Christian Brose. New York: Hachette Books, 2020. 320 pp. Notes. Biblio. Index. $18.99.
Reviewed by Major Scott A. Humr, U.S. Marine Corps
The Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) approach to modern warfare is long overdue for reexamination. The U.S. military’s predilection for expensive exquisite platforms produces a self-inflicted myopia, creating blind spots adversaries will likely exploit. In The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare, author Christian Brose offers a prescription to correct this ophthalmic infirmity so the U.S. military is not “ambushed by the future.”
To compete effectively in the future, Brose reasons that the U.S. military must prioritize the seamless integration of sensors and shooters into a cohesive battle network to close the “kill chain” faster than an opponent. Taking the reader back three decades, Brose demonstrates that the revolution in military affairs (RMA) envisioned by foreign policy strategist Andrew Marshall in the 1990s was indeed visionary but ultimately sidelined by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While still investing billions in technology over the next several decades, the U.S. military continued optimizing legacy “platforms over integrated networks of faster kill chains.” Brose points out that both Russia and China have made significant progress toward evolving their own kill chains.
The specter that looms largest throughout the book is the rise of China. Brose writes that U.S. wargames against China have an almost perfect record: The United States loses nearly every time. The book’s theme of China’s meteoric rise in military power is a wakeup call for both Congress and the U.S. military.
The Kill Chain is not a deep dive into artificial intelligence (AI), robots, or unmanned systems, though there is no shortage of their mention. Brose envisions a “Military Internet of Things” ecosystem in which hardware shares information across all platforms to build situational awareness to aid human understanding. Achieving such a vision is not impossible.
Brose harks back to the heady days of the post–World War II era, when the United States achieved some of the greatest developments in military technology. Admiral Hyman Rickover and General Bernard Schriever are cited exemplars who embodied a type of “founder” one associates with the high-risk/high-reward behaviors of Silicon Valley today. Risk-averse incentives, however, gradually generated the bloated and entrenched “military-industrial-congressional complex” in the United States today. But Brose reasons, “if the future is going to win, it will have to win inside the current system.” For instance, he cites how congressional leaders and defense lobbyists attempted to foist the outmoded JSTARS platform on the Air Force. Instead, the Air Force developed its own political strategy early on to achieve the outcome it desired. The services should heed this sage advice—especially the Marine Corps, as it seeks to radically modify its structure under Force Design 2030.
For those skeptical of RMAs in general, this book will take you down the well-trodden path of unfulfilled promises of net-centric warfare and the Army’s Future Combat Systems. A shortcoming of the book is that it attempts to repackage the RMA in light of the latest AI technologies and ubiquitous sensors, making it seem more feasible than it was 20 years ago.
To overcome a peer adversary, however, the United States will need more than an RMA. For instance, the book does not provide any details on the type of education and training a force may need to enable faster kill chains operating at computer speeds under opaque algorithms. If an adversary has similar kill chains operating at equal speeds, educating the force may become the more important factor in this warfare calculus.
Brose’s book is part warning and part prescription. It is a must-read for military professionals, acquisition specialists, and others who want to think more creatively about how technologies integrate to make the U.S. military more lethal. Most of all, The Kill Chain is a clarion call to DoD and Congress to harness the power of networks to win in the future.
Major Humr currently is serving with Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He holds master’s degrees in information technology from the Naval Postgraduate School and in military studies from Marine Corps Command and Staff College.
Captain Scott Jasper, U.S. Navy (Retired). Foreword by General Keith Alexander, U.S. Army (Retired). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2020. 232 pp. Notes. Index. Maps. Figs. $32.95.
Reviewed by Ensign Lucian Rombado, U.S. Navy
The United States and its Western allies currently face an unprecedented threat to democratic processes and critical infrastructure as Russia strives to regain global power. Russia’s plan is manifested through the Kremlin’s ongoing cyber campaign against Western democracies and institutions. In Russian Cyber Operations, retired Navy Captain Scott Jasper reveals Russia’s cyber warfare ideology and offers practical solutions to counter its malicious attacks.
Jasper walks the reader through multiple case studies, including Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the NotPetya mock ransomware crisis, and cyber attacks on Estonia, to demonstrate how Russian cyber actors conduct business. Through these studies, Jasper reveals that Russia’s exploitation of legal ambiguities allows it to operate below the threshold of armed conflict and avoid Western retaliation.
