Document Created: 27 February 2007
Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2007
Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy by Frederick W. Kagan. Encounter Books (http://www.encounterbooks.com), 900 Broadway, Suite 400, New York, New York 10003, 2006, 432 pages, $29.95 (hardcover).
Historian Frederick Kagan has captured the essence of transformation in the United States military from the experience of defeat in Vietnam, through an overwhelming victory in Operation Desert Storm, to recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Various authors have characterized changes in the military over the last three decades as a “revolution in military affairs,” “transformation,” “reinvention,” and “military reform.”
Kagan begins his treatment of military transformation by describing in detail the changes in strategy, technology, organization, training, and military doctrine that occurred after the Vietnam War. This transformation was “all encompassing” and threat based, focusing on the Cold War. Thus, true trans formation took place because of the lessons of Vietnam; Kagan warns that attempting to transform while at the “height of power and success” after Desert Storm is the “most difficult of undertakings” (pp. 70–71).
Throughout the book, one finds a number of interesting threads that strengthen the author’s arguments. One of the most striking (and satisfying) is the treatment of transformation in the military services. Each has transformed in its own way, particularly in terms of equipment and organization, although one finds striking parallels among the services regarding some transformation activities, such as training.
The author’s treatment of the “Value of Diversity” also proves interesting. He describes different solutions that each service developed for some of the problems of warfare as well as the apparent redundancy of systems resulting from multiple responses. Kagan sees this phenomenon as a source of great strength—for example, the overlapping capabilities of the F-16, F-15, and F-14, and the Apache’s “daunting array of capabilities” that “ensures that there is no single threat that can unhinge the U.S. air campaign” (pp. 66–67). Having a single “perfect” aircraft would have involved compromises whereas our current suite of systems provides complementary capabilities.
The author addresses the contributions of military theorists, most notably those of John Boyd and John Warden, particularly the revolution-in-airpower theory initially developed by Boyd and expanded by Warden during Desert Storm—together with lessons from that operation. He concludes that the key to success in Desert Storm was a “well-prepared ground offensive . . . launched in a timely manner to take full advantage of the disruption and disaggregation caused by the well-planned and skillfully conducted air campaign” (p. 141).
Critical of network-centric warfare, Kagan notes its three fundamental flaws: it is a solution in search of a problem, the technical requirements needed to produce the capabilities sought and promised are unattainable in the real world, and it proceeds from a misunderstanding of the nature of war (p. 353). He describes this type of warfare as an indicator of the “movement away from the political objective of war toward a focus on killing and destroying things” (p. 356).
The book concludes by proposing a “new way” of approaching transformation efforts in the US military and provides some possible scenarios for conflict in the future, including potential scenarios in China, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran. Not surprisingly, Kagan recommends increases in both the defense budget and manpower levels of the ground forces as well as shifting from a capabilities-based approach for military development to a threat-based approach on obvious current threats (pp. 389–90).
Finding the Target is an exceptional book, well researched and relevant for military audiences. For those who have served in the military during the 1970s and 1980s, it provides an excellent treatment of the remarkable transformation that took place in the services during that period, while making a chilling comparison to current transformation efforts.
Dr. Jack D. Kem, Colonel, USA, Retired
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author
cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of
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