The world is rapidly becoming more dangerous and complex, which inherently forces leaders to plan, prepare, execute and assess against shortened timelines and decision cycles. Because of this, it is extremely important that leaders at all levels embrace the concept of warfighting-driven data to understand, communicate, decide and act.
Military theorist Carl von Clausewitz stated, “War is the realm of uncertainty.” It is in this uncertainty that we seek to find understanding when trying to keep formations informed and to lead with competence and confidence. Today’s scholars often refer to Clausewitz’s thoughts on uncertainty as “the fog of war.”
In every operation, commanders seek to see through the fog of war in order to understand their operational environment and to provide their formations with increased levels of situational awareness. It is through their guidance and their staff’s execution that they create shared understanding utilizing the planning, preparation, execution and assessment process.
Data analytics, or the science of analyzing data, is not new, but the speed at which data can be transformed into information is. The speed and accuracy of data processing at increasingly lower levels of command and costs will inform commanders in ways that will enable maximum performance and gain functional and relevant insight into unclear or inexact situations. In short, this new focus on low-level data analytics will underpin the Mission Command principle of disciplined initiative.
Data plus information equals knowledge, and knowledge plus judgment leads to understanding and action. Therefore, data is an essential building block that, when used properly, assembles into information that can bridge the knowledge gap and allow for quick employment of assets against an adversary. Thus, the purpose of information is not to simply know more, but to do more, and do more of the right thing. The Army refers to this right thing as “disciplined initiative.”
Understanding the World
Before the Army can conduct an operation, it must first understand the operational environment. According to Army Doctrine Publication 6-0: Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, the operating environment is “a composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that affect the employment of the capabilities and bear on the decisions of the commander.” In plain language, the operational environment is the world, and the Army needs data analytics to understand it. With the advent of machine learning and improvements in artificial intelligence, data can produce descriptive analytics, diagnostic analytics, predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics that can improve current decision-making processes and help commanders navigate the fog of war.
The Army uses two analytical tools to help commanders understand the operational environment: operational variables and mission variables. Operational variables generally serve the planning process of Army design methodology, while mission variables tend to support the detailed planning of the Military Decision Making Process.
Both these analytical tools are used to help commanders gain insight to construct real-time understanding of the operational environment, catalog data and enhance construction of relevant information. By gaining this understanding, the Army can employ units within their capabilities, or to the maximum extent of those capabilities, in order to meet the commander’s intent.
“Combat power is the total means of destructive, constructive, and information capabilities that a military unit or formation can apply at a given time,” according to Army Doctrine Publication 3-0: Operations. Utilizing the command and control warfighting function, commanders can synchronize and leverage all eight elements of combat power: leadership, information, Mission Command, movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment and protection.
Information is included at the forefront of these elements because at the formation level, information directly enables lethality, survivability and operational tempo. Analysis provides specific answers to specific questions, while insights provide a broader understanding of the problem set. The combination of analysis and insights fosters faster decision-making and leads to attaining decision dominance. In all cases, leaders must have the ability to process data analytics in a detailed format, much like in the Military Decision Making Process, coupled with the broader cognition found in Army design methodology.
Commanders often describe battlefield geometry—the physical organization of the battlefield—in terms of deep, close and supporting fights. In these three distinct areas, commanders seek to organize combat functions and introduce capabilities that will shape the battlefield to meet their desired intent. In addition, commanders employ their capabilities by phase and by warfighting function in order to synchronize, coordinate and integrate all efforts and attain the desired effect within each area.
Data analytics will directly influence this process, as it supports the development of shared understanding and communication. It is through the warfighting-driven data approach that analytics can gain efficiency in speed and scale, as data flows from higher echelons to subordinate units.
In turn, subordinate units can improve task productivity by analyzing data in real time. In addition, subordinate units will share the effects of their tasks with higher commanders in order to construct a shared understanding of the battlefield to advance the employment of all warfighting functions.
Build on the Basics
It is clear that data will enable the future of warfighting and decision-making, but there is a hidden cost that leaders must consider. In the case of data analysis, the dark side is people. Not only does data analysis require additional people, but it also demands highly trained and specialized people at lower echelons than ever before. Thus, commanders will need to train, place and empower their organizations through Mission Command in order to execute effective command and control.
Therefore, commanders and leaders must follow basic principles of leadership, such as know your unit and employ it within its capabilities, lead through example, build the team and make sound and timely decisions.
Situational understanding is the byproduct of applying analysis and judgment, and commanders and staffers continually strive to maintain situational understanding through a variety of platforms and capabilities at echelon. Warfighting-driven data and Mission Command facilitates collaboration and shared understanding among leaders, enhances performance and stresses commander’s intent, risk acceptance and disciplined initiative, which enables the Army to do more of the right thing.
Data analysis is the future of warfighting, but one cannot forget about the hidden costs.
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Sgt. Maj. Erric Allen is an instructor in the Department of Army Operations, Sergeants Major Course, Fort Bliss, Texas. He has served in a variety of leadership positions from fire team leader to sergeant major. He has deployed in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He holds a master’s degree in leadership studies from the University of Texas at El Paso, a master’s degree in instructional design, development and evaluation from Syracuse University, New York, and is pursuing a doctorate in strategic leadership from Liberty University.