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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

THE IMPORTANCE OF MISSION PLANNING

Mission planning requires more than just throwing the dice and hoping for good luck. It is an art that requires an in-depth understanding of numerous critical elements or factors that may impact on the mission – both positively and negatively - and an assessment/analysis of how those elements or factors can be either negated, overcome or exploited to give the PMC the advantage it requires in the execution of the mission.

Any mission can be broken down into:

1. Strategic objectives: These objectives are usually derived from the client’s strategic objectives but are further analysed and fine-tuned to the PMC management level
2. Tactical objectives: These objectives stem from the PMC management’s strategic objectives and are an indication of the priority objectives (or targets) and the secondary objectives (or targets) that the PMC needs to achieve in order to successfully accomplish the mission.

From these objectives are derived the Strategic Operational Concept and the Tactical Operational Concept. These concepts are NOT the final plans but merely serve as direction-pointers to ensure that the mission remains the prime focus of the PMC.

Only once the Strategic Operation Concept and the Tactical Operational Concept are fully understood can the mission planning proper begin.

The role of on-going real-time intelligence plays a crucial role in the development of both the Strategic Operational Concept and the Tactical Operational Concept and allows adjustments to be made to the concepts. It is also this intelligence that will ultimately determine the mission-profile of the PMC. The mission-profile, in turn, will determine the amount of manpower, weapons, ammunition (first-line and first-line reserve), the phase(s) of war, tactics and so forth that will be followed.

In order to enhance the development of the tactical plan, it is imperative that intelligence- and reconnaissance - teams are deployed as early as possible in order to ensure a real-time intelligence feed on the targets. This allows further adjustments to be made to the tactical plan and, in turn, the mission profile to be adjusted if necessary.

Planning is a vital component for success and although luck can play a role, it is the ultimate plan, carried across to everyone partaking in the operation with clarity that determines the success of any mission. Team leaders must be allowed to display flexibility within the overall plan and, in turn, must develop their own plans at their level.

Once the tactical concept has been developed, it must, along with the operational plans - at all levels - be tested against the principles of the relevant operation. The ultimate aim is to ensure the correct men, correctly equipped, are at the right time and place to achieve the mission. This requires constant coordination between the various elements that will partake in the execution of the plan. In turn, casualties will be reduced.

Mission planning can be a tedious process but it requires continued focus on the outcome of the operation.

It will do planners good to remember that there are no second prizes in an operation and that no amount of firepower can rectify a poor plan.

23 comments:

hardnose said...

Really - glad to see I made somebody's Christmas list this year. I always did stand out in Dress Blues.
On a another note I'm wondering how much of a place 'seeing and thinking' as the oppossition might see and think, has in strategic planning.

userdude said...

Hi Eeben,

It makes a lot of sense that tactical and strategic planning are intertwined - of course if those element work together well, the overall mission will be a success.

However, no mission is accomplished without a tweak/change in tactics or strategy - how to make that a part of the planning process itself? Either by opportunity, luck, or the way it all works out, if the game changes and the reasoning/objective is adjusted, does the mission planning have the flexibility to adjust to changes?

I'm thinking that leadership in the moment matters more here - does executive leadership then belong to tactical vision? Just wondering where the pedal hits the pavement, planning-wise.

Thanks!
Jared

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

When we plan a mission, it is vitally important that we game-play it with the enemy’s point-of-view in mind. It is this approach that will give us flexibility of action. This is applicable at both the strategic and tactical levels, Hardnose.

In other words: “If we approach from the north, the enemy may commit his reserves early. If he does this, it will influence our approach and we therefore need to divert his attention with a diversionary attach at Point 1234. This will create uncertainty as to our main objective”. Make sense?

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No plan is really a plan until it has been game-played to the end, Jared. Part of the appreciation of the situation requires the Intelligence Officer (usually) to plan an entire operation from the enemy’s point-of-view in order to see how it will impact on our strategic and tactical concepts. It is this approach that gives us flexibility of action. Furthermore, commanders at the lower levels should never be deprived of initiative. It is that initiative that allows the tweaks or adjustments to be made during the heat of battle.

Leadership at the lower levels becomes as important as leadership at the higher levels. Whereas the strategic concept may require a single tactical operation to achieve the aim, it may also require several tactical plans to achieve success. Each tactical plan will have its own commander who in turn will develop his plan(s) and these plans will be communicated to the lower-level commanders.

Rgds,

Eeben

Monkey Spawn said...

