1st Edition

Understanding the Military Design Movement War, Change and Innovation

By Ben Zweibelson Copyright 2023
    360 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book explains the history and development of the military design movement, featuring case studies from key modern militaries.

    Written by a practitioner, the work shows how modern militaries think and arrange actions in time and space for security affairs, and why designers are disrupting, challenging, and reconceptualizing everything previously upheld as sacred on the battlefield. It is the first book to thoroughly explain what military design is, where it came from, and how it works at deep, philosophically grounded levels, and why it is potentially the most controversial development in generations of war fighters. The work explains the tangled origins of commercial design and that of designing modern warfare, the rise of various design movements, and how today’s military forces largely hold to a Newtonian stylization built upon mimicry of natural science infused with earlier medieval and religious inspirations. Why does our species conceptualize war as such, and how do military institutions erect barriers that become so powerful that efforts to design further innovation require entirely novel constructs outside the orthodoxy? The book explains design stories from the Israel Defense Force, the US Army, the US Marine Corps, the Canadian Armed Forces, and the Australian Defence Force for the first time, and includes the theory, doctrine, organizational culture, and key actors involved. Ultimately, this book is about how small communities of practice are challenging the foundations of modern defence thinking.

    This book will be of much interest to students of military and strategic studies, defence studies, and security studies, as well as design educators and military professionals.

    Introduction: An Introduction to the Military Design Movement

    1. Designing Commerce, Designing War: Of Chickens, Eggs and Hand Grenades

    2. Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern War Designs

    3. The Birth of Military Design: Heresy, Innovation and Betrayal in Israel

    4. Design Comes to America: The Army Assimilation of SOD

    5. Marine Design Methodology: From Innovation to Indoctrination in Two Decades

    6. The Design Phoenix Rises from the Ashes: Israeli SOD Reborn

    7. Designing Further Afield in Canada and Australia

    Conclusion: The Destruction of Old Monsters by New Ones: A Design Insurgency Continues


    Ben Zweibelson is a retired U.S. Army Infantry Officer with over 21 years’ service including multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the director for the U.S. Space Command’s Strategic Innovation Group, and previously educated design, innovation and strategic change for the U.S. Special Operations Command. He has a PhD from Lancaster University (UK) and lectures worldwide to defense organizations and militaries.

    'Only one who began in the fine arts, worked his way from private to combat officer in the US Army, taught design in the US Special Forces, earned a PhD emphasizing the intersection of postmodern philosophy and military strategy, and now works as director of the US Space Command's Strategic Innovation Group could have written this fascinating and challenging book. It explores why modern war is conceptualized as it is. [....] Zweibelson (independent scholar) doesn't tell readers what to think. He can't. This is a call for meta-analysis—a process without end. Required reading for those who can follow where Zweibelson leads. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals.'

    - D. McIntosh, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, CHOICE March 2024

    'Americans don’t win wars anymore. Recent events, to include the ugly end in Afghanistan and the mess in Iraq, confirm this sad reality. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Combat veteran and scholar Ben Zweibelson has thought deeply about the subject. In Understanding the Military Design Movement, he diagnoses what went wrong, how it got so mixed up, and most importantly, what to do about it. It’s past time for Americans to figure out how to win when we are forced to fight. Ben Zweibelson shows us the way.'

    Lieutenant General (ret.) Daniel P. Bolger, PhD,

    U.S. Army, Retired, USA


    'I have known Dr. Ben Zweibelson for a number of years and have met him in my role as a Strategic Design Sponsor during the World class Design education provided by Dr. Zweibelson and his team members. These dynamic encounters have provided me with a much wider and yet more creative perspective on complex problem solving leading to enhanced strategic and systemic thinking. Moreover, I feel encouraged to continue to reflect "on the move'' and ultimately be more innovative as well as more non-linear in my approach to complex security challenges. Military Design can be tricky to comprehend and I have come to learn that you ’Do’ Design and Exploration. Yet, to be more complete, and since the Design movement has just started to march, there has been a missing piece of the design puzzle in the form of a written theoretical backdrop. With this impactful book full of important insights, Dr. Zweibelson as the pathfinder he is, guides and provides academics, researchers, educators, practitioners and students of Design, a vast, broad and highly relevant theoretical foundation in Design which will help us appreciate and navigate in this infinite and complex environment we are surrounded by. This is a book both for the present as well as for the future.'

