Reviewing Joint Publication 5-0

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On 16 June 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff promulgated Joint Publication 5-0. This joint doctrine update was six years in the making, and reflect both lessons learned and new paradigms of planning and operating joint forces. Here are my thoughts on the latest in joint planning.

What’s Right     

The updated version of Joint Publication 5-0 has a multitude of changes that planners operating at the Joint Staff, Combatant Commands, Joint Task Forces, and other joint commands should understand. Some are simple, and do not require detailed discussion such as the name change from “Joint Operational Planning Process” to “Joint Planning Process.” Some of the more significant concepts in the joint planning doctrine update include the expansion on the discussion of risk, the expansion on the discussion of assessments, and the addition of an appendix on red teams. These changes and additions reflect the joint planning community’s ability to learn, reflect, and adopt some of the best practices taking place in the joint force.

Few things are as powerful to a commander as an effective Red Team. Employed properly, a Red Team will challenge the assumptions of a commander and his or her staff. Effective Red Teams do not kill the plan, rather they help the commander and staff identify weaknesses and holes in a plan, thus making said plan stronger. The discussion of Red Teams begins on Page IV-3, where there is a discussion on the role and actions of Red Teams in planning. This short discussion expands into Appendix K of Joint Publication 5-0 “Red Teams.” Within the Red Teams appendix, there is a detailed description on the role of the Red Team in each step of the Joint Planning Process. There are a limited number of dedicated Red Team personnel throughout the joint force; the Red Team Appendix recognizes this force limitation, recommending that Joint Commanders prioritize Red Team Support.

                In Chapter III, Strategy and Campaign Development, the 2017 version of JP 5-0 expands the discussion of risk. With this updated doctrine, there is a requirement for Combatant Commanders to assess strategic risk, combine it with the military or operational risk, and include an assessment of the two in Commander’s estimates and in the Annual Joint Assessment (AJA). Paramount to understanding the discussion of strategic risk is the directed timeframes. According to the 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 “For strategic risk, CCDRs identify the probability and consequence of near (0-2 years) and mid-term (3-7 years) strategic events or crises that could harm US national interests, and they identify the impacts of long-term (8-20 years) trends and future adversary capabilities.”  This is an astounding aspect, as historically, Combatant Commands rarely looked past the 5-year timeframe of POM[i] Cycles, leaving it to the services to think about the mid to long term future.  

                Since General McCrystal delivered the standard three courses of Action to President Obama, Combatant Commanders have been providing a menu of options for the execution of various plans. The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 recognizes this aspect of planning, and formalizes that Combatant Commanders “provide multiple options to the civilian and military leadership so they can better understand how their decisions (to include timing of those decisions) can impact an operation.” Th recognition that the purpose of Joint Planning is to provide civilian leadership with military options to exercise in conjunction with other elements of national power provides clarity to what men and women working in windowless rooms sacrifice their time and energy for.

                As a plan moves from a concept and into execution, an assessment of said plan is critical. The assessment process is not new to joint planning; however, the updated doctrine on joint planning expands and updates the discussion. Indeed, similar to joint targeting, strategy, plans, operations, and assessments operate in cycles. Joint force commanders and their respective planners must understand how actions positively or negatively affect movement towards an objective or end state. Effective assessments ensure joint force commanders can adjust plans as operations unfold. The expanded discussion and emphasis on assessments is another welcome addition to our joint doctrine.

What’s Wrong

The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 removes “deliberate” and “crisis action” planning terms. The theory behind this change is that both “crisis action” and “deliberate” planning use the same processes. In my opinion, this is wrong. Any planner who has spent time in a Combatant Command J35 or J5P Division can tell you that “crisis action” and “deliberate” planning both use the seven steps of JPP, but that is where the similarity ends. Historically, crisis action planning occurred within a time-constrained environment while deliberate planning took place over an extended timeframe, often spread out over the course of two years.  Moreover, in crisis action planning, various planning products from the Pinnacle OPREP 3 to the Commander’s Estimate, through publication of Execution Orders took place over the course of days and weeks.

The 6-Phase Model  Rather than limiting creativity, is brought clarity and a common language to joint planning across the plans community. 

The 6-Phase Model  Rather than limiting creativity, is brought clarity and a common language to joint planning across the plans community. 

                The constant of every Combatant Command numbered plan is the 6-phase planning model. Over the past couple decades, the 6 phases of joint operations has served as a common reference point, or terminology for joint planners. Indeed, when any planner or commander speaks about Phase III, other planners instinctively understand what part of an operation the discussion is centered on. The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 maintains a detailed discussion on phasing, the purposes of phases and transition between phases to name just a few. However, this updated doctrine removes the 6-phase planning model. The removal of the 6-phase model is a mistake. This will lead to various Combatant Commands and other Joint Forces developing their own phasing construct. Doctrine provides a common language, and veering away from a common phasing model creates an unnecessary risk to the joint force.


                The 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0 is a welcome and much needed update for joint planners across the force. The addition of an appendix on Red Teaming should provide a powerful tool to enhance contingency plans. Further, recognizing the difference between strategic and operational risk is paramount to get planners to look up and out, in lieu of down and in. On the downside, the elimination of the six-phase model has the potential to generate risk in coordinating and synchronizing global operations.


[i] POM: Program Objective Memoranda; the resource allocation decisions of the Military Department in response to, and in accordance with, the Guidance for Development of the Force (GDF) and Defense Planning Guidance