Shoot, Move, and Communicate: Back to The Basics

Donald Trump is assembling the most prepared and credible national security team since the end of World War II. You can be assured that the team of James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford know and understand the foundational necessity of drilling the basics at every level of command and partnership. They will rightly be leery of any new and expensive platform proposals that divert funding from the basics. I seriously doubt we would have wasted billions on the Zumwalt destroyer on their watch. This no-nonsense team is already making potential adversaries nervous.

Military actions are distilled down to shooting, moving, and communicating. These foundational concepts have stood the test of time. In today’s information-rich, tech-savvy environment, it’s easy to get distracted by the latest shiny object. Don’t get me wrong; we don’t ever want to be caught on the battlefield with a technological disadvantage. Polish horse cavalry did not fare well against German tanks in 1939. But, it’s the fundamentals that will make a good military a great military.

The most dynamic of the basics is shooting, and shooting well requires technique, accuracy, effect on target, and an understanding of what you are shooting at. This is a complex skill set, including everything from rifles/artillery to submarine-launched precision-guided missiles and close air support. Those that are doing the shooting and those that are directing the shooting need to be trained and exercised constantly. And, if we are going to work effectively in a joint and combined team environment, all the players involved need to practice working together. These are skills that oxidize quickly if not exercised, and that need to be sharp when employed.

Movement is another broad topic with multitiered aspects. Tactical movement involves closing with or outmaneuvering the enemy in front of you. This is done in the air, on land, and sea. Although, you can argue that we have not been tactically tested recently in the air or on the sea. Operational movement is the effort to get forces and fires at the right place at the decisive time to ensure the tactical movement is overwhelmingly successful. And strategic movement is the deployment of people, equipment and material from bases to the theater of operations. All of these levels of movement need to be practiced and rehearsed in order to do them correctly/effectively. All three of these levels of movement become increasingly difficult when you factor in the urgency of a real combat situation, and another order of magnitude when you combine forces with allies.

The foundation of our military effectiveness is our ability to project force anywhere in the world. In order to be great, we have to be “best in class” at getting there, setting the force and decisively closing with the enemy. Nobody else in the world can do what we do, and it requires a lot of practice to orchestrate these types of movements. Again, this is not flashy or politically exciting, but we have to carve out the budget to ensure we are trained and exercised effectively in all three levels of movement.

Communication has never been more complex than it is now in the Information Age. The requirements of military communication are not complicated, but information management is hugely complicated. The basic concept of military communication hasn’t changed much: get enough credible information to make effective decisions faster than your enemy. The challenge today is managing information overload, and tweezing out the information you need. That has to be practiced in realistic situations: not easy.

Another communication challenge is the protection of information. Our military information flow has to be the best-protected networks in the world… period. We have zero tolerance for having substandard information flow when we put our national treasure in harm’s way. Keeping up with advancing technologies in this arena is certainly a budgetary challenge, but, again, training in the basics of military communication is the key. Technology is guaranteed to fail at some point (typically when you least expect it), but the well-trained will adapt, overcome and prevail.

Training has to be a high priority in the defense budget. It costs money to train effectively, although it’s not as politically exciting. Rolling out advanced ships and weapons systems are big events, typically years in the making, and politicians get to tout every milestone along the way: winning the contract, increasing district employment for many years, launching the finished product, etc. I get that, and agree we need to keep our large capital equipment up to date, but we cannot neglect the basics while doing so.

We will certainly field shiny, cutting-edge drones that launch precision missiles, loiter over the battlefield and communicate images of goosebumps on our enemy’s neck from 10,000 feet, but we better know how to use that capability. The same goes for radar-evading ships, joint multirole fighter jets, and non-line of sight targeting systems.

The basics are simple, but don’t be tempted to neglect them. Shoot, move, and communicate. These three simple words have always represented the basics, and are the foundation of a great military. Each of these basics applies from tactical to operational to strategic levels, and every level requires continuous and effective exercising to keep them best-in-class. Don’t try to sell this new national security team on a new-fangled system unless it enhanced shooting, moving, or communicating. Cutting-edge technology is good, but knowing how to employ effectively is great.

Carry on! 

Ray McFall is a former US Marine Corps infantry officer, Senior advisor at the US Department of State, and was tasked with assessing the buildup of combat power in Kuwait in preparation of the allied offensive to remove the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

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