M80 Stiletto. Designed for swarming, riverine, littoral ops.

M80 Stiletto. Designed for swarming, riverine, littoral ops.

Military transformation boasts several fathers, including Andy Marshall (Yoda) of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, Andy Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments  (a Marshall acolyte) and the late Vice Adm. Art Cebrowski of the Office of Force Transformation (OFT), but relatively few children. The OFT built the M80 Stiletto (pictured above) and some in the Pentagon believe the combination of UAVs, satellite targeting and data fusion cobbled together over the last decade comprise an accidental transformational capability. Rob Holzer, a former colleague of mine who went on to work for the one Pentagon office charged with pushing transformation forward in the face of a very unfriendly (or to be kind, cautious) military, argues it’s time for the US defense enterprise to finally and truly embrace transformation. The Editor. 

The U.S. military must quickly come to grips with the inescapable fact that fundamental changes to the entire defense structure are looming — just as similar changes loomed little more than a decade ago before the events of 9/11 upended the strategic landscape. These changes could be far more disruptive than the reforms initially planned during former-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure and may be even more critical to long-term U.S. national security interests than the “Accidental Transformation” brought about during the protracted and irregular warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Facing the dire prospect of long-term budgetary austerity at home, while at the same time confronting strategic uncertainty and growing risks abroad, the U.S. military must embrace the process of fundamental change that was derailed by the decade of war. In a word, that process is called transformation.

While the concept of transformation became distorted so that it often simultaneously meant everything and nothing — and most damaging — was too closely associated with former-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure at the Pentagon — the fundamentals of the concept hold even more import for the U.S. military today.

Transformation’s previous application was stymied since its implementation took place in an ad hoc fashion in response to urgent issues arising from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. This “Accidental Transformation” still achieved notable breakthroughs in terms of exponential use of unmanned systems; robots; greater reliance on human factors in irregular warfare, and development of integrated warfighting networks and expanded use of network analytics to gain insights into terrorist organizations. Today however, transformation writ-large is a strategic imperative that the department ignores at its own peril.

At its core, transformation is about instilling a process of continual change in the U.S. military. It is about creating “maneuver space” so that dramatically new ideas and concepts can be prototyped and experimented with by the operational forces. This is not modernization or selected enhancements to existing programs. It is not about “things” so much as identifying a set of “big ideas” that will in turn yield leap-ahead technologies and capabilities. These ideas will then inject significant changes in current military organizational culture and doctrine. It is also about empowering junior officers to challenge the status quo and enabling them to pursue new ideas and concepts. That is where the true value of transformation as a strategy can take root.

Transformation is not about definitions, doctrine or master plans. It is not about compiling lists of programs to axe, although undeniably some weapon systems will have to go in order to free-up funding to invest in what capabilities come next. There is no magical end point that yields a transformed military. Instead the entire defense establishment must adopt a transformation strategy so it can fundamentally re-think and re-position itself to confront a host of adversaries adapting and innovating at rates much faster and much more dynamically than our institutions have grown accustomed to understanding.

Marginal change in defense will no longer suffice given the giant laundry list of strategic challenges facing the Defense Department in coming years. Glancing at a cursory list of global issues looming just over the horizon reveal the stark magnitude of the range of festering problems with which the U.S. military must deal. These extend from coping with rapidly rising powers like China, India and Brazil, to feeling its way through the aftershocks of the Arab Spring (including today’s widening proxy war in Syria), to responding to more frequent natural disasters and population migrations. Intertwined across all of these international issues are the twin problems of increasingly sophisticated military capabilities (ballistic missiles, precision munitions, cyber, WMD?) in the hands of more second tier states and non-state actors. In short, while state-on-state conflict may be in decline, mayhem across the globe is poised to explode.

The current Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) directed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the upcoming congressionally-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review provide robust, near-term opportunities to begin implementing transformational change across the entire defense establishment. Transformation and not marginal changes will produce the agile, flexible, lean and technologically advanced force that defense leaders continue to call for. If as Secretary Hagel says “everything is on the table,” then the development of a comprehensive Transformation agenda calling for significant change and restructuring should be the output of these strategic reviews.

The likely imposition of another $1 trillion in cuts to Pentagon spending over the next decade, via sequestration, only bolsters the immediate need to dramatically transform defense. Now is the time to rethink defense for the 21st Century and shed the leaden vestiges of Industrial Age military organization, process and procurement.

