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Driving the Dark Road to the Future: A Guide to Revitalizing Defense Planning and Strategic Analysis

The Secretary and I depend on strong evaluation to inform strategic selections on coverage, threat administration, and choices for the future drive. We want evaluation to discover key assumptions, variables, and uncertainty in the future setting, ideally inside the context of a number of future eventualities. Organizations looking for strategic selections should present the Secretary and I with choices to take into account and spotlight key assumptions and limitations. We count on that the underlying analytic work is powerful, well-socialized and that the knowledge, methodology, and findings are credible.
-Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Feb. 2, 2022

There is a unclean secret at the coronary heart of protection planning. Plans, drive design debates, and finances evaluation all grasp on arguments, assumptions, and evaluation that might obtain a failing grade in an undergraduate analysis strategies seminar. The underlying logic tends to be deductive absent enough analytical mechanisms to consider options a lot much less take into account the problem of uncertainty. Following the basic deductive reasoning exemplar that Socrates is man, all males are mortal, due to this fact Socrates is mortal, protection technique too typically is diminished to my widget is deadly, lethality wins warfare, my widget will win the subsequent warfare. Context, obstacles, and competitors are wished away. Complex historic instances are diminished to mythmaking and developments divined into simplistic eventualities to justify predictions derived from deduction. According to Anthony Cordesman, evaluation turns into ritual. As a outcome, policymakers discover themselves driving in the darkish.



How can the navy skilled escape this lure? While earlier work has targeted on rules, we suggest a practice-oriented strategy that includes iterated wargaming and sensemaking mixed with greatest practices from knowledge science the place the participant is radically empowered and central. Building higher plans, drive designs, and ideas begins with enlightened troopers and cultivating Bildung, the German Enlightenment idea of training, character, mind, and skilled improvement to create extra reflective practitioners at the middle of Peter Perla’s cycle of analysis. Strategic evaluation will not be a sterile, summary course of the place manuals and stories alone will save the republic from dropping the subsequent warfare. It is the quest to make the future, not reply to it. Seen this fashion, the number of strategies and holding every to their very own customary by the individuals who will sacrifice the most in the making of the future is the greatest gentle to assist navigate the darkish highway to the future.

Below we define an unclassified experiment carried out over the final 12 months to empower operational planners from the School of Advanced Warfighting at Marine Corps University to design and develop wargames testing drive design propositions in collaboration with the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. Contrary to the sweeping assaults rising throughout the retired basic officer group, drive design will not be with out benefit. It illuminates bigger alternatives and challenges on the horizon for a joint drive set to prioritize energetic campaigning, built-in deterrence, and constructing enduring benefits when the new National Defense Strategy is finalized. More importantly, the experiment factors to an strategy for overcoming the methodological challenges inherent in protection planning and aggressive technique. Treating skilled navy training extra like Montessori for warriors is the greatest approach to revitalize strategic evaluation.

How Do I Know What I Know?

The navy skilled has lengthy wrestled with each epistemic and aleatory uncertainty. Epistemic uncertainty, additionally referred to as systematic uncertainty, considerations questions on whether or not or not a mannequin, parameter, or course of is an correct illustration of a future state. It assumes you may generate an accurate reply to questions like, “What is the optimal force design for deterring China and reassuring Europe partners standing up to Russian aggression?” If the navy skilled will get the mannequin proper, they’ll see the outlines of an unfolding future. Aleatory uncertainty is the area of random processes. Black swans and unrepeatable processes forged a shadow over any try to divine the future. The navy skilled can not reply the query about deterrence and assurance posed above. It is unattainable to know the proper reply as a result of it’s random. The solely viable planning choice is to hedge and make numerous small bets in the hunt for a giant payoff.

Too typically, the existential dread of uncertainty leads to a seek for false idols preaching certainty. Overtime a set of bureaucratic processes — organizational alchemy — codified protection strategic evaluation actions akin to the Planning, Programmatic, Budgeting and Execution System, the Joint Strategic Planning System, and Support to Strategic Analysis. After 2018, the prevailing view was that the current mannequin of strategic evaluation was inadequate to put together for a brand new period of nice energy competitors. Thus the Department of Defense began utilizing the Joint Force Operating Scenario framework, which supported — amongst different issues — the evaluation and analysis course of that produced the new U.S. Marine Corps drive design and stand-in drive idea.

All of those processes — new and outdated — relaxation on an unattainable activity: predicting the future. Even extra vexing, protection planning includes timelines which can be typically 5 (the future years protection program) to 30 years (the shipbuilding plan) into the future, making the activity much more difficult. The longer the forecast horizon, the bigger the predictive interval and the bigger the vary of attainable outcomes. There is not any single future, however an countless unfolding of different pathways and timelines.

