MDMP, Chapter 4, Commander and Staff Officer Guide ATTP 5-0.1


4-1.       The military decisionmaking process is an iterative planning methodology that integrates the activities of the commander, staff, subordinate headquarters, and other partners to understand the situation and mission; develop and compare courses of action; decide on a course of action that best accomplishes the mission; and produce an operation plan or order for execution (FM 5-0). The military decisionmaking process (MDMP) helps leaders apply thoroughness, clarity, sound judgment, logic, and professional knowledge to understand situations, develop options to solve problems, and reach decisions. This process helps commanders, staffs, and others think critically and creatively while planning.

Note: An Army headquarters (battalion through Army Service component command) uses the MDMP and publishes plans and orders in accordance with the Army plans and orders format (see Chapter 12).

An Army headquarters that forms the base of a joint task force uses the joint operation planning process (JOPP) and publishes plans and orders in accordance with the joint format (see JP 5-0 and CJCSM 3122.03C).

An Army headquarters (such as Army Corps) that provides the base of a joint force or coalition forces land component command headquarters will participate in joint planning and receive a joint formatted plan or order. This headquarters then has the option to use the MDMP or JOPP to develop its own supporting plan or order written in the proper Army or joint format to distribute to subordinate commands.


4-2.       The MDMP facilitates collaborative planning. The higher headquarters solicits input and continuously shares information concerning future operations through planning meetings, warning orders, and other means. It shares information with subordinate and adjacent units, supporting and supported units, and other military and civilian partners. Commanders encourage active collaboration among all organizations affected by the pending operations to build a shared understanding of the situation, participate in course of action development and decisionmaking, and resolve conflicts before publishing the plan or order.

4-3.       During planning, assessment focuses on developing an understanding of the current situation and determining what to assess and how to assess progress using measures of effectiveness and measures of performance. Developing the unit’s assessment plan occurs during the MDMP—not after developing the plan or order. ( Chapter 7 discusses formal assessment plans.)

4-4.       The MDMP also drives preparation. Since time is a factor in all operations, commanders and staffs conduct a time analysis early in the planning process. This analysis helps them determine what actions they need and when to begin those actions to ensure forces are ready and in position before execution. This may require the commander to direct subordinates to start necessary movements, conduct task organization changes, begin surveillance and reconnaissance operations, and execute other preparation activities before completing the plan. As the commander and staff conduct the MDMP, they direct the tasks in a series of warning orders (WARNOs).

4-5.       Depending on complexity of the situation, commanders can initiate design activities before or in parallel with the MDMP. Design can assist them in understanding the operational environment, framing the problem, and considering operational approaches to solve or manage the problem. The products of design, including the design concept, would guide more detailed planning as part of the MDMP. In parallel with the MDMP, members of the staff conduct mission analysis as the commander and other staff members engage in design activities prior to course of action development. In time-constrained conditions or if the problem is relatively straight forward, commanders can conduct the MDMP without the benefit of a formal design process. During execution, the commander can conduct design to help refine the understanding and visualization, and adjust the plan as required.


4-6.       The MDMP consists of seven steps as shown in Figure 4-1. Each step of the MDMP has various inputs, a method (step) to conduct, and outputs. The outputs lead to an increased understanding of the situation facilitating the next step of the MDMP. Commanders and staffs generally perform these steps sequentially; however, they may revisit several steps in an iterative fashion as they learn more about the situation before producing the plan or order.

4-7.       Commanders initiate the MDMP upon receipt of or in anticipation of a mission. Commanders and staffs often begin planning in the absence of a complete and approved higher headquarters’ operation plan (OPLAN) or operation order (OPORD). In these instances, the headquarters begins a new planning effort based on a WARNO and other directives, such as a planning order or an alert order from their higher headquarters. This requires active collaboration with the higher headquarters and parallel planning among echelons as the plan or order is developed.


4-8.       The commander is the most important participant in the MDMP. More than simply decisionmakers in this process, commanders use their experience, knowledge, and judgment to guide staff planning efforts. While unable to devote all their time to the MDMP, commanders follow the status of the planning effort, participate during critical periods of the process, and make decisions based on the detailed work of the staff. During the MDMP, commanders focus their activities on understanding, visualizing, and describing.

4-9.       The MDMP stipulates several formal meetings and briefings between the commander and staff to discuss, assess, and approve or disapprove planning efforts as they progress. However, experience has shown that optimal planning results when the commander meets informally at frequent intervals with the staff throughout the MDMP. Such informal interaction between the commander and staff can improve the staff’s understanding of the situation and ensure their planning effort adequately reflects the commander’s visualization of the operation.

4-10.   The chief of staff (COS) or executive officer (XO) is a key participant in the MDMP. The COS (XO) manages and coordinates the staff’s work and provides quality control during the MDMP. To effectively supervise the entire process, this officer clearly understands the commander’s intent and guidance. The COS (XO) provides timelines to the staff, establishes briefing times and locations, and provides any instructions necessary to complete the plan.

4-11.   The staff’s effort during the MDMP focuses on helping the commander understand the situation, make decisions, and synchronize those decisions into a fully developed plan or order. Staff activities during planning initially focus on mission analysis. The products the staff develops during mission analysis help commanders understand the situation and develop the commander’s visualization. During course of action (COA) development and COA comparison, the staff provides recommendations to support the commander in selecting a COA. After the commander makes a decision, the staff prepares the plan or order that reflects the commander’s intent, coordinating all necessary details.

Figure 4-1. The steps of the military decisionmaking process


4-12.   The MDMP can be as detailed as time, resources, experience, and the situation permit. Conducting all steps of the MDMP is detailed, deliberate, and time-consuming. Commanders use the full MDMP when they have enough planning time and staff support to thoroughly examine two or more COAs and develop a fully synchronized plan or order. This typically occurs when planning for an entirely new mission.

4-13.   Commanders may alter the steps of the MDMP to fit time-constrained circumstances and produce a satisfactory plan. In time-constrained conditions, commanders assess the situation, update the commander’s visualization, and direct the staff to perform the MDMP activities that support the required decisions. (See paragraphs 4-186 through 4-189.) In extremely compressed situations, commanders rely on more intuitive decisionmaking techniques, such as the rapid decisionmaking and synchronization process.


4-14.   The remainder of this chapter describes the methods and provides techniques for conducting each step of the MDMP. It describes the key inputs and expected key outputs to each step. It also describes how the staff integrates intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB), targeting, composite risk management (CRM), and reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization throughout the MDMP.


4-15.   Commanders initiate the MDMP upon receipt or in anticipation of a mission. This step alerts all participants of the pending planning requirements, enabling them to determine the amount of time available for planning and preparation and decide on a planning approach, including guidance on design and how to abbreviate the MDMP, if required. When commanders identify a new mission, commanders and staffs perform the actions and produce the expected key outputs.

Alert the Staff and Other Key Participants

4-16.   As soon as a unit receives a new mission (or when the commander directs), the current operations integration cell alerts the staff of the pending planning requirement. Unit standard operating procedures (SOPs) should identify members of the planning staff who participate in mission analysis. In addition, the current operations integration cell also notifies other military, civilian, and host-nation organizations of pending planning events as required.

Gather the Tools

4-17.   Once notified of the new planning requirement, the staff prepares for mission analysis by gathering the needed tools. These tools include, but are not limited to—

l  Appropriate field manuals, including FM 5-0 and FM 1-02.

l  All documents related to the mission and area of operations (AO), including the higher headquarters’ OPLAN and OPORD, maps and terrain products, and operational graphics.

l  Higher headquarters’ and other organizations’ intelligence and assessment products.

l  Estimates and products of other military and civilian agencies and organizations.

l  Both their own and the higher headquarters’ SOPs.

l  Current running estimates.

l  Any design products, including the design concept.

4-18.   The gathering of knowledge products continues throughout the MDMP. Staff officers carefully review the reference sections (located before paragraph 1. Situation) of the higher headquarters’ OPLANs and OPORDs to identify documents (such as theater policies and memoranda) related to the upcoming operation. If the MDMP occurs while in the process of replacing another unit, the staff begins collecting relevant documents—such as the current OPORD, branch plans, current assessments, operations and intelligence summaries, and SOPs—from that unit.

Update Running Estimates

4-19.   While gathering the necessary tools for planning, each staff section begins updating its running estimate—especially the status of friendly units and resources and key civil considerations that affect each functional area. Running estimates not only compile critical facts and assumptions from the perspective of each staff section, but also include information from other staff sections and other military and civilian organizations. While listed at the beginning of the MDMP, this task of developing and updating running estimates continues throughout the MDMP and the operations process.

Conduct Initial Assessment

4-20.   During receipt of mission, the commander and staff conduct an initial assessment of time and resources available to plan, prepare, and begin execution of an operation. This initial assessment helps commanders determine—

l  The time needed to plan and prepare for the mission for both headquarters and subordinate units.

l  Guidance on design and abbreviating the MDMP, if required.

l  Which outside agencies and organizations to contact and incorporate into the planning process.

l  The staff’s experience, cohesiveness, and level of rest or stress.

4-21.   This assessment primarily identifies an initial allocation of available time. The commander and staff balance the desire for detailed planning against the need for immediate action. The commander provides guidance to subordinate units as early as possible to allow subordinates the maximum time for their own planning and preparation of operations. As a rule, commanders allocate a minimum of two-thirds of available time for subordinate units to conduct their planning and preparation. This leaves one-third of the time for commanders and their staff to do their planning. They use the other two-thirds for their own preparation. Time, more than any other factor, determines the detail to which the commander and staff can plan.

4-22.   Based on the commander’s initial allocation of time, the COS (XO) develops a staff planning timeline that outlines how long the headquarters can spend on each step of the MDMP. The staff planning timeline indicates what products are due, who is responsible for them, and who receives them. It includes times and locations for meetings and briefings. It serves as a benchmark for the commander and staff throughout the MDMP.

Issue the Commander’s Initial Guidance

4-23.   Once time is allocated, the commander determines whether to initiate design, conduct design and MDMP in parallel, or proceed directly into the MDMP without the benefits of formal design activities. In time-sensitive situations where commanders decide to proceed directly into the MDMP, they may also issue guidance on how to abbreviate the process. Having determined the time available together with the scope and scale of the planning effort, commanders issue initial planning guidance. Although brief, the initial guidance includes, but is not limited to—

l  Initial time allocations.

l  A decision to initiate design or go straight into the MDMP.

l  How to abbreviate the MDMP, if required.

l  Necessary coordination to exchange liaison officers.

l  Authorized movements and initiation of any reconnaissance and surveillance.

l  Collaborative planning times and locations.

l  Initial information requirements.

l  Additional staff tasks.

Issue the Initial Warning Order

4-24.   The last task in receipt of mission is to issue a WARNO to subordinate and supporting units. This order includes at a minimum the type of operation, the general location of the operation, the initial timeline, and any movement or reconnaissance to initiate.


4-25.   The MDMP continues with an assessment of the situation called mission analysis. Commanders (supported by their staffs and informed by subordinate and adjacent commanders and by other partners) gather, analyze, and synthesize information to orient themselves on the current conditions of the operational environment. The commander and staff conduct mission analysis to better understand the situation and problem, and identify what the command must accomplish, when and where it must be done, and most importantly why—the purpose of the operation.

4-26.   Since no amount of subsequent planning can solve an insufficiently understood problem, mission analysis is the most important step in the MDMP. This understanding of the situation and the problem allows commanders to visualize and describe how the operation may unfold in their initial commander’s intent and planning guidance. During mission analysis, the commander and staff perform the process actions and produce the outputs shown in Figure 4-2.

