Part 2 – Building on shifting sands: Start with the why
27 April 19
How the force structure is laid out, as in Part 1, will be crucial. However, this section will focus on what the structure does and discuss the constant pursuit of why, as a central consideration to achieve success.
Numerous military commentators have highlighted how the future operating environment will be a mesh of previously separate elements – alluded to in Part 1. Force elements will therefore need to operate seamlessly across the varying descriptors: congested, contested, connected, coastal, cluttered and constrained. Current force structures are designed around mass manoeuvre to win wars. These are too cumbersome and insufficiently trained to succeed simultaneously in the descriptors characterised by competition and confrontation (and counter terrorism). A force structure will need to be focussed on flexibility and adaptability if it is to succeed. Smaller, flexible formations that are trained to perform in the above descriptors could offer better adaptability by being scalable. The Part 1 proposal of graduated capabilities in small Teams, will offer a group of teams with a mixture of complimenting capabilities, to solve the identified challenges organically. This in combination with RM/commandos unique ability to operate across all environments offers broader employability; flexible and adaptable. This breadth of training demonstrates high competence and flexibility for roles.
From a Tactics, Techniques and Procedural perspective, small teams also provide benefit. Force structures, of 8-man sections, whilst logical is suited to traditional combat roles of a Westphalian system. When we look to recent campaigns (Iraq/Afghanistan) of labyrinth urban compounds, subterranean (Karez) systems, IED and asymmetric threats, air and land mobility, it becomes clear that the old force structures were not necessarily right. All of these facets reflect the predicted future operating environment, in the near-past and indeed, the present. Three 8-man sections per troop are too large to effectively blend and partner with Indigenous Forces. Furthermore, they do not currently offer all the demanded skills and capabilities to enable them. Having a 14-man Team (Table 1.1) split into two 5-man sub-teams (plus two 2-man C2 elements) of skilled individuals provides a credible fighting element of two pairs. It also has a reserve individual who can be part of the Team and be utilised to cover any gaps or vulnerabilities. He/She could be a link(wo)man for a subterranean system or in a compound setup where Line of Sight communications are limited (as mesh networked radios are likely a way off yet, if we’re honest). Additionally, this could be a sub-tactical reserve to provide CASEVAC or enhance the Team’s firepower, to ensure momentum and tempo isn’t lost. Or it could be the commander, giving him/her the freedom to focus on C2. Furthermore it offers a leaner more capable force able to partner, enable and blend with a larger Indigenous Force, which can still be aggregated to perform unilaterally. We must be mindful that Indigenous Forces want enablers, not just another shooter. The remainder of the Team could provide two 2-man command and control elements, should the Team be further split down and disparate; creating two manoeuvre groups per Team, to spread enablers further. Whilst these C2 elements would provide limited firepower and capabilities, their main function is C2. The composition would therefore be a SNCO/OF1-2 along with communicators.
Future Commando tasks may also see teams aggregate or disparate conducting long-range insertion to destroy or disrupt enemy infrastructure or defensive locations, to disrupt A2AD and create access, consequently enabling the theatre entry for mass. The graduated skillsets of the proposed model would make it easier for commanders to identify and select whole Teams for bespoke tasks. To achieve this scenario currently, we would require ranks to be cherry-picked from various sections/troops/companies to form one group, further amplifying chaos. This model composition is conceived with savings in mind to make up-skilling cost neutral (every contemporary officer innately seems to try and achieve cost savings, in the current environment). Any cost of up-skilling will likely have to be found internally. However, conscious of the logical ‘assault, suppress, reserve’ TTP, these Team’s could have three sub-teams of 5-pax to offer a broader set of skills per Team of 19-pax total.
