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A Revolution in Military Adaptation

The US Army in the Iraq War

Chad C. Serena

Publication Year: 2011

During the early years of the Iraq War, the US Army was unable to translate initial combat success into strategic and political victory. Iraq plunged into a complex insurgency, and defeating this insurgency required beating highly adaptive foes. A competition between the hierarchical and vertically integrated army and networked and horizontally integrated insurgents ensued. The latter could quickly adapt and conduct networked operations in a decentralized fashion; the former was predisposed to fighting via prescriptive plans under a centralized command and control.

To achieve success, the US Army went through a monumental process of organizational adaptation—a process driven by soldiers and leaders that spread throughout the institution and led to revolutionary changes in how the army supported and conducted its operations in Iraq. How the army adapted and the implications of this adaptation are the subject of this indispensable study. Intended for policymakers, defense and military professionals, military historians, and academics, this book offers a solid critique of the army’s current capacity to adapt to likely future adversary strategies and provides policy recommendations for retaining lessons learned in Iraq.

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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p. v

List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

As a first lieutenant and later captain, I served in the Information Operations Section of First Brigade Twenty-fifth Infantry Division, which shortly after my arrival transformed into the second of the army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (SBCT). I had the opportunity to modestly help in 1/25 SBCT’s transformation process. Through this experience I learned quite a bit about how defense policy translates...


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pp. xi-xii

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-23

In 2003, the United States had expansive security obligations including an operational commitment in Afghanistan; substantial treaty commitments in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey; peacekeeping missions in the Sinai and the Balkans; and numerous combined and special operations commitments around the globe. Traditional commitments to nuclear and conventional deterrence—many that were and are remnants of Cold War requirements—combined with expanded Global War on Terror (GWOT) deployments necessi- ...

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CHAPTER ONE: Decisions in the Post–Cold War Period

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pp. 24-43

The closing stages of the Cold War can be viewed as the beginning of the end for monopolized control of the international security environment by nation-states. Although states have never had complete control over the dispensation of violence within or across their borders or over the behavior of other actors and organizations within the system of states, they have, for at least the majority of the twentieth century, been recognized as the principal arbiters...

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CHAPTER TWO: The Transformation of the US Army

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pp. 44-56

By the end of the twentieth century the international security environment had grown increasingly foreign and complex. Although familiar challengers to US strategic interests (Russia and China) were still present, alternative challengers were emerging in Afghanistan, in the tattered, ...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Invasion of Iraq and Compelled Adaptation

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pp. 57-72

The invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. Within twenty-one days of the start of OIF, the army moved into the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. On May 1, 2003, President Bush announced the end of major combat operations from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln by recapitulating how victory in combat was achieved: ‘‘Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and...

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CHAPTER FOUR: US Army Adaptation: Organizational Inputs

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pp. 73-103

Initially in OIF the post–Cold War policies and institutional decisions that defined the army’s combat capabilities proved appropriate for the operational environment as tactical units quickly defeated their Iraqi counterparts and captured large swaths of Iraqi terrain. But by mid-2003, as the operational environment changed dramatically, the separation between strategic design and operational needs began to betray significant institutional flaws. Being prepared for combat...

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CHAPTER FIVE: US Army Adaptation: Organizational Outputs and Learning

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pp. 104-120

Like the organizational inputs examined in chapter 4, organizational outputs (the application of skills and knowledge; task performance competency; command,control, and communications; and cognition and behavior) and organizational learning (knowledge collection, transfer, and integration) were critical elements of...

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CHAPTER SIX: The US Army and the Post-9/11 International Security Environment in Perspective

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pp. 121-159

In the post–Cold War period the spectrum of conflict has been operationally fused in many instances but perhaps most spectacularly in Iraq.1 Humanitarian operations, developing civilian capacity and infrastructure, unconventional operations, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and force-on-force combat were all tasks, in some combination, that had to be conducted simultaneously to achieve strategic objectives in a number of post–Cold War conflicts. These operations were not MOOTW; instead, these operations were war as it...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Moving Forward

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pp. 160-175

Most if not all of the institutional adaptations made during the course of OIF were driven or inspired by adaptations—successful and unsuccessful—made at the tactical-unit level in pursuit of mission success. A dearth of policy, guidance, education, and training for the types of operations conducted in Iraq necessitated rapid and continuous changes by units and decision makers in contact with the operational environment and the insurgency. Lessons learned became lessons applied: Units grappled with modifying organiza- ...


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pp. 177-194

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About the Author

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p. 195

Chad Serena is an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office. He formerly served as a military intelligence officer in the US Army and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). He received his PhD from GSPIA, where he studied security policy, foreign policy, and international...


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pp. 197-206

E-ISBN-13: 9781589018006
E-ISBN-10: 1589018001
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589017832
Print-ISBN-10: 1589017838

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 754582268
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Revolution in Military Adaptation

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Organizational effectiveness.
  • Organizational change.
  • United States. Army -- Reorganization.
  • Strategic culture -- United States.
  • United States. Army -- History -- Iraq War, 2003-.
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