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Thread: Going Big by Going Small

  1. #1
    Council Member
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    Oct 2005

    Default Going Big by Going Small

    Going Big by Going Small: The Application of Operational Art by Special Operations in Phase Zero
    By Brian S. Petit
    Outskirts Press, Inc
    Copy Right 2013

    This is a timely book that addresses the important and neglected subject of operational design for employing US Special Operations Forces (SOF) in Phase Zero (or in areas where we are not at war) to achieve strategic objectives. Our current joint doctrine for operational art and its associated design is focused on defeating adversaries in battle, while the lexicon and logic for operational art to the left of bang is notably absent. This study while focused on SOF has relevance at the broader joint and interagency level and recommended for theater campaign planners at all levels who are endeavoring to develop a Phase 0 campaign design that facilitates the logical arrangement of military engagements to achieve strategic objectives.

    In US military joint planning doctrine Phase 0 is focused on preventing conflict, and preparing to execute its various contingency plans if prevention fails. This study focuses on the preventive aspect of Phase 0 by studying special operations Phase 0 operational approaches in Columbia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Yemen. The author focuses on the employment of SOF with a small footprint, often enabled by the General Purpose Forces, using a mix of what the author refers to as special warfare and surgical strike approaches tailored to a particular challenge to help stabilize worsening security conditions in other countries. These operations are almost always subordinate to and in support of the Ambassador.

    In the book’s introduction the author explains the challenges associated with operational design in Phase 0, foremost of which is the lack of a grand strategy to guide our efforts. In lieu of a grand strategy the US has focused on engagement to sustain US security. If engagement is central to sustain national security then it is only logical the military needs to consider ways to improve its engagement strategy and practice to achieve its strategic objectives in Phase 0. The author doesn’t shy away from pointing out the difficulties in developing a coherent Phase 0 approach due to shortfalls in our doctrine and more importantly the challenges of synchronizing the interests and efforts of the host nation, embassy, combatant command, and SOF. He examines the frictions between these actors by studying a number of real world SOF engagements focusing on three categories and their impact on Phase 0 planning and operations: policy, programs and posture.

    Among many other recommendations the author suggests relooking joint doctrine and developing an expanded version of operational art for Phase 0, but adds an important caveat when he writes that special operations operational art that is too detached from joint doctrine or opaque to the interagency is useless. He also supports an increased focus on strategic level education for USSOF to encourage the expansion of an emerging strategic culture within SOF, and to externally educate the Joint Force and interagency on how special operations can be employed to achieve strategic effects in Phase 0.

    The author reached a number of conclusions, but the three that follow were the most relevant to me:

    -SOF do execute distinct Phase Zero campaigns compelled by innovative operational art.
    -DOD Joint doctrine elements of operational design require modification to better guide SOF Phase-0 campaign planning. For example he suggests replacing some of the joint doctrine elements of operational design with Special Operations (SO) Phase 0 Expressions. For example, replacing center of gravity with Right Partner, Place, Time (R3), and decisive points with decisive relationships.
    -Despite their clear distinctions, USSOF campaigns are inextricably tied to and in support of the macro-strategy of the combatant commander and the US country team.

    He does a superb job of illustrating the SOF approach and SO Phase 0 expressions apply by conducting a detailed analysis of SOF engagement in Columbia, which shows what can be done when the host nation, embassy, combatant command, and SOF are all rowing toward common ends enabled by the right programs and authorities, and trusted relationships from the tactical to the strategic. What may not be apparent to many readers is that it took years to get to that point, which the author argues is the paradoxical logic of Phase 0 where slow and steady with a small footprint is more effective than big and decisive.

    The book’s forward is written by a former USSOCOM Commander, Admiral (U.S. Navy, Retired) Eric Olson, he summarized it well when he wrote, “This book superbly examines the key intersections of strategy, policy, diplomacy, and special operations.” And adds, “His book is essential reading for those who seek to understand how the U.S. can wisely achieve its objectives abroad with a joint-force enabled special operations capability.

    Added, if ordering from Amazon use the link on the 'Support Us' page, so SWJ gets a contribution, or via this link:
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 11-09-2013 at 01:10 PM. Reason: Add Amazon link

  2. #2
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Default Good catch

    Looks like an interesting book.

    For example he suggests replacing some of the joint doctrine elements of operational design with Special Operations (SO) Phase 0 Expressions. For example, replacing center of gravity with Right Partner, Place, Time (R3), and decisive points with decisive relationships.
    -Despite their clear distinctions, USSOF campaigns are inextricably tied to and in support of the macro-strategy of the combatant commander and the US country team.
    “I am practicing being kind instead of right” - Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

    "Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best." - Babette's Feast

  3. #3
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2005



    I found it very interesting based on my profession and personal interests, and based on your numerous comments on SWJ I think you will too. This is not a criticism of the book, but readers should understand this book only addresses a part of the larger Phase 0 construct. The book focuses on SOF campaigns focused on individual countries, mostly against internal threats. It does not address the operational art associated with: setting conditions to successfully respond to contingencies, tackle global threat networks, or how the Geographical Combatant Command shapes the theater strategically in an effort to prevent conflict. SOF has a role in all these areas, and depending on where SOF is employed the priority focus areas may not be helping a nation address an internal threat. None the less the Phase 0 friction points and the logic of Phase 0 applies beyond the areas Petit focused on.

    Important to not that each theater will have different priorities SOF will need to support. SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM were redesigned or designed to focus on stability operations and they have a lot of interagency partners on their staffs to help develop whole of government approaches to these challenges. EUCOM SOF may find maintaining their partnership and improving inter-operability with NATO and emerging NATO partners is a higher priority than conducting stability operations, while CENTCOM will likely switch to a new posture with an expanded effort on Phase 0 to try to keep a lid on their region, while PACOM will focus on both and non-traditional challenges. A recent and good article on the strategic issues PACOM is wrestling with is on the journal titled, “The Role of an Air Sea Battle-Centric Posture in Strategic Reassurance.” While well argued you can see SOF was left out of the discussion. My concern with any book on operational art is higher level staffs will say brilliant, now I want SOF globally to operate this way, which actually flies in the face of Petit’s argument that SOF is value added because it can adjust to the environment and operational requirements versus coming in with a standardized SOF approach that may have worked somewhere else. SOF members who have been around the block understand this, but bean counters understandably like standardization. SOF can’t afford to fall into the standardized mold. We have to support our operational commander's priorities, and those priorities vary widely by region. Regardless of the operational priorities I think this book offers insights who will help the Phase 0 planners with their challenge.

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2013

    Default Wondering if this is one of our own?

    Bill, is this our Brian Petit?

  5. #5
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    Oct 2005



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