View Full Version : Systemic Operational Design

07-22-2006, 12:56 PM
Should the Army and USMC adopt Systemic Operational Design (SOD) as doctrine for planning?

07-22-2006, 02:12 PM
Emerging Doctrine and the Ethics of Warfare (http://www.usafa.af.mil/jscope/JSCOPE06/Challans06.html) by Dr. Tim Challans.

... Of the two general approaches to explore human activity, the scientific approach has had as its project the goals of explanation and prediction while the philosophical approach has worked toward understanding. One general strategy is the scientific one, maintaining that reason explanations could also be causal explanations. Adopting this first strategy, of which the effects-based approach remains a part, are the disciplines of social science that want to render human action under scientific regularities, such as empirical political science, economics, and so on. The other general strategy moves away from a scientific view of human activity remains philosophical. An alternative to the effects-based approach is emerging in some circles. That alternative is called systemic operational design (SOD). SOD is very much more philosophically sophisticated than EBA, and has its roots in modern science and philosophy. EBA remains medieval—pseudo-scientific and pseudo-philosophical.

EBA is an unsuccessful attempt at being scientific while SOD is philosophical. The former is an attempt at gaining a level of certainty and control through a decision procedure, while the latter is a critical method. Decision procedures are closed, complete, decidable, while critical methods remain open, incomplete, and acknowledge uncertainty. The first is pseudo-scientific because one of the features that differentiates between science and pseudo-science is the concept of falsifiability. No matter how much contrary evidence appears in front of EBA advocates, they can deny that the evidence falsifies their pursuits. The model can be completely backwards from ground truth, yet the model can persist—this is how we have failed to recognize or acknowledge something as significant as the current insurgency (as of a year ago at JSCOPE the military was denying one). The former doctrine begins with assumptions and the latter approach begins with questions, thereby revealing their relative stances on knowledge. Even though SOD is philosophically interpretive—not pretending to be scientific—it remains consistent with modern scientific practice and understanding.

Some are skeptical of SOD because they think it is rooted in Israeli history and culture and practice. While these states of affairs may have influenced and motivated the primary theorists, nobody, not even the Israeli theorists, see SOD as being a uniquely Israeli artifact without application outside of the Middle East. They like the theory because it is more reliable as a theory, and they recognize that because of their philosophical frame of mind. Many also resist this alternative because of practical problems facing the implementation of the idea: the vocabulary is different; U.S. military culture obviates dialogue, and so on. This paper is more about the theory than about the practice. We should get the theory right first. The medical community did not give up on germ theory because of the difficulties associated with operating in a clean environment. The practical matters will emerge naturally, and the military will adapt after the theory is right.

SOD has to do with capitalizing on emergences rather than teleologies, recognizing the way humans act in an open system in the real world rather than misrepresenting human behavior through a flawed representation, as EBA does. Force is not ruled out in the SOD concept, but force is not the first resort either, so SOD opens the door for considerations within the moral domain as a necessary feature of the system. Understanding SOD is difficult, though, for it requires one to be able to understand scientific evolution, the way systems change naturally forward through time rather than systems (particularly systems of systems) being made to change artificially backwards through time based on some preconceived plan. Advocates of SOD understand the power of the theory of evolution as a scientific theory, and many EBA advocates do not. It is no accident that many EBA advocates prefer intelligent design over the theory of evolution and that many of them live in Kansas.

07-22-2006, 02:26 PM
Discoursive Command Operators Systemic Operational Design: A New Framework for Strategic Epistemology (http://home.no.net/tacops/Taktikk/Kadettarbeid/naveh.htm) by Dr. Brigadier (Res.) Shimon Naveh.

... In the realm of military strategy, paradigms are conceptual systems or structures of knowledge that are produced through systemic study of actual and virtual contexts, alike. However, since strategy is primarily concerned with shaping of future realities through the operation of policy, strategists rely on concepts as tools for both interpretation of circumstantial contexts, and design of future realities. Therefore, by its very nature, strategy evolves in the dynamic learning environment of praxis, which is a spatial reflection of the tensions between the ontological analysis of reality and the epistemological understanding of institutional knowledge, between conceptualization and application, theorizing and performance, institutionalization and change. On the one hand, it is concerned with scientific construction of paradigmatic structures of knowledge, and their institutionalized assimilation in the organization. Whereas, on the other hand, it employs these very same conceptual systems as a basis for designing and effectuating policies which generate, in their turn, new realities. Thus, strategy is a constant dialectical play transforming political situations and producing new states of knowledge, simultaneously. Moreover, constituting a fundamental characteristic of the nature of strategy, the complementary tension between transformations of political-strategic realities and changes in the state of operational-strategic knowledge imply that paradigmatic revolution is the essential mechanism for development of strategic thought.

