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A Good Introduction to Red Teaming

Red teaming is both a broad term and a thought process which many planners and policy makers often implicitly and unconsciously conduct. But the term red teaming is associated with poorly defined ambiguities and few mainstream or scholarly resources are available. Although there are not many guides to red teaming, the best short read on the subject is the Final Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on the Role and Status of DoD Red Teaming Activities.
      The report begins with a quick argument in favor of red teaming:

“We believe red teaming is especially important now. Adversaries are tough targets for intelligence. Red teaming can both complement and inform intelligence collection and analysis. Aggressive red teams challenge emerging operational concepts in order to discover weaknesses before real adversaries do. Red teaming also tempers the complacency that often follows success.”

      In my opinion, the best part of the report is its emphasis on targeting “the culture of an organization.” Great leaders don’t just “METT-TC” (mission, enemy, time, terrain, troops available, and civil considerations) in their decision making cycle but also seek to step out of their paradigms to evaluate weaknesses in their course of action (CoA). For this reason, many commanders will have their executive or operations officer analyze the feasibility of different CoAs in order to refine and generate a plan that will not only take into effect BLUE force abilities but also acknowledge (a) the most probable enemy CoA and (b) the most deadly enemy CoA.
      But don’t just take the DSB’s word for it–the ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu says it best:

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

      The report goes on to state:

“We argue that red teaming is especially important now for the DoD. Current adversaries are tougher targets for intelligence than was the United State’s major cold war foe. Red teaming deepens understanding of options available to adaptive adversaries and both complements and informs intelligence collection and analysis. Aggressive red teams are needed to challenge emerging operational concepts in order to discover weaknesses before real adversaries do. In addition, in the wake of recent military operations, use of red teams can temper the complacency that often follows success.”

      This evaluation highlights how U.S. adversaries no longer need to spend countless hours conducting theoretical assessments of our military capabilities by reading technical or field manuals; they simply have to observe and analyze units currently deployed. Operation Desert Storm supposedly signaled a revolution in military affairs (RMA)–a new technological era of warfighting that would enhance our ability to wage war to devastating effect. Perhaps there was an RMA, but our adversaries arguably absorbed its lessons better than our own policymakers. Rogue nations and terrorist groups quickly realized that fighting head-on against a military whose budget surpasses the combined defense budget of every nation in the world was suicide. In order to hold their own against the U.S. military, they would have to fight asymmetrically.
      Nonetheless, America’s military possesses a tremendous talent for adaptability–a talent demonstrated not only by the turnaround in Iraq but by the constant reversals of fortune in American military history. Still, all too often after a war has ended, the military simply asks that one meta-question: What lessons were learned from this war? Another just as relevant query should be raised: What have our potential enemies learned from this past war (or wars in our present case)? After combining the answers from these two questions, can policy makers best answer the politicians who will quiz them on how are they spending their budgets (i.e. taxpayers’ money), and what will the effects be on force structure and technology? If we seek better answers, the very minimum we must do is ask better questions.

CPT Tim Hsia is a U.S. Army infantryman.