Strategic plans are only frameworks for the prosecution of an operation. Emphasis should be on the ability to alter, adapt or improve the tactical application of a strategy at ground level during the operation. Von Clausewitz’s well-worn maxim remains relevant two hundred years later: “strategy is not a lengthy action plan; it is the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances”. The key is for the tactical leaders (down to the lowest level) to have the nous and judgement to discern when to alter their execution and when to push through regardless of unforeseen circumstances or impediments.

Great strategic plans are made by leaders who have “the bravery of being out of range”, but great victories are achieved by operational leaders on the ground who think on their feet.

At Stalingrad, General Paulus recommended a retreat so that supplies and reinforcements could arrive. Against his better on-the-ground judgement, Paulus acceded to his distant commanders’ ignorant denial, and more than a hundred thousand men consequently died. By contrast, Admiral Ramsey continued with the assault on Normandy despite a dozen factors antagonistic to the strategic plan, including the inordinate loss of men (+-50,00 dead and >200,000 injured). With the hindsight of history – which is always written by the victors – one may laud Ramsey and ridicule Paulus, but we will never know what proportions of “luck” and judgement were involved in the operationalisation of their strategic plans. What we can learn is the difference between leaders who execute their activities within the context of the plan and those who simply follow the plan regardless. Valuable lessons for those constructing strategic plans and choosing the people to carry them out, irrespective of the field of endeavour.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Precisely, Monkey Spawn. But, the tactical plan needs to achieve the strategic objectives.

Battles are not won with poor strategic plans. They are won with sound strategic plans and detailed tactical plans where junior commanders are still allowed flexibility and initiative. Stalingrad was a good example of what happens when those who want to be soldiers interfere with real soldiers and with no knowledge of the battlefield, want to take control of the battle.

Strategic plans are not necessarily devised by leaders who are out of range. They form part of the National Security Assessment of a nation. This in turn requires input from many different levels of command as well as other state structures.

But, battles are won on the battlefield by commanders who are on the ground. It is, after all, those commanders who can see the direction of the battle and make the necessary adaptions and changes to ensure the battle is either won or lost.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alan said...

Eeben:

Excellent comments all! Whilst I am certainly no seasoned strategic thinker or planner, some personal observations and past teachings from Fort Benning rest safely eternal. Safest of these must surely be the old axiom, "few plans survive the first enemy contact." Highlighting the absolute imperative as mentioned previously of "flexibility" in execution. I'd be leaving out my Irish kinfolk if I neglected to mention Murphy's admonition of "what can go wrong - will go wrong." The Wargaming of each Course of Action (COA) is, as also mentioned earlier, yet another imperative of effective planning. And lastly the time tested instruction of "failing to plan is simply a plan to fail." No further comment necessary there. We're quite large here today with the study of "lessons learned." Any attempt to study history, failure, success, etc. is a good thing.... even if you choose to delete the word "history" which appears to have fallen out of favour. Add to these I might add the need for sound, easily understood, achievable goals and guidance from the top. History has shown that the order to "Relieve Kimberly" was well understood. The order to "conduct peace keeping/peace making operations" in an asymmetric warfare environment, well, that may be an entirely different matter for the understanding of a soldier.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Those old axioms you list are the essence of much of what we see as planning, Alan. One I learnt a long time ago is that you cannot rectify a bad plan with firepower. Well laid plans will survive the first enemy contact if they are realistic plans and if the junior commanders are given the necessary flexibility to act – as well as initiative on the battlefield. Whereas no plan is executed exactly as it was laid out when first contact is made, if there is a plan and it was easily understood by all soldiers partaking in it (the importance of clear and concise orders) rapid adaptions can be made to ensure the objectives (if not the exact plan) are met.

I agree that the “lessons learnt” exercises can play a valuable role – if we learn from them. All too often I suspect that these lessons are soon left to gather dust as the same mistakes are made over and over again.

The KISS principle will always remain important.

Rgds,

Eeben

Alan said...

Eeben:

This link from HAARETZ.com should spark some 'planning'
discussion.

IDF tells officers: Lose the PowerPoint presentations
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: PowerPoint, Erez Weiner, IDF


When Moshe Arens started his third term as defense minister in 1999, he brought with him at least one significant change - prohibiting top Israel Defense Forces officers and Defense Ministry officials from delivering presentations with programs like Microsoft PowerPoint.

There is no reason to brand Arens a technophobe. The veteran minister simply concluded that computerized assistance compromises officers' concentration - they had fallen in love with the new technology and struggled to discuss complex issues.

Arens' instructions were forgotten shortly after he left the Defense Ministry, but now another senior defense official has picked up the torch. The deputy chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Erez Weiner, wrote a damning indictment of such presentations in last month's issue of the IDF journal Maarachot.

