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The foundation for success in Unified Land Operations: understanding the operational environment.

In 2011, the U.S. Army adopted a new doctrine Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-0, Unified Land Operations--to ensure it is ready to defeat the contemporary threats faced by the United States in the 21st century. According to ADP 3-0, unified land operations describes how the "Army seizes, retains, and exploits the initiative to gain and maintain a position of relative advantage in sustained land operations through simultaneous offensive, defensive, and stability operations in order to prevent or deter conflict, prevail in war, and create the conditions for favorable conflict resolution." To achieve these end states, leaders must seek to achieve understanding of their operational environment.

While most leaders taking part in rotations at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) believe they understand their operational environment, they typically are challenged in answering questions such as "why does the enemy have support in the area" or "why doesn't the government operate here?" Operational environments are dynamic, resulting in unified land operations requiring leaders to conduct numerous missions simultaneously. without a thorough understanding of their operating environment, units will continue to react to the enemy rather than identifying the factors which allow the enemy to operate in the area, limit government support, foster humanitarian disasters, etc.


While the doctrinal focus in unified land operations on the importance of understanding the operational environment is clear, what is not clear is how to gain and maintain an understanding. Although there are various tools which can help leaders understand their operational environment, JMRC has successfully used the interagency District Stability Framework (DSF) to train units to comprehend their operational environment.

Doctrinal Focus

Unified land operations prevent or deter conflict, prevail in war, and/or create the conditions for favorable conflict resolution. To accomplish these end states, leaders must understand the operational environment. As seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, simply killing or removing enemy combatants from the battlefield will not lead to success. Military units must understand their operational environment to identify and target the enemy's support network. However, many commanders focus their training on gaining proficiency in core combat skills--shoot, move, and communicate--rather than training their formations to understand their operating environment. This is evident in rotational training objectives and execution by units at JMRC. Military units normally fill boxes in the operational and mission variable matrices (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information [PMESII] and civil areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events [ASCOPE] ), but fail to grasp the relevance to the population and operational environment. An effective understanding of the operational environment is based on a deep understanding of local conditions, grievances, norms, etc.

Understanding the local perspective comes from population surveys, key leader engagements, host country counterparts, and unified action partners and can help commanders understand "why" the enemy is in the area, "why" the government doesn't have support, "why" locals aren't solving their own problems, etc. Without investing time in collecting and analyzing this information, units tend to fall back on what they know best--taking the fight to the enemy. Taking the fight to the enemy without understanding the operational environment can destabilize the area or negate the activities of other unified action partners. A good example would be a unit partnering with local police who are corrupt and hated by the locals. In addition to lessening government support, this could increase support for malign actors in the area. Only units that understand their operational environment and incorporate this understanding into their operations will be able to achieve mission end states.

Challenges to Understanding the Operational Environment

The conditions, circumstances, and influences which comprise the operational environment are dynamic and difficult to comprehend. This challenge is amplified by a lack of relevant education and training, inappropriate tools, and ineffective staff structures.

Lack of relevant education and training. According to the Correlates of War Project, only 17 percent of wars in the modern era have been conventional interstate conflicts. (1) More importantly, the U.S. has been involved in a stability operation approximately every two years since 1990. These facts notwithstanding, professional military education at all levels continues to focus on the core combat skill of identifying, closing with, and defeating the enemy. The Army spends the majority of its time training in the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle for conventional fights and applying conventional tools which omit key aspects of the operational environment.


The ramifications of this situation could be seen during a recent JMRC rotation. While the rotational unit (RTU) effectively defeated the conventional threat, it failed to negate the four other elements of the hybrid threat. The RTU did not invest the time and therefore struggled to understand its operational environment, which resulted in focusing combat power against the conventional threat and virtually ignoring other threats and, more importantly, the local population. Thus, while the RTU successfully defeated the conventional force, the host country government collapsed, the civil security decreased, infrastructure was destroyed, and insurgent elements were able to gain popular support and control of the provincial capital. In summary, the RTU had "tactical success," but by not understanding the operational environment, the mission resulted in a strategic failure by not "creating the conditions for favorable conflict resolution."

