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‘Transformation in contact’:

learning the lessons of modern war

ROBERT T. FOLEY, STUART GRIFFIN


AND HELEN MCCARTNEY *

In June 2009 the future Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards,
gave a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in which he spoke of the
major challenges that lay ahead for the British armed forces. Richards discussed
the shape of the forces, the likely nature of the threats they would face in the
future and the requirement for military reform. As his point of reference, he took
the remarkably rapid transformation that has allowed the US armed forces to
meet the challenges presented by Iraq and Afghanistan and the more fundamental
changes in warfare that these conflicts presaged. While Richards did not advocate
simply copying American innovation, he argued that a paradigm shift was occur-
ring in modern warfare, that this was ‘our generation’s horse and tank moment’,
and that the British armed forces also had to transform if they were to survive
and flourish in this new military environment. In short, Richards argued that
British forces, like the American armed forces before them, needed to harness the
creative energies and experiences of front-line soldiers to carry out a fundamental
‘transformation in contact’.1
Richards’s ‘transformation in contact’ and the US armed forces’ ‘transforma-
tion’ are military innovation by other names. There are four main schools of
thought about military innovation, each of which places disproportionate weight
on top-down initiatives. They put forward either ‘civil–military relations, interser-
vice politics, intraservice politics [or] organisational culture’ as the main source
of innovation,2 and, in each case, take a hierarchical approach where significant
change is driven from above. Barry R. Posen’s civil–military model focuses on the
relationship between empowered external agents, primarily civilian statesmen,
and creative insiders, or ‘maverick’ senior officers.3 Interservice models focus on
the competition dynamics between the military services within a state, often as

* The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) in granting access to
key organizations and personnel. The analysis, opinions and conclusions expressed or implied in this article
are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Joint Services Command and Staff
College, the UK MOD or any other government agency.
1
Gen. Sir David Richards, ‘Twenty-first century armed forces: agile, usable, relevant’, speech to the RUSI
Land Warfare Conference, London, 23–25 June 2009, http: //www.rusi.org/events/ref: E496B737B57852/
info: public/infoID: E4A4253226F582/, accessed 30 Dec. 2010.
2
Adam Grissom, ‘The future of military innovation studies’, Journal of Strategic Studies 29: 5, Oct. 2006, p. 908.
3
Barry R. Posen, The sources of military doctrine: France, Britain and Germany between the world wars (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1984).

International Affairs 87:2 (2011) 253–270


© 2011 The Author(s). International Affairs © 2011 The Royal Institute of International Affairs. Published by Blackwell Publishing
Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford ox4 2dq, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
they struggle with each other for scarce resources.4 Intraservice models, largely
associated with Stephen P. Rosen, see innovation stemming from an ideological
struggle within a single service over competing visions of the future.5 Finally,
cultural models are a little more flexible in their analysis, but essentially argue that
cultural proclivities set the agenda for innovation and that military cultures are
usually influenced from above or outside.6
In a 2006 article on military innovation Adam Grissom pointed out that, while
all these theoretical perspectives have intrinsic value, they provide only a partial
picture of military innovation. Each of the major schools of thought on military
innovation largely ignores the importance of learning from experiences on the
front line. For Grissom, this picture has been made increasingly ‘incongruous’ by
interesting individual studies of bottom-up innovation. He notes that ‘the door
is open for … a major contribution to the field by developing the empirical and
conceptual basis for explaining cases of bottom-up innovation. This is the major
challenge, and opportunity, for future military innovation studies.’7 This point
has been reiterated with reference to both US and British military innovation in
Afghanistan.8
This article takes up Grissom’s challenge to explore innovation in greater depth.
In particular, using the cases of the US army’s transformation and the British army’s
‘transformation in contact’, it looks at the interaction between the top-down
innovation described by most theorists and the bottom-up military innovation
described by Grissom to show how each is dependent upon the other. It does this
by examining the fundamental changes that have occurred to the ‘lessons-learned’
systems in the US and British armies between 2003 and the present. In both cases,
poor performance on the battlefield led to pressure from below for meaningful
reform. Different organizational cultures shaped how each institution responded
to this pressure, but eventually both the US army and the British army enacted
significant structural reforms. These reorganizations could not be carried out from
the bottom up; they needed the authority of senior officers in both armies. These
top-down organizational changes have enabled both armies to capture and make
use of knowledge gained on the front line much more efficiently than had hitherto
been the case, and have allowed both armies to respond rapidly to the challenges
of fighting highly flexible and resourceful enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.9 The
new lessons-learned systems created by innovations in the structure of the US and

4
See e.g. Deborah D. Avant, Political institutions and military change: lessons from peripheral wars (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1984).
5
Stephen P. Rosen, Winning the next war: innovation and the modern military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1991).
6
See e.g. Theo G. Farrell and Terry Terriff, The sources of military change: culture, politics, technology (Boulder, CO:
Lynne Rienner, 2002).
7
Grissom, ‘The future of military innovation studies’, p. 930.
8
See e.g. Theo Farrell, ‘The dynamics of British military transformation’, International Affairs 84: 4, July 2008,
p. 806.
9
The importance of learning in wartime has been well highlighted in innovation literature. Perhaps the best
example of this is John A. Nagl, Learning to eat soup with a knife: counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
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‘Transformation in contact’
British armies are able to capture not just tactical adaptation,10 but the true innova-
tion that is occurring at the front, and to disseminate these new ideas effectively
throughout the armies. Without the structural changes enacted by senior leaders
in both armies, front-line innovation would have remained local and would not
have led to improved performance throughout both organizations.

