In the 1990s, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski began pushing the unorthodox idea that the Pentagon had to change itself, from a relatively-small collection of heavy, plodding forces to a larger array of lighter, quicker, cheaper, better-networked units. By 2001, the notion — known alternatively as “revolution in military affairs” or “force transformation” — had become official doctrine. The Army began a massive modernization effort, based, in part, around Cebrowski’s ideas. Presidential candidate George W. Bush embraced the concept during the 2000 election. Donald Rumsfeld adopted it as the cornerstone of his return to the Pentagon, and installed Cebrowski as the director of a new department: the Office of Force Transformation, or OFT.
The office initiated a series of novel, seemingly off-the-wall projects: armored vehicles equipped with pain rays, sneaky ships silently bringing commandos to shore, orbiting mirrors to send lasers across the globe.
But early last year, Cebrowski was forced to retire, as he fought a losing battle with cancer. Observers wondered whether OFT and its projects would survive his passing.
The office, at least,
probably will not, according to Defense News. Pending approval by deputy defense secretary Gordon England, “the office [will] be dissolved by Sept. 30.”
Defense analyst Bob Work thinks it “may be an indication of just how hard it is to balance the competing demands for transformation in the midst of this protracted campaign” in the Global War on Terror. The Armchair Generalist fears this could be the final “nail in the coffin” for transformation. But military theorist Tom Barnett, long allied with Cebrowski, sees the shift as the final move in bringing Cebrowski’s ideas into the heart of the U.S. military.
“Art’s success in mainstreaming his thinking meant that OFT always had a limited shelf life. [His ideas are] everywhere now,” Barnett writes. “Art himself saw this coming and had no problem with it. He simply would have moved on to the next great definition.”
Besides, the office is “not really shutting down,” an OFT source tells Defense Tech.
It is being split apart and embedded in two other areas of OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense]. The analysis and study portion of OFT is to be rolled into a new office as part of a larger reorg of OSD Policy. [More about that here — ed.] All of the other initiatives here, like… Redirected Energy and Operationally Responsive Space are to go into a new office under [Director, Defense Research and Engineering] John Young…
So, in a sense, this is a good move. Since OSD had no interest in appointing anyone to replace Cebrowski, the office was hobbled…. If this is approved, OSD is saying we like this OFT approach [so much] that we are willing to apply it more broadly across the entire department.
Could be. But with costs piling higher and higher for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and with the budgets for many “transformational” projects swelling, fast — I worry that this could jeopardize Cebrowski’s work, not institutionalize it.