Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.
August 13th, 2017 by Luke Dawson and Benjamin Gray
War is a science covered with shadows in whose obscurity one cannot move with an assured step. Routine and prejudice, the natural result of ignorance, are its foundation and support.
Maurice de Saxe – My Reveries Upon the Art of War
Decisive Events (DEs) in the Australian Army are the principal building blocks to design battle at the tactical level. Unfortunately from an organisational perspective, the Army has fostered a culture of mediocrity as it has tolerated, advocated and accepted ineffective DEs that have been poorly derived. This results in plans that merely describe a series of actions lacking specific intent or direction that consequently do not defeat an adversary. DE planning is fundamentally interwoven within the Australian Army’s planning apparatus and is a key component to the development of plans and their articulation. DEs serve five major purposes:
1. Articulates those major effects that the commander desires to be imposed upon the adversary
2. Provides a framework for an individual or staff to commence the development of courses of action
3. Focusses on the delivery of a limited number of effects which serves to avoid wasted effort in planning and the dilution of combat power during execution
4. Enables a measurable assessment of a plan during execution
5. Facilitates any aspiration for manoeuvre
The development and implementation of DEs resembles a ‘dark art’, where officers lack confidence and consistently use them in a flawed manner. For a concept that has been in use by the Army for over a decade, it is concerning that there remains ambiguity as to their development, employment, and role. The reasons are diverse: flawed understanding; oversimplification; confusion with campaign planning; and frustration leading to abandonment of DEs as a tool. Arguably, there is a tendency to replicate higher level DEs within our orders which are beyond our capacity to execute. Nevertheless, they are currently central to the tactical planning and execution of land force manoeuvre in the Australian Army, and officers of all ranks should endeavour to achieve a thorough and correct understanding of their derivation and implementation.
When used correctly, DEs are a workable method by which a force executes a task in accordance with the theory of Manoeuvre Warfare the Australian Army attests to. Specifically, they permit articulation of effects aimed at defeating will and cohesion, guide planning and permit the tracking of progress. DEs also allow an individual or staff to produce plans that permit ‘sudden and appropriate improvisation’, balanced against the ability to make judgements with an ‘exactness of discernment’. However, when employed incorrectly, they can lead to indiscriminate effects that predominantly focus on the destruction of assets through exhaustion via an attritionist approach. DEs require the embracement of mental elasticity, which serves to avoid linear and easily predictable plans.
A general never knows anything with certainty, never sees his enemy clearly and never knows positively where he is. When armies meet, the least accident of the terrain, the smallest wood, hides a portion of the army. The most experienced eye cannot state whether he sees the entire enemy army or only three quarters of it. It is by the eyes of the mind, by reasoning over the whole, by a species of inspiration that the general sees, knows and judges.
Napoleon Bonaparte – Military Maxims
Prior to the adoption of DEs, the most common way for a commander to express intent (in both planning and orders) was via a Method Statement. This was articulated in normal prose and described the effects that were imposed on the enemy. After the adoption, bastardisation, and Australianisation of the US Military Decision Making Process and the Military Appreciation Process (MAP); many personnel struggled with visualising the battlespace, the adversary, and the articulation of effects necessary to ensure defeat. It was found that many planners, staff, and commanders lost or ignored that information (sourced from earlier steps in the MAP) when developing Courses of Action (COA). As such, a concept was developed to create a systematic way of identifying the means and methods of defeating the adversary. It provided a way for individuals to systemise military ingenuity and force manoeuvre into process. It is important to note at this point that the ‘science’ of tactics encompasses an understanding of those features of capabilities, procedures and techniques that can be controlled and categorised. Whereas the ‘art’ of tactics is the imaginative and adaptable arranging of forces, decision-making under pressure and a comprehension of the human aspects of battle. The science allows the tactician to comprehend the situation; the art lies in making sound judgments relative to it. DEs are intended to be a fusion of both the science and art of tactics, and nest within the Australian distillation of manoeuvre theory.
