I like to use a little invented word now and then in an attempt to capture an underground concept, one founded on sound historical precedence and practice – Antitranformationalism. Yea, its a bit wordy, but I have yet to find a better word for it. Kind of a military version of William F. Buckley’s

It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so,

The root of the word was chosen for a reason. IMAO, one of the great intellectual cancers infecting the Naval mind has been that spawn of PPT programs and vaporware, “Transformation.” Never before has a word used my so many, so often, meant so much and produced so little.

From it apex in the 2001-2004 timeframe, the cold water of actual warfare has adjusted Transformation’s impact on the Army and USMC – and that is where you find some of the most senior Antitransformationalists.

Knowing some of his core beliefs, I found a fair bit of humor when Gen. Mattis was assigned to be Commander, Allied Command Transformation. Before we go further though, let’s set some foundational truths.

General Mattis, USMC is one if not the premier military minds of his generation. He is also the most senior active duty Antitransformationalists we have. He is also the most talented, clear, and precise.

Like I did a couple of weeks ago on my home blog, here is what I ask of you. Find an hour if you can. Get a cup of coffee or a couple of fingers of a good single malt, and then watch the video of the speech at CSIS as the second video here.

Be in awe. I am. If you are running short of time, go to the 35:00 point.

There are some very good nuggets in the speech. Once again, General Mattis, USMC finds the right point of vulnerability.

US Marine Corps General James Mattis, head of US Joint Forces Command, cautioned against the military becoming too reliant on technology and command-and-control (C2) systems, which he believes could increase vulnerability.

During a 1 June speech in Washington, Gen Mattis, who also serves as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, called for moderating “our idea that technology is going to solve this human problem called war”.

I really wish I could find a full transcript of this speech. Here is the meat of the article behind the firewall;

“War, he said, is primarily “a human endeavor [and] a social problem”, so the US military should be careful in assuming what solutions technology might provide because its enemies have a history of avoiding their foe’s strengths and exploiting weaknesses.

Overly relying on technical C2 systems and centralized decision making woudl cause the US military to become the “single most vulnerable military in the world”, Gen. Mattis warned. Data and communications networks represent a ‘single point of failure’ that could be attacked, resulting in disabled command structures.

Exactly, over reliance on technology is a false economy when you actually have to go to war. If you rely too much on the electronic spectrum and don’t have a back-up ready to go – you will be defeated.

Plenty to chew on.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Marine Corps

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  • solomon

    If General Mattis is right then the last 5 years of military planning has just been tossed out the window. The Marine Corps efforts to move toward Distributed Operations is transformation based. Distributed Operations from the sea ditto. Even parts of the soft power effort are ill conceived if we take his thoughts to their logical conclusion. More to the point, the very foundation on which our military is built would be undermined if we took his warning seriously. I hope we do.

  • Love it. Back to basics. ” a Marine and his rifle is the most deadly weapon in the world”. I learned it, lived it, and believe it. Sounds like our good General moves upwards from that basic idea.

    Semper Fi.

  • Phrogs Phorever

    “Transformation” has become a nearly meaningless term. Its ironic because in the lexicon it replaced the “RMA,” which had become an all encompassing panacea and meaningless term as well.

    Transformation can and will happen in military organizations. It is important for officers to understand it as a concept and to study the history of military transformations, otherwise they will be unable to understand and successfully lead transformation in the future. Why was Maurice of Nassau so successful with volley fire? How did the Werhmacht create blitzkrieg and implement it? Why and how did the USMC switch from being “The Presidents Men” who circled the globe running banana republics and fighting small wars to becoming the pre-eminent power projection and assault force in the world?

    Many hail the COIN leaders as “anti-transformationalist” (I do like the the word CDR) but they are just as much about transforming the way that the American military approaches and fights wars as ADM Cebrowski was.

    Much of it comes down to an age old question in the study of military affairs…What comes first, the technology that makes doctrine possible or the doctrine that tells us how to use technology?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I don’t think what you assert is really true (thank goodness). Many of us who served for and with Gen Mattis are filled with no end of admiration for his intellectual abilities and no-nonsense approach.

    There were some raised eyebrows when Gen Mattis was announced to serve as the Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation. But it was clear we were not going to get some proselytizing pitchman selling this package no matter how ludicrous. He clearly could separate the wheat from the chaff, and bring about implementation of those things that would benefit the warfighter, and cast aside those things that made little or no sense when tested on a battlefield.

    I might also comment that “distributed operations” would not sound so new to Sgt H H Hanneken or SSgt Lewie Puller in Haiti or Santo Domingo about ninety years ago. Much of the effort for COIN and counterinsurgency operations looks an AWFUL LOT like the TTP and national approach in the 1920s and 30s.

