The Targeting Working Group

A military operation is really one that is supposed to take a situation that is “unacceptable” to politicians and turn it into a situation that is “acceptable” to politicians. Clausewitz was correct in that war is a continuation of politics. One of the things that military professionals do is try to shape the upcoming fight before it happens by affecting the resources that the enemy has to accomplish his mission. And military professionals do this through some sort of targeting process.

Way back in the days of Goldwater-Nichols mandated DOD reforms a cultural shift imposed upon the military services started taking place. One of the shifts was the focus on “jointness” to ensure that all the services could fight together (against an enemy in war, although it most often feels like against each other in the Pentagon over dollars). One of the things that makes “joint” really “joint” is “joint targeting.”

The simplistic selling point is that the joint targeting process will allow the Air Component Commander and Land Component Commander to synchronize and harmonize assets to most efficiently (for the taxpayers) and effectively (for the folks doing the actual fighting) support the war effort. In reality it added additional layers of bureaucracy between the guy needing something blown up, and the delivery system that does the blowing up.

There are forms to fill out, there are meetings to hold, there are all sorts of “graphic control measures” to put on the maps to avoid fratricide by separating bullets from aircraft in time and space. It’s all very thorough.

Later, a good fifteen years after Goldwater-Nichols pushed jointness, some Arab terrorists hijacked a few airliners on a day in September. We crushed any military resistance the Taliban could offer in short order, then settled in for a nice long “nation building” mission. It wasn’t even two years later that the powers that be decided if one war was good, two was even better, and we crushed Iraq’s military in a brilliantly executed campaign before handing the stability mission over to the State Department as lead agency for stability operations. Both countries ended up supporting long insurgencies and so all that gorgeous targeting planning for crushing the Iraqi military, or destroying Taliban resistance, was now pretty useless.

This is when the “Target Working Group” really took on a life of its own. Do you have a particular “thing” upon which you desire a particular “effect”? Well then cheer up because that is the very heart of the targeting methodology! (Why it is methodology rather than “technique” I don’t know). But, no matter.

There are good ways to do target working groups, and there are bad ways. The bad ways involve long Line of Effort analysis sessions where people feel compelled to give their “expert opinion” and much time is wasted, many words are said, and everyone looks for reasons to be on “battlefield rotation” before the next regularly scheduled target working group except for some artillerymen who are seeking relevancy and Officer Evaluation Report bullets.

The good ways follow this format. The Intel Officer briefs what he thinks the enemy composition, disposition, strength, and mission looks like. The Operations Officer briefs what he knows the friendly composition, disposition, strength, and mission looks like. Some other guy, maybe Information Operations or Civil Affairs, briefs what the civilians in the area of operations have for composition, disposition, and who they are currently supporting and whether that is changing. Then a “war game” using something like the box or belt method is conducted by the Intel Officer (playing the enemy) and the Operations Officer (playing the friendly commander) and everyone else observes. At the end of every turn in the war game, everyone in the working group has the opportunity to nominate something for targeting. Maybe it’s the enemy commander’s financier to disrupt his operational tempo, maybe it’s a radio repeater, maybe it’s a mortar tube that the Intel guy templated on the map at a particular area. Once a target is nominated, everyone in the group has to agree, usually through silence, that the target is worthwhile to develop.

Once the target has been nominated without being vetoed by a group member, you have to allocate some detection asset to detect it, and assign some asset to deliver an effect on it, and assign some asset to assess whether the effect was achieved or not. You also have to add other details like size, activity, and how long you are willing to prosecute without having eyes on the target (sometimes that’s exactly zero minutes), and whether you should divert other assets to deliver the effect if that target pops up or not.

After all the targets for that one turn of wargaming is complete, the next turn in the wargame takes place, and the cycle continues. The Intel guy briefs red, the Operations guy briefs blue, and the third guy briefs the predicted change in the civil environment from what the Red and Blue actors are doing. Then targets are nominated, and the details hashed out. After all the turns are complete, the nominated targets to to the Commander for bless off. There are other methods, but this is the one I’m most familiar with (other than the long drawn out Lines of Effort based targeting working group, which I hope dies on the vine soon).

Since the “War on Terror” really became, “How can the military not screw up nation building yet again” the Targeting Cycle became much more deliberate, and much more long game focused. Now that the military is going, “damn, Russia and China don’t look to be insurgent situations” the training pace for things like targeting (and combined arms maneuver supported by targeting” has increased in tempo by orders of magnitude. Essentially every time the tactical situation changes on either the friendly, enemy, or civil side of the situation you have to go through another targeting cycle to address the conditions that are, not the conditions that were.

Now all of this is probably as interesting as explaining how Jiffy Lube works really hard to minimize the time it takes to complete an oil change, after all, as the customer all you really care about is that the oil change gets done. Well, as a taxpayer and citizen all you really care about is whether or not the “unacceptable” conditions become “acceptable” conditions through military actions. But sometimes people like to sneak a peak behind the curtain to see what is going on, and I hope this has been informative, even if not completely entertaining.

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