April 1, 2012  

Perspectives: Harness wartime lessons now

It’s time to redouble efforts in multiservice TTP

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, representatives from North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Continental NORAD Region (CONR) convened a lessons-learned conference about military operations related to homeland security. The conferees agreed on one thing unanimously: The Department of Defense and other organizations involved in the air defense of the United States (ADUS) urgently needed a classified, multiservice tactics, techniques, and procedure (MTTP) manual to coordinate their work. Galvanized, the military services, along with other federal agencies, worked quickly to deliver the ADUS MTTP.

Today, we face nearly the opposite problem: A decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced, through trial and error and professional persistence, a wealth of solutions to interoperability problems. Though many of these insights have been gathered, codified and put to wider use, much more can be done in both developing and distributing new doctrine.

We must not lose the chance to capture all of these lessons, many learned and applied only locally, and turn them into formal, rigorous joint concepts — and associated MTTPs — that can be taught and applied throughout the military and, when appropriate, coalition partners.

It is important to do this quickly and efficiently. For one thing, human memory is fleeting; for another, the drive to reduce costs in coming years may challenge the doctrine community.

An era of fiscal constraints strengthens the case for expanding MTTP work, for the process produces recipes for coordination, and hence efficiency, at very little cost. Generating a new joint procedure requires only a proposal, approval by at least two of the services to develop it, and the gathering of subject matter experts for six working days. After the working groups wrap up, an established joint organization (staffed by just 22 assigned personnel) hones the final publication and ushers it through approval and distribution.

Moreover, we must take the opportunity, as the wars wind down, to improve the ways we revise and distribute these MTTPs across the force and to key partners within the U.S. government and beyond.


Over the years, the services have responded to demand from the field by creating organizations to establish and hone processes for turning information into published TTPs. The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) is one; another is the Air Land Sea Application (ALSA) Center.

Based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., ALSA publishes work on issues of tactical interservice interoperability. The center was created in 1975 by the Army and Air Force, which sought, in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Arab-Israeli conflict, to codify lessons in air superiority and air mobile operations, battlefield intelligence, and combined arms integration.

Yet multiservice efforts matured slowly. After the 1983 U.S. intervention in Grenada demonstrated many weaknesses in joint operations, it took two years for the Center to respond with the original Joint Application of Firepower (JFIRE) handbook. (Designed to fit in a uniform’s cargo pocket, the publication has since been revised several times and distributed to more than 25 countries.) It took another nine years to add Marine Corps and Navy officers to ALSA’s staff. From 1992 to 2002, their workload was dominated by Air Land Battle issues associated with major combat operations.

The opening of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq uncovered new interoperability challenges. By 2005, ALSA had released MTTPs for Time Sensitive Targeting, Kill Box, Detainee Operations, and Tactical Convoy Operations. The latter, TCO, was completed in six months through a fast-track development process and released to record demand: The four services ordered more than 55,000 of the cargo-pocket-sized handbooks. Today, TCO has been embedded in each service’s doctrine (Army FM 4-01.45, USMC MCRP 4-11.3H, Navy NTTP 4-01.3 and Air Force AFTTP 3-2.58). Its precepts are taught in various military courses, and should see wide use for years to come.

In the past three years, new MTTPs of particular relevance to operations in Afghanistan have dealt with cordon-and-search missions, electronic warfare reprogramming, unmanned aircraft and military advisors. ALSA’s work also affects organizations beyond DoD; last year, the Coast Guard joined all four services in approving the Military Diving Operations MTTP.

In coming years, relevant subjects will include biometrics, integrated air and missile defense, security force assistance, special force/conventional force integration and, perhaps, cyber protection.


The process of creating an MTTP begins when ALSA receives permission to proceed from the joint action steering committee that governs it: the Army’s Combined Arms Center, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Navy Warfare Development Command and the Air Force’s Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education.

The next step is convening a joint working group of subject matter experts (SMEs). The action officers at ALSA look far and wide to identify the correct participants, while the services strive to send their midgrade officers with relevant experience.

A generation of war fighters now find themselves assigned as service academy instructors, doctrine writers and joint action officers. Most have completed multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and have been the authors of insights, the benefactors of lessons learned, or both. They understand the importance of MTTPs and remember it was not uncommon to see an Army major with a Navy petty officer driver leading a convoy in Kabul, or Marine and Air Force security personnel working together with their military working dogs in Iraq. Due to their diverse and challenging experiences, they have much to offer during the process.

Certainly, there are competing priorities for these officers’ time and attention, both personally and on the part of their command. But commands should do their best to free up such individuals — in fact, the best and brightest available — so that their knowledge and experience can shape new MTTPs.

Now and in the future, the services will depend on joint partners for capabilities that do not reside within their formations. This goes for doctrine development as much as any combat capability. DoD’s decision to close U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) last year sent two messages: One, joint integration and interoperability has come a long way, thanks to changes in doctrine, training and leader development. Secondly, and more importantly, the services are now responsible for improving the joint force. The services’ participation in developing MTTPs will help foster this cooperation.

Leaders flourish when they find themselves discussing issues from a much broader, multiservice perspective such as joint doctrine development. These discussions, describing the best ways to tackle complex operations, are what define the military profession. Thankfully, training and leader development has renewed joint focus after years of neglect due to high operational tempo. Given this high tempo and various command priorities, it is often difficult to get the services to allocate their best officers to update “pubs.”