Manoeuvre theory is the application of effects to degrade the effectiveness of the enemy plan, thereby inducing an expectation of defeat. This is accomplished not via direct engagement and/or reduction of military forces and equipment, but through the targeting of will and cohesion. However, in many of the plans developed within the Australian Army, this is virtually non-existent, and substituted by a focus on destruction of the adversary’s material assets in an attritionist fashion; such the battle of resources that typified World War One. Will (intent and resolve) is largely ignored, and although attempts are made to target physical cohesion, little consideration is given to the moral or intellectual aspects. Targeting the will and cohesion of an adversary is achieved largely via the application of effects directed against the enemy Centre of Gravity (COG), and articulated as Defeat Mechanisms. DEs expressed as Defeat Mechanisms coerce staff and those tasked with execution to focus effects on the adversary COG. This also avoids the development of COAs that are similar and predictable therefore resulting in an effective articulation of the effects to be applied against an adversary via cognitively focussed planners/executors. The usual misstep is that the plans fail to address the adversary and pursue only the achievement of instantly apparent actions. Specifically, planners and staff inadvertently derive DEs that unconsciously restrict COA distinguishability and sequences DEs prematurely, therefore reducing the DEs to a mere list of Essential Tasks (ETs), rather than effects to be imposed on the adversary.
The misapplication of DEs in planning can be attributed to most officers’ lack of confidence in the MAP to produce comprehensive products. Planners are routinely guilty of reverse engineering the MAP to fit the most palatable plan. This has translated into a sub-par commitment to follow through on all aspects of the process. When further analysing the development of DEs, most officers have a poor understanding of their derivation and use, and subsequently develop them in perfunctory fashion, merely using them during development courses in the All Corps Officer Training Continuum (ACOTC). However, this has been compounded by confusion with Decisive Points (DPs) used in Campaign Planning and Operational Design used on the Advanced Operations Course and Australian Command and Staff Course. DEs are used in battles and engagements, whereas DPs are used to direct campaigns and operations (subtly different but not interchangeable). Perplexity is further exacerbated through commanders demonstrating incorrect application, or employment by officers that overcomplicate rather than simplify planning.
Battles are won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the general, the more he contributes in manoeuvre, the less he demands in slaughter.
DEs should be the product of analysis of adversary, terrain and one’s own force. The planner, commander or staff should have an acceptable concept of the capabilities and potential actions that can be taken by the adversary, and also an intimate understanding of own force. This knowledge should then permit an individual or group to derive DEs required to achieve the higher Commanders Intent. Australian doctrine defines a DE as follows:
A major event or effect that is a precondition to the successful disruption or dislocation of the enemy centre of gravity within the framework of the superior commander’s intent.
DEs are created via the combination of Targetable Critical Vulnerabilities (TCVs) and Essential Tasks (ETs). However, the most common fault is to literally do exactly that, directly take ETs and combine it with a TCV, or just use ETs. This is both conceptually incorrect and intellectually lazy. The intent is for ETs and TCVs to be reviewed and a holistic vision of the battlespace potentialities to be gained. Merely combining words and calling them a DE result in an effect that is conceptually hollow and is not aligned to the execution of the Manoeuvrist Approach.
DEs articulated as Defeat Mechanisms provide a selection of effects to be delivered, initially without priority or method. The argument that DEs should be expressed as Mission Task Verbs is flawed as this technique develops an immediate cognitive bias and drives a specific course of action resulting in commonly linear and easily identifiable plans that are not distinguishable. Defeat Mechanisms provide the desired effect to be imposed. However, a level of mental elasticity is required to craft DEs centred on creativity, innovation, and vision. It is a common mistake for DEs to avoid venturing beyond restating specified tasks. Indeed, the higher commander has developed subordinate ETs based upon their analysis and development of the plan to enable manoeuvre that we are a part of. Immediate application of those specified tasks with no analysis will not result in a plan that attacks the appropriate TCVs of the enemy. The intent is for the specified tasks and TCVs to aid in communicating how a plan will target or affect the enemy centre of gravity (the underlying intent of Manoeuvre Theory).
DEs are distinct events that seek to negate and/or defeat the enemy COG within the context of the superior commander’s intent. The most important outcome of Mission Analysis is deriving DEs in such a way that they describe effects on the enemy. This not only allows creative engagement with the methods to achieve it, but also builds flexibility for post-H decision-making and underpins Mission Command in doing so. By providing a number of effects to be achieved or imposed, it permits the means to be varied as opposed to a linear set of tasks that are habitually executed slavishly. The former supports mission command while the latter stifles it. Well considered DEs also provides increased flexibility in developing truly distinguishable COAs as opposed to the one COA planners know will result in ‘the plan’ and sub-consciously discard the others to placate staff and commanders.
The aim in modern war, as in classical music, was harmony of purpose and the synchronisation of all resources, when in action, to bring about success.
