Posts Tagged Strategy

Industry Talk: What Can We Learn From The In Amenas Gas Plant Attack?

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” -Sun Tzu

What I wanted to do here is take a closer look at the In Amenas Gas Attack and comment on what is of interest. The first story below talks about how such a thing could even happen and that this is a wake up call.

Well it happened because of complacency and because the enemy force exploited a weakness after studying the facility and it’s security apparatus. It’s the same with the Camp Bastion assault, in which the attacking force was keen on the reconnaissance. For raids, good intelligence is key, and this attacking force did their homework.

As to how they were able to cross miles of desert from Libya into Algeria, and maneuver this close for the raid, they used deception. (another Sun Tzu tenet) Here is a quote:

The militants arrived in nine Toyotas with Libyan plates and painted in the colors of Sonatrach, the Algerian oil and gas company that has a share in the plant, according to the Algerian daily El Khabar.

This is a key point to identify in this deal. Deception is becoming more and more of the trademark of today’s terrorist networks. It is a tried and true method of getting forces near the target, as old as warfare itself. Wearing military, police or company uniforms, to throw off the OODA  (the observation part) of the security element or the victims, is a tactic that works. Al Qaeda and it’s partners know this, and they are consistently bringing this into their raid strategies.

For the Camp Bastion assault, the attackers wore US Army uniforms. The attack on FOB Salerno June of last year, the attackers wore ANA uniforms.  The attack on Bagram Air Base back in May of 2010, the attackers wore US military uniforms. In the attack on Pakistan’s Naval Station Mehran, the assault force wore Naval uniforms. This list and trend goes on…. The bottom line, raiders will use deception to achieve their goal of getting close, causing confusion, or killing more folks with a secondary deception tactic, like a VBIED in an ambulance. The imagination is the only limitation, and those security folks who can put together the pieces in their battle space faster than the enemy, will be able to counter.

It is also important to note that these raiding forces usually have suicide assaulters on their teams–or guys with explosive vests.

Let me bring up another killer–apathy and complacency. The In Amenas site had plenty of security, but obviously they were not prepared for such an assault. The second article below talks about how much security there really was.

The Amenas gas plant in Algeria was guarded by around 100 armed gendarmes but they failed to fend off an attack by less than half the number of terrorists, it can be disclosed.
A base for the gendarmes was built between the residential compound and the drilling area which are several miles apart in the desert, sources told the Daily Telegraph.
But they failed to react in time when a convoy of around 14 vehicles arrived at the base at 5.40am on January 16 with heavy machine guns mounted on the back and carrying at least 32 terrorists.
Gendarmes accompanying a bus heading for the airport managed to beat off the first attack and Huw Edwards, a British gas worker on the bus, said he owed his life to them.
However the al-Qaeda-backed militants were able to get into the residential compound and take dozens of Westerners hostage.
The army arrived to provide back up from a base around 30km (18.5m) away but their two attempts to launch a rescue ended in a bloodbath and the death of at least 37 foreign workers.

But this quote tells us something else about the style of attack that the enemy used here that should be noted. The enemy was able to gain relative superiority using surprise and violence of action. According to the book Spec Ops, the six principals of special operations success are simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed, and purpose. Obviously the enemy is following similar principals, and surprise and speed was key in order for a small group to take on a large group such as this and actually gain access to the facility.

I would even say purpose is something to throw in there, just because these guys were hell bent on getting western hostages and either killing them or holding them for ransom, and destroying the facility.

That last part is a great way to transition to the 60 Minutes show on the attack. If you watch the video and listen to the commentary of these individuals, you get an idea of how focused this assault force was on finding and killing/capturing western hostages. And these employees knew how important they were to the terrorists.

In the 2008 Mumbai Attack, the assault teams were very systematic in their execution of hostages, to include western hostages. So with that said, security folks should not advise their clients to give up when it comes to terrorist attacks, simply because this is a death sentence. Run, Hide, Fight is more in line with what needs to happen, and your client should definitely be briefed on the overall security plan in the event of a complex assault like this one. At the In Amenas attack, the terrorists were intent on killing hostages and destroying the plant.

