Upgrading the Future Joint Force Leader: Three Recommendations for Joint Education: Part 2

By Nathan Catching
Approximate Read Time: 20 minutes

Abstract: The Joint force is pursuing innovative ways to reshape Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) as part of a larger effort to prepare leaders for the future security environment. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) recently published a new Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP) and guidance for “Developing Today’s Joint Officers for Tomorrow’s Ways of War,” but also admit that the process is iterative and must be continually reassessed to ensure relevance. This is the second of a two-part series which provides three recommendations in line with this guidance. Those recommendations include incorporating “…hunger for knowledge…” as a Desired Leader Attribute (DLA), incorporation of Dr. Jeffrey Reilly’s “Strategic Design” methodology within the curriculum, and additional Joint All Domain (JAD) maneuver instruction and wargames. These suggestions would assist JPME in developing future operational and strategic leaders. PART 1 discussed the first recommendation; PART 2 discusses the second two recommendations.

Figure 1. The Desired Leader Attributes (DLAs). The JCS underGEN Dempsey originally established the six DLAs in 2013, though the JCS slightly amended the wording over the years. The first six listed DLAs are taken from the most recent Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP), while the recommended seventh DLA is bolded. This figure is presented in both PART 1 and PART 2 because it is referenced multiple times throughout the article.


This article offers three recommendations for Joint Professional Military Education (JPME). A DLA about hunger for knowledge, incorporation of Dr. Jeffrey Reilly’s “Strategic Design” methodology, and greater emphasis on Joint All Domain (JAD) operations would better prepare the next generation of commanders and staff planners. Part 1 discussed the seventh DLA (reference Figure 1). Part 2 discusses the second two recommendations: strategic design and JAD.

Recommendation 2: Strategic Design

Strategic design is a way to bolster JPME’s ability to convey what GEN Dempsey referred to as “strategic vision.” Though he did not specifically define the term, it is perhaps best viewed in context with the later DLAs that evolved from his paper. There are three major components: understanding of the current security environment (DLA 1); anticipation of future security opportunities, challenges, and desired outcomes (DLAs 2 & 3); and the ability to strategically plan, prepare, and make recommendations conducive to attaining those desired outcomes (DLAs 1 & 6).

Consider strategic vision as being similar to reading a map. Determining one’s own location (or origin) is like understanding the current security environment—where are we right now? Determining the intended destination is like assessing the desired outcome—where do we intend to go from here? Planning a route between these two points (generally the most difficult component) requires assessing terrain features, obstacles, and potential threats; adversaries are present on this map and will use obstacles (non-kinetic effects) and ambushes (kinetic effects) for deterrence or to achieve their goals.

Route planning in this analogy replicates strategic preparation, though strategic vision encompasses the entire process. Planning the strategic route from the current security environment to the intended one requires thorough examination of the environmental factors described in Joint Publication (JP) 5-0. These include—but are not limited to—the PMESII (political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure) operational variables and a determination of the adversary’s capabilities and intentions. Strategic preparation is a continuous process of adjusting the instruments of national power (diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) to the changing strategic environment to ensure the US stays on course. Now, take the analogy a step further to assess JPME.

JPME lays the foundation for all three components of strategic vision by providing a baseline of tools for critical thinking, but it fails to connect these tools for students. Officers receive instruction in “determining how (the ways) to use military capabilities (the means) in time and space to achieve objectives (the ends) while considering the associated risks;” JP 5-0 defines this process as “Joint planning,” which links closely with the publication’s description of strategy. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) GEN Joseph Dunford also provided six updated Special Areas of Emphasis (SAEs), which focus the curriculum onto specific topics like Great Power Competition and Strategic Deterrence. There is little question that JPME drills these concepts into students, developing critical thinking (DLA 6) through discussion, writing, and research. The rudimentary tools for strategic vision are present, but a useful connecting framework would develop it further. Returning to the map analogy, JPME is essentially teaching students all the aspects of reading a map (building the knowledge base) but not showing them how to put the tools together to plan a route.

