from the Air Land Sea Bulletin, at the Air Land Sea Application Center

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Effective decision-making processes for the Joint Force Commander



MAJ Steven Ptak, USA

MAJ Charles R. Webster Jr., USA

CDR Tony W. Wilson, USN

    Admiral Derkins smiled inwardly and thought to himself how far the staff had come.

The morning briefing for the current crises had just finished.  The fusion of information technology and the decision focused command and control process was now paying dividends.  The staff was now providing him the analysis necessary to make better decisions. 

Yes, he thought, they had indeed turned the corner from just providing data to giving him the necessary information for him to make decisions. 

This morning he had not only been told the locations of his Carrier battle group, but how much time it would take to respond to either of the potential flare upsand when he would need to make a decision in order for those forces to be in place should they be required.  The typhoon in the area affected the routing of the battle group.  His staff ensured in their ayalisis that this information was built into the timelines.  His J2 had been able to give a prediction, from the current indicators, of when possible action might be taken and had factored this information into the decision point.  Information was flowing within the organization from multiple sources but was being brought together into a cohesive whole through the use of decision points and Commanders Critical Information Requirements.  It had been a good brief. 

The next meeting had been shceduled for 36 hours when the indicators anticipated the decision having to be made.  He was no longer fighting the past, but being drawn into fighting the future.  There was now a process guiding the decisions he had to make, the commander’s critical information requirements and  the battle rhythm that created a synergy that before had been lacking.

In order to improve critical decision-making capabilities, Joint Doctrine must be changed to provide a standardized approach for the Joint Force Commander (JFC), identifying key decisions and the necessary framework of supporting the critical information required by the commander to make good, timely decisions.

The effectiveness of the leader is proportional to the effectiveness of the decisions the leader makes and the cascading impacts as decisions turn into action, both good and bad.   Joint doctrine defines JFC as a “general term applied to a combatant commander, sub-unified commander, or joint task force commander authorized to exercise combatant command or operational control over a joint force.”1 The decision-making in question is for the JFC and applies to the strategic and operational levels.  Since it is widely recognized that the United States Armed Forces will be used with coalition armed forces, the same processes apply, whether discussing U.S. only or multinational forces and staffs.

As the decisions facing Admiral Dirkins in the vignette show, the JFC cannot rely on haphazard information flow to make effective decisions.  The JFC’s time is precious.  Information presented or pushed to the JFC must be worth the JFC’s time to receive and digest the information.  Joint doctrine, by putting together the information from several different publications, provides commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) as the information necessary to support the JFC’s decision making.

Joint doctrine recognizes the importance of effective decision-making.  Effective decision-making starts in the deliberate and crisis action planning process with well-defined decision points and corresponding CCIR.  The definition of CCIR indicates that the JFC’s information requirements should support the JFC’s decision-making.  Although referred to and implied throughout joint doctrine, the “process” of decision-making is not defined.  There is no joint doctrine that addresses the process of defining decision points, correlating CCIRs to the decision points, and then breaking the CCIRs into subcategories that provide ownership within the JFC’s staff and component organizations.

All commanders, Joint Task Force and JFC components come from service jobs.  If the service doctrines followed by key subordinates and JFC “information providers” do not follow the same decision-making processes, there will be seams in the decision-making process leading to poor quality information flowing to the JFC in support of the CCIR. A breakdown in the process eventually leads to ineffective decisions.  It is important that service doctrines synchronize decision-making processes with joint doctrine.  Following is a simple example to show why it is important for service doctrine processes to match joint doctrine processes:  If each service used different service-defined processes to decide targeting priorities, they would be unable to effectively identify and prioritize the targets when working together as a joint force.

