Global Contingency Plans

A New Look at War Planning

Lt. Col. Dan Sukman, U.S. Army

Download the PDF depuy


Future conflict will be transregional, multidomain, and multifunctional. …

OPLAN development is not going to give you the kind of broad options globally that you need to have to fight a transregional fight.

—Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., U.S. Marine Corps

The United States is engaged in a continual competition below the threshold of conflict with its adversaries. These conflicts are global and occur in every domain. There is a risk that the nature of these competitions can boil over into armed conflict. The current planning paradigm of regionally developed contingency plans is not sufficient for the joint force. To mitigate this risk, the joint force should formulate a sustainable process for the development and execution of global contingency plans.

In July 2018, the Department of Defense published Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (CJCSI) 3100.01D, Joint Strategic Planning System.1 This document is the method used by the chairman to communicate how he or she will execute responsibilities under Title 10 (see figure 1). The recent update to the instruction introduces and explains the process of global campaign plans and cross-functional teams. Although CJCSI 3100.01D explains the ideas behind global integration, the joint force must rapidly develop concepts and doctrine to bring global integration into fruition.


Global Contingency Planning

Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020 detailed a central idea of global integration.2 The idea focused on joint force capabilities forming, evolving, dissolving, and reforming at times and locations of our choosing. Employing forces within this construct requires global planning at an echelon above combatant commands that can simultaneously direct the services.

According to CJCSI 3100.01D, global integration is “the arrangement of cohesive joint force actions in time, space, and purpose, executed as a whole to address transregional, multi-functional challenges across all domains.”3 The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act imposed a regional U.S. approach to global military operations, but the trend toward increasing globalization and the emergence of multi-domain adversaries has outpaced this approach.4 Simply put, the problems we face as a nation and as a military will rarely fit conveniently within the boundaries of the Unified Command Plan map.

As the joint force looks at the ways we will fight our adversaries, we have two choices. The first is to fight as our adversaries would expect us to, which is to deploy forces into the operational areas of our adversaries, thus allowing them to fight on internal lines of communication. This predictable method risks vertical escalation, as fighting an adversary within their homeland turns a conflict into a war for national or regime survival. A global approach may not be necessary in all cases of conflict but is certainly necessary when confronting peer and near-peer adversaries in a resource-constrained environment.

The second option is to fight our wars asymmetrically (to pit America’s strengths against its adversaries’ weaknesses). In this respect, the United States holds a series of asymmetric advantages at the operational and strategic levels. These include a global network of alliances and partnerships, which enable a global U.S. military footprint. Further, the U.S. military has capabilities that enable global reach in terms of force projection as well as lethal and nonlethal targeting. These asymmetric advantages should drive strategic military planning that turns conflict against any adversary into a conflict that is global in nature.

In 1981, Gen. Donn Starry described how the U.S. Army should understand how modern conflict extended the battlefield in both distance and time.5 Time was reflected in the ability to campaign, and space was defined as the theater of operations. Starry’s concept centered on the tactical level and depth of the battlefield in force-on-force engagement.6 Global plans represent a culmination of this idea. They allow for effects against enemy forces beyond rear areas of the battle—forces and capabilities not directly engaged in the conflict. Moreover, this extension of the battlefield allows for actions with allies and partners not directly engaged in military operations who can provide assistance and enable activities such as force flow and sustainment.

Operationalize the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning

In March 2016, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) approved and published the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning. Within this concept is a detailed description of how conflict and major combat operations must link to actions with other nations in various geographic combatant command areas of responsibility (AORs) during periods of cooperation (see figure 2).7 For example, execution of combat operations in Afghanistan often required cooperation with other nations such as Russia to open the Northern Distribution Network or with Pakistan for overland and overflight rights. Global contingency plans may expand this idea to include major combat operations in multiple AORs, in addition to historical cooperation activities.

The execution of global contingency planning demands participation from every geographic and functional combatant command. During the process, each combatant command identifies ways in which he or she can contribute to the action. Further, each command examines existing requirements to determine where he or she can recommend places of acceptable risk to the secretary of defense. Put more succinctly, the military will have to select what missions it can support outside of the global contingency plan. Participation in the global contingency plan is not limited to combatant commands; each of the military service branches, the National Guard Bureau, and the Coast Guard must contribute to the effort.


Linking the Operational and Institutional Aspects of Conflict

Institutional planning is paramount for global integration. Institutional planning is where a nation’s military services develop plans to produce materiel and nonmateriel capabilities, to include planning for technology and personnel to execute the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war.8 Globally integrated planning melds strategic and operational planning with institutional planning.