Analyze the Higher Headquarters’ Plan or Order

4-27.   Commanders and staffs thoroughly analyze the higher headquarters’ plan or order. They determine how their unit—by task and purpose—contributes to the mission, commander’s intent, and concept of operations of the higher headquarters. The commander and staff seek to completely understand—

l  The higher headquarters’—

n  Commander’s intent.

n  Mission.

n  Concept of operations.

n  Available assets.

n  Timeline.

l  The missions of adjacent, supporting, and supported units and their relationships to the higher headquarters’ plan.

l  The missions of interagency, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental organizations that work in the operational areas.

l  Their assigned area of operations.

4-28.   If the commander misinterprets the higher headquarters’ plan, time is wasted. Additionally, when analyzing the higher order, the commander and staff may identify difficulties and contradictions in the higher order. Therefore, if confused by the higher headquarters’ order or guidance, commanders must seek immediate clarification. Liaison officers familiar with the higher headquarters’ plan can help clarify issues. Collaborative planning with the higher headquarters also facilitates this task. Staffs use requests for information to clarify or obtain additional information from the higher headquarters.

Perform Initial Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

4-29.   IPB and the products it produces help the commander and staffs understand situations. IPB is a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and operational environment in a specific geographic area. Led by the intelligence officer, the entire staff participates in IPB to develop and maintain an understanding of the enemy, terrain and weather, and key civil considerations. (See FM 2‑01.3 for a more detailed discussion of IPB.)

4-30.   IPB begins in mission analysis and continues throughout the operations process. Results of the initial IPB include terrain products and weather products (to include the modified combined obstacle overlay), likely enemy COAs, high-value target lists, and explanations of how key civil considerations affect the operation. Additionally, the initial IPB identifies gaps in information that the commander uses to establish initial priority intelligence requirements and requests for information.

Figure 4-2. Mission analysis

Determine Specified, Implied, and Essential Tasks

4-31.   The staff analyzes the higher headquarters’ order and the higher commander’s guidance to determine their specified and implied tasks. In the context of operations, a task is a clearly defined and measurable activity accomplished by Soldiers, units, and organizations that may support or be supported by other tasks. The “what” of a mission statement is always a task. From the list of specified and implied tasks, the staff determines essential tasks for inclusion in the recommended mission statement.

4-32.   specified task is a task specifically assigned to a unit by its higher headquarters. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the higher headquarters’ order or plan state specified tasks. Some tasks may be in paragraphs 4 and 5. Specified tasks may be listed in annexes and overlays. They may also be assigned verbally during collaborative planning sessions or in directives from the higher commander.

4-33.   An implied task is a task that must be performed to accomplish a specified task or mission but is not stated in the higher headquarters’ order. Implied tasks are derived from a detailed analysis of the higher headquarters’ order, the enemy situation, the terrain, and civil considerations. Additionally, analysis of doctrinal requirements for each specified task might disclose implied tasks.

4-34.   When analyzing the higher order for specified and implied tasks, the staff also identifies any be-prepared or on-order missions. be-prepared mission is a mission assigned to a unit that might be executed. Generally a contingency mission, commanders execute it because something planned has or has not been successful. In planning priorities, commanders plan a be-prepared mission after any on-order mission.An on-order mission is a mission to be executed at an unspecified time. A unit with an on-order mission is a committed force. Commanders envisions task execution in the concept of operations; however, they may not know the exact time or place of execution. Subordinate commanders develop plans and orders and allocate resources, task-organize, and position forces for execution.

4-35.   Once staff members have identified specified and implied tasks, they ensure they understand each task’s requirements and purpose. Once accomplished, the staff then looks for essential tasks. An essential task is a specified or implied task that must be executed to accomplish the mission. Essential tasks are always included in the unit’s mission statement.

Review Available Assets and Identify Resource Shortfalls

4-36.   The commander and staff examine additions to and deletions from the current task organization, command and support relationships, and status (current capabilities and limitations) of all units. This analysis also includes capabilities of civilian and military organizations (joint, special operations, and multinational) that operate within their unit’s AO. They consider relationships among specified, implied, and essential tasks, and between them and available assets. From this analysis, staffs determine if they have the assets needed to complete all tasks. If shortages occur, they identify additional resources needed for mission success to the higher headquarters. Staffs also identify any deviations from the normal task organization and provide them to the commander to consider when developing the planning guidance. A more detailed analysis of available assets occurs during COA development.

Determine Constraints

4-37.   The commander and staff identify any constraints placed on their command. constraint is a restriction placed on the command by a higher command. A constraint dictates an action or inaction, thus restricting the freedom of action of a subordinate commander. Constraints are found in paragraph 3 of the OPLAN or OPORD. Annexes to the order may also include constraints. The operation overlay, for example, may contain a restrictive fire line or a no fire area. Constraints may also be issued verbally, in WARNOs, or in policy memoranda.

4-38.   Constraints may also be based on resource limitations within the command, such as organic fuel transport capacity, or physical characteristics of the operational environment, such as the number of vehicles that can cross a bridge in a specified time.

4-39.   The commander and staff should coordinate with the Staff Judge Advocate for a legal review of perceived or obvious constraints, restraints, or limitations in the OPLAN, OPORD, or related documents.

4-40.   Joint doctrine’s term operational limitation includes the terms constraints and restrictions. These latter terms differ from Army doctrine. Refer to JP 5-0 for joint definitions on operational limitations, constraints, and restraints.

Identify Critical Facts and Develop Assumptions

4-41.   Plans and orders are based on facts and assumptions. Commanders and staffs gather facts and develop assumptions as they build their plan. A fact is a statement of truth or a statement thought to be true at the time. Facts concerning the operational and mission variables serve as the basis for developing situational understanding, for continued planning, and when assessing progress during preparation and execution.

4-42.   In the absence of facts, the commander and staff consider assumptions from their higher headquarters and develop their own assumptions necessary for continued planning. An assumption is a supposition on the current situation or a presupposition on the future course of events, either or both assumed to be true in the absence of positive proof, necessary to enable the commander in the process of planning to complete an estimate of the situation and make a decision on the course of action (JP 1-02).

4-43.   Having assumptions requires commanders and staff to continually attempt to replace those assumptions with facts. The commander and staff should list and review the key assumptions on which fundamental judgments rest throughout the MDMP. Rechecking assumptions is valuable at any time during the operations process prior to rendering judgments and making decisions.

Begin Composite Risk Management

4-44.   The Army primarily uses CRM for identifying hazards and controlling risks during operations. Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing, and controlling risks arising from operational factors and of making decisions that balance risk costs with mission benefits (FM 5-19). (See FM 5-19 for a detailed discussion on CRM.)

4-45.   The chief of protection (or S-3 in units without a protection cell) in coordination with the safety officer integrates CRM into the MDMP. All staff sections integrate CRM for hazards within their functional areas. Units conduct the first four steps of CRM in the MDMP. FM 5‑19 addresses the details for conducting CRM, including products of each step.

Develop Initial Commander’s Critical Information Requirements and Essential Elements of Friendly Information

4-46.   Mission analysis identifies gaps in information required for further planning and decisionmaking during preparation and execution. During mission analysis, the staff develops information requirements (IRs). Information requirements are all information elements the commander and staff require to successfully conduct operations (FM 6‑0). Some IRs are of such importance to the commander that staffs nominate them to the commander to become a commander’s critical information requirement (CCIR). CCIRs consist of friendly force information requirements and priority intelligence requirements. (See FM 6-0.)

4-47.   Commanders determine their CCIRs and consider the nominations of the staff. CCIRs are situation-dependent and specified by the commander for each operation. Commanders continuously review the CCIRs during the planning process and adjust them as situations change. The initial CCIRs developed during mission analysis normally focus on decisions the commander needs to make to focus planning. Once the commander selects a COA, the CCIRs shift to information the commander needs in order to make decisions during preparation and execution. Commanders designate CCIRs to inform the staff and subordinates what they deem essential for making decisions. The fewer the CCIRs, the better the staff can focus its efforts and allocate sufficient resources for collecting them.

4-48.   In addition to nominating CCIRs to the commander, the staff also identifies and nominates essential elements of friendly information (EEFIs). Although EEFIs are not CCIRs, they have the same priority as CCIRs and require approval by the commander. An EEFI establishes an element of information to protect rather than one to collect. EEFIs identify those elements of friendly force information that, if compromised, would jeopardize mission success. Like CCIRs, EEFIs change as an operation progresses.

4-49.   Depending on the situation, the commander and selected staff members meet prior to the mission analysis brief to approve the initial CCIRs and EEFIs. This is especially important if the commander intends to conduct reconnaissance and collect information early in the planning process. The approval of the initial CCIRs early in planning assist the staff in developing the initial reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization plan and the subsequent reconnaissance and surveillance plan. Approval of an EEFI allows the staff to begin planning and implementing measures to protect friendly force information, such as military deception and operations security.

Develop Initial Reconnaissance and Surveillance Synchronization Tools

4-50.   Commanders use the reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization process to assess reconnaissance and surveillance asset reporting and adjust reconnaissance and surveillance activities. Reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization ensures the commander’s requirements drive reconnaissance and surveillance activities and reporting in time to influence decisions and operations. Synchronizing includes all assets the commander controls, assets made available from lateral units or higher echelon units and organizations, requests for information, and intelligence reach to support intelligence production and dissemination that answer the CCIRs. During reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization, the G-2 (S-2)—

l  Identifies requirements and intelligence gaps.

l  Evaluates available assets (internal and external) to collect information.

l  Determines gaps in the use of those assets.

l  Recommends those reconnaissance and surveillance assets controlled by the organization to collect on the IRs.

l  Submits requests for information for adjacent and higher collection support.

l  Submits information gathered during reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization to the G-3 (S-3) for integrating and developing the reconnaissance and surveillance plan.

4-51.   During mission analysis, the staff identifies IRs to support situational understanding and continued planning. Based on the commander’s guidance, the staff, led by the G-2 (S-2), determines the best way of satisfying those requirements. In some instances, the G-2 (S-2) recommends the use of internal reconnaissance or surveillance assets to collect information. In other instances, the G-2 (S-2) recommends a request for information to the higher headquarters.

4-52.   In many instances, a staff section within the headquarters can satisfy IRs by researching open sources. Open sources include books, magazines, encyclopedias, Web sites, and tourist maps. Academic sources, such as articles and university personnel, also provide critical information. Other open sources discuss civil considerations, such as culture, language, history, current events, and actions of governments. Teams of anthropologists and other social scientists attached to a headquarters rely heavily on open sources to satisfy IRs. The knowledge management staff section can also assist them in accessing specific data.

4-53.   The results of reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization conducted during mission analysis leads to the creation of reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization tools. The intelligence staff section continues to refine these synchronization tools throughout the MDMP for inclusion in Annex L (Reconnaissance and Surveillance) of the plan or order.

Develop Initial Reconnaissance and Surveillance Plan

4-54.   Reconnaissance and surveillance integration follows reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization. The G-3 (S-3) leads the staff through reconnaissance and surveillance integration to task available reconnaissance and surveillance assets to satisfy IRs identified in the initial reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization matrix. Reconnaissance and surveillance integration consists of the following tasks:

l  Develop the reconnaissance and surveillance plan by developing—

n  The reconnaissance and surveillance scheme of support.

n  The reconnaissance and surveillance tasking matrix.

n  The reconnaissance and surveillance overlay.

l  Issue order (warning, operation, or fragmentary order).

