Small Wars Journal


Mon, 04/25/2022 - 11:56am


By Professor Greg E. Metzgar

Center for Adaptive & Innovative Statecraft

Joint Special Operations University


The past two decades of persistent conflict have brought about an unprecedented need for Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Conventional Force (CF) personnel at all levels to learn quickly and constantly enhance their ability to conduct operational design and planning functions not only at the component level but increasingly at the operational level. This “punching above your weight” is due to continued manning requirements that dictate a sustained need to fulfill operational demands, along with a diminishing pool of personnel resources. As the Joint Force enters the mid-point of the 21st century, the demands placed upon the joint force will continue, and professionals at all levels will require a renewed focus on being prepared to address the multidomain threats posed by a host of strategic challenges.  


The requirements for Special Operations Forces (SOF) planners will require a renewed interest in ensuring that the joint operational planning skills acquired over the past two decades do not atrophy, as they will continue to play a crucial role as SOF, and Conventional Forces focus to address irregular warfare (IW) threats and conflict below the threshold of war with strategic challengers. In a 2003 article, the author addressed the following challenge, still applicable today:


Given SOF truths (people are more important than hardware, competent SOF cannot be created or mass-produced in an emergency, and quality over quantity), the expanded requirement for operators and planners presents a dilemma. How does SOCOM educate enough SOF planners for its expanded mission without compromising its capabilities or disregarding SOF truths? SOCOM cannot simply strip tactical SOF units, already critically short of experienced manpower, to meet the demand for educated strategic planners who can function effectively on a combatant commander’s staff or on a joint special operations task force (JSOTF).[1]


            Given the nature of the rapidly expanding challenges in the current near-term security environment, planners at all levels are challenged having timely access to traditional educational opportunities such as Command and General Staff College (CGSC) for individual or other collective joint training events. This requires a greater degree of continual individual initiated professional development. This article addresses two main issues for future and current joint SOF planners: 1) A “Quick Reference” list of immediate joint educational resources that can be employed to fill knowledge gaps before deploying; and 2) A “Professional Development Resource” for those journeyman SOF (and Conventional) planners who want to sharpen their joint planning knowledge. We will start with the foundational references and doctrine, and then transition to recommended initial set of articles and books that provide operational context and examples to build joint operational acumen. 




            Over the course of our lives, teachers and coaches have encouraged us to master the basics. This is true of joint operational planning and joint operations as well. Doctrine is the cornerstone upon which our Service and Joint forces operate, and therefore this is the logical place to start. The advantages of the information age we live in, is that we are not bound to find a printed copy to review. Online resources abound within the Services and Joint arena. Therefore, the initial way to start building your base is by studying the joint doctrine—and the best place to start is the Joint Doctrine Library ( Tabs on this page will direct you to the Joint Electronic Library + (JEL+), albeit CAC enabled, this provides the student with the most current approved joint doctrine and other valuable resources. Menus and dropdown tabs on this page will allow the reviewer to find not only Joint Publications, but Insights Reports of “best practices” in the joint community, along with concepts and lessons learned.


Figure 1: Screen shot of the JCS “Joint Doctrine Home” webpage.


            Once you sign into the JEL+, you can access the “Training” tab found at the top of the page, and in the drop-down menu the “Joint Force Headquarters Training” link is another helpful resource for the joint staff officer or non-commissioned officer. The Joint Force Headquarters Training webpage (JFHQT) has “descriptive, performance-oriented joint training tasks and resources in searchable and functional formats” along with other information “based on observed best practices, effective products, joint doctrine publications, the Universal Joint Task List (UJTL), and applicable policies.”[2]




            For the time constrained practitioner, there are several articles found in various professional journals that can add to the knowledge of the joint planner. While this is not an exhaustive list, it provides a good place to start with current topics for educating the developing and novice and even experienced joint planning professional.


