By: Maj. Donald P. Carter, U.S. Army
This article touches on the struggle of using intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) in today’s complex society. The new U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World 2020-2040 (AOC) is focused on complexity. The AOC defines a complex environment as one “that is not only unknown, but unknowable and constantly changing.” The author of this article talks about a few main points on how IPB may not be as affective in today’s complex society. The combination of globalization and advances in technology has changed the nature and character of warfare. The U.S. Army defines IPB as, “the systematic process of analyzing the mission variables of enemy, terrain, weather, and civil considerations in an area of interest to determine their effect on operations.” Currently the default analytical model is intelligence preparation of the battlefield to generating understanding and supporting the military decision making process. The author argues that the era of clearly defined battle lines is over making IPB less effective. IPB is used on well-structured problems to support commanders against a relatively well-known enemy in a conventional combined arms maneuver fight. The author argues that systemic operational design or similar systems theory approaches are more effective because they focus on environmental systems.
English philosopher Karl Popper has an analogy on the differences between “clouds” and “clocks” that illustrates the author’s point. Popper describes clocks as well defined and systematic, which are easily disassembled and reduced to parts. There are defined solutions to fix clocks. Clouds are amorphous, messy, and ill defined, just like a lot of our new problems. Clouds are highly unpredictable. IPB narrowly frames critical thinking. In complex environments, IPB, may constrain thought and critical thinking about the environment and underlying problems. Unknown environments with no templates will produce IPB products that are random with no contextualized information and data points. However, the author argues we will never fully understand the full complexity of the “cloud”. We are able to understand the “clock,” and develop a strategy on how to fix it. To solve the new world problems there needs to be a balance of IPB and systems theory approaches complement each other.
The author does an excellent job on describing why IPB has been effective in the past. It is structured and is able to be fixed to generate an actual plan. The author talked a lot about how the new problems are highly unpredictable, cloud like. Which I’m sure has validity to it, however he never really addresses how to overcome the cloud like problems. In the end he is pretty much claiming their needs to be a mixture between IPB and systems theory approaches. He spent a lot of time putting down the future effectiveness of IPB, instead he should have elaborating on this balance.