4-55.   The initial reconnaissance and surveillance plan is crucial to begin or adjust the collection effort to help answer IRs identified during reconnaissance and surveillance synchronization. Reconnaissance and surveillance assets are tasked or dispatched as soon as possible. The initial reconnaissance and surveillance plan sets reconnaissance and surveillance in motion. Staff may issue it as part of a WARNO, a fragmentary order, or an OPORD. Upon the completion of planning, the initial reconnaissance and surveillance plan becomes Annex L(Reconnaissance and Surveillance) of the plan or order.

Update Plan for the Use of Available Time

4-56.   As more information becomes available, the commander and staff refine their initial plan for the use of available time. They compare the time needed to accomplish tasks to the higher headquarters’ timeline to ensure mission accomplishment is possible in the allotted time. They compare the timeline to the assumed enemy timeline or the projected timelines within the civil sector with how they anticipate conditions will unfold. From this, they determine windows of opportunity for exploitation, times when the unit will be at risk for enemy activity, or when action to arrest deterioration in the civil sector is required.

4-57.   The commander and COS (XO) also refine the staff planning timeline. The refined timeline includes the—

l  Subject, time, and location of briefings the commander requires.

l  Times of collaborative planning sessions and the medium over which they will take place.

l  Times, locations, and forms of rehearsals.

Develop Initial Themes and Messages

4-58.   Gaining and maintaining the trust of key actors is an important aspect of operations. Faced with the many different actors (individuals, organizations, and the public) connected with the operation, commanders identify and engage those actors who matter to operational success. These actors’ behaviors can help solve or complicate the friendly forces’ challenges as commanders strive to accomplish missions.

4-59.   Information themes and messages support operations and military actions. An information theme is a unifying or dominant idea or image that expresses the purpose for military action. Information themes tie to objectives, lines of effort, and end state conditions. They are overarching and apply to capabilities of public affairs, military information support operations, and leader and Soldier engagements. A message is a verbal, written, or electronic communications that supports an information theme focused on a specific actor or the public and in support of a specific action (task). Units transmit information themes and messages to those actors or the public whose perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors matter to the success of an operation. Commanders and their units coordinate what they do, say, and portray through information themes and messages.

4-60.   The G-7 (S-7) develops initial information themes and messages for the command. This officer, with support from the entire staff, reviews the higher headquarters’ information themes and messages and military information support operations approval guidelines. If available, the G-7 (S-7) reviews internal design products, including the initial commander’s intent, mission narrative, and planning guidance. This officer refines information themes and messages throughout the MDMP as commanders refine their commander’s intent and planning guidance and staffs develop, evaluate, and decide COAs. The G-7 (S-7) coordinates inform and influence activities by chairing the communications strategy work group in the mission command cell.

Develop a Proposed Problem Statement

4-61.   A problem is an issue or obstacle that makes it difficult to achieve a desired goal or objective. As such, a problem statement is the description of the primary issue or issues that may impede commanders from achieving their desired end states.


Note: The commander, staff, and other partners develop the problem statement as part of design. During mission analysis, the commander and staff review the problem statement and revise it as necessary based on the increased understanding of the situation. If design activities do not precede mission analysis, then the commander and staff develop a problem statement prior to moving to COA development.

4-62.   How the problem is formulated leads to particular solutions. As such, it is important that commanders dedicate the time in identifying the right problem to solve and describe it clearly in a problem statement. Ideally, the commander and members of the staff meet to share their analysis of the situation. They talk with each other, synthesize the results of the current mission analysis, and determine the problem. If the commander is not available, the staff members talk among themselves.

4-63.   As part of the discussion to help identify and understand the problem, the staff—

l  Compares the current situation to the desired end state.

l  Brainstorms and lists issues that impede the commander from achieving the desired end state.

4-64.   Based on this analysis, the staff develops a proposed problem statement—a statement of the problem to be solved—for the commander’s approval.

Develop a Proposed Mission Statement

4-65.   The COS (XO) or operations officer prepares a proposed mission statement for the unit based on the mission analysis. The commander receives and approves the unit’s mission statement normally during the mission analysis brief. A mission statement is a short sentence or paragraph that describes the organization’s essential task (or tasks) and purpose—a clear statement of the action to be taken and the reason for doing so. The mission statement contains the elements of who, what, when, where, and why, but seldom specifies how (JP 5-0). The five elements of a mission statement answer the questions:

l  Who will execute the operation (unit or organization)?

l  What is the unit’s essential task (tactical mission task)?

l  When will the operation begin (by time or event) or what is the duration of the operation?

l  Where will the operation occur (AO, objective, grid coordinates)?

l  Why will the force conduct the operations (for what purpose)?


Example 1. Not later than 220400 Aug 09 (when), 1st Brigade (who) secures ROUTE SOUTH DAKOTA (what/task) in AO JACKRABBIT (where) to enable the movement of humanitarian assistance materials (why/purpose).

Example 2. 1-505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (who) seizes (what/task) JACKSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (where) not later than D-day, H+3 (when) to allow follow-on forces to air-land into AO SPARTAN (why/purpose).

4-66.   The mission statement may have more than one essential task. The following example shows a mission statement for a phased operation with a different essential task for each phase.


Example. 1-509th Parachute Infantry Regiment (who) seizes (what/task) JACKSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (where) not later than D-day, H+3 (when) to allow follow-on forces to air-land into AO SPARTAN (why/purpose). On order (when), secure (what/task) OBJECTIVE GOLD (where) to prevent the 2d Pandor Guards Brigade from crossing the BLUE RIVER and disrupting operations in AO SPARTAN (why/purpose).

4-67.   The who, where, and when of a mission statement are straightforward. The what and why are more challenging to write and can confuse subordinates if not stated clearly. The what is a task and is expressed in terms of action verbs. These tasks are measurable and can be grouped as “actions by friendly forces” or “effects on enemy forces.” The why puts the task into context by describing the reason for performing it. Thewhy provides the mission’s purpose—the reason the unit is to perform the task. It is extremely important to mission command and mission orders.

4-68.   Commanders should use tactical mission tasks or other doctrinally approved tasks contained in combined arms field manuals or mission training plans in mission statements. These tasks have specific military definitions that differ from dictionary definitions. A tactical mission taskis a specific activity performed by a unit while executing a form of tactical operation or form of maneuver. It may be expressed as either an action by a friendly force or effects on an enemy force (FM 7-15). FM 3-90 describes each tactical task. FM 3-07 provides a list of primary stability tasks which military forces must be prepared to execute. Commanders and planners should carefully choose the task that best describes the commander’s intent and planning guidance.

Present the Mission Analysis Briefing

4-69.   The mission analysis briefing informs the commander of the results of the staff’s analysis of the situation. It helps the commander understand, visualize, and describe the operations. Throughout the mission analysis briefing, the commander, staff, and other partners discuss the various facts and assumptions about the situation. Staff officers present a summary of their running estimates from their specific functional area and how their findings impact or are impacted by other areas. This helps the commander and staff as a whole to focus on the interrelationships among the mission variables and to develop a deeper understanding of the situation. The commander issues guidance to the staff for continued planning based on situational understanding gained from the mission analysis briefing.

4-70.   Ideally, the commander holds several informal meetings with key staff members before the mission analysis briefing, including meetings to assist the commander in developing CCIRs, the mission statement, and information themes and messages. These meetings enable commanders to issue guidance for activities (such as reconnaissance and surveillance operations) and develop their initial commander’s intent and planning guidance.

4-71.   A comprehensive mission analysis briefing helps the commander, staff, subordinates, and other partners develop a shared understanding of the requirements of the upcoming operation. Time permitting, the staff briefs the commander on its mission analysis using the following outline:

l  Mission and commander’s intent of the headquarters two levels up.

l  Mission, commander’s intent, and concept of operations of the headquarters one level up.

l  A proposed problem statement.

l  A proposed mission statement.

l  Review of the commander’s initial guidance.

l  Initial IPB products, including civil considerations that impact the conduct of operations.

l  Specified, implied, and essential tasks.

l  Pertinent facts and assumptions.

l  Constraints.

l  Forces available and resource shortfalls.

l  Initial risk assessment.

l  Proposed information themes and messages.

l  Proposed CCIRs and EEFIs.

l  Initial reconnaissance and surveillance plan.

l  Recommended timeline.

l  Recommended collaborative planning sessions.

During the mission analysis briefing or shortly thereafter, commanders approve the mission statement and CCIRs. They then develop and issue their initial commander’s intent and planning guidance.

Develop and Issue Initial Commander’s Intent

4-72.   Based on their situational understanding, commanders summarize their visualization in their initial commander’s intent statement. The initial commander’s intent links the operation’s purpose with conditions that define the desired end state. Commanders may change their intent statement as planning progresses and more information becomes available. It must be easy to remember and clearly understood two echelons down. The shorter the commander’s intent, the better it serves these purposes. Typically, the commander’s intent statement is three to five sentences long.

Develop and Issue Initial Planning Guidance

4-73.   Commanders provide planning guidance along with their initial commander’s intent. Planning guidance conveys the essence of the commander’s visualization. Guidance may be broad or detailed, depending on the situation. The initial planning guidance outlines an operational approach—a broad conceptualization of the general actions that will produce the conditions that define the desired end state (FM 5-0). The guidance outlines specific COAs the commander desires the staff to look at as well as rules out any COAs the commander will not accept. That clear guidance allows the staff to develop several COAs without wasting effort on things that the commander will not consider. It reflects how the commander sees the operation unfolding. It broadly describes when, where, and how the commander intends to employ combat power to accomplish the mission within the higher commander’s intent.

4-74.   Commanders use their experience and judgment to add depth and clarity to their planning guidance. They ensure staffs understand the broad outline of their visualization while allowing the latitude necessary to explore different options. This guidance provides the basis for a detailed concept of operations without dictating the specifics of the final plan. As with their intent, commanders may modify planning guidance based on staff and subordinate input and changing conditions.

4-75.   Commanders issue planning guidance when conducting design and at specific points during the MDMP:

l  Upon receipt of or in anticipation of a mission (initial planning guidance).

l  Following mission analysis (planning guidance for COA development).

l  Following COA development (revised planning guidance for COA improvements).

l  COA approval (revised planning guidance to complete the plan).

4-76.   Table 4-1 lists the commander’s planning guidance by warfighting function. This list is not intended to meet the needs of all situations. Commanders tailor planning guidance to meet specific needs based on the situation rather than address each item.

Develop Course of Action Evaluation Criteria

4-77.   Evaluation criteria are standards the commander and staff will later use to measure the relative effectiveness and efficiency of one COA relative to other COAs. Developing these criteria during mission analysis or as part of commander’s planning guidance helps to eliminate a source of bias prior to COA analysis and comparison. Evaluation criteria address factors that affect success and those that can cause failure. Criteria change from mission to mission and must be clearly defined and understood by all staff members before starting the war game to test the proposed COAs. Normally, the COS (XO) initially determines each proposed criterion with weights based on the assessment of its relative importance and the commander’s guidance. Commanders adjust criterion selection and weighting according to their own experience and vision. The staff member responsible for a functional area scores each COA using those criteria. The staff presents the proposed evaluation criteria to the commander at the mission analysis brief for approval.

Issue a Warning Order

4-78.   Immediately after the commander gives the planning guidance, the staff sends subordinate and supporting units a WARNO. (See Chapter 12 for example.) It contains, at a minimum—

l  The approved mission statement.

l  The commander’s intent.

l  Changes to task organization.

l  The unit AO (sketch, overlay, or some other description).

l  CCIRs and EEFIs.

l  Risk guidance.

l  Priorities by warfighting functions.

l  Military deception guidance.

l  Essential stability tasks.

l  Specific priorities.


