When a situation arises to which the United States considers deploying military forces, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and President of the United States (POTUS) require a range of options from which to address the situation. The current course of action development process fails to provide these options. This failure to provide a range of options limits strategic flexibility and oftentimes leads to an inadequate or inappropriate solution for the given circumstances. Joint planners must change their traditional mindset for course of action development to include options that consider the multiple environmental conditions. The operational environment is rife with inconsistencies, incompatible desires, and competing requirements and, as such, requires the planner to develop multiple options that address the potential prominence of one requirement over another. By addressing the competing requirements in this manner, the planner presents a more comprehensive view of the environment while presenting the SECDEF and POTUS with the flexibility to approach the situation from different perspectives.
Design thinking enables the planner to develop and propose such options within the current context of the joint operation planning process (JOPP) with a slight modification. In a potential or actual crisis, the President decides whether the employment of military capabilities is necessary. As stated in JP 5-0, “The President, SEDEF, or CJCS initiates planning by deciding to develop military options.” The Guidance for the Employment of the Force (GEF) and the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP) also direct combatant commanders to develop military options based upon given assumptions and conditions. Lack of specificity and perhaps a lack of understanding regarding the term “options” as prescribed by the SECDEF and strategic guidance documents are at the heart of the problem. As opposed to providing senior leadership with options for the employment of military force as desired, the planning process develops multiple courses of action to select the best single option to solve the problem. As a result, the current process presents strategic leadership with a virtual “fait accompli” regarding ways to use the military.
This essay proposes integrating elements of design thinking into the Mission Analysis and COA Development steps of the JOPP to develop the variety of options that the POTUS and SECDEF require in a complex and dynamic environment. This position is supported through the analysis of the strategic guidance and course of action development requirements. A discussion of the environmental constraints that shape the problem and the solution is critical to the critical and creative thinking process necessary when using the JOPP. The JOPP mission analysis step is discussed briefly to show how design thinking can be integrated into the planning process and how continuing that line of thinking into the COA Development step is a natural and necessary extension to develop options. Finally, this essay will show how design thinking informs decision-makers of the competing operational requirements resulting that can result in a broader range of options for the POTUS and SECDEF as the employment of military forces is considered.