Inappropriate tools. Most tools military units currently use to understand the operational environment are either enemy centric, stove-piped, or focused on providing social services. The most common tools employed by units training at JMRC are intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB), PMESII, ASCOPE, and SWEAT-MS0 (sewage, water, electricity, academics, trash, medical, safety, other) matrices. IPB primarily focuses on the enemy and physical terrain, minimizing the importance of the human terrain. The PMESII, ASCOPE, and SWEAT-MS0 matrices not only look at variables from a U.S. point of view, they also lack an analytical section. In addition, these tools act as stovepipes, leading military units to focus on and prioritize irrelevant tasks. For example, units completing a SWEAT-MSO typically fill in the matrix without noting the relevance to the operational environment. Another problem with the matrices is they become measures of performance, and units focus their efforts on turning each box green by the end of their deployment. However, these projects can further destabilize an area as they might not increase support for the government or negate malign actor influence. If a. unit chooses to build schools to "turn the academic box green" in an area where schools aren't needed or the population lacks the capability and capacity to sustain them, the unit has not moved any closer to achieving its end states. These tools do not provide units a complete picture of the operational environment as seen at JMRC.

Figure 1 illustrates examples of products typically produced by rotational units training at JMRC. These products (area of operation [AO] overlay, pattern analysis, and high-value individual [HVI] target list) take information out of context and don't give units an understanding of their operational environment and only focus on the enemy. In this example, the RTU focused on countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) rather than trying to find out why IEDs were emplaced there. Individually, these products don't help units understand why the enemy has support and/or why the government does not. These traditional tools do not provide the local conditions, grievances. and norms required to understand the operational environment.

Ineffective staff structures. As David Kilcullen notes in his paper "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency," a key to success is organizing for intelligence. Organizing for intelligence is critical to understanding the operational environment in order to conduct effective operations. At the tactical level, company intelligence support teams (CoIST) continue to be crucial for gathering intelligence to understand the operational environment. Squads and platoons have the most interaction with the local populace, which helps them understand the operational environment. Without the analysis of the CoIST, local perception data can overwhelm a unit as it tries to address local "wants." In JMRC rotations, CoIST NCOICs often have a better understanding of the operational environment than the brigade commander. CoISTs are the crucial links and adjuncts to traditional staff structures in analyzing information and fostering a comprehensive understanding of the operational environment. Their analysis helps commanders to better visualize the battlefield in order to decide where to allocate combat power and resources.

Understanding the Operational Environment

While doctrine emphasizes that understanding the operational environment is crucial to success, the process is not. Military units must have the appropriate tools, staff structures, and most importantly, the training to employ them effectively.

Appropriate Tools. Recognizing the need for a standardized, comprehensive methodology to foster effective civil-military integration, the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID's) Office of Military Affairs, in collaboration with the Department of Defense, developed DSF. Combining USAID's Tactical Conflict Assessment and Planning Framework (TCAPF) and incorporating military planning tools such as ASCOPE and PMESII, the DSF provides a framework to help civilian and military personnel understand complex operating environments.

The DSF uses the following four "lenses"--operational, cultural, local perceptions, and the dynamics of stability and instability--to gain population-centric understanding of the operational environment.

The difference between the DSF and traditional tools is the latter focus either on identifying the "needs" of the population or on identifying the enemy. While these are elements of the operational environment, the tools are not focused on the operational environment in its entirety. The DSF gives practitioners an analytical process; tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) for implementation; and metrics to evaluate units' effectiveness. In 2009 using the DSF in the Nawa District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines learned the lack of cell-phone coverage was one of the local population's principal grievances. Analyzing the "why" question of the tactical conflict survey, the unit discovered cell-phone coverage fostered a sense of security because cell phones allowed people to quickly find out about the situations in neighboring areas and/or if attacks had injured family members. Based on this information, the battalion and its Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) partners started providing security for local cell-phone towers. Subsequently, improving the ability of the population to communicate led to an increase in the number of tips about IEDs and insurgent movement. Even more significantly, it increased the number of people who believed the area was stable. Marine LtCol. Bill McCollough, the battalion commander, noted, "This is something we had never thought about, as we considered phones to be a luxury. Without using DSF ... we would never have known about this concern, understood why it was a concern, or done anything about it." (2) DSF gives units the knowledge necessary to prioritize and target the end states outlined in unified land operations. However, to employ DSF or other methodological tools, units must be effectively structured.
Description Factors Relevance

Political/Governance: A Key elements of the Why is a factor
Political actors, agendas, formal, informal, and relevant to the
government capability and shadow systems of local
capacity government which population? How
 significantly does it affect
 influence the local stability?

