Best Defense

Revising our armed forces (6): Successful innovation begins with the imagination

Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on March 9, 2016.



Best Defense is in summer reruns. Here is an item that originally ran on March 9, 2016.

At the Naval War College in 1923, writes Stephen Peter Rosen, a Navy exercise posited that the U.S. had five carriers and that an enemy fleet had four. The Navy didn’t have those carriers, of course. But in those exercises, Navy officers learned how they would use carriers. One of the concepts they developed was that it was necessary to mass aircraft in the sky, rather then flying them out in ones and twos. Indeed, “Control of the air was established as the first goal of air operations.”

By contrast, the Royal Navy in the 1920s did not conduct such simulations. Rather, it used present realities to develop its operating concepts. “Because it was believed that aircraft could not sink armored battleships, no money was made available for the development of carrier-borne bombers. Only general purpose torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance aircraft were built and these, indeed, were not capable of independent offensive operations.”

A great thing about imagination is that it is almost free — if you have the right people doing the thinking. Later rules will discuss what sort of people those might be.

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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 Twitter: @tomricks1

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