Campaign plans and contingency plans developed by combatant commands typically fall into the operational level of war. What will enhance the dialogue between the chairman and the secretary of defense is an integration of institutional, or service, plans with operational contingency plans. For instance, actions must occur in the services prior to the execution of time-phased deployment data. This may include mobilization of reserve component forces, “stop-move” and “stop-loss,” and the decision to halt professional military education such as the Army’s Command and General Staff College and each of the services’ respective war college.9 These decisions are not unique to our nation’s military history, as stop-loss and stop-move were necessary steps for the 1991 Gulf War, the operations in the Balkans, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.10



The joint force has an elaborate risk management system, best defined in CJCS Manual 3105.01, Joint Risk Analysis. Risk in global plans is different from historical risk articulation in two ways. First, ownership of global risk belongs to the secretary of defense and the commander-in-chief, with appropriate advice from the chairman, respectively. Second, global risk must include risk to the institutional force and its ability to prepare for future conflict. Figure 3 displays “the nested direction and missions and their sources (left) along with the nested associated risks (right).”11

Planning at the global level is all about risk identification and risk mitigation. The capabilities of the joint force do not allow us to be everywhere at all times. Key capabilities and enablers from strategic lift to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance are always in high demand. Global planning requires a prioritization of these platforms to execute the contingency while mitigating other ongoing operations, from deterrence to competition below conflict. Further, global planning prioritizes all ongoing missions for the secretary of defense, allowing him or her to choose what missions are appropriate to assume risk.

The development of global contingency plans comes with three levels of risk. The first two are the standard risks to mission and to force. But aligning global capabilities toward one plan places a risk on the services. Thus, risk to institutions joins mission and force as the third risk. While historically, the service secretaries and service chiefs maintained responsibility for institutional risk, the burden moves to the secretary of defense and the chairman in a global construct. As all services contribute to the war fight, the secretary and the chairman maintain the higher-level perspective.


The joint force should consider six distinct actions to enable global integration. First, the joint staff should develop a global planning doctrine. Second, the joint force must continue to employ and leverage joint planners who retain a global perspective on joint operations. Third, the joint force should account for global plans within the joint strategic planning system. Fourth, the joint force should adjust its staff structure to ensure that planning capability exists for global contingency plans. Fifth, the joint staff, in line with the services, should develop a method to account for institutional readiness. Finally, the joint force should adjust its joint exercise schedule to conduct tier 1 exercises at the global level.

Left Quote

Planning at the global level is all about risk identification and risk mitigation. The capabilities of the joint force do not allow us to be everywhere at all times.

Right Quote

Global-planning doctrine. There is no planning doctrine for the development of globally integrated plans. While some aspects of the joint planning process (JPP) are a part of global planning, other aspects of JPP are irrelevant. The development of a global contingency plan would still need to go through the design and mission analysis phase, similar to JPP. Products such as an operational approach with an accompanying problem statement, lines of effort, and desired conditions are critical. Moreover, understanding the facts, assumptions, and limitations remain paramount in any planning effort.

There is no course of action development in global contingency planning because global plans belong to the secretary of defense. While combatant commanders control the fight within their respective AORs, should the joint force conduct a global contingency plan, decisions on the prioritization and allocation of resources will occur in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) or the chairman’s office, executing his or her explicitly delegated authorities as the global integrator. Combatant commands will execute daily operations with the forces they have, but linking military actions across the globe will occur in Arlington, Virginia. The secretary will not look for courses of action but rather decision points to execute preplanned options.

Leverage key joint planners. Global planning relies on planners from each respective combatant command and service to form a planning team. Further, augmenting this planning team are a cohort of joint planners from the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command (JECC) in Norfolk, Virginia. Together, this planning team uses its cumulative knowledge to build a global plan. The weakness of this construct is that outside of the Joint Staff and JECC, planners at geographic combatant commands do not necessarily bring a global perspective to the table. Moreover, planners on these teams tend to have knowledge applicable to either institutional planning or operational planning but not both.

In 2018 and into 2019, members of JECC’s Joint Planning Support Element supported the joint staff in a series of global planning events. Planners from the JECC were paramount to global planning as the JECC’s mission and day-to-day operations continually employ planners across every geographic combatant command. JECC planners provide a unique and broad perspective uncommon to planners who work and represent the interests constrained by AOR boundaries. Other critical joint planning enablers include the Joint Information Warfare Center, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, the Joint Electronic Warfare Center, and the Joint Warfare Analysis Center.12

Joint strategic planning system. Whereas numbered contingency plans are viewed through the lens of a branch plan from a theater campaign plan, global contingency plans are a branch plan of a global campaign plan. And just as global campaign plans look across Unified Command Plan boundaries and functional command seams, so should global contingency plans. The chief obstacles that the joint force faces in the development of global contingency plans are the current powers granted to coordinating authorities and the lack of a true contingency planning capability at the global level.

Force structure and alignment. Each problem set that requires a global campaign plan comes with a requisite global integrator. The coordinating authority is generally a geographic combatant commander. However, global coordinators are limited in authority and cannot compel services or other combatant commands to reallocate resources or capabilities. The joint force requires the capability and authority to lead planning efforts of both combatant commands and the services to develop global contingency plans. This authority and capability may need a place either within the joint staff or at the OSD level. In addition to enhancing the planning capabilities of the joint staff, combatant commands require additional global planning capabilities. This may mean creating requisite global integration branches or divisions within each combatant commands’ J-5 (strategy, plans, and policy) directorate. Indeed, these organizations would look beyond the scope of their own theaters and global campaign plan responsibilities and participate in planning sessions led by the global integrator.

