A Holistic Framework for Land Forces Analysis
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew L. Chadwick, PhD, U.S. Army National Guard
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U.S. Army practices for assessing the capabilities of adversarial land forces need a major update. Namely, such practices place an insufficient emphasis on the critical human dimensions of a land force, such as leadership or morale. And, as the U.S. experience in Afghanistan shows, the human dimensions can play a decisive role in determining the outcomes of battles and even wars. Additionally, army intelligence practices tend to examine adversarial forces in isolation from friendly or allied units, which reduces opportunities to identify critical qualitative or quantitative imbalances. To address these analytical shortfalls, this article presents a holistic framework for land forces analysis that fuses U.S. Army intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) techniques with methods employed by strategic intelligence organizations and military historians.
What Is a Framework?
The primary value of a framework is that it lays out the key variables—something that changes in response to internal or external stimuli—of a particular system, event, or phenomenon under examination. This, in turn, helps guide the research and analysis of a topic by ensuring analysts properly account for each constituent part of a subject and the relationships between those parts. For example, an analysis of land forces must consider some basic variables including equipment, personnel, planning processes, and doctrine. It must also account for how those variables interact by showing, for instance, how an army’s doctrine helps determine what equipment it acquires, how it trains, and more.
Ultimately, the value of an analytic framework is that it provides a sense of clarity and common language.1 That is, it clarifies what is important and why. And, for organizations like the U.S. Army, it helps everyone speak the same language in how they approach the research, analysis, and presentation of their findings and assessments. This helps mitigate the tendency of some analysts to make judgments on the capabilities of a particular adversary on intuition alone or on incomplete analysis.
Despite their value, frameworks, as one historian rightly cautioned, are simplifications of reality and, therefore, “inexact and incomplete.”2 In other words, having the framework does not guarantee an accurate interpretation of a topic and it most certainly does not guarantee accurate predictions of how those topics will evolve over time or respond under certain circumstances. This is especially true of land forces analysis—and military analysis in general—in which analysts are operating with incomplete and at times contradictory evidence. And the wars and operations in which those land forces fight are inherently unpredictable. As Carl von Clausewitz observed in his analysis of war: “No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”3 Chance—or unpredictability—reflects the fact that war is a social and political phenomenon determined largely by the actions, judgments, and misjudgments of people who, by nature, are unpredictable, especially as a collective and when under stressful conditions like war.4
The Limits of U.S. Army Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
Even though Clausewitz is widely taught in U.S. military educational institutes, U.S. Army intelligence doctrine overlooks the human factors of war. The Army’s current set of analytic tools, as detailed in IPB step 3 (evaluate the threat) in Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 2-01.3, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, largely examines material and conceptual factors, such as enemy equipment, doctrine, and order of battle.5 And for those variables, it does provide detailed guidance and useful tools, such as order of battle charts and threat templates that illustrate the means and methods an opposing force likely will employ in combat.6
Buried within the example templates in ATP 2-01.3 are important assessments regarding human factors, such as “force x lacks the will for prolonged engagements.”7 However, ATP 2-01.3 provides incomplete guidance for how to make judgments regarding the human and material conditions that would cause a force to lack the will for prolonged engagements. Rather, ATP 2-01.3 essentially assumes analysts know how to obtain that information or that their higher echelons will provide it to them. Such assumptions are highly tenuous, given the varied skills, experience, motivation levels, enterprise endurance, and connectivity of formations across the army. In other words, doctrine must be more specific on how to acquire and employ that information using examples and more direct guidance.
Finally, ATP 2-01.3 fails to clearly break down its constituent variables, like composition and disposition, into their individual parts. Instead, it largely leaves that information up to analysts to figure out on their own, assuming they have the time and ability to do so. Fortunately, there is another framework available within U.S. Department of Defense that can help fill some of these gaps.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) military capabilities framework uses a more comprehensive set of variables than the U.S. Army. As shown in the figure, the DIA framework breaks down the capabilities of a military into nine key variables, two of which—roles/missions and environment—are considered driver variables.8 Such variables are considered more important because they play a greater role in shaping the character of others. An army’s mission, for instance, and the terrain it fights on will play a critical role in shaping its structure, training, and equipment. And, unlike the U.S. Army’s IPB framework, the DIA breaks down some of its variables further by showing how personnel matters also must account for soldier demographics and whether they are active soldiers (full time) or reservists (part time).
The DIA framework, however, is still incomplete and is not focused on land forces, given its purpose to help inform military capabilities analysis in general. Its use of driver variables is important in that it shows how variables relate, unlike the U.S. Army’s IPB process. But it gives the impression that those variables (roles/missions and environment) are the only ones that shape the character of others. And the relationship also appears to be one way, not accounting for how factors like personnel and budgets can play extremely important roles in shaping an army’s roles and missions.
The field of military history offers a more robust framework for land forces capabilities analysis. For example, in their multivolume study on military effectiveness, historians Allan Millett and Williamson Murray present a framework to assess and compare the effectiveness of multiple armies during the major wars of the twentieth century. They do so by looking at armies at all levels of command. To measure effectiveness, the volumes provide a list of general attributes, as shown in table 1, which account for human and material factors.9 The authors also acknowledge those attributes reflect a host of different constraints, whether natural like geography, or political or cultural in nature, such as a society’s willingness to serve in the military.10 Ultimately, understanding these attributes and constraints will enable researchers to conduct more in-depth comparative studies of a particular armed force against its adversary under certain historical circumstances.11
The problem for military intelligence professionals, however, is that this framework focuses on informing the fields of strategic studies and military history. Thus, it provides no guidance on how to employ its methods within existing U.S. Army staff processes.