The development of the US army lessons-learned system


In a speech to the Citadel not long after the terrorist attacks on the United States
on 11 September 2001, President George W. Bush highlighted the need for the US
armed forces to be intellectually flexible in order to deal effectively with an intel-
ligent foe and a rapidly changing threat environment. He stated that ‘our military
culture must reward new thinking, innovation, and experimentation’.11 Two years
later, this call to embrace change was enshrined into ‘law’ for the US armed forces.
In his Transformation planning guidance published in April 2003, the then Secretary
of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote: ‘We must think differently and develop
the kinds of forces and capabilities that can adapt quickly to new challenges and
to unexpected circumstances. We must transform not only the capabilities at our
disposal, but also the way we think, the way we train, the way we exercise and
the way we fight.’ Rumsfeld called for a cultural change within the US armed
forces to encourage creativity and the development of new ideas about how to
fight. Indeed, he spoke of the need for ‘continual transformation’ to be taking
place within the US armed forces to enable them to stay ahead of their enemies.12
The transformation agenda of Bush and Rumsfeld called for the US armed
forces to place ‘knowledge’ at the heart of how they functioned. The Transforma-
tion planning guidance spoke of the US armed forces ‘transitioning from an industrial
age to an information age military’.13 Just as successful companies in the business
world had successfully leveraged knowledge to outperform their competitors,14 so
the US armed forces would be expected to become better at creating and dissemi-
nating knowledge to gain advantage against enemies. From this point on, the US
military was to act as a ‘knowledge-based organization’.15
10
Theo Farrell has recently highlighted the importance of military ‘adaptation’ in Afghanistan. We are not
denying that this occurs, merely saying it can coexist with innovation. See Theo Farrell, ‘Improving in war:
military adaptation and the British in Helmand province, Afghanistan, 2006–2009’, Journal of Strategic Studies
33: 4, Aug. 2010, p. 592.
11
President George W. Bush, ‘Address to the corps of cadets’, The Citadel, 11 Dec. 2001, http: //externalaffairs.
citadel.edu/presbush01, accessed 3 Dec. 2010.
12
Donald H. Rumsfeld, Transformation planning guidance (Washington DC: Department of Defense, April 2003),
p. 1. See also his ‘Transforming the military’, Foreign Affairs 81: 3, 2002, pp. 20–32. For an analysis of the US
transformation process, see Frederick Kagan, Finding the target: the transformation of American military policy (New
York: Encounter, 2006); Frans Osinga, ‘The rise of military transformation’, in Terry Terriff, Frans Osinga
and Theo Farrell, eds, A transformation gap? American innovations and European military change (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 2010), pp. 14–29.
13
Rumsfeld, Transformation planning guidance, p. 3.
14
The idea of a knowledge-based economy has become an important aspect of business management. For an
early but still relevant analysis, see Ikujiro Nonaka, ‘The knowledge creating company’, Harvard Business
Review, Nov.–Dec. 1991, pp. 96–104.
15
The US army had already begun this process. In 2001, the Department of the Army created a knowledge-
management strategy ‘designed to transform itself into a network-centric, knowledge-based force’:
Department of the Army, ‘Army knowledge management guidance memorandum nr.1’, 8 Aug. 2001.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
Despite the great theoretical strides taken by the US armed forces in the
aftermath of 9/11, operations in Iraq after the overthrow of the Saddam regime
demonstrated that the realities within the armed forces, and within the US army
in particular, did not always live up to the theoretical expectations. Faced with
an insurgency that was not expected, the US armed forces in Iraq struggled to
cope. US forces on the ground, predominantly US army, were ill equipped, both
materially and intellectually, to fight a counterinsurgency campaign. The results
were a deepening of the insurgency, high numbers of casualties and political insta-
bility in the new Iraq.
It was soon clear to many observers both inside and outside the US armed
forces that the US army had not fully embraced the command to be more
­intellectually flexible, and calls were quick in coming for the army to become an
organization that was better at learning.16 It was clear, for example, that the US
army needed to reinvigorate its training and doctrine command, TRADOC.17
General William S. Wallace, then commanding general of TRADOC, wrote
in 2006 that ‘TRADOC must establish better linkages to the operating forces it
supports while simultaneously receiving constant feedback on adaptive solutions
for current and future Army … TRADOC’s center of gravity is our ability
to continue to learn.’18 Crucial to this reinvigoration of TRADOC would be
a lessons-learned system that was capable of collecting, analysing and dissemi-
nating knowledge gained on operations more efficiently and rapidly than before,
so that units trained by the generating force were able to meet the most recent
challenges of the rapidly changing battlefield in Iraq.
The US army had developed its first peacetime lessons-learned system in 1985.19
In that year, the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) was created with
the responsibility to collect and disseminate lessons generated by training at the
National Training Center and in other exercises.20 However, there were problems
with this system. First, lessons were voluntarily submitted: there was no formal
requirement for units to submit lessons from operations or training. Further,
CALL functioned more as a repository for lessons than as an active disseminator
of new knowledge, and the organization was not well integrated into the army
training and education systems.21 Wallace called for this to change, and for CALL
16
See e.g. Brigadier-General David A. Fastabend and Robert H. Simpson, ‘The imperative for a culture of
innovation in the US army: adapt or die’, Army Magazine, Feb. 2004, pp. 14–22; Brigadier Nigel R. F. Aylwin-
Foster, ‘Changing the army for counterinsurgency operations’, Military Review, Nov.–Dec 2005, pp. 27–40.
See also David H. Ucko, The new counterinsurgency era: transforming the US military for modern wars (Washington
DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009).
17
On the significance of TRADOC, see Suzanne C. Nielson, An army transformed: the US Army’s post-Vietnam
recovery and the dynamics of change in military organizations (Leavenworth, KS: US Army War College, 2010).
18
General William S. Wallace, ‘Victory starts here! Changing TRADOC to meet the needs of the army’,
Military Review, May–June 2006, p. 59.
19
For a longer-term view of how the US army has learned lessons, see Dennis J. Vetock, Lessons learned: a history
of US army lesson learning (Carlisle, PA: US Army Military History Institute, 1988).
20
Center for Army Lessons Learned, ‘History of the Army’s lessons learned system’, Handbook 97–13: guide to the
services and the gateway of the Center for Army Lessons Learned (Ft Leavenworth, KS: Department of the Army,
1997), http: //www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/call/call_97–13_history.htm, accessed 6 Dec.
2010.
21
Colonel John W. Morris, ‘Lessons learning: the Army system’, US Army War College Study Project
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‘Transformation in contact’
to be better integrated into the creation of new tactics, techniques and proce-
dures (TTPs) that could be developed rapidly and used by units that were already
deployed or about to deploy, as well as in helping TRADOC with constructing
new doctrine based directly on experience gained in the field.22
The reorganization of the army’s lessons-learned programme in October
2006 went further than Wallace’s recommendation and put CALL at the heart of
bottom-up transformation in the US army. CALL, part of the Combined Arms
Center of TRADOC, has been located since its inception at Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas. Thus it is physically situated at the centre of army training, education
and doctrine formation. The revised Army Regulation 11-33 (AR 11-33) now
placed CALL directly within these knowledge cycles for the first time. The order
stated that one of the key responsibilities of the director of CALL is to ‘generate
near-real-time warrior-focused knowledge products at the tactical, operational, and
theater-strategic levels through the collection of OIL [observations, insights, and
lessons] during Army … operations, major training exercises, and from Army/
Joint experimentation communities’.23
Moreover, the revised AR 11-33 contains a clear message that the entire army
should embrace a new culture of sharing knowledge. The order states that the
objective of the new lessons-learned system is to
create an information sharing culture within the Army in which every Soldier sees himself
or herself as a collector of positive (sustain) and negative (improve or change) information
with a responsibility to submit this information through his or her chain of command.
Success in this culture is defined as the continuous collection and submission of observa-
tions, insights and lessons (OIL) from every unit level; from the individual Soldier to the
most senior leaders.24

