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Battle Procedure and the Operational Planning Process

pbi

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And another thing.... ;D

Comments on how big a Bde HQ shouldn't, IMHO, be based on looking at the current JTF(A) HQ as a model. Although it is a "Brigade-like" HQ, it is very big (the last one I was involved training with was about 150 or so), and it has a span of control and area of interest MUCH larger than the simple little  "beef and two veg"  manoeuvre Bdes that I learned about in Staff College back in the Cold War days. As an example, when we briefed the structure, role and functions of JTF(A) HQ to our US counterparts in US Army Battle Command Training Programme, their reaction was that the US Army would use a Div HQ, not a Bde HQ, to cover that wide a waterfront.

JTF(A) is way too big to use as a realistic model for a standard Bde HQ structure.

On the other hand, I was also involved in doing some Level 7 training for both 2 CMBG HQ and 1 CMBG HQ (not in connection with Aghanistan). I found that both of these HQs (2 CMBG in particular), were neither established nor manned anything like what they needed to be for modern operations in which much more happens at Bde and Bn than I think we traditionally ever envisioned. Some combat capabilities that we now accept as a standard part of  operations, such as Influence Activity, Fires, Plans and Information Management were either weak or absent in their structures. (No slight intended-both HQs were filled by excellent people doing their best and making things happen)

In my opinion, it isn't that modern conflict is more complex(-that IMHO is a conceit of our times)-but that we (and by "we" I include the US Army with its "brigade-based" structure") are attempting to do much more at lower levels than we ever envisioned, with the result that staff structures need to reflect that increased demand.

And, sorry, but I don't buy the "RMA" argument that the digitization of information handling, or of C2, has somehow enabled us to cut the number of people we need. The more information that is pouring in to a HQ, the more intelligent, trained and capable human beings you need to make sense out of it so that the Comd (who, let's remember, this is all for...) can avoid drowning or info paralysis.

Cheers
 

Infanteer

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pbi said:
Comments on how big a Bde HQ shouldn't, IMHO, be based on looking at the current JTF(A) HQ as a model.

I used numbers for a CMBG.  TFK will by nature be larger as it is both a formation HQ as well as an NSC (US Bdes don't have to deal with things like bringing water in weekly from the Middle East).

On the other hand, I was also involved in doing some Level 7 training for both 2 CMBG HQ and 1 CMBG HQ (not in connection with Aghanistan). I found that both of these HQs (2 CMBG in particular), were neither established nor manned anything like what they needed to be for modern operations in which much more happens at Bde and Bn than I think we traditionally ever envisioned. Some combat capabilities that we now accept as a standard part of  operations, such as Influence Activity, Fires, Plans and Information Management were either weak or absent in their structures. (No slight intended-both HQs were filled by excellent people doing their best and making things happen)

That is interesting and is probably one good starting point for deciding what we do need.  The question is do these additional tasks require the 50 - 200 % increase in staff sizes that we've seen?

And, sorry, but I don't buy the "RMA" argument that the digitization of information handling, or of C2, has somehow enabled us to cut the number of people we need. The more information that is pouring in to a HQ, the more intelligent, trained and capable human beings you need to make sense out of it so that the Comd (who, let's remember, this is all for...) can avoid drowning or info paralysis.

While I'm also a disbeliever in RMA voodoo, I'll argue that we don't need more people to handle more information and processes but rather need less information and processes.  I'll have to dig into the sources, but there is some good debate on this if one looks that suggests that up to 60% of the "product" produced by a formation staff is not used by the commander.  Much of the information coming in and the staff processes being conducting (including some of OPP) is largely useless and wasted manhours.  Operational analysis of the wartime performance of various Bde HQs seems to support this.  Perhaps the focus should be on staff discipline - what we need to do with what we got vice what we can do if you give us this.
 

Journeyman

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Infanteer said:
Much of the information coming in and the staff processes being conducting (including some of OPP) is largely useless and wasted manhours.
Technoviking, the planning god, will be along shortly to address the heresy.  ;D


But as taught, it's not necessarily the plan, but the planning (even the discarded bits) that will prepare us for contingencies -- that whole "enemy gets a vote" thing.

