Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Good Staffs Matter

As a former recidivist staff weenie, one thing that I keep thinking about when it comes to watching the performance of the Russians in Ukraine is the clearly deficient staff work.

I've touched on it a bit here, over on Midrats and my visit to Bill Roggio's podcast, so regulars here are familiar with my take; this is a textbook case of the real world impact of a dysfunctional staff culture.

No staff can do their job without clear and well thought out Commander's Intent and higher Direction and Guidance, but more importantly, the staff needs to be able to produce an honest Estimate of the Situation and Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace.

These cannot be allowed to be skewed or shaped by external biases and other kind of "forcemoding."  You can see this in exercises on a regular basis or "bespoke" wargames, but the bad habits of exercises cannot be allowed to transfer over to real-world operations.

War does not care if you are scared of your principal, or you have a pet theory to validate. If you shape all you do to artificially meet the desires of the Chief Executive - and it doesn't matter if you are invading Iraq or Ukraine - you will soon find reality revealing your poor staff work.

Over at Real Clear Defense, Taft Blackburn, Keith Detwiler & Alex Shykov have a nice, efficient breakdown of the Russian Army's performance so far. 

I especially liked their comments on the staff work;

Given the sheer number of units pulled from across Russia for the invasion, planning for the operation would have been a central military task for the General Staff. However, as the war grinds on, we are beginning to see cracks in the Russians’ planning. The opening air and missile attacks appear to have failed to defeat the Ukrainian air force and air-defense forces. Russian logistics planning may not have accounted for fuel shortages stemming from combat losses of transport vehicles or soldier indiscipline. Russian planners also seem to have underestimated the will of the Ukrainians to fight, the effectiveness of Western anti-tank and man-portable anti-aircraft weapons, and the will of the European nations to continue arming a defiant Ukrainian state.

Viewed collectively, these shortcomings likely point to insufficient training or experience in military staffs. Past large-scale exercises were often scripted. This may be the first time many of the Combined Arms Army and lower echelon staff have planned such a complex operation. While many of the Russian commanders and surely select staff officers have combat experience in Syria, the majority of the staff likely do not. Deploying individual officers or select tactical units does not directly translate into experienced, functioning staff able to plan and execute combined arms combat operations, often while on the march.

Before drawing final conclusions on the Russian military performance, it will be imperative to fully understand the impacts of the unique conditions in this war. One should always be cautious about underestimating the enemy. 

All the military education and experience in the world won't help you if your readiness reporting is fake, your command culture squashes contrary ideas, and your principal lacks humility.

A story as long as war.

Map credit to Institute for Defense Analyses Media Team.

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