47 - Military Innovation and Creativity with GEN Kenney and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea | The Principles of War Podcast
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How did GEN Kenney create a culture of military innovation and creativity in the SWPA?


The SWPA was a third priority for resources for the Allies, who had adopted a Germany first approach.  In the East, GEN MacArthur found himself in competition with ADM Nimitz for resources and to be the strategic priority.

You fight a war the way you can, not the way you want to.  We discuss how USAAF doctrine had developed it’s doctrine that Kenney would have to work with in the SWPA and the problems that he faced as he prepared for the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

We look at how GEN Kenney lead the 5th Air Force and prepared it for the Battle of the Bismarck sea.  What was it that marked it out as one of the most innovative Air Forces in the Second World War?  What was it in his career that enabled him to understand military aviation?

Military Innovations theories

We discuss 4 theories about what drives military innovation:

  • Civil-military relations – a civilian statesman and a maverick leader who drive innovation.  An example would be Heinz Guderian and Adolf Hitler.
  • Inter Service rivalry – Services strive for roles and resources against the other services.  The development of the Air Force was a great example of this as Strategic Bombing was seen as a way of generating a purpose for the nascent Air Force.
  • Intra Service – the struggle between Corps for doctrinal supremacy and the resources that flow from that.
  • Organisational Culture Theory – innovation is driven top down or by external factors.  The best example of this is the development of the Prussian General Staff System following the defeats at Jena and Auerstedt.

The models are top down, and the rank structure can make communication and innovation difficult to accomplish.

Military Innovation and creativity is often complicated by the fact that military innovation occurs either ‘in contact’ or ‘out of contact’.  Both scenarios create issues that inhibit military innovation.

The sinking of Force Z highlighted the resistance to doctrinal thinking.  There is also the propensity to try to fight the last war.  GEN William Westmoreland was trying to fight like in Korea or WW2, rather than understanding that an insurgency was a political war with military elements.

Military innovation out of contact

Services out of contact tend towards conservatism, inhibiting innovation.  We also discuss risk tolerances when trying to innovate out of contact.   As the time increases since the last war, antagonists doctrines diverge as technology drives changes.  There is little feedback about the effectiveness of doctrine because it is never employed against a real live enemy.  The lack of battle can create an intellectual laziness.

Military innovation in contact

Technological innovation occurs a lot quicker, given the  It is often difficult to learn lessons from a battle when the witnesses and practitioners are often casualties of those battles.  The loss of corporate knowledge can create intellectual stagnation.  There are also limited opportunities for war fighters to undertake studies that broaden their experiences and enable military creative thinking.

  • How do we frame our tactical and strategic problems, both in and out of contact?
  • How can we create a culture of innovation, when innovation thrives in an environment of failure and the innovation process is inherently risky and requires embracing failure?
  • How empowered are you in your role to innovate?
  • What is the linkage between Mission Command and Military Innovation?

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