However, to immediately contradict myself on the utility of our large HQ's staff-heavy OPP ;)  I'm not sure what the solution is, in that I agree that the process has become overly cumbersome, defeating any concept of nimbleness. Additionally, after all that effort, there's a tendency to be both wedded to the plan regardless of conditions unfolding, as well as nullifying most efforts at mission command.
 

Old Sweat

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Journeyman said:
I'm not sure what the solution is, in that I agree that the process has become overly cumbersome, defeating any concept of nimbleness. Additionally, after all that effort, there's a tendency to be both wedded to the plan regardless of conditions unfolding, as well as nullifying most efforts at mission command.

I think Journeyman has hit upon a key to our command structure here. When I was at staff college getting the magic PSC forty years ago, for all the talk about plans not surviving contact with the enemy, there was an atmosphere of "if your plan was any good, you shouldn't have to change it." As I wrote about a certain senior Canadian commander in Normandy, he seemed to believe "no enemy could survive contact with his plan."
 

Infanteer

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I'll have to dig for it but there is a good article from the British Army Review that points to one of the problems being that formation orders are now written by committee when they should be written by 1 staff officer or at max 2.  End result is everybody throws their annex and/or paragraph in and numerous briefs and coords must take place.  End result is you get the 100% solution that is irrelevant because of friendly or enemy action as opposed to the 80% solution that gets the Comd's subordinates pointed in the right direction with the right information and coordination in a timely manner.

From this, I guess time from flash to bang for Battle Procedure is a key, if not the key, metric in this.  Do larger HQs mean faster BP?  Lots of organizational theory suggests not.
 

McG

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pbi said:
Comments on how big a Bde HQ shouldn't, IMHO, be based on looking at the current JTF(A) HQ as a model.
Infanteer said:
I used numbers for a CMBG.
... and I wasn't looking at JTF(A) either.  :p

In the end, I don't think the brigade HQs are the places for fixing the "too much HQ problem."  I am sure there are efficiencies that could be achieved in the brigade HQs, but the real clean-up needs to happen outside the field force in the various intermediate level HQs of the institutional structure.

Infanteer said:
I'll have to dig into the sources, but there is some good debate on this if one looks that suggests that up to 60% of the "product" produced by a formation staff is not used by the commander.
Sometimes I wonder if the "product" is even used beyond the cell that creates it.  After answering the same questions for the third time in the third format for a third section of the next higher HQ, one wants to ask: "Don't you guys talk to eachother?  We've already told you this."
 

CombatDoc

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Infanteer said:
From this, I guess time from flash to bang for Battle Procedure is a key, if not the key, metric in this.  Do larger HQs mean faster BP?  Lots of organizational theory suggests not.
Not to mention the flash to bang for PowerPoint presentations, another key HQ metric.  One could argue that larger HQs mean larger, more polished PP meetings.
 

McG

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CombatDoc said:
Not to mention the flash to bang for PowerPoint presentations, another key HQ metric.  One could argue that larger HQs mean larger, more polished PP meetings.
Too bad the same cannot be said of the clear, concise and sufficiently detailed briefing note.
 

pbi

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From this, I guess time from flash to bang for Battle Procedure is a key, if not the key, metric in this.  Do larger HQs mean faster BP?  Lots of organizational theory suggests not.

I tend to agree with the old German idea that a small, hard-working staff is better than a bloated staff that typically produces lots of fire and smoke but not much useful energy. A key ingredient is a kick-*** COS who is not reduced to being an office manager, but again in the German tradition has the ear of the Comd, and  the seniority and experience to orchestrate the "G's" and keep the machine focused. A HQ is a unit and it needs leadership.

That said, we need to take a first principles look at just what a HQ is supposed to be able to do these days, under what conditions, and for how long at a stretch. I'm not sure how directly relevant the study of Cdn HQs in WWII might really be, other than perhaps for some background perspective: I suggest we look at UK and US Bde-level experience in OIF and in Afgh.

