Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley repeatedly warns of increased complexity, ambiguity, and speed in future warfare. The decision-making process at all levels of command will be challenged by the environment, the situation, and the enemy, as well as by the perception and interpretation of our thoughts. The requirement to frame decisions around the scope and rate of information sharing on the modern battlefield and adapting those frames to the complexity of context and content, necessitates the ability to think critically and creatively. The curriculum at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS) directly addresses these challenges by training and preparing students to operate as a Red Teamer. Red Teaming creates and illuminates pathways to better decisions by employing structured techniques to identify hidden dangers, reveal unseen possibilities, and facilitate creative alternatives. It is, in essence, a form of risk management for the human brain.
The U.S. Army chartered UFMCS with the mission to teach Red Teaming to the U.S. Army and other authorized organizations. As the nature of warfare has evolved, so too has our curriculum and academic offerings. Version 9.0 of the Red Team Handbook represents the current state of our program. Although the contents of this volume and our courses are not official doctrine, the practices discussed directly support and are in both Joint and U.S. Army Doctrine. This handbook provides the reader with an introduction to the fundamental concepts, methods, and tools essential to the practice of U.S. Army Red Teaming.
Mark R. French
leader convenes a meeting of the organization’s key personnel and top planners to develop an operational plan for the next year. These people work in the same environment, have received similar training, and share common experiences within a hierarchical framework. The process seems to go smoothly, as most decisions are made based upon what the group believes the leader wants, what the senior personnel suggests, and what everyone knows to be true about the organization and the operational environment. The plan is drafted, accepted, and put into practice.
And it fails!
Why did it fail, and what could have been done to increase the odds of success?
The group may have misunderstood what the leader wanted, or “what everyone knew” might be incorrect. Participants could have fallen into the trap of “doing things like they were always done,” without considering alternatives or ways to improve. The group may have ignored ambiguous and complex topics, thinking they didn’t matter. Perhaps the junior person in the room knew of a problem but was afraid to
contradict someone senior or the subject matter expert. Moreover, the actions of a competitor or adversary may have completely derailed the plan.
As human beings, we develop patterns of behavior and thought that help us achieve our goals with the least amount of effort possible. For example, we learn early in life that we can have greater success and more friends if we cooperate and agree with other people – go along to get along. To save time and energy, we develop shortcuts and apply solutions that work in one area to problems in another, even if the responses don’t fit perfectly. We assume we know more than we really do, and we don’t question our assumptions. The introverts among us, despite having valuable ideas, cede control in meetings to the extroverts and remain mute. These actions and this learned behavior combine to deceive us. We assume we are applying the best solutions without reflecting on our actions and asking if there is a better way, or if we are really applying the correct thought and behavior to get the outcomes we want. When we join together in groups, these human characteristics amplify, and our tendencies and learned patterns of behavior lead us to situations like the planning meeting described above.
Why Do We Red Team?
Expanding on the words of psychologist Dietrich Dörner, people court failure in predictable ways, by degrees, almost imperceptibly, and according to their own culture and context. In other words, we routinely take shortcuts because of limitations on time, personnel, or other resources, and we accept that as a normal way of doing business. We assume we understand situations because we have been in similar ones before, and we turn a blind eye to ambiguity or don’t fully appreciate asymmetries. We discount potential threats because we don’t fully appreciate the likelihood of occurrence or the complexity of influencing factors. We make many small decisions that are individually “close enough,” but when joined together, become the seeds of failure. We take comfort in the familiar, and assume others, even on the other side of the world, share our views, beliefs, and tendencies. These reasons and more are why we Red Team.
What is Red Teaming?
Red Teaming is a flexible cognitive approach to thinking and planning that is specifically tailored to each organization and each situation. It is conducted by skilled practitioners normally working under charter from organizational leadership. It uses structured tools and techniques to help us ask better questions, challenge explicit and implicit assumptions, expose information we might otherwise have missed, and develop alternatives we might not have realized exist. It cultivates mental agility to allow Red Teamers to rapidly shift between multiple perspectives to develop a fuller appreciation of complex situations and environments. This leads to improved understanding, more options generated by everyone (regardless of rank or position), better decisions, and a level of protection from the unseen biases and tendencies inherent in all of us.