Dr. Jeffrey Reilly, an instructor in the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC), pioneered a systematic approach for developing strategic vision. Termed “strategic design,” he offers “a constructivist model focused on developing schemata to explore and examine complex problem sets involving grand strategy and policy.” His framework connects the tools already inherent within JPME—operational PMESII variables, instruments of national power, and critical thinking focused around the SAEs—to foster a whole of government approach to strategy. JPME already uses the operational design framework (explained in JP 5-0), thus strategic design would not be a difficult addition to the curriculum. Strategic design tends to be more globally focused than operational design and seeks to understand the underlying national interests that drive competition and conflict rather than looking only at strategic objectives. Dr. Reilly’s article explains it in greater detail, but the process can be generally summarized in four basic steps, which makes it conducive to a JPME environment where students can readily understand the model.

First, strategic planners must study the observed system. This means looking in depth and categorically at all complexities of the current region (determining the origin in the map analogy as precisely as possible). PMESII operational variables, historic and cultural tendencies, literacy rates, religious divisions, and a litany of components help to shape this outlook. The overview should enable a “synthesis of global and regional system linkages.” The intent is to gain a thorough appreciation of the current system on a regional and global level before using the instruments of national power to affect that system.

The second step is to determine the desired system (destination in the map analogy). This step requires not only looking at US national interests to recommend viable strategic objectives to senior leaders and policymakers, but also determining the adversary’s interests. A peripheral interest for the US, for instance, might be a vital or even a survival interest for China. When considering the desired system, strategists determine areas of convergence (where US interests align with those of the adversary) and divergence (where they differ); the latter normally leads to barriers. For instance, both China and the US might agree that they do not desire to use nuclear weapons if at all possible (convergence), though they may disagree about how much influence one another should have in the South China Sea (divergence). Time must also be considered when looking at the desired system—i.e. how long can the post conflict stability last? Dr. Reilly points out that even the stability following the Korean War in 1953 was not indefinite; technological changes in the 1990s enabled greater range of weapons systems, which threatened that peace. The last two steps include identifying problem sets and building a cognitive map.

Identifying problem sets means understanding system linkages to determine the real, underlying problems. This ensures that the instruments of national power are employed effectively and efficiently to solve the problem at hand. How many case studies dealing with counterinsurgencies exemplify wars of attrition that failed to change the final political or social endstate for the better? Identifying the problem also includes analyzing trends and shocks to the system over time. This final analysis helps with building a cognitive map.

The cognitive map is like the route portion of the map analogy. This map (Figure 3) “evolves through successive iterations of the strategic design process,” and includes multiple lines of engagement (similar to lines of effort in JP 5-0). These lines of engagement extend across phases representing the short term (0-5 years), middle term (5-10 years), and long term (20 or more years).

Figure 3: Cognitive Map. This image of the “cognitive map” is cropped from Dr. Jeffrey Reilly’s “Strategic Design: Compiled” article. It depicts fictional lines of engagement for driving a strategy forward for decades, though the process is iterative, and the “lines” should be continually adjusted as the environment changes

According to Dr. Reilly, knowing “why we are taking action” facilitates adjusting to environmental changes. One illustration is the early years of the war in Iraq. In 2003, the US quickly achieved its strategic objectives with the invasion, but failed to anticipate the civil war that ensued thereafter, preempting a surge of military forces in 2007. According to Dr. William Knowlton, Jr., a professor at the National Defense University, prior to the surge, “U.S. military strategy was not well defined” and the “political situation was extremely complex and almost unfathomable to those without first-hand knowledge and experience in Iraq.”