I am encouraged to see the rise of the one-page, "landscape page" FRAG O accompanied by a simple graphic: this is eminently practical and IMHO is the way to go for most things once the "framework" or "backbone" OP O is on the street. It certainly cuts down your turnaround time and lets you respond better to the changes that are going to happen. It reminds me of the overlay OP O, which we reluctantly took out of AOC curriculum because, you know, Battleview is so.....great, right? (I was part of that decision, so mea culpa).

I also agree fully that the target for the axe needs to be above Bde (try the .COMS), but, before we swing any axe at any HQ, we need that common sense first-principles review, so that we don't follow the fine Canadian military traditions of either:

a) going to far in the opposite trend; or

b) throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Cheers
 

Infanteer

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pbi said:
That said, we need to take a first principles look at just what a HQ is supposed to be able to do these days, under what conditions, and for how long at a stretch. I'm not sure how directly relevant the study of Cdn HQs in WWII might really be, other than perhaps for some background perspective: I suggest we look at UK and US Bde-level experience in OIF and in Afgh.

The quote in my sigline is from an article by J.P. Storr looking at UK Bdes in Gulf 1 and 2 was one of my principle sources.  You can read it here:

http://www.dodccrp.org/events/9th_ICCRTS/CD/papers/068.pdf

His conclusions aren't very flattering.

26. Timeliness. Much of this criticism would not affect operational effectiveness directly – it would simply keep excessive numbers of staff officers busy. However, the critical impact was that on important occasions the relevant orders were released too late. For example, 5 fragmentary orders regarding initial operations were released by the Divisional HQ on 21 March, the day after operations started. Operations to enter Basrah are another example. A fragmentary order warning of the possibility of entering Basrah was released by HQ 1st Armoured Division on 2 April. On 5 April the (battalion) battlegroups (BGs) of 7th Armoured Brigade received warning of an orders group, to be held on 7 April, concerning operations to occupy Basrah not before 8 April. Basrah fell on the morning of 6 April; 7th Armoured Brigade rushed out an operation order dated 0600hrs that day which acknowledged that some of the events in the order may already have taken place. They had. The Divisional HQ rushed out a fragmentary order, which said very little of substance, dated 0815hrs. Thus neither the Division nor the Brigade had a contingency plan, in the shape of an order, to cover a contingency which had been discussed in February. However, both HQs clearly thought that one was required. Either the order was unnecessary, or it was too late. In those circumstances, it seems that short contingency plans written on perhaps 2nd or 3rd April would have been sufficient.  Similarly, the Divisional HQ released its orders for Phase 4 – peace support operations – on 21 April, 15 days after Basrah fell. In the interim battlegroups were largely left to their own devices, and there was a lack of clarity of responsibility between, for example, the CO of in-place BG in Basrah, the commander and the staff of 7th Armoured Brigade, and the divisional artillery commander, who had been appointed to oversee military governance. Such criticisms are not unique to the British Army: a member of the HQ of 1st Marine Division commented that ‘The planning cycle was way behind the execution being conducted by the forward commanders. Div HQ was still producing lengthy OPLANS and FRAGOs that were too late for the commanders, as they had already stepped off.’

I'm with you on your other points.
 

pbi

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Our last UK Exchange O at the College knew JP Storr: "Jim Storr The History Bore" was, (I think), the nickname he used. Storr is well known for challenging commonly held opinions and smashing sacred idols, especially newly created ones that tend to recycle well-established common sense dressed up as the latest snake oil. I have a couple of his other articles somewhere.

I'm reminded of every overseas deployment I ever went on, either for operations or for NATO exercises. If we'd waited for the OpO before making our plans, we'd never have gottten there.  One of the things we try to teach at the AOC (with varying degrees of sucess) is the concept of "collaborative planning", in which the lead HQ pulls up planners (as distinct from LOs) from its subordinate HQs as early as possible and involves them in the planning process. Done well, this can result it much more realistic plans, and a significantly reduced "flash to bang" in battle procdure, as the subordinate HQs are much more in the info loop. By the time the OpO is issued, it's almost a formality, and there should be few surprises for the subordinate HQs.

