How are the command and control structures in the US Military formed and evaluated?
March 24, 2004 9:44 PM   Subscribe

Military question -- On a website I was reading recently, I came across this tidbit: "The military continues to experiment with command and control structures designed to delegate and drive decision making to the front lines." Can anyone tell me more about this? I'm interested in how the U.S. military (or any other) has overcome the problem of decision-makers being too far from the action.

Well, maybe not "overcome." More like "has tried to overcome." I'm sure it's a persistent problem.
posted by oissubke to Law & Government (7 answers total)
This sounds like the military equivalent of the business concepts of self-directed work teams and shoulder tapping and all the other latest trends. I'd go so far to say that there's a connection, maybe even a purposeful idea of looking at business organization and applying it to the military.

Which is apropos, because, let's face it, if the military isn't a business yet with all of the private contractors getting involved, then the military-industrial complex surely is a business and has a huge influence on politics and the course of the military.

Interesting, though!: I can't help but wonder if the idea of letting the "grunts" do the thinking or, indeed, ANY thinking, isn't contrary to the whole philosophy of the military.

Now, look, I'm being DISPASSIONATE here, I am NOT grinding an axe, but the fact is: The military wants kids who run up that hill when they're told without thinking. And military training involves definite brainwashing concepts, including sleep deprivation and sleep interruption. The nails that stick up are constantly hammered down. I could give examples of this, but the list would be long...

Anyway, back in the day, if a grunt wanted to make a potentially life-saving decision in the field, it might involve fragging his idiot C.O. Heh.
posted by Shane at 6:13 AM on March 25, 2004

I think the military is constantly implementing different, complementary, and sometimes contradictory methods of decision-making. Even now, as we hear this chatter about decentralized decision-making, we also see attempts to give HQ-level decision-makers a live-action view of the battleground (via video from Predators, etc.), so that they can make decisions as appropriate.

Ideally, one would have a situation in which HQ has a broad overview based on information from the ground, and they then pass on relevant information to front-line commanders, who are then equipped to make on-the-fly decisions based on a combination of information sources.

Of course, one also wants front-line commanders to be able to make autonomous decisions in case circumstances change, or communications with HQ break down.

In other words, they're trying to deal with the problem both by bringing HQ closer (virtually) to the field, and by delegating authority to better-informed field commanders. Not sure if that helps. There's lots of info out there on the RMA (revolution in military affairs), etc., which might prove interesting to you.
posted by stonerose at 7:02 AM on March 25, 2004

Thank you for the best laugh I've had all week. I spent 10 years in the Air Force and went through not 1 but 2 of these "revolutions", Quality Circles and TQM. It became the standing joke that when you went to the 'classes' the example every instructor used was that we had to overcome the "we've always done it this way" paradigm. As soon as we got back to the workplace the JR NCOs would start suggesting changes and the resistence we met from the SR NCOs and Officers was, of course, "we've always done it this way and we'll continue to do it this way because we say so".

The military is an amazing anachronism of organizational structure. Some of the greatest advances in technology have begun (or begun use) there but they are still essentially Cogswell's Cogs when it comes to command structure.

Classic example. Several YEARS after email became widespread (but before personal email was much of a reality) I received the following memo (on paper, of course), almost verbatim:

"Colonel X must personally approve all emails that leave [unit], no exceptions".

In modern parlance, this sort of change in military structure is vaporware.
posted by m@ at 7:39 AM on March 25, 2004

m@, I'm sure this is little consolation, but I have taken a couple business courses in which I learned about all the revolutionary new organizational and leadership techniques that encourage "employee empowerment" and such. I (currently! ONLY CURRENTLY!) work for a huuuuuge company that makes no effort to join the 21st or even 20th century.

Leadership bristles at these new ideas here too, although probably not nearly as much as Cogswell does ;-)
posted by Shane at 7:48 AM on March 25, 2004

i think robert kaplan wrote an influential book or an article about a colonel he met in the american military - that was calling the shots as he saw them in the field - kaplan argued that fellows like this are the types that are required to reshape the world, due to their understanding of what is going on - on the ground.

might be worth scrounging for that article.
posted by specialk420 at 8:22 AM on March 25, 2004

i dunno...i was trained to make crazy potentially life-threatening decisions in the heat of battle....what they're trying to do is move as many decisions down the chain of command as much as possible, but at the same time to have every single piece of information possible at HQ (through the use of drones and personal cameras [think aliens!] and satellites and GPS). i mean, we've come a long way, what with FOF transponders and such, that are supposed to lessen friendly fire incidents and such.

but here i am speaking tactically....tactically the military is as up to date as business...but only because that's where the kids are the new ideas and the openness.

people making decisions at the strategic and theater levels have been put in their positions because of how well they toe the line. the military is uber conservative, cause, think about have to love your country enough as it is to be okay with dying for these flag officers and SNCOs are the most conservative of the lot, for the most part....

so...the mlitary is extremely resistant to change, and moreso than anywhere else it takes generational turnover for new ideas to get accepted...but they're getting better. a lot of flag and general officers are going to business school, not just the company officers. email is widespread, new computer systems are in place, technology is on the up and up.

but yeah, the military is using technology like GPS, transponders, satellite-weilding seismic sensors, etc., to bring as much information as possible to HQ, so the chiefs can be as "close to the front lines" as possible, while at the same time empowering junior officers and NCOs to make as many decisions as possible.
posted by taumeson at 5:41 PM on March 25, 2004

i dunno...i was trained to make crazy potentially life-threatening decisions in the heat of battle....

taumeson, you make me feel bad for generalizing so much about the military. You seem to have a really good perspective on it all.
posted by Shane at 6:15 AM on March 26, 2004

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