Buzzwords That Matter

From StrategyPage: THE WAY THINGS REALLY WORK: Buzzwords That Matter

New buzzwords (or “milspeak”) are constantly coming out of the Pentagon. Rather than use plain English, words that are “more descriptive” (as the perpetrators put it) are invented. Some current examples (which their English translation in parenthesis) are;

Functional Capabilities (stuff we can do, and that is meaningful). It’s another way of saying, “we have capabilities (things that sort of work), and then we have functional capabilities (things that really, really work and get the job done.)

Battlespace Awareness (knowing where our guys, and the enemy, are in the area where the fighting is going on.) In the old days, you could just say you had, “good intelligence and communications.” But the Department of Defense wants billions of dollars for new communications equipment (especially communications satellites) and UAVs that will give commanders a real time view of the battlefield (or “Battlespace.”) Whenever the Pentagon wants a lot of money for some new stuff, they try to invent new words for the same old stuff they are buying. This makes the proposals easier to sell to Congress.

Force Application (attacking the enemy). What this bit of milspeak implies is the need for “precision force application” so as to minimize civilian casualties. This has been a radical innovation, for in all previous wars, the approach of enemy troops always triggered a horde of refugees. People knew that they were in for a hard time if caught in the middle of a war. But by 2003, Iraqis just stayed home. They knew the American bombers would just hit military targets, and it was safer to stay home than get out on the road. Naturally, the U.S. gets little credit for this, and any civilian casualties are portrayed as, “needless slaughters of innocents by bloodthirsty Americans.” It is true that no good deed goes unpunished.

Force Protection (defending our troops.) But this term implies a special form of “defending the troops” that the United States has pioneered. It means keeping your own losses down to rates never before seen in history. In the past, there have always been senior American commanders who went to extraordinary lengths to minimize casualties among their troops. This has become more and more widespread an attitude over the last century. One of the less well known achievements of General Douglas MacArthur during World War II was getting American combat, and non-combat, losses down to very low levels. It was no accident. MacArthur developed new tactics and techniques that made this possible. Several generals followed this philosophy in Korea and Vietnam. But it was after Vietnam that things really got rolling. Well defended base camps, and more equipment and tactics that minimized American casualties appeared. This approach had some useful side effects. Troops were now less terrified about combat. Morale went up, and combat troops continued to re-enlist after a combat tour (in the past, many more preferred not to.)

Focused Logistics (getting the right stuff to the troops when they need it.) Keeping American troops well protected and in a good mood has required an increasing weight of supplies per man per day. Not just more weight, but more different items. Moreover, with all the new technology, it’s become harder to predict the need for spare parts and supplies (especially batteries.) So “Focused Logistics” is another way of saying, “logistics have got harder and we’re really, really going to deal with it.”

Network-Centric Operations (battlefield Internet, which doesn̢۪t really describe just how really important all this is for the troops). It̢۪s long been considered Science Fiction, the idea of troops all networked in an easy to use system that allowed quick exchange of voice, data (including photos or video), plus a system that showed on a screen where all friendly troops were. All of a sudden, in the late 1990s, the technology began to appear, from commercial firms, not military labs, that did it all. The troops are still figuring out how best to use all this new communications technology. Afghanistan and Iraq are providing plenty of opportunities to find out what works, or doesn̢۪t, under actual battlefield conditions. The battlefield Internet makes the troops who have it much more lethal, and better protected from enemy fire.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.