Saturday, April 2, 2011
I am absolutely perplexed why people are suggesting that somehow the Principles of War have fundamentally changed in the last few years. While the tools and methods for the application of the Principles evolve over time, the Principles themselves have not changed and I don't see any reason to change them now. I'm specifically referring to the conjecture that we don't need objectives or a description of a desired end state with regard to Libya, a mantle taken on by Tom Ricks and yesterday by Crispin Burke as a guest poster at Best Defense.
I'm going to pick on Crispin first, because as an Army officer he brings credibility to his writings on design. But I also think he completely misrepresents both traditional operational planning and campaign design. Traditional operational planning, a system that has evolved since the Napoleonic Wars to what we know today in the 5-paragraph operations order based on the Military Decision Making Process, is not a rigid system that completely ignores the ability to adapt or understand complex systems. In fact, I think it does a pretty good job of handling those two issues as long as your commanders and planners are capable of adapting and understanding complex issues. The invasion of Iraq, meticulously planned, is a good example of an engineered operational plan that went to shit thirty minutes before LD and was FRAGOed the rest of the way by competent people until the fall of the regime. The proposition that MDMP-based planning leads to rigid thinking and doesn't provide enough adaptability to commanders (or situational needs) is bunk and I'm afraid that if you make that conjecture you may not truly understand how planning is supposed to work (I should point out here that Crispin says they are important, but Tom isn't so keen on objectives at all). Objectives are not antithetical to adaptability or flexibility - they're actually quite essential to it!
I also think Crispin overestimates the panacea of design. To state that design helps commanders understand the problem, which gives them the ability to not worry so much about mission statements, objectives, or end states is flat out wrong (I'll concede a withdrawal plan isn't necessary at the start as long as you have end state objectives). TRADOC Pamphlet 525-5-500 (Commander's Appreciation and Campaign Design) states as that the first function of campaign design is "Identify the combination of parallel and sequential objectives that lead to mission success and define the way the mission will be performed." Read the rest of the pamphlet - the terms objectives, end states, and mission statement are pervasive. I can't even fathom how you expect subordinate commanders to execute operations in a campaign if they don't even know what they're driving at or what their purpose is! How is that supposed to work??
I am actually a big fan of many elements of campaign design, but just like the old MDMP you need people who understand how to use it. Had design been used in the Sanchez or Casey days of the Iraq War I highly doubt things would have turned out any better. The utility of any system is limited by the capabilities of the people using it. Within Army planning circles, the discussion of MDMP versus design is turning into something similar to the old COINdinista/COINtra debate or even of the Effects Based Operations debate. Design provides commanders and planners with some great ways of approaching planning, but it doesn't solve all of the problems inherent to the older way of doing things. So let's all not make this a debate on old versus new, because modern campaigns need elements of both design and MDMP.
Certainly, things like strategic and operational objectives are still required to successfully run military campaigns. I don't even understand the logic that dictates that they aren't needed - even the literature on the subject says it's still a fundamental part of design. So yeah, we need operational objectives and an end state that lets us know when we've accomplished our goals. They may change over time, but we need to start with something. Otherwise we will suffer strategic and/or operational drift, often leading to mission creep or other such things you don't want in a campaign. As I said before, the methods of warfare have evolved since the 1830s, but the principles have not.