Listen Up

/ September 23, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Wired Magazine recently came out with a list of the top 15 people the next president should listen to, people "with big ideas about how to fix the things that need fixing." In addition to leading thinkers in the areas of climate change, energy and security, the compilation includes two innovative defense thinkers.

Montgomery McFate, a senior social science adviser for the Human Terrain System, highlights the growing need for greater cultural understanding.

"We can't have effective strategy without cultural knowledge," McFate says. "If you look at the problems we've had -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Somalia -- they've been based on flawed assumptions about who those people are." If the president is going to make better decisions, he needs better insight into how other cultures work, she adds.

Also listed is Army Col. A.T. Ball, who showed how to "wage smarter war with agile Army IT" while in charge of Task Force Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize (ODIN), "a group of IT gurus, image analysts, and drone pilots charged with taking back the roads" in Iraq.

Wired identifies the key takeaway from Ball's performances as:

"Network-centric warfare requires a flexible chain of command. Previous efforts were hampered by rigid hierarchies and top-down decisionmaking. Units could wait days to get a few minutes of surveillance drone time -- only to see the craft fly away at a critical moment. Shifting the network to Ball's tactical level gave his forces speed and agility. In the future, small units like Ball's must be able to run their own networks -- without waiting for input from generals."

Worth emulating? Inside the Army reported last month that the Pentagon is standing up Task Force ODIN-Afghanistan to do for the U.S. mission in Central Asia what Col. Ball and Task Force ODIN provided in Iraq.

-- Kate Brannen