What is the basic problem underlying the Centralized Control/ Decentralized execution debates? In short, it’s a matter of managing scale vs complexity in a world of limited assets.
All of our primary foundational documents (QDR, NIE, CCJO) agree that modern warfare is a complex business, and complexity demands adaptive capability. As Bousquet states in The Scientific Way of War, “Not only are closed and rigid systems unable to respond to novelty and unexpected challenges but attempts to increase their performance exposes them to catastrophic breakdown.” (201). This is the essence of Kometer’s arguments on loose and tight coupling (what I thought he was saying, at least; we’ll ask him) – situations that require tight coupling are inherently more complex, with many variables influencing others, leading to more and more possible unfavorable outcomes from a single action unless the different players are trained – and enabled by decentralized control - to handle that complexity.
According to Ross Ashby, a pioneer in the realm of cybernetics and complexity, If a system is to be stable the number of states of its control mechanism must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled – this is described in Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety.
Put another way, “complexity of the system must match the complexity of the task, no one person can coordinate the joint effort of multiple individuals”. Bar Yam Making Things Work 91
If irregular warfare is commonly recognized to be more inherently complex than major combat operations, then it follows that decentralization is needed to generate solutions suited to unique local conditions. This explains the call for decentralized control of airpower in our current fights, as was recently expressed by Lt Gen Rew and Lt Gen Deptula, although their reasoning stemmed moreto address problems of negative perception RE personal relationships rather than addressing complexity. The big idea – if you’re going to confront a complex, decentralized opponent network, you’re better served by adopting the form of a complex network yourself.
But there’s a catch – operations have varying levels of scale (size of the effort in numbers of people, geographic span, moving parts, etc) in play simultaneously, and there are different levels of complexity in play at each level. You have to defeat complexity in the macro level to provide adequate predictability for large scale operations involving thousands of people, and the way you do that is to build a hierarchical network, a bureaucracy, to ensure their movement, care, and feeding. To run a large, complicated bureaucracy, like a COCOM or a theater coalition, some kind of centralized control is essential. When Lt Gen Hostage argued for centralized control, he was recognizing this – it’s tough to quickly configure for a major combat operation (i.e. Iran) if you’ve distributed control and assets to subordinate commanders and have to go through administrative “foodfights” to recentralize when faced with a new large scale threat. Plus, with so many decentralized efforts depending on the same centralized logistics, and various bilateral relationships between theater partners who don’t trust each other, you need to coordinate and protect those logistics and LOCs at a theater level.
“Most organisations, including the military, employ a hierarchy to separate problems at different scales. Lower echelons of the military hierarchy tend to have a shorter time scale, a faster battle rhythm, and a smaller area of interest. Higher echelons tend to focus on longer time scales, change more slowly, and focus on a much larger spatial scale, but with reduced resolution. This is a highly effective structure for solving problems that arise at different scales. “Dr Alex Ryan “The Foundation for an Adaptive Approach” Australian Army Journal Summer 09
This is where the participants in a “efficiency vs effectiveness” argument – usually soldiers vs. airmen – are usually talking right past each other. Airmen generally think at the theater level, and are worried about preserving the capability to deal with complicated (albeit less complex – remember the “swiss watch” analogy) operations at higher level of scale. Soldiers generally focus on their own AO (often at the expense of the others), and want the “chokecon” they need to adapt to higher levels of complexity at a local level. They’re talking about two interrelated, but completely different levels of scale and complexity, but trying to solve them as if they’re in the same equation. Unfortunately, there is no optimal solution to solve both simultaneously.
“Solving complex problems is fundamentally different to solving complicated problems. Complex problems cannot be solved using techniques that are successful for complicated problems… However, complex problems could be defined as those problems that cannot be solved at a single scale. They require coordination, multiple perspectives, and a systematic response because cross-scale effects interlink problems at different scales. …The multi-scale nature of warfare has a profound effect on how we assess risk, how we gather and interpret information, and how we resolve complex issues..” Dr Alex Ryan “The Foundation for an Adaptive Approach” 77
WARNING – GROSS OVERSIMPLIFICATION ALERT. I think perhaps the one thing that might mark the distinction between the Rew/Deptula camp and the Hostage camp is your emphasis on “teeth vs. tail”, or how much slack you think you have in your common logistics and ability to protect them. If you’re concentrating more on personal relationships in the local AO, you push the “teeth” forward (three star GO, more strikers and ISR), and accept the risk that you might lose access to your LOCs/ ALOCs/ SLOCs while most of your “teeth” are forward. If you’re more concerned that there’s not enough “tail” to go around (so to speak), or that you might have to fight for the LOCs and SLOCs you take for granted today, you hold it back and accept risk on the personal relationships in the AOs.
So really, the trick is bridging the gaps between different levels of scale and complexity in your operations – you’ve got to be able to do both at the same time. Again, Bousquet, “The challenge…is therefore to harness the flexibility and adaptability of networks [decentralization] while preserving some hierarchical features – hybridization is the goal.” (210)
Q Hinote makes a good case that the terminology isn’t helping us – most of us who advocate for “CC/DE” don’t think that the master tenet means that you shouldn’t delegate control down to lower echelons when you can - with the collaborative tools you have for execution, close fights of assets already apportioned to the ground component are indeed better managed from the ASOC working with the ALOs in the TOCs. Aside from managing the logistics support piece (especially tanker gas), I’d say that the AOC should stay out during execution when it can in what Col K describes as “tightly coupled” operations. What we really need to do is push authorities as far forward as possible when we can, but retain the ability to pull back those authorities to the theater JFC level (COCOM) needs the capability rapidly to deal with large scale, complicated threats as they emerge.
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