Perhaps late Wednesday or early Thursday morning — Mr. Sellal described it as a nighttime episode — the kidnappers attempted a breakout. “They put explosives on the hostages. They wanted to put the hostages in four-wheel-drive vehicles and take them to Mali.”
Mr. Sellal then suggested that government helicopters immobilized the kidnappers. Witnesses have described an intense army assault, resulting in both militant and hostage deaths.
“A great number of workers were put in the cars; they wanted to use them as human shields,” the prime minister said. “There was a strong response from the army, and three cars exploded,” he said. One contained an Algerian militant whom the prime minister identified as the leader, Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb.
The second and final operation happened Saturday, Mr. Sellal said, when the 11 remaining kidnappers moved into the gas-producing part of the complex, a hazardous area that he said they had already tried to ignite.
“The aim of the terrorists was to explode the gas compound,” he said. In this second assault, he said, there were “a great number of hostages,” and the kidnappers were ordered to kill them all. It was then, he said, that army snipers killed the kidnappers.

 Another point to bring up with this attack is that it was early morning and possibly during a shift change. The attackers definitely timed their attack as the bus full of workers was coming in. So time and timing was crucial here as well. It is important to note that most complex attacks of this nature, occur in low light or at night, so it seems.

The In Amenas assault started at 0540 in the morning. The Camp Bastion Assault started at 2200 at night. The Mehran attack started at 2230 at night. The Mumbai attack happened at 2010… So you get a picture here that darkness or low light definitely helps in the ‘surprise and deception’ department, and the enemy knows this.

Another pattern I am seeing is the use of multiple assault teams. In the Camp Bastion assault, they had three teams of five. In the Mumbai Assault, they had two teams of six and four men. The In Amenas attack had nine trucks filled with around 40 militants. In all of these attacks, there was a division of labor here and the attacks were organized. Teams were assigned targets and objectives.

The point to bring up here is that with multiple teams comes multiple problems. Security forces could respond to one attack by one team, and then the other assault teams can start the real attack. It can create confusion for the security forces and it can increase the success of the assault force.  The assault force can even implement Cheng and Ch’i, by using one team to set up the security force with one type of attack, and then use another team or teams for the real attack to achieve the ultimate goal.

The Mumbai attack is a great example of this, where one force causes the distraction and sucked in the majority of emergency response forces to that fight (lighting fires, etc), and then the other team did the systematic search and killing of the primary targets in the hotels. Cheng is the expected or orthodox strategy, and Ch’i is the surprise or unorthodox strategy. Playing the two strategies off of each other creates all sorts of opportunities for an assault force composed of multiple teams. Yet again, the enemy is recognizing the value of this, and security forces have to be aware of the attack coming from multiple points and at multiple times.

Well, that is about all I have on this one.  If you would like to further delve into the lessons learned that others have brought forth, here is a link. It would be great to hear what other folks picked up on this and other attacks.

I also want to mention the heroic acts of the security force in the face of such an attack. The lone guard named Mohamed Lamine Lahmar who was killed shortly after he hit the alarm button to shut down the plant and warn everyone, certainly saved lives. The Stirling Group contractors whom died in the defense of their client also get special mention, as do the hostages whom were killed.

The lesson here is that companies will adjust and security forces will learn from this incident to build a better defense–or apply continuous improvement to their operation. We must actually recognize what the enemy is doing or deal with reality, both in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and learn from this. Most importantly, we must stay one step ahead of them and implement security plans that effectively deal with this reality. As Sun Tzu would say, we must ‘rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. -Matt

 

 

Algeria Attack A ‘Wake-Up Call’ For Energy Companies
by Tom Gjelten
January 24, 2013
A week has passed since the terrorist attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria, but risk analysts and security experts are still undecided about the incident’s likely impact in the energy world.
The price of oil, a good indicator of anxiety in the energy market, went up modestly right after the attack, but then it stabilized. No energy company has suspended operations in Algeria, nor has any company announced it will hold off on future investments in North Africa, a key source of oil and gas supplies.
It may just be that governments and energy companies are still trying to figure out exactly what happened at the In Amenas gas field. The complex had not been attacked during decades of civil war in Algeria.
Success Of Raid ‘A Mystery’
David Goldwyn, formerly the State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs, notes that the complex was surrounded by “a ring of steel.”

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Cool Stuff: Art Of War Sun Tzu Strategy Card Deck, By Robert Cantrell

A big hat tip to Fred over at his website called Law Enforcement and Security Consulting for introducing this really neat set up. If you are a fan of Sun Tzu and like playing cards, and appreciate having dual use stuff in your deployment kit, this would be a good set up to have. A deck of playing cards doesn’t require batteries either.

Personally, I have used my Sun Tzu mobile apps I downloaded on my smart phone for reference. I have a quote generator app and the whole book as an app. But a deck of cards is equally cool, just because it is another way of looking at the material and organizing it.