If we are truly facing a historic fiscal correction, one that leaders like JCS Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey say will last for five to seven years — or even longer — then only a bold strategy of transformation will yield the degree of change required to meet this unsettling future. Dempsey has urgently called for undertaking “unpopular but unavoidable institutional reforms” that include shedding excess equipment and bases, reforming how weapons and services are procured and reducing redundancy across the military services. That sounds a lot like the same strategic objectives that transformation advocates strove to implement back in 2000-2001.

Today’s strategic challenges are not unlike those that prevailed prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. When then-presidential candidate George W. Bush delivered his “Period of Consequences” speech at The Citadel in September 1999, he called the transformation of the U.S. military a massive, but important undertaking, since the Department was still too organized to meet Cold War threats and not Information Age battles. In an eerie echo of today’s oft-heard mantra, Bush also cited the need to create forces that were smaller, more agile and less cumbersome that currently in existence. Marginal improvements were to be avoided and new technologies and strategies would be emphasized.

To help guide the magnitude of the changes being considered, the Bush Administration created the Office of Force Transformation within the Pentagon which reported directly to Secretary Rumsfeld. The Secretary tapped the visionary admiral, Art Cebrowski, to lead this new entity. As president of the Naval War College, Cebrowski had articulated for the Navy a concept called Network Centric Warfare. The emphasis was on the NETWORK rather than the CENTRIC part (which many critics failed to fully comprehend) with the net result being a networked force was a much more effective force.

With OFT, Cebrowski argued that the Defense Department was entering a new era of military competition, driven by information-age dynamics, which called for fundamental changes in how the U.S. military was organized, trained and equipped. The future was about “the small, the fast and the many,” to quote Cebrowski, and generating these new capabilities would necessarily come by dispensing with those capabilities that were “fewer, larger and slower.”

However, the prolonged campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan—and the focus they rightly demanded—sapped the energy from Transformation’s agenda and it brought it to a bureaucratic halt. This is not to imply that significant tactical and operational innovation did not take place—it most certainly did in the form of new types of units, great gains in ISR, irregular warfare doctrine, the advancement of SOF and much deeper cultural knowledge and understanding. But these achievements were not of the scale or magnitude once considered part of the Transformation agenda.

Cebrowski’s argument holds even more value given the stark choices confronting the Pentagon today and seems to reflect what current defense leaders are seeking to implement in light of both an uncertain strategic environment and an austere budget climate. Secretary Hagel’s exhortation that the department can’t continue “tweaking or chipping away” current capabilities, processes or organization but instead must tackle the harder issue of creating entirely new entities for the 21st Century is entirely within the transformation agenda.

Change is always hard. The future is always uncertain. But now is the time to press ahead with the transformational change that the department has put off for far too long. We can’t afford to wait another decade for transformation. The time is now.

Robert Holzer is senior national security manager for Gryphon Technologies TeamBlue and former director of outreach for the Pentagon’s now shuttered Office of Force Transformation.



  • Don Bacon

    The author is mostly asking: How does the US maintain world military domination when faced with increases in other countries’ military power and decreases in the military budget? And of course the answer is that since other major powers (China, India and Brazil were mentioned) don’t need and aren’t seeking world domination, it shouldn’t be an issue. China may be seeking some regional domination, is all we see presently.

    And what about the War On Terror? It’s a mistake because (1) the terror threat to Americans is minimal, less than that of lightning strikes and (2) the crime of terrorism is better addressed with intelligence and policing, and not invasions and occupations which create new terrorists and increase terrorism.

    So yes, transform defense policies to encompass national defense only, not world domination and a bogus war on terror. Encompass the strategy of MG Smedley Butler. (That’s him shown as my avatar.)

    • Hammer6

      The United States will continue to require capabilities, regardless of foreign policies adopted. What seems to be clear is that our current system is (at best) hard pressed to deliver them. With budgets in decline, it makes sense to take a hard look at current practice and make changes. The nation needs capabilities to act globally, as “national defense” isn’t something confined to borders & territorial waters. While Smedley Bultler may have been right about adventurism & excess, that’s not reason to have no ability to project military power.