Hypothetically, if planners had used strategic design prior to the invasion, then a categorical examination of the observed system might have yielded greater understanding of the unique sectarian politics in Iraq. Considering the desired system could have revealed that regional stability in the Middle East was the greater US interest beneath the 2003 objective of regime change. There was likely also convergence between the US and Saddam Hussein’s regime in that neither side favored a regional power vacuum. This knowledge could have been very helpful to pre-invasion planners when considering branch plans and sequel options, opening up opportunities for the US to exploit sectarian political agendas to facilitate a smoother and more favorable (to the US) regime change. This hypothetical example of applying the first two steps of strategic design to the initial conflict period in Iraq is not intended to armchair quarterback the war, but to reveal gaps in strategic planning that the design process might have otherwise addressed.

This methodology should be taught within JPME because it is uses operational and strategic fundamentals while facilitating more thorough analysis. There may be countless other approaches worthy of consideration, but this model builds on concepts JPME students already know, the steps are generally easy to grasp, and it could provide a more systematic approach to strategy development. Dr. Reilly admits that this “is not a strategy and policy cure all,” however, the process could allow future planners to avoid some strategic pitfalls and generate better options. Strategic design is a systematic approach to complex problem solving and should be viewed as another tool that JPME can provide to students before they return to the Joint force as operational and strategic planners and commanders.

The inherent risks are failing to teach the process correctly, not providing adequate repetitions for students to get comfortable with the methodology, or in making it into a curriculum block-check. Mitigations include centrally certifying select instructors to lead it via lectures, discussions, and simulations, or relying on rotating visiting instructors who can do justice to the process. The first option would be more cost effective and the least likely to result in the ‘block check.’ In that case, the instructors could be selected by background, interests in strategy, or interviews with the respective JPME director or commandant to ensure he or she is the right fit. The second option is more costly but could be significantly advantageous because rotating personnel could serve as senior mentors; Joint staff strategists or recently retired General Officers would be good fits for this role. Strategic design is an additional tool for enhancing strategic vision and JPME is best postured to unilaterally provide this tool across the Joint force.

Recommendation 3: Greater Inclusion of Joint All Domain (JAD) Maneuver

Although JPME currently incorporates conceptualization of JAD, there is still room to improve students’ comfort with the concept. Two gaps currently exist. First, the nascent concept is still being shaped. Some of the Service components made initial bottom-up recommendations—for instance, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1: The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 or the current Air Force experimentation with JADC2. Now Joint leadership is on board, trying to shape it from the top-down. This is not a problem JPME can directly affect, though there are some indirect, bottom-up inputs that it can facilitate, which will be covered shortly.

The second gap is that JPME tends to educate JAD concepts in lieu of operational maneuver, which is where students’ knowledge base should be (i.e. how to integrate and maneuver forces within JAD operations). While this is perhaps safer than providing material that is not yet based in doctrine, it limits concept development for JAD to a small, select pool of individuals when there are brilliant minds within JPME who could potentially offer better feedback if they understood the maneuver aspect more thoroughly. This idea nests within the current JCS intent for “joint exercises…as a feedback loop that links issues and lessons back into our leadership development and PME system. Conversely, our scholars and practitioners in [Professional Military Education] can contribute their educational research to support our combatant commanders as well.” Instructing JAD maneuver could increase students’ baseline knowledge. There are three main reasons JPME should go beyond teaching JAD concepts and conduct more instruction in maneuver.

First and foremost, JAD maneuver falls within the JPME mandate. According to the latest Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP), Professional Military Education (PME) facilitates “theoretical and practical in-depth understanding of jointness and evolving

areas of interest.” Officers graduating from JPME institutions will be expected to plan operations and lead formations in a contested, all-domain environment. JAD maneuver is now within the “evolving areas of interest” and should thus be further incorporated into JPME curriculum, even if doctrine has not caught up.

Second, this instruction enables bottom-up refinement to the JAD concept. Moving beyond conceptual knowledge requires learning about maneuver. The more JPME students learn, the more they can critique the concept from the bottom-up. After all, they will be the operational and strategic leaders implementing it in the future and refining doctrine accordingly. They could offer more to the force if instilled with baseline maneuver concepts early. JPME is postured better than any other institution in the military to standardize JAD maneuver concepts because it can reach an entire officer year group cohort at a time.