The really intriguing part of this set up is the author has created a system on how to use these cards. They are organized in such a way so that you can easily get to the type of advice or material you need. Or you can combine them into unique strategies that suite your needs–or ‘building a snowmobile’ out of Sun Tzu’s strategies and ideas.

If you go to his website, there is a guidebook and more detail given on how best to use these cards. Or just use the cards for that game of poker or solitaire to pass the time on your deployment. Check it out and this would make for a great little gift during the holidays or for a birthday. -Matt

 

 

The Art of War: Sun Tzu Strategy Card Deck is made in the USA from the finest quality casino grade card stock. The content is written around four key elements of competitive strategy that include elimination, isolation, preparation of the field of contest, and preparation of the self. These elements are divided into four equal parts by suits as follows:

Preparation of Self – All hearts involve shaping yourself. You set your disposition to that best suited to reach your goal and present your adversary with appearances that that cause him to act against his best interests.

Preparation of the Field of Contest – All clubs involve shaping the field of contest. You create the conditions, such as confusion on the part of your adversary, that better allow you to win.

Isolation – All diamonds involve isolating something. This something may be an adversary, an option, an objective, time, etc. You separate something from something else.

Elimination – All spades involve eliminating something. That something may be an adversary, an option, an objective, time, etc. You remove something from the contest.

They follow the natural progression from preparing the self and the field of contest, isolating on a target, and closing on the objective shown by everything from wolves chasing down a caribou, lawyers isolating on a witness inconsistency, deal makers identifying and addressing an objection, to a child getting the answer he wants from one parent or the other. At the very core, it is all the same.

Each strategy card provides a memorable title, a strategy definition, and a basis of truth from which the strategy works. You reach your goal by enacting one or more strategies together at the same time or in a useful sequence. The strongest strategy combinations tends to have at least one representative member from each card suite.

Website for cards here.

Buy the deck of cards here.

 

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Afghanistan: China’s Afghan Game Plan, By Shlomo Ben-Ami

Once China’s enormous economic and security interests in Afghanistan are left without America’s military shield, the Chinese are bound to play an even larger role there, one that Afghans hope will reach “strategic levels.” China would prefer to accomplish this the Chinese way – that is, essentially through a display of soft power – or, as the Chinese government put it on the occasion of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s official visit to Beijing in early June, through “non-traditional security areas.”
Judging by China’s behavior in other parts of the world, any military cooperation is likely to be extremely modest and cautious. China has already made it clear it will not contribute to the $4.1 billion multilateral fund to sustain Afghan national security forces.

A big hat tip to Brandon over at SOFREP for finding this article. In the past I have talked about China’s involvement in Africa and the strategic game they are playing, as well as their willingness to set up shop in war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. They are purely focused on business, and really could care less about the people or the politics or who is in charge. All they care about is who do they have to do business with and pay in order to accomplish their goals for obtaining resources.

So why does this matter?  Because I personally would like to see the west do more to get a return on their investment after ten years of war.  The blood and treasure expended should earn western businesses a place at the front of the line when it comes to making entries into Afghanistan.

China also could care less who they do business with. Notice in the quote up top that China did not care to contribute to Afghanistan’s security forces? I wouldn’t doubt it if the Taliban and China are already making deals for a post war reality in Afghanistan.  I mean look at how China still supports the Assad government in Syria, even though they are murdering their own people.

On the other hand, the realist in me says that China is just playing a better strategic game than the west when it comes to these places. Or their game is just different, hence the ‘chess versus weiqi’ example mentioned in the beginning of the article below.   We may not like it, but I don’t see anyone making a move to counter their game?  Is our goal to get China sucked into the graveyard of empires as well? Who knows? lol

At the end of the day, China will still have to answer for their actions there. Whomever they do business with, they will be scrutinized and remembered by the people for said actions.  China will also have to have deep pocketbooks in order to keep paying off tribes/Taliban in a back and forth game of ‘pay me more or I will shut down your operations’. China will also have to deal with outside sources of shock to their schemes there–meaning they will have to be working hard to keep multiple countries in the region happy, or pay the consequence.  Interesting stuff. -Matt

 

 

