systemic operational design (SOD)

#1
The term Systemic Operational Design (SOD) was thrown at me in an online discussion in prep for attending overseas staff college. I got the impression that it was in competition with the Effects-base approach for lead doctrine of the day. can anyone help explian it to me?
 
#2
"Systemic Operational Design (SOD) is a methodology for developing concepts of operation aimed at disrupting an entire system. The holistic approach to SOD provides a conceptual median (OA) which systemizes tactical forms of action with the logic inherent in strategic direction. SOD provides a cognitive median to enable organizational learning through the application of generic tactical templates within the singularity of context." US Future Warfare Studies definition.

Developed by Shimon Naveh (wrote In Pursuit of Military Excellence) at the IDF's Operational Theory and Research Institute. The US are also conducting experiments with it in Future Warfare Studies Division and SAMS. Presumably this is where you heard of it?

Essentially it provides an alternative framing of operational art to the current classical campaign design- centres of gravity, lines of operation etc. It recognises that modern operations, characterised by multiple asymmetric actors and complex environments are too complicated to be treated by the linear approach the classic campaign design requires. Adversaries and environment together form a complex adaptive system (ie the adversary and elements supporting him react to your own actions and adapt in order to achieve their own goal- this state is 'complexity'). A system cannot be destroyed per se, rather it must be pushed into Equilibrium (not functioning) or Chaos (no coherence) by injecting energy or removing resources.

SOD provides a framework to develop an understanding of the system through structured command led discourse to arrive at a design for the campaign. Unlike the current campaign design where the CoG is determined at the begining and remains more or less fixed, it assumes continous shifting and reframing of the design for the campaign.

pm me if you want a copy of the FWS presentation.
 
#3
See Article in British Army Review with an explanation by the 2 recent graduates of US CSGC and SAMS. Lots of long words...
 
#4
Crazy FOO, I must commend you on your knowledge of SOD. You must be one of only 8 folks in UK Mil who have the slightest idea what it is about. For a contemporary demo of SOD, one need only open a paper or watch the news. SOD is taught to all IDF Brigade commanders and has been for at least the last 3 years. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting and we will have to wait and see what is left of HzB after the IDF take their foot out of back passage of southern Lebanon for a true read-out.

Intrigued to know where you picked up your SOD knowledge if was not the article mentioned above?

A believer and one-time Jedi.
 
#5
Here's the 'horse's mouth':

Shimon Naveh

Hmm: appears to me to be a very long-winded way of saying 'never forget to ask question 4' - or, 'the easy way is always mined'... Intellectually coherent, arguing the concept of a paradigm shift, but at such a refined level of thinking that it is almost impossible to make use of on operations. How many people are considering the epistemological as opposed to the ontological viewpoint as they formulate a plan of action? (and if you are, how many of your subordinates will be able to understand your instructions/guidance?) if it has been applied in Lebanon, it's interesting that a non-state actor appears to have taught the IDF it's most severe lesson for the past half century...
 
#6
The way we perceive it in the IDF, operational doctrine, as an intermediate body of institutionalized knowledge is designed to facilitate the synchronization of the complex relations between the conceptualization of national policy objectives and the application of military forces for their attainment. Emerging through the tension between conception and effectuation, operational doctrine promotes the cognitive ability of CINCs to design conceptual constructions in unique strategic circumstances, to transform these architectures into operational plans, and to execute them within the framework of a contextual process of dynamic learning.
This reads as if it was generated by the random BS generator with the addition of a few words unknown to the English language. What exactly is "effectuation".

If this is SOD I suspect its part of the game to reduce the military to the same level of addiction to management babble as the Fortune 500.

My bet is that history will not need these long words to explain what has happened to Southern Lebanon. There is a short expletive that describes what the IDF have done to the infrastructure.
 
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#8
At the end of the day, 80% of operations will come down to "two up, bags of smoke" but it is a pretty conceit.

The scariest thing is that the "jargon" used by Brig. Naveh is even more impenetrable than existing Western doctrine jargon. If our forces are to compete in international jargon flinging, then we need to prepare not for the last jargon-flinging exploit but for the next one. Discuss!
 
#9
Cuddles said:
If our forces are to compete in international jargon flinging, then we need to prepare not for the last jargon-flinging exploit but for the next one. Discuss!
Prepare for the one after that. It will be in chinese. ;)
 
#10
Kesselschlact said:
Crazy FOO, I must commend you on your knowledge of SOD. You must be one of only 8 folks in UK Mil who have the slightest idea what it is about. For a contemporary demo of SOD, one need only open a paper or watch the news. SOD is taught to all IDF Brigade commanders and has been for at least the last 3 years. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting and we will have to wait and see what is left of HzB after the IDF take their foot out of back passage of southern Lebanon for a true read-out.

Intrigued to know where you picked up your SOD knowledge if was not the article mentioned above?