  1. National Defense University Joint Forces Quarterly (NDU JFQ): Each quarter, the NDU Press produces a new issue of the JFQ, filled with informative and timely articles related to strategy, joint planning and operations, and intergovernmental and homeland security topics that provide the joint planning practitioner with source of scholarly insights and knowledge when time is compressed.
  2. Joint Staff J-7 “Insights and Best Practices”: The Deployable Training Division (DTD) of the Joint Staff J7 conducts annual joint / combined exercises with the Geographical Combatant Commanders (GCC) each year. The oversight and interactions they have with the GCCs and other joint headquarters allows them to collect “notably lessons learned, doctrine, education, and future joint force development” insights by observing operational practices of the GCC and Joint Task Force headquarters (JTF HQs). The DTD publishes and updates regular “Insights and Best Practices” related to Joint Force Functions and practices that are available in .pdf formats available at:
  3. YouTube: The YouTube channel has become a source that is used every day for gaining some knowledge on just about any subject. The ability to YouTube a particular subject and gain knowledge is legendary—from changing a spark plug on a mower to even joint planning. Using the term “joint planning process” a student can find several videos that explain the joint planning process (JPP) and related topics such as the Center of Gravity (COG), Joint Functions, and Operational Design. However, it must be noted that while some videos are provided by notable agencies such as the U.S. Army War College, or the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) in Leavenworth, others are commercially generated and might not reflect current doctrinal process and procedures.


            There is an ever-expanding list of books that are written about joint force employment and analysis of recent joint operations. Everyone has their favorites they would recommend, however the intent here is to list six of the author’s recommended books related to this subject to get the intellectual energy flowing. This is not all inclusive, but rather recommendations to build your professional planning library and take the first steps toward a greater context of joint planning and operational analysis. A good practice is to examine the notes which an author uses in their chapters composing the book, along with reviewing the bibliography, where a consolidated list of references is found.

  1. B.A. Friedman. ON OPERATIONS: Operational Art and Military Disciplines (Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2021).
  2. David H. Ucko and Thomas A. Marks. Crafting Strategy for Irregular Warfare: A Framework for Analysis and Action (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, July 2020).
  3. Linda Robinson, Patrick B. Johnston, and Gillian S. Oak. U.S. Special Operations Forces in the Philippines, 2001-2014 (California: RAND Publications, 2016).
  4. Linda Robinson, Daniel Egel, and Ryan Andrew Brown. Measuring the Effectiveness of Special Operations (California: RAND Publications, 2019).
  5. Dan Madden, Dick Hoffman, Michael Johnson, Fred T. Krawchuk, Bruce R. Nardulli, John E. Peters, Linda Robinson and Abby Doll. Toward Operational Art in Special Warfare (California: RAND Publications, 2016).
  6. Col. Keith Burkepile, COL Matthew D. Morton, and COL VeRonica Oswald-Hrutkay, eds. CAMPAIGN PLANNING HANDBOOK Academic Year 2021 (Pennsylvania, U.S. Army War College, 2021).


            Students attending the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Special Operations Planning Course (SOPC) frequently ask the professors, “What do you recommend we read for joint planning?” This article is a short primer that directly answers that question and provides a list of “Quick Reference” and “Professional Development Resources” for those who are looking to develop their knowledge and sharpen their joint planning knowledge. Lukas Milevski argues that the strategic and operational planner “requires a particular way of thinking” and key to this is logic, sharpening the ability to “match available means to desired political goals as well as the adversarial logic of trying to impose one’s preferred instrumental logic on an active, intelligent enemy seeking to do the exact same thing in return.”[3] The competitive nature of the 21st century is demanding a greater degree of joint operational design and planning is understood at an increasing span from tactical, operational, and strategic levels. This Primer is just one way of ensuring the current and integrating SOF and Conventional journeyman are prepared to accept the challenges of their generation.



[1] Steven P. Schreiber, Greg E. Metzgar, and Stephen R. Menhir, “Behind Friendly Lines: Enforcing the Need for a Joint SOF Staff Officer,” Military Review, (May-June 2004): 2-8.


[2] “Joint Force Headquarters Training”, (CAC enabled).


[3] Lukas Milevski, “Strategic Sense in the Writing and Reading of History” Military Strategic Magazine, Vol. 7, Issue 3 (November 2021): 2.

About the Author(s)

Professor Greg Metzgar is a retired Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 23 years of tactical, operational, and strategic planning and analysis experience. He is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), School of Advance Air and Space Power Studies (SAASS) and the Joint Forces Staff College. He has served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) during DESERT SHIELD/STORM, and two tours with the 7th Special Forces Group as battalion operations officer and company commander. Joint experience includes tours with the Special Operations Command Joint Forces Command (SOCJFCOM), Joint Concepts Directorate USJFCOM J9, Joint Staff Joint Training Team (J-7), and with the Joint Staff Joint Center for Operational Analysis. He has been a professor teaching operational planning and research at the Joint Special Operations University since 2019. He is a published author and has articles in Military Review, Special Warfare, and other professional periodicals.