China’s Afghan Game Plan
By Shlomo Ben-Ami
04 July 2012
In his latest book, On China, Henry Kissinger uses the traditional intellectual games favored by China and the West – weiqi and chess – as a way to reveal their differing attitudes toward international power politics. Chess is about total victory, a Clausewitzian battle for the “center of gravity” and the eventual elimination of the enemy, whereas weiqi is a quest for relative advantage through a strategy of encirclement that avoids direct conflict.
This cultural contrast is a useful guide to the way that China manages its current competition with the West. China’s Afghan policy is a case in point, but it also is a formidable challenge to the weiqi way. As the United States prepares to withdraw its troops from the country, China must deal with an uncertain post-war scenario.
Afghanistan is of vital strategic interest to China, yet it never crossed its leaders’ minds to defend those interests through war. A vital security zone to China’s west, Afghanistan is also an important corridor through which it can secure its interests in Pakistan (a traditional ally in China’s competition with India), and ensure its access to vital natural resources in the region. Moreover, China’s already restless Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, which borders on Afghanistan, might be dangerously affected by a Taliban takeover there, or by the country’s dismemberment.

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Strategy: William Lind On How The Taliban Mastered The Operational Art Of Modern Warfare

Excellent little article and it is always cool to check out what William Lind has to say. If you are familiar with the term ‘4th Generation Warfare‘, then you would know that Lind was one of the originators of the concept. So in the world of strategy and warfare, I tend to listen to what guys like this have to say. (read the paper here)

As far as I can tell, the reception of this article is kind of luke warm. Meaning it is debatable, and the guys over at Zen Pundit did a pretty good job of pointing out where Lind was short.

However, I think Lind errs in ascribing too much credit to the Taliban here. A much simpler explanation is that the usually illiterate ANA soldier is a product of the same xenophobic cultural and religious environment that created the Taliban, the Haqqanis, vicious Islamist goons like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or the Afghan tribesmen who slaughtered the retreating garrison of Lord Elphinstone in 1841.

While the Taliban have infiltrators, it remains that many of the “Green on Blue” killings are just as easily explained by personal grievances, zealous religious bigotry, indiscipline, mistreatment by American advisers or Afghan superiors and sudden jihad syndrome. While it is impolitic to emphasize it, Afghan betrayal and murder of foreign allies (generally seen as “occupiers”) is something of a longstanding historical pattern. The Taliban capitalize on it politically but they are not responsible for all of it.

Although I must say that the Taliban have still held out the last ten years, and they are still fighting.  They are also doing all they can to exert influence on the people, hanging out in the shadows and dropping violent hints that as soon as the foreigners are gone that all of those that supported them will be paying the price. That, and the Taliban are doing all they can to show how inept the Afghan government is.(and the government is doing a great job on it’s own of doing that-lol)

But back to this tactic of green on blue. It is a good tactic if the Taliban are able to get individuals into those positions. They either have to ‘turn’ a police or military officer or infiltrate the unit with one of their own. That can be difficult but it is possible.

You also have moles or use pseudo operators to create chaos as well. They can gain valuable intelligence on the enemy or the supporters of the enemy, and give plenty of information to Taliban planners.

The Taliban are also conducting suicide assaults wearing police and military uniforms.  Anything that would create a hesitation amongst the responding forces, or create chaos and confusion during the attack. The end result is very visual and has impact, even if they are not successful. Those attacks show their dedication to the cause (willing to die for it), it shows that they can strike anywhere and the police and military are not able to protect everyone, and it is a reminder to all for when the ‘foreigners’ leave that this is what is in store for everyone.

So maybe Lind should have expanded on all of the little things that the Taliban are doing and have done over the years, that have contributed to their survivability against such a formidable western foe?  They are today’s fourth generation warfare ‘fighters’, much like Al Qaeda or even the cartels in Mexico are. They are small forces that have found ways to combat large forces in the modern era, and survive. In some cases flourish…. So how do you defeat these guys?

Personally, I always default to mimicry strategy for this stuff, just because in the history of warfare, that seems to be what has worked. That you copy what your enemy is doing or what the competition is doing, and add that one little thing to give you the edge over your opponent.

To apply Kaizen to that strategy, and constantly attempt to find weakness in your strategy and plans before the enemy, all so you can modify it and make it better. (destruction and creation–fight dogma Boyd style) You are also looking for weaknesses in your enemy and their strategy, and constantly looking for advantage.