4-79.   A COA is a broad potential solution to an identified problem. The COA development step generates options for follow-on analysis and comparison that satisfy the commander’s intent and planning guidance. During COA development, planners use the problem statement, mission statement, commander’s intent, planning guidance, and various knowledge products developed during mission analysis.

Table 4-1. Commander’s planning guidance by warfighting function


Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissanceKnowledge gapsEnemy courses of action

Priority intelligence requirements

High-value targets

Terrain and weather factors

Local environment and civil considerationsCounterintelligenceIntelligence support requests

Intelligence focus during phased operations

Desired enemy perception of friendly forces


Protection prioritiesPriorities for survivability assetsAir and missile defense positioning

Terrain and weather factors

Intelligence focus and limitations for security

Acceptable risk

Protected targets and areas

Vehicle and equipment safety or security constraintsEnvironmental considerationsUnexploded ordnance

Operational security risk tolerance

Rules of engagement

Escalation of force and nonlethal weapons

Movement and Maneuver

Initial commander’s intentCourse of action development guidanceNumber of courses of action to consider or not consider

Critical events

Task organization

Task and purpose of subordinate units

Forms of maneuver

Reserve composition, mission, priorities, and control measures

Security and counterreconnaissanceFriendly decision pointsBranches and sequels

Reconnaissance and surveillance integration

Military deception

Risk to friendly forces

Collateral damage or civilian casualties

Any condition that affects achievement of end state


Sustainment priorities—manning, fueling, fixing, arming, moving the force, and sustaining Soldiers and systemsArmy health system supportSustainment of internment and resettlement activities Construction and provision of facilities and installationsDetainee movementAnticipated requirements of classes III, IV, and V

Controlled supply rates


Synchronization and focus of fires with maneuverPriority of firesHigh priority targets

Special munitions

Target acquisition zones

Observer plan

Task and purpose of firesSuppression of enemy air defensesFire support coordination measures

Attack guidance

Branches and sequels

No strike list

Restricted target list

Mission Command

Friendly forces information requirementRules of engagementCommand post positioning

Commander’s location

Initial themes and messages

Succession of command

Liaison officer guidancePlanning and operational guidance timelineType of order and rehearsal

Communications guidance

Civil affairs operations

4-80.   Embedded in COA development is the application of operational and tactical art. Planners develop different COAs by varying combinations of the elements of operational design, such as phasing, lines of effort, and tempo. (See FM 3-0.) Planners convert the approved COA into the concept of operations.

4-81.   The commander’s direct involvement in COA development greatly aids in producing comprehensive and flexible COAs within the available time. To save time, the commander may also limit the number of COAs staffs develop or specify particular COAs not to explore. Planners examine each prospective COA for validity using the following screening criteria:

l  Feasible. The COA can accomplish the mission within the established time, space, and resource limitations.

l  Acceptable. The COA must balance cost and risk with the advantage gained.

l  Suitable. The COA can accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent and planning guidance.

l  Distinguishable. Each COA must differ significantly from the others (such as scheme of maneuver, lines of effort, phasing, use of the reserve, and task organization).

l  Complete. A COA must incorporate—

n  How the decisive operation leads to mission accomplishment.

n  How shaping operations create and preserve conditions for success of the decisive operation or effort.

n  How sustaining operations enable shaping and decisive operations or efforts.

n  How to account for offensive, defensive, and stability or civil support tasks.

n  Tasks to be performed and conditions to be achieved.

4-82.   A good COA positions the force for sequels and provides flexibility to meet unforeseen events during execution. It also gives subordinates the maximum latitude for initiative. During COA development, the commander and staff continue risk assessment, focus on identifying and assessing hazards to mission accomplishment, and incorporate proposed controls to mitigate them into COAs. The staff also continues to revise IPB products, emphasizing event templates. During COA development, commanders and staffs perform the process actions and produce the outputs shown in Figure 4-3.


Note: If design precedes or is conducted in parallel with the MDMP, the updated design concept provides an overarching structure for COA development.

Figure 4-3. COA development

Assess Relative Combat Power

4-83.   Combat power is the total means of destructive, constructive, and information capabilities that a military unit/formation can apply at a given time. Army forces generate combat power by converting potential into effective action (FM 3-0). Combat power is the effect created by combining the elements of intelligence, movement and maneuver, fires, sustainment, protection, mission command, information, and leadership. The goal is to generate overwhelming combat power to accomplish the mission at minimal cost.

4-84.   To assess relative combat power, planners initially make a rough estimate of force ratios of maneuver units two levels down. For example, at division level, planners compare all types of maneuver battalions with enemy maneuver battalion equivalents. Planners then compare friendly strengths against enemy weaknesses, and vice versa, for each element of combat power. From these comparisons, they may deduce particular vulnerabilities for each force that may be exploited or may need protection. These comparisons provide planners insight into effective force employment.

4-85.   In troop-to-task analysis for stability and civil support operations, staffs determine relative combat power by comparing available resources to specified or implied stability or civil support tasks. This analysis provides insight as available options and needed resources. In such operations, the elements of sustainment, movement and maneuver, nonlethal effects, and information may dominate.

4-86.   By analyzing force ratios and determining and comparing each force’s strengths and weaknesses as a function of combat power, planners can gain insight into—

l  Friendly capabilities that pertain to the operation.

l  The types of operations possible from both friendly and enemy perspectives.

l  How and where the enemy may be vulnerable.

l  How and where friendly forces are vulnerable.

l  Additional resources needed to execute the mission.

l  How to allocate existing resources.

4-87.   Planners must not develop and recommend COAs based solely on mathematical analysis of force ratios. Although the process uses some numerical relationships, the estimate is largely subjective. Assessing combat power requires assessing both tangible and intangible factors, such as morale and levels of training. A relative combat power assessment identifies exploitable enemy weaknesses, identifies unprotected friendly weaknesses, and determines the combat power necessary to conduct essential stability or civil support tasks.

Generate Options

4-88.   Based on the commander’s guidance and the initial results of the relative combat power assessment, the staff generates options. A good COA can defeat all feasible enemy COAs while accounting for essential stability tasks. In an unconstrained environment, planners aim to develop several possible COAs. Depending on available time, commanders may limit the options in the commander’s guidance. Options focus on enemy COAs arranged in order of their probable adoption or on those stability tasks that are most essential to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

4-89.   Brainstorming is the preferred technique for generating options. It requires time, imagination, and creativity, but it produces the widest range of choices. The staff (and members of organizations outside the headquarters) remains unbiased and open-minded when developing proposed options.

4-90.   In developing COAs, staff members determine the doctrinal requirements for each proposed operation, including doctrinal tasks for subordinate units. For example, a deliberate breach requires a breach force, a support force, and an assault force. Essential stability tasks require the ability to provide a level of civil security, civil control, and certain essential services. In addition, the staff considers the potential capabilities of attachments and other organizations and agencies outside military channels.

4-91.   When generating options, the staff starts with the decisive operation identified in the commander’s planning guidance. The staff checks that the decisive operation nests within the higher headquarters’ concept of operations. The staff clarifies the decisive operation’s purpose and considers ways to mass the effects (lethal and nonlethal) of overwhelming combat power to achieve it.

4-92.   Next, the staff considers shaping operations. The staff establishes a purpose for each shaping operation tied to creating or preserving a condition for the decisive operation’s success. Shaping operations may occur before, concurrently with, or after the decisive operation. A shaping operation may be designated as the main effort if executed before or after the decisive operation.

4-93.   The staff then determines sustaining operations necessary to create and maintain the combat power required for the decisive operation and shaping operation. After developing the basic operational organization for a given COA, the staff then determines the essential tasks for each decisive, shaping, and sustaining operation.

4-94.   Once staff members have explored possibilities for each COA, they examine each COA to determine if it satisfies the screening criteria stated in paragraph 4-81. In doing so, they change, add, or eliminate COAs as appropriate. During this process, staffs avoid focusing on the development of one good COA among several throwaway COAs.

Array Forces

4-95.   After determining the decisive and shaping operations and their related tasks and purposes, planners determine the relative combat power required to accomplish each task. Often, planners use minimum historical planning ratios shown in Table 4-2 as a starting point. For example, historically defenders have over a 50 percent probability of defeating an attacking force approximately three times their equivalent strength. Therefore, as a starting point, commanders may defend on each avenue of approach with roughly a 1:3 force ratio.

Table 4-2. Historical minimum planning ratios

Friendly Mission Position Friendly : Enemy
Delay 1:6
Defend Prepared or fortified 1:3
Defend Hasty 1:2.5
Attack Prepared or fortified 3:1
Attack Hasty 2.5:1
Counterattack Flank 1:1

4-96.   Planners determine whether these and other intangibles increase the relative combat power of the unit assigned the task to the point that it exceeds the historical planning ratio for that task. If it does not, planners determine how to reinforce the unit. Combat power comparisons are provisional at best. Arraying forces is tricky, inexact work, affected by factors that are difficult to gauge, such as impact of past engagements, quality of leaders, morale, maintenance of equipment, and time in position. Levels of electronic warfare support, fire support, close air support, civilian support, and many other factors also affect arraying forces.

4-97.   In counterinsurgency operations, planners can develop force requirements by gauging troop density—the ratio of security forces (including host-nation military and police forces as well as foreign counterinsurgents) to inhabitants. Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 residents in an AO. Twenty counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents are often considered the minimum troop density required for effective counterinsurgency operations; however, as with any fixed ratio, such calculations strongly depend on the situation. (See FM 3-24.)

4-98.   Planners also determine relative combat power with regard to civilian requirements and conditions that require attention and then array forces and capabilities for stability tasks. For example, a COA may require a follow-on force to establish civil security, maintain civil control, and restore essential services in a densely populated urban area over an extended period. Planners conduct a troop-to-task analysis to determine the type of units and capabilities needed to accomplish these tasks.

4-99.   Planners then proceed to initially array friendly forces starting with the decisive operation and continuing with all shaping and sustaining operations. Planners normally array ground forces two levels down. The initial array focuses on generic ground maneuver units without regard to specific type or task organization and then considers all appropriate intangible factors. For example, at corps level, planners array generic brigades. During this step, planners do not assign missions to specific units; they only consider which forces are necessary to accomplish its task. In this step, planners also array assets to accomplish essential stability tasks.

4-100.      The initial array identifies the total number of units needed and identifies possible methods of dealing with the enemy and stability tasks. If the number arrayed is less than the number available, planners place additional units in a pool for use when they develop a broad concept. (See paragraph 4-101.) If the number of units arrayed exceeds the number available and the difference cannot be compensated for with intangible factors, the staff determines whether the COA is feasible. Ways to make up the shortfall include requesting additional resources, accepting risk in that portion of the AO, or executing tasks required for the COA sequentially rather than simultaneously. Commanders should also consider requirements to minimize and relieve civilian suffering. Establishing civil security and providing essential services such as medical care, food and water, and shelter are implied tasks for commanders during any combat operation. (See FM 3-07 for a full discussion on stability tasks.)

