Academic journal article Military Review

The Need to Validate Planning Assumptions

Academic journal article Military Review

The Need to Validate Planning Assumptions

Article excerpt

JOINT PUBLICATION 1-02, The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines an assumption as "a supposition on the current situation or a presupposition on the future course of events, either or both assumed to be true in the absence of positive proof, necessary to enable the commander in the process of planning to complete an estimate of the situation and make a decision on the course of action." (1) But, this definition of planning assumptions is incomplete. A key word--validation--is missing.

We need to rewrite the current joint definition and the planning doctrine on assumptions to stress the importance of continually validating assumptions. In addition, current doctrine needs to stress the importance of how to validate assumptions, and the joint community should address the following issues concerning planning assumptions.

First, planners must address assumptions concerning U.S. access to a foreign country. Diplomatic considerations are crucially important given the expeditionary focus of the U.S. Armed Forces and the need for access to basing or overflight.

Second, no formal mechanisms are in place early in the planning process for validating planning assumptions. We recommend using a validation matrix that provides a forcing function to visually focus planners' intellectual energy to establishing assumptions and revisiting them.

Third, planners should establish validation points for every assumption to test the assumption's validity. We define a validation point as an event that directly affects an assumption the commander must validate or invalidate. Changes in such events require a revalidation of the assumption, branch plan, or change in the plan.

Assumptions are Vulnerable

Assumptions are more vulnerable to events from the time the deliberate planning process begins to crisis action planning (CAP). The current treatment of planning assumptions, or the overreliance on assumptions, has turned the planning process into assumptive planning.

Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrates the urgent need to amend the current planning process to address validating assumptions. According to the Naval Institute Proceedings article, "You Can't Assume 'Nothin'," only 4 of 12 assumptions made before Operation Iraqi Freedom remained rock solid.2 Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrates the need to validate assumptions early and continuously; establish a validation matrix with validation points; and vigorously validate assumptions based on access. Assumptions based on access and U.S. diplomatic success carry more of a burden to validate than all other assumptions. According to the U.S. National Security Strategy of the United States, "[M]ilitary capabilities must ensure U.S. access to distant theaters." (3)

The Armed Forces' expeditionary focus puts a premium on access agreements to facilitate deployments, military operations, logistical support, and redeployment. When referring to the future asymmetric threat, U.S. "access to theaters is going to be increasingly difficult to come by." (4) Joint planners must identify access assumptions and, as events dictate, revisit them continually in the planning process. Planners can become committed to assumptions and never revisit them. To avoid this pitfall, planners must continually validate planning assumptions even after initial assumption development and into CAP.

To develop successful operation plans, military planners rely heavily on political planning assumptions, especially assumptions tied to access, by understanding the uncertain nature of the assumptions and the need to revalidate them. Most joint planners tend to develop apolitical assumptions. The difficulty arises when planning assumptions at the operational level are so dependent on strategic and diplomatic assurances. Without a change in the way we validate assumptions, fallacies in operational planning and inefficiencies in CAP and operations orders will continually plague us. …

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