  • brick

    A lot of powerful powerpoint words. Rather than transform, how about going back to the old tried and true methods? It may seem transformative to spend a trillion to kill a few thousand jihadis, but we would have saved a lot more money if we’d just done it the old fashioned way, mano e mano. Sure, there’d be 5X the casualties, but that’s only a few tens of billions in survivors benefits. Save some money by outsourcing it. This fetish with maximizing kill ratios against the stateless or pseudo-states is not a path towards affordability.

    Walk the walk of empire, or start downsizing your domain and toysets.

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      I think you’ll find that you and Holzer are actually making the same argument– we must save, we must change our strategic goals, what we buy, how we buy it and how we use those weapons.

      • Don Bacon

        I don’t see where Holzer is addressing any change of strategic goals. Instead it’s Holzer suggesting that the U.S. may be “truly facing a historic fiscal correction” in the face of the rhetorically-overboard “giant laundry list of strategic challenges facing the Defense Department in coming years.” And this will require a new business model, which is correct.

        Holzer does mention “the current Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) directed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.” But are they looking at strategy? Apparently not. All the indications about this review concern a fiscal response to budget cuts.

        Like from Ashton Carter:

        In a memo sent to Defense Department managers on May 29 — and obtained by Government Executive — Carter instructed officials to develop options as part of the ongoing Strategic Choices and Management Review. He ordered Defense managers to prepare several fiscal scenarios in fiscal 2014: one with a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut, and another with a 10 percent cut that allowed managers flexibility to move funds to different accounts.

        Gordon Lubold at FP tells us more:

        When then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates began a series of meetings in 2009 on overhauling the Pentagon’s budget, he made sure that Michèle Flournoy, his powerful policy chief, was a key player in the negotiations. After all, strategy is supposed to drive financial choices in the Pentagon. And the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy has long been seen as the Pentagon’s strategy house.

        Four years later, current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called for a strategic review of the Pentagon’s budget. But Flournoy’s successor, James Miller, isn’t in control.

        Instead, Christine Fox, director of cost assessment and program evaluation at the Pentagon — who’s known for her budgetary and programmatic acumen — is in charge of this so-called “Strategic Choices and Management Review.”

        So it’s not “Strategic Choices and Management Review” it’s “Budget Choices and Management Review.”

        • Curtis Conway

          No vision for the future, or in other words, “we plan to fail”.

  • Peter


    “Change happens…growth is optional. Things are always changing, but growing (and adapting) from change is an optional choice (based on the individual).” –A guest on CNN said that. That’s why some people question, “We’re changing…but is he or she growing (along with us)?”

    I think the DoD’s issue is that the DoD has a hard time growing with the changes that are occurring. There’s change already: Commanche, Crusader, FMBT (that low tank with the diamond-shaped barrel as seen on the Discovery Channel’s “Extreme Machines), UGVs, Land Warrior, DragonFire, M8 Automated Gun System, A-12, “Aurora,” PZH2000 contender, Tracer Scout Vehicle, NLOS-Cannon, EFOG-Missile, CLAWS (SAM), MEADS (SAM), LAV-AD, MRAPs, Individual Carbine Replacement, Seawolf-class, SSGNs, Future Combat System, SmarTruck, etc. Those were all programs for change, BUT the issue was that not all of them worked, OR the DoD didn’t want them (M8 AGS worked but no unit in the Army wanted it), or that they were not adopted (FMBT or SmarTruck) or MEADS. MRAPs were thrust onto the Land Forces because of the need and want for it, not because the DoD wanted to change. Deagonfire auto-loading mortar and CLAWS were tested and worked well, but again, the USMC didn’t want them for some odd reason. Commanche was rumored to have finally worked, got all the bugs and kinks fixed at the end, but at a huge over-budget cost before it was cancelled. All the above programs were for change, replacement, and evolution.

    See, change would have occurred if these programs were managed properly or if the technology worked well enough to begin with, or if someone in the DoD actually embraced the system with hugs and kisses (M8 AGS or CLAWS or MEADS) and took it home with them instead of leaving it orphaned in the office.

    The DoD has to become aware of “change vs. growth.” It should…it does. Every year there are Defense Expos and airshows in Europe and Asia showcasing the newest latest systems whereas the U.S. hangs onto old upgraded legacy systems. It may come down to a point in the future where the DoD would have to “Eat it!” (MRAPs for IEDs) instead of “Want it.” (Carbine replacement tries again and again and again).