Unfortunately, we see the opposite HQ staff mentality too often, the one that says "knowledge is power", and nothing gets released until it almost of historical interest only.

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Infanteer

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Colloaberative planning sounds good, but I'd view it as a luxary in that we can use it for deliberate operations without really being pre-empted; much of our Afghan Ops fit this mold.

However, there comes a point where 1 or 2 guys got to sit down with the Comd, get his intent, and rip off the 80% solution in quick time.  Giving Divisions and Brigades 16-24 hours for OPP is unrealistic against any enemy with skill - Patton gave Divs 12.  This gives Bdes 8 and BGs at no more than 5.
 

Edward Campbell

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Good old fashioned battle procedure - remember that? the whole process by which a commander does his reconnaissance, makes his appreciation, etc, etc, etc ad infinitum - provides a solid foundation for collaborative planning through the timely issuing of guidance and, as soon as is humanly possible, warning orders. Warning orders can always be retracted or modified as the situation dictates - but only if they are issued in a timely manner. Delay - to avoid embarrassment? to avoid a blast of shit? - is unforgivable.
 

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I've separated the discussion on OPP and BP from the "senior ranks" discussion.

Battle procedure is still effective and one can never go wrong with the 1/3-2/3 rule.

The problem I see is what we put into Battle Procedure.  Having sat through (to some extent) OPP in both Canadian and American formations (Bde/Reg) one of the biggest issues from a time perspective is briefs and "coords".  Info Briefs and Decision Briefs along with the various coord instructions involved add lots of time to Battle Procedure.  If we are going to get BP to an aggressive time for flash to bang, minimizing or doing away with some of these is a step.  Another issue is orders - see the link I provided above for a good example.  Formation orders for many things are junk, plain and simple.  When the mission statement is a paragraph instead of a sentence and the concept of operations reads like a graduate thesis, you know you've got a problem.  As PBI indicated, a shit-hot COS can eliminate this - but if we are putting future shit-hot COS' through a system of mediocrity, are we really setting them up for success?

As an aside, one of the more interesting anecdotes I saw was one on the Indian Army (again from Storr, this time in his book).  A large Army of some 30-ish Divisions, the Indian Army shares the same heritage that we do (re: British).  However, they never had the NATO/US influence on their C2 over the last 50 years.  An Indian Army Division today has almost the exact same Divisional Staff as a British Division in the Second World War (this can be extrapolated to Brigades and Battalions as well), meaning that a Bde had between 10-15 on the staff and a Div between 20-30 (compared to the 70-150 man monsters we see today).  Yet it was producing decisions four times faster then the "norm" for a modern NATO Division.  This is an Army that has been extremely active in the last 50 years, so it isn't a case of an obsolete force.  Storr compared the modern Indian Army Division as on par to a 1980s NATO one (ie: prior to digitization).  Although less capable in what it can do, it is illuminating in pointing out that all this information and extra staff doesn't appear to have added any substance to the formation it serves.

In Canada, there is heavy influence by the American way of doing things.  I'm observing an interesting debate elsewhere on how the American Army is the best at the doing the American Way of Doing things, but that there is some contention from observers both inside and out on whether this approach is as effective as it appears.  This is a system of large, high ranking staffs, reams of information flowing through high technology, and complex C2 models backed by veritable tomes for doctrine.  This system uses as a metric of success the defeat of the Iraqi Army, twice.  Comment I saw was that it was 4th rate in 1991 and 10th rate in 2003.

Anyways, it is interesting to see. 
 

Edward Campbell

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I think the difference in the speed (timeliness) of decision making (Indian (old British) vs NATO (American)) Infanteer highlights is, as he suggests, a function of a modern (Post Second World War) trend in American decision making and American management, in general: CYA (Cover Your Ass). CYA is, above all, a time consuming process

I find it interesting, but not proof of anything, that Robert S McNamara went back to Detroit (after being one of the many industrial academics who helped modernize American defence productivity in the 1940s) mightily impressed by the military's analysis and decision making processes which he found to be quick, accurate and ruthlessly focused on results. He, adapting some of those methods, then helped to revolutionize the American automotive industry. But when he went back to Washington, 15 years later, as Secretary of Defence, he brought with him and imposed civilian decision making processes that were, already, being found wanting. It appears, to me that some (much? most?) of the CYA got embedded in US and, therefore, NATO C2 during and just after McNamara. Sadly, it is still there, and here, I suspect.