It also takes innovation, and not just adaptation to find that novelty that will give you the edge in the fight. I know many smart folks out there are seeking just that, and I know I am constantly exploring ideas in regards to this interesting and complex problem. I highly depend upon the feedback of the readership here and the knowledge that is out there to help me ‘build my own snowmobiles’, and I am optimistic about the process. It is also a fun thought experiment, to put yourself in the strategist’ or general’s chair, and find your own solutions to defeating these enemies. Check it out and let me know what you think? -Matt

 

Unfriendly Fire
Posted By William S. Lind
June 27, 2012
The greatest intellectual challenge in Fourth Generation war—war against opponents that are not states—is how to fight it at the operational level. NATO in Afghanistan, like the Soviets three decades ago, has been unable to solve that riddle. But the Taliban appears to have done so.
The operational level of war lies between strategy and tactics. While great commanders have always thought and fought at the operational level, the concept was not formally recognized until the 19th century. As usual, it was the Prussian army that led the way. Some historians think the operational level may have been formalized by Field Marshal von Moltke himself in the Franco-Prussian war as a way to keep Bismarck out of his business. (“Yes, my dear Bismarck, you are in charge of strategy, but you simply must not interfere in operational matters.”)
The U.S. Army did not officially recognize the operational level of war until 1982, but the tsarist Russian army and later the Soviets picked up on it. By 1944-45, the Red Army was as competent at what they called “operational art” as the Wehrmacht. That was never true of the Western allies.

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Games: Peter Singer Interview About ‘Call Of Duty’ And The Future Of Warfare

This is cool. Foreign Policy did an interview with Peter Singer about his consulting on the newest Call of Duty Black Ops game and I wanted to comment on it. Apparently this game has some pretty interesting input as to what future warfare will look like. The theme of the game is what if we ‘lose the keys’? Or hackers steal UAV’s from countries, and use them for whatever purpose. You as the player has to deal with that world. (no word yet if Cyber Lance is a concept being used in the game, but if it has guns, I am sure it has some kind of theme that is similar)

Definitely read this interview below and then watch the documentary that they put together. I liked this quote in the interview and it deserves some mention.

FP: How about the impact of these games on the public’s perception of warfare?
PS: Again, they are an entertainment platform. But you’ll notice that in the TV commercial I was in, everything that we were exploring a year ago as we were building out the game — well, news kept popping that confirmed the trends that we were identifying as important. Those who play the game will learn about trends and issues that are real and that are familiar to those in the defense base, but are not known widely: the criticality of rare-earth elements, the moving of more systems into the AI and robotic space. But when people point to video games, I point to something bigger in the perception of war: the end of the draft. Millions of kids are playing this game, but each year the U.S. Army has to persuade a little over 70,000 to join. During World War II, the U.S. public bought $185 billion in war bonds. During the last 10 years, we bought $0 in war bonds and gave the top 4 percent a tax break. If you want to talk about connections between the public and war, there are bigger things going on than video games.

That is quite the thing to get 70,000 young men and women to volunteer every year to join the military.  I remember during the peek of Iraq, recruiting was pretty tough and the military was doing everything they could to get kids to join. The military also depended upon contractors to fill in the blanks, and we did.  They also used stop loss and even called back some folks just to keep the all volunteer force staffed.

But all in all, it is pretty damn impressive that they are still able to get folks to volunteer. If video games are able to motivate kids to think about a career in the military, or influence tomorrow’s leaders in the military, then that is a big asset to our armed forces. Especially since these games help individuals to safely explore tactics and strategies of the battlefield, and help to feed the imagination, that then leads to innovations on how we do business. Life imitates art as they say.

Although games will never replace the blood, sweat and tears of real warfare. And anyone thinking that life in a combat zone is anything like a video game, will be very much in the wrong. They will quickly readjust to it’s boring, bitter and then momentarily frightening and extremely brutal realities. Nothing new there. Oddly though, soldiers in combat zones love to play these types of games….

But, even generals and soldiers play simulated war games, just to see how all of the pieces of the military are used for various scenarios. So it helps to see what that is, through the simple tools like a sand table all the way up to video games/red teams.

The final question in this interview is a good one too.

FP: The concept of Black Ops II seems ironic. Our own high-tech weapons are turned against us. Is this a cautionary tale?
PS: One of the changes in the real world is what I call “battle-zone persuasion.” The goal is not to blow up the enemy tank, but jam it, co-opt it, persuade it to do something that its owner doesn’t want it to do. This is new in war. You couldn’t persuade a spear to do something different after its owner threw it. You couldn’t call up Tom Cruise in his F-14 and say, “Maverick, recode all MiGs as F-14s, and all F-14s as MiGs.” A couple years ago, though, the Israelis turned off all the Syrian air defenses before they struck its nuclear facility, and then came Stuxnet. We are moving toward an era of battles of persuasion, as well as the traditional kinetic side. That’s one of the things the game does. The cautionary side is to know more about this and start to build some defenses against it.