PowerPoint presentations, he wrote, represent "a strong point that has turned into a weak point. The Americans have concluded that using them makes discussions shallower and compromises analysis. The IDF remains addicted to this tool, and is paying for it dearly."

He added that "for many years the use of presentations in the civilian world has expanded, and even more so in the military. It is virtually impossible to have a discussion or lecture in a military forum in which the presentation is not used.

"I believe the use of presentations has made the level of discussion, and the depth of study, more superficial."

Weiner also quoted U.S. military scholar Col. Douglas Macgregor, who has published reports on senior defense figures discovering that the officers were simplifying complex ideas with "sound bites and amusing pictures." Since they were not forced to explain their positions over several written pages, the officers tended to resort to less coherent arguments.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has yet to comment on the matter, but Ashkenazi has shown an impatience with imprecise reasoning.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1090908.html


Regards, Alan

hardnose said...

Ok, so let's replay a scenario that has occured several times in similar form over the last few years with the same results.

PMC Alpha is tasked to provide CP for a principle in an urban area.

CP team Tango uses multiple armored vehicles to travel through the urban sprawl to the principl's final destination-a meeting in the urban center.

Opposition Action detonates an IED in proximity to but not directly threatening the principle.

PMC Alpha tasks a second security team which engages by fire local population clearing the area for CP team Tango to return with principle to secure location.

Colateral damage and PMC's PR don't fare well.

This kind of incident has occured several times in recent conflicts. Specific TTP's aside since each individual situation is different though the matrix may look similar, planning on a daily basis is crucial for PMC survival, and needs to address this kind of oppositional simplicity. Insurgents have long demonstrated that they don't have to win the fight to walk away with the trophy.
Not that I'm necessarly opposed to Tamerlane or Ceaser's approch to warfare, when you level everything to six inches above the ground it get's everyone's attention.
Creating 'uncertainty'to unbalance the opposition must be fluid and thought out since the opposition gets to vote the minute a plan goes operational. 'Uncertainty' is really just doing the unexpected.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the article and link, Alan.

I have long maintained that too many people want to follow the route of high-tech, artificial intelligence instead of developing their own thinking abilities and mental agility. An inability to plan using their brains – and instead opting for computerised options – will still cost those planners dearly.

There seems to be a misguided belief that “if the computer says so, it must be correct” – I believe that will remain a misguided belief. Whereas I am not advocating throwing high-tech out the window, there needs to be some balance in our approach to using other aids.

I have seen many a poor plan dressed up with PowerPoint or some similar programme – but the fact that it looks nice, is projected onto a wall thus guiding thought processes is, in my opinion, not the correct way to approach planning. It also detracts from the mental agility of planners.

Besides, when the error of planning is discovered on the battlefield, it is too late to attempt to rectify the plan with massive firepower.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A good argument, Hardnose.

PMCs should have realised by now that collateral damage means PMC damage, no matter how it is dressed up. Poor planning or lack of planning is what leads to collateral damage and bad media publicity. Additionally, every time there is unnecessary collateral damage, the enemy gets stronger.

Additionally, when team leaders are not given specific guidelines to planning and codes of behaviour, the make their own as they go along.

There is an old adage relating to planning: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Additionally, flexibility of plans allows us to cope with the unexpected.

Rgds,

Eeben

simon said...

I recently reviewed an Operation by the Seals in Panama and the details hit right at the heart of this blog. When the decision to invade panama was made by Bush sr, The seals were tasked to cut off any escape routes for Noriega. Initially, dress rehersals went well, commo was in sync with an Specter gunship. But as you've pointed out terrain dictates tactics. They would have to advance over an open tarmac to disable the Dictators plane.

The rules of engagement became more rigid. No firing unless fired upon. Now the only tac advantage the seals had was suprise. How do you suprise someone when you have to ask permission of them to shoot them ?

Tipoffs of American movement led to the airport being reinforced. The Seals were forced into a skirmish line across an open defenseless runway. Earlier in the process, JSOC dismissed a Seal Commander because he refused to sign off on the plan with just hours left till kickoff. This was like a civil war battle. March straight into the enemy. Comm had been lost with the gunship. They were on their own and had been reduced to orders to slash the tires on the plane. Lt. Commander Dillon once engaged decided on the fly to tell them to go to hell and put an anti tank round in the plane and thereby blowing the life out of the defenders around the plane. 4 seals were killed. The worst single mission casualty rate in a force that has fought world over against overwhelming numbers. All because of poor misled planning by the State Dept who wanted to be PC and let the air out of the tires.

I cant think of a single event in known American spec ops history that was as poorly conceived.

Dillon made a decision to accomplish the mission inspite of an order to Abort. There was nowhere to go. To add insult to injury, two Seals bled out while they waited 90 minutes for medevac.

