Warfare risk analysis

John Dickerson:

Any risks—whether, for example, singing onstage, starting a company, or rock climbing—pale compared with the risks a soldier takes in combat. A soldier risks his own life, the lives of his comrades, and the lives of innocent civilians. An officer has this burden, and more, because he also makes the decision to risk the lives of his soldiers, knowing that some of them will come to harm.

Marine Gen. James Mattis, 59, has been making these decisions for almost 40 years since his graduation from Central Washington University. He led combat troops in the first Iraq invasion as a lieutenant colonel. He commanded Marines as a brigadier general in Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003 he was the Marines ground commander in Iraq, leading the 20,000 troops of the 1st Marine Division for 500 miles over 17 days, the longest sustained march in Marine Corps history. He returned to Iraq months later to direct the fight against insurgents in the raging Al-Anbar province. Now a four-star, Mattis is commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command. It's his job to help the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines fight in coordination. He has also become a key figure in the debate over how the military should adapt to irregular warfare, the kind in which enemies hide in mosques or deploy computer viruses.

And Mattis has made a special study of risk. After returning from Iraq, he pushed to create the Marine Infantry Immersion Simulator. Built in an enormous former tomato-packing plant, the training course helps reduce the risk of friendly-fire accidents by re-creating the chaos of close-quarter combat. It also uses holograms to help Marines make the split-second decision between shooting an enemy turning the corner with a bomb and sparing the woman with a loaf of bread. In 2006, Mattis and Army Gen. David Petraeus led the push to write the Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which guides troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The manual articulates a new concept of risk: Troops use less force and accept more short-term vulnerability to build ties with locals that will bring longer-term security.

Mattis is an evangelist for risk with two core principles. The first is that intellectual risk-taking will save the military bureaucracy from itself. Only by rewarding nonconformist innovators will the services develop solutions that match the threats conceived by an enemy that always adapts. The second is that technology cannot eliminate, and sometimes can't even reduce, risk. Mattis warns about the limitations of sophisticated weapons and communications. They can be seductive, luring military planners into forgetting war's unpredictable and risky nature, leaving troops vulnerable.


There is much more.

He explains what happens as you get close to the decision point.

Risk analysis is an important science on the battlefield and in other aspects of life. It was the failure of risk analysis that permitted the financial crisis to spin out of control. Because management and those making the investments in certain derivitives did not comprehend the magnitude of the risk they were incurring, losses multiplied at an exponential rate. The same thing can happen on a battlefield where leaders are operating with invalid assumptions.


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