Battle zone persuasion?  Interesting. I look at pseudo-operations in the same way. Hacking mindless weapon systems is one thing, but hacking a human would be the ultimate tool of chaos and destruction on the battlefield. Then you could use that guy or team to infiltrate companies/military units/terrorists/pirates/criminal groups, or even use them to hack other mindless weapon systems. They can create chaos from within, and find/exploit all of the weaknesses. That is quite the advantage.

It also demonstrates the importance of having some kind of an elephant chisel for our weapon systems we create. To be able to destroy these things before an enemy can use them against us. But yes, we should look at what could happen if someone took the keys, and games like this can help to imagine the possibilities, and even the counter to these acts.

Peter also mentioned an interesting aspect of modern warfare that ties in with mimicry strategy. Meaning the whole opensource warfare concept (mimicry of what others are doing), where everyone learns how to build weapons based on the input of a community of weapon builders. Not only that, but I think it is important to note that an incentivization process is happening as we speak that will only fuel these weapon builders. What I am talking about is the idea of youtube, and the reward an individual gets for showing off a creation in that arena.

Specifically, I am talking about this fake quadrotor with a machine gun video, that now has over 8 million views! (that is just on his upload, and not including the uploads of his video on other sites) How many folks that have watched this video, will go back to their garage and actually try to make a real weaponized quadrotor?  And with all of the available parts and information online to build such things, then the potential for ‘building snowmobiles‘ is there.

This process happens at lightning speed as viewers observe/orient/decide/act in the construction of their weapon. They want to mimic what they see, and do one better.  Or even improve upon it, all for the attention it gets on youtube (or for winning their fight). Moore’s Law applies as well, and will further help in the mad dash to create a better mouse trap.  Not to mention the weapon companies who are into the same game of ‘build it, and show it off’ to impress potential buyers of those weapons. That is a powerful concept if you ask me, and keeping one step ahead of it is extremely difficult. Video games like this can help us imagine the potential with this stuff, so innovations can be created to counter it. The future is now, as they say….. -Matt

 

 

Since When Does Brookings Make Video Games?
Military futurist Peter Singer — and consultant for the forthcoming Call of Duty — reveals what kind of dark assumptions are baked into the next blockbuster game.
BY MICHAEL PECK
MAY 8, 2012
The Internet has been abuzz over details — and several intriguing YouTube videos — of the upcoming “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” scheduled to hit shelves in November. A sequel to the 2010 blockbuster “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” the latest iteration of the video game continues the saga of American and Russian operatives immersed in a complex 1960s Cold War plot. But much of the sequel takes place in 2025, when the United States is confronting China and when America’s high-tech arsenal of robotic vehicles is hacked, hijacked, and turned against its makers. Although the dark plot sounds like science fiction, it is actually based on solid real-world analysis provided by defense futurist Peter Singer, author of the bestselling Wired for War. Foreign Policy spoke with Singer about his work on the game:

Foreign Policy: There have been a lot of delicious rumors about Call of Duty: Black Ops II. What can you tell us about the game?
Peter Singer: [Laughs.] I’m just going to say the things that are already out there in the media. Essentially what they have revealed is that it builds upon the last game [Call of Duty: Black Ops]. The setting is broken into two parts. Some events take place in the Cold War of the 1980s, and most of it in the 2020s in a proto-Cold War that has emerged between the U.S. and China over a series of regional tensions and resource shortages. Essentially what we have done is take certain trends that are just now emerging, certain technologies that are at their Model T Ford stage, and move them forward into likely potential futures. The same for the political side as well, playing what happens if they move forward. We identified key trends shaping the current and future battlefield. Some you will see played out in robotics. A generation ago, this was all science fiction. Today, the U.S. military has 7,000 unmanned vehicles in the air, some of them armed, and 12,000 on the ground. We have 50 countries out there beginning to use military robotics. We might see evolution in other directions of robotics, such as bigger is not always better. An example in the game is the armed tactical quadcopter. As part of the marketing for the game, we put out a viral video of one of these made real. I know a Pentagon office has started looking at it and asking, “Why can’t we have this?”