    Lieutenant General Michael Claesson, Commander Joint Forces Command,

    Swedish Armed Forces, Sweden


    'War and commerce traveled parallel paths in the 20th century. While monopolies based on new technology dominated the first half, by the dawn of the 21st century, many of those same technologies had been commoditized. This leveled the playing field, giving rise to asymmetrical advantages encouraged, for example, by the cloud in commercial contexts, or terror in a war setting. Technical differentiation, when it does exist, is no longer a determining factor in victory; rather, it is an organization’s adaptability based on ad hoc collaboration among human actors that is now the difference between success and failure. Because the human actor and their real-time decision-making capabilities are the keys to this adaptability, human-centered design becomes the most powerful tool to make sense of this new landscape. In this important book, Dr. Zweibelson provides the historical and academic underpinnings of human-centered design — pioneered and scaled most effectively in the commercial sector — and describes in detail how this tool can now be used in military contexts. It’s a foundational text; essential reading for everyone working to defend against the adaptable threat posture of our modern world.'

    Phil Gilbert,

    Retired Head of Design, IBM Corporation


    'Truly a landmark treatise from a master craftsman and practitioner! Dr. Zweibelson not only describes design across time and space but makes a bold and necessary call for more. He pierces the fog and friction of design, capturing its essence while describing its varied growth and application. In laying out this vast landscape he cogently illuminates what is still missing and the deadly temptation to hold on to the stale industrial tools of yesterday. Ultimately, he drives home that our tomorrows depend on what we do today…to get better at being "comfortable with being uncomfortable," to change how we think and learn, and to bring about that which did not yet exist in order to bring about a better peace.'

    Major General Brook J. Leonard,

    Chief of Staff, United State Space Command, USA


    'Change in the Profession of Arms is a Constant. The global foreign policy landscape evolves, reacts and resets, creating a need to adapt to a rapidly changing security and defence environment where potential adversaries have learned and adapted from the Western Way of Warfare with "Below the threshold of Armed Conflict" competition or contest; driving a need for innovation and rationalization of ‘How We Think’ and ‘How We Plan’. Through this book, Dr. Ben Zweibelson, captures the various roads and obstacles to adopting a Design Thinking Mindset able to tackle the demands of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous security environment. Ben, a practitioner grounded by operational and field experience enhanced by Academic rigour and foresight, delivers a design thinking journey for any member of the profession of Arms or Academics. Design thinking now forms the basis for modern military thought and our ability to adapt or perish. Those who do not wish to be left behind would gain from reading this book and reflect on simple, complicated, complex and chaos problem solving tools.'

    Major General Simon Bernard

    , Director-General Military Personnel – (Strategic and Canadian Armed Forces, Ambassador to the Archipelago of Design)


    'From its origins in the Israel Defense Forces, military design thinking has developed over the past two decades into a vibrant global intellectual movement that has gained an ever-growing cohort of adherents through its promise to disrupt and overhaul inflexible habits of thought within the armed forces and create the conditions for the perpetual innovation necessary in a tumultuous and dangerous world. As its leading proponent and intellectual contributor, Ben Zweibelson has with Understanding the Military Design Movement delivered a comprehensive and essential account of its history, fundamental tenets, and future prospects. An indispensable reference work for all military designers and readers interested in creativity in war.'

