Shock and Awe — Achieving Rapid Dominance

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Shock and Awe:

Achieving Rapid Dominance

Written By

Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade



L.A. “Bud” Edney, Fred M. Franks, Charles A. Horner, Jonathan T. Howe, and Keith Brendley

NDU Press Book

December 1996


Introduction to Rapid Dominance

Chapter 1. Background and Basis
Chapter 2. Shock and Awe
Chapter 3. Strategic, Policy, and Operational Application
Chapter 4. An Outline for System Innovation and Technological Integration
Chapter 5. Future Directions

Appendices — Reflections of Three Former Commanders

Biographies of the Study Group Members


We are in the early stages of what promises to be an extended debate about the future of conflict and the future of our defense establishment. Few will deny that the winds of change are blowing as never before, driven by a radically altered geopolitical situation, an evolving information-oriented society, advancing technology, and budgetary constraints. How our nation responds to the challenge of change will determine our ability to shape the future and defend ourselves against 21st century threats. The major issue, however it may be manifested, involves the degree of change that is required. Advocates, all along the spectrum from a military technical revolution to a revolution in military affairs to a revolution in security affairs, are making their cases. Military institutions are by their very nature somewhat conservative. History has shown that success has often sown the seeds of future failure. We as a nation can ill afford to follow in the footsteps of those who have rested on their laurels and failed to stretch their imaginations.

Often, those who are the most knowledgeable and experienced about a subject are not in the most advantageous position to understand a new world order. Yet these same individuals are often among the most credible voices and therefore are essential to progress. The authors of Shock and Awe are a highly accomplished and distinguished group with the credibility that comes from years of front line experience. Thus, this work is important not only because of the ideas contained within, but because of the caliber and credibility of the authors.

ACTIS seeks to articulate and explore advanced concepts. In sponsoring this work and in disseminating its initial results, we hope to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about alternatives, their promises, and their risks. As the authors note, this is a work in progress meant not to provide definitive solutions but a proposed perspective for considering future security needs and strategies. To the extent that vigorous debate ensues we will be successful.

David S. Alberts

Washington, D.C.

October 1996


The purpose of this paper is to explore alternative concepts for structuring mission capability packages (MCPs) around which future U. S. military forces might be configured. From the very outset of this study group’s deliberations, we agreed that the most useful contribution we could make would be to attempt to reach beyond what we saw as the current and commendable efforts, largely but not entirely within the Department of Defense, to define concepts for strategy, doctrine, operations, and force structure to deal with a highly uncertain future. In approaching this endeavor, we fully recognized the inherent and actual limits and difficulties in attempting to reach beyond what may prove to be the full extent of our grasp.

It is, of course, clear that U.S. military forces are currently the most capable in the world and are likely to remain so for a long time to come. Why then, many will ask, should we examine and even propose major excursions and changes if the country occupies this position of military superiority? For reasons noted in this study, we believe that excursions are important if only to confirm the validity of current defense approaches. There are several overrarching realities that have led us to this conclusion. First, while everyone recognizes that the Cold War has ended, there is not a consensus about what this means for more precisely defining the nature of our future security needs. Despite this absence of both clairvoyance and a galvanizing external danger, the United States is actively examining new strategic options and choices. The variety of conceptual efforts underway in the Pentagon to deal with this uncertainty exemplifies this reality.

At the same time, the current dominance and superiority of American military power, unencumbered by the danger of an external peer competitor, have created a period of strategic advantage during which we have the luxury of time, perhaps measured in many years, to re-examine with a margin of safety our defense posture. On the other hand, potential adversaries cannot be expected to ignore this predominant military capability of the United States and fail to try to exploit, bypass, or counter it. In other words, faced with American military superiority in ships, tanks, aircraft, weapons and, most importantly, in competent fighting personnel, potential adversaries may try to change the terms of future conflict and make as irrelevant as possible these current U.S. advantages. We proceed at our own risk if we dismiss this possibility.

Second, it is relatively clear that current U.S. military capability will shrink. Despite the pledges of the two major American political parties to maintain or expand the current level of defense capability, both the force structure and defense infrastructure are too large to be maintained at even the present levels and within the defense budgets that are likely to be approved. Unless a new menace materializes, defense is headed for “less of the same.” Such reductions may have no strategic consequences. However, that is an outcome that we believe should not be left to chance.

This shrinkage also means that the Pentagon’s good faith strategic reviews aimed at dealing with our future security needs may be caught up in the defense budget debate over downsizing and could too easily drift into becoming advocacy or marketing documents. As the services are forced into more jealously guarding a declining force structure, the tendency to “stove-pipe” and compartmentalize technology and special programs is likely to increase, thereby complicating the problem of making full use of our extraordinary technological resources. This means that some external thinking, removed from the bureaucratic pressures and demands, may be essential to stimulating and sustaining innovation.

Third, the American commercial-industrial base is undergoing profound change propelled largely by the entrepreneurial nature of the free enterprise system and the American personality. Whether in information or materials-related technology or for that matter in other areas too numerous to count, the nature of competition is driving both product breadth and improvement at rates perhaps unthinkable a decade ago. One sign of these trends is the reality that virtually all new jobs in this country are being created by small business. In the areas of commercial information and related management information systems, these changes are extraordinary and were probably unpredictable even a few years ago.

On the so-called information highway, performance is increasing dramatically and quickly while price, cost, and the time to bring to market new generation technology are diminishing. These positive trends are not matched yet in the defense-industrial base. One consequence of this broad commercial transformation is that any future set of defense choices may be inexorably linked to and dependent on this profound, ongoing change in the commercial sector and in learning to harness private sector advances in technology-related products. It must also be understood that only the United States among all states and nations has the vastness and breadth of resources and commercial capability to undertake the full exploitation of this revolutionary potential.

Finally, it is clear that U.S. forces are engaged and deployed worldwide, often at operating tempos as high as or higher than during the Cold War. These demands will continue and the diversity of assigned tasks is unlikely to contract. These forces must be properly manned, equipped, and trained and must carry out their missions to standards that are both high and expected by the nation’s leaders and its public. The matter of maintaining this capability while attempting to reshape the force for a changing future is a major and daunting challenge not to be underestimated.

These structural realities are exciting and offer a major opportunity for real revolution and change if we are able and daring enough to exploit them. This, in turn, has led us to develop the concept of Rapid Dominance and its attendant focus on Shock and Awe. Rapid Dominance seeks to integrate these multifaceted realities and facts and apply them to the common defense at a time when uncertainty about the future is perhaps one of the few givens. We believe the principles and ideas underlying this concept are sufficiently compelling and different enough from current American defense doctrine encapsulated by “overwhelming or decisive force,” “dominant battlefield awareness,” and “dominant maneuver” to warrant closer examination.

Since before Sun Tzu and the earliest chroniclers of war recorded their observations, strategists and generals have been tantalized and confounded by the elusive goal of destroying the adversary’s will to resist before, during, and after battle. Today, we believe that an unusual opportunity exists to determine whether or not this long-sought strategic goal of affecting the will, understanding, and perception of an adversary can be brought closer to fruition. Even if this task cannot be accomplished, we believe that, at the very minimum, such an effort will enhance and improve the ability of our military forces to carry out their missions more successfully through identifying and reinforcing particular points of leverage in the conflict and by identifying and creating additional options and choices for employing our forces more effectively.

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