Small Wars Journal

Design and the Prospects for Mission Analysis

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Design and the Prospects for Mission Analysis

by Christopher R. Paparone

Download the Full Article: Design and the Prospects for Mission Analysis

This is the third article in a series exploring the impact of design philosophy and whether a military renaissance is potentially afoot. This episode attempts to expose the myth that design is a "methodology" that leads to "understanding" that eventually leads to good military planning as suggested in the US Army's latest doctrine, particularly its Field Manual 5-0, The Operations Process. The focus is to reveal the issues associated with "mission analysis," that is, the breaking down of a "problem" into manageable tasks that, when all put together into a military plan or order, serve to solve the overall "problem." Beyond conventional, "force-on-force" fights, this essay argues that mission analysis is a misconception when it comes to framing complex operations.

In short, design is not a methodology toward understanding. It is a philosophy associated with embracing the unpredictability of tasks yet to be accomplished.

Download the Full Article: Design and the Prospects for Mission Analysis

Christopher R. Paparone, Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired, is an associate professor in the Army Command and General Staff College's Department of Joint, Interagency and Multinational Operations at Fort Lee, Virginia. He holds a B.A. from the University of South Florida; master's degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology, the U.S. Naval War College, and the Army War College; and a Ph.D. in public administration from Pennsylvania State University. On active duty he served in various command and staff positions in the continental United States, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Bosnia.

Editor's Note: This essay continues the SWJ conversation on Design and Wicked Problems. Chris's previous essays include "Design and the Prospects of a Military Renaissance" and "Design and the Prospects for Deviant Leadership." Recently, Andrew Nocks offered an alternative viewpoint in "The Mumbo-Jumbo of Design," and Dale Eikmeier submitted a contrarian viewpoint in "Design For Napoleon's Corporal."

About the Author(s)

Chris Paparone is a retired US Army Colonel who served in various command and staff positions in war and peace in the continental United States, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and Bosnia.  He is a graduate of the US Naval War College and received his PhD in public administration from The Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He has published numerous articles, book chapters, and in 2013 published a Bloomsbury book titled The Sociology of Military Science: Prospects for Postinstitutional Military Design.  He considers himself a burgeoning "critical military epistemologist" and will feature an article on CME in a forthcoming Journal of Military and Strategic Studies special issue.

Comments

Stephen,

"I realize that reflexivity is not something that can be operationalized into a neat set of rational instructions."

Cannot agree more. This is the danger of making design into a doctrine! Design is eclectic on purpose...the military doctrinaires will have a tendency to lose touch with other ideas from the "outside."

I really value you comments and will digest the readings and sites you suggest.

I will also pay attention to your website.

Steve Pampinella

Tue, 10/12/2010 - 1:42pm

Chris,

Thank you for the in-depth response. Each point is important and so I'll respond to each one.

"So I'll concede that "design" might be construed as a method. However, in the Schönian tradition, I think this view under-develops the more efficacious, more open-ended philosophy behind the unification of scientific technique and art (i.e. reflective practice) that design represents."

I have not have the pleasure of reading Donald Schon, but I am adding him to my required reading. I agree that reflexivity is central to the process of adaptive learning. However, on second thought, I realize that reflexivity is not something that can be operationalized into a neat set of rational instructions, and I do not want to undercut the flexibility inherit in design thinking by suggesting it is the same type of 'methodology' we find in the empiricist tradition. Semantically, then, perhaps design should be thought of as a 'meta-methodology' - a way of thinking about the world that allows us to conceptualize alternative ways of routinizing our behavior to maximize efficiency and to switch from one routine to another (and discard its underlying perspective of the world) when necessary. In emphasizing a positive relationship between design and methodology, I only want to show that Design still must lead the Commander to take action in the real world. Thus, it informs operational planning 'methods' (or, it is a 'method' that informs our 'methods'!).

"In addition, we should not lose the meaning trail (linguistic morphology) of where "design" comes from -- it is an architectural metaphor. We certainly cannot take architectural methods and apply them to conceptualizations of war (without being very critical as to the limits of the metaphor)."