Develop a Broad Concept

4-101.      The broad concept describes how arrayed forces will accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent. It concisely expresses thehow of the commander’s visualization and will eventually provide the framework for the concept of operations. The broad concept summarizes the contributions of all warfighting functions. The staff develops a broad concept for each COA expressed in both narrative and graphic forms. A sound COA is more than the arraying of forces. It presents an overall combined arms idea that will accomplish the mission. The broad concept includes the following, but is not limited to—

l  The purpose of the operation.

l  A statement of where the commander will accept risk.

l  Identification of critical friendly events and transitions between phases (if the operation is phased).

l  Designation of the decisive operation, along with its task and purpose, linked to how it supports the higher headquarters’ concept.

l  Designation of shaping operations, along with their tasks and purposes, linked to how they support the decisive operation.

l  Designation of sustaining operations, along with their tasks and purposes, linked to how they support the decisive and shaping operations.

l  Designation of the reserve, including its location and composition.

l  Reconnaissance and security operations.

l  Essential stability tasks.

l  Identification of maneuver options that may develop during an operation.

l  Assignment of subordinate AOs.

l  Scheme of fires.

l  Information themes, messages, and means of delivery.

l  Military deception operations.

l  Key control measures.

4-102.      Planners select control measures, including graphics, to control subordinate units during an operation. These establish responsibilities and limits that prevent subordinate units’ actions from impeding one another. These measures also foster coordination and cooperation between forces without unnecessarily restricting freedom of action. Good control measures foster decisionmaking and individual initiative. (See FM 3-90 for a discussion of control measures associated with offensive and defensive operations. See FM 1-02 for doctrinal control measures and rules for drawing control measures on overlays and maps.)

4-103.      Planners may use both lines of operations and lines of effort to build their broad concept. Lines of operations portray the more traditional links among objectives, decisive points, and centers of gravity. A line of effort, however, helps planners link multiple tasks with goals, objectives, and end state conditions. Combining lines of operations with lines of efforts allows planners to include nonmilitary activities in their broad concept. This combination helps commanders incorporate stability or civil support tasks that, when accomplished, help set end state conditions of the operation.

4-104.      Based on the commander’s planning guidance (informed by the design concept if design preceded the MDMP), planners develop lines of effort by—

l  Confirming end state conditions from the initial commander’s intent and planning guidance.

l  Determining and describing each line of effort.

l  Identifying objectives (intermediate goals) and determining tasks along each line of effort.

4-105.      During COA development, lines of efforts are general and lack specifics, such as tasks to subordinate units associated to objectives along each line of effort. Units develop and refine lines of effort, to include specific tasks to subordinate units, during war-gaming. (See FM 3-0 and FM 3-07 for examples of operations depicted along lines of effort.)

4-106.      As planning progresses, commanders may modify lines of effort and add details while war-gaming. Operations with other instruments of national power support a broader, comprehensive approach to stability operations. Each operation, however, differs. Commanders develop and modify lines of effort to focus operations on achieving the end state, even as the situation evolves.

Assign Headquarters

4-107.      After determining the broad concept, planners create a task organization by assigning headquarters to groupings of forces. They consider the types of units to be assigned to a headquarters and the ability of that headquarters to control those units. Generally, a headquarters controls at least two subordinate maneuver units (but not more than five) for fast-paced offensive or defensive operations. The number and type of units assigned to a headquarters for stability operations vary based on factors of the mission variables (known as METT-TC). If planners need additional headquarters, they note the shortage and resolve it later. Task organization takes into account the entire operational organization. It also accounts for the special mission command requirements for operations, such as a passage of lines, gap crossing, or air assault.

Prepare Course of Action Statements and Sketches

4-108.      The G-3 (S-3) prepares a COA statement and supporting sketch for each COA. The COA statement clearly portrays how the unit will accomplish the mission. The COA statement briefly expresses how the unit will conduct the combined arms concept. The sketch provides a picture of the movement and maneuver aspects of the concept, including the positioning of forces. Together, the statement and sketch cover thewho (generic task organization), what (tasks), whenwhere, and why (purpose) for each subordinate unit.

4-109.      The COA sketch includes the array of generic forces and control measures, such as—

l  The unit and subordinate unit boundaries.

l  Unit movement formations (but not subordinate unit formations).

l  The line of departure or line of contact and phase lines, if used.

l  Reconnaissance and security graphics.

l  Ground and air axes of advance.

l  Assembly areas, battle positions, strong points, engagement areas, and objectives.

l  Obstacle control measures and tactical mission graphics.

l  Fire support coordination and airspace coordinating measures.

l  Main effort.

l  Location of command posts and critical information systems nodes.

l  Known or templated enemy locations.

l  Population concentrations.

4-110.      Planners can include identifying features (such as cities, rivers, and roads) to help orient users. The sketch may be on any medium. What it portrays is more important than its form. Figure 4-4 provides a sample COA sketch and COA statement for a brigade combat team.


Figure 4-4. Sample brigade COA sketch

Conduct a Course of Action Briefing

4-111.      After developing COAs, the staff briefs them to the commander. A collaborative session may facilitate subordinate planning. The COA briefing includes—

l  An updated IPB.

l  Possible enemy COAs.

l  The approved problem statement and mission statement.

l  The commander’s and higher commander’s intents.

l  COA statements and sketches, including lines of effort if used.

l  The rationale for each COA, including—

n  Considerations that might affect enemy COAs.

n  Critical events for each COA.

n  Deductions resulting from the relative combat power analysis.

n  The reason units are arrayed as shown on the sketch.

n  The reason the staff used the selected control measures.

n  The impact on civilians.

n  How it accounts for minimum essential stability tasks.

n  Updated facts and assumptions.

n  Refined COA evaluation criteria.

Select or Modify Courses of Action for Continued Analysis

4-112.      After the COA briefing, the commander selects or modifies those COAs for continued analysis. The commander also issues planning guidance. If commanders reject all COAs, the staff begins again. If commanders accept one or more of the COAs, staff members begin COA analysis. The commander may create a new COA by incorporating elements of one or more COAs developed by the staff. The staff then prepares to war-game this new COA. The staff incorporates those modifications and ensures all staff members understand the changed COA.


4-113.      COA analysis enables commanders and staffs to identify difficulties or coordination problems as well as probable consequences of planned actions for each COA being considered. It helps them think through the tentative plan. COA analysis may require commanders and staffs to revisit parts of a COA as discrepancies arise. COA analysis not only appraises the quality of each COA but also uncovers potential execution problems, decisions, and contingencies. In addition, COA analysis influences how commanders and staffs understand a problem and may require the planning process to restart.

4-114.      War-gaming is a disciplined process, with rules and steps that attempt to visualize the flow of the operation, given the force’s strengths and dispositions, enemy’s capabilities and possible COAs, impact and requirements of civilians in the AO, and other aspects of the situation. The simplest form of war-gaming is the manual method, often utilizing a tabletop approach with blowups of matrixes and templates. The most sophisticated form of war-gaming is modern, computer-aided modeling and simulation. Regardless of the form used, each critical event within a proposed COA should be war-gamed using the action, reaction, and counteraction methods of friendly and enemy forces interaction. This basic war-gaming method (modified to fit the specific mission and environment) applies to offensive, defensive, and stability or civil support operations. When conducting COA analysis, commanders and staffs perform the process actions and produce the outputs shown in Figure 4-5.

4-115.      War-gaming results in refined COAs, a completed synchronization matrix, and decision support templates and matrixes for each COA. A synchronization matrix records the results of a war game. It depicts how friendly forces for a particular COA are synchronized in time, space, and purpose in relation to an enemy COA or other events in stability or civil support operations. The decision support template and matrix portray key decisions and potential actions that are likely to arise during the execution of each COA.

Figure 4-5. COA analysis and war-gaming

4-116.      COA analysis allows the staff to synchronize the six warfighting functions for each COA. It also helps the commander and staff to—

l  Determine how to maximize the effects of combat power while protecting friendly forces and minimizing collateral damage.

l  Further develop a visualization of the operation.

l  Anticipate operational events.

l  Determine conditions and resources required for success.

l  Determine when and where to apply force capabilities.

l  Identify coordination needed to produce synchronized results.

l  Determine the most flexible COA.

4-117.      During the war game, the staff takes each COA and begins to develop a detailed plan while determining its strengths or weaknesses. War-gaming tests and improves COAs. The commander, staff, and other available partners (and subordinate commanders and staffs if the war game is conducted collaboratively) may change an existing COA or develop a new COA after identifying unforeseen events, tasks, requirements, or problems.

General War-Gaming Rules

4-118.      War gamers need to—

l  Remain objective, not allowing personality or their sense of “what the commander wants” to influence them.

l  Avoid defending a COA just because they personally developed it.

l  Record advantages and disadvantages of each COA accurately as they emerge.

l  Continually assess feasibility, acceptability, and suitability of each COA. If a COA fails any of these tests, reject it.

l  Avoid drawing premature conclusions and gathering facts to support such conclusions.

l  Avoid comparing one COA with another during the war game. This occurs during COA comparison.

War-Gaming Responsibilities

4-119.      This section describes the responsibilities of key staff members during the war game.

Chief of Staff (Executive Officer)

4-120.      The COS (XO) coordinates actions of the staff during the war game. This officer is the unbiased controller of the process, ensuring the staff stays on a timeline and achieves the goals of the war-gaming session. In a time-constrained environment, this officer ensures that, at a minimum, the decisive operation is war-gamed.


4-121.      During the war game, the assistant chief of staff (ACOS), G-2 (S-2), intelligence role-plays the enemy commander. This officer develops critical enemy decision points in relation to the friendly COAs, projects enemy reactions to friendly actions, and projects enemy losses. The intelligence officer assigns different responsibilities to available staff members within the section (such as the enemy commander, friendly intelligence officer, and enemy recorder) for war-gaming. The intelligence officer captures the results of each enemy action and counteraction as well as the corresponding friendly and enemy strengths and vulnerabilities. By trying to win the war game for the enemy, the intelligence officer ensures that the staff fully addresses friendly responses for each enemy COA. For the friendly force, the intelligence officer—

l  Identifies IRs.

l  Refines the situation and event templates, including named areas of interest that support decision points.

l  Refines the event template with corresponding decision points, target areas of interest, and high-value targets.

l  Participates in targeting to select high-payoff targets from high-value targets identified during IPB.

l  Recommends priority intelligence requirements that correspond to the decision points.

Movemenent and Maneuver

4-122.      During the war game, the ACOS, G-3 (S-3), operations, and ACOS, G-5 (S-5), plans, are responsible for movement and maneuver. The G-3 (S-3) normally selects the technique for the war game and role-plays the friendly maneuver commander. Various staff officers assist the G-3 (S-3), such as the aviation officer and engineer officer. The G-3 (S-3) executes friendly maneuver as outlined in the COA sketch and COA statement. The G-5 (S-5) assesses warfighting requirements, solutions, and concepts for each COA; develops plans and orders; and determines potential branches and sequels arising from various war-gamed COAs. The G-5 (S-5) also coordinates and synchronizes warfighting functions in all plans and orders. The planning staff ensures that the war game of each COA covers every operational aspect of the mission. The members of the staff record each event’s strengths and weaknesses and the rationale for each action. They complete the decision support template and matrix for each COA. They annotate the rationale for actions during the war game and use it later with the commander’s guidance to compare COAs.


4-123.      The chief of fires (fire support officer) assesses the fire support feasibility of each war-gamed COA. The chief of fires develops the fire support execution matrix and evaluation criteria to measure the effectiveness of the fire support for each COA. This officer develops a proposed high-priority target list, target selection standards, and attack guidance matrix. The chief of fires identifies named and target areas of interest, high-value targets, high-priority targets, and additional events that may influence the positioning of fire support assets.


