In any problem where an opposing force exists and cannot be regulated, one must foresee and provide for alternative courses. Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life … To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy’s power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met.
On the one hand, we have the science of war that is mainly the concern of “force providers,” the services and joint staff responsible for allocating forces, getting those forces to the theater of operations, and then resupplying them (the major functions of Transportation Command). This is why planners used to say that “the TPFDD [Time Phased Force Deployment Data] is the plan.” The TPFDD drove operations. How and in what order forces arrived in theater drove the plan, though the order of arrival of forces is theoretically based on the theater commander’s requirements. This was the essence of numbered war plans prior to 9/11.
On the other hand, we have actual warfighting. While science plays an enormous role in warfighting because firepower, mass, correlation of forces are so important, the plan must incorporate the art of war to ultimately succeed. In the 1990’s, theater commanders designed the war plans for warfighting and gave requirements for forces to the force provider for resourcing without regard to the four phase construct that Fish shows. That construct was merely illustrative. Some plans had five phases, some had seven, and some even had sub-phases (e.g., phase IIA, phase IIB). Theater commanders and planners enjoyed the latitude to develop a phasing construct that suited the conditions and threats the theater faced. Yes, Fish is correct in that that a common assumption was that an enemy would attack or invade the territory of a friend, partner, or ally and the United States would have to intervene. Still, the plans were not necessarily the “paint by numbers” construct that became the norm with the six-phase template of the post-9/11 world.
Why did we move from a varied phasing construct to the six-phase template? After 9/11, the war on terrorism competed for the many of the same resources as the major theater war plans. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld demanded a way to compare all war plans to ensure that they could be suitably resourced. If they could not be, planners were tasked with identifying risks as the war on terrorism was prosecuted. The simplest way to compare plans was to ensure they all had a standard phasing construct. While the four-phase construct that Fish described was clearly illustrative, it did not tie planners to those four phases. After 9/11, the new joint doctrine forced all planners to follow the same template regardless of the conditions, threats, and political objectives. This makes eminent sense from a resource allocation perspective, but actually hinders campaign planning and the stifles the intellectual rigor required for operational art and support to national strategy. Given the newly termed threats of the “gray zone” and other irregular threats, T.E. Lawrence’s admonition is apt: “Irregular warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.” How can we best apply creative thinking and the art of war in a 21st century environment characterized by ambiguous and irregular threats?