Joint Operations Planning

By the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Military, US Department of Defense.

In forming the plan of a campaign, it is requisite to foresee everything the enemy may do, and to be prepared with the necessary means to counteract it. Plans of campaign may be modified, ad infinitum, according to circumstances -- the genius of the general, the character of the troops, and the topography of the theater of action.”

- Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims (II).

At first glance, Joint Operations Planning 5.0 (JOP) might not appear to be a typical book for me to review, but I find that there are important reasons for regular people (in civilian life) to appreciate this publication and to draw upon its lessons for strategizing towards the attainment of their professional goals.

On the surface, the JOP seems to be a very bureaucratic text. It is filled with charts, abbreviations, and diagrams that would make it appear to be an inaccessible text for the general reader. But then again, this isn’t an average book geared towards the general public. Its target audience is the mid- and high-level leadership and command of the US military apparatus. Indeed, the purpose of the JOP is to design and plan activities in a coordinated manner to achieve specific strategic goals, through the joint efforts of the forces.

Joint planning begins from the simple premise that there is a need for a deliberate  process  of  determining  how  (the  ways)  to  use  military capabilities (the means) can be done, along time and across space, to achieve objectives (the ends) while considering the associated risks. It also assumes that conditions are never simple or static, and so adaptation and flexibility are necessary in planning and execution.

I believe that JOP 5.0 is an invaluable book for anyone who wants to understand, whether as insider or outsider, how the military plans its activities. It is a graduate-level textbook taught to military officers, about how they develop and execute plans, starting from the genesis in strategic-level guidance, all the way through to on-the-ground implementation.

It is a fascinating insight into how the military deploys hundreds of billions of dollars in resources in a structured and meaningful way, beginning with the structuring of objectives at the top level (i.e. the US President), down to guidance and coordination, defining the problem, strategy development, operational design, joint planning, operation assessment, and the transition to execution; all while incorporating degrees of uncertainty and the mitigation of the risks.

This book was referred to me by a General of the US Air Force as I began planning out CSA Command, where the JOP’s wisdom has proven invaluable as a guidebook. It has helped me understand how the military mindset is in fact so different from that of business and civilian environments, at least at the outset. Yet there are so many lessons that private sector entities can draw from the rigor of joint operations planning done by the military.

Take the example of framing the adequacy of operational assessment for the question “can we accomplish the mission within the commander’s guidance.” For this, the JOP’s  Preliminary tests include:

    1. Does it accomplish the mission?
    2. Does it meet the commander’s intent?
    3. Does it accomplish all the essential tasks?
    4. Does it meet the conditions for the end state?

These are questions that one might ask when trying to resolve a business problem. One might indeed be inclined to compare such framing to Business 101 textbooks. But then again, JOP is not something taught in Business 101, nor is it something one would pick up as a light-read at an airport. It is a document that must be intently consumed and internalized.

It should therefore be seen not just as a supplement to whatever is taught in well-reputed business schools, but as indeed as the step beyond what is taught there. JOP reflects 300 years of US military planning, and indeed historical precedents far earlier, and it is instilled into our men and women in uniform, from the day they join up to the service, until the day that they assume larger and heftier command posts.

I therefore recommend this book to civilian and private sector leaders as part of the refinement process of their planning and operational requirements as well.

Joint Operations Planning 5.0. US Department of Defense. Available from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) site.

This is part of a series of book reviews by Dr Aron Ping D’Souza.

Copyright © 2020 Aron Ping D’Souza. All rights reserved.