Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Revising our armed forces (14): Also, the less certain the security environment, the more you need quick-witted commanders

In dull times, dummies might get by.

800px-Gheeraerts_Francis_Drake_1591
800px-Gheeraerts_Francis_Drake_1591

In dull times, dummies might get by. But when modes of warfare are changing, you need people who can change with them.

Max Boot writes in War Made New that in 1588 English skippers made doctrine as they fought, figuring out how best to use naval artillery against the ships of the Spanish Armada, whose captains were still focussed on closing with and grappling with their foes. “A crucial element of English success was their commanders’ ability to learn on the fly, make adjusts, and attempt new tactics,” Boot writes. “The Spanish paid a heavy price for their lack of equal flexibility.”

This rule of innovation applies at all levels of conflict, from the strategic to the operational and tactical. All can be in flux, sometimes at the same time.

In dull times, dummies might get by. But when modes of warfare are changing, you need people who can change with them.

Max Boot writes in War Made New that in 1588 English skippers made doctrine as they fought, figuring out how best to use naval artillery against the ships of the Spanish Armada, whose captains were still focussed on closing with and grappling with their foes. “A crucial element of English success was their commanders’ ability to learn on the fly, make adjusts, and attempt new tactics,” Boot writes. “The Spanish paid a heavy price for their lack of equal flexibility.”

This rule of innovation applies at all levels of conflict, from the strategic to the operational and tactical. All can be in flux, sometimes at the same time.

Rule 14: The need for fast-thinking, decisive commanders is greatest when the security environment is most unsettled.

Image credit: Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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