/* */

02 October 2007

Good old fashioned military analysis

One of the persistent problems in most mainstream media coverage of ongoing matters of national security interest is the continual failure to understand even the most basic factors military analysis. Evaluating weapons system effectiveness, for example, requires parsing through the marketing hype of the manufacturing country (or company), and examining the hard details of design, employment, and logistics that are essential to understanding how that system will perform in the field.

The recent abysmal state of press coverage is demonstrated amply by case studies of Syrian and Iranian air defense network, the “new” re-manufactured Iranian tactical fighter aircraft, Russian fuel air explosive development, and any of the missile test dog and pony shows conducted by the Iranians, North Koreans, or non-state actors such as Hezbollah and HAMAS. Indeed, this was perhaps the dominant media game of the 90’s, in which pundits came to prominence speculating about campaigns which would never come to understand during Kosovo, East Timor, and even the Desert Fox air strikes against Iraq.

This is not a new phenomenon, and certainly not limited to the areas of military interest given the wide range of other areas in which modern journalism fails utterly to provide an accurate comprehension of difficult subject matter – such as medicine, economics, or law. It is in part the raison d’etre for a whole range of custom open source intelligence services – from the Economist Intelligence Unit to the venerable Jane’s Information Group. Indeed, it was in the Kosovo conflict in which the Stratfor notably (or infamously) first made its bones.

The blogsphere is changing these dynamics, however. Now, within a very short amount of time, substantive analysis is published by a number of individuals possessing real expertise and experience on the matters at hand. Whether it is to take down a fabulist or fauxtographer, or to dissect the propaganda claims of a potentially hostile regime – the distributed and self-organizing interests of milbloggers (and experts in a range of other fields) is producing a kind of open source analysis capability that one could only have dreamed about in earlier years.

And when one considers the old OSINT maxim that an author will only ever write less than 20% of what they actually know about a subject, one begins to glimpse the potential of this population - given a means to organize and direct their “hobby” level efforts in a larger architecture of participation.

At the same time as this is occurring in the open environment, the intelligence community has seen a dramatic decline in its bench and depth, of those products which are produced as “shelfware”. We use the term not in a pejorative sense, but in recognition of the very real need for a baseline reference set by which current issues and future estimates made be assessed. Perhaps the better term we may coin for this class of intelligence are “enabling products”. Many commentators within and outside of the IC have bemoaned the shift of emphasis and resources away from strategic and long term production to the ever-expanding needs of the tactical and immediate. And while we support a community which can and will run to the sound of the guns in order to support the warfighter’s ongoing operations, the length and demands of the Long War will have to force the community to examine how it can serve both ends effectively. To be sure, enabling products has true limitations: whole ranges of issues and concerns simply did not have the same priority – or even the same conceptualization – before developments in the field made them central concerns. After all, in 2001 it would have been quite hard to predict that the humble IED would be the primary weapon of strategic influence, or that the Katyusha would become the strategic equivalent to a stand-off bombardment capability of a type seen previously only in the War of the Cities.

It is in this environment that we look around with the growing realization that there may be an unprecedented opportunity to change the traditional model of analysis through new partnerships with those outside of the core community. There are a host of concerns – from dealing with statements intended to influence rather than inform, and some very valid counterintelligence / denial and deception issues, particularly if requirements and questions become too widely known or too narrowly specific. The logistics and coordination of such an engagement – even a in narrowly bounded iteration – would be far from trivial. Yet the potential for leveraging the contributions of the kind of capability that occasionally emerges in ad-hoc fashion at present into a more dedicated and systemic resource is frankly one that would be worth at least an exploratory effort by certain parties with natural interests in the area.

We look forward to a day when good old fashioned military analysis is easier to come by and of better quality, based on such efforts, than has regrettably been the case in recent years.

Labels: , , , , ,