John Monash – The Australian Victories in France in 1918
DEs are not developed in isolation from other aspects of tactical analysis. While uniquely Australian, DEs leverage methods common to most western militaries. Essential to DE planning is sound analysis of both friendly and threat COGs. This examination drives the development of the plan by acquainting individuals and staff with an understanding of all stakeholders in the battlespace. Conversely, an improper or flawed analysis will lead to the misapplication of combat power and ultimately a plan that will not achieve the commander’s intent. Drawing from theoretical physicals at the time, the concept of the COG originated from Clausewitz’s belief that in every encounter there emerges a unity and cohesion which if attacked produces a loss of overall balance. COG analysis should set the context for DE development. At the tactical level it should be something simple, tangible and commensurate with the reality of the battle that focuses the staff onto the delivery of effects against the enemy TCVs and the protection of friendly CVs. Further, it is prudent to develop COGs that are entities, assets or concepts that don’t just contribute to the strength of the organisation, but are the strength. Understanding own force tasks, capabilities and freedoms of action must also be achieved and combined with the deductions from enemy analysis (enemy COG, understanding of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), doctrine level of command and Most Likely / Most Dangerous (ML/MD) COA). All this then needs to be viewed in regards to the terrain. Only then will a genuine understanding be attained of the adversary and friendly strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and likely posture.
Creating COA concepts using DEs ensures that the COAs developed will defeat the enemy through the CV identified, while achieving the mission and higher commander’s intent. Derivation of DEs is based doctrinally on completion of the following steps:
1. Determine En TCVs. The first step in deriving DEs is to visualise how our adversary can be defeated (if direct defeat of the enemy is not a necessary part of the plan, it may only need to be neutralised or made irrelevant). The individual or staff should revisit the adversary COG construct and examine how the adversary’s will, cohesion, and employment of Critical Capabilities (CC) is potentially pre-empted, dislocated or disrupted. This is done by initially reviewing enemy Critical Vulnerabilities (CV) identified during the IPB and determining which of these CV can be influenced or exploited by the force conducting the operation, using existing capabilities and resources. These CV are referred to as TCVs. This consideration will be based upon the review of the status and combat power of own troops completed as part of Mission Analysis. Planners and staff must be cautious of being over-zealous when discarding CV too early as this may prematurely reduce options and may be more appropriately targeted by flanking or high forces. Conversely, a balance must be maintained to ensure that the process refines options to the realm of the judicious and achievable which guarantee best use of combat power and assets. It is also prudent to apply the exact same level of analysis to own force CVs and what the enemy may deem vulnerable. Protection of own COG is an essential and often neglected factor in the development of DEs.
2. Consider ETs.The second step is the revision of the ET identified during Mission Analysis. By definition, these tasks should be considered essential to the achievement of the mission and the higher commander’s intent. The ongoing analysis of the adversary, terrain and protection requirements for own COG may also produce potential new ETs worthy of consideration and incorporation. It is extremely important to note at this point that if an ET is not specifically addressed by a DE it does not make it any less essential or negate its importance to the battle.
3. Merge ETs and TCVs.The third step is often where errors occur due to poor application of the process. This step involves the merging of the identified TCV and ET lists. At this time it is not necessary to prioritise or sequence, it is purely to amalgamate the two lists into a combined understanding of the problem. A common mistake is to directly and literally combine TCVs and ETs by mixing and matching the two into roughly comprehensible sentences (this is deeply flawed, and applies a mechanical approach to what is intended to be a conceptual understanding of tasks, effects and action required to achieve commanders intent, protect own COG and undermine the adversary). Before moving to the next step the following should be answerable:
4. Determine the DEs.The individual or staff should endeavour to answer problems identified in the prior step. This should be in terms of the desired effects upon those targets that will achieve decisive outcomes against the enemy and in pursuit of the mission’s purpose. This consideration should result in the identification of a number of events that are critical to the success of the operation. This is once again where mental elasticity is important. More than one TCV or ET may be encompassed in a single DE (not literally but metaphysically). The list of DEs does not and should not be sequenced or prioritised, as this will occur in the first stage of COA development and will be specific to each COA. Importantly, this will drive the development of clearly distinguishable COAs. They should be articulated as Defeat Mechanisms and will be a broad selection of effects to be delivered, initially without priority or method. These early ‘draft DEs’ that lack priority or method is deliberate and remains a vital points to understand why this is the case. Specified tasks that are detailed tend to drive a specific COA prematurely that result in indistinguishable plans. DEs articulated as Defeat Mechanisms provide the effect to be imposed and then during development of courses of action tasks are identified that are capable of achieving that effect. Once developed, DEs are the articulation of the commander’s vision of how the enemy’s plan will be defeated, how ETs will be achieved, how own force will be protected and how the own force will play its part in the overall plan. Individuals and staff must not lose perspective in regards to the higher CONOPs and end-state when developing DEs. Additionally, deliberation on the manner to target the adversary is essential in framing the future concept; should the En COG be negated, degraded, attacked directly or just isolated to achieve the maximum effect? Importance must be placed on ensuring that protection of own COG is achieved, although a COA may choose to temporarily expose it as a deception measure to achieve tactical advantages (with appropriate mitigation). During final development the following should be considered:
5. Refine and Amend through remainder of MAP.The final step is ongoing through the remainder of the process. As the ‘draft DEs’ are taken into COA Development, specific tasks and actions will be identified to achieve the specific effect (this is often what makes each COA distinguishable). Each COA will produce multiple ways of achieving the same DEs, via different tactical tasks, different levels of speed and tempo, and often by sequential or simultaneous execution. Therefore, by the end of COA Analysis the DEs will remain the same, but they may have been refined and/or augmented to best detail the idiosyncrasies of each COA. As an example, a DE may start as ‘Disrupt Bde Recon assets in vicinity of OBJ A’ may be refined into ‘Disrupt Bde Recon assets in vicinity of OBJ A by seizure of possible OPs’ for one COA and ‘Disrupt Bde Recon assets in vicinity of OBJ A by denial of AA’ for another.
