Military Design in the Canadian Context

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Robert Lummack

Adversity has certainly been a common impetus to promote change. Beaulieu-B and Dufort (2017) describe how the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan reacted to failure within rationalist linear thinking by adopting new approaches, in what they term a ‘reflexive turn’ (Beaulieu-B & Dufort, 2107). Although Canada does not face physical military threats to the same degree as other countries and is not in a military struggle for survival, so to speak, learning within the military has occurred consistently. In terms of the rise of design thinking in key military allies, its influence has slowly permeated Canadian military culture, with a general rise in awareness; it is now much more mainstream as ideas have flowed in through various forms in the last decade. However, its impact is certainly marginal at worst and incomplete at best. This brief reflection piece will discuss the future of military design in Canada arguing for Canadian led insight to drive the process and reflecting upon how military design would fit within the realities of Canadian grand strategy.

In Canada, there has been considerable experimentation with military design and related ideas, but it is unclear what future directions will take. Isolated movements have existed but most likely in ‘siloed’ spaces independently; indeed, one of the objectives of the April 2017 Symposium was to unite different initiatives which have heretofore remained separate.

Investigations on military design and related concepts have existed since at least the mid-2000s within the Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) community (Bryant 2005; Couture, 2007). Lauder argued in 2009 that the CAF should adopt Systemic Operational Design (SOD) (Lauder, 2009), a call echoed by Bentley (Bentley, 2012). The Canadian Forces College, Toronto, has been experimenting with SOD and teaching Design for several years on the NSP and JCSP courses (Anderson 2012; Mitchell, 2017), as has the Osside Institute on the Senior leadership Programme (SLP), Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP) and Intermediate Leadership Programme (ILP) (Lummack 2017; Lummack 2017b). For Canada, the experience of learning, or adaptation, certainly occurred in the ten plus year legacy in Afghanistan. Leaders such as Col. Bernard used System Of Systems Analysis (SoSA) in Afghanistan to arrive at a more accurate understanding of the environment and to effectively sync assets from Other Government Departments, (OGD) and to harness this potential (Bernard, 2017). Other examples include DRDC projects which looked at improving outcomes in evolving situations of convoy protection (Bernier & Rioux, 2010) and in creating better outcomes between actors in Comprehensive Approach constructs (Derbentseva & Lizotte, 2016). Similarly, Beaudet has explored Open Systems Theory and Action Research within civil-military cooperation constructs, applying insights from the Center for Inter-Cultural Learning (Beaudet, 2015). In terms of institutional management, Systems Thinking is a core component of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) leadership doctrine (National Defence, 2007). Undoubtedly, leaders such as Brigadier-General Whale in reorganizing RCAF assets use this type of thinking on a daily basis, addressing issues throughout the institution (Whale, 2017).

Yet, despite a lack of formalization of military design into doctrine, it is clear that the ideas have permeated institutions through the inclinations, influence and tenacity of individuals who have been exposed to such theories. Here we can imagine the impact of the several dozen Canadian Officers who have been attending the School of Advanced Military Studies being exposed to Design and its foundational concepts.

Officially incorporating a version of Systemic Operational Design (SOD) or US Army Design, or a Canadianized version, to replace or augment the Operational Planning Process (OPP) has not yet occurred. Will design eventually become a part of the Operational Planning Process (OPP) as several Canadian voices have called for (Lauder, 2008; Bentley, 2012)? In consequence, what form would this take? Bentley (2012) called for a design process to precede the OPP and to be equally as important to it (Bentley, 2012 p36). Or, can it be sufficiently incorporated into existing OPP within Mission Analysis segments. In terms of practical usage, CANSOFCOM employs elements of design thinking, tailoring elements to suit their needs (Chorley, 2017). Is this a model for other elements of the Canadian Military to follow? Very realistically, opinions may exist, such that there is no need to evolve the OPP, as it is a time-tested and functional tool, capable of being sufficiently flexible to allow for adaptationNote de bas de page 1. Or that SOD or related versions are too challenging or confusing to implement (Vego, 2009). Perhaps this is a function of the CAF not being involved in warfare demanding urgent change to the status quo, as in a direct threat to the country itself. Or it may be due in part to the shared military experiences with the United States which suffers from what Paparone calls, a reliance on ‘scientism’ in the US military education system (Paparone, 2017).