    Dr. Antoine Bousquet,

    Associate Professor, Swedish Defence University, Sweden


    'The modern military industrial command and control complex has been characterized as a total system of networked communications, material technologies and service personnel whose internal coherence is designed to occupy a designated space (a market, a nation state, a war zone, a region, the stratosphere) utterly, and completely. The strategic objective is one of securing primacy amongst competing systems in order to counteract what Eisenhower called the "disastrous rise of misplaced power". Ben Zweibelson’s book offers a sustained and provocative inquiry into the reasons why such a strategy and design is flawed. The flaws lay with the unchecked ambition and arrogance that such a strategy can encourage. The enemy does not have a monopoly on misplaced power. Yet by breaking down common epistemological assumptions (power need not come from control, nor control from power) Zweibelson goes further in his analysis. He offers a compelling account of why it is nearly all attempts at imposing a pre-planned design from above, no matter how well intentioned, will fail. Though many strategists and leaders would like to reduce the world to a calculable coherence of forces that can be subjected to strong willed direction, the world keeps refusing to comply.  It is in accepting the unruliness of events that Zweibelson’s ideas gain their heft. He provides his readers with alternative design strategies, ones that no longer rely on the cybernetic myth of perfect and transparent system feedback, ones whose effectiveness and force rests with qualities of agility, sensitivity, invisibility and even humility. In the wake of recent military events, it seems to be imperative to attend to Zweibelson’s arguments with due seriousness: not because they offer neat and complete solutions, but precisely because they refuse them.'

    Professor Robin Holt,

    Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


    'Despite compelling lessons from centuries of victory and failure, the painstaking testing, refinement and practice of decision-making doctrine, and a profound level of investment in professional military education and training, delivering predictable strategic outcomes in conflict and war remain elusive to even the most advanced defense forces. As new challenges such as threats from non-state transnational actors or the complexities of pan-domain command and control continue to emerge and evolve, we must remain ever-resolved to continue critical self-reflection of how we think and make decisions, and the search for new ways. Dr. Ben Zweibelson’s Understanding the Military Design Movement does exactly that by capturing his insights uncovered through years of obsessive review and fearless consideration of what design theories, models and methods can bring to military operations. This is a must read for every military professional, defense academic and conflict armchair quarterback that knows there must be a better way.'

    Brigadier General Kevin Whale

    , Deputy Commanding General- Transformation, at Space Operations Command, US Space Force, USA


    'This is a fascinating new work for all studying the art of making war.  In a refreshing approach, Understanding the Military Design Movement focuses on cognition and explores important issues related to ‘how’ to think about making war, rather than didactically advocating ‘what’ to think. This book is really two books elegantly intertwined. The first examines the challenges of introducing new ideas to contemporary military forces and the many difficulties for them that cognitive innovation brings.  Importantly, this examination is across several different militaries, all with valuable insights to provide. The second is about the evolution of military design from its origins in commercial enterprises; to the sudden demands for new thinking arising during the Iraq War of the 2000s; and on into today and tomorrow.  Most usefully, this part critically evaluates this evolution, finding the process somewhat mixed, good and poor ideas have arisen and been incorporated with varying success. This is a work of considerable sophistication and nuance and which, perhaps surprisingly for a work in this genre, grips the reader. The author’s passion leaps out and brings a sense of excitement that ensnares. This book will be a primary text for newcomers to military design but equally be a work that experts will want to return to, each time finding fresh insights and visions of what should be. The book offers much for military professionals, defence policymakers, thinktanks, staff colleges, academics and all concerned with understanding how to think about applying military power in the modern world.'

    Dr. Peter Layton,

    Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Australia and the Royal United Services Institute, UK


    'Ben Zweibelson provides a bold attempt at creating something that is needed but does not yet exist. That is, a bold attempt at giving justice to the emerging field of design for defence and security purposes across selected NATO members and partners. Zweibelson excels in tentatively charting the uncharted: he brings forth a philosophy of knowledge to better locate and position this field in contrast to traditional planning and commercial design. If only for this reason, this book will become a seminal reference. Yet this book is so much more. It is a foundation manifesto giving credibility to design for defence and security purposes as a full-fledged field of study and practice.'