4-124.      The chief of protection assesses protection element requirements, refines EEFIs, and develops a scheme of protection for each war-gamed COA. The chief—

l  Refines the critical asset list and the defended asset list.

l  Assesses threats and hazards.

l  Develops risk control measures and mitigation measures of threats and hazards.

l  Establishes personnel recovery coordination measures.

l  Synchronizes air and missile defense.

l  Implements operational area security to include security of lines of communications, antiterrorism measures, and law enforcement operations.

l  Ensures survivability measures reduce vulnerabilities.

l  Refines chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear operations.


4-125.      The following officers are responsible for sustainment during the war game:

l  ACOS, G-1 (S-1), personnel.

l  ACOS, G-4 (S-4), logistics.

l  ACOS, G-8, financial management.

l  Surgeon.

4-126.      During the war game, the G-1 (S-1) assesses the personnel aspect of building and maintaining the combat power of units. This officer identifies potential shortfalls and recommends COAs to ensure units maintain adequate manning to accomplish their mission. As the primary staff officer assessing the human resources planning considerations to support sustainment operations, the G-1 (S-1) provides human resources support for the operation.

4-127.      The G-4 (S-4) assesses the logistics feasibility of each war-gamed COA. This officer determines critical requirements for each logistics function (classes I through VII, IX, and X) and identifies potential problems and deficiencies. The G-4 (S‑4) assesses the status of all logistics functions required to support the COA, including potential support required to provide essential services to the civilians, and compares it to available assets. This officer identifies potential shortfalls and recommends actions to eliminate or reduce their effects. While improvising can contribute to responsiveness, only accurately predicting requirements for each logistics function can ensure continuous sustainment. The logistics officer ensures that available movement times and assets support each COA.

4-128.      During the war game, the G-8 assesses the commander’s area of responsibility to determine the best COA for use of resources. This assessment includes both core functions of financial management: resource management and finance operations. This officer determines partner relationships (joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational), requirements for special funding, and support to the procurement process.

4-129.      The surgeon section coordinates, monitors, and synchronizes the execution of the Army health system (AHS) activities for the command for each war-gamed COA to ensure a fit and healthy force.

Mission Command

4-130.      The following officers are responsible for aspects of mission command during the war game:

l  ACOS, G-6 (S-6), signal.

l  ACOS, G-7 (S-7), inform and influence activities.

l  ACOS, G-9 (S-9), civil affairs operations.

l  Red team officer.

l  Staff Judge Advocate.

l  Operations research and systems analysis officer.

l  Safety officer.

4-131.      The G-6 (S-6) assesses network operations, electromagnetic spectrum operations, network defense, and information protection feasibility of each war-gamed COA. The G-6 (S-6), determines communication systems requirements and compares them to available assets, identifies potential shortfalls, and recommends actions to eliminate or reduce their effects.

4-132.      The G-7 (S-7) assesses how effectively the operations reflect the inform and influence activities; the effectiveness of capabilities to execute (deliver) inform and influence activities in support of each war-gamed COA; and how inform and influence activities impact various audiences of interest and populations in and outside the AO. The G-7 also integrates cyber/electromagnetic activities with inform and influence activities.

4-133.      The G-9 (S-9) ensures each war-gamed COA effectively integrates civil considerations (the “C” of METT‑TC). The civil affairs operations officer considers not only tactical issues but also sustainment issues. This officer assesses how operations affect civilians and estimates the requirements for essential stability tasks commanders might have to undertake based on the ability of the unified action. Host-nation support and care of dislocated civilians are of particular concern. The civil affairs operations officer’s analysis considers how operations affect public order and safety, the potential for disaster relief requirements, noncombatant evacuation operations, emergency services, and the protection of culturally significant sites. This officer provides feedback on how the culture in the AO affects each COA. If the unit lacks an assigned civil affairs operations officer, the commander assigns these responsibilities to another staff member. Under mission command, the civil affairs operations officer integrates civil-military operations that relate to inform and influence activities. This integration gains efficiencies and presents coordinated, deconflicted messages to other organizations.

4-134.      During the war game, the red team staff section provides the commander and G-2 with an independent capability to fully explore alternatives. The staff looks in plans, operations, concepts, organizations, and capabilities of the operational environment from the perspectives of adversaries, partners, and others.

4-135.      The Staff Judge Advocate advises the commander on all matters pertaining to law, policy, regulation, good order, and discipline for each war-gamed COA. This officer provides legal advice across the spectrum of conflict on law of war, rules of engagement, international agreements, Geneva Conventions, treatment and disposition of noncombatants, and the legal aspects of lethal and nonlethal targeting.

4-136.      During the war game, the operations research and systems analysis staff section provides analytic support to the commander for planning and assessment of operations. Specific responsibilities includes—

l  Providing quantitative analytic support, including regression and trend analysis, to planning and assessment activities.

l  Assisting other staff in developing customized analytical tools for specific requirements, providing a quality control capability, and conducting assessments to measure the effectiveness of operations.

4-137.      The safety office is integral to providing input to influence accident and incident reductions by implementing composite risk management throughout the mission planning and execution process.


4-138.      The use of recorders is particularly important. Recorders capture coordinating instructions, subunit tasks and purposes, and information required to synchronize the operation. Recorders allow the staff to write part of the order before they complete the planning. Automated information systems enable recorders to enter information into preformatted forms that represent either briefing charts or appendixes to orders. Each staff section keeps formats available to facilitate networked orders production.

Course of Action Process Actions

4-139.      COA analysis consists of eight actions first shown in Figure 4-5 and described in paragraphs 4-140 through 4-170.

Gather the Tools

4-140.      The first task for COA analysis is to gather the necessary tools to conduct the war game. The COS (XO) directs the staff to gather tools, materials, and data for the war game. Units war-game with maps, sand tables, computer simulations, or other tools that accurately reflect the terrain. The staff posts the COA on a map displaying the AO. Tools required include, but are not limited to—

l  Running estimates.

l  Event templates.

l  A recording method.

l  Completed COAs, including graphics.

l  A means to post or display enemy and friendly unit symbols and other organizations.

l  A map of the AO.

List All Friendly Forces

4-141.      The commander and staff consider all units that can be committed to the operation, paying special attention to support relationships and constraints. This list includes assets from all participants operating in the AO. The friendly forces list remains constant for all COAs.

List Assumptions

4-142.      The commander and staff review previous assumptions for continued validity and necessity.

List Known Critical Events and Decision Points

4-143.      critical event is an event that directly influences mission accomplishment. Critical events include events that trigger significant actions or decisions (such as commitment of an enemy reserve), complicated actions requiring detailed study (such as a passage of lines), and essential tasks. The list of critical events includes major events from the unit’s current position through mission accomplishment. It includes reactions by civilians that potentially affect operations or require allocation of significant assets to account for essential stability tasks.

4-144.      A decision point is a point in space and time when the commander or staff anticipates making a key decision concerning a specific course of action (JP 5-0). Decision points may be associated with the friendly force, the status of ongoing operations, and with CCIRs that describe what information the commander needs to make the anticipated decision. A decision point requires a decision by the commander. It does not dictate what the decision is, only that the commander must make one, and when and where it should be made to maximally impact friendly or enemy COAs or the accomplishment of stability tasks.

Select the War-Gaming Method

4-145.      Three recommended war-gaming methods exist: belt, avenue-in-depth, and box. Each considers the area of interest and all enemy forces that can affect the outcome of the operation. Planners can use the methods separately or in combination and modified for long-term operations dominated by stability.

4-146.      The belt method divides the AO into belts (areas) running the width of the AO. (See Figure 4-6.) The shape of each belt is based on the factors of METT-TC. The belt method works best when conducting offensive and defensive operations on terrain divided into well-defined cross-compartments, during phased operations (such as gap crossings, air assaults, or airborne operations), or when the enemy is deployed in clearly defined belts or echelons. Belts can be adjacent to or overlap each other.

4-147.      This war-gaming method is based on a sequential analysis of events in each belt. Commanders prefer it because it focuses simultaneously on all forces affecting a particular event. A belt might include more than one critical event. Under time-constrained conditions, the commander can use a modified belt method. The modified belt method divides the AO into not more than three sequential belts. These belts are not necessarily adjacent or overlapping but focus on the critical actions throughout the depth of the AO.

Figure 4-6. Sample belt method

4-148.      In stability operations, the belt method can divide the COA by events, objectives (goals not geographic location), or events and objectives in a selected slice across all lines of effort. (See Figure 4-7.) It consists of war-gaming relationships among events or objectives on all lines of effort in the belt.

Figure 4-7. Sample modified belt method using lines of effort

4-149.      The avenue-in-depth method focuses on one avenue of approach at a time, beginning with the decisive operation. (See Figure 4-8.) This method is good for offensive COAs or in the defense when canalizing terrain inhibits mutual support.

Figure 4-8. Sample avenue-in-depth method

4-150.      In stability operations, planners can modify the avenue-in-depth method. Instead of focusing on a geographic avenue, the staff war-games a line of effort. This method focuses on one line of effort at a time, beginning with the decisive line. (See Figure 4-9.) It includes not only war-gaming events, objectives, or events and objectives in the selected line, but also war-gaming relationships among events or objectives on all lines of effort with respect to events in the selected line.

Figure 4-9. Sample modified avenue-in-depth method using lines of effort

4-151.      The box method is a detailed analysis of a critical area, such as an engagement area, a river-crossing site, or a landing zone. (See Figure 4-10.) It works best in a time-constrained environment, such as a hasty attack. It is particularly useful when planning operations in noncontiguous AOs. When using this method, the staff isolates the area and focuses on critical events in it. Staff members assume that friendly units can handle most situations in the AOs and focus their attention on essential tasks.

Figure 4-10. Sample box method

4-152.      In stability operations, the box method may focus analysis on a specific objective along a line of effort, such as development of local security forces as part of improving civil security. (See Figure 4-11.)

Figure 4-11. Sample modified box method using lines of effort

Select a Technique to Record and Display Results

4-153.      The war-game results provide a record from which to build task organizations, synchronize activities, develop decision support templates, confirm and refine event templates, prepare plans or orders, and compare COAs. Two techniques are commonly used to record and display results: the synchronization matrix technique and the sketch note technique. In both techniques, staff members record any remarks regarding the strengths and weaknesses they discover. The amount of detail depends on the time available. Unit SOPs address details and methods of recording and displaying war-gaming results.

4-154.      The synchronization matrix is a tool the staff uses to record the results of war-gaming and helps them synchronize a course of action across time, space, and purpose in relationship to potential enemy and civil actions. (See Figure 4-12.) The first entry is the time or phase of the operation. The second entry is the most likely enemy action. The third entry is the most likely civilian action. The fourth entry is the decision points for the friendly COA. The remainder of the matrix focuses on selected warfighting functions, their subordinate tasks, and the unit’s major subordinate commands.


Time/Event H – 24 hours H-hour H + 24
Enemy or Adversary Action Monitors movements Defends from security zone Commits reserve
Population Orderly evacuation from area continues
Decision Points Conduct aviation attack of OBJ Irene
Control Measures

Movement and Maneuver

1st BCT Move on Route Irish Cross LD Seize on OBJ Irene
2d BCT Move on Route Longstreet Cross LD Seize on OBJ Rose
3d BCT   FPOL with 1st BCT
Avn Bde Attack enemy reserve on OBJ Irene
Fires Prep fires initiated at H-5











Mission Command

Main CP with 1st BCT

Close Air Support

Electronic Warfare

Enemy command and control jammed


Surrender broadcasts and leaflets

Host Nation



Begins refugee relief

Note: The first column is representative only and can be modified to fit formation needs.

