Small Wars Journal

Assessment of Effects Based Operations (Updated)

Sun, 08/17/2008 - 4:46pm
14 August 2008


Subject: Assessment of Effects Based Operations

1. Attached are my thoughts and Commander's guidance regarding Effects Based Operations (EBO). The paper is designed to provide the JFCOM staff with clear guidance and a new direction on how EBO will be addressed in joint doctrine and used in joint training, concept development, and experimentation. I am convinced that the various interpretations of EBO have caused confusion throughout the joint force and amongst our multinational partners that we must correct. It is my view that EBO has been misapplied and overextended to the point that it actually hinders rather than helps joint operations.

2. Therefore, we must return to time honored principles and terminology that our forces have tested in the crucible of battle and are well grounded in the theory and nature of war. At the same time, we must retain and adopt those aspects of effect based thinking that are useful. We must stress the importance of mission type orders that contain clear Commander's Intent, unambiguous tasks and purpose, and most importantly, links ways and means with achievable ends. To augment these tenets, we must leverage non-military capabilities and strive to better understand the different operating variables that make up today's more complex operating environments.

3. My assessment is shaped by my own personal experiences and the experience of others in a variety of operational situations. I'm convinced we must keep the following in mind: First, operations in the future will require a balance of regular and irregular competencies. Second, the enemy is smart, and adaptive. Third, all operating environments are dynamic with an infinite number of variables; therefore, it is not scientifically possible to accurately predict the outcome of an action. To suggest otherwise runs contrary to historical experience and the nature of war. Fourth, we are in error when we think that what works (or does not work) in one theater is universally applicable to all theaters. Finally, to quote Sherman, "Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster." History is replete with such examples and further denies us any confidence that the acute predictability promised by EBO's long assessment cycle can strengthen our doctrine.

4. The joint force must act in uncertainty and thrive in chaos, sensing opportunity therein and not retreating into a need for more information. JFCOM's purpose is to ensure that joint doctrine smoothes and simplifies joint operations while reducing friendly friction. My goal is to return clarity to our planning processes and operational concepts. Ultimately, my aim is to ensure leaders convey their intent in clearly understood terms and empower their subordinates to act decisively.

5. While NATO and many Partner Nations have adopted the EBO nomenclature, NATO's policy focuses on the whole of government/Comprehensive Approach. In short, NATO's Effects Based Approach to Operations (EBAO) does not fully mirror U.S. EBO. NATO's use of EBAO is left unaddressed in this USJFCOM Commander's Guidance.

6. A pre-decisional working draft of this document was prematurely circulated and should be discarded. I regret any confusion resulting from the unintended early release of this draft document.


General, U.S. Marine Corps

Commander's Guidance Regarding Effects Based Operations - US Joint Forces Command

Update: The Council Weighs In (Bill Moore):

When I first heard of EBO, I admit I had high hopes for it, that was until I was actually trained in it, and saw the seriously flawed concepts of SoSA, ONA, and worse, much worse, MOE and MOP. Then I noted every one assumed their actions (unilaterally) we're creating these magical effects. At first I thought it was intended to flatten the organization and harmonize the interagency actors by arming everyone with the objectives and the associated effects, thus if you didn't have guidance from higher, you knew what needed to be done on the ground. However, after studying it and watching it in practice in the real world and during exercises it is clear that General Mattis's memo is spot on in most aspects.

I was a small bit player in one of the most successful interagency and multinational operations in recent history and that was JTF Liberia in 2003. Fortunately, it didn't receive much press outside of Africa, so we had considerable freedom of movement. During this operation the multinational forces and interagency were successfully harmonized with clear objectives that resulted in orders with clear cut task(s)/purpose(s). In this case leadership was decisive (both State Department and Military). I think we would have failed miserbly if we used EBO doctrine.

Unfortunately, this EBO like process has manifested itself in other ways, where U.S. forces inappropriately apply a CARVER matrix to terrorist and insurgent organizations, which resulted in the failed network approach where one attempts to destroy an insurgency by killing or capturing its so called key nodes (important individuals). In limited cases this method will work, and most cases it is a key supporting role, but not at the expense of failing to protect the population. What worked in Iraq was large scale population control measures that the surge enabled, where the focus was protecting the populace. I'm confident history will show that the much bragged about approach "it's the network stupid" was actually a failure or at most a minor enabler. Like EBO this was based on faulty assumptions that an insurgency is a simple system or simple system of systems like an electric power grid. It isn't, and surgical actions won't when the fight anymore than surgical bombings. That brings me to the key question, is EBO entirely flawed or is our practice (based on faulty assumptions) of it flawed? I think the answer is both, and if we focused on the objective of defeating the insurgency, vice all the sub effects, we would have realized from day one we needed more forces (Iraqi or otherwise) to get control initially.

Prior to EBO, I think the most damaging concept to our military was the force protection bureaucracy which was an off shoot of General Downey's investigation of the Khobar Towers incident. Force protection was always an inherit responsibility, and there were several anti-terrorism courses long before force protection level I thru IV training. This resulted in yet another cottage industry of contractors, wasted military manpower and in too many cases operational paralysis. Force protection is important, it has always been our second priority, which in order are the mission, the men, then yourself. Prior to 9/11 we let force protection (the men) trump accomplishing the mission as a priority. I would like to see General Mattis tackle this one, and while he is at it take a hard look at Information Operations. I'm not anti-IO, but it would be helpful for all to see some clarity here also.

EBO is not the only practice in our military that lacks common sense.



Sat, 08/16/2008 - 12:53am

I join the hallelujah chorus. I am grateful to Captain Denny Moynahan, USN, Gen Mattis's PAO, for sending Joint Force Quarterly an advance so that it can appear in the upcoming issue (which is in layout). I am also putting it on the cover in order to maximize exposure. I concur in the observation that this is long overdue.

When I read this my first reaction was the same as Ken's, Hallelujah!
The emperor has been plainly told that he has no clothes.

As a civilian, it will make things much easier. For years every time I read anything having to do with EBO, I gave up after the first few sentences because I couldn't begin to figure out what they were trying to say; or I gave up in disgust when it was stated or implied "the fog of war will no longer be".

Now I can understand more.

MSG Proctor

Thu, 08/14/2008 - 10:27pm

Not sure I would attribute the "defeat" (?) of the IDF in 2006 to EBO concepts. I think that had much to do with the Israeli civilian leadership.
If this streamlines terminology, concepts and application of joint military art & science, I'm all for it. If its just a pendulum swing back towards conventional warfighting concepts, not sure all the data is in how we are implementing EBO-related models in the COE.


Thu, 08/14/2008 - 8:37pm

It might be a long read - but a very good and long overdue read! Kudos to General Mattis and members of his staff who had a hand in producing this assessment of EBO.

The IDF interpretation of EBO and the negative impact it had on operations in Lebanon was particularly interesting and informative.

Ken White

Thu, 08/14/2008 - 7:24pm

Hallelujah. There is a Mars and General Mattis is his prophet.

That is good news. Really good news. Good paper also -- if a bit long, people shouldn't be as verbose as I am...

In good cheer, I await responses to this.