On Operational Unpredictability

By Captain Justin Lynch, US Army

Series Introduction

            This paper is the second of a three part discussion of uncertainty and unpredictability in warfare. The first reviewed strategic unpredictability caused by an opaque enemy decision making process. The third will discuss uncertainty and unpredictability at the platoon and company level, both for linear warfare and counterinsurgencies. This one will discuss uncertainty and unpredictability at the operational level of war, particularly for counterinsurgencies. 

 Unpredictability at the Operational Level of War

            The last 14 years of warfare have seen a shift in the American military’s focus. Instead of confronting traditional state actors, most fighting has been an attempt to establish order in lawless areas. These conflicts have and will continue to pit militaries with a preponderance of combat power against elusive forces that use a strategy of exhaustion. The military’s greatest challenge is not their enemy’s tactical virtuosity. It is an uncertain and unpredictable environment.

The Creation of Extremes

            Warfare lends itself to the creation of extremes. One extreme is the desire for information. Planning creates a reciprocal action between planners and intelligence personnel. Planners want more information. Their intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets provide what information they can, but never enough to sate the planner. Lack of satisfaction drives demand for more information, and the development of new systems and technology to provide it. The new systems and technology create information abundance, establishing a new standard for the minimum amount of information required for operations. Taken to its logical extreme, the reciprocal action leads to absolute knowledge of the operating environment.

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