The RCAF Professional and Air Force OPP: Operational Design and Planning for Smaller Headquarters (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 1)

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By Lieutenant-Colonel Dan S. Coutts, CD, MA

The challenge

Professional discourse regarding the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) best practices continues to evolve, but there has yet to be doctrine published which specifically aims at the design of and planning for Canadian expeditionary air power at the operational level. The Canadian Forces operational planning process (CF OPP) has been optimized for a larger headquarters. While an air task force (ATF) must be capable of designing and planning at the operational level, the size of the RCAF means that any deployed structure will be relatively small. As an example, the current ATF template consists of approximately 250 personnel, many of whom fill operations support and mission support roles.[1] By comparison, Canadian Joint Operations Command headquarters—an entity focused solely on designing, planning and controlling operations—has roughly 500 personnel.[2] The RCAF professional needs a scaled-down Air Force (AF) OPP that maximizes effectiveness without incurring too much planning risk; this précis proposes four conservative adjustments to the CF OPP.

Method and literature

This précis was adapted from a paper that analysed two main decision-making traditions—Analytical Decision Making (ADM) and Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM)—and identified the strengths and weaknesses of each with a view to suggesting modifications to the CF OPP.[3] ADM and NDM are roughly analogous to two terms which have been receiving closer attention among Western military professionals: planning and design. “Planning is a process of making detailed preparations to achieve a particular end,”[4] [emphasis added] while design is an activity or exercise which is naturalistic and helps to communicate a conceptual framework of a complex system which enables planning.

Most Western approaches to problem solving at the operational level contain a degree of planning and design. Israelis have experimented heavily with NDM approaches, and new American Army, Marine and joint operational planning doctrines have a heavier emphasis on NDM.[5] The doctrine of Canada and her other close partners continues to place an overly heavy emphasis on the ADM tradition.[6]

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A possible solution

While CF OPP contains elements of both ADM and NDM, a better balance between these traditions is one answer to the challenge described above. From the NDM perspective, framing (“the act of building mental models to help individuals understand situations and respond to events”[7]) should be included at the outset of AF OPP along with the other activities of Stage 1 (Initiation). Framing could also subsume some steps from Stage 2 (Orientation), such as “review situation” and “review (higher level).”[8] The more technical steps in Stage 2 should remain where they are.[9]

In Stage 3, “staff analyse factors” speaks directly to the core ADM advantages of clarity and detail, while helping practitioners gain a clear understanding of the situation.[10] This stage should continue to be emphasized. However, the development of multiple friendly courses of action (COAs) should be discontinued, as all COAs are ultimately fathered by the same broad design and, thus, are not significantly differentiable. The development of only one COA is likely a better investment of effort, especially if time is allowed for multiple iterations of COA testing and modification.[11] A heavier emphasis on war gaming can minimize this planning; most countries and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) heavily emphasize war gaming as a value-added activity.[12]

The remainder of the detailed work in CF OPP would be difficult to shrink much further. However, one more value-added practice appearing in both American and British doctrine offers significant promise for high-tempo planning: red teaming. In simple terms, “[r]ed teaming provides an independent capability to fully explore alternatives in plans and operation in the context of the operational environment and from the perspective of adversaries and others”[13] and results in well-rounded designs and plans.[14] The use of a small red team within an ATF could mitigate the risks inherent in scaling down and speeding up operational planning.


This précis makes four recommendations: Place framing at the commencement of the design and planning process; develop only one friendly COA; increase emphasis on war gaming; and add a red-teaming component to operational planning. AF OPP could be more comprehensive, faster and adaptive while retaining clarity, detail, replicability and simplicity of use for the inexperienced practitioner. The RCAF professional would be well served by the development of an AF OPP; further effort in research should be committed to developing and validating a planning process tailored to the realities facing expeditionary ATFs.

Lieutenant-Colonel Dan Coutts is a helicopter pilot who has served with 427 and 400 Squadrons as well as filling a number of staff and training billets within 1 Wing.  A graduate of Royal Military College of Canada and Canadian Forces College, he is currently the Commanding Officer, 2 Air Expeditionary Squadron at 2 Wing, Bagotville.

