On Flexibility / Meir Finkel

Brigadier General (res.) Dr. Dani Asher, author, lecturer, and veteran intelligence officer, reviews Colonel Dr. Meir Finkel’s book on “The element of surprise in warfare”. The author claims that knowing how to recover quickly from battlefield surprise is imperative in force planning

On Flexibility / Meir Finkel

Every fighting organization - whether a national army, terrorist group, or band of guerillas – invests enormous energy in devising ways to surprise the enemy and gain an advantage on the battlefield. Colonel Dr. Meir Finkel, a scholar and combat officer, argues that since surprise can come in many forms from a multitude of directions, in any engagement some kind of surprise situation will be encountered. The author analyzes various conflicts and comes to the conclusion that only armies, where flexibility is ingrained in the organizational culture and force planning, are able to overcome battlefield surprise.

The author shows that in the past, protracted efforts to counter technological and doctrinal surprise have generally failed. The failure stemmed from various reasons and, paradoxically, increased the likelihood of surprise. The book points to the danger of doctrines for force planning that over-depend on intelligence reports and predictions of the battlefield.

The writer believes that the key to solving technological and doctrinal surprise lies not in prognosticating the nature of the battlefield or attempting to outguess the enemy’s war preparations, but in rapid recovery from surprise. On Flexibility presents a balanced, systematic approach to integrating the various facets of flexibility – technology, doctrine, and culture – into force planning. Colonel Finkel also discusses conceptual elements such as the art of war, physical elements such as force organization and military technology, and cognitive factors such as commanders’ awareness.

In my opinion, while Colonel Finkel leans toward a solution based on flexibility and recovery, his conclusions should not detract from the effort “to know thy enemy” – its capabilities and designs. Knowledge of enemy intentions reduces the likelihood of surprise in combat far more than it leads to debacle on the battlefield.

The book is divided into three parts. The first deals with the challenge of force building against surprise in combat. The second part treats the theoretical aspects of recovery, based on conceptual and doctrinal flexibility, organizational and technological flexibility, and cognitive-command flexibility. In the third part, the empirical section, the author presents historical case studies that illustrate how the presence (or absence) of these elements affects an army’s ability to deal with battlefield surprise.

One of the cases described is the Luftwaffe’s recovery from the British surprise use of chaff for radar jamming in World War Two by switching its tactics for attacking RAF bombers. In the first phase, the Germans employed overhead guns mounted on interceptor aircraft that enabled them to fire on Allied bombers in their vulnerable underbellies. In the second phase they developed a chaff-impervious receiver that homed in on the transmitters fitted in the British Pathfinders. “Once they latched onto the lead aircraft, German ground stations could track the course of the entire British bomber stream”.

Another case of a flexible solution to a surprise situation was the Germans’ ability to minimize damage to their armor from Soviet T-34 tanks on the Russian front during the Second World War. German military designers devised innovative techniques, such as replacing the Panzer III’s cannon, and later by hurriedly developing the Tiger and Panther tank series.

In another example of battlefield flexibility in the Yom Kippur War, Colonel Finkel analyzes the Israeli Air Force’s surprise in encountering the Egyptian (read: Russian) state-of-the-art anti-aircraft layout. The author explains how Israeli pilots minimized the missile threat by reducing their own thermal signature. After initial losses, the air force devised a new attack doctrine, and by the end of the war, in coordination with the military industry, cracked the SAM-6’s electronic guidance system.


Colonel Meir Finkel has served in various command posts: from commander of a Merkava tank brigade in the Second Lebanon War to his current position as director of the IDF’s Ground Forces Concept Development and Doctrine Department. On Flexibility was awarded the distinguished Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for military literature in 2008. The English version of the book will be coming out in the United States in March 2011 (Stanford University Press). Colonel Dr. Meir Finkel holds two Ph.D. degrees, in entomology and security studies.

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