Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 31

HURTLING TOWARD FAILURE aircraft must manage enormous amounts of data and information provided by their information systems. The Air France (AF) Flight 447 disaster provides a case study of how the complexity arising from information systems intended to support operations can contribute to catastrophic failure. Too Much Information On 1 June 2009, AF 447, from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed into the south Atlantic killing all on board. The final report on the crash, published in 2012, attributed the cause to a series of events and situations that included training deficiencies, equipment failures, procedural problems, and human error.4 Although the plane was equipped with up-to-date electronic safety systems, the information provided—some of it incorrect—confused the flight crew. They did not understand their situation, and their behaviors and decisions led to the crash. According to author Andrew Zolli, the use of numerous safety systems on airplanes—and in any type of operations—increases the complexity of the whole until the safety features become sources of risk.5 The number of potential interactions between systems increases so much that the information becomes unmanageable and unpredictable. Authors J.M. Carlson and John Doyle describe how complex systems, whether natural or artificial, can be “robust, yet fragile” because they are robust in handling the expected, yet fragile when faced with an unexpected scenario, a series of small failures or problems, or a flaw in design, manufacturing, or maintenance.6 Ever since Clausewitz described how the friction inherent in war makes even the simplest of tasks difficult, military commanders have desired certainty on the battlefield as a means to achieving victory.7 MILITARY REVIEW  July-August 2014 Achieving certainty depends partly on acquiring the information needed to make decisions, so it is no surprise that the military has sought to collect data and information in its planning and decision methods. Army doctrine first codified a formal decision–making approach in 1932. Since then the doctrine has evolved considerably, increasing the number of variables as well as the complexity of the processes. The Army now has its operations process and subordinate planning processes known as the Army design methodology, the military decision-making process, and troop leading procedures. Operations are considered so complex that doctrine does not claim to provide a one-size-fits-all decision-making model; commanders are expected to select a process or processes appropriate to their situation. The operational art construct serves as an overlapping approach that is supposed to help commanders understand complex situ- ations and integrate numerous variables at tactical and operational levels. Air France A330203 F-GZCP lands at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, 28 March 2007. The aircraft crashed during Air France Flight 447. (Photo by Pawel Kierzkowski) Too Much Complexity Complexity theory is an umbrella term referring to the study of organizations as complex adaptive systems that must be able to receive and adapt to feedback. In principle, operational art incorporates adaptabili