Culturally, one can therefore argue that the dialectical relations or interplay between revolution, as a subversive intellectual trajectory, deconstructing an existing conceptual frame and defining new space for perceptual exploit, and anti-revolution, as a sisyphean effort to net (straiation) and administer the new mental territory, express the property of an ever changing expansion or the constant flux of development of strategic knowledge. A conceptual revolution emanates from an ongoing practice of "normal science" or institutionalized discourse, as a result of a cognitive crisis, or a realization of the irrelevance between the prevalent conceptual system and a certain strategic context. The revolutionary trend is driven by the cultural and political logic of subversion, whereas, anti-revolution deriving from the need for organizational stability and conceptual steadiness is characterized by institutionalization and doctrinal inclinations.

Attempting to rationalize a chaotic or ambiguous situation, and outline some operational directions for implementing coherent initiatives in the future, the revolutionary trend breaks the conceptual boundaries of the established paradigm, thus, opening unexplored territories for new strategic discourse. The development of new conceptualization, the dissemination of new ideas, the expansion of a consensus basis among the various schools of thought in the organization, through vigorous debate, the assimilation of new concepts, and finally, the institutionalization of subversive approach within the boundaries of a new paradigmatic structure, lead, almost naturally, from revolution to anti-revolution. Thus, together, revolution and anti-revolution constitute the organic cycle of development of organizational knowledge or strategic cognition...

... The constructing concepts constitute, in fact, the core of the discoursive system for knowledge creation in context. Since they represent the cognitive components of systemic reasoning, their combined application in course of the systemic operational design practice produces the holistic architecture of the application of military force.

The relations between the constructing concepts are not hierarchical, but dialectical and dynamic. The systemic method of design is not linear-sequential, but rather spiral-associative. The initial definition of a conceptual framework for the specific circumstantial context removes a principal cognitive barrier for the systemization of the conflict. The rationalization of the rival system, or rather the systemic conceptualization of the opposing entity in the conflict provides a cognitive reference for the framing of the operation. And the conceptualization of the operation in spatial terms renders the systemic architecture for the definition of its logical and mechanical components.

The operator uses this structure, or system of constructing concepts as an intellectual road map for cognitive orientation in the circumstantial labyrinth of the actual context confronting him. This structure serves also as a logical framework for systemic representation of the complex of insights and abundance of concepts, which have been created in the course of the discussion. Likewise, it serves as a network for representation of the map of generic operational knowledge, which results from the cultivation and refinement of the contextual conceptual maps. And finally, it serves as a logical framework for the construction of conceptual documents, and operational doctrine papers....

07-22-2006, 02:52 PM
Ret. Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper has a audio download called "how to be in command and out of control" at www.sageadvisory.com/pg/media/multimedia/riper/1.html
He talks about SOD on this and he is very much for it. Also CGSC school of advaned military studies has 3 recent SOD releases 1 deals with hurricane Katrina. I would find them but I have a meeting to go to. I am very interested in this so all the brains on the SWC talk this up so when I get back I can learn some of the basics. I was at a disater plan meeting an this came up but nobody know much about it. With the help of you guys I should be an expert in no time. later.

07-23-2006, 07:31 PM
Have you checked out www.wickedproblems.com

07-23-2006, 07:44 PM
Have you checked out www.wickedproblems.com

Even a knuckle-dragger like me can understand that!

07-23-2006, 10:50 PM
Amazing when you really know what you are talking about how few words you need to express it.
Also SWJED (aka Bill & Dave) you mean you don't get up in the morning and have long meaningful discourses about your operational epistemology, shocking!!

07-25-2006, 01:22 PM
Do you think the current operation being conducted by Israel is an example of SOD ??

07-25-2006, 01:34 PM
This exact question was asked during my last class at the School of Advanced Warfighting (SAW). The consensus was that this operation is a pure contingency plan, that most likely has been on the shelf for some time. However, that does not mean that it is inconsistent with any "cognitive reality" (present situation through Israeli designers' eyes) or "virtual reality" (the desired goal) that a SOD team may produce. Certainly, the Israelis' "understanding" is being greatly enhanced through the application of force, thus informing their "cognitive reality," which I believe is the whole point of SOD. While I am a novice to SOD, I have been told that the only true SOD based operation to have been conducted by the Israelis was done in Nablus.

07-30-2006, 11:39 AM
Having spent much time with Shimon Naveh and conducting discourse with other IDF commanders, it is clear that SOD has been involved in other recent IDF planning. In particular, I had dinner with Naveh and the Front Commander who executed the Gaza withdrawal. It was about a month following the pull-out. Some of the staff and a few subordinate commanders were also present. All gave credit to Shimon's SOD mentoring for their conceptual approach to the withdrawal.