The creation of global campaign plans did not force an across-the-board increase in every combatant command planning directorate. Internal restructuring of each combatant command has generally been able to meet the requirement of continually supporting global planning, which produces and updates global contingency plans. However, this requirement creates the need for more joint planners who think at the strategic level. Moreover, there is precedent for creating an organization that can execute true global planning such as Britain’s Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, which is a model of command element planning and controlling global operations.13


Institutional readiness. The current method of determining readiness across the joint force is to measure a given command’s ability to execute its warfighting mission. These methods fail to measure how prepared each of the services are to adjust to a major conflict with lines of effort that span the globe. It would be prudent to add an institutional layer of readiness that includes an understanding of how well the services can (1) expand force structure to include equipment and end strength, and (2) rapidly change service training for conflicts the United States is engaged in (e.g., major combat operations or counterinsurgency). Adopting a method to measure service readiness to support global conflict is a key step to meld actions in the operational and institutional aspects of war.

Global exercises. In the recent CJCS Notice 3500.01, 2017-2020 Chairman’s Joint Training Guidance, the chairman identified joint training as a key action to enhance global integration.14 The joint force requires a venue to exercise both global campaign plans and global contingency plans. Where each combatant command currently holds a tier 1 exercise to train on theater-level plans, the joint force should leverage said events for a global exercise.15 These global exercises would include active participation from the joint staff, OSD, and multiple combatant commands. The Chairman’s Joint Training Guidance calls for the active participation of senior leaders to include national level leadership. These training initiatives are, in fact, an ongoing effort by the joint staff but require sustained momentum.


Senior civilian and military leadership in the Department of Defense now recognize the planning gaps and seams in the Unified Command Plan’s combatant command paradigm. Enemies and adversaries of the United States do not limit their courses of action to align with our command-and-control construct. The joint force in sync with the services must be ready to fight any future adversary on a global battlefield, across all AORs, and in all domains. The development of capabilities to support the building and exercising of global contingency plans is a necessary step for the future of the joint force.

America’s distinct and overwhelming military advantage is the ability to think and act globally for an almost indefinite amount of time. As the next cohort or echelon of senior leaders assume responsibilities as service chiefs or command at combatant commands, each must understand the paradigm shift. Planning and execution constrained by geographic combatant command boundaries place undue burdens and limitations on the joint force.

This article represents the author’s views and not necessarily the views of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense.


  1. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Instruction 3100.01D, Joint Strategic Planning System (Washington, DC: Department of Defense [DOD], 20 July 2018), accessed 25 October 2018,
  2. Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020 (Washington, DC: DOD, 10 September 2012), accessed 17 October 2018,
  3. CJCS Instruction 3100.01D, Joint Strategic Planning System, A-1.
  4. Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-433, 100 Stat. 992 (1986).
  5. Donn A. Starry, “Extending the Battlefield,” Military Review 61, no. 3 (March 1981): 32–50, accessed 24 June 2019,
  6. For a complete reading of Gen. Donn Starry’s work, read Lewis Sorley, ed., Press On! Selected Works of General Donn A. Starry, vol. I (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2009), accessed 24 June 2019,
  7. Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (Washington, DC: DOD, 16 March 2018), accessed 24 June 2019,
  8. Daniel Sukman, “The Institutional Level of War,” The Strategy Bridge, 5 May 2016, accessed 18 October 2018,
  9. Wikipedia, s.v. “stop-loss,” last modified 15 September 2017, accessed 17 July 2019, Stop-loss is defined as “the involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date and up to their contractually agreed end of active obligated service. It also applies to the cessation of a permanent change-of-station move [stop-move] for a member still in military service.
  10. Charles A. Henning, “U.S. Military Stop Loss Program: Key Questions and Answers,” Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report No. R40121 (Washington, DC: CRS, 28 April 2009).
  11. CJCS Manual 3105.01, Joint Risk Analysis (Washington, DC: DOD, 14 October 2016), B-7, accessed 15 July 2019,
  12. A full list of joint enablers is provided in Joint Publication 3-33, Joint Task Force Headquarters (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 31 January 2018), II-8.
  13. The geographic combatant command system is unique to the United States. While budget and force structure limitations drive one joint command for allies such as Britain, the United States could use its Permanent Joint Headquarters as an exemplar.
  14. CJCS Notice 3500.01, 2017-2020 Chairman’s Joint Training Guidance (Washington, DC: DOD, 12 January 2017), accessed 25 October 2018,
  15. A tier 1 exercise is national-level and combatant-command-level training designed to train said organizations at the strategic and operational level of war. A full description of each tier (1–4) can be found in CJCSI 3500.01H, Joint Training Policy for the Armed Forces of the United States (Washington, DC: DOD, 25 April 2014), B-6, accessed 24 July 2019,


Lt. Col. Daniel Sukman, U.S. Army, is a strategist and a member of the military faculty at the Joint Forces Staff College. He is a former Military Fellow at the William and Mary Project for International Peace & Security, and a member of the Military Writers Guild. Sukman earned master’s degrees from Webster University and Liberty University. He served with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), United States European Command, the Army Capabilities Integration Center, and the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command.

Back to Top

November-December 2019