Colonel Sensing groks the connection between antisubmarine warfare and anti-terrorist warfare, in a two part series (part one is here). I need to expand on his comments a little.
Finding what and who to shoot is the hard part of the kill chain. You have to find how your enemy disturbs its environment. Detections are fleeting; many false positives appear for every real positive, and false negatives are rampant. A “flaming datum” (explosion) is sometimes the first indication that the enemy is within the area.
I mentioned this as one of the very first posts on this blog, reporting on an Institute of Peace consortium from 2002.
In World War Two we were losing a grunch of ships due to German submarine attacks. The improvements in equipment and tactics were essential to beating the submarine threat, but there were big problems with getting those improvements built and implemented.
One problem was cultural. The accepted way to not get hit by a submarine was to leave port at speed and continue the run at ahead flank, as fast as you could, and get there as quickly as you could. The concept of waiting to assemble a group of ships, then lumbering at the slowest ship’s speed, staying together, and zigging all the time, was strongly opposed by operators and leaders. Convoying was Just Not Manly, and implementing convoys was an institutional change that required a leader to ignore the best advice of good experts who were passionately concerned that the convoy method would kill our boys. Both sides of the argument thought they were doing their best and were convinced of their argument. Institutional change is hard, and conceptual grasp of the new is harder. Two examples of this might be, say, 9/10 thinking for those who think this war is a law enforcement issue, or some of the resource battles we’ve seen among people who advocate as though perfect force protection is better than faster offensive action.
Another problem was getting to the point where we could grasp the concept of what we were really concerned about. The top admiral was Ernest King. He invented an entire fleet out of thin air, the Tenth Fleet, that didn’t have a ship. What it did have, however, was geeks. Lots of them. The Center for Naval Analyses was most of the Tenth Fleet, a place where among other things they invented operations research, a mathematical tool that helped figure out how to optimize the problem. The group’s analysis and recommendations had to have King himself be the leader pushing the implementation, because otherwise who would listen to the geeks?
Along the way to winning the Battle of the Atlantic, problems big and small popped up that were counterintuitive to people. One guy noticed that the ships with anti-aircraft guns weren’t reporting successful attacks, so he directed the expensive weapons be removed…until someone pointed out that (1) successful attacks would also mean sinking, so the reports would be falsely skewed, (2) airplanes don’t like to get shot at and would avoid attacking those ships, and (3) the goal was to get stuff to the fight (logistics), not get aircraft kills, so scaring away an enemy plane can be a success. The correct answer was actually to leave the guns on there.
In our current conflict others have arrived at the same conclusion as Sensing. I see the kind of thinking common to ASW and counterterror has been put in some of the right places. One of the bigwig intel guys got his start in ASW and came at the problem from that direction. A series of groups learning about networks taught a group of folks to build a network analysis tool that nabbed several in the deck of cards. Others work on connecting dots in seemingly dissimilar places (an Al-Qaeda group trained by the IRA in Colombia? Philippine terrorists moving to the Middle East? Financial and moral support by a Florida college professor? Is the enemy team in Chechnya connected to Bangladesh bombs somehow?).
The common thread results in this: Look for how the enemy disturbs the environment in which it lives and operates. Get counterintuitive. Change the operational and intelligence culture. Improvise, adapt, and overcome. They are both hard skills to master, but the results of not doing the work correctly are not exactly optimal.