Again, this is not a new concept — the services and organizations like ALSA provide validated approaches through MTTP to countries such as Australia, but efforts will need to be made to make this process quick and efficient.


Our seasoned war fighters have come of age amid rapid technological advancements. They are connected to hundreds of “friends” through social networking. They expect 24/7 access to information, and more importantly, that it will be relevant, concise and easy to query.

The past decade has seen a shift from paper documents; new doctrine is now distributed on a multitude of websites and social networking forums. Yet some of the channels are sanctioned, others independent, and the security and requirements for access vary wildly. And even in this age of information on demand, the organizations that produce MTTPs still rely on staff visits and email requests to get the word out about their publications. This fractured distribution network, although ultimately helpful to a determined searcher, has often created a disparity in use among war fighters across the joint force, and even more so across coalitions. Targeted distribution and foreign disclosure of publications have made strides since 2007, but improvement is always possible.

After a decade of war and the accumulation of hard-fought lessons, we can’t continue to have war fighters struggling to figure out where to find the MTTPs they need. They have to understand where to go online, the quality of the publications listed and whether or not they help solve interoperability problems across the services. The sailor at sea and the soldier at the remote operating base should have joint and multiservice sites as part of their online “favorites.” The organizations that develop MTTPs must improve how their products are distributed on their own websites, other relevant ones and professional forums.

The time it takes to develop new guidance must also shrink. War fighters will — and should — be less apt to seek guidance from organizations whose response time is generally measured not in hours but months or years. Our young officers and noncommissioned officers will question information that is more than a year or two old.

There is acknowledgement across the chain of command that staffing cycles and decision forums need to speed up approval and dissemination of doctrine. Currently, ALSA strives to publish its work within 12 months after the services approve a project. In most cases this is fast enough, but for the application center to meet a shorter timeline, all other MTTP efforts are at risk of delay. In the next few years, ALSA may need to expand its staff to meet increased demand. As a start, ALSA, whose staff currently includes one action officer from the Marines and one from the Navy, could use another from each service. Giving our integration and application centers a new generation of digital tools will also help. iPads and other mobile computers will enable officers to better organize, access and present information as they go out to locate experts and promote multiservice approaches.

How fast should these cycles get? There is a middle ground between constantly capturing inputs from the field and the schoolhouses and establishing set revision cycles. Revising a high-demand publication every two or three years coincides with capability-based assessments and makes sense. The continued insertion of improved technology and the implementation of agile processes have forced the services into faster cycles.

Good, candid feedback comes from experts and users in the field. The best feedback comes from those engaged in the close fight; their ideas must be rapidly incorporated into the mainstream. Both the generating and operating force must continue to streamline and simplify the feedback process. The wiki method that permits a broad base of users to revise doctrine and TTP is ongoing, but security and quality issues remain as surmountable obstacles. The best feedback comes when leaders across the force encourage and set the conditions for candid comments and criticism. Re-establishing leader development initiatives and opportunities will do more than anything else to encourage active involvement across the ranks.


Technology should be used to optimize resources and make MTTPs more timely, relevant and compelling. Once war fighters have secure access and the ability to update doctrine as they go, the centers won’t have to rely as much on conferences and working groups for input. The Army’s No. 1 modernization effort is the tactical network. Results of integrated evaluations at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., will emerge later this year.

Army officials want soldiers to “bring the phones to the war zone, where their intelligence sharing and communications capabilities could revolutionize battlefield tactics,” Army Times reported in 2010. Indeed, the U.S. Army Learning Concept for 2015 proposes putting mobile digital devices into the hands of all soldiers no later than 2013.

ALSA has already begun looking into digital versions of its products. The center is no longer printing physical copies of its Air Land Sea Bulletin (ALSB), which publishes three issues a year, each filled with articles submitted from war fighters on a given theme. The ALSB now exists solely in digital form.

MTTP developers should also consider reaching out to the services’ centers that produce 3-D visualizations and scenarios. These centers use correlated terrain and 3-D models for operational and institutional training, based on current combat conditions. Converting portions of certain MTTPs to animated visualizations that complement vignettes may help make them more compelling. However, with an annual budget of less than $250,000 and an average workload of 10-13 new or revised publications a year, a center like ALSA must do a cost-benefit analysis on any new initiative.

In the operating force, commanders and operations officers should dedicate resources to ensure (where possible) that their unit TTPs are nested or in compliance with joint doctrine and MTTP. This sounds easy but requires a disciplined process and experienced leaders who understand where the tactical and operational meet.

Finally, ALSA and other service doctrine centers, which already share TTPs with key partners inside and outside the U.S., must make their approval and distribution processes more efficient. Using relevant promotional techniques like YouTube and encouraging the wiki method for revisions can help with process improvements. But nothing helps more that good old-fashioned leader emphasis and the operational demand that drive requirements.

The new national strategy points the military eastward, and therefore U.S. Pacific Command will conduct exercises to validate emerging operational strategies. Inevitably, that means new tactical interoperability issues in air and sea ops. Quickly capturing the TTP solutions and staffing them for approval will provide war fighters with service-validated approaches. The strategic shift also increases the need to share old and new MTTPs with international partners in the region.

Our vast pool of combat veterans will soon drain, so we must better capture the fruits of their experience and improve the way we share them with the U.S. military, our newest uniformed members and our close international partners.

Retired Lt. Col. Robert F. Finn Jr. is a military analyst at the Army Capabilities Integration Center and is responsible for test scheduling and review for Training and Doctrine Command. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 while on active duty.