Pity the theory which sets itself in opposition to the mind! It cannot repair this contradiction by any humility, and the humbler it is so much the sooner will ridicule and contempt drive it out of real life.
Carl Von Clausewitz
Regardless of the manner chosen to develop DEs, the intent is to target cohesion and will. This requires understanding of the adversary’s culture and motivations, as well as a measure of artistry and vision. A purely methodical approach is suited to an industrial attritionist which is the antithesis of the manoeuvrist approach. The application of effects must be prudently arranged; however, prescriptively organised events should be avoided. Cerebral conception of enemy, friendly and terrain is essential to determine battlespace potentialities. Determining utility of the cumulative or simultaneous application of effects, creation and exploitation of deception opportunities and envisioning culmination points are all part of this. Going beyond the immediate application of effects is essential, as breaking of cohesion and will is likely to be local and temporary as an accomplished adversary will adapt and reclaim the initiative. Aspirationally, DEs should be the distillation of creative envisagement towards the all-inclusive endstate, whilst also facilitating swift evaluation, understanding of potentialities, and mitigating uncertainty.
The role of the commander is commonly misunderstood in the crafting and conveying of DEs; particularly in a staff environment. DEs are suggested by staff and are endorsed by the commander. DEs are the way in which a commander articulates their vision for defeating the enemy (design for battle); informed by staff interrogation of terrain as well as enemy and friendly capabilities. At the conclusion of Mission Analysis, the intent is that the commander is able to absorb the information and deductions provided by the staff, use their experience, training and knowledge to harmonise this data, and then produce a vision for the defeat of the adversary; conveyed via DEs.
The development of DEs requires ingenuity and vision. A purely systematic and methodical approach commonly results in DEs that are essential preconditions to mission success but do not assist in either articulating the commander’s intent or planning. In many ways these are administrative or corporate governance DEs; most often drawn solely from essential tasks rather than robust comprehension of the adversary harmonised with the needs of the mission. In most cases these tasks require achievement, but are not actually intended to apply an effect against the enemy. This is the principal cause of the common tactical blunder of executing a plan, rather than fighting the adversary (commonly referred to as being ‘Blue Focussed’). DEs are intended to guide the development and execution of plans, within the philosophy of Manoeuvre Theory; therefore it must be articulated in such a way that implies the application of effects.
The central idea of an army is known as its doctrine, which to be sound must be based on the principles of war, and which to be effective must be elastic enough to admit of mutation in accordance with change in circumstances.
This paper espouses the use of effects-based DEs which concentrate on adversary defeat mechanisms. However, evidence suggests there is a natural inclination towards using ET-based DEs. Specifically, there is comfort in following the examples found in LWD 5-1-4 The Military Appreciation Process. Why? A lack of intellectual rigour and general laziness form part of the explanation; however, there needs to be professional discussion as to why there has been an adoption of a series of blue-centric DEs in the MAP. The background as to the source of these is found within the legacy All Corps Major Course training product. The DEs listed in doctrine conform to the original draft DEs that corresponded to an SMAP centred on ‘stability operations’. The danger in using this example in sanctioned doctrine is that it encourages a mindset contrary to the purist view as to how DEs should be derived. The example in the LWD 5-1-4 is not wrong within the spectrum of operations as part of the original exercise design. However, it unnecessarily complicates foundation learning of DE planning. Indeed, there needs to be an acknowledgement that when examples are proposed, the context as to why a DE is not effects-based needs to be detailed. The proposed way forward is that all DE examples are effects-based which correlate within a warfighting framework. That is the harder task and what should be concentrated on, especially in training. This is due to the tendency to regurgitate higher orders which as a consequence, lack detailed analysis of the enemy.