We must determine first what joint doctrine does provide to the JFC’s decision-making process to analyze doctrine and provide solutions to provide Joint Force Commanders with decision-making tools not currently addressed by joint doctrine.  A summary of terms and joint definitions that will be used throughout this analysis will be provided to ensure the same starting point.  After definitions, the decision-making processes addressed in joint doctrine will be reviewed.  Although it would be beneficial to provide the same detailed analysis of service doctrines, time and space dictate a summary of service policies with respect to decision-making processes and standardization with joint doctrine.  Where gaps in definitions and joint processes are identified, solutions will be proposed.   Key aspects of decision-making processes missing from the joint doctrine are standard definitions, including the key sub-components of CCIR, linking decision points to CCIR, and how CCIR are “answered.”

The following definitions are taken from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms2:

Commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) – A comprehensive list of information requirements identified by the commander as being critical in facilitating timely information management and the decision-making process that affect successful mission accomplishment.  The two key subcomponents are critical friendly force information and priority intelligence requirements.

Critical information – Specific facts about friendly intentions, capabilities, and activities vitally needed by adversaries for them to plan and act effectively so as to guarantee failure or unacceptable consequences for friendly mission accomplishment.

Decision – In an estimate of the situation, a clear and concise statement of the line of action intended to be followed by the commander as the one most favorable to the successful accomplishment of the assigned mission.

Decision point (DP)– The point in space and time where the commander or staff anticipates making a decision concerning a specific friendly course of action.  A decision point is usually associated with a specific target area of interest, and is located in time and space to permit the commander sufficient lead-time to engage the adversary in the target area of interest.  Decision points may also be associated with friendly force and the status of ongoing operations.

Decision support template (DSP) – A graphic record of war gaming.  The decision support template depicts decision points, timelines associated with movement of forces and the flow of the operation, and other key items of information required to execute a specific friendly course of action.

Essential elements of friendly information (EEFI) – Key questions likely to be asked by adversary officials and intelligence systems about specific friendly intentions, capabilities, and activities, so they can obtain answers critical to their operational effectiveness.  Also called EEFI.

Joint force commander (JFC) – A general term applied to a combatant commander, sub unified commander, or joint task force commander authorized to exercise combatant command (command authority) or operational control over a joint force.  Also called a JFC.

Priority intelligence requirements (PIR) – Those intelligence requirements for which a commander has an anticipated and stated priority in the task of planning and decision-making. 

One of the two key subcomponents of CCIR is friendly force information. 

However, there is no definition of friendly force information.  The definition of critical information describes information needed by an adversary concerning friendly forces. 

Additionally, Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning does not define CCIR in the same manner.  It states the two key sub-components of CCIR are “critical information and priority intelligence requirements.”3 

As can be seen from the definitions, critical information applies to information required by the adversary instead of the JFC, so the definition of CCIR must be standard throughout joint doctrine.  Since decision points may be associated with friendly forces and the status of ongoing operations, friendly force information must be defined as follows:  Information about friendly forces required by the commander in support of decision-making processes.

The definition of CCIR mentions the decision-making process, but nowhere in the joint publications is the process of decision-making described.  In fact, the decision-making process should begin while identifying decision points during crisis action planning or deliberate planning.   Information required by the commander to make sound decisions must be identified in conjunction with identifying decision points.  The last part of the process should be the flow of information to the commander during execution of the plan to support the anticipated decisions that the commander must make.  Once the decision is made, the process starts from the beginning with a review of upcoming decisions and changing or modifying CCIR as required supporting new or modified decision points.

The Joint Capstone Publication 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF), provides the fundamental doctrine and policy for all other Joint Publications (Joint Pub).4  UNAAF describes the importance of identifying critical decision points to the commander and the CCIR to filter the amount of information flowing to the commander. 

Joint Pub 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, defines CCIRs and describes the two key sub-components as Critical Friendly Force Information and Priority Intelligence Requirements.5  

Joint Pub 5-0, Doctrine for Planning Joint Operations, states the benefit to decision making during a crisis provided by the detailed analysis and coordination allowed during deliberate planning during peacetime.6

Joint Pub 5-00.1, Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning, more clearly relates the identification of decision points with branches and sequels in the operational art of campaign planning.7  

Specifically, in the planning step of commander’s estimate, potential decision points and recommended CCIR are provided as a result of analysis of the proposed courses of action.8  What the Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning does not describe is a process to derive the decision points and related CCIR in a standard, logical manner.  Nor does it describe how to incorporate the decision support template into the decision making process.