I absolutely agree with this, and it was one of the initial eras made by the Israelis with their version of Design. The IDF used the architecture metaphor literally, and sought to capture/kill terrorism suspects in the West Bank by literally going through walls to attack from unexpected directions. In this way, they blended the architecture metaphor with Deleuze and Guattari's concept of smooth and striated space. While this succeeded tactically/operationally, it failed to fulfill the overall strategic objective of ending the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This Frieze article has more about it. http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/the_art_of_war/

However, I think the architecture metaphor can be used successfully, but the ontological status of the operating environment (the 'space' we can or cannot enter) must be conceived in social terms, and not simply in physical ones. Penetrating striated 'space' in war isn't about breaking through material objects, but about transcending social boundaries that perpetuate the conflict. The Israeli use of 'architecture' is strategically unsuccessful because it reproduces those conflictual social boundaries. I've written more about this here. http://stephenpampinella.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/the-militarization-of…

Lastly, I agree with the use of 'appreciation', especially in TP 5-525-500, Commander's Appreciation and Campaign Design. However, I don't want to give up on understanding because of its sociological connotation. If 'understanding' can be achieved in a 'scientific' way (although not necessarily the objective positivist science of the Enlightenment) through sociological investigation, then military commanders should be able to use the same 'methods' to understand their operating environment, especially since it is composed of social and political actors like insurgents, civilians, and host nation leaders, Of course, commanders should also be willing to reflexively consider 'deviant' concepts that falsify their current understanding and necessitate the formation of a new one.

Hi Stephen,

I am very impressed and value your comments. I agree that methods can be derived from worldviews/paradigms/theories or whatever we decide to call the philosophical roots of argument.

So I'll concede that "design" might be construed as a method. However, in the Schönian tradition, I think this view under-develops the more efficacious, more open-ended philosophy behind the unification of scientific technique and art (i.e. reflective practice) that design represents.

In addition, we should not lose the meaning trail (linguistic morphology) of where "design" comes from -- it is an architectural metaphor. We certainly cannot take architectural methods and apply them to conceptualizations of war (without being very critical as to the limits of the metaphor).

My next essay in this series examines whether "commander's understanding" (you refer to in your posting) is a viable assumption/goal. I argue that it is not. Current military doctrinal interpretations of design (especially US Army FM 5-0, chapter 3) have distorted the originators' proposals about design. I think the better word is "appreciation" and that appreciation should not be limited to command/commander but also to deviance (see http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/09/design-and-the-prospects-for-d/).

Again, I really "appreciate" your thoughtful posting. :)

Steve Pampinella

Mon, 10/11/2010 - 12:05pm

Christopher Paparone, who has written extensively on Design in the past, argues in a new SWJ piece that Operational Design is a philosophical mindset, and not a methodology that provides military commanders with a greater understanding of how to solve problems. He contends that fusing Design with 'mission analysis, a key step in the Military Decision Making Process, is a mistake because of the opposing philosophical approaches implicit in each approach. Mission Analysis is a 'methodology because it instructs commanders to routinize complicated tasks into actionable components. This is an efficiency maximizing mode of problem-solving in bureaucratic organizations (like standard operating procedures) associated with classical empiricism. Ontologically, classical empiricism accepts the world as is. Epistemologically, it assumes that we can develop objective, scientific knowledge about how the world works. Paparone contrasts these philosophic assumptions with critical realism, which requires the critical investigation of how the world works and assumes all knowledge is subjective. Instead of an objective 'science governed by laws covering a range of events, classical realism suggests an artistic or aesthetic appreciation of the world that leads to an understanding of its unique complexity.

By linking 'methodology to the classic empiricism of the MDMP and 'philosophy to the critical realism of Design, Paparone implies that critical realism can never be methodology. By defining 'method as exclusive to the Newtonian model of science dating back to the Enlightenment, he ignores how sociologists have developed their own techniques to verify knowledge. These 'methods remain in the critical realist tradition because they examine the contextual and relational circumstances that produce social phenomena. To make such explanations about society, they strive to understand how relevant social actors (whether individuals or groups) interpret the world. This scientific tradition is a product of the German sociological tradition pioneered by Max Weber and later, C. Wright Mills. Its methods are qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) and identify the shared ideas of relevant social groups that intersubjectively create opportunities and constraints on the actions of groups and individual members. Operationally, interpretation can be achieved through ethnographic interviews and field research, archival research, and to a lesser extent, survey research. These methods are 'scientifically valid because they gather data to compare the accuracy of alternative hypotheses that explain reality. And, this is the purpose of an interpretivist social science: not to form 'objective knowledge, but instead to improve our knowledge of the world despite our subjective and limited understanding of it. We can do so only by comparing theory to reality.

Thus, 'methodologies do exist that are firmly grounded in the tradition of critical realism and its philosophy of science assumptions (especially ontology and epistemology). And, since Design is founded on those same assumptions, it too can be a methodology for enhancing a Commanders understanding and complements other operational methodologies used by Commanders to accomplish missions.