Maj. Jamie Schwandt’s recent article “The Military Decision-Making Process Is An Inflexible Mess. Here’s How To Fix It” advocates abandoning the Army’s current planning process, but provides no actual alternative. When he does attempt to interject concepts, he advocates a dangerous disregard for detail, coordination, and understanding planning. His examples do nothing to support his point and in some cases call into question his understanding of operational planning. He takes us on a tour of successful World War II commanders, as proofs that MDMP is not viable, and finally settles on the magic of the OODA loop.
Ultimately, it is his own inflexibility of position regarding MDMP that prevents him from viewing it as a vital tool (among many) that enables many of the concepts he seeks to replace it with.
Erwin Rommel was a brilliant commander, but to say the Afrika Korps’ success was due to him alone is disingenuous. He had highly competent Chiefs of Staff such as Hans Speidel and Fritz Bayerlein. These men took Rommel’s intent and guidance and led the staff through deliberate processes that turned them into plans that synchronized units in time and space, allocated limited resources, established priorities, and coordinated the execution. While Rommel came up with brilliant ideas of what he wanted to do, his staff figured out how to do it.
MAJ Schwandt’s illustration of COL Stirling’s “principles of messy tactics” is interesting, but the planning process used by a company-sized special operations unit, reacting to actionable intelligence, is not comparable to processes to coordinate battalion and larger units. Additionally, COL Stirling’s principles are another example of what he wanted to do and not how to do it.
The OODA loop is not a planning process, but a cognitive tool to understand how decisions are made. COL Boyd strongly believed in operational planning and would frequently deliver his briefing Discourses on Winning and Losing, and its application to ground combat, to general officers from the Army and Marine Corps. Boyd frequently advocated for the development of staff processes that are able to cycle through the OODA loop faster than the enemy. Effective staff operations and battle drills enable the commander and the organization to observe, orient, decide, and act faster. They do not replace it.
MAJ Schwandt advocates a process “heedless of detail, allowing improvisation on the fly.” This is not a sign of creativity, but laziness. Any leader that believes disregard of detail is acceptable while attempting to coordinate and synchronize over 5,000 personnel and 600 vehicles across multiple domains against a peer threat is setting their unit up for failure. It is the staff’s responsibility to provide detail to the plan. These details come in the form of fire support coordination, airspace deconfliction, allocation of critical assets, operational graphics, or integrated and responsive sustainment. None of this is possible without detailed planning. In fact, this level of detail creates a shared understanding that enables disciplined initiative. Subordinate commanders will be able to react to changes on the battlefield with the context of how it affects adjacent units, the enemy, and mission accomplishment. This is far superior to the Leeroy Jenkins method of “allowing improvisation on the fly.”
While operational planning in an austere, time-constrained environment is stressful and uncomfortable; experience has consistently demonstrated that a deliberate planning process is critical to a unit’s success on the battlefield. There are several effective systems in use by militaries throughout the world. The Military Component Planning Process in use by the UN, the Tactical or Combat Estimates used in the UK, Joint Operations Planning in our own doctrine, or finally the Military Decision Making Process used by the US Army. Maj. Schwandt is concerned about the speed of decision-making and tempo of operations, and rightfully so. While these processes may seem lengthy and cumbersome, the end result actually produces commanders that are more capable of rapidly making informed decisions during high tempo operations. The issue is not the process itself, but the staff’s level of training with it and each other.
MDMP enables the commander and staff to think critically and creatively to solve complex problems. It allows the staff to develop detailed, synchronized plans across multiple domains while enabling parallel planning of subordinate and adjacent units. ADRP 5-0 contains a method called the Rapid Decision-making and Synchronization Process (RDSP). Units well practiced in MDMP can use this technique during operations to develop timely and effective solutions, however, the key to success is training on the process. Organizations unfamiliar with the process will have difficulty rapidly making decisions and rarely successfully synchronize across all domains.
Abandoning MDMP is not the answer. Ensuring your staff is well trained in the process is. This will enable rapid analysis and decision-making, make our organizations more agile, and ensure the enemy is constantly reacting to out of date information. As much as I love watching the Leroy Jenkins video, I do not recommend adopting it as our planning methodology.
Capt. W. Paul Hill is an infantry officer currently attending the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, KS. He has served as a brigade Chief of Operations, operational planner, and commander. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace from Middle Tennessee State University. This article represents his own personal views, which are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army.