NATO Planning and Multi Domain Operations: A German Perspective

A German officer reflects on the similarities and differences between the NATO planning process and the Multi Domain approach taught at the US Air Command and Staff College. The decades long officer exchange between the US Air Command and Staff College and the German Command and Staff College has been a fruitful relationship that drives innovation in both services.

Estimated Time to Read: 6 Minutes

By Matthias Siegemund, Deutsche Luftwaffe

Exchanging experience – sharing ideas – gaining excellence.

This year marks 20 years of exchange between the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College and the US Air Command and Staff College. Since 1998, German and American officers have had the opportunity to introduce new ideas and concepts that have proven to be transformative. Travelling offers new perspectives and allows a view over the horizon. Appreciating this idiom, Deutsche Luftwaffe students of the 13th General Staff Officer Training Course (LGAN) at the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College recently visited the US Air Command and Staff College. Trained in the NATO Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD), the intent was to become acquainted with US Air Force operational planning. Students attended the operational planning exercise (OPEX) of the Multi-Domain Operational and Strategist (MDOS) concentration.

In Germany, operational planning training is extremely process oriented. In line with German policy, the German government predominantly projects military power multilaterally. Consequently, the operational planning on a joint level is conducted by using a multinational agreed planning process – the NATO COPD.

The COPD outlines the military procedures and responsibilities governing the preparation, approval, implementation, and review of operation plans to enable a common approach to operations planning. The COPD is mutually agreed upon by NATO nations and assures a common understanding of operational planning. Accordingly, the training of staff personnel in preparation of their duty in a multinational headquarters is standardized.

The COPD recognizes four instruments of power in order to influence an engagement space: military, political, economic, and civil. It appreciates that NATO exercises control over only the military (primarily) and political (partially through the Secretary General) instruments. The other instruments are controlled by non-NATO actors such as International Organizations or Non-Governmental Organizations. Consequently, COPD takes into consideration the coordination, de-confliction, and harmonization of all actors of an engagement space in order to achieve a complementary and coherent application of the instruments of power, referred to as the ‘Comprehensive Approach.’ Accordingly, the operational design includes military and non-military lines of operation supporting the strategic lines of effort. For training purposes, fictional scenarios are often used, such as Cerasia, Skolkan or Naabezia, which allow the training audience to concentrate on the COPD process. In parallel, this approach avoids the development of prejudice or misperceptions against real world actors.

The MDOS OPEX employed a different approach. It used a semi-fictional scenario based on real world geography and actors in the Middle East. The scenario predicts a future conflict in the region some 10 to 15 years in the future using assumptions derived from future analysis such as the regional proliferation of nuclear weapons, the utilization of hypersonic weapon technology, and the passing of peak oil demand causing a collapse of the oil price. Sectarian divides lead to conflict as regional powers develop hegemonic aspirations. The conflict which has been smoldering for years escalates to major war. Not for religious or ideological reasons, but for resources, as global climate changes led to severe regional water scarcity. No water, no agriculture. No agriculture, no nutrition of the population. This conditions lead to political instability, and consequently, the need to counter the resource problem with all strategic instruments of power.

The political-level task is to develop a strategy to respond to the conflict in terms of one’s own national interests. In a globalized world, such conflicts can erupt at a distance away from one’s own society, but the consequences may directly inflict national political instability. For example, Germany experienced an influx of refugees in 2015 which could be assessed as a catalyst for the revitalization of right wing ideology, movements, and parties.

In order to use the instruments of national power effectively, which US doctrine identifies as diplomacy, information, military, and economic, the conflict and its actors must be analyzed. Therefore, tools of system analysis are used. For this purpose, the observed system and the desired system are analyzed over a time period of twenty years. Then, strategic challenges are worked out and lines of effort are developed. Those are broken down from the strategic level to the operational, military level and the operational design is developed. The operational design describes various states of change within system along its transformation from the observed to the desired system. It investigates effects triggered by military actions that may gradually led to desired changes to the system. This part of the planning process is generally quite similar to the NATO COPD.

Effects and actions are not limited to airpower alone, but includes actions and effects within the other military operating domains. The NATO terms “joint effects” and “joint actions” describe the cooperation of the armed forces’ services on land, air, sea, and in the cyber and information space. MDOS has been working on an advanced understanding of operating domains and thus establishing a unique operational and strategic school of thought.

MDOS focuses on the operating domains as the electromagnetic spectrum, space, land, air, maritime, and human. These domains are not considered as existing side by side, but in interdependence to each other. The iterative steps of system change examine how an action in one domain triggers effects in another domain. For example, actions in space or in the electromagnetic spectrum can be used to achieve a favorable effect for an air campaign. The MDOS approach uses combinations of domains to achieve access, control, or destruction of the adversary’s interdependence between domains in order to accomplish operational goals.

With that understanding, operational thinking extends significantly beyond the warfighting of a single service. Sharing this school of thought considerably expands operational thinking and the understanding of a multi-domain battlefield. Operational thinking in the 21st-century is much more than moving brigade or division-level sized forces on a map. Future forms of conflict as well as ways and means of projecting power will arise. State and non-state actors will act in new domains beyond our traditional understanding.

One of the major challenges for the next generation of military leaders in the US as well as the German Armed Forces will be the recognition and understanding of the current operating and the future ‘operationalizeable’ domains. The reasonable preparation of the required military capabilities, training, tactics, and procedures in order to meet the challenges of opposing actors will be the mission and criterion of military excellence for MDOS and LGAN students. Here, the primary benefit of the MDOS-LGAN cooperation is visualized: exchanging experience and sharing ideas promotes increased excellence. The challenges ahead require the view over the horizon – something the German students obtained combined with their most important and powerful NATO ally.

LTC Matthias Siegemund is a Technical Staff Officer of the Deutsche Luftwaffe with operational experience in Air Mobility and Airborne Air Defence. He is participating in the 13th Joint General Staff Course at the Command and Staff College in Hamburg, Germany. Upon completion, he will be posted in the Capability Development Branch at Air Force HQ.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Leadership Academy of the Bundeswehr or the German Federal Ministry of Defense.

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