AMD        air and missile defense

Avn Bde  aviation brigade

BCT         brigade combat team

CBRN     chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear

CP           command post

FPOL      forward passage of lines

LD           line of departure

NGO       nongovernmental organization

OBJ         objective

PMO        provost marshal office

R&S         reconnaissance and surveillance

Figure 4-12. Sample synchronization matrix technique

4-155.      The sketch note technique uses brief notes concerning critical locations or tasks and purposes. (See Figure 4-13.) These notes refer to specific locations or relate to general considerations covering broad areas. The commander and staff mark locations on the map and on a separate war-game work sheet. Staff members use sequential numbers to link the notes to the corresponding locations on the map or overlay. Staff members also identify actions by placing them in sequential action groups, giving each subtask a separate number. They use the war-game work sheet to identify all pertinent data for a critical event. They assign each event a number and title and use the columns on the work sheet to identify and list in sequence—

l  Units and assigned tasks.

l  Expected enemy actions and reactions.

l  Friendly counteractions and assets.

l  Total assets needed for the task.

l  Estimated time to accomplish the task.

l  The decision point tied to executing the task.

l  CCIRs.

l  Control measures.

l  Remarks.


Critical Event Seize OBJ Sword
Sequence number



TF 3 attacks to destroy enemy company on OBJ Sword


Enemy company on OBJ Club counterattacks


TF 1 suppresses enemy company on OBJ Club


TF 3, TF 1, and 1-78 FA (155-SP)


H+1 to H+4

Decision point

DP 3a and 3b

Commander’s critical information requirements

Location of enemy armor reserve west of PL Jaguar

Control measures

Axis Zinc and support by fire position 1


Figure 4-13. Sample sketch note technique

War-Game the Operation and Assess the Results

4-156.      War-gaming is a conscious attempt to visualize the flow of operations given the friendly force’s strengths and disposition, enemy’s capabilities and possible COAs, and civilians. During the war game, the commander and staff try to foresee the actions, reactions, and counteractions of all participants to include civilians. The staff analyzes each selected event. They identify tasks that the force must accomplish one echelon down, using assets two echelons down. Identifying strengths and weaknesses of each COA allows the staff to adjust the COAs as necessary.

4-157.      The war game focuses not so much on the tools used but on the people who participate. Staff members who participate in war-gaming should be the individuals deeply involved in developing COAs. Red team members (who can provide alternative points of view) provide insight on each COA. In stability operations, subject matter experts in areas such as economic or local governance can also help assess results of planned actions, including identifying possible unintended effects.

4-158.      The war game follows an action-reaction-counteraction cycle. Actions are those events initiated by the side with the initiative. Reactions are the opposing side’s actions in response. With regard to stability operations, the war game tests the effects of actions, including intended and unintended effects, as they stimulate anticipated responses from civilians and civil institutions. Counteractions are the first side’s responses to reactions. This sequence of action-reaction-counteraction continues until the critical event is completed or until the commander decides to use another COA to accomplish the mission.

4-159.      The staff considers all possible forces, including templated enemy forces outside the AO, which can influence the operation. The staff also considers the actions of civilians in the AO, the diverse kinds of coverage of unfolding events, and their consequences in the global media. The staff evaluates each friendly move to determine the assets and actions required to defeat the enemy at that point or to accomplish stability tasks. The staff continually considers branches to the plan that promote success against likely enemy counteractions or unexpected civilian reactions. Lastly, the staff lists assets used in the appropriate columns of the work sheet and lists the totals in the assets column (not considering any assets lower than two command levels down).

4-160.      The commander and staff examine many areas during the war game. These include, but are not limited to—

l  All friendly capabilities.

l  All enemy capabilities.

l  Civilian reactions to all friendly actions.

l  Global media responses to proposed actions.

l  Movement considerations.

l  Closure rates.

l  Lengths of columns.

l  Formation depths.

l  Ranges and capabilities of weapon systems.

l  Desired effects of fires.

4-161.      The commander and staff consider how to create conditions for success, protect the force, and shape the operational environment. Experience, historical data, SOPs, and doctrinal literature provide much of the necessary information. During the war game, staff officers perform a risk assessment for their functional areas for each COA. They then propose appropriate controls. They continually assess the risk of adverse reactions from population and media resulting from actions taken by all sides in the operation. Staff officers develop ways to mitigate those risks.

4-162.      The staff continually assesses the risk to friendly forces from catastrophic threats, seeking a balance between mass and dispersion. When assessing the risk of weapons of mass destruction to friendly forces, planners view the target that the force presents through the eyes of an enemy target analyst. They consider ways to reduce vulnerability and determine the appropriate level of mission-oriented protective posture consistent with mission accomplishment.

4-163.      The staff identifies the required assets of the warfighting functions to support the concept of operations, including those needed to synchronize sustaining operations. If requirements exceed available assets, the staff recommends priorities based on the situation, commander’s intent, and planning guidance. To maintain flexibility, the commander may decide to create a reserve to account for assets for unforeseen tasks or opportunities.

4-164.      The commander can modify any COA based on how things develop during the war game. When doing this, the commander validates the composition and location of the decisive operation, shaping operations, and reserve forces. Control measures are adjusted as necessary. The commander may also identify situations, opportunities, or additional critical events that require more analysis. The staff performs this analysis quickly and incorporates the results into the war-gaming record.

4-165.      An effective war game results in the commander and staff refining, identifying, analyzing, developing, and determining several effects. They refine—

l  Or modify each COA, to include identifying branches and sequels that become on-order or be‑prepared missions.

l  The locations and times of decisive points.

l  The enemy event template and matrix.

l  The task organization, including forces retained in general support.

l  Control requirements, including control measures and updated operational graphics.

l  CCIRs and IRs—including the last time information of value—and incorporate them into the reconnaissance and surveillance plan and information management plan.

4-166.      An effective war game results in the commander and staff identifying—

l  Key or decisive terrain and determining how to use it.

l  Tasks the unit retains and tasks assigned to subordinates.

l  Likely times and areas for enemy use of weapons of mass destruction and friendly chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense requirements.

l  Potential times or locations for committing the reserve.

l  The most dangerous enemy COA.

l  The most likely enemy COA.

l  The most dangerous civilian reaction.

l  Locations for the commander and command posts.

l  Critical events.

l  Requirements for support of each warfighting function.

l  Effects of friendly and enemy actions on civilians and infrastructure and on military operations.

l  Or confirming the locations of named areas of interest, target areas of interest, decision points, and IRs needed to support them.

l  Analyzing, and evaluating strengths and weaknesses of each COA.

l  Hazards, assessing their risk, developing controls for them, and determining residual risk.

l  The coordination required for integrating and synchronizing interagency, host-nation, and nongovernmental organization involvement.

4-167.      An effective war game results in the commander and staff analyzing—

l  Potential civilian reactions to operations.

l  Potential media reaction to operations.

l  Potential impacts on civil security, civil control, and essential services in the AO.

4-168.      An effective war game results in the commander and staff developing—

l  Decision points.

l  A synchronization matrix.

l  A decision support template and matrix.

l  Solutions to achieving minimum essential stability tasks in the AO.

l  The reconnaissance and surveillance plan and graphics.

l  Initial information themes and messages.

l  Fires, protection, and sustainment plans and graphic control measures.

4-169.      Lastly, an effective war game results in the commander and staff—

l  Determining requirements for military deception and surprise.

l  Determining the timing for concentrating forces and starting the attack or counterattack.

l  Determining movement times and tables for critical assets, including information systems nodes.

l  Estimating the duration of the entire operation and each critical event.

l  Projecting the percentage of enemy forces defeated in each critical event and overall.

l  Projecting the percentage of minimum essential tasks that the unit can or must accomplish.

l  Anticipating media coverage and impact on key audiences.

l  Integrating targeting into the operation, to include identifying or confirming high-payoff targets and establishing attack guidance.

l  Allocating assets to subordinate commanders to accomplish their missions.

Conduct a War-Game Briefing (Optional)

4-170.      Time permitting, the staff delivers a briefing to all affected elements to ensure everyone understands the results of the war game. The staff uses the briefing for review and ensures that it captures all relevant points of the war game for presentation to the commander, COS (XO), or deputy or assistant commander. In a collaborative environment, the briefing may include selected subordinate staffs. A war-game briefing format includes the following:

l  Higher headquarters’ mission, commander’s intent, and military deception plan.

l  Updated IPB.

l  Friendly and enemy COAs that were war-gamed, including—

n  Critical events.

n  Possible enemy actions and reactions.

n  Possible impact on civilians.

n  Possible media impacts.

n  Modifications to the COAs.

n  Strengths and weaknesses.

n  Results of the war game.

l  Assumptions.

l  War-gaming technique used.


4-171.      COA comparison is an objective process to evaluate COAs independently and against set evaluation criteria approved by the commander and staff. The goal is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of COAs, enable selecting a COA with the highest probability of success, and further developing it in an OPLAN or OPORD. The commander and staff perform certain actions and processes that lead to the key outputs in Figure 4-14.

Figure 4-14. COA comparison

Conduct Advantages and Disadvantages Analysis

4-172.      The COA comparison starts with all staff members analyzing and evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each COA from their perspectives. (See Figure 4-15.) Staff members each present their findings for the others’ consideration. Using the evaluation criteria developed before the war game, the staff outlines each COA, highlighting its advantages and disadvantages. Comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the COAs identifies their advantages and disadvantages with respect to each other.


Course of Action




Decisive operation avoids major terrain obstacles. Adequate maneuver space available for units conducting the decisive operation and the reserve.

Units conducting the decisive operation face stronger resistance at the start of the operation.

Limited resources available to establishing civil control to Town X.


Shaping operations provide excellent flank protection of the decisive operations.

Upon completion of decisive operations, units conducting shaping operations can quickly transition to establish civil control and provide civil security to the population in Town X.

Operation may require the early employment of the division’s reserve.

Figure 4-15. Sample advantages and disadvantages

Compare Courses of Action

4-173.      Comparison of COAs is critical. The staff uses any technique that helps develop those key outputs and recommendations and assists the commander to make the best decision. A common technique is the decision matrix. This matrix uses evaluation criteria developed during mission analysis and refined during COA development to help assess the effectiveness and efficiency of each COA. (See Figure 4-16.)













Civil control

Inform and influence activities


Course of Action

COA 13










COA 23











1  The COS (XO) may emphasize one or more criteria by assigning weights to them based on a determination of their relative importance.

2  Criteria are those assigned in step 5 of COA analysis.

3  COAs are those selected for war-gaming with values assigned to them based on comparison between them with regard to relative advantages and disadvantages of each, such as when compared for relative simplicity COA 2 is by comparison to COA 1 simpler and therefore is rated as 1 with COA 1 rated as 2.

Figure 4-16. Sample decision matrix

4-174.      The decision matrix is a tool to compare and evaluate COAs thoroughly and logically. However, the process is based on highly subjective judgments that may change dramatically during the course of evaluation. In Figure 4-16, values reflect the relative advantages or disadvantages of each criterion for each COA as initially estimated by a COS (XO) during mission analysis. At the same time, the COS (XO) determines weights for each criterion based on a subjective determination of their relative value. The lower values signify a more favorable advantage, such as the lower the number, the more favorable the score. After comparing COAs and assigning values, the staff adds and totals the unweighted assigned scores in each column vertically under each COA. The staff multiplies the same values by the weighted score associated with each criterion and notes the product in parenthesis in each appropriate box. They add these weighted products vertically and note in parenthesis in the space for “Weighted TOTAL” below each COA column. Then the staff compare the totals to determine the “best” (lowest number) COA based on both criteria alone and then on weighted scores. Upon review and consideration, the commander—based on personal judgment—may elect to change either the value for the basic criterion or the weighted value. Although the lowest value denotes a “best” solution, the process for estimating relative values assigned to criterion and weighting is highly subjective. The “best” COA may not be supportable without additional resources. This result enables the decisionmaker to decide whether to pursue additional support, alter the COA in some way, or determine that it is not feasible.