The CAF will likely continue working within complex problems, by their nature “wicked problems” (Rittel & Weber, 1973). These problems will have historical evolution and are likely to include or evolve to include a multiplicity of non-military factors, actors and effects. Thus, militaries will be thrust into dynamic situations with defined mandates, likely linked to the maintenance of stability, the holding of territory, protection of civilian populations or the destruction of a particular belligerent. However, it is defined in a particular case, a CAF contribution would represent the M, one specific aspect of comprehensive approaches that coordinate simultaneous actions of state power – Diplomatic, Informational, Economic, Military (DIME). Thus, Design’s utility in the Canadian context, simply as an operational military tool nested within the semi-porous bounded confines of the military institution will be limited because of the interconnections of the security dimension of the problem space outside of military control or influence. Should pro-active, inquisitive and reflexive practitioners discover novel insights about the problem space through experience or design iterations, it may discover that the military component is in fact related, dependent or beholden to work of Other Government Departments (OGDs) or other partners. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) Systemic Operational Design (SOD) is meant to bridge the Tactical and the Strategic in the Israeli context. Naveh, responded to what he felt was a need and he prepared for future war, beyond where doctrine alone could take them (Graicer & Naveh, 2017, p.34).Yet, is this process transferrable to the military strategic and grand strategic levels? Can it be used at the grand strategic level? Certainly, elements are already being used when the political level “designs”, perhaps under different terminology.

Yet, realistically, the military will likely have varying degrees of influence upon the decision making processes and actions of other involved actors. As was found in Afghanistan, counter-insurgency efforts were linked to non-military factors: development indicators, political factors, women’s rights, good governance, etc. Yet, the actual working relationship with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) was at times problematic (Alexander, 2014). This is compounded by practical impediments to cooperation. Charles Van der Donckt (2017) noted several problematic issues related to language, terminology and knowledge of each other’s procedures, mandates and cultures in the relationship between the CAF and what is now Global Affairs Canada. One prominent example was the gulf in practice of the CAF’s use of the OPP and its being relatively unknown within other departments (Van der Donckt, 2017).

Further complicating ideas is that Canada mostly works within allies and grand strategy often is completely different from the military strategy (Mitchell 2016). Generally, Canada is a troop contributor at the tactical level to achieve strategic political benefits of participation (Vance 2005). Therefore, a Canadian design process would fundamentally be different from an American design process, owing to the differences of roles each country has in terms its grand strategy and role it plays in the world, Canada as middle-power, the United States as super-power.

For SOD in the Israeli context, it is about Generals’ abilities to disrupt themselves and their organizations, and thus the world; a way for Generals to learn, teach themselves and go beyond what they think they know and to ultimately be able to arrive at new decisions (Graicer, 2017). Do Generals have this ability with sufficient influence at the political level? Can they ensure their insight is sufficiently incorporated into, let alone challenge the political level? Can this be done within decision making mechanisms of key OGD partners? As for the mechanisms that do exist, it is legitimate to ask how effective they are. For Canada, what may be required is the ability for a design process to occur within OGD partners at the Operational level. But, what may be found is that the entities of national power may be limited, in fact being unable to move outside of strategic direction provided by the political level. Thus, what may further be required is design to be used as a mechanism for grand strategy at the political level sufficiently incorporating military elements.

Indeed, SOD is a tailored product from a specific place and time to respond to challenges specific to Israel. Similarly, Army Design Methodology is a predominantly American product developed, tested and refined. This is not to say that such processes cannot have utility being applied in other contexts, rather that the eventual creation of the construct needs to be tailored to the Canadian reality. Here, Canada should be inspired by the encouragement of Naveh to the Colombian military which was to capitalize on the richness of their tradition and experience and to forge their own path. (Graicer & Naveh, 2017, p. 37). Indeed, Canada should humbly, yet assertively do the same and find its own path, capitalizing upon our cleverness, resourcefulness; ability to innovate and adapt that has been continuously demonstrated throughout our rich military history. This is not to rest on laurels, nor to reject wise counsel of key allies, but it is to approach complexity with an ability to look for home grown solutions and to think for ourselves, not simply to import latest trends from important allies. Let us not discount this vast wisdom our allies possess; indeed let us learn as much as possible and adapt as much as possible to the Canadian reality, but let us never forget to think and act for ourselves.

Author Biography

Robert Lummack has taught within National Defence since 2009 within the CWO Robert Osside Institute for the Profession of Arms and Professional Military Education Department of Royal Military College Saint-Jean. Prior to this, Robert completed an internship at UNICEF HQ, working with the Emergency Unit team which staffed experts for complex emergencies. He also worked as a researcher for the Presidential Human Rights Commission of Guatemala, COPREDEH through the Canadian International Development Agency, Young Professional Program. With National Defence, Robert has participated in military training and cooperation missions in Jordan, Brazil, Philippines, Macedonia and Peru. Additionally, Robert has participated in electoral observation missions, such as Mission Canada 2012 and 2014 in Ukraine as well as in Central America. Robert is interested in the interconnections of diverse subjects: development, security and conflict, the global economy and the Women, Peace and Security agenda, as well as systems thinking and complexity theory. He has traveled to about 30 countries. His education is in Political Science – international relations and comparative politics of developing regions. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa.


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