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Adaptation under Fire

How Militaries Change in Wartime

David Barno Nora Bensahel



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Oxford University Press
13 July 2020
Every military must prepare for future wars despite not really knowing the shape such wars will ultimately take. As former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once noted: We have a perfect record in predicting the next war. We have never once gotten it right. In the face of such great uncertainty, militaries must be able to adapt rapidly in order to win. Adaptation under Fire identifies the characteristics that make militaries more adaptable, illustrated through historical examples and the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.Authors David Barno and Nora Bensahel argue that militaries facing unknown future conflicts must nevertheless make choices about the type of doctrine that their units will use, the weapons and equipment they will purchase, and the kind of leaders they will select and develop to guide the force to victory. Yet after a war begins, many of these choices will prove flawed in the unpredictable crucible of the battlefield. For a U.S. military facing diverse global threats, its ability to adapt quickly and effectively to those unforeseen circumstances may spell the difference between victory and defeat. Barno and Bensahel start by providing a framework for understanding adaptation and include historical cases of success and failure. Next, they examine U.S. military adaptation during the nation's recent wars, and explain why certain forms of adaptation have proven problematic. In the final section, Barno and Bensahel conclude that the U.S. military must become much more adaptable in order to address the fast-changing security challenges of the future, and they offer recommendations on how to do so before it is too late.
By:   David Barno, Nora Bensahel
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780190672058
ISBN 10:   0190672056
Series:   Bridging the Gap
Pages:   272
Publication Date:   13 July 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Introduction: Why Military Adaptation? Part I: A Framework for Analysis Chapter 1: Understanding Adaptation Chapter 2: The Role of Doctrine Chapter 3: The Role of Technology Chapter 4: The Role of Leadership Part II: The Recent Wars Chapter 5: Doctrinal Adaptation in Iraq and Afghanistan Chapter 6: Technological Adaptation in Iraq and Afghanistan Chapter 7: Tactical Leadership Adaptation in Iraq and Afghanistan Chapter 8: Theater Leadership Adaptation in Iraq and Afghanistan Part III: Looking to the Future Chapter 9: The Challenges of Future War Chapter 10: U.S. Military Adaptability Today Chapter 11: Recommendations for Improving Adaptability Acknowledgments Bibliography

Lt. General David Barno, USA (Ret.) is a Visiting Professor of Strategic Studies and Senior Fellow at the Philip Merrill Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a Contributing Editor and Columnist for War on the Rocks. General Barno completed a thirty-year active duty Army career where he commanded at every level. He served with Army Ranger battalions in combat during both the Panama and Grenada invasions. General Barno was the overall commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. Dr. Nora Bensahel is a Visiting Professor of Strategic Studies and Senior Fellow of the Merrill Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). She is also a Contributing Editor and Columnist for War on the Rocks. She has held senior positions at the Center for a New American Security and the RAND Corporation, and previously taught at American University and Georgetown University. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University.

Reviews for Adaptation under Fire: How Militaries Change in Wartime

This is an important and timely book on the importance of adapting our military when confronted with a new enemy strategy. The authors draw on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for examples of when the commanders did not adapt their strategy to the challenge posed by unconventional warfare. And it describes how success was achieved when a new commander introduced a new strategy adapted to those challenges. A well-written and interesting analysis of a subject that has become critically important to the U.S. military. -- William J. Perry, 19th U.S. Secretary of Defense Military leaders may fail to anticipate challenges or learn in advance from the experiences of other armed forces, but nothing is so fatally dangerous as failure to adapt in wartime. Barno and Bensahel are a unique soldier-scholar team who have written an important book on just that question. This is an outstanding and compelling work, grounded in recent history, that is of urgent practical as well as theoretical importance. -- Eliot A. Cohen, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS and co-author of Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War Historically, the American military learns expensively by failure. Our current and future enemies may deny us even the time to adapt. The sharp policy recommendations Dr. Bensahel and retired General Barno offer in this excellent book would improve our military's resilience in advance--something the American military urgently needs, and that will lower the cost in blood and treasure our country pays in future wars. -- Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute and editor of Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military Barno and Bensahel have put their finger on the most important national security issue of our time: not terrorism, not great power competition, not AI or drones, but how the US military thinks about, and prepares for, the unknowable future. If a junior officer can read only one book on military organization, it must be this one. If our senior officers don't read this one book, our very security will be imperiled. -- Brad Carson, Congressman and former Undersecretary of the Army

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