Expensive, Ineffective, Unrealistic, But Interesting,
August 29, 2000
William A. Owens
This is a well-intentioned book and the best available manifesto for the “system of systems” that can integrate intelligence, precision strike, and communications technologies by exploiting the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). On balance it provides several important contributions, but its core assumption that technology can be a substitute for people is flawed, as is its completely insupportable assumption that our allies might be willing to follow us down this very expensive and dubious interoperability trail. Perhaps even more troubling, the school of thought represented by this book suffers from the severe delusion that everything that needs to be seen can be seen by national technical means, and processed in time to be relevant to the commander. Nothing could be further from the truth-fully 90% of what is needed to succeed in today’s environment is not in digital form, not in English, and not collectible by technical means. The most important point made in the whole book, and here I give the author high marks, is its compelling description of why military reform cannot be achieved from within: because there is no decision process by which a “joint” leadership can determine force structure and weapons acquisition without fear of service politics. His approach to reform, shifting from a focus on system stovepipes to joint mission areas, is valuable and could be helpful in defense transformation if it were cleansed of its unhealthy obsession with expensive technology and forced to face the fact that three-quarters of our challenges in this new century are Operations Other Than War (OOTW) that call into question virtually every dollar being spent under existing RMA auspices. The book is also helpful in pointing out the redundancy between the four services, the 12:1 support ratio in personnel, and the need to embed information handling capabilities in all future mobility and weapons systems. Perhaps most disappointingly, this book by a distinguished Admiral and apparent out-of-the-box thinker fails to outline a force structure, including a 450-ship Navy, capable of dealing effectively with all four levels of war in every clime and place.