Jasper offers insightful critiques regarding the U.S. response to Russian aggression. Specifically, economic sanctions, legal indictments, and Russian “name shaming” among members of the international community do not faze Kremlin leadership. In fact, Jasper argues these traditional methods of deterrence often backfire. When the international community punishes Russia, the Kremlin transforms these punitive measures into opportunities to unify Russian citizens and rekindle feelings of resentment for Western democracies.
After evaluating the Western responses to Russian aggression, Jasper proposes a forward way of thinking to combat the rising cyber threats: Institutions must focus on cyber resilience rather than only cyber security. While impossible to keep every malicious code byte out of critical systems, emerging security methods such as kill chain analysis, shared cyber threat intelligence, and automated cyber defense improve national cyber resilience and offer hope in the face of rising threats.
Jasper organizes his book into three parts: “Cyber Operations,” “Security Dynamics,” and “Defensive Solutions.” This format allows him to discuss myriad topics, from malware injects to naval aggression in the Black Sea, without venturing far off course. Jasper entertains legal theory discussions and geeks out with cyber jargon while maintaining a clear progression toward his proposed national security solutions.
A valuable aspect of Jasper’s work is his analysis of Russia’s homegrown understanding of information warfare. By explaining the literal translations of Russian verbiage and citing statements by President Vladimir Putin, Jasper leaves the reader with a better appreciation of the Russian cyber culture.
Russian Cyber Operations is an oasis of factual, well-researched information on the Kremlin’s cyber campaign in the midst of a national debate on Russia’s interference plagued with political fighting. The author’s critique of U.S. policy is politically neutral, and he does not side with certain administrations for their policy decisions. Rather than dwell on past mistakes, he invites readers to learn from previous policy choices and rise to the new challenge of mitigating Russian cyber attacks.
Jasper’s work is a thought-provoking and convincing read and is a wake-up call to revamp Russian deterrence strategies among Western institutions. Russian Cyber Operations appeals to a wide audience, from the junior military officer to the Silicon Valley cyber executive, and it should be included in any professional discourse regarding the Kremlin’s ongoing information war.
Ensign Rombado is currently serving as a cryptologic warfare officer at Navy Information Operations Command, Georgia. He is a 2019 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied cyber operations.
Mark W. Johnson and Josh Suskewicz. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2020. 235 pp. Notes. Index. $30.
Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Dillon Fishman, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve
In a compact and brisk book, Mark Johnson and Josh Suskewicz use a novel approach to highlight the vital distinction between leadership and management. Lead from the Future provides insights gleaned from interviews of key leaders, including retired four-star Admiral James Stavridis. Ultimately, the authors argue that vision is the preeminent leadership skill. They contend that effective vision requires leaders to extend the time horizon of their planning and forecasting well beyond ten years.
The book challenges leaders to put aside assumptions, biases, and habits rooted in the status quo to plan for their desired future using creativity and possibility unbounded by limitations of the present. An important underlying concept is disruption theory—essentially the idea that as organizations become more successful, the likelihood increases that a new competitor operating differently will beat them. (Indeed, the U.S. military arguably faces this prospect today.)
Part 1 identifies and defines the principle of “present-forward” thinking and contrasts it with “future-back” thinking. Rather than relying on deduction and induction, the latter embraces ambiguity, design, and assumptions. For instance, Steve Jobs exemplified future-back thinking in transforming Apple from the arena of personal computing into the iPhone, the iPod, and myriad other revolutionary products.
Future-back thinking involves deliberately suspending known facts and linear progression to develop a new paradigm. Thus, leaders ask, “I wonder if” and “What if we could?” rather than relying on known information. Leaders use future-back thinking to develop a vision—what the end state is—as opposed to strategy, which is how to attain it. The art of future-back thinking also entails an iterative loop of exploring, envisioning, and discovering.
Part 2 addresses practical application by identifying the nuts and bolts of how to create a vision, convert it to strategy, and implement the strategy. Using examples from consulting in the healthcare and auto industry, the authors discuss how to forecast horizons and explore the major implications. Ultimately, the process yields insights that leaders can translate into a strategic narrative. The authors also recommend and discuss how to create three interdependent portfolios: innovation and growth, investment, and future-state.