Third, teaching this maneuver fosters better feedback for concept developers now. This point was recognized in the Military Education Coordination Council (MECC) 2019 conference, where the Futures & Concepts briefing envisioned interactions between JPME and the concept teams, along with integrated exercises and wargames. Allowing JPME to take the brunt of these wargames could be a force multiplier for concept developers, while JPME students would also gain greater familiarity with JAD. There are two avenues for JPME to include further JAD maneuver instruction: by teaching synchronization and through wargaming.

Teaching the elements of synchronization would enable students to gain greater capability to plan for what Army refers to as “convergence”—the “rapid and continuous integration of capabilities in all domains…to overmatch the enemy through cross-domain synergy and multiple forms of attack…” Teaching synchronization comes in two phases. First, students must learn how the domains work beyond a simple, cursory knowledge. For example, an Army infantry officer in the future security environment must understand how to request certain offensive cyber effects on particular targets like an adversary’s power grid (which could take years to preempt) in order to set conditions for a Carrier Strike Group to hold enemy maritime assets in port at risk. Carrying the example further, this maneuver would then preempt a simultaneous ground assault by an Armored Brigade Combat Team and simultaneous offensive counter-air (OCA) combat air patrols (CAPs). The Air Force F-35 pilot conducting those OCA CAPs must similarly conceptualize his or her role as it supports the ground force envelopment rather than merely focusing on targets; this will be crucial in the event communications become degraded and priorities adjust. JPME should provide the foundation for understanding how these forces maneuver in space and time, integrate and synergize, and provide mutual support. A JAD synchronization matrix (or synch matrix) is the ideal method for ensuring this synergy.

The JAD synch matrix is similar in concept to the synchronization matrix that is already included in Joint doctrine. JP 5-0describes this tool as being useful for synchronizing all the activities within a given course of action in space and time and aiding “in identifying cross-component support resource requirements.” The purpose of the JAD synch matrix is the same. Figure 4 provides a rudimentary template that should be adjusted to meet mission demands (e.g. incorporating phasing, decision points, information collection plan, etc.).

The intent is clear: the JAD synch matrix helps to identify requirements in certain domains in order to generate effects in other domains and thus achieve convergence. For instance, this matrix could be used to concurrently track cyber and space actions that degrade the adversary’s anti-access/area-denial targeting, which then preempts positioning of Bomber Task Forces and subsurface vessels for long range strikes. A simple tool like this would go a long way for an operations center in a degraded environment. Officers should thus have an opportunity to experiment with it first in JPME. This ties directly into the second form of JAD maneuver instruction—wargaming.

Figure 4. Joint All Domain (JAD) Synch Matrix Template. Dr. Jeffrey M. Reilly developed the original version of this template as a tool within the ACSC Multi-Domain Operational Strategist Concentration (MDOS). This model is slightly amended by including “cyber” instead of “EMS” and omitting his sixth category (“Human” domain) to more closely align it with the five currently-recognized domains. This template should be viewed as a tool that can be amended to the needs of the planner or commander.

Wargaming JAD concepts in JPME offers immediate advantages to both students and concept developers. It teaches officers how to anticipate adversary actions across the domains, reinforcing JAD concepts while demonstrating shortfalls in planning. It also provides simulated repetitions for officers to formulate lessons learned without risking actual lives or equipment. The current OPMEP recognizes the importance of exercises as part of “outcomes-based military education.” Wargaming should incorporate some facilitation from outside organizations, to include the JAD researchers and concept developers. Such exercises could include multiple JPME venues simultaneously. For example, RAND could put on an exercise involving several command and staff colleges, an operations cell from the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps, and elements from US Air Force Europe’s operations center. Participants would have to utilize virtual communications, and there would likely need to be multiple exercises involving limited numbers of JPME students at a time for max effectiveness (instead of large groups, where facilitation becomes more problematic and learning decreases for the students).