Thus, CALL receives its lessons directly from individuals and units still in or
recently returned from the field, ensuring that the most up-to-date knowledge is
transferred from the operating force to the generating force. While any individual
or unit can submit an OIL, the revised AR 11-33 requires all units of brigade size
or larger to submit a detailed after-action review (AAR) to CALL for analysis.25
Moreover, units are required to submit to CALL all TTPs and training materials
so that these can be analysed by CALL for lessons.
Indeed, the effect of the revised AR 11-33 was to centralize the lessons-learned
process within the US army to an unprecedented extent. It is now CALL’s
responsibility to analyse all this material and determine which issues can be dealt

(Leavenworth, KS: US Army War College, Jan. 1990), pp. 7–15; Colonel Anthony C. Funkhouser, ‘Efficient
or effective? An assessment of the army lessons learned program’, US Army War College Strategy Research
Project (Leavenworth, KS: US Army War College, 30 March 2007), pp. 2, p. 4.
22
Wallace, ‘Victory starts here!’, p. 64.
23
US Army, ‘Army regulation 11–33: Army lessons learned program (ALLP)’, 17 Oct. 2006, pp. 4–5 (emphasis
added). Definitions for OIL are: ‘observations describe the conditions experienced by military forces during
war or training’; ‘insights describe issues that arose while conducting military operations or training’; and
‘lessons provide potential solutions to the problems experienced under a set of military conditions’ (p. 9).
24
‘AR 11–13’, p. 1.
25
On AARs, see US Army, FM 7–1: battle focused training (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2003),
appendix C. US ARRs are submitted on completion of the unit’s tour.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
with within the army and which ones need to be sent to the joint arena.26 CALL
now chooses which ‘proponent’ within the army is best able to address a particular
OIL,27 and works directly with this proponent on an action plan to address the
OIL and transform it into a ‘lesson learned’.28 CALL is also required to liaise with
the joint community to resolve OILs that cannot be dealt with by the US army
alone. Referring OILs to army proponents or to the joint realm for solution can
be a lengthy process, so CALL also uses a ‘rapid lessons-learned process’ to speed
the dissemination of ‘critical’ knowledge to the operating and generating forces.
In responding to the need to spread best practice rapidly the US army has
embraced the use of the internet. In the late 1990s it began developing Army
Knowledge Online, a secure website on which information can be exchanged.
CALL makes extensive use of this site, as well as the US army’s open website, to
disseminate its products. The Center runs a ‘Digital Public Library’ on which a
variety of publications are held.29 These can be quite imaginative and instructive.
An example of this is Nightmare on Wazir Street, an updated version of The defence
of Duffer’s Drift, which takes the reader through the best practice of combat in
built-up Baghdad by means of a series of nightmares experienced by the narra-
tor.30 Others are more practical handbooks, such as the Commander’s guide to money
as a weapons system.31
However, it is not just products of the formal lessons-learned system that are
important for the ‘continual transformation’ of the US army. Journals, such as
Military Review and Parameters, produced by the US army’s Combined Arms Center
and War College respectively, have played a key role in disseminating ­knowledge
throughout the army, as well as in providing forums for critiques of existing
doctrine or procedures. Importantly, these journals are readily available for all to
read online. The army also makes extensive use of online ‘communities of practice’,
within which military professionals can discuss and exchange ideas and ­knowledge
about recent operations.32 Perhaps the best example of such a community of
practice is CompanyCommand. This site was initially established in 2000 by then
Majors Nate Allen and Tony Burgess as a place where young company commanders
could discuss issues unique to their positions. In 2002 the US army recognized the
importance of the site and brought it into Army ­Knowledge Online.33 The site
26
The ALLP is designed to fit into the joint lessons learned programme outlined in Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff Instruction (CJCSI) 3150.25B, ‘Joint lessons learned program’, 15 Feb. 2005.
27
An army ‘proponent’ is the officer with responsibility for development of a particular area within the army.
See US Army, ‘Army regulation 5–22: the army force modernization proponent system’, 19 Aug. 2009.
28
CALL uses the joint definition of ‘lesson learned’ laid out in CJCSI 3150.25B: ‘Results from an evaluation
or observation of an implemented corrective action that produced an improved performance or increased
capability. A lesson learned also results from evaluation or observation of a positive finding that did not
necessarily require corrective action other than sustainment.’
29
See http: //usacac.army.mil/cac2/call/archives.asp.
30
‘Nightmare on Wazir Street’, CALL Newsletter 08–39, June 2008.
31
‘Commander’s guide to money as a weapons system’, CALL Handbook 09–27, April 2009.
32
Major Steve Schweitzer, ‘Communities of practice in the US Army’ (West Point, VA: Center for the
Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning, US Military Academy), http: //www.
csci.psu.edu/seminars/fallnotes/cop1.pdf, accessed 14 Nov. 2010.
33
Greg Slabodkin, ‘Army lessons learned’, Federal Computer Weekly, July 2006, http: //fcw.com/articles/2006/07/17/
army-lessons-learned.aspx, accessed 13 Oct. 2010. See also Nancy M. Dixon, Nate Allen, Tony Burgess, Pete
258
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‘Transformation in contact’
quickly became popular: by 2009 Company­Command had some 18,000 members
with more than 60,000 hits per month.34
Naturally, the challenges of transformation across an organization as large and
complex as the US army are significant; but there can be no doubt that the new
lessons-learned system instituted by the army in 2006 helped make this organi-
zation a more flexible and adaptive force. This system ensures that lessons are
collected, analysed and disseminated quickly, and consequently that the US army
has the most up-to-date knowledge of the battlefield possible. The new system
also indicates that the US army is serious about the transformation process begun
by the Bush administration, takes seriously the importance of ‘knowledge’ as a
force multiplier on today’s battlefield and is well on its way towards becoming a
‘knowledge-based’ organization.35

