The Pentagon has been at the epicenter of the war against militant Islamism since the morning of September 11, 2001. It also finds itself in the middle of an ongoing and evolving “transformation.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld opened the Office of Force Transformation at the Pentagon in October 2001. However, as the first term of the Bush administration began to take shape in early 2001 the Pentagon thought it would have years of relative peace and quiet to implement its long-term plans for transforming the U.S. military. Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and smaller operations around the world have both interrupted and instigated various aspects of the ongoing program.
The transformation program can be broken down into three major divisions: bureaucratic reform, technological improvements and evolutions in doctrine, strategy and tactics. The biggest obstacle that stands in the way of a truly transformed military is not the war on terror or funding shortfalls but the mindset of many of the Pentagon’s leaders. We can call this bureaucratic, institutionalized and sometimes narrow way of thinking “Pentagonism.” Just one small example of this is the infighting between the Army and Air Force over allocation and operational control of the limited number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs.) The competition for these platforms underscores another problem within the Pentagon culture that has trickled down to some extent at least into the officer corps and enlisted ranks.
Technology is widely seen as a, if not the indispensable factor that separates us from our enemies and ensures victory over their less sophisticated ways. You see this mentality in the constant requests for more UAVs, more close air support of ground units, more stand off munitions and more networked computer systems. The UAVs are a wonderful piece of technology that have saved many American lives and ended many enemy lives, but the constant clamor for more and better ones could serve to undermine the overall tactical savvy of combat units on the ground. An over reliance on them could evoke a mindset and then a doctrine that says we need UAV support to conduct our mission. This position would be self-limiting and ultimately self-defeating. American soldiers in World War Two were well aware that their Sherman tanks were grossly inferior to the German Panzers, but superior numbers of Sherman’s and old-fashioned perseverance carried the day. The U.S. military should not put itself in the position of relying on superior technology in inferior numbers as the Nazi’s did.
In the end technology or more generally raw military power is ultimately not the way the U.S. military will defeat militant Islamism. It will have to be done by brave, tough and well-trained warriors. Americans have not successfully confronted this issue since it was the overwhelming underdog in the Revolutionary War more than 230 years ago. Since its war with British Empire it has tended to rely on overwhelming firepower to win, but as the Vietnam War demonstrated, this was not always a successful doctrine. It is one of the founding principles of the Army Special Forces that people are more valuable than technology. This core truth must be instilled in the military's culture and specifically how it fits into the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations of the Global War on Terror.
There is no doubt that the U.S. military has proven itself to be the best in the world, but to be as effective as possible in the 21st century it needs to truly transform itself. America does not have a choice: it has to win the Global War on Terror while accomplishing its core mission of maintaining dominance over all potential adversaries.