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Posted on Mar 22, 2006 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 002. The Importance of Mission Analysis in Planning

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

"Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression."’

~Sir John Harvey Jones

The Importance of Mission Analysis in Planning

Planning is not a particularly exciting endeavor. Consequently, most aspiring tacticians quickly gloss over this function and move directly into execution. Action is always more enticing than deliberation! Many who do perform any planning equate it to merely conjuring up a course of action to implement. The result of this type of ‘planning’ is almost always failure. In order to set the conditions for success on any battlefield you must plan and planning begins with conducting mission analysis.

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Mission analysis begins when the commander (you) receives a new mission from headquarters or when the commander anticipates a new mission. This new mission (task and purpose) sets the parameters for your mission analysis. These parameters should include your initial requirements, your area of operations, and a timeline for execution. With these parameters, you can now begin to analyze. In other words, you have to think and turn data and information into something that is useful for you. If you do this successfully, at the endstate of mission analysis you should have accomplished three key things. First, you understand your mission and your contribution to the overall fight. Remember, no matter what level of the fight, your actions should assist others in accomplishing their mission. Second, you have a good situational understanding of the variables currently existing on the battlefield. Finally, you possess the necessary insight and understanding to begin to craft a course of action that provides you the opportunity to succeed (you still have to execute).

The U.S. Army utilizes a 17 step process to conduct mission analysis. To simplify things, you can translate these steps into the three vital categories of understanding yourself, understanding the enemy, and understanding the terrain. As Sun Tzu so aptly surmised “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

The remainder of this article will focus on these categories. Do not consider this a checklist, but hopefully there are some nuggets you can utilize when conducting your own mission analysis.

Understanding Yourself:

  • What is the higher unit’s mission (task and purpose)?
  • How does your unit fit in the overall higher headquarter’s plan?
  • What requirements (tasks) did you receive from your higher headquarters?
  • Are there any implied requirements (tasks) you can deduce?
  • What requirements (tasks) are essential for mission success?
  • What are your capabilities in terms of combat power you personally have control of?
  • What capabilities does your higher headquarters possess that you can utilize (air, artillery etc.)?
  • Do your requirements exceed your capabilities? If so, you have a shortfall. How do you mitigate this shortfall? Perhaps you can’t, but you must be aware they exist.
  • What are your constraints (things you must do) or restrictions (things you cannot do) that hinder your freedom of action? How can you plan for or mitigate them?
  • What outside actions can influence your ability to accomplish your mission? (adjacent units, units to the rear, units to the front, etc.)
  • What do you perceive are your strengths? How can you exploit these?
  • What do you perceive are your vulnerabilities? Can the enemy exploit these?
  • In past fights, have you exposed any trends or patterns that the enemy may have picked up upon?
  • Are there any tactical risks you are willing to assume?
  • What is your timeline for operations? Combined with the enemy timeline you can determine windows of opportunity to exploit.

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Understanding the Enemy:

  • What are his requirements and what does he want to accomplish?
  • What does he consider critical to his success?
  • Why is he where he is? (disposition)
  • What capabilities does the enemy possess? (composition and capabilities)
  • Does he have any shortfalls in equipment/personnel strength that you can exploit?
  • What are his strengths (from his point of view and yours)? How do you diminish these?
  • What are his vulnerabilities (from his point of view and yours)? How do you expose these and then exploit these?
  • What are his requirements and what does he want to accomplish?
  • In past fights, has he exposed any trends or patterns to his conduct of operations?
  • What are the enemy’s recent significant activities that broadcast his intent?
  • Is he predictable in his actions?
  • Does he possess a doctrine or tactics he fights with?
  • Do you believe the enemy will assume any risk?
  • What is his timeline for operations? Combined with your anticipated timeline you can determine windows of opportunity he can exploit.
  • What are his options or courses of action? What is his most dangerous course of action he can execute? (That he is capable of executing)
  • What is his most likely course of action? Look at his realm of options.

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