What a waste of assets. My profound respect to Soldiers that carry on inspite of the stupidity of politicians and the ability to overcome and force the initiative.

Behind the scenes, heads rolled and careers ruined, rightfully so but its amazing that a world superpower with the supposed talent available can ask a Seal Platoon to walk across a runway and ask permission to shoot.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Absolutely shocking story, Simon. When wannabe planners are called on to plan an operation with as little knowledge as those planners seemed to have, one can only expect a mess. But, as you sadly pointed out, good men lost their lives…letting the air out of the tyres!! How on earth can those people even be considered as planners?

Rgds,

Eeben

borr1945 said...

Eeben,

I have to disagree with simon. The
worse American special forces opertation for planning and execution has to go to the failed
attempt to resue our hostages in
Iran. Delta force looked like
Delta farce and the K.I.S.S. principal of planning turned into
kiss youre ass goodbye.

regards,
ken

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

The Iranian mission was indeed a total stuff-up, Ken. As usual good men were thrown in to implement a badly planned mission. The in-fighting amongst the different services was also something close to a total disgrace. Yet, this type of thing still continues – possibly at a different level – but planners are still caught up in their own egos and really couldn’t seem to care less about what really happens on the ground.

Rgds,

Eeben

simon said...

I have to agree in scope on the Iran debacle. However, they never even got going with that. Eric Haney in Delta Force talked at length about it. As for a single tactical plan I just cant get past the wholesale slaughter the planners were begging for by their on the ground plan on taking a hangar. Walk across a runway, ask permission to let out the air and so on and so on... Regards

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Sad but true, Simon.

Rgds,

Eeben

Frank said...

this is not true, i have seen many hollywood movies where abslolutely no planning has taken place....and the mission worked out perfectly....with no casualties! So there!! All you need is a body like Sly, a minature M60 (so it does not dwarf your size)spray on sweat and a town in mexico that resembles Cambodia....and voila! Planning...who needs it!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks, Frank, I found your comment really funny. But sadly, I see troops on television imitating Hollywood and that in itself is really worrying. I guess that is why so little planning is actually done – in the movies it only takes a few minutes to plan a massive operation – and it never fails.

Unfortunately though, the poor planning that appears to be flourishing is leading to the loss of life. As I was once told: “You cannot fix a bad plan with firepower”. Only Sly can do that and win.

Rgds,

Eeben

Frank said...

This ones for Simon, the story you told about the seals is not a planing problem, its a mentality problem, very often a CO of a SF unit is apponted by their chommies at the pentagon because he was a grunt for 20 years with a good service record, then this paratrooper applies the wrong mentality to the unit! If you want to take a airport (by suprise nogal!)send in the meat-bombs....its just up their alley! Leave the seals to do seal work! A SF unit is only as good as the mentality of its boss!

Sarge said...

Pre-engagement assessment: I have looked at many operations that have ended with various results. I believe that the larger the scale of the project the more detailed evaluation of a very specific factor is necessary to insure accurate planning of the other and various aspects of the job. This single factor becomes critical when the outcome does not include occupation. This single factor cannot be measured by logisticians and often cannot be evaluated by leaders. This single factor is character of the indigenous people involved on both sides. To me, this is a primary failure in Afganistan. The character of the people has been demonstrated for hundreds of years and their collective character is one that does not lend itself to the processes we (westerners) employ in problem solving of a conflict nature. If we "win" there, and were to pull out shortly thereafter, what would be the direction of the civil processes. I believe they string us along the pro-democracy path in order to maintain the flow of funding. In reality they will continue to be clannish, corrupt and deceitful. It's their nature and part of their character. Without realistic assessment of these "soft" aspects of conflict we will continue to waste treasure in these doubtful efforts. Civilization is evolutionary and generational. With this broad exposure to the outside maybe they will begin the process of progress.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A valid comment, Sarge. I however believe that the strategies for Iraq and Afghanistan were flawed. I know it is easy for me to sit here and make such a comment but I base it on the fact there seem to be continual flow of problems that were never assessed let alone even recognised. Solving these problems has led to a lot of political knee-jerk reactions.

Whereas I agree that the misjudgement of the national character was never considered, it was however something that should have been considered in depth. That information/intelligence is available, historically and current. Furthermore, it should have been built on when the forces arrived.

When a flawed operational strategy is implemented, it leads to a host of additional and many unforeseen problems. My deep concern is that the “blame” for the looming failure is placed on the soldier on the ground.

But, the strategists and planners forgot a simple maxim: Anger and numbers will count against you when you get it all wrong.

Rgds,

Eeben