Framing the Socio-cultural Context to Aid Course of Action Generation for Counterinsurgency

Farry, M., Stark, B., Mahoney, S., Carlson, E., and Koelle, D.

4th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE) / 2nd International Conference on Cross-Cultural Decision Making (CCDM), San Francisco, CA (July 2012).

Course of action (COA) generation is guided by the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), which is meant to guide warfighters through a linear, quantitative process to complete these missions effectively. However, since the MDMP has its roots in purely kinetic operations, a strict adherence that process is not necessarily a good fit for the counterinsurgency (COIN) environment. Specifically, commanders must recognize the added importance of measuring mission effectiveness in addition to mission performance. While more objective measures of performance (MOPs) are suitable for kinetic operations, these MOPs are poorly suited to COIN, where information is frequently more qualitative, subjective, and difficult to observe. Examples of kinetic MOPs include, “Destroy 90% of enemy buildings” or, “Maintain friendly combat power above 50%.” In COIN, similar MOPs are still relevant but do not address the root issues of the insurgency. An analogous example for COIN is, “Decrease frequency of IED attacks from 20 per month to five within our Area of Operations (AO).” This MOP represents a readily observable, quantitative value that can be tracked over time, but alone, it does not contribute to longer-term goals such as insurgent groups’ strength and the region’s long-term stability. To achieve that MOP, coalition forces (CF) might focus on finding and eliminating IED caches. In response, insurgents rapidly change their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to focus on kidnappings and intimidation of the local population rather than direct attacks on CF. While the single MOP is achieved, the insurgent network continues to have a harmful effect on the AO.

Despite the difficulty in determining MOPs and MOEs, the MDMP is somewhat reliant on them since it is inherently a quantitative process. At its core, the MDMP is essentially a procedural cost-benefit analysis that enables commanders to apply resources and manage risk effectively to achieve the desired result in the AO. While the explicit inclusion of socio-cultural factors in the MDMP is difficult, commanders already do so implicitly. As revealed by a Work Domain Analysis (WDA) that we describe, commanders rely largely on subjective judgments and intuitions to bridge this gap. This paper provides an analysis of cognitive functions executed by warfighters who plan and execute COIN missions, a workflow that combines the doctrinal intent of the MDMP with best practices from the field, and a discussion of implications for intelligence analysis.

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