By Ann Roosevelt
Interpretations of effects-based operations (EBO) have been “misapplied and overextended” and caused confusion in the joint force and international allies, thus the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command is changing course.
Marine Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), issued guidance for the command’s use of EBO, effects-based approach, operational net assessment (ONA) and system-of-systems analysis (SoSA) in future force development, training and experimentation.
“Effective immediately, USJFCOM will no longer use, sponsor or export the terms and concepts related to EBO, ONA and SoSA in our training, doctrine development and support of JPME (Joint Professional Military Education),” Mattis wrote Aug.14 in guidance sent to Army, Navy and Air Force training, doctrine, combat development and education commands.
In his memorandum, Mattis said, JFCOM’s purpose is to ensure joint doctrine “smoothes and simplifies” joint operations and reduces friendly friction. His goal is “to return clarity” to planning processes and operational concepts. “Ultimately, my aim is to ensure leaders convey their intent in clearly understood terms and empower their subordinates to act decisively.”
Useful aspects of EBO thinking will be retained, while at the same time returning to terminology and principles tested in battle and grounded in the theory of war.
For example, EBO thinking can be helpful and have a positive influence on planning, particularly in targeting and specific operations against closed systems such as power grids, road networks or railway infrastructure, he said. Also, EBO caused a “renaissance” in combat assessment beyond battle damage assessment.
Mattis said the Army, Marines and others have come to similar conclusions on where EBO falls short. The guidance includes a list of shortcomings, to include that EBO is staff led, not command led. EBO also assumes a level of unachievable predictability. EBO can not correctly anticipate the reactions of complex systems, and EBO is too prescriptive and over-engineered and discounts human dimensions.
The Israeli Defense Force used EBO in the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli conflict, and some post-conflict assessments concluded that “over reliance on EBO concepts was one of the primary contributing factors for their defeat,” Mattis wrote in his guidance.
Other critics found EBO over-emphasized precision air-delivered fires over ground operations. Exercises and experiments as well as current operations offered “mediocre” results.
“EBO has evolved to a much more ‘art of war’ type of thinking, we must recognize that the term “effects-based” is fundamentally flawed, has far too many interpretations and is at odds with the very nature of war to the point it expands confusion and inflates a sense of predictability far beyond that which it can be expected to deliver,” Mattis wrote.
Clarity must be put back into planning processes and operational concepts, to better enable linking ends to ways and means.
“The use of “effects” has confused what previously was a well-designed and straightforward process for determining “ends,” he said.
Effects-based thinking and tools cannot be used as a substitute for creative campaign design and critical thinking, he said. Additionally, the centralized nature of EBO is inconsistent with the JFCOM command and control vision, which puts a premium on the importance of decentralized command and control as the way forces prevail.
“Our goal is to develop a joint force that acts in uncertainty and thrives in chaos through a common understanding of the essence and nature of the problem, and the purpose of the operation,” he wrote.
Mattis said history shows there is a cost in ” lives lost and mission failure” when concepts are misapplied.