From Pickle to Impact: Two Minutes of Self-Reflection for Airmen

There are three things very hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self. ―Benjamin Franklin

Life is tough; it’s tougher if you’re stupid. ―John Wayne

F-16 fighter pilots

What’s the difference between self-reflection and taxes? You can pay someone to do your taxes for you. Self-reflection is a necessary part of growing up, whether you admit it or not. This process of self-reflection will no doubt conjure some amount of humility as you learn more about yourself, particularly if you have the Type A personality most commonly associated with a war fighter. This may be part of the reason self-reflection is a bit less welcome than in other walks of life however, the general consensus is that self-reflection is key to becoming an effective leader. After all, we’re purportedly building leaders here, not managers; it’s called the flight lead for a reason! In that spirit, let’s offer a somewhat less cerebral (and hopefully more entertaining) approach for self-reflection.
For the moment lets disregard the adage “work from the target backwards,” we’ll pick a target on the ground, any target of any type. How would you to get to the target? What kind of weapon are you?

The Gun – Extremely low cost and under a skilled hand very discerning. You can get up close and surgical with it while achieving nearly instantaneous results. However, The Gun accepts the most personal risk of any weapon. If you are to the point of using it everything around you has probably fallen apart or attempts with other weapons have failed. Battle damage is anticipated.

Dumb Bomb – Someone has to get you close enough to simply fall ballistically into, or close enough to the right thing to have an effect. Blissfully, the Dumb Bomb sometimes forgets that their effectiveness is entirely dependent on the delivering aircraft’s ability to precisely arrive at the ballistic release point. With a high-performing platform from which to be employed, the dumb bomb is vulnerable to a false belief that they may be a Smart Bomb.

Smart Bomb – Easy to use with a high degree of precision the Smart Bomb only needs the aircraft to get into a release basket and it will do the rest. Smart Bombs can be a force multiplier to the aircraft. Multiple Smart Bombs can be employed at multiple targets simultaneously whereas with a Dumb Bomb the aircraft can only attack one target at a time. However, one of its greatest strengths, precision guidance, is also its greatest weakness. When issues arise with its guidance, expect less precision but certainly no less than a Dumb Bomb. The Smart Bomb has the same range as the Dumb Bomb, providing little in the way of an advantage in a contested environment for its aircraft. Finally, not all Smart Bombs are the same; their guidance and explosive composition are suited for specific tasks, which have unique vulnerabilities.

Rocket – The Rocket has lots of thrust and gets to the target quicker than any other weapon with a direct attack “point and shoot” capability. However, the Rocket burns out quickly and is unguided, therefore it must be set up for success perfectly prior to release. This must be done within its short range and with an accurate vector. The smallest of error in initial vector will lead to a wide miss at the target but feedback is much quicker than a bomb. The Rocket looks impressive and is lulled into thinking they are like a Dumb Bomb (with more zoom and less boom). In reality they are more like a bottle rocket with high initial thrust and less than impressive endgame results. The Rocket is used mainly to mark targets, whereas a bomb is mainly used to have an effect on targets. Lastly, even when fired under perfect parameters, the Rocket can be unpredictable and cook-off under the right circumstances.

Stand-off Cruise Missile – Combining the Smart Bomb with the ability to stand-off from a target seems like an obvious benefit of the Cruise Missile. This type of weapon is by the far most expensive, and also requires the most trust. Like the Smart Bomb, the Cruise Missile’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Its low observable to get through obstructions on the way to the target, but this also makes it difficult to see progress and endgame effects. That leaves lots of time en-route that things can go awry without knowing. The only way to know that the Cruise Missile has met its mark is to wait for terminal impact, a highly effective weapon assuming it hits its intended target.

Last but not least here is the obligatory “throw-away COA,” the ICBM.

ICBM –Deterrence through intimidation. The ICBM can travel extremely long distances and is highly reliable but once launched, it cannot be controlled. The proverbial ‘barking dog that seldom bites,’ the ICBM maintains a high state of readiness and methodically ensures it ‘looks good and sounds good,’ just in case. There are only two targets the ICBM is suited for: deterring other ICBMs and very specific key target destruction. Kept under lock and key for good reason; break glass in case of war…world war.

To this point everything has been related to arriving at the target. But, we can’t talk about target destruction without talking about desired weapons effects, can we? Once you get to the target, what type of warhead best characterizes you?

General Purpose (GP) Bomb – The backbone of a munitions stockpile; the 90% solution. A solid base is the primary component required to produce a functioning highly precise and effective weapon.

Penetrator – The Penetrator’s shape and composition make is easy to differentiate from the GP Bomb, permitting it to strike targets that are fortified specifically against the GP Bomb. Using a Penetrator on a GP Bomb target will work, but at much greater expense and potentially less effect. When employed initial appearances indicate that it’s less effective however, its true effect is seen below the topical blast effect typical of the GP Bomb. While a critical warhead, an arsenal can’t be built entirely upon a Penetrator just as an airplane cannot be manufactured out of the materials used to construct the nearly indestructible black box. The Penetrator has a specific purpose for a specific target set, employment against anything else would be a waste of talent.

Cluster Bomb – The Cluster Bomb looks impressive, but in reality is “just a Dumb Bomb” that employs hundreds of smaller Dumb Bombs. Because of the high levels of collateral damage and relative effective indiscriminate lethal capacity with both exploded and unexploded ordnance, the Cluster Bomb requires very high levels of approval. Today these effective large area weapons are seen as relics of a bygone era of warfare, are being divested, and are politically unappealing. Although highly effective in all out war they should be used with caution, and consequences should be expected.

F-bomb – A deception-type bomb, The F-bomb makes lots of noise, can be applied in nearly any form of disagreement, is harmless, a distraction, and almost useless beyond the occasional entertainment value.

Nuclear – All or nothing. This weapon was developed for a singularity and the entire stockpile should be expended or none at all.

TBMs_and_SB2Cs_dropping_bombsOnce you’ve put some thought into what kind of weapon you are, think about your unit and your people. What kind of weapon diversity do you see in the Airmen? Is it optimized for the unit’s mission? With that perspective, it’s time to apply some assessment to the unit/organization as a weapon system. While you can’t directly affect the group of people you are charged with, nor the mission they have the responsibility to execute, you can influence how the execution occurs. You are the flight lead, and they are your arsenal. By choosing your platform from which to operate them, you are essentially choosing your leadership style, which should provide some insight into your philosophy. While this may be nothing more than a simple self-identification exercise, it will provide you some insight into self-reflection and can shape the way you view yourself and those you are charged to lead. -TBNBN 700x700


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