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‘Transformation in contact’: learning the lessons of modern war

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The US and British armies have faced intelligent and adaptive enemies in Iraq and continue to do so in Afghanistan. While both armies have proved adept at fighting high-intensity conflict, their initial performance against asymmetric threats and diffuse insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated how much each army had to learn about conducting counterinsurgency operations. This article examines one important means by which the US and British armies have transformed themselves into more flexible and responsive organizations that are able to harness innovation at the front effectively. It traces the development of the lessons-learned systems in both armies from the start of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq to today. These changes have resulted in significant development within the organization of both armies. Reform of US and British army learning capabilities offers an important insight into the drivers of military change. The reformed lessons-learned systems have been better integrated into training, experimentation, and doctrine and force development. While there are still challenges to be overcome, both armies have created robust structures that facilitate the movement of knowledge from recent experience at the front to the rest of the organization. As such, these reforms provide us with a useful case-study that enhances our understanding of the role of ‘bottom-up’ initiatives in military innovation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Senior Lecturer in Modern Military History at the University of Liverpool. 2: Senior Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department, King's College London.

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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