Unfortunately, Shimon has been "purged" along with others from the Operational Theory Research Institute of the IDF. Having conducted SOD with Shimon on the Hz threat in Lebanon and understanding his experience operating on this front, it seems he and OTRI would have much to add and learn if engaged currently.

It will be interesting to find out if Shimon will resurface with the IDF following the latest trials of the Lebanon and Hamas fronts.

07-30-2006, 02:15 PM
I just read an article about how Nevah was removed from the IDF research institute he worked for. The article says it was because of improper billing for his services. When you read the whole article he was never accused of not doing the work or not delivering a product but he (his assistant) may or may not have made a simple clerical error, and for that he was removed!!!

Thanks for the post. Can you add anything else?? That must have been an interesting dinner party.

03-16-2007, 03:40 AM
I know this is an older thread, but I would love to hear opinions on why the IDF failed to use SOD in it's assault on Lebenon...and to hear what folks think the use of SOD might haveresulted in had they used it.

03-16-2007, 12:12 PM
"while critical methods remain open, incomplete, and acknowledge uncertainty." That element of SOD is necessisarily going to knock politicians out of the loop from time to time as dynamics rapidily unfold on the ground in real time with real people. I keep in mind that politicians like to create perception for political gain and power. I really don't think politicians want the military getting too smart. It's an ancient fear and since they hold the purse strings, they will be a part of command and control. People move faster than things and tens of thousands of tons of logistical necessity in my non-professional opinion are better managed via EBA at least as defined by Challans. It seems logical then to my civilian mind that the smaller the fight the better the chance of SOD being implemented. The smaller the fight, the less egg on the face politicians can get. Do politicians per se realize that small fights can prevent big fights? That's the real critical and unanswered question in my opinion. They may well see SOD as a scalpel and not an anti-biotic.

I think the rationale behind IDF's last dust-up with HZ was one of simple attrition, knowing that Iran is having financial problems and sanctions were pending, thus alot of rubble would be left lying on HZ streets and their capability couldn't be fully reinstated. I think in Olmert's mind the non-SOD approach was likely to produce fewer KIAs.

03-18-2007, 11:02 AM
Thank you for your response, though admit it troubles me. SOD does indeed acknowledge the reality of uncertainty in ways that other methodologies do not. That is, perhaps, its greatest strength, and another is that it therfore requires those who practice it to return to their strategic sponsor and question when they recieve instructions that may result in great harms. Do we really have leaders so malicious, so conniving, that they are uncaring about the harm caused to their nations, citizens, and soldiers so long as their own power remains intact? I can not, in reflection, believe such a terrible truth about all political leaders.
In response to the question of logistics, I agree that more straightforward planning methodologies are better at "getting stuff done." But I believe that SOD, since it is design and NOT planning, offers a chance to more clearly understand why, if, and how much of our blood and treasure we should be willing to risk in the first place.
If Olmert thought that a non-SOD approach would result in fewer KIAs....I wonder if he considered Lebanese KIAs? I think that the Israeli failure to account for the ability of small groups of people to capitalize on international networks for money, weapons, media exposure, and other factors has cost them. I guess the question is, will they learn from it? Kind of ironic, since the point of SOD is really to learn...

03-18-2007, 01:16 PM
Hi Hipp, I was very interested in SOD as it was being looked at from a FEMA type situation to try an instill some type of better thinking about natural disasters and responses to them. It never got off the ground. However Major Strickland found an instructor at the advanced war fighting school who is part of the SWC. I don't remember his name and can not find his original post. You might PM the Major and ask him. There are several papers at the CGSC about SOD one dealt with hurricane Katrina. I don't remember the links but they should be easy to find. SOD is a little complicated (new) but it's key benefit as you pointed out is it is a design methodology not a planning methodology. Figure out the right things to do first then plan it. Hope this helps.

Bill Moore
03-18-2007, 04:47 PM
I have yet to see a good example of SOD, does anyone have a SOD for dummies version they can post? I understood the criticisms directed against EBO/EBA, and concur with them to a point. I think our problem is we assume perfect knowledge, and therefore assume we can predict effects, which is a flawed assumption. However, I still think a EBA is valid if one doesn't take himself too serious, and constantly assesses the true impact of his actions and rapidly adjusts as we develop knowledge. We (along with our foes) take action to produce results (cause:effect), so there is nothing new here, except that now some assume effects are predictable. What does SOD propose? What exactly is a philosophical approach to war? How do we operationalize SOD? Does it mesh into our MDMP, or do we need to design a completely different approach to problem solving according to the SOD advocates?