In short, the above frameworks all have their own strengths and shortcomings. But unfortunately, the U.S. Army framework is the most incomplete, especially regarding human factors and matters above the tactical level. The proposed framework that follows aims to address these shortfalls.
A Holistic Land Forces Framework
The following framework for land forces analysis is built on three core propositions. First, it must fit into the U.S. Army’s existing IPB process to ensure it speaks the same language as the army professionals employing it. Second, it must be multivariable and account for the human factors that existing doctrine mostly overlooks. Finally, it must be comparative to identify relative strengths and weaknesses between friendly and adversarial forces.
Ultimately, what this framework should produce are two key outputs: (1) a land force category statement and (2) a land forces capabilities statement. These outputs, moreover, should be incorporated at the beginning of IPB step 3 (evaluate the threat), setting the stage for a more detailed examination of doctrine, order of battle, and equipment.
Land forces category statement. Table 2 provides an overview of the key variables for determining the nature of a particular land force.12 Namely, what are the force’s purpose, structure, and ways of war? Answering those questions enable analysts to produce a baseline assessment on the nature of a particular land force and its general strengths and weaknesses. This statement, in turn, can frame more detailed discussions regarding an adversary’s capabilities by warfighting functions (fires, maneuver, protection, etc.).13
Land forces capabilities statement. Once the nature of a land force is established, then deeper analysis can occur regarding its ability to achieve a specific purpose. To do so, analysts can use table 3 and table 4, which list broad attributes that can help determine the effectiveness of a land force at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of command. Table 3 lists general attributes of an effective land force, regardless of its intended purpose.14 Table 4 focuses on conventional operations against a state adversary (attributes for effective counterterrorism/counterinsurgency operations are outside of the scope of this article).15
There are two ways to use the above frameworks. First, analysts can simply use these to guide their assessments regarding whether the land force under examination can perform a particular mission. The second method would be to make a quantitative assessment based on these attributes. Now, such an assessment can be problematic because wars and the land forces that fight in them are highly dynamic and generally defy quantitative analysis. That said, using the frameworks to produce quantifiable assessments can help enable the staff compare an adversarial force with friendly or allied forces.
To make such quantitative assessments, analysts should use a combination of intelligence reporting, finished intelligence from organizations like the National Ground Intelligence Center and the DIA, academic studies, and press reports to complete the following steps:
- Finalize attributes, using or modifying the ones in the tables or adding others based on the situation.
- Add a single point for each attribute that a land force meets in the general category (if the attribute is not applicable then do not add a point). And make sure to organize the final count by strategic, operational, and tactical categories, meaning the top score for strategy would be a 19 while a top operational score would be a 19 and a tactical score would top out at 15.
- Repeat the same process for the conventional land forces framework.
- Add the scores for the general and conventional frameworks to produce total scores for the strategic, operational, and tactical attributes (staffs could also weigh some attributes higher than others, depending on the situations).
- Redo the entire assessment process for the opposing force (note: the intelligence personnel should consult with other staff sections, especially when comparing adversarial forces to friendly forces).
- Use the score to compare capabilities with opposing forces/allies, as depicted with a historical example in table 5.16
- Continue with IPB step 3, building order of battle, equipment charts, threat models, and identify high valued targets. Then, transition to an examination of the adversary’s likely courses of action as part of IPB step 4.
Use by Echelon
The land force framework presented in this article is most suitable for employment by a division-level headquarters and above. Battalion and brigade intelligence staffs likely lack the time or resources to conduct an in-depth study of an adversarial land force, especially during combat operations. Thus, the division staff can use the framework to paint a broad picture of the land forces under examination, providing context for brigades and battalions to develop more nuanced, tactically focused products.
The framework also has value in a competition environment by helping intelligence sections develop in-depth studies of the land forces within their particular area of responsibility. Such studies can help inform contingency planning and training plans to build partner capacity to compensate for any quantitative or qualitative imbalances with adversarial forces.
The above framework, if incorporated into IPB step 3 (evaluate the threat), would likely help intelligence staff to form more holistic judgments on the nature, capabilities, and relative strengths and weaknesses of an adversarial land force. Like all frameworks, however, the one presented in this article is incomplete and cannot fully account for all the dimensions of a land force in every situation. But it can get the conversation started on how to conduct a holistic assessment of an adversarial force, which can enable more informed plans and decisions.
- John Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 359.
- Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 75, 101.
- Ibid., 101, 136.
- Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 2-01.3, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 1 March 2019), 5-4, accessed 1 February 2022, https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN31379-ATP_2-01.3-001-WEB-4.pdf.
- Ibid., 5-10.
- Research Director, “Tradecraft Note 02-15: Assessing Military Capability,” Analytic Tradecraft Guidance, 3 December 2015.
- Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray, Military Effectiveness: Volume 1, The First World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 4–26.
- Ibid., 3.
- Ibid., 4–26.
- Assessment derived from information in Abraham Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Schocken, 2007); “World Factbook,” CIA, accessed 19 February 2022, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/; “Who We Are: The Army Reserve,” British Army, accessed 19 February 2022, https://www.army.mod.uk/who-we-are/the-army-reserve/; Eugenia C. Kiesling, Arming Against Hitler: France and the Limits of Military Planning (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1996); John Gooch, Armies in Europe (London: Routledge, 1980).
- ATP 2-01.3, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, 5-18.
- Millett and Murray, Military Effectiveness, 4–26.
- Assessment derived from information in Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Andrew L. Chadwick, PhD, U.S. Army National Guard, is an all-source intelligence technician with the 29th Infantry Division, Maryland Army National Guard. As a civilian, he serves as an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Maryland, College Park, and an MA in international security from the University of Denver.
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