“Battles are won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the general, the more he contributes to manoeuvre, the less he demands slaughter.” Winston Churchill
Significantly, the proposed restructured would offer two extra manoeuvre elements per sub-unit, with broader skills. This could equate to >8 extra Teams per Commando Unit (Battalion size), offering commanders at all levels the freedom to achieve effective manoeuvre. Commanders then have the freedom to use their Teams disaggregated to dominate more ground and limit or thwart enemy manoeuvre effects. This could be done physically (directly) and cognitively (indirectly) with the ‘Basic’ and ‘Specialist’ Teams achieving a purer version of the Manoeuvrist Approach; harnessing the physical direct with cognitive indirect activity, to reduce the propensity for ‘slaughter’. This tact is believed to offer greater enduring effects, with the ‘Direct Approach’ buying time for the ‘Indirect Approach’ to take hold. Alternatively, or subsequently, the Teams can be aggregated to focus their effects more precisely, at the discretion of the sub-unit commander.
This force structure offers better mobility, as complete force elements can fit onto mobility platforms easier, enabling coherent C2 and TTPs by moving as a complete Team – Merlin and Chinook cannot carry a full Troop of 28-pax currently, which adds further chaos to C2 (Osprey V22 may be a platform solution). Smaller size Teams would offer better opportunities for future mobility platforms, as the reduced load would offer enhanced capability options: range, protection and agility. The future operating environments listed above may require Commandos to insert over long ranges, into more asymmetric dangers, across various domains. The capabilities will need to suit these demands. As protection goes up, so to does weight, which reduces mobility. A compromise must be sought, which could be found in either the protective equipment and ammunition type (man or platform) or the number of pax these platforms carry. To increase our capability, we will need to find weight savings in the above areas. Any changes will demand revision of the way we structure and operate, akin to the proposals laid out.
Finally, the ‘Why’?
Underpinning all of this is a vision. A lot of recent media attention has focussed on innovative companies, which have seen eye-watering revenues: Amazon, Microsoft, Apple etc. We must be alive to their successes and identify transferable lessons for our own development. The YouTube sensation, Simon Sinek, has proposed that their success stems from the ‘why’; it is the vision that propels them. Each of these companies had an idea or vision, which enabled employees to commit to and drive forward the ideas. It was not necessarily the what or the how they do their business, but the why (see Fig 2.0). Arguably the Royal Marines began to lose their why during Afghanistan and Iraq, with the shift in modern warfare from a conventional Cold War type (Westphalian), like the Falklands War. The why for the Falklands was obvious, and was backed up by an established what and how we did business. However, the why for Iraq and Afghanistan was murky (but somewhat tangible), backed up by a fundamentally flawed what and how. After initial successes, the pursuit for an undefined end (the what) and a lacking plan and structure (the how) capitulated a weak why. Whilst RM demonstrated resilience by continuing to deliver, it emphasises RM suitability for immediate or short-term interventions. The three are a trinity, with the why the critical element – some staff officers may get excited to imagine it being in a three-ball Venn diagram. Sinek emphasises we must start with why and work from there.
Although campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were the sign of a shift, no one realised the significance until recently. In truth warfare changed the moment Germans poured across the fortified border with hammers, to tear down the Berlin Wall. Having experienced defeat, Soviets changed their strategy so their ends could be achieved by their means – a key Liddell-Hart maxim. This is part of the reason we see a change in Russia’s approach today and the West continuing to operate according to previous successes. This is one of the reasons we see new complexities and classification for different types of warfare, as we struggle to comprehend something so different to what we know. This and the concurrent transformation of skillsets has diluted British military vision and made it incomprehensible. The RM must place the why at the centre of developing the what and how. It must resist from doing it the other way – the easy way.