Military/Security: S Key elements that Why is a factor
Capabilities in the AO could influence the relevant to the
(equipment, mission, security situation local
resource constraints) population? How
 does it affect

Economic: Trade, C Key elements that Why is a factor
development, finance, influence economic relevant to the
institutional activity in the area local
capabilities, geography, population? How
regulation does it affect

Social: Demographics, O Key elements that Why is a factor
migration trends, describe or could relevant to the
urbanization, living influence traditional local
standards, literacy/ social dynamics in an population? How
education level, etc area. does it affect

Infra structural Basic P Effects on the Why is a factor
facilities, services and physical relevant to the
installations Infrastructure: local
 sewage, water, population? How
 electricity, does it affect
 educational stability?
 facilities, health
 facilities, and

Information: Means of E Key elements that Why is a factor
communication, media, facilitate the relevant to the
telecommunications, word transfer of local
of mouth information to and population? How
 among the local does it affect
 population stability?

Figure 2--Operational Lens: PMESII-ASCOPE

1) Major Cultural Groups Identify the major cultural and/or
 tribal groups in your AO

2) Their Interests Identify the things these groups
 care about or consider to be
 valuable - both material and

3) Cultural Codes, Traditions, Identify cultural codes,
and Values traditions, and values that the
 major cultural groups live by

4) Traditional Conflict Identify how conflicts between
Resolution Mechanisms individuals and groups have
 traditionally been resolved

5) Traditional Authorities Identify the traditional authorities
 to whom the locals respect and/or
 normally turn to for assistance

6) Disruptions to these Describe what new actors or
Mechanisms/Authorities conditions may have disrupted the
 traditional conflict resolution
 mechanisms and/or undermined the
 influence of traditional

7) How Spoilers/ Stabilizing Describe how malign actors leverage
Forces Leverages these Factors and/or exploit these cultural
 factors to their advantage.
 also how stabilizing forces do or
 could leverage these factors
Figure 3 - Cultural Lens

What is the most important problem facing the village?

Corruption (police) 9%

Education 11%

Healthcare 13%

Justice/Conf Resin 17%

Land Disputes 22%

Physical Security 24%

Infrastructure (roads) 4%

Sample local perception quotes:

* "Insurgent justice is swift"

* "Nobody is safe here"

* "Elders can't solve our problems anymore"

* "Police take our money"

* "Judges support those who pay them"

* "Coalition forces endanger us"

* "We have no doctor or clinic"

* "The government should do more to protect us"

* "Police are not competent to solve or prevent crimes"

* "We avoid the police: they only help themselves"

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Resiliencies Events Key Actors:
 Means, Motives,
 and Actions

What processes, What potential or Which individuals
relationships, or anticipated future or institutions
institutions enable The situations could in the society
society to (unction create an opening are attempting to
normally and peacefully? for key actors and preserve and
Are there any previous their followers to strengthen
resiliencies that have further reinforce stability? What
been or are being stability? means do they
undermined? possess, what are
 their motives,
 and what actions
 are they taking?

Grievances Events Key Actors:
 Means, Motives,
 and Actions

What issues or problems What potential or Which individuals
are the local populace anticipated future or institutions
concerned or upset about? situations could In the society
Whom do they blame for create an opening are attempting to
these conditions, and how for key actors and preserve and
severe are they? their followers to strengthen
 further reinforce stability? What
 stability? means do they
 possess, what are
 their motives,
 and what actions
 are they taking?