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Publications: Selective Privatization Of Security: Why American Strategic Leaders Choose To Substitute PSC’s For National Military Forces, By Bruce Stanley

This study argues that when political leaders chose to reduce their nation’s military force structure, they may face conflicts beyond their anticipated scope and duration. Such decision- makers are left with no choice but to legalize and legitimize the use of PMCs resulting in the increased use of PMCs as a deliberate tool of foreign policy.

A big hat tip to David Isenberg for finding this paper and posting his commentary about it. What makes this so significant is that the author of the paper is actually using qualitative and quantitative analysis to prove exactly what the reason is for the rise of the use of private security contractors. It is this kind of analysis that can be pointed to as ‘empirical’ evidence for what is really going on with this industry. Here is what David had to say about the paper:

Considering how many times over years I have critiqued the private military and security (PMSC) industry for making claims without providing evidence to back it up, it is always noteworthy to find that rare person who tries to fill that empirical evidence gap.

Absolutely. This is important stuff, and especially for those that are policy makers in government. It is also important information that companies can use for strategic business planning.

I also really enjoyed the use of economic theory in this paper. In essence, this model of dissertation is pretty close to what I would use for something like Offense Industry.  It is also interesting to point out that the author did come across some speed bumps when it came to incomplete data.

To be accurate in analysis, you need good data. Because the US government didn’t record as well as they could of, all of the contractors involved with this war and what they did, that studies like this one can suffer a little. The author pointed this out, but he was able to come to some interesting conclusions.

Summary
This dissertation was framed around the question of why there has been a rapid growth in the reliance on the private security industry in US foreign policy in the past two decades. More importantly this dissertation sought to demonstrate: first, that the use of private security contractors by the United States is not a new phenomenon; second, that the recent increased use of private security as an instrument of military policy or foreign policy may in fact be a consequence of deliberate policy decisions of successive presidential administrations; and third, that the security environment in the target state of an intervention is a factor that results in an increase of private security contractors. The goal of this dissertation was to move beyond most of the extant literature which describes the phenomenon, and develop theory that helps explains why there has been a rapid growth in the reliance on the private security industry.
This study argues that when political leaders chose to reduce their nation’s military force structure, they may face conflicts beyond their anticipated scope and duration. Such decision- makers are left with no choice but to legalize and legitimize the use of PMCs resulting in the increased use of PMCs as a deliberate tool of foreign policy. Using “supply-demand” theory as the theoretical approach, this dissertation built upon the three key influences emphasized first by Singer (2003) and then by others: the decreasing supply of national troops, decreasing national defense budgets, and the rising demand from global conflicts and humanitarian emergencies.
As the previous chapters demonstrate the basic theory and thus insights from the descriptive literature have value, however they failed to provide a fully exhaustive explanation of this important phenomenon. The additional elements added to the relatively spare theory resulted in a more convincing explanation of the increased use of PMCs. In sum, this study added precision to our understanding of the causes of the increased use of PMCs.
This chapter examines the findings of my dissertation, a few methodological problems, and suggests some areas for further research. The next section presents the theoretical discussion and empirical findings and conclusions from the qualitative and quantitative section. The section that follows provides a few suggestions on how to improve the research design. The final section offers a few policy prescriptions and areas for further research.
Findings
This study asserted that the private security industry fills vacuums created when the US government does not have the means or the will to fully provide domestic and international security. To understand the broader context of the private security industry’s relationship to mature democracies this dissertation focused initially on five hypotheses:
H1: When military outlays decrease there is an increase in the use of private security.
H2: When the size of a national military decreases there is an increase in the use of private military security.
H3: When the number of a military disputes, military engagements and militarized conflicts increases there is an increase in the use of private security internationally.
H4: When the duration of a military conflict increases there is an increase in the use of private security.
H5: When there is a decrease in bureaucratic controls and regulations there is an increase in the use of private security.
Three additional hypotheses were added to this study upon completion of the case studies. They are:
H6: When there is a force cap placed on the size of the military force there is an increase in the use of private security.
H7: When there is no host nation supporting the intervention there is an increase in the use of private security.
H8: When the security environment is non-permissive there is an increase in private security.
Using a mixed methods approach, the hypotheses were tested using both a qualitative and quantitative approach. The qualitative approached relied on the case method, using a series of structure focused questions to compare the outcome of three historical cases where the US used private contractors. As a result, the controlled comparison helped identify the outcome of the dependent variable, private contractors, and provided a historical explanation of private contractors in relation to a set of independent variables. In this instance, structured, focused comparison helped to tease out exactly how supply, demand and other pressures help to stimulate the rise of PMCs.
The quantitative approach relied on a statistical method, using interrupted time series to examine the use of private contractors by the US from 1950 to 2010. The quantitative component analyzed a larger time period and increased the generalizability of the findings. It also provided insight on the relative explanatory weight of different causal influences.
The findings of this research demonstrates that the three key influences asserted in the extant literature the decreasing supply of national troops, decreasing national defense budgets, and the rising demand from global conflicts and humanitarian emergencies are very important to understanding the rise of the private security industry in the past two decades. Yet as this dissertation shows the nature of the security environment in the target state and the reduction (or elimination) of bureaucratic controls in the acting state are also important to explaining the increased reliance of the private security industry. Two other variables that were prevalent in the case studies that may be a factor in the increased reliance on private contractors: limitations on the number of troops committed to an intervention, and the duration of the intervention.

