Simply admitting that existing operational planning methodology and doctrine are not applicable for complex strategic problem sets is a crucial first step. Once we break this paradigm, military strategists will be empowered to design new and better paradigms, yielding novel methods to more appropriately meet our nation’s strategic needs.
Just as the leaders and thinkers within the joint force are becoming more dedicated to the notion that a “post-joint” understanding of complex future military operations should be framed by the concept of multi- or cross-domain operations, the Joint Warfighting Department at the Air Command and Staff College has similarly altered its instruction of joint capabilities and planning. The department exchanged the traditional service-centric presentations, and discussions of capabilities and employment of forces, for a series of seminars covering military operations within the various domains of battle. So, instead of viewing military operations through the lens of a service structure, the department is emphasizing holistic joint force capabilities; the manner in which these capabilities facilitate access to, and maneuver within, the battlespace; and the various effects they can achieve by combining and synchronizing actions within and through the land, air, maritime, space, and cyber domains.
The American Revolution’s New Jersey campaign, in which George Washington led the Continental army to victory against Hessian mercenaries at Trenton and the British regulars at Princeton, provides an instructive case study in operational art and on the concept’s discrete character. Washington’s conduct at the First Battle of Trenton demonstrated the effective use of sequential tactical action in the pursuit of strategic objectives, synchronized in time, space, and purpose, within the means he possessed.
One of history’s first large scale “left hooks” took place during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. The fundamental principles of that ancient conflict can be seen in World Wars I and II, and even Desert Storm: all these “left hooks” share the common principles of surprise, shock, timing, overwhelming force, precision, and deception; they are military envelopments with strategic implications.
While learning by trial-and-error is part of adapting to the conditions of war, coalition military doctrine, and in particular that of the US military, missed an ideal opportunity in the 1990’s to help practitioners expedite that process. By the beginning of that decade, the Cold War had ended and Western militaries were in what some analysts referred to at the time as a ‘strategic pause,’ meaning there was time to conduct seminars and ‘war games’ to forecast and prepare for the new future security environment. These efforts had their problems, but the deductions and insights drawn from them were not ‘so far wrong’ (to borrow from Sir Michael Howard’s famous advice) as to leave doctrine writers off the hook.