The Least Bad Answer

Over the final 12 months, college at the School of Advanced Warfighting launched into an experiment. What if as a substitute of the conventional continuum of planning workouts, classroom instruction, and lectures, college students have been launched to completely different analytical strategies and wargame designs as a way of empowering them to reply vexing questions of accelerating complexity and uncertainty akin to the optimum future drive design? The intent was to give college students the capability to wrestle with uncertainty and wrestle with the unattainable activity of describing (and testing) paths to the future. There have been 4 intermediate goals related to this bigger goal, oriented round graduating an operational planner ready to: first, sponsor a wargame related to drive design, operational plans, and emergent ideas of operation; second, take part in combatant command and service-level wargames; third, perceive how to design an analytical wargame; and fourth, interpret wargame outcomes to alter and enhance a drive design, idea, or plan. The yearlong imaginative and prescient was designed to culminate with three student-designed and student-led operational-level wargames associated to the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s marketing campaign of studying evaluating drive design ideas.

The design of the experiment emerged from earlier reform efforts, wargames, and a need to join protection strategic evaluation and fight improvement to the schoolhouse. Students have been launched to historic instances, resolution video games, and seminars that allowed them to discover how to apply wargaming to present and future operational issues of various and growing complexity. These seminars moved from post-World War II analytic wargaming by RAND and service-level initiatives like the world collection and Unified Quest to debates about fashionable battle networks and the idea of stand-in forces. In addition to classroom instruction on superior planning methods, the curricula additionally included purple teaming to assist college students make use of various evaluation methods alongside conventional wargaming and social science strategies.

The mixture of seminars, video games, and college students figuring out that they had to create a course of to reply questions on the way forward for the U.S. Marine Corps created a classroom that was extra laboratory than lecture corridor. Students explored how to mix modeling and simulation with wargaming, how to take a look at assumptions as hypotheses, how to strategy wargaming by means of the lens of the scientific technique, and how to doubtlessly embody automated wargaming processes akin to machine studying and synthetic intelligence. Throughout, the college students anchored on the necessity of human decision-making as the foundation for wargaming, making use of Sid Meir’s mantra that “games are a series of interesting decisions.” This strategy bolstered the college’s imaginative and prescient of forging operational planners by means of honing and cultivating Bildung by means of advanced problem-solving, self-reflection, and skilled development. The focus was much less on what a pupil is aware of and extra on how to study and create data that addresses rising issues in the career of arms.

Seminars have been punctuated with hands-on gaming and decision-making. First, the college tailored the sport Axis and Allies and its opensource variant, Triple A, to create a dynamic sport setting the place college students might combat one another and analyze drive posture, design, and modernization efforts in relation to ongoing campaigns. The college students made strategic selections on a worldwide scale to steadiness ends, methods, means, and threat however extra importantly have been engaged in a aggressive wargaming setting with different free-thinking individuals and a number of pathways to victory. Called Strategy Lab, the discussion board served as a automobile to assist college students talk about what varieties of analytical wargames they’d design based mostly on the course of the sport.

Second, the college launched greatest observe digital and table-top wargaming instruments, akin to the Operational Warfighting Series, to the college students in each planning workouts and brief, seminar-length wargames and resolution workouts. Each of the curriculum planning workouts ended with an precise wargame the place college students fought their plan in opposition to a considering enemy utilizing a mixture of Matrix Game commercial-off-the shelf choices from Operational Art of War IV for historic counterfactual video games to Command for contemporary air and naval operations. Historical counterfactual video games helped college students discover joint rules of warfare as an analytical software to consider how their plans for joint forcible entry operations unfolded in touch with a considering enemy. Modern video games helped college students acquire an appreciation for battle networks, salvo exchanges, and crucial data results starting from cyber and digital warfare to deception. In different phrases, the video games served as ideally suited varieties that inspired reflection, studying, and experimentation whereas serving to college students take into consideration how they may construct their very own video games round fascinating navy selections.

Third, after exposing the college students to a spread of historic video games and gaming strategies, college tailored the capstone planning train to empower college students to design and execute unclassified analytical wargames for the Warfighting Lab. The capstone planning train targeted on Marine stand-in forces in the Indo-Pacific in assist of the joint drive in competitors and in the escalation from competitors to disaster with a peer adversary. This two-week train helped college students apply their understanding of planning and adversary doctrine, navy concept, and capabilities to develop viable navy choices for campaigning beneath the threshold of armed battle and the transition from disaster to battle. While the train targeted on a theater-level problem, it did so in a fashion that pressured naval campaigning and the employment of Marine littoral regiments at the core of the rising drive design idea.