So that is is pretty interesting. A company can literally look at the current situation and say that if their country decreases the size of their military force, the size of that military’s budget decreases, and there is a dramatic increase in conflict/emergencies, that the demand for force will more than likely point towards the use of PMSC’s. And you can see that going on throughout the world as we speak.

But the thing that I look at is the strategic uses of PMSC’s. I have always argued that this industry is a strategic asset, and not a liability–regardless of the few hiccups this industry has had over the years. We are what made the concept of an ‘All Volunteer Force’ work. Here is the quote that grabbed my attention.

Policy Implications
State policy makers may be able to use the results of this study to inform decisions on military budgeting, structure, or civil-military relations. As the worldwide economic crisis continues, policy makers faced with budget choices will look to reduce their military expenditures and possibly their military force structure. However, if they are faced with foreign policy problems requiring military intervention, then it should not be surprising if they substitute national military forces for private security forces. It is likely that more state policy makers may move towards the legalization of private security companies. Thus, the trend towards legalization leads toward further legitimization of the use of private security contractors. The US has certainly set the example in the past twenty years for other nations to follow.

This legalization process is the one thing that I am always on the look out.  The Letter of Marque is probably the most significant legal mechanism out there for authorizing companies to wage war in the name of the state.

As to current legalization processes, I would have to say that it has been slow and tedious. But we are seeing movement, and the Commission on Wartime Contracting is a prime example of that effort. I point to the recent legislation that members of this commission put forth–which helps to further legitimize this industry.

As the industry is further legitimized by lawmakers seeking better controls over it, then the comfort in using such a force for foreign policy increases.  Most of all, it allows this nation to enjoy their ‘peace dividend’ at the end of wars, but at the same time have a mechanism in place that can support a call up of force for whatever emergency or conflict that may come up.

The use of the ICoC and the standardization process that is currently going on throughout the world is another example. Efforts like this will further legitimize the use of private security and will help to increase it’s use. Even with the current grey areas of legal use, we are seeing the maritime security industry grow at an incredible pace. Armed guards on boats is definitely another example of this increased use of private security.

As for actual strategy, sometimes private force is the better option. It gives politicians the ability to quietly buildup or draw down for a conflict. Private forces fill in the gaps as the use of force is debated, depending on the current political environment. Meaning one day, a President might have a specific strategy for a conflict that a nation is involved with, and then within a month when that President is voted out of office by a President with a different strategy, then that military must be able to flex with that.  Private security is what allows for that flexibility.  Likewise, PMSC’s have been used by two Presidents of different parties, both with different strategies, and in multiple wars over the last ten years. Obviously someone likes us. lol

In fact, we have actually reached a point in the war where there were more contractors than military force in places like Afghanistan. Or that contractors became the primary force representing US interest in places like Iraq.

In closing, it is amazing to me that we have this massive officer corps for the military, numerous think tanks, and plenty of military colleges that all focus on the use of ‘military force’.  And yet, private force is making this much of an impact on the way we do business? Does anyone else see the imbalance here? Where are the think tanks dedicated to the use of PMSC’s?  Where are the PMSC colleges and universities? What institutions other than the military or business schools produce the future leadership of ‘private security and military companies’?

It is also odd to me that there are so few voices talking about this.  I can count on my hand, the number of blogs or journalists that purely focus on PMSC’s. It is nice to enjoy a niche like this as a blogger. But for how significant this industry is, and how fast it has grown, I would have thought that more folks would have come into the mix to analyze and synthesize about this industry. Interesting stuff, and it really makes you think. A big hat tip to Bruce Stanley for the work he put into this! -Matt

Link to paper here.

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