Playing war : US military experimentation and innovation during peacetime

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2022-05-04

Authors

Kendall, Ryan C.

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Abstract

The military innovation process takes on different characteristics during wartime and peacetime. Wartime innovation has the immediate feedback of the battlefield. Peacetime innovation must account for various possible futures while facing the uncertainties of imperfect information. Military innovation studies suggest that experimentation provides a tool for overcoming this challenge. Existing scholarship characterizes experimentation as an iterative learning process that generates new data about future warfare, citing historical examples such as US carrier warfare and German combined arms maneuver. This dissertation argues that this perspective is incomplete for understanding how experimentation supports peacetime innovation. Rather than revealing the nature of future warfare, experimentation instead is most valuable as a consensus-building tool. Peacetime military experimentation is a social process within which organizations, groups, and actors influence the ideological competition within a defense policy subsystem. Social processes involve constructing knowledge and achieving consensus on beliefs of 'what is true' and 'what works.' During war, this process happens thru shared experiences on the battlefield. During peacetime, this process happens during experimentation. Military experimentation requires senior leader sponsorship, but sponsorship alone will not build sufficient consensus within the key constituencies. To increase the probability that experimentation will lead to a transition to the implementation stage of the innovation process, defense policymakers utilize an advocacy network, a loose coalition of defense policymakers and policy influencers, to build consensus across the defense policy subsystem. This dissertation examines these arguments within three case studies: the Army’s experimentation with a motorized concept in the 1980s, the Army’s New Louisiana Maneuvers and Force XXI experiments in the 1990s, and Joint Forces Command’s joint experimentation of the late 1990s and early 2000s. For defense policy, this dissertation’s findings suggest that defense policymakers should focus efforts on extending an advocacy network that connects experimentation to the broader defense policy subsystem to maximize experimentation's usefulness. Additionally, experimentation requires leaders who are intellectually engaged with new ideas, can communicate their value, have the credibility of operational experience, and participate in the advocacy network to connect experimentation with key groups. Finally, effective experimentation requires leaders who receive the requisite education and experiences early and often in their careers.

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