Tuesday 01 May 2018
This article on combined effects strategy is a continuation of the last two: blending theory with practice, and fundamentals of strategic thinking.
When we blend theory with practice, we do so to realise our goals. Theory can be inspirational as well as a “how to” guide. Vision 2021’s six objectives are indeed inspirational: a Cohesive Society and Preserved Identity; a Competitive Knowledge Economy; World-class Healthcare; a Sustainable Environment and Infrastructure; a First-Rate Education System; and a Safe Public and Fair Judiciary.
Applying some fundamentals of strategy, we can develop ways and means to achieve these ends. For instance, if we take the objective of a Competitive Knowledge Economy, then it follows that we need to attract and develop the means to achieve this. One reasonable option is a work force and an education system that create knowledge at internationally competitive levels. The UAE is doing this in different ways both short and long-term: indirectly, by renting labour and knowledge from elsewhere; and directly, by deliberately developing indigenous job skills and educational tracks.
This description is a conventional approach to strategy, similar to what we organise and apply in combined arms warfare. We combine complementary ways and means to create strengths that achieve advantageous ends.
Strategy can involve cooperative and confrontational ends, ways and means all at the same time. Also, let’s recall that thinking strategically means considering the possibility that ends, ways and means can be interchangeable. So, we might use a Competitive Knowledge Economy as a means to achieve more diverse economic growth. The ways we do this can vary too, from a top-down corporatism to bottom-up free market capitalism.
Combined effects strategy is about selecting a combination of desired effects that is more competitive than separately constructed effects. Going back to Vision 2021, we might ask, which combination of those objectives could create powerful synergies? A Competitive Knowledge Economy and a First-Rate Education System is the potential choice because each objective can strengthen the other. Some would argue that all of the objectives are compatible and mutually reinforcing. Combined effects strategy would determine which potential combinations are most likely to create decisive advantages within feasible ways and means. There are many types of First-Rate Education Systems, but which type will produce the kind of Competitive Knowledge Economy to which the nation can commit? These are the first-order strategic questions that focus on creating a superior combined effect.
Now let’s consider applying a combined effects approach to military strategy. Take a difficult question—which Vision 2021 objectives can the armed forces contribute to via ongoing operations abroad? In the absence of adding new Vision 2021 objectives, the objective of a Cohesive Society and Preserved Identity seems to be the best match. In this case, operations abroad are to be conducted in a manner that improves domestic cohesion and strengthens national identity. How do we generate lines of effect to bring this combination about? The means should target both will and capability, using ways that are both psychological and physical.
By employing a combined effects strategy, the main idea is to create superior results, not just superior operations or efforts. The challenge is to convert lines of operations and lines of effort into lines of effects. The next article will address more precisely how to plan to create combined effects.