    We are now faced with having to be competent in that part of the warfighting spectrum. Harvard academic Sarah Sewell makes a rather dubious assertion in the introduction of the new Small Wars Manual that says we (DoD) spitefully and intentionally ignored that part of the spectrum after our bad experiences in Vietnam.

    However, I can remember as far back as the early 1980s significant professional discussion regarding the operational and tactical approach to insurgency and Low Intensity Conflict (LIC). Like most every other time when a part of our capabilities is allowed to atrophy, such had little to do with lack of interest or acknowledgment of importance, but a matter of prioritization of scant resources against global threats. At the time, these centered around Soviet conventional capability in Europe, and with a significant rebuild of US Military strength after the post-Vietnam doldrums, those threats shaped our organization and equipping of our Armed Forces.

    General Mattis is the PERFECT guy IMHO to make sure “transformation” is not synonymous with “evisceration”, and we are left with the most flexible and capable force for this nation’s defense.

    My compliments, Cdr Salamander. Great post.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Amen. “Transformation” is merely bafflegab to cover the rise of the bean counters: For over a generation DoD has recognized its biggest costs were personnel. Cut personnel, you cut what you perceive are unnecessary costs upfront. By pushing technology you preserve the all-important Congressionally-favored local jobs base while satisfying those who are both risk-adverse and inclined to a government construct that devalues national defense in favor of other perceived priorities while still selling the “It’s shiny! It’s new! It’s transformational!” infomercial.

    The Beltway Navy has embraced the technology/transformation mantra heart and soul; there’s plenty of safe Offices, Programs, Initiatives, etc. to hide in, plus you have the added benefit of seemingly “doing something” when, in fact, all you’re doing is trying to find another excuse to cut even more people from the budget because “magic” will make everything work perfectly. A fiber-optic, distributed bus network will not move a high-capacity pump to a hole in one’s hull. A rapid, secure link between a UAV, thirteen layers of command centers and a couple of folks pinned down will not help when there’s no one left to lay down covering fire for them because everyone’s now magically “transformed” into “information-sharing nodes.”

    This is a rough trade and no amount of unicorns and rainbows will change that. Ever. Soft power and the ability to rain down overwhelming violence upon those who would do us harm are not incompatible. The key is in having the wisdom to know when to use one and not the other.


  • Scott B.

    Transformational quote of the month :

    “I can’t believe my good fortune to have this crew [and] commanding the most capable ship in the fleet CDR Michael Doran, CO (Gold Crew), USS Freedom (LCS-1)

  • Scott B.

    Transformational news of the day :

    “The General Dynamics version of the littoral combat ship, LCS-2 Independence, went out for sea trials last week. Touted for its speed, LCS-2 also boasts a huge flight deck that cannot support the weight of an H-53, our colleagues across the newsfloor at Defense News have learned.”

    H/T Andrew Scutro

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Might be wise for the good Skipper to have a bit more data before declaring the highly experimental “super crew” and LCS concepts to comprise “the most capable ship in the fleet”.

    Just sayin’….

  • Scott B.

    CDR Salamander : “IMAO, one of the great intellectual cancers infecting the Naval mind has been that spawn of PPT programs and vaporware, “Transformation.””

    Intellectual cancers is EXACTLY the right term.

    Such intellectual cancers become metastatic when the disconnect between reality and rhetoric is complete.

    LCS is one of the Navy’s metastatic tumors : the praise becomes all the more grandiloquent (*most capable ship in fleet*) as the program increasingly fails to deliver on the capabilities initially advertised (e.g. 15 PAM missiles disappear from the SUW MP, LCS-2 no longer H-53 capable, etc…).

    Question is : who’s going to have the guts (and the skills) to extract the tumor before it spreads to the rest of the Navy ?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Well, in defense of the Skipper of Freedom, he ought to exude confidence to his crew, though we will hope that he doesn’t believe his own press clippings without cause.

    Unfortunately Scott, getting rid of such ailments and we are now afflicted with usually involves trauma at the hands of an enemy, and not precise surgery at the hands of our own leadership. And whenever that is the case, there is a grave risk that the patient might die before life-giving measures can be implemented (read: shipbuilding).

  • To paraphrase a British Army General I heard speak once…

    “The more you have your chaps staring at some monitor when on the battlefield, the more likely some bloke will be able to walk up and just hit him with a large stick.”

    Something to be said for situational awareness….

  • Grampa Bluewater

    The RA General may or may not have swiped it from Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers”. Subject to the flaws of my swiss cheese memory, RAH (or Fleet Sergeant Zim, the character) made reference was to a “big rock” and “trying to read a vernier” while expressing the same thought.

    The book was written in 1959, which shows how long the Transformers have cast their shadow over the fleet (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  • Grampa Bluewater

    Oops, sorry. Prudent prior proofreading positively prevents poor posting. Please excuse fractured syntax.