    • Lop_Eared_Galoot

      To paraphrase a certain Sith General… “You are deceived.”

      The point of Transformation without ‘definitions’ as ‘lists’ (no stops on this bus to military ruin) is to destroy the U.S. military capability so that we cannot interfere directly in a move towards world government.

      If you don’t believe this, then ask yourself the most basic question you can:
      Between the Bank Bailouts, the Fanny/Freddy induced bubble bursting, the automotive crisis, the Commercial debt, Medicare/Medicaid and of course SSI, we are somewhere in the region of 60-80 trillion dollars in the hole.
      Not 16 trillion. 60.
      Would shaving a trillion in the coming decade help stave off the certain inflationary crisis when China normalizes the RMB and interest rates rise overnight from zero to three or four percent?
      Nope. Won’t even come close.

      Congress has become so blasé` about breaking the law on balanced budgets that they no longer even meet to floor debate 90% of the legislation which SHOULD be, heavily, before being signed into fiscal law. The recent tax breaks, the 1,200 pages of which nobody wanted to discuss because ‘reading is hard!’, come to mind here as there were loopholes that allowed the megawealthy to evacuate their coin from our about-to-crash economy. Had these been ‘discussed’, openly, the country would have seen the coming treachery and people would have hung from lampposts.
      Indeed, in 70% passed legislation, votes are cast by ‘aides’. Because the the RepSens know it’s just a floor show and they have no power to do good now.

      These aides aren’t hired by the American people and often have external interests in their role as minders for their nominal bosses. They are like the ‘experts’ who testify before select committees and whose word has more influence on policy and budget decisions than the seated members of Congress because, golly wally, they ARE paid to show up with intent to know what they are talking about.
      Just not by us.

      So. With all of this budgetary ambiguity going on for the last twenty years since Gramm-Rudmann, this cannot have been something we got into ‘accidentally’.
      Keep in mind that as recently as 1975, we were the world’s largest lending nation with positive credit balance at the height of the Cold War. It took Reagan’s credit era spending to create our current disaster.
      And now that there are no global threats and we have peace the NWOWGs see their chance to strike.
      And they will take it. Without mercy.

  • Historybuff

    The author seems to be addressing ‘Cultural’ issues… among other fairly visible issues of funding, development, foreign forces.

    ‘Culture’ in today’s politicized environment means gays in the military… along with women in combat roles… and recently, killing religious freedom in the military. Unfortunate, but America’s military has become the next focus for Political Correctness implementation in America.

    In my opinion, this will lead to battlefield losses in the near future. Unfortunate again… because patriotic families will lose their sons & daughters… and the political elites that pushed ‘political correctness’ will have protected their progeny.

    For a while now… I have begun to advise friends & family to not direct their children into the military – it has become too dangerous… due to criminally caused unpreparedness. America is in for some very hard lessons… painful lessons… and I don’t want to be a part of advising young men & women to go in harm’s way… where they are facing unwarranted high danger brought about by the political correct elites.

  • Don Bacon

    Booz Allen, another Pentagon consultant, has been involved in transformation with “infrastructure analysts” like Edward Snowden, currently in the news (NYTimes):

    “My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access
    to lists of machines all over the world the N.S.A. hacked,” he told The
    South China Morning Post before leaving Hong Kong a week ago for Moscow,
    where he has been in limbo in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport.
    “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

    Infrastructure analysts like Mr. Snowden, in other words, are not
    just looking for electronic back doors into Chinese computers or Iranian
    mobile networks to steal secrets. They have a new double purpose:
    building a target list in case American leaders in a future conflict
    want to wipe out the computers’ hard drives or shut down the phone

    If other world governments haven’t considered having such a capability,
    they’re surely thinking about it now. SecDef Hagel, May 30, 2013

    Cyber threats are real. They’re terribly dangerous. They’re probably as insidious and real a threat to the United States — as well as China, by the way — and every nation. This is not a threat just unique to America. It’s unique to no one. It crosses all borders.

    So what good are tanks, planes and ships when any country “X” can shut down your whole power grid? Transformation.

  • Joe Boyum

    More hyperbole to increase defense spending. Sorry but our entire force needs to be one tenth of its current size and we need 1% of the flag officers we currently have.

    • PolicyWonk

      Indeed. Last I saw, there was approximately one general officer per 600 enlistees.

