Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower

Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower by James Wood Forsyth Jr, Mark Owen Yeisley, and Richard J. Bailey Jr (Naval Institute Press, April 15, 2016, 288 pages)

Strategy is a compilation of essays written by instructors at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS). The mission for SAASS is to “produce strategists through advanced education in the art and science of air, space, and cyberspace power for the Air Force, Space Force, and the nation.”

Each chapter is written by a different professor with expertise in their topic. They cover: defining strategy, military theory, technology in strategy, space and cyber considerations, and irregular warfare. An introductory discussion asserts strategy is difficult to define as knowledge, technology, and understanding of strategy changes continuously. And, as the authors go on to explain strategy is dependent on context and adaptation. Thus, each author has the freedom to explore their own definitions. The sections that stand out to me are the introduction, the chapter on classical strategy, and the chapter on the Importance of irregular warfare.

Introduction: Defining Strategy

In the introduction, a quote from Carl Von Clausewitz explains that knowledge gained all at once increases our uncertainty because we only gain experience in small portions. With the increase in understanding, we as strategists understand that we don’t know what we don’t know. In my opinion, this is the first understanding needed when starting a journey as a strategist.

It is difficult to define the word strategy as there are too many variables or factors to manipulate how strategy is applied. The authors explain, “The strategist determines the means, establishes the boundaries, and provides the goals for the tactician. Within these, the tactician maximizes—most efficiently and/or effectively—results.”

As a tactician and mission planner at the United States Air Force Weapons Schoo, l am used to receiving the commander’s intent and applying available resources to attain their intent within the battlefield’s boundaries. A strategist could help determine what the commander intended to achieve in the war’s larger plan. Strategists understand why the battle is fought, whereas the tactician works to win the battle itself with little information on why that battle is fought. For me and other tacticians understanding the difference between tactics and strategy is crucial.

Chapter 4 Classical Strategy: A Socratic Dialogue 

In this chapter, my favorite in the book, James M. Tucci advises students reading about 21st century strategy to also read about earlier civilizations and wars. Tucci uses a conversation (or the Socratic method) between a schoolmaster and three teachers to reveal why someone believes what they do. As I read, I felt like I was sitting in the room watching the argument unfold.

One of the teachers believes new technologies, such as fighter jets, can’t be compared to cannons or ships of the past, so reading about earlier wars will not help future strategists. But, the group determines that thinking about employing new technologies in a time when such technologies did not exist can provide valuable lessons. The chapter makes a good argument for peers to discuss their differing points of view to determine what makes logical sense among the group.

Chapter 10 Staying Regular? The Importance of Irregular Warfare to the Modern Strategist 

Here, Mark O. Yeisley, discusses how published doctrines on war have ignored irregular warfare. Before the war in Iraq (2003) and Afghanistan (2001), military doctrine focused heavily on fighting a conventional and nuclear war. The gap left the US military unprepared for fighting an enemy hiding among civilians in a town of people that all look the same to Americans and who follow rules of engagement that do not match the Americans’ expectations.

In irregular warfare it is difficult to both understand who the enemy is and what the adversary’s strength is. If we cannot identify the enemy, how do we determine if we won? Understanding the complexities of irregular warfare can help strategists determine the most palatable outcome. 

Conclusion

I highly recommend this book for anyone beginning their journey to become a strategist. Although it will not teach you how to be a strategist, the book will lay the foundation for understanding how a strategist thinks. And, any military leader interested in understanding how a strategist thinks compared to a tactician would benefit from the book.


This book review was contributed by Ryan Blakeney, RQ-4B Weapons School Instructor at United States Air Force, who can be found on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-blakeney-741831165/.

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