Reforms and innovations in the Polish Armed Forces. Towards a New Model Forces. Part 1
In 2021, any thinking about reform or innovation in the Polish Armed Forces, or more broadly – in the immunity system of the entire Polish state, should begin with the correct shaping of the so-called decision loop and the integration of its elements with completely in-house control. A properly shaped and integrated decision-making loop is the backbone of the modern military and the state’s capabilities in the event of the escalation or outbreak of a conflict, including, to an equal extent, a hybrid warfare.
We explained in detail in the spring at S&F what the strategic premises are for the urgent need for reforms in the Polish Armed Forces. Since then, due to international events, it has become clear to an increasing number of people (including political decision-makers in Warsaw) that the need for Poland’s preparation for the coming times is very urgent. Today we will start discussing the operational part.
At the same time, comprehensive reporting on the New Model Forces and the entire public campaign related to it is still ahead of us. We are working on this at S&F and we will be presenting the fruits of our work soon. Today’s text is to broadly introduce readers to how to go about operational changes, i.e. those related to the very functioning of the army as a “hammer”, with which we solve the identified problem when employing force.
There are many issues regarding the necessary military reforms that we will deal with at S&F, but we will start with the most important, now. At S&F we call it “the decision loop”. This is the starting point from which the New Model Forces should be built, and only then can we think about the remaining elements of the entire system.
Competition on the modern battlefield is primarily about information domination. Whatever we call it – modern scouting battle, situational awareness, battle network, or the ability to strike-recon complex, it is based on the mechanism of a decision loop, or more precisely, on the loop of the sequence of events: observation – orientation – decision – action. This loop is based on John R. Boyd’s concept of sequencing information flows between the nodes of observation, orientation, decision-making and action that dominate the modern battlefield, where accurate, timely and rapid information processing determines the outcome on the battlefield.
Observation was provided in the past by intelligence factors, i.e. spies, traitors, deserters, scouts, then planes and ground or air sensors. But the orientation in the situation, i.e. the processing of data towards the decision, took a long time. Recently, drones, satellites, networking of combat systems and soldiers made possible by the digital age and lightning-fast data transmission have completely changed the rules of this game, gathering masses of data at the speed of light.
Our enemy is the Russian Armed Forces. This sets a point of reference for the pace of moving through the decision loop sequence and we must compare ourselves to Russians. We must be faster than them and better at navigating through the decision loop.
Having the first stage of the sequence, i.e. a modern observation system on many levels and domains (which we do not have in the Polish Army to the extent required by the modern battlefield), we must then have an efficient system of analysis, processing and segregation of large amounts of data, synthesising situational awareness (all of which we do not have). Having the first two sequences of the loop, we must then have commanders and procedures that can and will allow us to make decisions faster and better than our foe – the Russian commander. In addition, it is necessary to train, educate and care for the characterological and moral quality of the military personnel for the new times. Independence, initiative, the ability to synthesise, understanding the balance of flows on the battlefield (data and troops) – this is the skill of a New Model Force commander. In addition, technology today can often distort the understanding of the battlefield. Those who’ve been at war know what I am writing about.
Intuition is still important in making decisions and commanders should be trained appropriately in this regard. Promotions should be assessed accordingly. The three steps of observation, orientation sequences and decisions allow a command to be issued quickly and correctly to the effector – be it an aircraft, a rocket, or a platoon of tanks. They are only effectors plugged into a network supporting the decision loop operating under enormous pressure of time and enemy scouting pressure. Therefore, they are not the most important element (this may be shocking for the military technology enthusiasts so common on the Vistula). Events in Afghanistan and elsewhere have demonstrated this clearly. The Taliban did not have to have great effectors to achieve military and political goals to seal victory. They certainly had a great understanding of their foes. They knew what they were doing, what they were going to do, and what was going on with them. They also had excellent decision loop processing.
The principle remains the same – the battlefield and victory are all about controlling the flows and correlations between them: data flows from intelligence, logistics, assessing the availability of one’s own resources compared to the opponent’s abilities. Modern warfare resembles escalation management, dancing to the rhythm as in ballet. Correct and timely rhythm ensures victory by sustaining actions, creating an advantage and establishing dominance in the desired time windows and selected domains, correlating this with the news that goes out into the world. Steady and coordinated flows in rhythm keep operations running smoothly today. Thus, the decision loop results from the prior information domination and its own resistant communication system, which preferably, in the face of the shock caused by the opponent, even improves its effectiveness. As Nassim Taleb might say, it should be “antifragile”.
The troops of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were very successful not so much because of the alleged heavy mounted cavalry and tactical mastery of the winged hussars (as we often think), but because of the mastery of the concept of using combined arms in proper timelines for a given military purpose; because of the proper movement of the army, maneuvering in the theatre and in the face of the enemy. Always trying to maintain the advantage of the maneuver and taking care of the knowledge of the terrain, including the detailed actions of the enemy and the asymmetric use of the enemy’s identified weaknesses thanks to a better decision loop. The old Polish operational concept known as the “old Polish device” (stare urządzenie polskie) was famous for this. Kircholm, Kłuszyn and other battle successes of the former Polish army were the result of the mastery of this art, not of our numerical or technological advantage, and not even of the tactical perfection of the winged hussars. It was necessary to know the how, when, where and what of the enemy, what to use and with what advantage. It can be said that the belief in our superiority in the decision-making loop gave arguments to those of the nobility who did not want to spend too much on the military. Paradoxically, indirectly for this reason, the old Commonwealth always had too few soldiers.
