'This is the Way.'
How useful are Decisive Events? When are Decisive Events appropriate? What even are Decisive Events?
Our doctrine makes it quite clear Decisive Events (DEs) are your essential tasks combined with the threat’s critical targetable vulnerabilities. If you have followed the Military Appreciation Process, then you will clearly understand both and be able to seamlessly meld them into a new product that will undoubtedly be critical to your plan… somehow.
For many years I found Decisive Events mystical, confounding and evasive. I could never truly comprehend their utility. That was, until I attended the Combat Officers Advanced Course (COAC) in 2018. The staff managed to do what nobody else had ever done before – explain, in an outstanding fashion, the utility of DEs as a planning tool to craft distinctive courses of action.
Before continuing, note that I do not intend to rehash the excellent work discussing DEs that has already been published. I’d encourage everyone interested in better understanding DEs and their utility to read Luke Dawson’s and Benjamin Gray’s informative article ‘Australian Tactical Design: Development and Use of Decisive Events’.
Instead, I aim to explain a way of developing and using DEs passed on by my COAC instructors. I expect any benefit from this two part article will rest largely with our junior officers, particularly those about to participate in their career courses. Yet I also hope it is helpful to anyone who has not been shown this simple tool before.
This article will discuss Defeat Mechanisms which will set the stage for discussing DEs using the Ways Matrix in Part Two of this series.
'I can bring you in warm, or I can bring you in cold.'
Land operations aim to defeat any threat through a series of actions which are orchestrated to a single purpose – to defeat the centre of gravity (LWD 3-0 Operations, Section 4-2 ‘Warfighting Approach’)
Before anyone can understand ‘the way’ to use the Ways Matrix, it helps to genuinely understand defeat mechanisms. ‘Striking at the enemy critical vulnerability, or centre of gravity can be described through defeat mechanisms’ (LWD 3-0 Operations, Section 4-2). They are the way you target the enemy’s vulnerabilities, and lead to their demise. Sadly, the language used to articulate defeat mechanisms is shrouded in bewildering language better suited to demonstrating academic fluency than developing proficient planners.
There are three types of defeat mechanism, which are pre-emption, disruption, and dislocation.
The first, pre-emption, is acting before the enemy to deny them the opportunity to execute one of their courses of action, or an objective, and possibly to achieve your own. Consider this – you arrive at the pub and spy an empty table. You swiftly send one of your mates to secure the seating before anyone else can sit down and stake claim to it. You have effectively pre-empted any competition by securing that ‘key terrain’ and denied them the course of action to do so. The interesting thing about pre-emption is, by its nature, impossible to prove was successful. If you pre-empt the enemy, you will never know (unless you manage to have a civil conversation after the fact with the enemy commander) if it was truly useful, because you have denied them the ability to ever take that action and therefore prove you were right in pre-empting them. Was anyone really going to sit at that table in the pub and prevent you the chance to? Quite possibly, but you can never be certain because you did so first. Regardless of its relative immeasurability, pre-emption remains an important defeat mechanism because of its potent shaping effect – you have changed the dynamic of the pub to other ‘would-be pub goers’ by denying them a table.
The second, to disrupt, is a direct attack on the enemy’s centre of gravity itself which necessitates generating a relative advantage to be successful (LWD 3-0). For example, if the enemy’s centre of gravity is their CSS (lets be specific and state their A2 echelon), then any attack on this element is disruption. This makes it easy to think that disruption is the simplest and most effective defeat mechanism; however, if the enemy is competent they will effectively protect their centre of gravity, which necessitates other actions before you can, if ever, execute disruption.
The third is dislocation. Whilst probably the most confusing, it is very potent. There are three forms of dislocation, being physical, functional, and temporal. All types of dislocation seek to render an enemy’s critical capability irrelevant, therefore undermining their centre of gravity. Ever played Jenga? Imagine the enemy’s centre of gravity is the Jenga tower itself, and the blocks that hold the tower up are its critical capabilities. By removing the blocks, you are ‘dislocating’ these critical capabilities from the tower (centre of gravity), eventually causing the whole thing to collapse. The different types of dislocation (physical, functional, temporal) are merely different ways of achieving this. I will attempt to explain each.
Each explanation will focus on a DATE adversary Ariannian BDET. Their centre of gravity is their combined arms teams (or orchestration).
Physical dislocation aims to focus the enemy’s strength at the wrong place. As an example, if one of the threat’s critical capabilities is their T-80 tanks, which are established in a hide and prepared to react to a number of Attack by Fire (ABF) positions, then a method of physical dislocation would be to cause that asset to move to the wrong ABF position, therefore ‘dislocating’ it physically. One way of doing so might be through a Feint, where you accept some of your force will have to make contact with those T-80s as a deception, but it is worth it to prevent them from influencing another, more critical, part of the battle.
Functional dislocation aims to render the enemy’s strength ineffective. As an example, using the same critical capability of the T-80 tanks, drawing those assets into close terrain without infantry support would functionally dislocate them, as it renders them less capable. Conversely, another threat critical capability of offensive support could be functionally dislocated by employing reverse slope defence (again, rendering their strength less effective).
Temporal dislocation aims to have the enemy employ their strength at the wrong time (i.e. at a time beneficial to the Blue Force’s plan). Again, using the T-80 critical capability, through deception you could temporally dislocate the tanks by triggering them to occupy their ABF earlier or later than would be effective against the Blue Force plan. Note the difference to Physical Dislocation is time based, not location – in this instance, we are accepting the T-80s will occupy their ABF most dangerous to the Blue Force plan, but we aim to have them do so at a time that renders it ineffective (early, for subsequent destruction before it can be useful to the enemy; or late so it is too late to be of use).
Before discussing the Ways Matrix tool itself, and to conclude this piece on defeat mechanisms, a good friend of mine offered the following method for remembering each type of dislocation (arguably the hardest to comprehend). Pretend you decide to have a fight with a rival over who gets to patron your favourite pub. To physically dislocate your enemy, you convince them to go to the wrong pub. To functionally dislocate them, you agree to a knife fight but then turn up with a gun. To temporally dislocate them, you agree to fight at 6pm, but you turn up at 5pm and seize the pub.
In Part Two of this article, we will get into the detail of exactly how to employ the Ways Matrix to construct useful DEs, drawing from information presented here on defeat mechanisms.
Thanks to Major Ryan Mitchell for the ‘pub fight’ methodology to remember each type of dislocation.