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The next two lessons are basically the story of how we’re trying to come to grips with dealing with complexity in warfare. “Design”, whether it be operational design, systemic operational design, generic design, or “Design” as described in Army documents, is all about realizing that the world is complex, and trying to blend complexity theory and systems theory to come up with more accurate conceptual models to both understand the operational environment, and also to devise strategies and plans to favorably influence that environment.

Generic “design” is the latest of three phases of operations thinking: the first was Ops research, second was cybernetics and open systems ( Gharajedaghi Systems Thinking). It recognizes that past approaches in operations thinking were too limited mostly due to their linearity:

“ What has become the dominant language of our time [linear thinking] produces only partial understanding of our reality and relates only to parts of our being, not the whole of it. We need a holistic language, a language of systems, which will enable us to see through chaos and understand complexity. A language of interaction and design will help us learn a new mode of living by considering various ways of seeing, doing, and being in the world. We can then design new modes of inquiry, new modes of organization, and a way of life that will allow the rational, emotional, and ethical choices for interdependent yet autonomous social beings.” Gharajedaghi Systems Thinking

“The major inadequacy of linear reductionism is its inability to deal with interactions. It inherently focuses on agents or objects in the process of taking a complicated and large problem and breaking it up into manageable pieces. It does not account for the fact that in any system, the number of ways for pairs of agents to interact is almost, but not quite, equal to half the square of the total number of agents in the system.” Czerwinski Coping Within the Bounds

“You do not have to read too far in contemporary military theory to encounter the assertion that war is becoming more complex. There are clearly some objective features of the modern world that support this claim: it is more networked, information flows faster and further, and armies are larger than in times past. Yet complexity itself is not a new feature of warfare. The newness is at least, in part, our understanding of how to cope with it.” Dr. Alex Ryan Foundations

“Chaos and complexity are not characteristics of our new reality; they are features of our perceptions and understanding. We see the world as increasingly more complex and chaotic because we use inadequate concepts to explain it. When we understand something, we no longer see it as chaotic or complex. “ Gharajedaghi Systems Thinking

Thus, the next two days reading seek to use the languages of complexity theory and systems theory to try to improve understanding and predictability in complex environments. The complexity theory concepts (from Waldrop earlier this year)helps you understand the way the operational environment works, and the systems theory (Jervis) gives you the language to do something with that understanding by building organizations and plans that can adapt to unforeseen circumstances and relationships in the system.




Effects Based Operations, Network Centric Warfare, and

Systemic Operational Design (SOD)

As both technology and systems thinking advanced, a number of military were developed to try and take advantage of the new tools and insights that were quickly becoming available. One of the first concepts, Effects Based Operations, or EBO, was initially developed by a US Air Force team called Checkmate, led by Colonel John Warden and then Lieutenant Colonel David Deptula.[1] The intent of EBO was to look at the enemy as a system, and seek to determine the root effects that would achieve desired military ends. Using the advantages of technology (specifically airpower), EBO sought the most efficient ways to achieve those ends, and called for parallel kinetic and non-kinetic attacks against key nodes within that system, disabling it and paralyzing the enemy’s ability to react.[2] This way of thinking became the intellectual underpinnings of the 1991 air campaign opening Operation Desert Storm, the stunning success of which seemed to validate the thinking of the concept behind it. In truth, EBO does work very well against tightly coupled, linear systems, and continues to be a valid planning construct for military action, especially air attack. But partly due to the exuberance over the “big win” in Iraq (1991) and the “ugly” yet ultimately successful NATO air effort in Kosovo (1999), many in the defense community decided that the solution to the problems of attritional warfare that lost Vietnam had finally been found, and that the EBO methodology could be universally applied to war writ large and guarantee victory. Out of this kind of thinking, the concepts of Network Centric Warfare were born.

In late 200, a joint concept of EBO was formulated by US Joint Forces Command J9, based on “operational net assessment” or ONA , developing mechanistic “system of systems analysis” or SoSA techniques of analyzing systems reminiscent of those used in the Vietnam era.[3] In August 2008, General James N. Mattis, the Commander of US Joint Forces Command, determined that this methodology was inherently flawed for operations in complex environments aside from targeting its linear aspects, and issued a “cease and desist” directive for EBO and its associated ONA and SoSA, stating that “The underlying principles associated with EBO, ONA, and SoSA are fundamentally flawed and must be removed from our lexicon, training, and operations.”[4]

Network Centric Warfare, or NCW, was a concept advocated by retired admiral A.K. Cebrowski while serving as the Director of the Office of Force Transformation in 2005. [5] The principle underlying the concept was that humans existed in a larger system of technologically linked informational networks, which controlled the ability of humans and human organizations to sense, act, and react. As it was described by Cebrowksi,