  • PolicyWonk

    As soon as the term “Transformation” (“Transformational”, etc.) came out, every weapons system being sold in the USA was suddenly being marketed as “Transformational”, regardless of what it was, even the obviously cold-war weapon systems.

    But for serious transformation, weapons acquisition should be at the top of the list for a massive overhaul, if not a complete extirpation and replacement. The continued redundancies in research (amongst other areas in the DoD), and incredibly bad habits on the part of the armed services, such as modifying weapons systems designs from inception through the construction phases has to cease. The USA has gone over the deep end trying to make one thing do everything (the F-35 and LCS are good examples) well but has seeming forgotten that quantity has a quality of its own.

    As a start, I believe this nation should adopt a acquisition system similar to that used by the British. They have a defense threat analysis board comprised of civilian and military experts that analyze the threats, and determines the force structure and weapons systems required to defeat those threats (all parliament does is approve the budget). This removes a tremendous amount of redundancy, all but eliminates inter-service interoperability problems, and ends the practice of constant design changes throughout the acquisition lifecycle.

    Barring that, the entire system as is should be put under a form of receivership in return for continued funding.

    But to do all this would take serious political will and determination. The benefits would be tremendous and we’d save many billions if not trillions of dollars, while delivering superior value to the US taxpayer, who gets the lousiest deal for defense dollar spent in the western world.

  • Curtis Conway

    “There is nothing as constant as change and there is always
    room for improvement.” It’s more than
    just an axiom. Organizations that cannot
    change are historically “Toast” as others quietly position themselves to take
    advantage of the situation. That is what
    intelligence, and covert operations are all about. The rest of us must “Live in the real world”.

    Defense principles never change. Training, Readiness, Presence, effective
    force, offensive and defensive operations, and our use of national force on the
    international stage to influence individual (and more importantly national)
    behavior must be open, honest, up-front, forthright, and above board. We clearly state the principle, then provide
    the force to back it up. Once you do
    otherwise you sow the seeds of weakness and deceit.

    A principle established some decades ago was we not use the
    National Guard and Reserve forces as a parking lot for old equipment. That is why congress us upgrading the Guard’s
    M1A1 tanks to M1A2 SEPv2. That maximizes
    training, logistics, and operational requirements in the field. Any other argument is pure obfuscation from
    those who have other uses for the money, and use rationalization to justify
    their position. “The M1A1 is an
    outstanding tank on the international stage”, one can already hear the
    reply. Some of those customers of our
    industry may turn out to be adversaries, ergo M1A2 SEPv2 for the National

    In the case of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS both flavors), these
    vessels have violated tried and true rules, regulations, and principles, that have
    been established over time (mostly purchased with BLOOD ergo the establishment
    of the principles) to enable the promotion of a pet project for the US Navy and
    industry (Plans for Power Projection into the 21st Century), of
    which almost all of the elements have changed to something less than originally
    planned except on the bottom end. More
    waivers have been granted for the justification of the techniques of construction,
    manning and armament of this class of ship, than I can find anywhere in our
    history, except in national emergency. “Speed
    is our friend” one hears. You cannot
    outrun a cruise missile. And now . . .
    we find out that the ship will not only be under-armed, this vessel will find ‘strength
    in numbers’ (four (4) for Singapore).
    Well, our LCS Sailors will look like the watchman in a dangerous area,
    who had his 12 gauge shotgun taken from him (FFG-7 response to a crisis) and
    replaced with a shiny new .22 automatic with a small magazine (LCS). The protective umbrella for the LCS will be
    covering an area larger than its weapons can reach, or we will rely on a
    foreign power to show the resolve not to let US Servicemen/women die at
    sea. With this administration . . . our
    people will just ‘die at sea’ because they will be given ROE that will get them
    killed and/or the protection promised will not be there due to politics,
    budget, or just plain indecision. We
    have already seen the decisions our professional military have made in a crisis
    (Benghazi), so the cancer is DEEP, and the resolve and faith in our brethren is

    At a minimum, the FFG-7s should be replaced with a well
    armed National Security Frigate (Aegis Guided Missile Frigate would be better). Otherwise we send our sailors into harm’s way
    without the tools to deal with that potential adversary. When we send out people into the “Teeth of
    the Lion”, and intelligence didn’t let us know ‘that is the case’, and our
    people do not have the tools to deal with the situation, our people suffer.