Planning vs. competence

There's a publication, "Alien: How operational art devoured strategy", which helped me to see some things more clear.

The German approach to warfare was therefore based on careful preparation of the individual with the understanding that, faced with situations of great novelty and fearsome prospect, only the man on the spot could hope to take actions that were actually appropriate. This is the origin of auftragstaktik [sic!], which the Anglophone world has taken up as “Mission Command” or “Directive Control” and which is aimed at creating sufficient scope for commanders at all levels to take actions based on their understanding of how their guiding purpose may be attained in the face of existing circumstances.

This helped me to understand my aversion against planning.

Some planning is fine, but planning should be a tool for periods of low stress. Planning on a battlefield for the next day seems ludicrous to me. The wartime experience against ponderous opposing forces such as the Iraqi ones has already proved that the planning circles of peacetime manoeuvres are way too long. In fact, there's a new situation every few hours - and planning as advocated by peacetime forces simply cannot catch up, much less justify its effort with performance.
I never got into the anglophone love for planning - planning on theatre level, on corps level, on division level, on brigade level, on battalion level - even on company level and platoon level. There are even people who call should-be-simple-checklist-in-memory tasks of squad leaders as "planning".

Certainly, the love for planning slows down most if not all Western formations and creates a misguided self-perception of excellence.
The ability to decide on the spot quickly and to give meaningful orders without some elaborate decision-making process, probably without a staff at all, is what counts very often. Even corps-level veterans of WW2 stressed the importance of quick reactions.

Anglophone military literature almost fell in love with the OODA loop, maybe exactly due to the fact that the planning has become too ponderous. The effect seems to be negligible. In fact, OODA still appears to be too negligent and optimistic; there's rarely time to observe the effect of one's decisions before the next decision. The "observe" thing is riddled by mistakes anyway and the expectation for a commander's "orientation" on the situation should be set rather low due to the fog of war in its widest sense.

Leaders need to be able to decide with poor and misleading observations, little orientation, very little time for decision-making and their actions should be quick, too (KISS orders).

Military theory should focus on adding to the tactical and operational repertoire and leave the commander alone with his then huge repertoire and his training, knowledge and experience. No step-by-step recipes and no complex schemes.
Old German military literature had always a "Kein Schema!" (no schematic!) on graphics in order to remind the reader that it's just one way, not the way how to do something. This intelligent custom was lost decades ago.

I work on an operational concept in the background, showing off only tiny bits on this blog (most is saved for a book that will hopefully materialize sometime in this decade). My approach includes very few "this is how to do it" recipes, but many additions to the repertoire, many conclusions how to prepare for the exploitation of these different tactics. It's mostly about additional tactics for the creation of unfair advantages before the major combat actions.
The actual formation-level tactics are secondary and left to commanders. Military history and military training provide a large enough repertoire for this. Even the small actions which shall create advantages need to be guarded against restrictive planning, though. An army could strangle itself with planning, deconfliction and the attempt to synchronize. An exaggerating idea of force protection may be part of the reason why this happens all too often.

One of my answers to the urge to plan for synchronization is horizontal cooperation; cooperation between equals, such as between two brigade commanders or two battalion commanders. There's no need to "synchronize" their attack at the same time. The situation might be fluid, with a moving target - pre-planning the time and location of attack is often impractical and irrelevant. Instead, they could simply be tasked to do something and then they stay in contact with each other until they are both able to do it - and then they do it without waiting for some specified moment.
A leadership culture of horizontal cooperation can also enrich the repertoire for resource utilization, as mentioned in a 2008 text on indirect fires of mine.
Planner thinking prevents such horizontal cooperation almost entirely, of course.

It's ironic that the arch-capitalistic anglophone countries could have armies which cherish most extreme versions of the military equivalent of the soviet planning economy.
I will likely never become a fan of planning much.


1 comment:

  1. One of the reasons I'm such a proponant of doing things at Brigade level is that I despise attempt to control the battle field from any higher than that.
    A Corps Staff ordering a Company Commander just seems obscene.

    In the event of war, I'd say the Corps staff should be liason staff responsible for ensuring everyone has bullets and food and passing operational information between the Brigade Staffs.

    But said in a manner that makes sense...