Against this backdrop, college students have been organized into three planning groups that spent a month designing, executing, and assessing the Marine littoral regiment and its capability to contribute to a naval marketing campaign alongside three traces of inquiry: first, the extent to which the formation and related employment ideas present a reputable drive to guarantee allies and deter adversaries; second, whether or not the new formation offers viable navy choices for the naval marketing campaign in the transition from competitors to disaster; and third, whether or not or not the formation is value efficient additional time. While the college college and Warfighting Lab supplied advisors and material specialists, the objective was to radically empower the college students to design analytical wargames and consider the outcomes independently as a way of training empowerment and cultivating Bildung.

In different phrases, revitalizing strategic evaluation begins with giving navy professionals house to train themselves to drive in the darkish and consider tradeoffs in the making of the future drive. The finish state is the reflective practitioner, not the energy level temporary, white paper, or near-term bureaucratic debate. If the schoolhouse can graduate thinkers who embrace uncertainty, complexity, and develop novel and rigorous strategies to reply laborious questions for senior leaders, it will increase the capability of the navy to out-adapt and out-innovate rivals. Winning the subsequent warfare begins with cultivating extra intellectually curious and analytically astute planners.

What did the college students discover? While a collection of publications will element insights over the subsequent 12 months in Proceedings, some high line observations standout. First, the wargames that examined the deter and guarantee facets of drive design as they relate to naval campaigns illustrated that community connectivity is extra essential than particular person weapon lethality in fashionable warfare. Deterrence isn’t just about capabilities. It additionally includes questions of resolve (credibility) and signaling (communication). The extra a contemporary battle community connects companies and companions, the extra credible it’s as a signaling mechanism. Services want to be extra deliberate in factoring these facets into their drive design and making certain associate interoperability throughout the battle community to create deterrent results. In this respect, built-in deterrence and Joint All Domain Command and Control present promise, however the satan shall be in the particulars and making certain that companies don’t produce overly stove-piped programs incapable of speaking with each other and that companions are allowed to plan collectively. Interoperability isn’t just technical. It has human and procedural parts.

Second, there are tradeoffs at the operational degree in how to maintain future naval campaigns that require further scrutiny. The present debate about drive design is just too slender and doesn’t take into account operational-level logistics and how (or if) new platforms like the gentle amphibious warship will join with current amphibious ships and pre-positioned stockpiles to create the depth required to present viable choices to geographic combatant commanders in a disaster. Understanding the prices to transfer sources and guarantee operational attain as effectively the chance the constellation of elevate belongings, bases, and associate entry can survive contact is a central query for future examine.

On to the Next Experiment

Strategic evaluation will solely change into a extra crucial enterprise that balances artwork and science if the stewards of the career know the way to design and consider competing propositions about the future drive. To use Daniel Kahnmann’s framework in his new ebook, Noise, the objective is to design decision-making processes that scale back noise and lend themselves to adaption. The navy skilled will virtually actually get their prediction about the future unsuitable, so decide evaluation based mostly on the analytical course of greater than its accuracy. It is just by honing the capability to craft predictive processes that we guarantee strategic evaluation and protection planning evolve as disciplines.

This logic has important implications for the way we train navy professionals and the relationship between the schoolhouse and the navy. Learning to drive in the darkish requires taking mental dangers, debating counterfactuals, and testing hypotheses. The classroom can’t be a lecture corridor or record of nice commanders and nice campaigns absent crucial evaluation and exploring options.

Second, in keeping with the authentic imaginative and prescient of J.C. Breckenridge, schoolhouses want to straight join to present and future operational challenges and train officers advanced drawback fixing quite than rote memorization or drained historic epiphanies. Too typically, school rooms are disconnected from the wants of the drive in fashionable skilled navy training. While college students want time to study foundational concepts, in addition they want publicity to the uncertainty and complexity at the core of protection planning and strategic evaluation. More importantly, they want to be empowered to make predictions, take a look at hypotheses, and set up wargames and different analytical instruments that assist form the future drive and develop them professionally.



Benjamin Jensen, Ph.D., is a professor of strategic research at the School of Advanced Warfighting and a senior fellow for future warfare, gaming, and technique at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Michael Rountree is a Marine officer serving as the Operational Planning course director at the School of Advanced Warfighting.

The views expressed are their very own and don’t replicate the views or positions of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or any a part of the U.S. authorities.

Image: Creative Commons by way of Flickr person Ian Livesey