A lack of doctrinal focus on defeat mechanisms is a fundamental reason as to why there seems to be confusion on DE planning within the Australian Army. LWD 3-0 Operations addresses the concept of defeat mechanisms over two pages. Specifically, it links this concept to pre-emption, dislocation, and disruption (no different in terms of the critical areas in which DEs are designed to address). Yet herein lays the issue; for something that forms the cornerstone of the planning process, the link between DEs and defeat mechanisms remains weak. There needs to be a conscientious effect to rewrite and discuss the interrelationship between these two fundamental concepts. Potentially, it is due to organisational discomfort with the elevated importance of a concept (DEs) that ultimately remains poorly understood. It is possible that the ambiguity is self-imposed, intending to hide inadequacies. It could also be outright laziness or confusion in terms of how the Army fights. Douglas J. DeLancey (U.S. Army) proposes ‘one model of defeat mechanisms that could be included in doctrine … is a triangle with attrition at one corner, disintegration at another and dislocation at the third’. It is important to note this proposal is within a U.S. context which is fundamentally different to the Australian approach. Size of force and design for battle are two (of many) reasons as to why there is a difference. This is important, yet not the primary motivation for reference in this paper. The key point is that coalition partners are questioning parameters of what constitutes defeat mechanisms within their own environment, yet the Australian Army remains somewhat stale. This is potentially due to misaligned perception of what is thought can be achieved and the reality of physical/intellectual organisation for battle. This confusion in Australian Army doctrine has directly contributed to organisational laziness in terms of how DEs, are taught, articulated and employed.
DE planning is fundamentally interlaced in the Australian Army’s system and philosophy for tactical design; a synthesis of the science and art of tactics. However, despite their centrality in the planning and execution of tactical manoeuvre it is common for them to be misapplied. Poor application of DEs results in plans that lack specific intent or direction, may not actually defeat an adversary, and dilute combat power. This paper intended to codify the formal use and process and spur discussion regarding DE planning in the Australian Army, nonetheless there is little doubt ambiguity will persist until a clear vision is articulated regarding the development, expression and employment of DEs. The key issues remains that even despite being enshrined in doctrine, taught at every training establishment and in broad use within Combat Brigades, considerable consternation and angst endures.
The easy, comfortable and cerebrally lethargic norm of using blue-centric ETs as a default setting is deeply flawed and ultimately dangerous as it will drive the execution of plans that do not attack the weakness of the enemy. This method results in sub-conscious predisposition to seek certainty and a cognitive bias that undermines adaption in contact. Unintentionally, the consequent pure-ET based DEs are sequenced and significantly shape planning outcomes; arguably undermining a critical stage in planning. This is conceptually defective and inhibits the purpose and power of the MAP.
There is a necessity for the importance of defeat mechanisms and their interrelationship with DEs to be refined across all training institutions and wider Army. This would act as a driving means to foster and encourage intellectual rigour as to how the planning process either directly or indirectly contributes to targeting the will and cohesion of the enemy. The application of the purist approach to DE planning enables options and post h-hour adaption rather than fixation on a specific COA. The doctrinal and purist methodology for DEs is the soundest way to promote mental elasticity via compelling planners to formulate ways to achieve desired effects as opposed to the comfortable execution of ETs with little consideration of the enemy. The organisational lack of understanding and mastery of DE planning is harmful and of significant concern. The widespread ambiguity, scepticism and questioning of place and utility of DEs in Australian tactical design will persist until formal and robust discussion occurs and tangible guidance is forthcoming.
Major Luke Dawson is the Senior Instructor of the All Corps Majors Course at the Officer Training Wing of the Land Warfare Centre. He has served in a range of operations and training appointments within the Australian Army, including overseas service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College – Duntroon, and the Australian Command and Staff College. He holds a Masters of Military and Defence Studies from the Australian National University.
Major Benjamin Gray is the Senior Instructor of Combat Command Wing at the School of Armour of Combined Arms Training Centre. He has served in a range of operations and training appointments within the Australian Army, including overseas service in the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy, the Royal Military College – Duntroon, and the Australian Command and Staff College. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Strategy and Security from the University of New South Wales, and a Masters of Military and Defence Studies from the Australian National University.