    Dr. Philippe Beaulieu-Brossard,

    Canadian Forces College and Co-Executive President of the Archipelago of Design, Canada


    'Teaching Design and applying it in security contexts, to those few who held both positions, is a recurring cycle of triumphs and failures. Despite appearing to be a common practice within whole of government organizations recently, the path of design in defense was paved by individuals who, regardless of institutional sponsoring, invested their totality in the intellectual, political and organizational advancement of the field. Picking upon where the pioneers of military design left off, there is no other person more identified with the spread of security design globally than Dr. Zweibelson, and for good reasons. A prolific scholar, passionate educator, capable operator and skillful diplomat, Ben Zweibelson has positioned himself favorably in writing Understanding the Military Design Movement to capture the essence of the security design movement, both theoretically and practically, through a comparable evaluation of and reflection on the changing generations of military design; and, the transcontinental military cultures that adopted it. An instrumental study that will undoubtedly solidify that field once and for all.'

    Dr. Ofra Graicer

    , Co-Founder and Instructor, the Israeli Defense Force’s Generals’ Course


    'Ben Zweibelson is among the leading theorists of this important design field. He also works as a practitioner of military design, first as a field grade officer in the United States Army, now as a senior civilian in the United States Space Force. If you think about design in today’s complex and complicated world, Understanding the Military Design Movement: War, Change, and Innovation will challenge you to think about design in significant and useful ways.'

    Professor Ken Friedman, Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies, College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, China


    'Unless we know where have been, it is impossible to chart an effective war forward. With Understanding the Military Design Movement, Ben Zweibelson does exactly that. The acknowledged leader of the global military design movement, Ben leads us through the military design journey from where we were to where we are today and in doing so provides us a vision of the way forward. Moreover, recognizing no system exists in isolation, he leads us along several intertwined journeys of developing design, from its origins in the commercial sector to the U.S. Army post-Cold War to the Marine Corps to the Israeli Defense Forces to Canada and Australia, illustrating the impact each design effort had on the others, as well as the true globalization of military design. B.H. Liddel-Hart famously suggested, "The only thing harder than getting a new idea into a military mind is getting an old idea out." Ben documents how in the military design movement this challenge still exists today, but can be overcome through creative thinking, collaboration and practice by a small community of visionaries and dedicated professionals. His exhaustive examination of "why design" and "how to design" should be read and understood by all leaders, public and private sector, who desire to take their organization to the next level.'

    Colonel (ret.) James K. Greer, PhD,

    Former Director of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies (2001-2003), Assistant Professor at SAMS 2019-present


    'Ben Zweibelson tells an important story about a concept that continues to influence military doctrine AND actual operations. This is a superb book.'

    Colonel (ret) Kevin C.M. Benson, PhD.

    Former Director of the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies (2003-2007)


    'The world seems to be an increasingly a confusing place, where the usual tools and mindsets do not seem to work any longer. Those who seek new ways of understanding complexity, and experiment with unconventional methods will most likely thrive. There is much to learn from the military, and those veterans, who also have a deep academic understanding, like Dr. Ben Zweibelson. In his must-read book, he does not just explain how and why design theory can help us in finding the way in the contemporary complex environment, but also provides a glimpse of what the future holds. His book is not only an inspiration to military planners but a useful guide to all leaders, academics, researchers, and practitioners of Design who are looking for the new normal.'

    Brigadier General Imre Porkolab

    (Hungarian Special Forces) – Deputy Armament Director for Research Development and Innovation, Hungary


    'Veteran and security design expert, Dr. Ben Zweibelson has written a must-read analysis on how and why design theory constitutes the evolution of modern military thinking. He lucidly explains the limits of the current western approach to conceive and plan military operations and delineates how and why design praxis can address the security demands of future conflicts. This deeply researched book provides a compelling narrative about the challenges of applying postmodern design theory to the western military world, while also offering an invaluable account on the military design movement’s origins and implementation across the countries which spearheaded this concept. Zweibelson’s unparalleled experience as a security design student and team leader clearly comes out in this superb book, which is going to inspire future military leaders and planners.'

    Lieutenant General Italian Army (ret.) Maurizio Boni,

    former Deputy Commander Allied Rapid Reaction Force, Chief of Staff NATO Rapid Reaction Corps Italy, Italy