There was no proper control over the decision loop during the subsequent disasters in Ukraine in 1648, not to mention September 1939. Regardless of the terrible geopolitical situation that loomed over the September war, the weakness and then the collapse of the decision loop was the biggest military problem of the September war. Much more important than the lack of a similar number of tanks, planes or rifles to the German ones, on which too much emphasis is put in Polish schools. Meanwhile, the Polish army 20 years earlier in the 1919-1921 campaign clearly dominated the Soviet opponent in this element. Hence, in training during the interwar period, great emphasis was placed on offensive action and tactical initiative. This is possible only with the advantage of moving in the decision loop. It used to be thought that offensive initiative and the advantage of situational awareness was in our military DNA, especially in the face of weaker human material in our Russian and Soviet enemy. How is it now? It’s time to answer that question.
If one controls the flows and their sequence, as in ballet, and is more skilled at it than one’s opponent, he can also block or influence his opponent’s flows by disrupting their decision loop or even entering it, inside it and thus into his network, command centres, logistic flows. He can then disrupt or break the rhythm, including the information processing sequence. In addition, the first two sequences of the decision loop, i.e. observation and orientation, may merge into one in the future through the use of rapidly developing artificial intelligence. Here one should look for the asymmetric advantages of the Polish New Force.
The circulation of information in the decision loop is aimed at victory. Action must be precise, effective and coordinated. Whoever is more knowledgeable and faster at navigating the loop will be first to kill and survive. The losing side is hit and killed or eliminated accordingly. The best option would be to enter the enemy’s decision loop and thereby cut the chain of command and control. This is the centre of gravity of the modern battlefield.
It is from building an efficient and independent (from anyone) decision-making loop that the reform of the Polish Armed Forces and the entire immunity system of the state should begin, because contemporary conflict involves the entire non-military state apparatus much more than in the past.
This includes political decisions, establishing efficient chains of command, and making political and military decisions in a lightning-fast sequence of the decision loop. This also applies to legal regulations (so that they allow for immediate and even advance action in the so-called decision windows – so that it would be known at the time of the test who makes decisions and that this person is prepared for it – this applies in particular to politicians). Shaping the course of the loop sequence, linking commands and types of armed forces.
The decision loop cannot depend on anyone, including our closest allies, who, in the event of our conflict, would gain control of the escalation ladder, i.e. they would deprive us of decision-making, influencing what we want to achieve on the battlefield or during the growing crisis.
In a modern clash and the pre-kinetic conflict phase, including in the case of a hybrid war scenario or a scenario falling below the threshold of NATO article 5, the role of politicians is greater than ever before in history, because they are a key element of the decision loop, which has not been the case so far. They have to prepare for it now to bear the burden of responsibility. War does not belong to the military, let alone the modern war, where the pace of events and the circulation of information affect political decisions every minute.
Tanks, planes and artillery are just effectors aimed at executing the decisions made in the fourth sequence of the decision loop. Without an efficient loop, they do not matter, like trouser trimmings or a fashionable hairstyle in the rain. This is exactly where the Afghan failed, stripped of the key technological enablers within the decision-making loop following the American withdrawal. In addition, they lacked morale, i.e. the belief that the goal of the struggle, which is the existence of government and state, is worth the effort and worth taking a mortal risk.
Similarly, morale failed in our war in defence of the constitution of 1792, when after the battles of Zieleniec and Dubienka, the king joined Targowica and finally the new army collapsed, not believing in the final success of the war. There was no one to hold the king and stop the cascading process of collapse. Whatever can be said about the Germans at Wolrd War Two, until April 1945 they maintained a decent working capacity of the decision loop despite the overwhelming military disproportions in favor of the Allies.
We have to work on this in Poland. Morale in the military and in state institutions responsible for war, including hybrid war, must be set even higher than in the past, because the phenomenon of live war-streaming from the battlefield in combination with information warfare can cause a cascading destructive effect on morale, which causes the breakdown of war effort. This was seen in Afghanistan and Nagorno-Karabakh, and partly in Ukraine in 2014. The Russians will be playing it not only from the first minutes, but even before anything starts. An efficient decision-making loop supported by high morale of all elements of the state’s immunity system will be the focus of our effort.
The decision loop must be resistant to disruption and hostile takeover, and redundant – that is, it can be replaced in the event of a failure in a somewhat automatic way. Ideally, there should be several alternative technology systems that are interchangeable with each other. We also have to think carefully whether we want to centralise the loop completely or make certain elements amorphous so that they cannot be eliminated quickly with one sequence of the enemy’s actions. The centralisation of the decision loop was a sin in September 1939. Even with an amorphous model, even the powerful ally will not be able to “compel” us politically to make peace on terms that we do not want. The amorphous system also increases the risk of an attack by the opponent, because once set into motion, it performs actions regardless of pressure from above.
Demonstrating the development of such capabilities during peacetime would give the Russians, the Germans and the Americans a lot to think about. That we cannot be outplayed over our heads due to the lack of control of escalation by those stronger than us. The mere undertaking of a decision loop reform in this regard will be a strong signal to all parties that the Poles know what it is all about and that we are serious people. Implementing reforms by purchasing effectors without reforming all the sequences of the decision loop may have the opposite effect – the impression of Poland as a post-colonial, peripheral state.
The lack of integration of the decision loop leads to a disaster, even if you have better effectors. Let us remember that military reforms and innovations require, above all, conceptual and organisational reforms. We will talk about them in part 2 of this series.