Featured Article: The End of Operational Phases at Last
The End of Operational Phases at Last
by Gustav A. Otto
Operational phases are a way many in the military and Department of Defense (DoD) think about going to war. Joint Publication (JP) 3-0, Joint Operations describes phases zero through five (0-V) and calls them “notional operational plan phases.” JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning further describes the phases and their notional application. These operational phases were originally intended to help frame or construct planning. Sadly, to the detriment of U.S. national security, they became the milestones by which entire organizations, from the tactical through the strategic, drove activities. After 25 years of planning, participating, and evaluating the operational phases of military effort in the U.S. government, military leadership is not meeting the needs of the decisionmakers who lead the Armed Forces. And worse, these phases are adopted by other agencies and departments who suffer severe outcomes because the phases are not used properly.
The well-intentioned concept was poorly understood in the first place, then it was poorly implemented, and eventually became a cookie-cutter for planning activities. In the process, the concept unintentionally neutered the deliberate art and science of planning, and it continues to undermine both creative and critical thought. Notional operational plan phases cannot address the layers and levels of complexity in any environment. The erosion of the operational level of war and a growing and inextricable direct link between the strategic and the tactical (or direct) levels are other reasons the phased approach fails. The operational level of war may quickly be coming to an end, and though this is not the primary point of this article, it is an important premise. The combined and linear fashion of the levels of war and operational phases result in a race to the lowest common denominator and the prettiest slide, rather than any good solutions…
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Gustav A. Otto was the first Defense Intelligence Agency representative to the Army Combined Arms Center, and Defense Intelligence Chair at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. A career human and counterintelligence officer, Otto instructed and advised faculty and students, emphasizing the importance of collaboration across government, industry, and academia.