  • Harry

    Transformation is a euphemism just as “Jointness” is a euphemism for making the Navy subservient to the Army and AirForce Pentagon! When was the last time you heard of an Army member serving a Navy need? America’s defense is Sea Power! Navy Marine Corps and Coast Guard are America’s best defense (the only other need is Army and Air National Guard for threats of invasion).

  • Chuck Hill

    Transformation is frequently civilian political appointees trusting contractors to supply a silver bullet. Amazingly the appointee will go to work for the very same contractor after his tenure in government is over.

    It leads down the path to monopoly suppliers.

    We need in-house expertise, evolutionary change, and a competitive industrial base.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Syntax are overrated. But the comment rings absolutely true. Having been in the FDC for the fielding of the first modern fire direction computers (which, transformationally, made us fire more slowly) the Russkies could have walked up and killed us all, because everybody hovered around that damned screen.

  • C-dore 14

    An old problem of trusting technology rather than their own eyes. Folks focusing on computer and radar screens instead of coming up to the bridge and looking around has comtributed to more than one collision at sea.

    I’ll give CDR Doran a pass on talking up his crew however, I think he should make a deployment in his ship before he talks about how capable she is.

  • Grampa Bluewater

    The regrettable tendency among the youth to accept a digital display as revealed truth has been universally noted by old grouches such as your humble correspondent as we approached the end of our active seagoing life (mes enfantes, look out the window, often).

    On the other hand, the tendency among old mossbacks to operate new equipment in the mode that most closely models the limited capabilities of the Mod 1 they were most familiar with is potentially as limiting and hazardous.

    One has to work constantly to learn the capabilities and limitations of each mode of new equipment, and search through the tech manuals and lore known to older (or distressingly younger) not as high ranking (to put it mildly) shipmates. Frequent and realistic drills are often priceless in drawing this out.

    You can’t be practical if you don’t know what’s going on.

    One example. Walk through our ships, find the electric submersible dewatering pumps. How many have a humble folding box strainer (per NSTM) bracketed to the bulkhead next to the bracket holding the sub pump? More to the point, how many sailors have plugged the pump in, lowered it down to a flooded compartment/bilge (or a GI garbage can), and actually pumped water overboard. much less thought about how to avoid sucking up a piece of debris which will jam the impeller?

    Transformation all too often is just BOGSAT (bunch of guys sitting around a table). Pentagon bogsat sessions don’t check their facts with the deckplate level, though they damn well should be made to.

    Adm Lee knew radar well, early. Result, sank IJN battlewagon with his shiny new US BB (and radar savvy crew) in decisive victory (by the way, if the SLOT and the Solomons Archipelago aren’t littoral, what is? Does that make 16″ main battery battle wagons littoral combat ships?)

    Real life is so complicated and antitransformational. Friction, fumble factor, unpredictable enemies, tired troops, glitches, gremlins, rookies and worst of all…big thinkers on the big staff on the make.

    Thank God for guardian angels.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Thank God for guardian angels.”

    Careful, DoD may try to kill THAT program too, as the name “guardian” doesn’t connote any true offensive capability. 🙂

    The central issue in much of the “transformation” debate is the “guys vs. gadgets” issue. Replacing of people with technology. The assumption is usually that technology is cheaper, more reliable, and somehow more optimal than manpower.

    We have seen it with intel gathering (sensors replacing HUMINT), situational awareness tools and systems, and now even weapons systems themselves. (A GREAT article on MDA in this month’s Proceedings mentions this obliquely.) But much of this replacement of humans by technology has and will continue to prove illusory. No matter how complex the algorithms for steady state monitoring, or change detection, gizmos fall far short of being able to do human things like follow instinct, or glean intent.

    Preventing THAT kind of transformation nonsense may be where General Mattis may prove the most valuable of people.

  • Grampa Bluewater


    Like I said big thinkers, BOGSAT. Big trouble.

    Guardian angels are not a DOD program. And a lot of people are trying to kill ’em; more fools them.


    “somehow more optimal than manpower” = machines don’t die, they just stop working. People die.
    I think this is the heart of the issue. We befuddle ourselves with ideas of Force Protection, “minimal” risk, effects, hyper-assymetry, etc. We try to keep people from dying by reducing numbers, bloating technology, adding oversight or creating new “models” of conflict. But not dying is not the goal! (‘Damn the torpedoes!’ anyone?) The goal is the mission. Not dying is something we strive for while accomplishing the mission. Technology has its place and can help with the mission. So it shouldn’t be feared, but understood and put it its proper place. To do that, we need the same thing we’ve always needed–leadership with scholarship in its service.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Sid’s quote from the post entitled “Sleep”.

    Oh-so-pertinent here….

    Just sayin’ that when you think the basics no longer apply because you are somehow different now that you are “modern”…beware of that Siren call…