Academic journal article Military Review

The Case for a Joint Military Decisionmaking Process

Academic journal article Military Review

The Case for a Joint Military Decisionmaking Process

Article excerpt

FOLLOWING OPERATION Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue U.S. Embassy hostages held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 1980, Congress decided that the armed services would need help in overcoming the historic aversion to working together as joint forces. (1) The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act provides a framework in law to facilitate a more joint perspective by reorganizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2) Although the services have made great strides since 1986, they still have major hurdles to overcome.

Why cannot a staff of senior interservice officers function together as an effective team? Varying experience and training in military decisionmaking is a significant factor, but there is more. The armed services do not have a joint military decisionmaking process (JMDMP). Each clings to its own parochial method of staff planning, and each approaches military-decisionmaking procedures in radically different ways. (3) Such differences ensure friction and obstruct joint interoperability. An agreed-on JMDMP must be taught in the individual service schools if the services are to ever have truly effective joint staffs.

The events of 11 September 2001 demonstrate the complexity of the contemporary operating environment (COE). We cannot win the ongoing war against asymmetric threats such as terrorism without fully synchronous joint operations. Therefore, it is time for the services to set aside parochial differences and come together to create a joint concept for use in the COE.

What's in a Name?

Over time there has been some movement toward developing a joint concept. The U.S. Marine Corps has adopted a military decisionmaking process (MDMP) similar to the Army's. The U.S. Air Force uses a rather eclectic mixture of existing approaches to the process. The U.S. Navy, a late entry into the mix, has its own spin on the process, which it calls the commander's estimate of the situation (CES). Each service's approach has merit, and on the surface, problems appear easy to correct. More than enough doctrine exists to cover all requirements. The hitch is in creating an agreed-on lexicon so all services will use the same words to describe the same types of tasks.

Although the distinction between what is art and what is science might appear superfluous, it is anything but. Determining what is art and what is science is the basis for almost all of the differences between the services. For example, in the Army's MDMP, staff procedures are considered science because a litany of tenets, principles, and standard operating procedures govern them. And, in the Army's MDMP, the commander's decision and direction are considered art because they are a culmination of the commander's intuition based on his experience.

As a name, the Army's MDMP could allude to tactical-level operations and, therefore, might not lend itself to the broader aspects of strategic and operational missions. On the other hand, the Navy's CES process is often seen as being too commander-centric and inappropriately art-heavy. The easiest resolution of the problem is for all of the services to agree on a new term that takes its roots in the joint approach. Our recommendation is that the term "commander's estimate of the situation," which is step 4 of the Navy's concept-development phase, should replace the Army term "military decisionmaking process," and all of the services should begin using the same terminology to describe the same processes. (3)

What Does This Mean?

Deciding how to synthesize the procedure is more important than deciding what name to give the process. Mission analysis, the first aspect of the process, illustrates significant differences among the services. The Navy's approach to the process involves the following seven steps:

1. Analysis of the mission.

2. Analysis of factors affecting possible courses of action (COAs).

3. Analysis of enemy courses of action (ECOAs). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.