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ADF―Australian Defence Force

ADFP―Australian Defence Force Publication

ADM―Analytical Decision Making

AF―Air Force

AJP―Allied Joint Publication

ATF―air task force

CF―Canadian Forces

COA―course of action

DND―Department of National Defence

JP―Joint Publication

MCWP―Marine Corps Warfighting Publication

MOD―Ministry of Defence

NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NDM―Naturalistic Decision Making

OPP―operational planning process

RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force

UK―United Kingdom

US―United States

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[1]. Colonel Erick Simoneau, “2 Wing / ATF Concept” (presentation, 2 Air Expeditionary Wing Bagotville), slides 3–7.  (return)

[2]. Murray Brewster, “Canadian Military Decision to Combine Three Headquarters Will Save $18 Million,” The Huffington Post, October 6, 2013, updated January 23, 2014, accessed January 6, 2015, (return)

[3]. NATO, Allied Joint Publication (AJP)-5, Allied Joint Doctrine for Operational-Level Planning (Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency, June 2013), 2-11; Gary A. Klein, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 127; and David J. Bryant, “Rethinking OODA: Toward a Modern Cognitive Framework of Command Decision Making,” Military Psychology 18, no. 3 (2006): 199. (return)

[4]. LCol L. Craig Dalton, Systemic Operational Design: Epistemological Bumpf or the Way Ahead for Operational Design? (Fort Leavenworth, KS: United States Army Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies, 25-05-2006), 6, accessed January 6, 2015, (return)

[5]. United States (US), Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication (JP) 5-0, Joint Operation Planning (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 11 August 2011), III-13, accessed January 6, 2015,; and US, Department of the Navy, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP) 5-1, Marine Corps Planning Process (Washington, DC: Headquarters United States Marine Corps, 24 August 2010), Foreword, accessed January 6, 2015, (return)

[6]. Canada, Department of National Defence (DND), B-GJ-005-500/FP-000, Canadian Forces Joint Publication 5.0 (CFJP 5.0), The Canadian Forces Operational Planning Process (OPP), (Ottawa: Chief of Force Development, April 2008), 4-1, accessed January 6, 2015, (Defence Wide Area Network only); United Kingdom (UK), Ministry of Defence (MOD), Joint Doctrine Publication (JDP) 5-00, Campaign Planning, 2nd ed. (Shrivenham: MOD, July 2013), 2-11, 2-14, 2-32, accessed January 6, 2015,; Australia, Australian Defence Force (ADF), Australian Defence Force Publication (ADFP) 5.0.1, Joint Military Appreciation Process (Canberra: Defence Publishing Service, 2009), 1-10 to 1-13; and NATO, AJP-5, Allied Joint Doctrine for Operational-Level Planning, 3-1. (return)

[7]. US, Department of the Army, Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 5-0, The Operations Process (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, May 2012), 2-5, accessed January 6, 2015, (return)

[8]. Canada, DND, CFJP 5.0, Canadian Forces Operational Planning Process, 4-4. (return)

[9]. Canada, DND, CFJP 5.0, Canadian Forces Operational Planning Process, 4-4. (return)

[10]. Canada, DND, CFJP 5.0, Canadian Forces Operational Planning Process, 4-8 to 4-10; US, Department of the Navy, MCWP 5-1, Marine Corps Planning Process, 2-4; NATO, AJP-5, Allied Joint Doctrine for Operational-Level Planning, 3-32; and Klein, Sources of Power, 144. (return)

[11]. Ross et al., “The Recognition-Primed Decision Model,” Military Review 84, no. 5 (July–August 2004): 7, 8, accessed January 6, 2015,; and US, Department of the Army, ADRP 5-0, The Operations Process, 4-6. (return)

[12]. US, Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, IV-30; Canada, DND, CFJP 5.0, Canadian Forces Operational Planning Process, 4-10; Australia, ADF, ADFP 5.0.1, Joint Military Appreciation Process, 6-3; US, Department of the Navy, MCWP 5-1, Marine Corps Planning Process, 4-1; UK, MOD, JDP 5-00, Campaign Planning, 2I-1; and NATO, AJP-5, Allied Joint Doctrine for Operational-Level Planning, 3-32. (return)

[13]. US, Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, III-5. (return)

[14]. US, Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, III-5; and UK, MOD, JDP 5-00, Campaign Planning, 2I-2. (return)

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