Thursday, March 19, 2009

Joint competency in transcendent power needed

By Steve Hammons

When Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis addressed the House Armed Services Committee on March 18, 2009, he made some key points that may be worth looking at from the perspective of "transcendent power" and "transcendent warfare."

Mattis is commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command and his report to the committee included concepts that are applicable more broadly than many people might assume. There may be additional implications, ramifications or elements involved.

He pointed out that the Joint Forces Command is one of 10 combatant commands in the DoD and oversees a force of 1.16 million active duty, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, Navy personnel, Air Force personnel and Marines.

One theme of Mattis' presentation to the committee included the ideas involved in irregular warfare (IW). This concept is similar to terminology like unconventional warfare or guerilla warfare, yet there are now more complex and sophisticated considerations involved in IW preparedness and activities.

Mattis stated that a "core competency" in IW is needed by joint forces.

He also mentioned the term "hybrid warfare" which combines IW and more conventional methods. Mattis stated that adversaries may use methods of a "hybrid nature that combine any available irregular or conventional mode of attack, using a blend of primitive, traditional and high-tech weapons and tactics."

"We must have balanced and versatile joint forces ready to accomplish missions across the full spectrum of military operations — from large-scale, conventional warfare to humanitarian assistance and other forms of 'soft' power," he said.

As we delve into the ideas of soft power, smart power and what has been termed transcendent power, we might ask the same question Mattis rhetorically asked: "What capabilities are required?"


One key element that Mattis noted was for education and training of joint personnel.

"A trained warrior may perform acceptably in a conventional operation, but irregular and hybrid wars demand highly-educated warriors to prevail," he explained.

Mattis added, "Special emphasis must be placed on human, cultural, language, and cognitive skills. A 'cognitive' warrior knows how to acquire knowledge, process information from multiple sources, and make timely, accurate decisions in complex, ethically challenging and ever-changing environments."

Here is where we might apply lessons learned from research into transcendent warfare. Cognition includes perceiving, thinking and understanding. Analyzing in the context of overall situational awareness and in complex environments is challenging – and necessary.

In these areas, innovative and outside-the-box approaches are useful, or even fundamentally crucial. This is especially true when significant research, development and operational experiences have demonstrated the value of certain methods.

"So, we must be prepared to think the 'unthinkable,' using our study and imagination to help us defeat the enemy," Mattis noted.

Imagination, deep and wide awareness, optimized human perception and other elements of human consciousness are key aspects that can be helpful. Transcendent warfare and transcendent power embrace research and operational successes that utilize all of these factors – and more.

"We must employ to our advantage the power of both inspiration and intimidation, each in the appropriate measure, to confound our enemies," Mattis stated.

Transcendent warfare and transcendent power can accomplish both of these objectives and might also be candidates for core competency by joint forces.


Mattis also told the congressional committee that current and future challenges require "whole-of-government" approaches. He said military personnel must connect with civilian counterparts and create a synergy of effort.

Sharing information is an important element of this approach, he said.

"Essential to a whole-of-government approach for applying all aspects of national and international power is the ability to share information and situational awareness among all partners."

When information and perspectives are appropriately shared, an "interagency common operational picture" is created, Mattis explained.

This seems to take us back to the topics of education, training and communication efforts discussed in regard to competencies in soft power, smart power and irregular warfare activities.

When thinking about the advantages of a whole-of-government viewpoint that Mattis discussed, we might wonder if a whole-of-nation approach would produce even greater benefits. Would there be greater synergy if a more unified and more powerful joint effort involved broader and deeper elements of American society and of other groups and nations?

What additional kinds of resources and assets are out there if we use our intelligence and situational awareness to examine and optimize transcendent power?

Concurrent with ensuring security, what other accomplishments can be achieved by transcendent power in conducting humanitarian activities, implementing peace operations, expanding scientific knowledge, assisting human development, providing for increased prosperity around the world and improving the long-term prospects of the human race on Earth?

These questions deserve answers. And at this time we seem to be well-positioned to begin to comprehend those answers and the methods to get on the path to them.

Developing widespread joint core competency in transcendent warfare may be the first step on the path.