The development of the British army lessons-learned system


Unlike its US counterpart, the British army did not immediately perceive the need
for significant change, and certainly not for radical transformation, during the
early years of the Iraq conflict. Pride in its reputation for excellence in counter-
insurgency and low-intensity warfare was deeply embedded in the culture of the
British army when it deployed to Iraq in 2003,36 and this reputation remained
outwardly untarnished when it embarked upon Operation Herrick in Helmand
Province, Afghanistan, in 2006. In reality, significant flaws in British operations in
Iraq were evident by late 2005 and manifest by 2006.37 Operations in Afghanistan
from 2006 onwards only served to magnify these problems, increasing internal and
external scrutiny of British army performance.38 The apparent success with which
the US army transformed itself during the same period created increasing pressure
on the British army to do the same, and several influential British officers found
inspiration when serving alongside their American counterparts.
In retrospect, the period 2003–2009 was one of painful transition for the British
army. A number of factors combined to impair its ability to change effectively.
Superficially successful but fundamentally flawed, British operations in Iraq
Kilner and Steve Schweitzer, CompanyCommand: unleashing the power of the army profession (West Point, VA:
Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning, 2005).
34
Ryan T. Cranc, post on Small Wars Journal, 28 May 2009, http: //smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/05/
goodbye-companycommandcom/, accessed 15 Oct. 2010.
­35
Paul W. Phister and Igor G. Plonish, ‘Information and knowledge centric warfare: the next steps in the
evolution of warfare’, Information Directorate US Air Force Laboratory, June 2004, http: //www.dodccrp.
org/events/2004_CCRTS/CD/papers/188.pdf, accessed 1 May 2010; Lieutenant-Colonel Robert B. Sofge,
‘Knowledge-based warfare: an introduction’, US Army War College Strategy Research Paper (Leavenworth,
KS: US Army War College, March 2009). For a more critical view, see H. R. McMaster, ‘Learning from
contemporary conflicts to prepare for future war’, Orbis 52: 4, Fall 2008, pp. 564–84.
36
For examinations of the British experience of COIN, see Thomas R. Mockaitis, British counterinsurgency, 1919–
1960 (New York: St Martin’s, 1990); British counterinsurgency in the post-imperial era (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1995); Nagl, Learning to eat soup with a knife.
37
See e.g. Sean D. Naylor, ‘Panel gives UK counterinsurgency effort poor marks’, DefenseNews, 28 July 2008;
David Ucko, ‘Lessons from Basra: the future of British counter-insurgency’, Survival 52: 4, 2010, pp. 131–58.
38
David Betz and Anthony Cormack, ‘Hot war, cold comfort: a less optimistic take on the British military
in Afghanistan’, RUSI Journal 154: 4, Aug. 2009, pp. 26–9; Anthony King, ‘Understanding the Helmand
campaign: British military operations in Afghanistan’, International Affairs, 86: 2, March 2010, pp. 311–32.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
diverted attention from deep-rooted internal weaknesses in doctrine and educa-
tion.39 Contrary to the mythology of British army flexibility, these weaknesses
had a great deal to do with the absence of an institutional structure that brought
together doctrine, force development, training and education, as TRADOC did
for the US army, and in particular the lack of an effective, formalized process for
learning lessons.40
The British army was not blind to these structural shortcomings, which had
dogged it for decades. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, under General Sir Nigel
Bagnall, it had attempted to develop a more systematic approach to doctrine, force
development, training and education.41 After several false starts, this process found
its ultimate expression in 1994 with the formation of the Directorate General
of Doctrine and Development (DGD&D), which was given responsibility for
doctrine, experimentation and force development in the British army. Reporting
directly to the Chief of the General Staff, DGD&D enjoyed a brief period of
prominence, with ‘the cream of the army expected to staff its key appointments’,42
and the quality of its outputs treated seriously.43 However, despite the importance
of DGD&D, it did not have within it a formal process for the collection of lessons,
nor was there one anywhere else in the army. This made it difficult to incorporate
lessons from training and operations into the army as a whole and to build up a
comprehensive picture of army needs.
Much more damaging for the army’s ability to learn was an acceleration of
the drive towards a joint (tri-service and MOD-wide) defence organization after
the Strategic Defence Review of 1998. This reorientation served both as a cost-
saving measure and as a logical rationalization of some duplicated single-service
structures. However, for the army, like its sister services, the new stratification
of defence institutions presented serious challenges. In particular, the new joint
institutions took over more and more planning, training and education functions,
and the services were left with low-level responsibilities. The new Permanent
Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) took responsibility for the planning and conduct of
joint campaigning, and the Joint Services Command and Staff College for staff
training and education; the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre ( JDCC) took
increased control over doctrine.
These far-reaching changes exacerbated inherent structural weaknesses that
detracted from the British army’s ability to learn lessons from training and opera-
tions. DGD&D was denuded of staff as the army sought to fill its key berths in
the revised joint hierarchy. Priority was given to joint staff jobs and the army’s