Simon Sinek also shares insightful views on the ‘millenials’ generation needing fulfilment by tangible contribution to the organisation. Linked with the why, the armed forces, including elements of the RM, no longer feel their contribution is purposeful – reflected by Continuous Attitude Survey 2018. Many of this generation are realising that many RM roles do not correlate with the warfare they see portrayed in the media. Therefore, they lack the inspiration and motivation – the why. Possibly as a pretext, General Smith indirectly articulates this in his book Utility of Force. He notes that most Western militaries prepare and develop tactics for conventional warfare, based around Clauswitz, focussing on concentration of force. Smith argues this is no longer applicable with the ‘end of war’ and the rise of armed conflict and confrontation. The thrust of Smith’s argument is that industrial war is no longer as relevant as Irregular Warfare (see footnotes for definition). We can deduce from this that we are structured for industrial war and our personnel are therefore not fulfilled. Prescott, in his review of McFate supports this, noting that Clauswitz was based around a Westphalian system where order and norms were accepted. Prescott channels McFate and explains that Sun Tzu is a more appropriate warfare scholar to follow. As his premises were laid out before a Westphalian system was in existence, deception was primacy and therefore more relevant to today. Any RM future vision should focus on Irregular Warfare, not conventional, if it is to capture marines affinity, influence the wider audiences and be relevant. This should be seen as vital ground for a future vision. The proposed structure also moves closer to RM personnel being able to gain fulfilment from their roles with a tangible purpose. It should be noted the scalable structure would still offer the flexibility to revert to more conventional tasks if needed.
After Afghanistan and Iraq, the Royal Marines arguably lost their vision, Refocusing on amphibious skills, but still conducting arctic and cold weather warfare, COIN, STTTs, CBRN etc showed a confused vision with no obvious why. Ultimately this had a detrimental effect on morale and retention. This is highlighted prudently by USMC’s Major Spaeder as a ‘multiple personality disorder’, in his article ‘Sir, who am I?’. Like the USMC, the RM suffers multiple personality disorder too, and lost their unifying purpose (their why) which had galvanised the Corps. The view is that this is due to a constant need to prove value for money, which compels volunteering (or volun-told) for additional tasks. Moving towards Irregular Warfare, away from conventional will restrict the need to prove worth, as the why, what and how are so compelling and relevant. The re-introduction of a Future Commando Force (FCF) vision encapsulates all of these ‘personalities’ under a single banner, which all commandos can galvanise around and commit too. However, consideration for the why which underpins FCF will need to be clear – maybe it is reimagining and defining the Commando role? If it is just a title to amalgamate a mixture of capabilities and appease, it will wither. If it is a purpose underpinned by solid foundations for why, it will inspire belief and commitment, echoing McChrystal’s prophecy of “Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose” https://amzn.to/2YRb8lD. Just linking to a Defence Task or National Security Objective and constraining thinking to Defence Lines of Development will only achieve the what and how, which is unlikely to be enough.
A critical component to this will be leadership. If the tactical and operational have blended (Part 1), thereby requiring more consideration and responsibility of our junior leaders within ‘Tactical Art’, we must delegate more. Insistent protection of limited skills and capabilities (by operational HQs), whilst understandable must be acknowledged as detrimental to providing output and therefore purpose. It thwarts tactical level ability to exploit opportunities in rapidly changing competition and confrontation of Irregular Warfare. Whilst some effort has been made to experiment with greater delegation, the quote from CGS within the venerable ArmyLeader blog should be reinforced: ‘delegate until you are uncomfortable, then delegate some more.’ This supports the articles premise that more capabilities (and training) should be infused at the tactical level. Thereby seeing a closer blend of tactical and operational level activity, leading to better results and greater fulfilment of personnel.
For those that don’t know, the opening reference (in Part 1) to Game of Thrones, has a second part, which illustrates the aims of this two part article: ‘What is dead may never die…but rise again harder and stronger.’ It is clear conventional systems are (somewhat) dead, and a new era needs a new vision and structure relevant to the times of Irregular Warfare. Like a monarch changing, the current structures should change rule too, representing a newer generation. Conveniently there is an opportunity for a Commando Force agile enough to act pre-emptively and therefore flexible to react proactively… to ’rise again harder and stronger’ to ‘control the present’.
Irregular warfare (IW) is defined as a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. US Joint Operating Concept, 2007
 Admiral Olsen. A Balanced Approach to Irregular Warfare. Journal of International Security Affairs. 2009
 Garry Kasparov. Winter is Coming. 2015
 R. Smith. Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World. 2012
 Isabelle Duyvesteyn. Modern War and the Utility of Force. 2012