Innovation from below: the role of subordinate feedback in irregular warfare operations
Karres, Matthew G.
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Of the numerous variables that impact the outcome of irregular warfare operations, leadership is one of me most critical. Irregular operations require decentralization and the freedom of the local commander to create local solutions to the situations that he faces. These local solutions can have a dramatic and positive effect on the outcome of irregular military operations. A review of cases that span a century of US irregular warfare operations provides evidence that, at times, the military hierarchy did allow subordinates to innovate and did listen to their recommendations, with positive outcomes as a result. This evidence also illustrates, however, that the military has failed to institutionalize these lessons and is prone to have to re-learn them from conflict to conflict, and at times this relearning process has resulted in the failure of an operation. Leaders must ensure that innovation and feedback are a part of the conduct of irregular warfare operations. This thesis will illustrate that the doctrine and culture of the United States military does not provide for the systematic analysis and exploitation of subordinate innovation. The purpose of this thesis is to clearly articulate the important role that innovation and feedback from subordinates can have on the outcome of operations. The cases put forth to illustrate these points are the Philippines (1898-1902), Vietnam, and El Salvador. The goal is to draw conclusions and make recommendations on how the US military might better capture and utilize subordinate feedback and innovation in future operations.
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