Figure 5 - Dynamics of Stability and Instability

Stall Structures. As previously noted, Lobo is are crucial components of an effective company headquarters. If companies are not provided personnel from their higher headquarters, they must staff the CoIST internally. CoIST members should be the best and brightest Soldiers in the company and be trained to collect and analyze operational environment information. To be effective, CoISTs must be properly resourced, trained to debrief patrols, and educated in analyzing information. The CoIST is "the brain" of the company, and CoIST Soldiers must possess the right skill sets, personality, and motivation to be effective in this position. Rank is nothing; talent is everything. Figure 6 illustrates "a way" that a company can organize internally to staff a CoIST.

Education and Training. Previous JMRC rotations consisted of platoon and company situational training exercises (STX) that were firewalled from battalion and brigade operations. STX lanes amounted to 50 percent of the rotation and consisted of compartmented training that had no effect in changing the environment, which resulted in CoISTs and units failing to learn the importance of understanding their operational environment. To mitigate this, JMRC modified its rotational design to help RTUs understand their operational environment by removing the firewall between company STX and battalion and brigade command post exercise (CPX) operations. This fostered a dynamic environment by manipulating it based on RTU and enemy actions. JMRC was able to accomplish this by conducting an internal program of instruction for observer/coach-trainers (O/C-Ts), which provided them with the knowledge and ability to manipulate and change the environment by working with role players to insert observables that the RTU could collect on and detect changes. O/C-Ts also received training on how to mentor and advise an RTU on understanding its operational environment through the application of effective and appropriate tools and staff structures. This was crucial.


As part of the leader training program, JMRC also conducted leader professional development seminars with the RTU on understanding the operational environment and provided CoIST training. During the first phase of the rotation, O/C-Ts replicating the outgoing unit provided the RTU an operations and intelligence brief as well as initial DSF products for the area of operations as part of a relief-in-place/transfer of authority.

These products gave the RTU a baseline for understanding its operational environment and helped it successfully identify and prioritize targets in the area. Compared to previous rotations, the RTU that conducted the modified rotational design produced products that fostered understanding of its operational environment (see Figure 7). The AO overlay, additional DSF products, and pattern analysis tools increased fidelity, which resulted in a comprehensive view of the operational environment. CoISTs were instrumental in collecting and analyzing the information from their area of operations. These products and tools move beyond identifying the "needs" of the population or identifying the enemy to understand the entire operational environment. The AO overlay includes key tribal information such as boundaries as well as important economic, religious, and government areas. The overlay helps increase units' understanding by fostering questions such as "why" are there no IEDs emplaced in Tribe B's land? Friendly pattern analysis, HVIs, and patterns of life are included as well as enemy pattern and HVI analysis. Focusing on friendly information helps units determine what is normal in their area and improves their understanding of the operational environment by increasing their ability to detect changes and determine "why" change is occurring. DSF provides a standardized, comprehensive methodology, and the four lenses provide the local perspective to understand complex operating environments. Once military units are appropriately structured and trained to employ effective tools, they will have the ability to truly understand the operational environment and thus be more effective in achieving mission end states.



Understanding the operational environment is the foundation for success in unified land operations. Military units must be able to conduct simultaneous offensive, defensive and stability tasks in order to prevent or deter conflict, prevail in war, and create the conditions for favorable conflict resolution. To achieve these end states, understanding the operational environment is as important as mastery of the core combat skills. Without a thorough understanding of their operating environment, units will continue to react to the enemy rather than identifying the factors that allow the enemy to operate in the area. Using the process outlined above, JMRC successfully trained units to understand their operational environment. Units moved beyond reacting to the enemy by understanding their operational environment in identifying, prioritizing, and targeting factors giving the enemy support, resulting in fostering mission success and achieving mission end states.


(1) David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency (NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(2)James W. Derleth and Jason S. Alexander, "Stability Operations: From Policy to Practice," PRISM, A Journal of the Center for Complex Operations, Vol. 2, No. 3, 06/2011.


MAJ Kevin McCormick is currently serving as the special troops battalion operations observer/coach-trainer (O/C-T), Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) Operations Group, Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Hohenfels, Germany. He previously served as the commander of the 509th Clearance Company, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. MAJ McCormick is a graduate of the Military Assistance Course, District Stability Framework Course, and NATO Counterinsurgency Train-the-Trainer. He has a bachelor's degree in building construction management from Purdue University and a master's degree in engineering management from Missouri University of Science and Technology.
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Author:McCormick, Kevin
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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