NCW is characterized by the ability of geographically dispersed forces to attain a high level of shared battlespace awareness that is exploited to achieve strategic, operational, and tactical objectives in accordance with the commander’s intent. This linking of people, platforms, weapons, sensors, and decision aids into a single network creates a whole that is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. The results are networked forces that operate with increased speed and synchronization and are capable of achieving massed effects, in many situations, without the physical massing of forces required in the past.[6]

NCW adopted the systems approach of EBO, and sought to combine it with the OODA loop concepts of Boyd, with the idea that if one had a superior network of interlined humans, computers, and weapons, one could achieve “option dominance”, using superior situational awareness to adapt faster, and in ways that the enemy could not match. [7]Advocacy for NCW diminished greatly after 2005 due to three primary reasons: the November 2005 death of Cebrowski, the rising insurgency in Iraq for which NCW offered no solutions, and the November 2006 firing of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had supported the concept under the auspices of Transformation.

Systemic Operational Design, or SOD, also emerged from the shadows of EBO, but unlike SOD which took EBO as a basic assumption, SOD attempted to take the concepts of EBO a step further. The brainchild of retired Israeli brigadier general Simon Naveh and Israel’s Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI), SOD went further than EBO in that it acknowledged that there were adaptive aspects of the operational environment that could not be predicted or targeted systemically. Based in the roots of general systems theory, SOD stresses “the concepts of co-evolution and competition between existing systems in a search for relative and comparative dominance”, and “concentrates on action theory where beliefs and desires as well as intentions better represent the real world.”[8] Where EBO was focused on how to effect the system, and NCW wanted to do EBO faster, SOD wanted to know why the system worked, including why people made decisions as their environment changed around them. SOD was first applied in combat in the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, with unsatisfactory results when the methodology proved too intellectually cumbersome for field commanders to implement, and actions failed to produce the intended results. [9]


The problems with EBO, NCW, and SOD were not that they were systems based; the problem was that they weren’t systems based enough. Each correctly addressed the fact that the operational environment, the enemy, and the joint force all exist as systems. EBO in its original formulation adequately addressed dealing with relatively closed or linear systems, but offers fewer solutions for the nonlinear elements of open systems. The joint manifestation of EBO incorrectly assumed that nonlinear interactions could be sensed and understood with linear processes, developing complicated methodologies that were not connected with cause and effect in the real world. NCW made the same assumptions as EBO, but overemphasized the speed of the decision loop, rather than the speed of the adaptation loop, missing Boyd’s most significant insight. With SOD, the approach was closer to the holistic approach needed to understand and react in a complex system, and may still yield fruitful concepts for future use, but the unwieldiness of the current constructs, compared to the ability of field commanders to grasp how those concepts might be practically applied, introduced an entirely new level of complexity to the battlefield. Because of this, the Israeli Defense Forces had to grapple with the structural complexity of their own methodology in addition to the inherent dynamic complexity of fighting a non-state actor within a neighboring sovereign state.


[1] Lt Gen (ret) Paul Van Riper, USMC, "EBO: There Was No Baby in the Bathwater," Joint Force Quarterly, no. 52 (First Quarter 2009): 82. [2] David A. Deptula, Brig. Gen, USAF. Effects Based Operations: Change in the Nature of Warfare (Arlington: Aerospace Education Foundation, Defense and Airpower Series, 2001), Aerospace Education Foundation. [3] Lt Gen (ret) Paul Van Riper, USMC, "EBO: There Was No Baby in the Bathwater," Joint Force Quarterly, no. 52 (First Quarter 2009): 83. [4] USMC General James Mattis, US Joint Forces Command, to US Jont Forces Command, August 14, 2008, “USJFCOM Commander's Guidance for Effects Based Operations”, Norfolk, VA. [5] The Implementation of Network Centric Warfare, by Arthur K. Cebrowski, Director, Office of Force Transformation, Department of Defense (Washington DC: Govenment Printing Office, 2005). [6] The Implementation of Network Centric Warfare, by Arthur K. Cebrowski, Director, Office of Force Transformation, Department of Defense (Washington DC: Govenment Printing Office, 2005), i-ii. [7] The Implementation of Network Centric Warfare, by Arthur K. Cebrowski, Director, Office of Force Transformation, Department of Defense (Washington DC: Govenment Printing Office, 2005), 9. [8] US Army Lieutenant Colonel William T. Sorrells, Lieutenant Colonel Glen R. Downing, USAF, Major Paul J. Blakesley, British Army,Major David W. Pendall, US Army, Major Jason K. Walk, Australian Army, Major Richard D. Wallwork, British Army, "Systemic Operational Design: An Introduction" (PhD diss., School of Advanced Military Studies, Ft. Leavenworth, KS, 2005), 12. [9] Carl Osgood, "Behavior Modification is No Strategy for War," Executive Intelligence Review, July 18, 2008, 53.

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