Written by Dr. Tom Clark:
After World War II, Field Manual (FM) 101-5, Staff Officers’ Field Manual: Staff Organization and Procedure (1950) discussed planning in terms of two complementary components. The commander’s estimate was a conceptual activity that set conditions in terms of a well-defined framework of how he wanted to deal with a particular situation. The staff translated the estimate into specific tasks for subordinate units to arrange activities in time and battle space.
The conceptual component emphasized commander roles. It dealt with “a logical and orderly examination of all the factors affecting the accomplishment of the mission to determine the most suitable course of action” (p. 59). The conceptual component produced guidance to the staff for developing a detailed course of action. The estimate of the situation was framed as “a continuing process for the commander.” “With each change in the situation, he must revise his estimate…” (p. 60).
The detailed component emphasized staff roles. It focused on a practicable plan capable of variations to meet changes in the situation (p. 67). Coordination between senior and subordinate echelons through conferences and visits during the concurrent planning insures that no problems are overlooked and that solutions are determined promptly (p. 68). Plans may, and should, be formulated without the receipt of a directive from higher headquarters. Preliminary investigation of changing conditions often suggests that a certain operation may be required (p. 68).
In 1968, FM 101-5 continued emphasis on the commander’s estimate and established problem solving as the bedrock of Army doctrine (para. 6-1). The conceptual component continued to rely on the commander’s estimate as the primary tool in:
“a problem solving process to find the best way to accomplish a given mission” (para. 6-1). The commander’s estimate focused on identifying facts and assumptions of the situation and on identifying “difficulties or difficulty patterns” that might affect mission success (para. 6-3).
In 1986, FM 100-5, Operations, introduced operational art and the initial concepts of design. The commander’s initial estimate of the situation remained the primary point of reference for decision-making.
Operational art dealt with planning efforts to translate strategic aims into well-designed campaign plans. Key design tools included center of gravity analysis to frame thinking on enemy formations as complex organisms in which some systems have greater importance. Lines of operation represented a complementary design concept to align friendly force capabilities in an effective relation to enemy forces. Culminating points provided a way to visualize decisive objectives that imposed maximum damage to the enemy without putting friendly forces at risk of over extension and counter attacks.
In 1997, FM 101-5 made a perceptible shift to elevate staff estimates and procedures while exchanging a commander’s estimate for “battlefield visualization.” In a language shift, the commander’s estimate was reframed as battlefield visualization. The visualization was defined as a process to develop:
“a clear understanding of his current state with relation to the enemy and environment, envisions a desired end state, and then visualizes the sequence of activities that will move his force from its current state to the end state” (p. 1-3).
The commander’s role was to provide “focus and guidance to the staff” (p. 5-1). “The planning process hinges on a clear articulation of his battlefield visualization” (p. 5-1).
By 2005, the commander’s estimate had become almost invisible in the planning process. FM 5-0 Army Planning and Orders Production (2005) framed planning without a discussion of a commander’s estimate. The language was misleading because commander and staff planning roles changed to a small degree. While providing no discussion of the commander’s estimate, the commander’s role was again framed as a visualization of the end state. The commander’s visualization was defined as a:
“mental process of achieving a clear understanding of the force’s current state with relation to the enemy and environment (situational understanding), and developing a desired end state that represents mission accomplishment and the key tasks that move the force from its current state to the end state” (p. 1-9).
In 2001 and 2008, FM 3-0, Operations strengthened the notion of a commander’s visualization from 1997 (FM 100-5) and reframed the discussion of a commander’s estimate in terms of battle command.
“Battle command is the exercise of command in operations against a hostile, thinking enemy” (2001, para. 5-3). “Visualizing the operation is continuous. It requires commanders to understand the current situation, broadly define the future situation, assess the difference between the two, and envision major actions that link them” (2001, para. 5-5). “Visualizing is the mental process of developing situational understanding, determining a desired end state, and envisioning the broad sequence of events by which the force will achieve that end state” (2008, para. 5-19).
A review of doctrine highlights suggests the commander’s role to lead planning through understanding the situation, visualizing how to achieve a desired end state, and describing that visualization are unchanged. Discussions of how Design relates to MDMP indicate more a discrepancy in how we understand doctrine than how doctrine visualizes planning. Doctrine has consistently described planning with conceptual and detailed components. The central tenets of Design have likewise made the journey from 1950 with refinements while retaining consistency of the concept.