39
Daniel Marston, ‘“Smug and complacent?” Operation TELIC: the need for critical analysis’, British Army
Review, no. 147, Summer 2009, pp. 16–23; Peter R. Mansoor, ‘The British army and the lessons of the Iraq
war’, British Army Review, no. 147, Summer 2009, pp. 11–14.
40
Farrell, ‘Improving in war’, p. 591. See also comments attributed to David Kilcullen and Daniel Marston in
Naylor, ‘Panel gives UK counterinsurgency effort poor marks’.
41
Mungo Melvin, ed., A doctrinal perspective 1988–1998, SCSI occasional paper 33 (Camberley: Strategic and
Combat Studies Institute, 1998).
42
Interview with Head Afghan COIN Centre, Land Warfare Centre, Warminster, 16 Dec. 2010.
43
Markus Mäder, In pursuit of conceptual excellence: the evolution of British military–strategic doctrine in the post-Cold War
era, 1989–2002 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2004).
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‘Transformation in contact’
‘brainpower’ was increasingly absorbed with the challenges of ‘higher-level’
doctrinal and conceptual development and with providing middle- and senior-
ranking army officers with appropriate education within joint establishments. The
denouement came in April 2006 when DGD&D formally ceased to exist after the
Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) replaced the JDCC and
took over responsibility for all joint doctrine and concepts. As Colonel Alexander
Alderson notes, ‘by committing so much of its capacity so wholeheartedly to the
joint approach, the army was open to criticism that it had “mortgaged its brain”’.44
In the circumstances, it should not have been a surprise when, in the wake of
the invasion of Iraq in 2003, General Sir Timothy Granville-Chapman highlighted
the lack of a formal process within the British army to collect and analyse lessons
from operations. To correct this deficiency he issued the first ‘Land Standing
Order 1118: the lessons process’.45 Responsibility for lessons management was
placed firmly in the hands of a two-star general, Chief of Staff (COS) Land Forces,
and the Mission Support Group (MSG) was strengthened. Central to the MSG’s
work was engagement with every British brigade and supporting unit going to
Iraq. The team conducted thorough analysis of all brigade reports, especially the
crucial post-operation reports. Also, the new order formalized the procedures for
post-operation interviews with brigade commanders and principal staff officers
returning from operations. In 2006 the MSG was folded into the new Warfare
Development Group and the MSG’s size was increased in 2008.
However, despite the big step forward it had taken since 2003, the army’s
lessons-learned process remained underresourced. Moreover, lacking an equiva-
lent of the US army’s TRADOC, the British army’s lessons-learned system faced
difficulties reaching beyond its own tactical realm. Where challenges identified
pertained to the joint environment—and almost every issue with operational
significance did—the army struggled to translate them effectively into wider
defence learning.46
The intensity of the operational pressures facing British forces between 2003
and 2009 clearly acted as the impetus for bottom-up innovation, certainly in
revised army learning mechanisms, but also acted as a brake on the drive for
greater structural change. Unlike the US army transformation going on at the
same time, evolving British army learning mechanisms (reflecting MOD learning
mechanisms more generally) were largely ad hoc, underresourced and structur-
ally ill-conceived: that is to say, they were not underpinned by any systematic
analysis of the requirements for effective knowledge management. In practice,
this meant that once a viable, if limited, process for the collection and analysis of
lessons was in place, the army struggled to disseminate these lessons throughout
its structure and into the wider defence lines of development (DLODs).47 By
44
Alexander Alderson, ‘The army brain’, RUSI Journal 155: 3, June–July 2010, p. 10.
45
Commander-in-Chief Land, ‘Land Forces Standing Order 1118: the lessons process’ (Andover: MOD, 2004).
46
Discussion with PJHQ, J7 Lessons, 14 Jan. 2011. It should be noted that this problem was common to all three
services.
47
The DLODs consist of training, equipment, personnel, information, concepts and doctrine, organization,
infrastructure, logistics and interoperability. See MOD, ‘Acquisition operating framework, version 3.1.4’,
Dec. 2010, http: //www.aof.mod.uk/aofcontent/strategic/guide/sg_dlod.htm, accessed 16 Dec. 2010.
261
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
2007–2008, without the breathing space to step back and assess current structures
from first principles, the British army found itself in a catch-22 position. On the
one hand, it had innovated remarkably successfully with regard to its short-term
(or rapid) lessons-learned loop in which TTPs, training and doctrine are constantly
reviewed, revised and updated to counter changes in the enemy’s own tactics (most
notably, the continual revisions of improvised explosive device (IED) planting
and sniper activity),48 and best practice is routinely identified and disseminated.49
On the other, it was clearly struggling to translate battlefield lessons into lasting
and more widespread change in the army.50 Without a coherent command struc-
ture that linked the lessons-learned system with doctrine and force development,
the British army’s lessons system was unable to translate battlefield lessons into
meaningful transformation of the army as a whole. Clearly, a more fundamental
overhaul of the British army’s command structure was necessary.
The British Army Staff Process Review of 2009 was harshly described by
Patrick Little as ‘“reversible” tinkering … [that] has avoided looking more criti-
cally at how it has taken so long to arrive at its principal conclusions’.51 In reality,
this review led directly to the structural changes necessary to place the lessons-
learned process at the heart of transformation in the British army. It resulted in the
establishment of the Force Development and Training Command (FDT), a three-
star command that now sits alongside other core commands reporting directly to
Commander-in-Chief Land Forces.52 By recombining doctrine, development and
training, and placing responsibility for lessons firmly within this organization, the
British army took a conscious decision to make the structural changes necessary
to enable wider army transformation. In essence, the ability to learn from front-
line experience was elevated in status and given greater resources, and its further
development established as a key priority.53
Under Commander FDT sit four main organizations: Logistics, Support
and Equipment; Army Recruiting and Training; the Royal Military Academy
Sandhurst; and the Land Warfare Centre (LWC), where tactical army doctrine
is formulated, concepts are developed and the army’s lessons-learned infrastruc-
ture is situated. The army is also enhancing the comprehensiveness of its learning
infrastructure by creating a virtual organization federating all staff branches with
lessons responsibilities. Provisionally entitled the Centre for Army Lessons and
Safety, its three pillars are the Lessons Exploitation Centre (LXC), responsible for
lessons from operations and training; the Service Inquiries branch of the Direc-
torate of Personnel Support (Army), which also has responsibility for engagement
with coroners’ inquests; and the Chief Environmental and Safety Officer (Army),
48
Farrell, ‘Improving in war’; interviews with SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, 13 Dec.
2010 and Head Afghan COIN Centre, 16 Dec. 2010.
49
Comments on first draft by SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, Jan. 2011.
50
Alderson, ‘The army brain’; Betz and Cormack, ‘Hot war, cold comfort’; Tom Crapper, ‘Enabling operational
management’, RUSI Defence Systems, June 2009, pp. 64–6; Patrick Little, ‘Lessons unlearned’, RUSI Journal 154:
3, June 2009, pp. 10–16.
51
Little, ‘Lessons unlearned’, p. 15.
52
See the Land Forces organizational chart, http: //www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/2D238D96–0BE9–
463D-B15F-54A9880DA7E8/0/20101110_land_forces.pdf, accessed 10 Nov. 2010.
53
Interview with SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, 13 Dec. 2010.
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‘Transformation in contact’
responsible for all environmental issues and tasked with the investigation of all
accidents and incidents across the army resulting in death or serious injury.54
‘Army transformation’ is firmly established as a key task of the FDT, which
aims to ‘lead and drive Army learning and rapid adaptation to deliver enhanced
capability through improved doctrine, training, structures and equipment’.55
Further, FDT’s current commander, Lieutenant-General Paul Newton, has
explicitly championed the role lessons learned must play in this transformation:
without the power of lessons as evidence and an agile structure (the current operation is
the biggest experiment we have going), we will not transform to meet the hybrid threats
of the 21st Century. The key is to ‘hunt’ not ‘gather’ lessons, apply them rigorously—and
only when you have made a change have you really learned a lesson. And it applies to
everyone … It is Whole Army business.56

