.  Normally, because of time constraint (roughly a total of 8-12 hours of planning), the plan is not iterated 20 times and tweaked to perfection but it is at least the 80% solution with a lot of contingencies.  8 hours before execution, the operational commander will be briefed, along with all participating aircrews, for approval.  Once the plan is approved, the individual formation will brief their piece of the puzzle and off we go.  This keeps the solution tactically relevant and keeps the those that will be executing in tune and very familiar with the plan and its intricacies.  The only time staff is involved in the process is when dissiminating the Air Tasking Order that is essentially a repeat of what the Mission Commander requested.


Offline Dimsum

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Max,

Col Smith is not suggesting that Air Forces adopt this; as you mentioned, coordination is crucial for us as we (generally) don't have the loiter time or ability to "hold air" like how the army can hold ground.  The fact that aircraft, at some point, need to refuel and/or reload means that coordination will always be the way we do business.

I'd say the same (or very similar) goes for the Navy.  They require ships to be at certain places at specific times for refuelling/replenishment (at sea or alongside), work with Maritime Patrol Aircraft, their own or other helicopters, etc., all of which require coordination.
Philip II of Macedon to Spartans (346 BC):  "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city."

Reply:  "If."

Offline SupersonicMax

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Max,

Col Smith is not suggesting that Air Forces adopt this; as you mentioned, coordination is crucial for us as we (generally) don't have the loiter time or ability to "hold air" like how the army can hold ground.  The fact that aircraft, at some point, need to refuel and/or reload means that coordination will always be the way we do business.

I'd say the same (or very similar) goes for the Navy.  They require ships to be at certain places at specific times for refuelling/replenishment (at sea or alongside), work with Maritime Patrol Aircraft, their own or other helicopters, etc., all of which require coordination.

I know.  I was just pointing out how we (the Air Force) do it and why I think removing coordination from even ground maneuvers may not be the best idea.  Coordination help prevent (even if it just means the commanders played the scenarios through their head before executing) heartaches further into the execution. 

Offline Dimsum

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I know.  I was just pointing out how we (the Air Force) do it and why I think removing coordination from even ground maneuvers may not be the best idea.  Coordination help prevent (even if it just means the commanders played the scenarios through their head before executing) heartaches further into the execution.

The one big thing I could see causing issues for the Army without synchronization of some sort is if they need air support or airlift.  Aircrews and aircraft need time to prep, depart, transit and get on station. 
Philip II of Macedon to Spartans (346 BC):  "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city."

Reply:  "If."

Offline Bird_Gunner45

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I know.  I was just pointing out how we (the Air Force) do it and why I think removing coordination from even ground maneuvers may not be the best idea.  Coordination help prevent (even if it just means the commanders played the scenarios through their head before executing) heartaches further into the execution.

I dont know that the article suggests eliminating coordination where it stands between the Air Force/Navy and army (TAGS-AAGS) rather than it advocates a less rigid and more dynamic planning process more in line with the fluid nature of ground warfare. Coordination aspects such as the ASCC, TACP, BCD/BCE, and Air Liaison elements would still work within the ATO/ACO cycle and there would still be a requirement for pre-planned BAI and CAS. However, with our technology, we should be able to be more dynamic within the battle and better able to react.