Winning the Fight Cover

Winning the Fight

A Conceptual Framework for Combat Performance Enhancement

Special Tactics Institute

Sterling, Virginia, 2017, 175 pages

Book Review published on: July 6, 2018

The study of war is a difficult endeavor. It is complicated by both the scope of the subject and the stakes of the conduct and outcome. War, especially in the past one hundred years, invites examination from the formulation of grand strategy to the execution of tactics. It also requires a clear vision of the costs.

I have been teaching strategy and military operations for twenty-five years. In teaching war, it is helpful to start at the top and work down. That means discussing the nature of war and providing a definition of strategy. With the inquiry bounded, one can delve into the details of the operational level of war and the relation tactics have to everything else. Since most nonprofessionals will be more familiar with weapons and tactics than operations and strategy, it seems like a good plan. However, if you have ever assigned On War by Carl von Clausewitz to a class and tried to (a) get them to read it, (b) read it carefully and thoughtfully, and (c) not glaze over when you discuss it in the class room—you feel my pain.

Generally, the solution is to integrate some concrete material to leaven the abstract and to possibly achieve some retention on the part of the students. Most will rely on historical case studies, but that is an additional challenge as it is hard to keep out preconceived notions. Discuss a current war, and as used to be the case for Vietnam, you would fighting for control of the discussion by the third slide. Usually, however, no student brings emotional baggage to a debate on the Peloponnesian War, but without supreme skill, it is as dry as a Dead Sea scroll to present for study. But, there is a solution to adding concrete guideposts to all the abstract material about war without the problem of context bias.

To allow unbiased examination of a case study, a conceptual framework is necessary. A framework to evaluate and enhance combat performance is the core of Winning the Fight: A Conceptual Framework for Combat Performance Enhancement. It arranges the abstract ideas about war in a format and in a sequence where concrete decisions may be made about a current situation or a historical case study. The context independent nature of this specific framework frees the reader from the requirement to project anecdotal facts about a battle or campaign into another context. This book allows the student of war to draw lessons across the contexts of unique events and recognize the general rules that can be adapted to any combat scenario.

A new and noteworthy feature of this book is the arrangement of the levels of war. Most are familiar with a tradition hierarchy of grand strategy, military strategy, operations, and tactics, arranged from top to bottom, in a triangular format where the widening of the triangle downward represents the increasing numbers of people involved with execution. The framework of the Special Tactics Institute has the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war presented in a concentric format and an institutional level that overlaps with the operational level. This hierarchy represents the speed of change—strategic and institutional being slower and tactical being the fastest. This solves quite a few problems that have to be alibied or explained away in personal instruction. Not the least of these is the idea of the “strategic corporal” introduced by commandant of the Marine Corps Charles Krulak in 1997.

The towering accomplishment of this work comes in the final section, “Application of the Functional Model.” In a logical progression through strategy, defense, intelligence, planning, offense, and training and selection, it covers fundamentals and mechanics of each critical area focused through the lens of the framework. Again, the framework enables the reader to see commonalities and relationships between the areas in the conduct of war as a whole.

The Application of the Functional Model provides “practical explanations for how to use the machine in different situations.” Each chapter represents one application of multiple elements of the framework. There are “connection points” between each of the chapters and a reminder of the iterative nature of their relationships, establishing the application section as a coherent whole. Of special note is the clever conception of strategy described by nine elements. There are four types of estimates and four types of calculation, all linked, surrounding and contributing to a “theory of victory.” Thus, the object of grand strategy stands at the center of the concept in a readily recognizable form.

This slim volume is packed with insight. It is clearly written at a consistent level of abstraction that communicates the broad scope of war succinctly. It could well stand alone as a guide for study. But, combined with traditional materials, references, and methods of instruction, it is a new and powerful tool to make the details of the field come alive. This will be the repeatedly annotated, dog-eared reference future leaders keep by their sides as they grow in their professions. It will be the gift that comes out of a desk drawer when a mentor spots a promising prospect. Word will circulate, and it will be in everyone’s hands someday.

Book Review written by: Keith Hrebenak, Washington, D.C.