Joint Publication 5-0 defines an operational approach as “a commander’s description of the broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state” (as cited in Burke et al., 2018, p. 44). It requires identifying desired conditions and how they may be achieved, as well as necessary resources and possible obstacles and risks arising from the operational environment. Lines of effort, which logically connect military assets, their required capabilities and tasks, and the intended effects of their actions, form the central part of any operational approach (Burke et al., 2018). In formulating an operational approach, planning teams rely on earlier inquiries into environments, problems, and solutions (Department of the Army, 2015). An operational approach translates a force’s strategic priorities and capabilities into a framework for more detailed planning, such as elaborating a specific course of action.
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Although there is no hard rule for how the process of developing an operational approach should be organized, the principal activities involved stem from its nature. Firstly, the planners should review the current and desired states of the operational environment, examining all the factors that may influence operations. They should then consider the relevant strengths, or centers of gravity (COGs), of hostile and friendly forces (Burke et al., 2018). Identifying COGs and decisive points – factors that can help attack or protect COGs – allows commanders to choose direct or indirect methods of countering enemy strength (Department of the Army, 2015). The next step is to set objectives and describe lines of operation (for geographic orientation) and lines of effort that would lead to their fulfillment. Further refinements may include defining the reach, tempo, and phases of operations, as well as analyzing likely risks. Finally, it is vital to continue assessing and adjusting the operational approach once operations are underway. Unanticipated developments in the operational environment may necessitate a complete change of approach.
As an operations NCO, my role in developing an operational approach is to assist the commander and other staff members with up-to-date factual information and expertise. The required information can involve all sides of the operational environment, including the current and potential state of friendly assets, likely obstacles and risks, enemy forces and intentions, and logistical considerations. Relevant subject matter expertise, which is necessary for the accurate assessment of friendly and hostile capabilities, must come from my experience and training. I will also need to communicate the results of operational planning to other commanders, staffs, and unified action partners, ensuring the unity of understanding (Department of the Army, 2015). The full extent of those responsibilities would vary depending on my rank. The command sergeant major is most intimately involved in the operations of the staff, including operational planning and assessment during execution (Department of the Army, 2019). However, lower-ranking NCOs also play a part by supporting the operational planning activities of their superiors. To sum up, the role of an operations NCO in planning is to provide the necessary information and advice to develop a reality-based operational approach.
Burke, R., Fowler, M., McCaskey, K., & Miller, C. D. (Eds.) (2018). Military strategy, joint operations, and airpower: An introduction. Georgetown University Press.
Department of the Army. (2015). ATP 5-0.1. Army techniques publication 5-0.1. Army design methodology.
Department of the Army. (2019). ADP 5-0. Army doctrine reference publication 5-0. The operations process.