To Defeat Terrorists, Military Services Must Innovate
By Mark Johnson, Charles McLaughlin
By any measure, reforming the half-trillion dollar, 3 million-member Defense Department is one of the largest innovation projects in history.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led the Pentagon’s transformation efforts for nearly six years and trumpeted some transformation’s successes. However, transformation as a whole will not lead to success if the military cannot win the wars it fights.
The undeniable difficulties that U.S. forces are experiencing in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and against terrorist networks around the world show that the Defense Department has much work to do before it credibly claims that transformation is a success overall.
The disruptive innovation approach—a framework for action originated by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen—provides a way to understand some important reasons why the Pentagon struggles to overcome nontraditional challenges. The approach also provides an innovation methodology for solving these key problems.
Current defense innovation efforts face a dilemma: how to both ensure that America will win future conventional wars and improve its ability to counter current and emerging nontraditional threats. Investment in one of these areas risks depriving the other of necessary resources, but under-investing in either may leave the nation vulnerable in important ways. Overall, the U.S. military is doing well in its preparation for future conventional wars and remains the world’s most dominant conventional force.
All is not perfect, however. The Army claims that it is billions of dollars short of what it needs to keep its force running, and the Air Force is cutting thousands of airmen to save money for other programs. Aging equipment places stress on maintenance systems in all the services.
The source of most of this stress is current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which drains resources from the rest of the military. Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq illustrate how the U.S. military, in spite of its conventional strength, is struggling against unfamiliar challenges posed by nontraditional adversaries. These conflicts have brought to light systematic problems in areas of nontraditional warfare.