I wrote this in response to Dan McCauley’s article at the Small Wars Journal:
Operational art and design is an enthralling field of study. I have one basic problem with the tenets of operational design; commanders don’t use it and key nodes in the decision-making process are choke holds for good decisions. First, understanding the operational environment is something that is difficult for most commanders and their subordinates to achieve. Much of the understanding vacillates from hyper-doctrinaire to free-form all of which are a result of the individual. It is hyper-doctrinaire in that it adheres to the absolute letter of the military decision-making process with little variation and free-form in that it is what is conceived by the man at the top whether it is the organization’s intelligence officer or higher at the command group. This resonates throughout various echelons in the military though not necessarily as a rule. For understanding the operational environment, this individual driven perception results in either too wide or too narrow a net to capture and sift the right information for decision-makers.
The same statement can be made for each step of the process, especially JIPOE. In practice, commanders are and have been acting as their chief intelligence analyst instead of deferring to their intelligence officer. The reason being is that most intelligence officers have not conducted intelligence analysis on a regular basis since their basic officer courses prior to assuming leadership positions. In addition, their professional development does not come at quick enough intervals for their field- a field constantly changing and developing new methodologies. Because those intelligence officers are in the spotlight, they do not rely on their intelligence analysts who are likely to know best the entire narrative and development of the operational environment. As a result, the command group conducts his own analysis and often rejects the insight of his own staff.
In terms of mission relevance, the same can be said for much of the operations process. Often it is not collaborative or multidisciplinary in approach. Most staff exercises are really rehearsals in efficiently shuffling paper from one echelon to the next. Exercise of crisis management and long-term analysis of the problem is not conducted in any real way. Often it is dependent on one man at the top (commander or operations officer) or all the work load goes to a few switched on assistant operations officers who keep the machine going behind the scenes. Both scenarios are dangerous for making momentous decisions that will have an impact on many lives in combat.
The change? Neither an impulse to restrict commanders roles or enforce a strict decision-making process. The real change should come in officer education and the emphasis for using modern managerial techniques in conjunction with a loose decision-making structure that is coordinated and refereed by the commander and the operations officer instead of dictated or abdicated. Much research has been done into flattened management and decision-making that is able to encompass the full-breadth of the problem in the context of the environmental conditions. The process takes longer, but it results in a more reasoned, patient and most likely, wise outcome.