The United States Army has the best-trained and best-equipped Army in the world, however behind its success and accomplishments in the battlefield are the doctrines that guide their mission towards its attainment. One of these doctrines is the Army Design Methodology (ADM). According to the Department of the Army (2015), “ADM is an interdisciplinary approach to planning and problem-solving. It combines military theory, writings on the nature of problems, and the challenges of critical and creative thinking” (p. 1-5).
Commanders and staffs understand, visualize, and describe operations through the concept and process of ADM. In addition, operational art, critical and creative thinking, collaboration and dialogue, systems thinking, framing, visual modeling, and narrative construction are essential concepts associated with ADM (Department of the Army, 2015).
One of the critical factors of the ADM process is framing solutions because it helps the Commander and staff to visualize and describe the operational approach using the elements of operational art to determine the broad general actions and means to solve or manage identified problems (Department of the Army, 2015). This paper explains and describes the process and concept of developing an operational approach to provide a basis for the commanders’ planning guidance used to create an operations order or operations plan for execution.
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The operational approach reflects an understanding of the operational environment and the problem while describing the Commander’s visualization of ways to achieve the desired end state (Department of the Army, 2015, p. 5-1). Several activities help the Commander and staff develops an operational approach and translates that operational approach into a plan or order for execution.
The activities involve reviewing the environmental and problem frames, formulating an operational approach, determining the enemy and friendly center of gravity, identifying the decisive points, determining the appropriate approach, establishing the objectives and devise lines of operations and lines of effort, refining the operational approach, and documentation of results (Department of the Army, 2015).
The commander and planning team review their understanding of the current conditions of the OE that make up the desired end state and those tensions that hamper the force from achieving that end state. Upon reviewing the current condition or state of the OE and problem frames, the commander and planning team will begin formulating an operational approach.
Doctrinally, there is no prescribed set of steps to develop an operational approach. However, the commander and planning team may use the elements of operational art to formulate their operational approach by considering the center of gravity, decisive points, objectives, line of operations, and phasing (Department of the Army, 2015).
Using the elements of operational art will help the Commander and staff in formulating or developing an operational approach. As an element of operational art, the center of gravity (COG) helps the Commander and staff understands the sources of strength in an OE.
The COG is the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. To be able to affect COG, staff should analyze the COG through the framework of three critical factors for capabilities, requirements, and vulnerabilities.
However, the collective, integrated efforts of all unified action partners are also essential in affecting the COG. The Commander and staff should consider the critical capabilities that enable a friendly, enemy, or other actor to accomplish its objective and the essential requirements such as the conditions, resources, and means associated with a critical capability.
In addition, critical vulnerabilities that are deficient or vulnerable to direct or indirect attack in a manner achieving decisive or significant results is essential in analyzing the COG (Department of the Army, 2015). Further, identifying the enemy and friendly COG will help the Commander and staff determine what to attack (enemy COG) and what to defend (friendly COG).
Another essential element of operational art in developing an operational approach is identifying the decisive points. The Joint Chief of Staffs (2017), defines a decisive point as a geographic place, specific key event, critical factor, or function that, when acted upon, allows commanders to gain a marked advantage over an adversary or contribute materially to achieving success.
Upon analyzing the COG, commanders and staff should identify the decisive points in the OE, such as port facilities, distribution networks and nodes, and bases of operations. The events and elements of an enemy force are also decisive points.
Acknowledging the importance of identifying the decisive points will also alleviate the possibility of wasting valuable assets and resources. A decisive point’s importance requires the enemy to commit significant resources to defend it because losing the decisive point will weaken a center of gravity (Department of the Army, 2015).
The Commander and staff will begin discussing through collaboration and dialogue the appropriate approach to the operation based on the understanding of the identified COG and decisive points. The Commander and staff may choose the direct or the indirect approach.
The direct approach attacks the enemy’s center of gravity or principal strength by applying combat power directly against it. However, centers of gravity are well protected and not vulnerable to a direct approach. The indirect approach attacks the enemy’s center of gravity by applying combat power against a series of decisive points while avoiding enemy strength (p. 5-3).
Both approaches use combinations of defeat or stability mechanisms, depending on the situation. Defeat mechanism is the method used by the friendly forces to accomplish their mission against the enemy and describes in terms of the physical or psychological effects that it produces. Applying a focused combination of defeat mechanism will produce complementary and reinforcing effects not attainable with a single mechanism.
The Commander and staff may choose and uses the combinations of four defeat mechanisms of destroying, dislocate, disintegrate, and isolate so that the effects are synergistic and lasting. Likewise, the Commander and staff may also consider the stability mechanism, which is the primary method where friendly forces affect civilians to attain conditions that support establishing lasting, stable peace.
Like the defeat mechanism, using the combinations of the four-stability mechanism of compel, control, influence, and support will produce complementary and reinforcing effects that accomplish the mission more effectively and efficiently than single mechanisms do alone (Department of the Army, 2015).
Upon identifying what and where to attack and defend, determining the decisive points and appropriate approach, the Commander will establish objectives and devise lines of operations (LOO) and lines of effort (LOE). Commander and staff will devise LOO and LOE to link objectives in time, space, and purpose to attaining desired end state conditions. Commanders describe their operational approach along LOO, LOE, or a combination of both.
LOO and LOE help the Commander develop tasks to subordinate units and allocate resources. Commanders designate one line as the decisive operation and others as shaping operations. Commanders may synchronize and sequence-related actions along multiple lines to assess progress toward achieving the end state as forces perform tasks and accomplish missions (Department of the Army, 2015).
After forming a framework for the operational approach, using lines of operations and lines of effort, commanders and planning teams may consider the additional elements of operational art to refine the operational approach. The Commander and staff can refine the identified operational approach using operational reach, basing, and culmination, tempo, and phasing and transitions (Department of the Army, 2015).
Other key aspects of the concept and process of developing an operational approach include the use of graphics and narratives to describe the operational approach. Though the operational approach is broad, it helps the Commander understand, visualize, and describe the time, space, and purpose of the operation. It also provides the required resources to identify the risk.
The role of the Operation Sergeants Major (SGM) in ADM process is essential, especially on developing an operational approach. Operation SGM can provide effective and efficient recommendations base on his/her knowledge of the military decision-making process (MDMP) and broad experience in the field of operations. The Commander can also employ his/her Operations SGM throughout the area of operations to extend command influence, assess the morale of the force, and assist during critical events.
This paper explains and describes the process and concept of developing an operational approach. It also describes the relation of an operational approach to the concept of ADM. Other essential concepts associated with ADM, such as operational art, critical and creative thinking, collaboration and dialogue, systems thinking, framing, visual modeling, and narrative construction, help the Commander and staff understand, visualize, and describe the operations.
Through collaboration and dialogue, the staff can formulate the operational approach using the elements of operational art to provide the Commander with the necessary resources needed to understand and visualize the operational environment, and describe the operational approach. The role of Operation SGM is essential in developing an operational approach. Operation SGM can provide advice and recommendations based on his broad experience and expertise on MDMP.
- Department of the Army. (2015), Army design methodology (ATP 5-0.1). Retrieved from https://usasma.blackboard.com/bbcswebdav/institution/USASMA/SMC/AY18-19/SMC- RES%20CL69/DAO/References/ATP/ATP_5- 0.1_Army_Design_Methodology_2015.pdf
- Joint Chief of Staffs, (2017), Joint planning (JP 5-0). Retrieved from https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp5_0_20171606.pdf