Organizational Change in Uncertain Times:
The U.S. Military and Millennium Challenge 2002

Donald Chisholm
Professor, Naval War College

September 25, 2002

Note: The opinions expressed below are those of the author only and do not represent the views of the Naval War College, the Department of the Navy, or the Department of Defense.

My focus today is on organizational change and Millennium Challenge 2002. Let me first outline several key characteristics of military organizations, then the changes facing the military, the reactions to these changes, and, finally, provide a brief overview of Millennium Challenge itself.

In evaluating organizational change in the military, it is important to understand the institutional context. Its size and complexity make uniform action difficult under any circumstances, much less when the desired action is a departure from history and training. Moreover, military organizations are closed institutions with hierarchical structures that do not lend themselves readily to change (such change is more easily facilitated by flatter, less centrally controlled organizations). Military institutions are relatively resistant to the outside influences that typically permeate other public agencies or private enterprises, not least because the uniformed seniors of today must be drawn from the pool of officers that entered the military 30 years ago; they cannot be brought in from other organizations. The military services are personnel and capital-intensive enterprises that must usually adapt existing assets—e.g., ships, aircraft, and their attendant weapons systems—to changing circumstances—rather than purchase or train wholly new capabilities. As the services attempt to adapt, they must do so in a dynamic, if not turbulent, environment characterized by disjunctures between new problems and the scale and scope of its overall training and missions. The military must usually do this absent the iterative environment that would be provided by frequent, large-scale combat operations—there are few "schools of hard knocks" to test and improve personnel and equipment. And, given the range and variety of operations the military now finds itself conducting, lessons learned in one operation may not inform succeeding operations. The desire to compensate for this dearth of large, integrated practical experience is a prime motivation for large-scale experiments like Millennium Challenge.

A number of environmental, technological, and institutional changes currently confront the U.S. military services. As we know, the Cold War ended a decade ago, and with it went the armor-centric conception of conflict in Central Europe and bottling up the Soviet fleet in the North Atlantic. Military activity evolved into scenario-based planning for specific Major Regional Contingencies (MRCs) in areas far removed from Europe, and supporting a wide range of military operations other than war (MOOTW) with missions equally far removed from Cold War era training. New threats are on the horizon—weapons of mass destruction possibly wielded by well-resourced non-state actors, ballistic and cruise missiles, and the long-term emergence of China as a peer competitor will likely present persistent challenges for future US military operations. As this external environment changed, internal factors also changed. Demand in the private economy for technically savvy personnel has challenged military recruiting and retention. Constrained budgets have forced the Services to do more with the same or even less, including living on the capital created during the Cold War.

Technological change has also been a dramatic fact of life for military planners. The trend toward miniaturization, "smaller is better," long-range precision weapons, and instant communications are all pushing and pulling the military as it adapts to a new environment. As we'll see, many of these technological innovations were put to the test in Millennium Challenge.

In addition, the military services themselves are undergoing substantial change due to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which established the primacy of Jointness and elevated the importance of Combatant Commanders as military planning and executing entities. As a result, the Combatant Commands are becoming political focal points around the globe, the Services play a more constrained role as force providers focused almost exclusively on training and equipping, vice deploying, forces, and the Combatant Commanders have the primary role in war planning and the peacetime activities that support those war plans.

How has the military reacted to these changes? Overall, the military has adapted well. The Services are increasingly flexible and are effectively adapting current platforms to new missions. The use of blue-water, carrier-air-defense, AEGIS cruisers as TLAM platforms operating in the littorals is just one example of this. Reflecting Goldwater-Nichols and the broader changes outlined earlier, the military also is actively incorporating outside organizations to an unprecedented degree. Jointness is recognized as being helpful to all of the Services, diplomatic options are viewed as critical to shaping the battlefield, and other US Government agencies (CIA, Treasury, DEA, etc.) are being integrated into operations from the beginning, not the end. Although presently overused, "transformation" is being internalized within many organizations as principles of focused/Just-in-Time logistics, lighter and leaner power projection, and Rapid Decisive Operations are gaining serious deliberation throughout the military. Networked communications and reachback capabilities are helping assemble actual distributed collaborative planning systems.

What are the implications for Millennium Challenge? First, some background on the experiment. Held over three weeks in July and August of 2002, the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) sponsored exercise included over 13,000 personnel from all four Services operating from 18 locations across the continental United States at a cost of $250 million. It was the first all-service joint experiment, vice exercise. Rather than attempting to do better previously adopted doctrine and concepts, MC 02 aimed to test new ways of conducting the military's business. Including both live and simulated forces, Millennium Challenge's scenario was based on the U.S. being invited by a notional country to stop aggression by a renegade military commander.

While testing joint operational constructs such as Rapid Decisive Operations and Effects Based Operations were its prime objectives, each service brought its own agenda—the Navy, for example, looked to assess a new planning process that produced a Maritime Tasking Order (analogous to an Air Tasking Order). The experiment also was populated with a large number of specific "limited objective" tests of specific equipment along with broader assessments of organizational performance and interaction. For example, the ability of multiple participants to communicate in real time across time, medium, and space was a key concern for exercise planners, as was the time required to track, target and destroy time sensitive targets. The Navy tested the utility of a commercial design High Speed Vessel (HSV) for various missions.

The extraordinary scale and complexity of the experiment—so many factors varied simultaneously—rendered it difficult to ascertain the effects of any single aspect of the endeavor. Nonetheless, an effort like Millennium Challenge is unusual for any organization, public or private. It provided some lessons relevant to all such experiments and simulations. As with many operations with lengthy planning periods, the rotation of military personnel meant that many involved at the genesis of planning were not present for the actual experiment, leading to steep learning curves as new personnel adapted to unfamiliar systems and procedures. Similarly, support to the War on Terror limited the availability of selected platforms for the experiment. While simulations are attractive on the grounds of cost, the lack of realism was still cited as a limitation on gaining insights. The experiment's scale, public visibility, and the participation of all four Services also attracted the close attention of many senior military leaders, which certainly affected the conduct, outcome, and applicability of activities undertaken during Millennium Challenge. Finally, the experiment also demonstrated that an intensive environment was well suited to testing large concepts, but that often the most useful things to know are nonetheless the most difficult to measure—e.g., organizational processes.

Millennium Challenge suggested that many of the operational constructs under development have promise—systems worked, machines talked to machines, and the fog of war was diminished. The participants found time sensitive targeting to be challenging—finding and striking a mobile target in less than 20 minutes was difficult. Littoral operations, specifically the threats of mines and coastal defense, are likely to demand different naval platforms and operational concepts. Finally, the increased information transparency often enabled more, not less, centralized decision-making as senior leaders asserted control over distant decisions that nonetheless unfolded right before their eyes.

Dr. Chisholm is a Professor in the Joint Military Operations Department of the Naval War College. Dr. Chisholm earned his A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. in political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and is presently at work on a book on the amphibious operations of the Korean War.

Rapporteur: Oliver Fritz

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