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  • Ending the Targeting Drill
  • Jacob Heim
Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Defense Policy, by Frederick Kagan. New York: Encounter Books, 2007, 432 pages. $28.95 (hardcover).

Frederick Kagan's Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Defense Policy traces how US military theory and planning came to be dangerously misaligned with the rebuilding and counterinsurgency missions of the Global War on Terror.1 The manpower and financial strains of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the consequences of this disconnect. Kagan argues that mainstream thinking in the American defense community has become dominated by a set of unexamined assumptions that have increasingly diverged from the actual challenges posed by the geopolitical environment.

Kagan approaches this topic as a military historian who gained first hand experience in military transformation debates during his time as a professor West Point from 1995 to 2005. Basing his argument on the history of American military theory since the end of the Vietnam War, he concludes that the success of the post-Vietnam transformation was due to an outward focus on solving actual problems posed by the geopolitical environment of the age. In contrast to this success, Kagan argues that current theories of military transformation, such net-centric warfare (NCW), have become so inwardly focused that they don't solve any relevant problems and create a host of new ones. Kagan recommends reemphasizing the outward-focused approach used by previous successful transformations. The first step in aligning Department of Defense force planning with American strategy lies in focusing on solving the concrete defense challenges of our era. Kagan gives top priority to the challenge of reconstructing defeated enemies into stable states. Citing current policies of preventative war and regime change, he warns that this mission will be with the American military for a long time to come.

In order to understand how this mismatch between political ends and military theory came about, Kagan organizes the past three decades into three broad periods: the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War through the end of the Carter Administration, the Reagan Administration's military buildup through the end of the Cold War, and the post-Cold War era. Within each period, Kagan traces the interrelationships between three elements: first, the period's prevailing doctrines and theories of war; second, the military force structure of the period and third, the actual missions assigned to the military during the period. He judges the success and failure of the major theorists of each period based on the extent to which each offered concrete solutions to contemporary technical and strategic problems.

Beginning in the aftermath of Vietnam, Kagan examines how the US military transformed itself to address the Soviet threat in Europe. In what [End Page 183] he describes as one of the most successful transformations of all time, key changes in personnel, technology, and training created a new set of capabilities for countering the Soviet military. Influential thinkers of this era, like General William DePuy and Brigadier General Huba Wass de Czege tied these evolving capabilities together into a new doctrine of AirLand Battle to solve the most pressing contemporary geostrategic challenges. These new approaches reached maturity during the Reagan administration, completing what becomes Kagan's exemplar transformation.

A new generation of airpower theorists began to emerge at the end of the Reagan Administration. Kagan traces their genesis to Colonel John Boyd and his strategies for victory through disruption of an enemy's cohesion. This concept influenced Colonel John Warden's "five rings" strategy of using airpower to fragment an enemy's military. Warden's theories, in turn, played a major role in planning the air campaign of the Gulf War. While Kagan sees value in this vein of strategic thought, he also sees in its systems perspective the seeds of later doctrinal errors.

Kagan's treatment of Boyd theories deserves special attention. Boyd's reliance upon briefing as his primary mode of communication makes explicating his theories difficult. Kagan used Boyd's unpublished briefings and writing, as well as Grant Hammond's scholarship, to overcome this challenge, leading to a solid survey of Boyd's work and its influence on current theory. The resulting portrait of Boydian theory is...


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pp. 183-186
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