03-18-2007, 05:08 PM
Bill, I have read several of the studies on SOD from the CGSC library so I do not know if there is an SOD for dummies, but my personal opinion is it is more like METT-TC on steroids than anything else. I don't know if there is anything that is really new in it, it just expresses it in a different way.

03-18-2007, 05:55 PM
One of my pet peeves is what Bill M. brought up - assuming perfect knowledge - 'ground truth'. Too many of our 'new' ways of thinking about success in warfare hindge on this perfect knowledge - JFCOM's J9 coined it as Operational Net Assessment (ONA):confused: - others termed it as Common Operational Picture (COP).

Ain't gonna happen - never has - does not now - and never will. Once we get past that hurdle we can then move on to the 'good' on some of the 'new' ways of thinking about warfare - especially in a Small Wars or COIN environment.

Any system that relies on ground truth gets garbage in and spits garbage out. Effects based operations are a good thing - lets move forward with an assumption that we will not have intelligence / information 'dominance' and make it work... Too many shysters have co-opted the whole effects based concept for the distinct purpose of lining beltway bandit pocket books or service parochial rice bowels.

Bill Moore
03-18-2007, 06:31 PM
Out of desperation I did a google search for SOD and found two worthwhile papers (hopefully the links work).

The first one compares SOD and EBO and comes to the conclusion that there is little difference. See page 22 for an argument refuting the claim to perfect knowledge. I still agree with SWJED that a lot of belt ways bandits want to reduce EBO to a binary system, so "their" software program will produce the perfect answer, which is garbage. As SOD addresses, once you influence a system, the system changes, and you have to adjust.


The next paper which I only skimmed gives a pretty clear intent of SOD on page 52.


If the links fail I posted the following in google.com and the first two articles that came up are the ones I'm referencing:

SOD AND military AND planning

03-18-2007, 07:20 PM
Try this link from CARL for multiple papers on SOD.

http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cdm4/results.php?CISOOP1=all&CISOFIELD1=CISOSEARCHALL&CISORESTMP=%2Fcdm4%2Fresults.php&CISOVIEWTMP=%2Fcdm4%2Fitem_viewer.php&CISOMODE=grid&CISOGRID=thumbnail%2CA%2C1%3Btitle%2CA%2C1%3Bcreat o%2CA%2C1%3Bdescri%2C200%2C1%3Bnone%2CA%2C0%3B20%3 Btitle%2Ccreato%2Cdate%2Cnone%2Cnone&CISOBIB=title%2CA%2C1%2CN%3Bsubjec%2CA%2C0%2CN%3Bd escri%2C200%2C0%2CN%3Bnone%2CA%2C0%2CN%3Bnone%2CA% 2C0%2CN%3B20%3Btitle%2Cnone%2Cnone%2Cnone%2Cnone&CISOTHUMB=20+%284x5%29%3Btitle%2Cnone%2Cnone%2Cnon e%2Cnone&CISOTITLE=20%3Btitle%2Cnone%2Cnone%2Cnone%2Cnone&CISOHIERA=20%3Bsubjec%2Ctitle%2Cnone%2Cnone%2Cnone&CISOBOX1=SOD&CISOROOT=all

03-18-2007, 07:27 PM
Also go to the kink below and then go to #11 for an audio interview with Col. Warden on EBO,5 ring analysis and parallel warfare.


03-23-2007, 04:08 PM
Taken from Haaretz Israeli Newspaper:

"Last update - 15:50 23/03/2007 Member of war probe: Restraint eroded IDF deterrence By Nir Hasson and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents

The Winograd Committee investigating the Second Lebanon War released on Thursday the transcripts of three testimonies heard by the panel. In one of them, a member of the committee, Major General (res.) Menahem Einan, notes that Israel's policy of restraint along the northern border in the years before the war contributed to the erosion of Israel's deterrent against Hezbollah.

In another of the testimonies, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said he would not have embarked on the war in Lebanon last July if he were in charge.

The committee released to the public segments of transcripts of three of the first testimonies it heard, which also include those of former Military Intelligence chief Amos Malka, and Arnon Ben-Ami, head of the Emergency Economy Administration.

The committee is also planning to release next week segments of the transcripts of the testimony of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and wartime chief of staff Dan Halutz.

During the testimony of Malka, Einan asked him about Israel's policy of restraint in the North, the pullout from southern Lebanon in May 2000 and the period up to the abduction of the two soldiers and the outbreak of war in July 2006.

Einan argued that the abduction of three soldiers at Har Dov in October 2000 was a "crossing of a line."

"Between that time and up to the abduction on July 12 there were more such incidents, and again, the IDF reaction was limited, and almost became an idee fixe. I will call it a worldview, or a policy that is called 'containment' in military terminology," Einan said.

He blamed this on the loss of deterrent and said the "rules of the game" that Israel established in the North favored Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah "