Contributor: Andy has 11 years leadership experience. He has deployed operationally around the world, and has staff experience at unit and formation level.
In this two part post, I will explore the the opportunities and challenges I believe the Strike concept poses for the British Army. This first post will focus on the leadership and culture environments that strike units will need if they are to become a potent capability.
A Strike brigade is strong enough to enable manoeuvre at divisional level, light enough to march independently over operational distances and fast enough to disperse and concentrate rapidly to dominate a more complex and larger battle space. This is a transformational opportunity that will change the way we operate in the land component but with this change comes risks; there are factors to the Strike concept that will directly challenge the spirit of our soldiers and officers. British Strike units will have to maintain cohesion when dispersed and in an environment that will demand more from its people. Leadership will be complicated for commanders as they adapt to the proposed culture-shifting procedures, such as leaving the dead and wounded behind, in order to maintain the momentum to achieve the true manoeuvre and Strike ethos.
It is widely acknowledged the Strike concept has many physical and logistic challenges but, to survive morally and spiritually, it will have to explore innovative ways to survive mentally because as Field Marshal Montgomery said ‘Man is the first weapon of war’.
At the heart of the Strike brigade concept is the flexibility that it offers to the commander. The ability to reach 2000km, followed by the punch that it can deliver will offer an array of possibilities that we currently do not plan for. This will require unique leadership and flexible units with cohesion and professional competency, otherwise it will not achieve the desired effect comparable to a much larger force. This demands a change of mind set across a Strike Brigade; from the leader to the bayonet. This is not the first time British units have been designed to accomplish daunting tasks; paratroopers and marines mitigate their intimidating odds through unit identity, cohesion, and professional training. It is important to remember that units do not necessarily need an identity to have cohesion but do need cohesion to achieve mission accomplishment and for individual survival. Stephen Crane[i] referred to cohesion as a “mysterious fraternity born out of smoke and the danger of death.” So how do we create cohesion within newly formed, untested Strike unit? Also, it is a fair assumption to assume that Strike units will be battle grouped and unable to rely solely on the Regimental system for cohesion.
Cohesion can be forged outside of an operational environment as Fredrick Manning[ii] explains, “The more time people are together, the greater the chance they will discover, invent and experience commonalities, including a shared understanding of the group’s history.” Shared experiences while in the military become the glue that holds the unit together. It would make sense to give the Strike units this opportunity to bond through training, and even better, through basing. Manning argues that the other important aspects of cohesion-enhancing experiences are: (1) the unit must derive some feeling of success or accomplishment, and (2) the more interdependence among the members that is necessary for success, the greater the payoff in cohesion.
In peacetime, the assumption is that unit cohesion can be developed through empowerment and successes, where every member of the team has a different job but each is dependent on everyone else for success. The best military training already integrates challenging military skills, teamwork and competition do achieve cohesion, but it would be important for these Strike teams, once formed, to be left without change to develop their identities.
In part 2, I will examine why the experimentation phase is the most dangerous for the Strike Concept, and explain why providing a clear, well articulated vision, as well as investing in our people will lead to success.
[i] Crane S. The Red Badge of Courage. New York: W.W Norton; 1976.
[ii] Manning FJ PhD. Morale and Cohesion in Military Psychiatry; 1994.
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