Significantly, the emphasis the MOD has placed upon the rapid development of
a coherent defence-wide lessons management system, with the Defence-wide
Lessons Reference Group pulling the various elements of defence together at
its heart, has added impetus to army innovation.57 This is reflected in the way
the latest iteration of ‘Land Standing Order 1118’ on the lessons process explic-
itly details the whole army lessons infrastructure, identifies Commander FDT as
responsible for the army’s lessons-learned process, and stresses that learning lessons
is core, army-wide business.58
The army’s primary tactical lessons organization, the LXC resides within the
Land Warfare Centre. The brainchild of the Director-General Land Warfare,
Major General Andrew Kennett, the LXC predates FDT by a few months. General
Kennett had secured another incremental increase in resources and instructed his
staff to develop the existing lessons infrastructure further. The LXC was the
result—honing the tactical lessons process already largely in place rather than
replacing it because ‘by now, the Army had already developed a very effective
process’.59 Critically, the Collective Training Group and the Directorate of Force
Development reside within LWC alongside the Land Warfare Development Group
under Director-General Land Warfare, thereby rationalizing force development,
training, lessons and doctrine under a single two-star officer who in turn reports
direct to a three-star officer responsible for the entire FDT Command.60 The core
function of the new LXC is ‘to capture, analyse, fuse, assess, exploit, track and
archive best practice and lessons from operations and training in order to improve
operational performance and inform Force Development’.61 The two teams of the
LXC, an operational fusion team and a lessons analysis team, manage a three-step
54
Comments on first draft by SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, Jan. 2011.
55
FDT Command mission statement.
56
Quote from Lt-Gen. Newton contained in LXC PowerPoint presentation, reproduced by kind permission of
Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster.
57
Discussion with PJHQ, J7 Lessons, 14 Jan. 2011.
58
Commander-in-Chief Land, ‘Land Forces Standing Order 1118: the process for learning lessons in the land
environment (5th revise)’, 2010.
59
Interview with Head Afghan COIN Centre, LWC, Warminster, 16 Dec. 2010.
60
Comments on first draft by SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, Jan. 2011.
61
Mission statement for the Lessons Exploitation Centre.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
army-wide learning process: step 1 is the hunting and gathering of lessons; step
2 couples collate and fuse with action and track; and step 3 ‘learns’ if the lesson is
within the army’s remit and elevates it if it is not before closing and archiving.62
The reintegration of previously disparate competencies under FDT has inevi-
tably improved knowledge transfer between LXC and other core providers and
users of lessons such as training commands, research and experimentation, and
safety and accident investigation. Their needs and observations are important
sources of lessons generation, which otherwise remains predicated on methods
developed by previous incarnations of the LXC. The tried and tested approach
of after-action reviews and post-operational reports, interviews and presentations
remains prominent, while pre- and mid-tour reporting continues to evolve. An
interesting and successful innovation supplementing this process is the systematic
use of pre-leave presentations by newly returned key personnel, followed up by
two-day post-operational leave mission exploitation symposia.63 These symposia
explore key themes identified not only by the LXC but also by other interested
parties within the army and the defence community more broadly, and provide
a forum through which the most up-to-date knowledge from the battlefield can
be directly and rapidly transferred.64 As a result of their success they have been
formalized and extended.65
The lessons identified are dealt with in a number of ways. As lessons are identi-
fied, the staff of the LXC conform with the central defence-wide lessons process
by assigning them to particular DLOD leads, posting each on the Defence Lessons
Identified Management System (DLIMS), and working with these leads either
to ‘learn’ where a specific lesson is identified or to ‘rationalise and resolve the
immediate problem’ where it is not.66 The LXC also disseminates knowledge in
other ways. For example, it produces short handbooks highlighting issues raised in
training or operations that can be distributed to individual soldiers. These are also
made available, along with other information, on the Army Knowledge Exchange,
a website launched in early 2010 in emulation of US internet-based solutions to the
problem of army-wide dissemination of, and participation in, lessons management
and designed as a ‘“one-stop shop” for all current and future land environment
operations knowledge’.67
Encouragement of wider army engagement in the lessons process is also
gaining momentum, though its impact is uneven. Units on operational tours are
taking lesson-‘hunting’ seriously and constantly reinforcing the army’s lessons

62
Interview with SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, 13 Dec. 2010; discussion with PJHQ,
J7 Lessons, 14 Jan. 2011.
63
The first symposium was conducted on the return of 11 Light Brigade in April 2010 and the intention is to run
them for every brigade and formed HQ.
64
As evidenced by the high level of interest shown by relevant army and MOD personnel (the last post-tour
presentation was attended by over 500 staff ).
65
Discussion with PJHQ, J7 Lessons, 14 Jan. 2011.
66
Interview with SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, 13 Dec. 2010; discussion with PJHQ,
J7 Lessons, 14 Jan. 2011.
67
‘Welcome to the AKX – the Army knowledge exchange’, http: //www2.armynet.mod.uk/akx/index.htm,
accessed 1 Jan. 2011.
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‘Transformation in contact’
learned database (which itself is only a few years old);68 but operational forma-
tions still lack the resources to create a dedicated lessons-learned post. This means
that responsibility for sifting the huge amount of information coming in (and
the problem now is information overload rather than lack of it) remains in the
margins of the workload of overburdened personnel. Rising numbers of users of
the Army Knowledge Exchange provide a rough and ready indicator of increased
interest but beyond that it is difficult to gauge effectiveness at this early stage.69
Vital Ground, for instance, the UK’s answer to CompanyCommand, has so far
proved less engaging than its US counterpart, perhaps because it is too formal-
ized and less like a social networking site where views can be expressed without
prejudice.70 Likewise, and perhaps for similar reasons, critical engagement from
the wider army in print is nowhere near as advanced as in the US. While the US
army provides open access online to its journals, the British Army Review is consid-
ered an internal document and is not readily available outside the armed forces.
Notwithstanding these issues, early signs are that the ability of FDT-generated
lessons to reach into other areas of the army and up into the joint realm is much
enhanced. Certainly, the formal and informal processes by which knowledge is
exchanged between key actors both within and outside the British army are clearer
and oversight of the lessons process is more stringent.71 On the one hand, the
wealth of information providing evidence of lessons is growing, as is wider army
engagement with it. On the other, it is increasingly difficult for a lesson, once
identified, to be sidetracked, dismissed, ignored or, conversely, unfairly privileged
without an audit trail supporting the decision. Both of these developments are
vital ingredients of any good organizational learning culture and indicative of an
increasingly virtuous circle between single-service and defence-wide innovation
in lessons management.72
Although slower off the mark than the US army, the British army has also
integrated a robust lessons-learned process into a transformation agenda. As we
have seen, this was not an easy process. When faced with intense operational
pressures in Iraq and Afghanistan, it scrambled to reinvigorate 1990s initiatives
that had largely unravelled in the face of significant defence reform, but did so in
an ad hoc manner. For several years it was unable to find the time or resources to
examine lessons emanating from the field in a comprehensive manner. As a result,
despite its best efforts, British army learning remained predominantly reactive and
uneven. However, this painful transition period did eventually lead to a major
restructuring of the army command hierarchy to reflect the requirement for a
much heavier and more systematic emphasis on organizational learning.