 

TangoTwoBravo

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I think that we can make BP faster by being ruthless about what we make decisions about.  Some annexes seem to be written for the sake of completeness instead of for a bonefide reason. The mission and intent bit have gotten a little out of control as well. The CONOPS approval process will, most likely, further strangle BP over the next generation. I'm not a big fan of backbriefs, unless perhaps you are doing an Op with lots of interconnected moving parts.

As an aside, I really don't like the one-page landscape orders that have taken over the army.  A wall of Font 8 text written out of normal reading order with lots of references to read some other annex doesn't represent progess for me. A nice 8 page BG Op Order in Font 10 with lots of blank space in the margins presented in the normal sequence (including the G&T within the doc and not an annex) with text actually written about something that came out of the estimate instead of cut and pasted from the higher Op Order is what I like.

 

vonGarvin

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For me, orders are about passing information.  If the medium for that passage is verbose and unreadable, then it's ineffective.  It seems that we've forgotten the ABCs of military writing:
Accuracy
Brevity
Clarity


 

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You lot know that I like playing with words.  That's because words have generally accepted meanings, even if they are only temporary.  Those meanings drive conversations and ideas.

Is there any merit to the notion of replacing the word "planning" with the word "gaming"?

To "plan" suggests reviewing the "known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns" then come up with an NFL playbook suitable for every conceivable situation.  But as Journeyman says the real benefit of the planning process is that it allows the operator that is going to have to implement the plan the opportunity to evaluate all the available resources, become familiar with them and how they might be used in different situations.

"Gaming" accomplishes the same thing but doesn't impose the expectation of a final and unchangeable plan. On the down side it also has unfortunated connotations when you are taking about real people and their lives.
 

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pbi said:
I tend to agree with the old German idea that a small, hard-working staff is better than a bloated staff that typically produces lots of fire and smoke but not much useful energy.

I could not agree more.  I frequently tell anyone that will listen that the headquarters where I work is about to get a lot better due to the impending cuts to bloat.  The other staff don't seem to agree...

A key ingredient is a kick-*** COS who is not reduced to being an office manager, but again in the German tradition has the ear of the Comd, and  the seniority and experience to orchestrate the "G's" and keep the machine focused. A HQ is a unit and it needs leadership.

Again, I agree.  I have now seen, up close, two Comds (both Engrs by the way) that have fully empowered their COS to run the formation that they command.  This enables quick decision-making, but is contingent on a COS that both has the trust of the Comd, and fully understands the Comd's vision and intent.

I am encouraged to see the rise of the one-page, "landscape page" FRAG O accompanied by a simple graphic: this is eminently practical and IMHO is the way to go for most things once the "framework" or "backbone" OP O is on the street. It certainly cuts down your turnaround time and lets you respond better to the changes that are going to happen.

Wholeheartedly concur.


 

TangoTwoBravo

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Kirkhill said:
Is there any merit to the notion of replacing the word "planning" with the word "gaming"?

To "plan" suggests reviewing the "known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns" then come up with an NFL playbook suitable for every conceivable situation.  But as Journeyman says the real benefit of the planning process is that it allows the operator that is going to have to implement the plan the opportunity to evaluate all the available resources, become familiar with them and how they might be used in different situations.

Well, wargaming is a critical part of the operational planning process. If its done right you two or three fleshed-out COAs. You use one, but you then have one or two that could be used as CONPLANs.

I know that you are fond of your football vs rugby metaphor, but I am not sure that it really fits.

I've seen overlay orders used effectively. The COAs that were not used were handed out to the subordinate units, and when one was used all that was needed was for the HQ to designate who had what part to play.
 
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