A believer and one-time Jedi.
I'm certainly no expert- all the knowledge I have I've got from a couple of mates at the UK and US staff colleges and from a serving US friend. What I do have, however, which most people don't is the time and inclination to sit and ponder it. Are you one of the 8 and if so how have you come into contact with SOD?
 
#11
Cuddles said:
The scariest thing is that the "jargon" used by Brig. Naveh is even more impenetrable than existing Western doctrine jargon. If our forces are to compete in international jargon flinging, then we need to prepare not for the last jargon-flinging exploit but for the next one. Discuss!
Noone can argue that Naveh will win an award for 'accesibility' and I would also say that some concepts could be expressed more clearly, however there is a limit to how far simplification can go. I would recommend any serious student of war to read his In Pursuit of Military Excellence which analyses operational art from a systems perspective- again it is not an easy read but these are not easy concepts.

The same is true of SOD. We can either continue down our 'two up and bags of smoke' route to try achieve our strategic objectives in theatres such as AFG and Iraq and wherever else we'll be in the next 30-50 years or we can recognise that our current approach may not be applicable to every situation.

Looking at these two theatres it's not that easy to define centres of gravity, Lines of Operation etc in amongst the elements that make up the conflict environment: the Al Qaeda fighters, bandits, criminals, jihadists, thrill seekers, Sunnis, Shias, Salafists, Wahabists, different ethnic groups expressing different aspirations with extreme violence, semi functioning state apparatus, nascent security forces of dubiuos ability and possibly dubious allegiance, NGOs (Western and Eastern) intervention and support for different groupings from other states (some hostile) and from Muslim populations across the world.

So yes we can complain that there are too many big words and hark back to a golden era where you knew what to shoot at and when you'd hit enough targets you'd won, or we can accept that we may need to rethink the cognitive concepts underpinning our use of military force. SOD may well not be the answer for the UK but we'll get no nearer to it by burying our heads in the sand.
 
#12
Cognitive concepts underpinning our use of military force = doctrine?
 
#13
Cognitive concepts underpinning our use of military force = doctrine?
Exactly: why, oh why, do we need to jargonise everything: I am old fashioned enough to belive that, if a concept cannot be explained clearly in simple English, it is probably because it is not a clear concept. SOD appears to be an exercise in academic analysis - fascinating if it grabs you, of interest if it can generate new methods of doing business, but positively dangerous if it leads to layers of analysis preventing action. 2 quotes sum up the problems with this sort of stuff for the military commander:

On SOD, it appears to me that the thrust of the argument is accepting that causality (the bedrock of an EBO approach) is inapplicable in a 'complex dynamic situation' - eg warfighting. Patton got there half a century ago:

"Make your plans to fit the circumstances."
On conveying your message - WSC had it right, as so often:

Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.
(This may also be pertinent:)
However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
 
#14
And was it not Dr Johnson who when asked the secret of good crisp writing said "Kill your darlings." When I think of some of the otiose papers it hasb een my ill-luck to staff over the years! Sentences containing five subordinate clauses and about eighty words FFS!
 
#15
Cuddles said:
Cognitive concepts underpinning our use of military force = doctrine?
I can see what you're driving at, but the phrase is wider than just doctrine which is the formal expression of what we do and how we do it. The cognitive aspect includes understanding how we think and how others think and as Nibbler points out the degree to which we understand causality. This is the thrust of some of Rupert Smith's Utility of Force: do we understand what force can do and how we bring it to bear to achieve strategic objectives?

We in the military, in our doctrine, subscribe to a linear cause and effect paradigm: at the op and strat levels we define the end state, and then work backwards from it deciding in advance what will be decisive and what won't. We plan the whole campaign from start to finish at the outset which does not reflect the nature of reality: we try to impose simplicity on complexity. Branches and sequels are an attempt to recognise that our actions will alter the proposed chain of events, but are necessarily for pretty large muscle movements and lack the ability to respond to subtle but important changes.

We need to spend more time studying and thinking about how we think, perceive reality and interpret causation in order that we can design campaigns to achieve our strategic objectives.

My interest in this is not out of some sense of intellectual willy waggling, rather from the fact that I think we're faced by an extremely dangerous enemy in radical Islamism and that I reckon on serving in operational theatres at least another 5-6 times in my army career. We are all rightly concerned about deficiencies in kit but in the long term if our understanding of what we're doing is faulty we will not win.
 
#16
We need to spend more time studying and thinking about how we think, perceive reality and interpret causation in order that we can design campaigns to achieve our strategic objectives.
A fair point, Crazy, but having spent some time in tents with Rupert, I always remember a line of his - that had been passed to him by a WWII commander: 'If you don't know what's going on, and nothing's happening, go out and make something happen'...

