Friday, September 26, 2014

Red Dawn: The emergence of a red teaming capability in the Canadian Forces


From his research, Mather Lauder defines red teaming as "an organizational process support activity undertaken by a flexible, adaptable, independent, and expert team that aims to create a collaborative learning relationship by challenging assumptions, concepts, plans, operations, organizations, 
and capabilities through the eyes of adversaries in the context of a complex security 
environment."  Red teaming consists of two main teams, a red and a blue team.  The blue team plays the role of the parent organization and attempts to stop or hinder the red team, the adversary, from achieving their goals.

Red teaming can be traced back to 2,200 BC China where generals and statesmen played a Wei-chi, a board game where the players attempted to capture the most space on the board.  The outcomes of these games influenced the development of early Chinese military tactics.  Officers of the German Fifth Panzer Army used similar techniques, using live reports from the battlefield to develop strategies.  Red teaming is not just a military and national security methodology, but also used by the private sector.  For example, IBM uses "highly specialized" employees to adapt the roles of their competitors to help test the organizations assumptions and help identify unexpected outcomes, alternative approaches, and vulnerabilities within the companies current strategies.

Lauder identifies that red teaming can be used in all three strategic levels where the military often uses it more at the operational and strategic levels.  Red teaming helps the organization "mitigate complacency, group-think, and mirror imaging."  Besides these important gains, it helps the players of the scenario become more familiar with not only the adversary, the competitor or the hostile force, but also with the capabilities and the vulnerabilities of their own organization.  The blue team, in order to succeed, must analyze their adversary to determine their capabilities, as well as themselves to identify vulnerabilities to determine likely courses of action by the red team.

Lauder identifies that there have been very few studies identifying the effectiveness and efficacy of the red team methodology.  Most of the research at the time (2009) was on best practices of red teaming and highly descriptive on how to apply the approach to certain industries or in certain situations.  Lauder proposes six questions for further study,

• What are the qualities and characteristics of good and effective red teamers and 
how are red teamers selected?
• What type of training is required for red teamers?
• Is there a particular red team composition that is more effective than others?
• What kind of learning environment is most effective? 
• Does the role of the red team differ in certain environments (i.e. does the role differ 
across settings and levels)?
• What type of interaction is necessary (between red and blue) to encourage 

From his research and analysis, Lauder believes the most important piece of the red teaming methodology is having expertly trained red team members.  They must understand the the tactics, methods, and ideology of the adversary they are portraying.  Just like the role playing methodology, they must see and act as the role ( in this case, group or organization) in order for the blue team to learn from this scenario.  

I found Lauder's article to be very informative about the red teaming methodology.  While this research was conducted for the Canadian Armed Forces, he does an excellent job of pulling in research on the private sector and combining that information with how the military and national security professionals use the methodology.  

My concern with this research is his concluding statement where Lauder recommends the adaptation of red teaming into all levels of the military after stating that there is little to no evidence of the effectiveness of red teaming.  He event states that there is some evidence that points towards red teaming actually creating a learning barrier due to the concentration on short-term gain by the participants during the exercise.  Recommending a methodology because it sounds logical is, in my opinion, wrong, especially when the author is recommending a military adopt it where lives may be at stake.   


Lauder, Mathew. (2009).  Red dawn: The emergence of a red teaming capability in the Canadian Forces.  Canadian Army Journal. Vol. 12.1.  


  1. Harrison,

    This article review prompts me to think about the role of specialists (foxes) and generalists (hedgehogs).

    So Lauder asserts that the most important piece of the red teaming methodology is having expertly trained red team members that must understand the the tactics, methods, and ideology of the adversary they are portraying.

    Do you think that red teams should be primarily composed of subject matter experts with specific domains of expertise? What should the role of the generalist or the methodologist be in this technique?

    1. Ricardo,

      I believe Red Teaming performs best when the players well versed in the strategies, motives, tactics, and ideologies of the group they are playing. SME's can be academics or other third party members not apart of the parent organization.

  2. Harrison,
    I agree with Ricardo, do you think the military should integrate academic and subject matter experts into red teaming exercises? If so, do you believe there would be improvements in forecasting?

    1. Joy,

      I believe a Red Team should consist of individuals that represent the known capabilitites of an organization. Terrorist groups are not always full of hardened military fighters. For example, if you are trying to identify likely ways ISIS is funding their organization, Red Teaming with a group of Military accountants is not the most suitable approach. This is where the civilian and academic population can come into play. The civilian population is going to have better knowledge and skills to properly carry out a relevant money laundering scheme than military personnel.