4-175.      The decision matrix is one highly structured and effective method used to compare COAs against criteria that, when met, suggest a great likelihood of producing success. Staff officers give specific broad categories of COA characteristics a basic numerical value based on evaluation criteria. They assign weights based on subjective judgment regarding their relative importance to existing circumstances. Then they multiply basic values by the weight to yield a given criterion’s final score. A staff member then totals all scores to compare COAs.

4-176.      Commanders and staffs cannot solely rely on the outcome of a decision matrix, as it only provides a partial basis for a solution. During the decision matrix process, planners carefully avoid reaching conclusions from mainly subjective judgments from purely quantifiable analysis. Comparing and evaluating COAs by category of criterion is probably more useful than merely comparing total scores. Often judgments change with regard to relative weighting of criterion of importance during close analysis of COAs, which would change matrix scoring.

4-177.      The staff compares feasible COAs to identify the one with the highest probability of success against the most likely enemy COA, the most dangerous enemy COA, the most important stability task, or the most damaging environmental impact. The selected COA should also—

l  Pose the minimum risk to the force and mission accomplishment.

l  Place the force in the best posture for future operations.

l  Provide maximum latitude for initiative by subordinates.

l  Provide the most flexibility to meet unexpected threats and opportunities.

l  Provide the most secure and stable environment for civilians in the AO.

l  Best facilitate information themes and messages.

4-178.      Staff officers often use their own matrix to compare COAs with respect to their functional areas. Matrixes use the evaluation criteria developed before the war game. Their greatest value is providing a method to compare COAs against criteria that, when met, produce operational success. Staff officers use these analytical tools to prepare recommendations. Commanders provide the solution by applying their judgment to staff recommendations and making a decision.

Conduct a Course of Action Decision Briefing

4-179.      After completing its analysis and comparison, the staff identifies its preferred COA and makes a recommendation. If the staff cannot reach a decision, the COS (XO) decides which COA to recommend. The staff then delivers a decision briefing to the commander. The COS (XO) highlights any changes to each COA resulting from the war game. The decision briefing includes—

l  The commander’s intent of the higher and next higher commanders.

l  The status of the force and its components.

l  The current IPB.

l  The COAs considered, including—

n  Assumptions used.

n  Results of running estimates.

n  A summary of the war game for each COA, including critical events, modifications to any COA, and war-game results.

n  Advantages and disadvantages (including risks) of each COA.

n  The recommended COA. If a significant disagreement exists, then the staff should inform the commander and, if necessary, discuss the disagreement.


4-180.      After the decision briefing, the commander selects the COA to best accomplish the mission. If the commander rejects all COAs, the staff starts COA development again. If the commander modifies a proposed COA or gives the staff an entirely different one, the staff war-games the new COA and presents the results to the commander with a recommendation.

4-181.      After selecting a COA, the commander issues the final planning guidance. The final planning guidance includes a refined commander’s intent (if necessary) and new CCIRs to support execution. It also includes any additional guidance on priorities for the warfighting functions, orders preparation, rehearsal, and preparation. This guidance includes priorities for resources needed to preserve freedom of action and ensure continuous sustainment.

4-182.      Commanders include risk they are willing to accept in the final planning guidance. If there is time, commanders use a video teleconference (VTC) to discuss acceptable risk with adjacent, subordinate, and senior commanders. However, commanders still obtain the higher commander’s approval to accept any risk that might imperil accomplishing the higher commander’s mission.

4-183.      Based on the commander’s decision and final planning guidance, the staff issues a WARNO to subordinate headquarters. This WARNO contains the information subordinate units need to refine their plans. It confirms guidance issued in person or by VTC and expands on details not covered by the commander personally. The WARNO issued after COA approval normally contains—

l  Mission.

l  Commander’s intent.

l  Updated CCIRs and EEFIs.

l  Concept of operations.

l  The AO.

l  Principal tasks assigned to subordinate units.

l  Preparation and rehearsal instructions not included in the SOPs.

l  A final timeline for the operations.


4-184.      The staff prepares the order or plan by turning the selected COA into a clear, concise concept of operations and the required supporting information. The COA statement becomes the concept of operations for the plan. The COA sketch becomes the basis for the operation overlay. If time permits, the staff may conduct a more detailed war game of the selected COA to more fully synchronize the operation and complete the plan. The staff writes the OPORD or OPLAN using the Army’s operation order format. (See Chapter 12.)

4-185.      Commanders review and approve orders before the staff reproduces and disseminates them unless commanders have delegated that authority. Subordinates immediately acknowledge receipt of the higher order. If possible, the higher commander and staff brief the order to subordinate commanders in person. The commander and staff conduct confirmation briefings with subordinates immediately afterwards. Confirmation briefings can be done collaboratively with several commanders at the same time or with single commanders. These briefings may be conducted in person or by a VTC.


4-186.      Any planning process aims to quickly develop a flexible, sound, and fully integrated and synchronized plan. However, any operation may “outrun” the initial plan. The most detailed estimates cannot anticipate every possible branch or sequel, enemy action, unexpected opportunity, or change in mission directed from higher headquarters. Fleeting opportunities or unexpected enemy action may require a quick decision to implement a new or modified plan. When this occurs, units often find themselves pressed for time in developing a new plan.

4-187.      Before a unit can effectively conduct planning in a time-constrained environment, it must master the steps in the full MDMP. A unit can only shorten the process if it fully understands the role of each and every step of the process and the requirements to produce the necessary products. Training on these steps must be thorough and result in a series of staff battle drills that can be tailored to the time available.

4-188.      Quality staffs produce simple, flexible, and tactically sound plans in a time-constrained environment. Any METT-TC factor, but especially limited time, may make it difficult to complete every step of the MDMP in detail. Applying an inflexible process to all situations does not work. Anticipation, organization, and prior preparation are the keys to successful planning under time-constrained conditions.

4-189.      Staff can use the time saved on any step of the MDMP to—

l  Refine the plan more thoroughly.

l  Conduct a more deliberate and detailed war game.

l  Consider potential branches and sequels in detail.

l  Focus more on rehearsing and preparing the plan.

l  Allow subordinate units more planning and preparation time.


4-190.      The commander decides how to adjust the MDMP, giving specific guidance to the staff to focus on the process and save time. Commanders shorten the MDMP when they lack time to perform each step in detail. The most significant factor to consider is time. It is the only nonrenewable, and often the most critical, resource. Commanders (who have access to only a small portion of the staff or none at all) rely even more than normal on their own expertise, intuition, and creativity as well as on their understanding of the environment and of the art and science of warfare. They may have to select a COA, mentally war-game it, and confirm their decision to the staff in a short time. If so, they base their decision more on experience than on a formal, integrated staff process.

4-191.      Effective commanders avoid changing their guidance unless a significantly changed situation requires major revisions. Making frequent, minor changes to the guidance can easily result in lost time as the staff constantly adjusts the plan with an adverse ripple effect throughout overall planning.

4-192.      Commanders consult with subordinate commanders before making a decision, if possible. Subordinate commanders are closer to the operation and can more accurately describe enemy, friendly, and civilian situations. Additionally, consulting with subordinates gives commanders insight into the upcoming operation and allows parallel planning. White boards and collaborative digital means of communicating greatly enhance parallel planning.

4-193.      In situations where commanders must decide quickly, they advise their higher headquarters of the selected COA, if time is available. However, commanders do not let an opportunity pass just because they cannot report their actions.


4-194.      Staff members keep their running estimates current. When time constraints exist, they can provide accurate, up-to-date assessments quickly and move directly into COA development. Under time-constrained conditions, commanders and staffs use as much of the previously analyzed information and products as possible. The importance of running estimates increases as time decreases. Decisionmaking in a time-constrained environment usually occurs after a unit has entered the AO and begun operations. This means that the IPB, an updated common operational picture, and some portion of running estimates should already exist. Civilian and military joint and multinational organizations operating in the AO should have well-developed plans and information to add insights to the operational environment. Detailed planning provides the basis for information that the commander and staff need to make decisions during execution.


4-195.      Paragraphs 4-196 through 4-200 discuss time-saving techniques to speed the planning process.

Increase Commander’s Involvement

4-196.      While commanders cannot spend all their time with the planning staff, the greater the commander’s involvement in planning, the faster the staff can plan. In time-constrained conditions, commanders who participate in the planning process can make decisions (such as COA selection) without waiting for a detailed briefing from the staff.

Limit the Number of Courses of Action to Develop

4-197.      Limiting the number of COAs developed and war-gamed can save planning time. If time is extremely short, the commander can direct development of only one COA. In this case, the goal is an acceptable COA that meets mission requirements in the time available. This technique saves the most time. The fastest way to develop a plan has the commander directing development of one COA with branches against the most likely enemy COA or most damaging civil situation or condition. However, this technique should be used only when time is severely limited. In such cases, this choice of COA is often intuitive, relying on the commander’s experience and judgment. The commander determines which staff officers are essential to assist in COA development. Normally commanders require the intelligence officer, operations officer, plans officer, chief of fires (fire support officer), engineer officer, civil affairs operations officer, inform and influence activities officer, and COS (XO). They may also include subordinate commanders, if available, either in person or by a VTC. This team quickly develops a flexible COA that it feels will accomplish the mission. The commander mentally war-games this COA and gives it to the staff to refine.

Maximize Parallel Planning

4-198.      Although parallel planning is the norm, maximizing its use in time-constrained environments is critical. In a time-constrained environment, the importance of WARNOs increases as available time decreases. A verbal WARNO now followed by a written order later saves more time than a written order one hour from now. The staff issues the same WARNOs used in the full MDMP when abbreviating the process. In addition to WARNOs, units must share all available information with subordinates, especially IPB products, as early as possible. The staff uses every opportunity to perform parallel planning with the higher headquarters and to share information with subordinates.

Increase Collaborative Planning

4-199.      Planning in real time with higher headquarters and subordinates improves the overall planning effort of the organization. Modern information systems and a common operational picture shared electronically allow collaboration with subordinates from distant locations, can increase information sharing, and can improve the commander’s visualization. Additionally, taking advantage of subordinates’ input and knowledge of the situation in their AOs often results in developing better COAs faster.

Use Liaison Officers

4-200.      Liaison officers posted to higher headquarters allow the commander to have representation in their higher headquarters’ planning session. These officers assist in passing timely information to their parent headquarters and directly to the commander. Effective liaison officers have the commander’s full confidence and the necessary rank and experience for the mission. Commanders may elect to use a single individual or a liaison team. As representatives, liaison officers must—

l  Understand how their commander thinks and interpret their verbal and written guidance.

l  Convey their commander’s intent, planning guidance, mission, and concept of operations.

l  Represent their commander’s position.

l  Know the unit’s mission; tactics, techniques, and procedures; organization; capabilities; and communications equipment.

l  Observe the established channels of command and staff functions.

l  Be trained in their functional responsibilities.

l  Be tactful.

l  Possess the necessary language expertise.