This is not as silly as it first appears: I actually believe that it is all part of another Patton aphorism - "War is an art and as such is not susceptible of explanation by fixed formula"

That, for me, is far more important than worrying - too much - about doctrine. You cannot codify Mozart's recipe for composing, any more than you can, by analysing Napoleon's campaigns, hope to emulate his intuitive understanding of the operational level of war. What you can do is educate the intelligent officer to plan, as is his duty, but be ready to improvise, as should be his desire. Another Rupert Smith line is that the good commander 'enjoys chaos'. He said that long before SOD - and it's absolutely right. Doctrine provides the framework - artistry composes on that commonly understood scoresheet... That's why I actually prefer the now 'bog-standard' manoeuverist approach - it has always acknowledged the fact that situations change constantly.
 
#17
Nibbler said:
We need to spend more time studying and thinking about how we think, perceive reality and interpret causation in order that we can design campaigns to achieve our strategic objectives.
A fair point, Crazy, but having spent some time in tents with Rupert, I always remember a line of his - that had been passed to him by a WWII commander: 'If you don't know what's going on, and nothing's happening, go out and make something happen'...

This is not as silly as it first appears: I actually believe that it is all part of another Patton aphorism - "War is an art and as such is not susceptible of explanation by fixed formula"

That, for me, is far more important than worrying - too much - about doctrine. You cannot codify Mozart's recipe for composing, any more than you can, by analysing Napoleon's campaigns, hope to emulate his intuitive understanding of the operational level of war. What you can do is educate the intelligent officer to plan, as is his duty, but be ready to improvise, as should be his desire. Another Rupert Smith line is that the good commander 'enjoys chaos'. He said that long before SOD - and it's absolutely right. Doctrine provides the framework - artistry composes on that commonly understood scoresheet... That's why I actually prefer the now 'bog-standard' manoeuverist approach - it has always acknowledged the fact that situations change constantly.
Agree 100% with what you sat about intuition in great commanders. To continue the WW2 quote theme Eisenhower said "Plans are useless but planning is indispensable" which what you're saying about planning and improvisation: the process of familiarising yourself in the greatest detail possible wiht the nature of the objectives, friendly forces and en picture enables you to improvise or "go out and make something happen". Absolutley right!
I also agree that the 'bog standard' manouevrist approach provides as sound a framework for planning combat operations as there is.

Where I see the need for deeper understanding is in recognising the sheer diversity of the environment in which operations take place and to recognise the linkages; where and how dependencies function and how to use military and other aspects of force to move the whole system towards what we want. I think that the duration of the GWOT/Long War etc requires a shared understanding within the "military community" of how we're going to do that. Whether that's SOD or a variant or something else entirely I don't know. It may well be that operational art will no longer be a solely or even primarily military activity.
 
#18
This whole debate is actually mirroered in business. I think it was Shell who developed the scenatrio based strategic business plan concept. All plans become modular, in an "actions on" kind of styley but with reference to possible events. The understanding of likely consequences of a business course of action - the "risk" - is then used to either promote events or to derive resilience. coupled to a good understanding of your competitors' capability and intentions (intelligence) you can then start performing. Set a few must achieve baselines and badda-boom, badda-bing you will meet your shareholders' expectations - which you condition in your plan - without tears.
 
#19
A slightly different take on the variance between EBA and SOD linked (I hope!) below. Basically, the implication is that if you have a suitably causation based world view, you like EBA, but the sophisticated view is that causation doesn't apply in human endeavour and thus SOD is the way forward. There's clearly some internal political- sociological stuff going on here on the Intelligent Design issue in the US, but it may add a certain interest to why SOD is more than just asking Q4 again.

Emerging Doctrine and Ethics

It also offers a view on why EBA doesn't have the effect the powers that be would like and a view on why Iraq is perhaps not going in exactly the way the initial plan might have liked...
 
#20
Some good points there FOO, but do we have the capability to make our considerations any more complex at the military level? There are some limitations on us. Not only do we need an intellectual driving force inside the military to tackle concepts, we need it in the Government or FCO or MOD or some other non-military layer involved not only in the direction and tasking of military force, but in the understanding of the wider aspects of coordinating effects to impose our will on enemies. Not only that, as some of the previous posts highlight, the level of sophistication of our approach is constrained by the effects of institutionalism in the army and the lowest common denominater effect created by the limited levels of understanding of those who carry out the work ie soldiers and tactical commanders. There are similar problems in the NHS, where medical experts at the top are aware of sophisticated ways of dealing with medical problems and of some of the weaknesses of current practice. But the institutional nature, employee sophistication, and mass-market clientele of the NHS means they have to develop procedures which are not tailored, and which sometimes have the worst of all practies, and which take a one-size-fits-all approach. Its not necessarily the best for any individual situation, but it can be justified, protects the institution from lawsuits, and statistically it works, even if its not the most elegant solution.

So my concern on reading Naveh is turning it into a process that thick infantry/cav officers can understand.
 
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