Operational Planning Processes and Tactical Decisionmaking

I'm still not much in a creative mood, so I present you a slightly modified blog post written in 2014, but not published till today.

The Operational Planning Process (OPP) is a linear, analytic method for planning used by most NATO ground forces. The problems and inadequacies are well-known, and I'm not motivated to provide a list thereof.

I am motivated to push for an alternative approach, though:

This alternative approach is really an approach, not a method.
First, it is important to understand and value the consequences of Moltke the Elder's quote (which I assume to be largely correct based on military history):

"Kein Plan übersteht die erste Feindberührung."
("No plan survives first contact with the enemy.")

Second, it is advisable to take a look at how highly successful commanders actually led their forces tactically in mobile warfare: Many of them commanded in person on the scene - preferably at their Schwerpunkt. This is often ideal for leaders of battalion- to small brigade-sized forces.

Third, it is advisable to keep in mind that war isn't like exercises - especially if there's no front-line. There's often only one starting point (unless invasions happen) followed by campaigning till the end. Exercises have a starting point, few hours or days of action and then rinse, repeat. Many exercises are scripted to have serial phases.
Mobile continental warfare would be different. The phases would run in parallel, and the only starting points that are repeated are the insertions of refreshed reserves into the meat grinder. A staff officer might wake up, go to his folding desk and be confronted with reports of past actions, an ongoing action, a tactical plan for the day, a logistics plan for tomorrow and ongoing logistics planning for the day after - in parallel. He wouldn't be in "the" planning phase.

Fourth, there are great advantages to be found in training officers to the point where they can understand if not anticipate their peers' standard actions without much fuss.
A common doctrine that's good enough to be actually employed by the vast majority of officers is one way to support this - but only to a point, since doctrinal flexibility has its merits.
A personnel system that provides staffs and ground forces in general with enough stability to enable officers to get to know each other well long before they're transferred helps as well.

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I'd like to push for a different attitude:
Planning should lose much of its prominence.

Planning should focus on delivering what was known as "Combat Service Support" (~support that doesn't affect the enemy directly; mostly logistics) and moving reinforcements. This is known to be a rather fruitful area of activity for planners.

Updates of (not very specific) missions given to manoeuvre forces on the other hand would be directed in a more "naturalistic" or "artistic" way. The corps or theatre commander or his deputies could make such adjustments right away, in reaction to a change of mind or a change of the situation that happened only minutes ago.

The tactical actions - both preservative and aggressive ones - should be led by commanding officers on the scene, leading from their position among their troops.

This should not sound very unusual, for it happened in many conflicts. My claim is that the way to go is to develop a system of command and control, leadership, coordination, planning et cetera based on the expectation that this is how things could be, should be and will be.

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Let's see how this could look in a simple example:

Traditionally, HQ would draw up and consider some plans and finally issue orders to subordinate forces: Team A engages and fixes the enemy, Team B flanks.
The whole process takes a lot of time and the enemies don't play along. A and B often need to adapt themselves on their own on the spot, since HQ issued new orders with too much delay.

Now instead, HQ would tell Teams A and B to deploy into respective mission areas, with respective levels of ambition regarding tolerance for hostiles' presence there.
Hostile forces close with A, but A is not meant to fight decisively yet (dictated through the set level of ambition) - A ambushes and delays if the hostiles come really close. 
The deputy commander (commander is sleeping) at the HQ re-appraises the situation and tells A and B to cooperate with an increased level of ambition for their combined areas. A and B become authorised to update their common area border bilaterally without specific HQ orders.
A and B manoeuvre, and after a series of skirmishes their leaders sense an opportunity to strike, agree and execute a pincer attack.

Pay attention to the choice of words here; "level of ambition" and "mission area". The deviation from conventional doctrines here is to not give a mission about what to achieve, but to order an area to be (similar to the positions assigned to a patrol line of wolfpack submarines) AND to set a level of ambition. Level of ambition could range (in steps) from "do not engage under any circumstances" to "find opposing forces and inflict maximum casualties". The extreme levels of ambition would be suitable in a guerilla war only, of course. Typical continental warfare in Europe would rather have levels of ambition ranging from "deploy to detect and report movements of hostile units, but avoid losses" to "destroy hostile forces when conditions aren't disadvantageous".

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I mixed a good dose of horizontal cooperation into this scenario. The same is true for area-centric missions and ambition levels. These favourite topics of mine are parts of the tool bag that could replace planning where the latter doesn't work anyway.

So in the end, there are ways to avoid the well-known inadequacies of the very bureaucratic processes. Such processes have their times and places, but I am in the mainstream when I assert that they're being used for too many purposes. The decision-making on the scene by leaders among their men - an almost alien thought in a computerised staff exercise - deserves to destroy many planners' claims relevance in regard to manoeuvres and combat.
We should also get away from trying to predict things. This does not work, period. Missions given by higher commands should be limited in detail by even higher command's orders. Any too detailed corps HQ orders should be outlawed and thus ineffective, period. A corps commander who pinpoints the timing of an action down to the minute shall go to prison as a private, period. "When you're ready, preferably before 1230" is accurate enough.


