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International Security 28.2 (2003) 112-148

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Revolutionary Ambivalence
Understanding Officer Attitudes toward Transformation

Thomas G. Mahnken and James R. FitzSimonds

Over the past decade a growing number of defense analysts, government officials, and military officers have argued that the growth and diffusion of stealth, precision, and information technology will drastically alter the character and conduct of future wars, yielding a revolution in military affairs (RMA). 1 George W. Bush and his administration came to office promising to transform the U.S. armed forces by skipping a generation of technology. In a speech at the Norfolk Navy Base on February 13, 2001, President Bush pledged to "move beyond marginal improvements to harness new technologies that will support a new strategy." He called for the development of ground forces that are lighter, more mobile, and more lethal, as well as manned and unmanned air forces capable of striking across the globe with precision. 2

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued the administration's formal strategy for transforming the U.S. military in June 2003. The Transformation Planning Guidance (TPG) document defines "transformation" as "a process that shapes the changing nature of military competition and cooperation through new combinations of concepts, capabilities, people and organizations that exploit our nation's advantages and protect against our asymmetric vulnerabilities to sustain our strategic position, which helps underpin peace and stability in the world." 3 The fundamental assumption of the TPG is that existing U.S. forces—and evolutionary improvements to those forces—will not be [End Page 112] adequate for future threats, new challenges, and unexpected circumstances. The explicit goal is to transition from "an industrial age to an information age military" to achieve "fundamentally joint, network-centric, distributed forces capable of rapid decision superiority and massed effects across the battlespace." 4 In his foreword to the TPG, Rumsfeld states that transformation is not limited to forces, but includes people and processes: "We must transform not only the capabilities at our disposal, but also the way we think, the way we train, the way we exercise, and the way we fight." 5 In other words, the current path is not satisfactory: A major course change is required, and required now.

The essence of the TPG is a detailed set of actions and milestones that seek to institutionalize the process of "continual transformation" within the Defense Department's force planning, programming, and budgeting system. The transformation goals and processes recommend significant operational and organizational changes that should be expected to have widespread and lasting impact within each of the military services.

Publicly, the individual military services have enthusiastically embraced the concept of force transformation. Yet major changes in dominant platforms, concepts, or organizations have not been evident. With the possible exception of the Army's stated intention to move from a heavy-weight force of armored and mechanized divisions to a medium-weight Objective Force employing lighter and more dispersed formations, the services would appear to be following normal paths of evolutionary improvement rather than radical change. The media have been filled with accounts of repeated clashes between Rumsfeld and advocates of change, on the one hand, and the military services, on the other. More than two years into Rumsfeld's tenure as secretary of defense, the Defense Department has canceled only one major weapons program, the Army's Crusader artillery system.

This article explains why it has proven difficult to implement the type of large-scale change within the military services that the Bush administration seeks. We believe that broad support within the officer corps is a key element in force transformation. We argue that although the officer corps is open to the idea of change in the abstract, this attitude does not extend to changes that would create new services or devalue currently dominant military systems. Senior civilian and military leaders, Congress, and the defense industry all figure prominently in the theoretical literature on innovation and have received most [End Page 113] of the attention in the current debate over force transformation. 6 The role of the officer corps has received...


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