Part 3 explains repeatability, and how to apply the principles to teams and organizations. A core emphasis is on building the right team to enable the process to take root in the organization. Cynicism and criticism can undermine the organization’s ability to implement the change in thinking and inculcate it into organizational processes. Conversely, boards of senior leaders who understand the need for future-back thinking can help eliminate single points of failure by selecting the right leaders to enable change to flourish. Thus, boards should select future leaders who can make creative associations, question possibilities, observe trends and competitors, experiment with new ideas, and network with others.
The book presents numerous possible points of application for the military. Perhaps among the most salient and pivotal, future-back thinking in the military might entail selecting leaders for promotion and command who best exhibit the ability for vision and generativity.
Applying a future-back approach to planning also could aid planners and strategists in imagining future mission sets, threats, and adversaries. For example, what will the technological, humanitarian, and design challenges and opportunities of 2040 look like? Moreover, threats such as pandemics, ecological instability, and resource shortages may drastically alter the nature and number of future conflicts. Because military planners cannot presume predictability or continuity, future-back thinking presents a way to challenge assumptions, interrogate biases, and envision the unknown. By persistently considering and exploring unknown requirements—the jobs and tasks of tomorrow—the military will be best positioned to achieve its future missions.
Lieutenant Colonel Fishman, a Marine Corps judge advocate, is completing a PhD in leadership studies. He deployed twice to Afghanistan and once on board the USS Tortuga (LSD-46).
C. S. Forester. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1955. Reissue, New York: Penguin Books, 2018. 310 pp. $16.
Reviewed by Captain George P. Sotos, U.S. Navy (Retired)
For almost the entirety of C. S. Forester’s World War II novel The Good Shepherd, the reader is on the freezing cold, wet bridge of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Keeling in the North Atlantic, sharing the detailed analytic thoughts and decisions of its rookie captain, Commander George Krause. Through a seniority quirk, Krause unexpectedly finds himself double-hatted as the escort commander of a 37-ship, 12-knot convoy en route to Londonderry, Ireland.
Shortly after he reaches the limits of his protective air cover, a wolf pack of five persistent and very aggressive U-boats makes life a living hell for Krause, the other escorts, and the convoy. For 48 hair-raising, sleepless hours—recounted in a moment-by-moment storyline of turns, evasions, and high-stakes decision-making—all four of Krause’s destroyers use their depth charges, fuel, and some surface ammunition in attacks on the U-boats. Blood is drawn on both sides.
While it is fiction, the book’s well-written realism makes it read like a personal memoir. It certainly reawakened memories of the 41 months I spent in the Atlantic as an antisubmarine warfare officer during the war. Forester is an acknowledged master of naval writing, and The Good Shepherd shows why. I doubt if the reader can find another book that depicts more accurately the dangerous and difficult experiences of an escort commander protecting a large convoy in the North Atlantic in 1942–43.
One example of the problems plaguing Krause was the poor communication link between the sonar operator and himself, acting as the conning officer. All the attack information from the sonar operator, plus questions and orders from the conning officer about the maneuvering U-boat target, were relayed through a nervous, inexperienced phone talker. Another problem was Krause’s difficulty in following a submerged evading U-boat after sonar contact was lost at the 300-yard range. Both of these problems substantially reduced the effectiveness of the destroyer attacks.
Krause’s problems were real, as were the technological and procedural corrections later in the war. New construction sub-hunting PC boats and destroyer escorts had the sonar machine and operator closer to the conning officer in the bridge area. They also had a new, easily read, small device that steadily printed the ranges to the target; a trained antisubmarine warfare officer assigned to monitor and improve the communications; combat information centers that participated more forcefully in the plotting loop to assist the conning officer; and ahead-thrown weapons (hedgehogs), which could be fired while still having sonar contact.