Written by someone who is really into improvisation and never liked planning much for activities where plans don't last anyway.


Business as usual

Germany got a new minister of defence, said minister has no background in military, military policy, security policy, or even only good experience in foreign policy.

A few weeks into the term, said minister publicly claims that the budget is inadequate.

A budget that grew extraordinarily over the past couple years.

The real problems are different ones, but the minister has already 100% failed on the job by doing the usual thing. Minister and bureaucracy now share interests. The minister is pursuing the bureaucracy's self-interest. There's no hope that this minister (or any, really) will steer the bureaucracy off the course towards self-interest and onto the course towards public interest.

The German armed bureaucracy will NEVER have enough money, and will NEVER become swift enough to do its job properly unless it gets yanked off its course by a proper reformer. There's no reason to expect a conservative minister to do meaningful reform, of course.*

It's depressing.


*: Conscription was deactivated under a CDU (conservative party) minister, but a very strong case can be made that he was no conservative, but a person with 80% show, 20% thirst for power and 0% substance.


Link dump September 2019


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Sadly, this is true of other countries as well. It's just not THAT obvious there.

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 12,019 "false and misleading claims" (lies) in 928 days

Those were only the public lies.

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[German, 2019] heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Klingeltoene-und-WhatsApp-EU-Staaten-fuer-maximale-Vorratsdatenspeicherung-4498291.html
[German, 2016] heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Europaeischer-Gerichtshof-bekraeftigt-Anlasslose-Vorratsdatenspeicherung-ist-illegal-3578920.html
Angesichts des offensichtlichen Willens zum Rechtsbruch braucht es vielleicht drastische Rechte, um  solche nicht verfassungstreuen Bürokraten aufzuhalten. Wie wäre es mit einem Organklagerecht hierzu, damit die höchsten Gerichte auch staatliche Institutionen als kriminelle (bzw. illegale Zwecke verfolgende) Organisationen identifizieren und auflösen können?

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Die Achtung der Verfassung und von Bürgerrechten ist ein tendenzielles Problem bei der CDU. Das belegen auch die vielen von Verfassungsgerichten aufgehobenen, von der CDU lancierten Gesetze. Bei der illegalen Vorratsdatenspeicherung versuchen sie es sogar immer wieder, obwohl schon höchstrichterlich entschieden wurde, dass sie illegal ist.
Zwischenzeitlich dhat das die CDUler schon so geärgert, dass sie die lästige Durchsetzug von freiheiten durch das Bundesverfassungsgericht beschränken wollten. Den Angriff auf hinderliche Richter hat nicht der lügende Schwachkopf aus Amerika erfunden.

Eine andere Tendenz ist, dass sich Innenminister als "Law and Order" Kraftmeier aufspielen. Doch statt "Law" haben die dann vorwiegend "Staatsgewalt" im Sinne und ordnen der möglichst allmächtigen Staatsgewalt dann allzugerne Recht und Gesetz unter.
Zur "Law and Order" Masche gehört leider auch, dass solche Typen viel auf Show und Effekthascherei wertlegen. Uniformierte Streifen mit Schutzweste und MPi usw..
Die wirklich wirksamen Maßnahmen sind in der Regel kaum für die Öffentlichkeit wahrnehmbar und daher für solche Selbstinszenierungen nutzlos. Dazu gehört zum Beispiel, dass auch bei kleinen Verbrechen anständig kriminaltechnisch ermittelt wird und es nicht bei Einbrüchen mit geringen Schäden bei einer oberflächlichen Beschau durch Streifenpolizisten bleibt.
Die Aufklärungsquoten sind bei Morden geradezu unfassbar hoch, weil da viel Aufwand betrieben wird. Es braucht für die Strafverfolgung undd en Schutz der Öffentlichkeit vor Verbrechern nicht mehr Rechte oder selbstdarstellerischer Innenpolitiker, sondern einen besseren und konsequenteren Einsatz der vorhandenen Möglichkeiten.

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Ich werde hier ausnahmsweise die CDU in Schutz nehmen:
Meines Wissens nach macht diese Ungenauigkeit wohl so gut wie nichts aus wegen dem zweigliedrigen Wahlsystem mit Direkt- und Listenstimme (wie auch beim Bundestag). Letztere gleicht Gerrymandering aus. Die einzige relevante Ausnahme wäre wohl, wenn die Wahlkreisgrenzziehung einer Partei ein zweites Direktmandat verwehrt, die an der 5% Hürde scheitert. Von der Regel halte ich allerdings ohnehin wenig. Wir sollten die Hürde einfach bei allen Wahlen in Deutschland runtersetzen auf 2% und die Direktmandatregeln abschaffen.
Im Übrigen spricht schon lange nichts mehr dagegen, die Abgeordneten mit einem (ungleichen) Stimmgewicht zu versehen, dass 1:1 ihrer erhaltenen Stimmenzahl entspricht. Das bisschen Kompliziertheit ertragen wir locker.