Multinational experiment offers holistic picture of Afghan operations
In a climate of greater military-interagency cooperation and coordination, military planners are learning to view old methods in a new light. The maxim about all plans being perfect until they meet combat is never more true than in a multinational mission involving not only multiple militaries but also numerous diplomats and development agencies, and non-government organizations.
Understanding the complications that can arise when such diverse forces are pooled in a complex operation is the focus of the Multinational Experimentation (MNE) series, a program initiated by the U.S. Joint Forces Command in 2002 to develop and refine the methodology for conducting a multinational ‘effects-based operation’. The term refers to the use of a combination of military and non-military elements to achieve common aims and objectives through the attainment of desired ‘effects’.
Between Feb. 27 and Mar. 17, 2006, eight nations plus a NATO contingent will participate in a networked experiment to evaluate the concept of an Effects-based approach to conducting multinational missions. Arguably, while militaries have been conducting effects-based planning for many years – examining what actions will produce a desired effect – in this new context the term now encompasses a more holistic view of operations, drawing on the expertise of diplomats, development agencies, other government organizations, industry and academia, to develop a complete knowledge base – not just an understanding of an opponent’s military capabilities but also its infrastructure, economy, culture, religions, information systems and political structures.
“It’s more than just a military perspective,” says Capt (N) Kevin Laing, Commandant of the Canadian Forces Experiment Centre (CFEC), an arm of National Defence created in August 2001 to investigate the application of new capabilities and concepts. CFEC will host the Canadian component of the experiment.
“You have a better holistic consideration of the crisis area. This Effects-based approach to operations also requires that we have a better national approach to the situation, which falls exactly in line with the new national, 3D security policy.”
At the request of Canada, MNE 4 will involve a stability and humanitarian operation in Afghanistan. About 500 participants, experimenters, analysts and experiment controllers from Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, U.K. and the U.S. will participate. As the scenario unfolds over the three weeks, 125 participants of a notional Coalition Task Force Headquarters will respond to a simulated series of events over an experimentation network. Analysts from all nations will assess progress throughout, and adjustments in planning will be incorporated for the coalition forces as the situation changes on the ‘virtual’ ground.
At the same time in Ankara, Turkey, members of NATO Response Force Headquarters will conduct a parallel operation on a closed network to better understand the Effects-based approach involving a NATO Response Force. While the two scenarios will not intersect, all participating nations will share and analyze the results.
The development of an Effects-based methodology, in concert with likeminded nations and NATO, is part of a scientific-based experimentation approach to developing new concepts and capabilities within the Canadian Forces.
“We’re in a state of transformation,” Laing acknowledges. “This evolving Effects-based concept will have a number of applications, but the biggest one will be improving the way we work together with the other departments, gaining familiarity to have a better integrated approach to the conduct of operations, largely from a crisis response rather than a straight combat perspective.”
Participating nations began exploring the requirements of an Effects-based approach to planning, execution and the assessment of ‘effects’, especially knowledge-based development, with MNE 3 in February 2004. That experiment also examined such an approach on a Coalition Task Force Headquarters. Since then, nine limited objective experiments were conducted by various nations to resolve some of the identified gaps, including a Canadian-led study of knowledge management principles. While KM is traditionally applied to business or government sectors, military planners believe its principles can be adapted.
A limited objective experiment conducted by Australia also identified the need for better interactions with the interagency community — government, international organizations such as the UN, and NGOs such as the Red Cross. Ambassador Andrew Robinson, a Canadian currently serving as the Ambassador-in-Residence at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Ottawa, will take on that task as Director of the Multinational Interagency Group to assist the exploration of the civilian-military interfaces.
Rob Grossman-Vermaas, Future Concepts lead with the Directorate of Defence Analysis and CFEC, says hundreds of pages from various government, academic and institutional sources were assembled to provide a thorough picture of the complex Afghanistan environment for MNE 3 and MNE 4. And while a government or coalition may wish to achieve a strategic aim composed of several required operational level end states and ‘effects’, “the effect doesn’t have to be a military one,” he says. “It could be a diplomatic, a developmental, or an economic end-state — as basic as the establishment of water pipes in a particular city. In these cases, the military can support or be supported by other agencies to achieve that.”
During MNE 4, the challenge will be to measure how well the information supplied by each country is integrated across the network. “A lot of the experiment is based on the activities of what we call the ‘white cell,’ which will introduce artificial triggers or events,” Grossman-Vermaas says. “One of the tasks is to understand how a trigger affects the plan and the operation. The assessment portion of the experiment, which will happen simultaneously to the conduct of operations during the experiment, is critical.”
The effects of military actions in such an approach will likely be gauged by government agencies and NGOs on the ground, such as the Canadian International Development Agency and Medicine Sans Frontieres, says LCol John Kachuik, International Program Coordinator. “The military does traditional battle damage assessment very well. It can tell if a bridge is gone. But what has that loss done to the economy or hearts and minds of the locals? Those kinds of ‘soft’ measurements are becoming important.”
The value of experimentation, Laing adds, is that unlike in traditional military exercises, failure is an option. “Exercises use current policies, current procedures and current practice; you’re preparing people to do something in the near term, so you want success. In an experiment, however, we’re looking at how we inform the development of new policies, new processes, new procedures for a future environment. As long as the experiment is properly conducted, its okay if the concept or the ideas fail. You still have a result.”
Change in mindset
The interaction with other agencies has taught military planners to refine their language, Kachuik notes. Terms such as ‘war-gaming’ are not well received by interagency personnel. Says Laing: “While the military may be on the frontline only in wartime, the interagency folks are doing their business on their ‘frontlines’ day in and day out.”
The benefit of wider interaction, however, is evident in the growing levels of trust amongst militaries and between militaries and interagency groups. “The more we’re working with one another, the more cohesion we have. There’s a cultural and personal trust that develops,” Kachuik emphasizes.
Laing admits he’s fascinated by the human reaction to working in a networked environment where information may be difficult to verify and the source is not well known. As an example, he noted that because of shared experiences, one may find it easier to trust information from a fellow Naval captain, even if that person is of a different nationality, than perhaps from other organizations, agencies or services of your own nation.
“We’ve learned from the experiments that sometimes language and culture play a bigger role than the technology,” says Grossman-Vermaas. “It’s the interpretation and the trust of what’s coming across that pipe more than the actual information itself that is sometimes more important.”
MNE 4 will likely take at least four to five months to fully evaluate, but already plans are well underway for the fifth phase in 2008. Again at the request of Canada, the experiment will likely involve a scenario in an African region or failed or failing state most likely to require international intervention in the future. It will also involve more participation from all government departments with expertise in the area.
“MNE 5 is going to be directly in line with what the national security policy is all about, promoting a 3D, whole-of-government approach to crisis response,” says Laing, who will extend invitations to other government departments. “It’s not strictly warfare, it’s response to stabilizing a failing state. It may not be the military that plays the lead role, either. The military will provide the backbone but there may be elements that are led by other government departments such as CIDA or Foreign Affairs.”
“With MNE 4, I think we’re going to be whetting their appetite,” Kachuik concludes.