In addition to being a fast-moving, well-written, credible story about the Atlantic war, the book presents a subtle but powerful lesson for Navy professionals that initially was learned during World War I but subsequently ignored: the critical need for air cover over the entire Atlantic Ocean. It was the absence of such air cover early in World War II that made life hell for escort commanders, destroyer captains like Captain Krause, many convoys and unaccompanied ships, and almost lost the war for the Allies. Once air cover was established in early 1944, the war was over for the U-boats. The Navy should never again have to relearn that lesson. Books such as The Good Shepherd and, hopefully, the upcoming movie (See Naval History, August 2020), can help the United States avoid repeating that deadly mistake.
Captain Sotos had six sea commands before retiring in 1972. His three years operating against U-boats—on board PC boats (21 months) and the destroyer escort USS Willis (DE-395, 20 months)—are recounted in his book, Living with the Torpedo (Mt. Vernon Book Systems, 2020). He received a Presidential Unit Citation as part of the USS Bogue (CVE-9) hunter-killer group.
New & Noteworthy
Reviewed by Lieutenant Brendan Cordial, U.S. Navy
Timothy Brook. New York: Harper, 2020. 464 pp. Maps. Illus. Notes. Index. $32.50.
Author Timothy Brook seeks to reset two widely held beliefs about China’s role within and on the international stage: that China, despite periods of insularity, has been an integral player in the international arena for centuries, and that it was the Mongol invasion of the 12th century rather than the conclusion of the “Warring States” period in the 3rd century BCE that defines the basic character of the Chinese political class. His book successfully does both.
Brook uses an engaging method of telling 13 distinct personal accounts of players in and around Chinese history from the 12th century onward. Each stand-alone chapter helps weave a tale of China’s consistent presence on the international stage throughout the centuries and collectively provide a refreshing take on the Central Kingdom.
Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired), ed. Annapolis, MD:
Naval Institute Press, 2019. 360 pp. $29.95.
Tom Cutler has assembled an all-star cast of naval professionals and historians, along with representative essays of major players in the battle, to provide a humbling and holistic review of the greatest naval battle in history. I very strongly recommend this book to all naval personnel and history buffs. Clearly, this should clearly be on the CNO’s Professional Reading List!
The essays run the gamut of issues related to Leyte Gulf: Halsey’s decision to attack the decoy Japanese carrier force; the heroic efforts of the tin cans during the Battle off Samar; the effect of battle fatigue on Admiral Takeo Kurita; the deleterious effect of divided command between the Third and Seventh Fleets; and memoirs of both Japanese and American officers who fought in the battle. This is one of the most professionally rewarding books I have ever read.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Adolph, U.S. Army (Retired). Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2020. 340 pp. $25.69.
Colonel Robert B. Adolph presents a harrowing, and at times heartbreaking, tale of his time as a security official working in hotspots around the world on behalf of the United Nations. After a distinguished military career with the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, Colonel Adolph sought a new challenge and sense of purpose through service with the U.N. He shares his experience from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East at the beginning of the Iraq War in an engaging and relatable manner.
His narrative makes for a compelling page-turner as he relates the political bickering, corruption, and inefficiency of the world’s premier global institution. While he is justly critical of those who use the U.N. as a means of self-aggrandizement, he chooses to remain faithful to the good the organization does for the abjectly poor, war-torn, and neglected. A useful perspective for those interested in service with the U.N. or other international nongovernmental organizations.
Nicholson Baker. New York: Penguin Press, 2020. 464 pp. Notes. Index. $30.
Author and novelist Nicholson Baker’s treatise on the obfuscation, misdirection, and ineptitude of the U.S. government may be one of the worst books I have ever read cover-to-cover. Were it not for my obligation as a reviewer, Baker’s condescension and outlandish accusations would have caused me to stop reading after the first few pages. While there may be a sliver of truth in the book’s argument that the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense have covered up various embarrassing details in contradiction to the spirit and intent of the Freedom of Information Act, the presentation is scattered, its reasoning convoluted, and recommendations impracticable.
In addition to Nicholson’s sagacity concerning the great evils perpetrated by the U.S. government over the past 80 years, readers are treated to near daily updates on the sleeping patterns of his two dogs, his predilection for taking pictures of nature, and his need for emotional support when confronted with the evils of his nation’s government. The book’s only redeeming quality is its presentation of a diverse point of view.
Lieutenant Cordial is a surface warfare officer serving in his first department head tour on board an Arleigh Burke–class destroyer.