By Ann Roosevelt

U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) has released its “Vision for a Joint Approach to Operational Design” to aid the joint force solve thorny problems in a complex strategic environment and will advocate moving appropriate design improvements from the services to the joint setting.

With Operational Design, commanders precede the traditional military decision making process (MDMP) by creating a shared understanding of whatever situation exists and with a clear idea of what the end result should be. Then, broad approaches are developed to reach that end state, resolving problems that link tactical action to strategic aims.

“Setting the problem in its proper context is critical to the utility of force and to solving security challenges,” wrote Marine Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Forces Command, in his cover memo to the vision statement.

Operational Design is led by the commander, not the planning staff, and identifies the specific problem and its own unique circumstances. This leads to an operational framework, identifying areas where the military can act to reach strategic goals. This becomes the focus and basis for planners to move forward into specific capabilities, troop numbers and equipment, where MDMP can be used.

However, the operational design framework is not static, nor developed only as a crisis looms. It is envisioned as a living document that must be adjusted as necessary and may change the operation.

From the joint perspective, the vision document said, an operational approach or something similar should be explored as a formal output of the design process that is the impetus for subsequent planning.

“In particular, this product could inform the commander’s initial planning guidance and commander’s initial intent statement,” it said.

The Army has spent several years examining operational design, as Mattis acknowledges: “The other services as well as the joint community are beginning to appreciate that the Army has achieved positive results with its initiative, and I believe the Army has demonstrated the value of this new approach to operational design.”

The Army broadly introduced its ideas to the service and the joint world at its annual Unified Quest 2008 wargame.

Theoretically, the ideas trace to the Systemic Operational Design (SOD) developed by the Israeli Defense Forces in a book on Operational Art–ideas ultimately rejected in early 2006.

The Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) began examining alternatives or additions to the MDMP, which had too much emphasis on synchronization, linear processes and cause and effect relationships that were no longer valid.

Mattis wrote that while current operational design and joint operation planning are fundamentally sound for problem solving, he is concerned that commanders and staffs can fall victim to “over proceduralization.”

“An approach that does not emphasize thinking and creativity is incomplete,” Mattis said. “My assessment is that our current doctrinal approach to fostering clear, clear, careful thinking and creativity–particularly early in design and planning–is insufficient and ineffective.”

The Army’s Commanders Appreciation and Campaign Design (CACD), as it was called, was a planning model explored for its relevance to solving complex problems. The Army pulled out specific elements of SOD and evolved that method and combined it with work done by students at the School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) at Unified Quest from 2005-2007 to exercise the design model. Om January 2008 TRADOC issued a CACD pamphlet, 525-5-500.

The pamphlet incorporated work done in the wargames and studies, current operational insights, joint publications, classic operational design doctrine and even Soviet doctrine from the 1930s (Defense Daily, May 8, 2008).

CACD subsequently evolved to “design” when the decision was made by the TRADOC commander to codify the model in Army doctrine. Two years ago, the TRADOC commander went to Combined Arms Center and SAMS at Leavenworth, Kan., and directed them to put the doctrine together.

The JFCOM vision looks to a unity of effort between the services and interagency and multinational partners as essential to meeting the complex future operating challenges.

The command publication, the Joint Operating Environment (JOE), describes potential problems of the future, while the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO), a document from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, looks at the capabilities a joint force must have to cope with the future security environment.

In June, senior military leaders at a wargame assessing the CCJO noted the importance of reinforcing the central role of the commander in design, and highlighted the need for more design development.

Thus, the JFCOM vision calls for commanders to address each situation on its own.

Joint doctrine improvement should focus on helping commanders and planners think about complex problems and broad approaches rather than overemphasizing the procedural steps, the vision said.

This is a particularly good time to work with operational design, the paper said. In December, the first draft of JP 5-0, Joint Operational Planning is due, and over the next two years other joint publications are being revised. TRADOC is updating Field Manual 5-0 Operations Process that will incorporate operational design-related ideas. Additionally, the service has incorporated instruction on operational design in its professional education.

JFCOM’s Joint Warfighting Center will lead the operational design effort to incorporate “value-added” ideas from the individual services into joint doctrine, training, and professional military education. The center also will continue to work on a commander’s handbook to provide additional details on design and its interaction with the planning process.

The JFCOM Joint Concept Development and Experimentation Directorate will assist the Joint Warfighting Center by building on the success of experimentation to the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations and revising the JOE to reflect issues related to design.

“Design does not replace planning, but planning is incomplete without design,” the vision states.

Mattis writes: “I believe that we can substantially improve doctrine’s current treatment and change (Joint Professional Military Education) JPME and joint training accordingly to the benefit of current and future leaders at all levels.”