A recent actual example is the Air Force’s “Doolittle Series” wargame. The intent of this exercise was to find better multi-domain solutions for employing strategic air, space, and cyber capabilities. This wargame included select participants from the ACSC Multi-Domain Operational Strategist (MDOS) concentration. These types of exercises, however, should either have wider JPME participation, or there should be more exercises to increase overall JPME students’ familiarity. Exercises are crucial to leader development, though there are some risks.

The risks with greater JAD inclusion in JPME curriculum are the potential failure to provide one baseline across all JPME venues, the possibility of exercises devolving into a ‘dog-and-pony show’ (where actual exercise value is diminished) due to more widespread participation, and the opportunity costs to other JPME focus areas. The first risk is that training in these new concepts would vary by institution, but the mitigation is similar to the mitigation with strategic design. Select instructors could be centrally trained by concept developers, who manage the unilateral plan across JPME. Wargames that include students from multiple JPME venues simultaneously would also help to mitigate some of this risk.

The second risk about the exercise devolving into a ‘dog-and-pony show’ would be significantly reduced if it is properly facilitated from outside the JPME venue (e.g. by concept developers or an operational force unit). This is not to say that JPME venues could not conduct their own, smaller exercises apart from these large-scale ones as well, which mitigates risk of students becoming merely ‘guinea pigs’ for outside developers’ data. JPME internal exercises could also help to provide a base from which students could build up to larger exercises, enabling better lessons learned.

The last risk is that time for additional JAD means less time for other JPME priorities. The JCS have already underwritten much of this risk with the push for exercises in the OPMEP. They must also be prepared to continue to underwrite JPME leadership when they decide to cut certain events from their course load to make more room for exercises; the risk to additional exercises is less thorough coverage of other JPME concepts.

Adjusting portions of a JPME venue’s curriculum is difficult for a number of reasons but may be crucial to achieving GEN Milley’s intent of developing “Joint Leaders with the skills, values, and intellectual agility to fight and win the wars of tomorrow.” This begs the question: what is JAD worth to the Joint force? The more in-depth JPME students are able dive into the nascent concept, the more beneficial they will be at providing feedback to concept developers in the short run, and the better prepared they will be to plan operations and lead multi-domain formations in the long run.


There is no question that the military’s senior leadership has prioritized leader development; Joint education is already on a trajectory of excellence. Conversely, there is also no question that the future security environment anticipated by Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2035 will include adversaries contesting global norms and fomenting persistent disorder. The Joint force necessitates leaders who can “fight and win the wars of tomorrow,” as our current CJCS recently stated to Congress. These three recommendations to improve leader development in Joint education are offered in addition to the various other measures that are already being taken, as identified by the MECC and advocated across the JCS.

These measures could be significant additions along the current glide path of excellence. First, leaders should include a seventh DLA—“Maintain a continuous hunger for knowledge and deeper understanding as a lifelong learner.” This was part of GEN Dempsey’s original intent and JPME can help to improve the lifelong learning process through research opportunities, mentorship and reflection, and self-awareness assessments. Second, include strategic design in the JPME curriculum because it can facilitate a more systematic approach to gaining strategic vision. Third, expand on JAD maneuver within the program. This should take the form of instruction in synchronization and wargaming. These recommendations should be considered as the Joint force continues to groom leaders today who will secure victory in the decades to come.

Major Nathan Catching is an Army armor officer with experience as an IBCT cavalry scout platoon leader, executive officer, and staff officer in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. He also has staff experience at the division and ABCT level, and commanded tank company in the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, TX. He later instructed and commanded in the Armor Basic Officer Leaders Course and served as a doctrine writer in the Armor School, both at Fort Benning, GA. He is a graduate of the USAF Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) Multi-Domain Operational Strategist (MDOS) concentration and is currently a student at the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) at Fort Leavenworth, KS.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image Source: https://www.army.mil/article/202457/cgsc_tests_board_based_strategy_game.

OTH, Emerging Security Environment, Multi-Domain Operations
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