68
Interview with SO1 Lessons, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, 13 Dec. 2010.
69
By May 2010, AKX was receiving some 1,700 hits per day. AKX-Evangelist, ‘LWC launch of the Army
knowledge exchange’, post from 25 May 2010, http: //www.arrse.co.uk/staff-college-staff-officers/127859-
lwc-launch-army-knowledge-exchange-akx-3.html, accessed 2 Jan. 2011.
70
Interview with Head Afghan COIN Centre, LWC, Warminster, 16 Dec. 2010.
71
Internally, the Land Environment Lessons Board sits quarterly to monitor lessons progress through the
system; externally, the army is well represented within the defence-wide lessons framework outlined in the
latest UK MOD Defence Information Note (DIN), Defence-wide lessons management (London: MOD, 2011).
72
Discussion with PJHQ, J7 Lessons, 14 Jan. 2011.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney

The challenges of learning lessons in modern war


The operational challenges faced by the US and British armies in Iraq and Afghan-
istan have convinced senior leaders in both organizations of the need to change
the way in which they fight. A crucial element of this transformation has been
the development of new lessons-learned systems in both armies. These systems,
created by senior leaders in both armies, are designed to capture lessons from the
front line and transmit this information upwards to be disseminated throughout
the respective armies. Thus, both organizations have recognized that bottom-up
learning is crucial to creating an adaptive and flexible army capable of meeting
the challenges of twenty-first-century conflict, and both organizations have made
effective use of top-down innovation to make this happen.
Recognizing the need for new lessons-learned structures has been a crucial step
in the transformation of each army. However, the development of this bottom-
up means of innovation is still in the early stages, particularly for the British.
Lessons-learned processes are currently evolving and there are still significant
challenges facing the effective operation of these systems. Some of the challenges
are common to both armies, but differences in size, available resources and cultural
attitudes have also led to variations in the speed and nature of lessons-learned
innovation between the two armies.
The lessons-learned structures of the US army are more highly developed
than those of the British army. The US army has been pursuing a knowledge-
based transformation agenda since 2001. Significantly accelerated by the army’s
initial poor performance in Iraq, their lessons-learned processes have been devel-
oped as part of that wider knowledge management strategy. As a result, the US
lessons-learned system is closely integrated into wider army structures. CALL
is co-located with training, educational and doctrinal institutions and fits into
a coherent theoretical model of knowledge management designed to enable the
army to transmit lessons quickly throughout the organization with the aim of
fighting more effectively.73
By contrast, the new UK lessons-learned process is in its infancy. Having identi-
fied the need to transform later than the US, the British army took until 2009 to
make significant structural changes to its system and to institute new procedures
and new institutions to manage lessons more effectively. However, the setting up
of the Force Development and Training Command at three-star level has indicated
the importance now accorded to institutional learning in the British army. The
lessons process is now a key part of this command, and a greater emphasis is being
placed on learning lessons throughout the whole army organization.
The British process has developed in a more ad hoc manner than the American,
with some parts of the lessons-learned system emulating that of the US and others
arising from a unique, British institutional culture. While the lack of a US-style
theoretical underpinning to knowledge management in the British army is not

