Academic journal article Military Review

Purpose in Mission Design: Understanding the Four Kinds of Operational Approach

Academic journal article Military Review

Purpose in Mission Design: Understanding the Four Kinds of Operational Approach

Article excerpt

IF "THE FIRST, the supreme, most far reaching act of judgment that statesmen and commanders must make is to establish," as Clausewitz put it, "the kind of war on which they are embarking, neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature," it is sobering to realize how often they get it wrong. (1) Today, the difficulty that Western political leaders have in articulating clear and coherent aims is a profound problem. No amount of informed thinking about concepts and plans would have prevented the planning shortfalls that bedevilled the occupation of Iraq in 2003. But, beyond the political smoke and mirrors, operational planning itself often fails to generate the level of understanding required to embark on wars in complex social settings. In Afghanistan and Iraq, military planners would preside over inappropriate operational approaches and tactics, and were slow to perceive, understand, and manage transitions. Learning on the job proved a costly business, and strategic aims had to be left by the wayside.

In the light of Afghanistan and Iraq, the apparent shortcomings of operational planning have been much discussed. In traditional approaches to planning, commanders often dealt with the conceptual component of operations in rather intuitive ways. The concept of operations was often assumed in the commander's initial guidance and the formulation of objectives. But, in the context of today's wars in complex social settings, the commander by himself is unlikely to know enough about the political context, operational environment, and opponents to make fully informed judgements, and a poorly appraised concept of operations is likely to go straight to the school of hard knocks. What seemed to be required was a more collaborative planning process that drew on a broader base of knowledge to better understand the complexity and the conceptual options available.

The U.S. Army addressed the conceptual-deficit with "design," and the Training and Doctrine Command primed work at the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate and School of Advanced Military Studies to foster a reform discourse and write new doctrine. (2) Design would be institutionalized in Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, and FM 5-0, The Operations Process, and described "a methodology for applying critical and creative thinking to understand, visualize, and describe complex, ill-structured problems and develop approaches to solve them." (3)

In comparison to traditional planning, a design-plus process envisaged a far more systematic handling of the conceptual component (Figure 1). Once strategic aims had been handed down by national command authorities and interpreted in the commander's initial guidance, a design team was to review a mass of potentially relevant information about the operational environment, the problem at hand, and the choices of operational approach available. (4) Then, after distilling the key information from the environmental frame, problem frame, and operational approach space, an initial design concept could be synthesized; it was essentially a hypothesis about solving the problem. Thereafter, the design concept was to be rendered into a campaign narrative and visualizations that could be handed on to planners, informing their selection of objectives and tasks (and focusing warfighting functions related to intelligence, force generation, movements, kinetic action, logistics, etc.) through the Military Decision Making Process.

Design promised to build a better bridge between strategic problem and desired outcome by better aligning mission aims, purposes, objectives, and tasks. In this sense, if designers generated an understanding of the why and the what of a mission, detailed planners rolled-out the what and the how (Figure 2). (5) However, while the need for design and the process by which it could be undertaken was well described in the emerging discourse and doctrine, a methodology for delivering the products of design was less well developed, leaving designers to jury-rig their own descriptions and visualizations. …

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