73
See US Army, FM 6–01.1: knowledge management (Washington DC: Department of the Army, 2008); US Army,
‘AR 25–1: Army knowledge management and information technology’, 4 Dec. 2008.
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‘Transformation in contact’
necessarily detrimental to its lessons-learned system at present, it does make it
easier for crucial elements of the new institutions to be removed or replaced
in the future. The dangers of removing key institutions that support lessons-
learned systems have been amply demonstrated by the army’s reorganizations in
response to reform of the British defence establishment since the late 1990s. The
consequence was an understaffed, underresourced and undervalued army lessons
process that became less able to deal with either the volume of lessons generated
or the transmission of their findings to the wider army. Perhaps more importantly,
the lack of an effective knowledge-based organization meant that lessons from
the field were not well integrated with wider army doctrinal development and,
ultimately, future capability.74
One of the greatest challenges for both the US and the UK systems is the
identification of the key lessons to be learned. In the first place, the lessons-
learned systems of both armies are reliant on those in the front line putting
their perspectives into the system. This can be inhibited by both structural and
cultural considerations. For example, the lessons-learned systems of both armies
have the objective of creating an army-wide culture of information sharing and
lesson generation.75 Only by collecting a wide variety of opinions from those at
the front can the lessons-learned systems be truly effective. However, creating
lessons-learned cultures is not a simple task in hierarchical organizations that have
not, traditionally, tolerated dissent. Soldiers have to feel comfortable submitting
lessons that may potentially reflect badly on themselves or their unit or their
chain of command and not fear negative repercussions for their careers where
the lessons identified reflect institutional problems rather than personal failings.
Indeed, soldiers need to believe that the army is taking the lessons-learned system
seriously or they will be less likely to engage positively and honestly with the
process.
In these respects, the US army has gone further towards changing cultural
attitudes than the British. First, it has had a more open debate about the challenges
of counterinsurgency operations, analysing where the United States has gone
wrong in the past and how the army needs to change to improve in the future.
Debates in Military Review and Parameters have helped to generate a confidence that
the US army is serious about learning from its past errors, stimulating engage-
ment with the formal lessons process. By contrast, in the British army there has
been a distinct lack of public debate over recent army failures in both Iraq and
Afghanistan.76 When an internal army debate on British performance in Iraq and
Afghanistan was initiated in the pages of the British Army Review in 2009, some
articles were subjected to censorship by Whitehall.77 It is this kind of attitude
that made the former army officer Patrick Little and some of his cohort feel that
74
Alderson, ‘The army brain’, pp. 11–12.
75
‘AR 11–13’, p. 1; LSO 1118.
76
John Nagl, ‘Afghanistan: mission impossible’, Dispatches, Channel 4, 6 April 2009.
77
Adam Holloway, ‘Defence viewpoints’, 29 Dec. 2009, http: //www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/articles-and-
analysis/the-failure-of-british-political-and-military-leadership-in-iraq; accessed 3 Jan. 2010; Stephen Grey,
‘Retreat from Basra: learning the lessons’, 20 Sept. 2009, http: //www.stephengrey.com/2009/09/retreat-
from-basra-learning-the-lessons/, accessed 1 Jan. 2010.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
‘they are not listened to, are largely expendable and … their own hierarchy does
not adequately reflect their concerns’.78 While it is claimed that a ‘new glasnost’
with regard to self-reflection began within the British army in late 2009, culture
does not change overnight.79 The decision by FDT to publish a ‘Comment’ on a
recent article in British Army Review, actively encouraging criticism, is a positive
sign; but much more needs to be done if an army-wide culture of self-reflection is
to be firmly established.80 The legacy of an absence of external debate, combined
with the fact that the positive initiatives now established to address previous diffi-
culties have not been well publicized, means that few soldiers outside the new
FDT recognize that significant progress has been made towards transforming the
learning apparatus of the army.
Although there is still a long way to go before the British army achieves its
aim of engaging the whole army in the lessons-learned process, there are encour-
aging signs that brigade headquarters, in particular, are interacting well with the
new lessons-learned process. Indeed, the last brigade to return from Afghanistan
produced many more observations than its predecessor, enabling the LXC to
garner 50 per cent more lessons from the tour.81 However, with increased engage-
ment comes an increase in the volume of lessons flowing through the system, and
there is a danger that the whole process could be overwhelmed with information.
Both US and British armies are aware of this possibility, as both lessons-learned
systems are leanly staffed and need to guard against important lessons slipping
through the net.82
The need to move lessons rapidly from the front to the wider armies led both
the US army and the British army to create highly centralized lessons-learned
systems. This means that potential lessons from the front line arrive at a central
location and are first sifted by generalists before being discarded or prioritized
and exported to a specialist branch of the army for action. At this stage, there is
the potential for relevant lessons to be lost because their significance has not been
recognized by generalists.83
Once key lessons have been identified, there is a need to ensure that the lessons
are actually learned. As both organizations note, only when positive change has
been made can a lesson really be said to have been learned. In order to enact
change, lessons-learned systems disseminate lessons to relevant parts of the army
for action. For the US army this is a more straightforward process. CALL has
responsibility for all army lessons at tactical, operational and strategic levels and
thus most lessons are dealt with within one organization.84 For the British army,

78
Little, ‘Lessons unlearned’, p. 13.
79
Grey, ‘Retreat from Basra’.
80
HQ FDT Comment on Capt. John Bethell, ‘Accidental counterinsurgents: Nad E Ali, hybrid war and the
future of the British army’, British Army Review, no. 149, Summer 2010, pp. 16–17.
81
Interview with SO1, Lessons Exploitation Centre, Warminster, 13 Dec. 2010.
82
The LXC has a staff of 21 and CALL has around 150. While CALL is larger, so too is the US army. The US
army has 547,400 on active duty, 358,200 in the Army National Guard and 205,000 in the Army Reserve. By
comparison, the British army has just over 100,000 full-time professionals supplemented by 40,000 reservists.
83
Funkhouser, ‘Efficient or effective?’, pp. 6–7, pp. 13–14.
84
‘AR 11–33’, pp. 4–5.
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‘Transformation in contact’
on the other hand, most operational and strategic lessons are dealt with in a joint
arena and have defence-wide implications. This adds greater complexity to the
act of learning a lesson, as land-environment lessons above the tactical level are
mediated by the needs and perspectives of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
However, just as the army lessons-learned process has undergone reform, there
has also been recognition within the British armed forces that structural changes
are necessary to address the difficulties of learning lessons at the operational and
strategic levels.85 The Ministry of Defence has made significant changes to link
the tactical lessons-learned processes of the individual services with a joint lessons
process. Although these institutional changes are also in their infancy, there exists
a determination to ensure that important lessons are properly addressed once they
reach the joint realm.
Finally, any knowledge-based organization requires its members to have free
access to accumulated knowledge. Both the US and British armies are utilizing
internet and intranet networks to disseminate lessons and allow soldiers to
exchange ideas. However, by their very nature military organizations face issues
of security that can place limits on the availability of information. Both the US
and British armies need to find a balance between ensuring that sensitive informa-
tion is not available to their enemies and at the same time providing their members
with access to the lessons required to change. Both armies have addressed this
challenge with dedicated web presences where knowledge can be exchanged.
These websites are password protected and have different levels of access from
open to secret, which allow access to soldiers but deny it to outsiders. Secrecy,
however, remains an issue for both armies, particularly in the wake of the recent
Wikileaks scandal. How each army chooses to deal with this issue will have an
impact on the effectiveness of both the lessons-learned system and wider discus-
sion and debate of lessons.
Despite these ongoing challenges, the new lessons-learned systems in both the
US and British armies now act as effective mechanisms for transmitting the most
up-to-date knowledge from the front line to the wider armies. Poor performance
on the battlefield drove observers inside and outside the respective systems to call
for change in how the armies learned and operated. This provided the catalyst for
both armies to innovate and to create lessons-learned systems that can function
quickly. In both cases, pressure from below led senior officers to carry out signifi-
cant reform of existing systems. In the case of the US army, reform was largely
incremental: existing institutions, such as TRADOC and CALL, were reformed
in order to move knowledge from the battlefield into the wider army more
efficiently. These reforms were aided by a wider transformation agenda stemming
from the Department of Defense, an agenda that created a coherent intellectual
framework of knowledge management into which battlefield lessons could easily
fit. For the British army, more wide-ranging reform was necessary. Lacking an
organization like TRADOC, it needed to create an institution capable of merging
85
Changes such as the creation of the Defence-wide Lessons Reference Group and increased emphasis on
structural clarity and delineated responsibilities outlined in UK MOD DIN, Defence-wide lessons management.
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Robert T. Foley, Stuart Griffin and Helen McCartney
a lessons-learned system with doctrine, experimentation and force development.
The British army has finally done this with the foundation of the FDT in 2009.
The FDT has allowed lessons learned to be more effectively disseminated to the
army as a whole. In both cases, top-down reforms to the way in which the two
armies learn lessons from the battlefield have institutionalized bottom-up innova-
tion.

270
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