In the executive summary, the UNAAF says,9 JFCs are provided staffs to assist them in the decision-making and execution process.  The staff is an extension of the commander; its sole function is command support, and its only authority is that which is delegated to it by the commander … It is essential for the JFC to ensure that subordinate commanders, staff principals, and leaders of C2 nodes understand their authorities, their role in decision-making and controlling, and their relationship with others.  Control of information is a prerequisite to maintaining C2 of a joint operation.  Identifying, requesting, receiving, tracking, and disseminating the needed information ensures that decision makers make informed, timely decisions… The JFC can get inside adversary’s decision and execution cycle by making more timely decisions.  Doing so generates adversary confusion and disorder and slows opponent decision-making.  The commander who can gather information and make decisions faster and better will generate a quicker tempo of operations and gain a decided military advantage.

The importance of information flow to support the JFC’s, and by extension, the JFC’s staff, decision-making process is made even more clear when the UNAAF describes the requirement for an information management plan to address the processes of disseminating CCIR, to address the information flow, filtering, fusing, protecting, and prioritizing, and to address common operation picture criteria.10    

There is no joint doctrine that addresses an information management plan, but there is a multi-Service tactics, techniques and procedures publication addressing information management.11

After analyzing the current joint doctrine for the decision-making process, there is a clear lack of information on how to accomplish the process.  The joint publications discuss the elements of the process but do not interlink them into a cohesive whole.

Because all JFCs and staffs come from service backgrounds, it is useful to analyze service doctrines with respect to standard decision-making processes.  There is not sufficient room to discuss the details of each service’s doctrine, but Table 1-1 captures the key points of the service doctrines.

Neither joint nor service doctrines clearly address the processes to capture critical information requirements supporting decision-making for the commander.  The joint and service doctrines do not have similar definitions of the information requirements and their relationships to each other and decision-making.  However, both the Army and Marines do have a similar process and similar definitions for decision points and CCIR.   Much could be accomplished by adopting Army and Marine doctrine definitions and processes into joint doctrine.

Why is this Important?

Decision-making is critical for the commander in order to accomplish the mission.  The decision-making process must therefore afford the commander the opportunity to receive the information necessary for him to make timely decisions in the prosecution of the mission.  Without a well-understood process, the staff will be unable to provide the right information at the right time for the commander to make the right decision.  The key then becomes to not only provide an efficient and well understood process for the staff, but to manage the process to identify and make available CCIR inputs in time for the commander to make decisions and act upon the information provided by the staff.

In order to manage the process, the staff must be focused on the information requirements established by the commander to make decisions.  The JFC staff must be able to provide timely analysis of the information that is provided in response to CCIR.  Value is added to the information as the JFC staff turns mere data into actionable knowledge for the decision maker.

Information management is simplified by using CCIR to provide a way of taking incoming information, filtering it against a set of requirements, and applying what remains against those requirements.  JFC staff efficiencies are gained by establishing an Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR) for each CCIR.  Addressing an OPR in the process provides a centralized point of contact on the JFC staff for working the analysis of the information.

Consistent joint doctrine, as well as the importance of a well-articulated and understood process, is essential for commanders and their staffs to reach timely decisions.  The key is to understand what must be done to change current joint doctrine so that CJTFs can form a joint staff using common, understood procedures to gain the necessary information and knowledge to make sound decisions.  Thus, our recommendation to joint doctrine are as follows:

·       Establish a simple and clear process consistent throughout joint doctrine.

·       Establish simple and clear definitions consistent throughout joint doctrine.

The following establishes a clear decision making process for the JFC’s staff to follow:  The commander, using wargaming techniques and the decision support matrix (DSM) or decision support template (DST), identifies the decision point (DP) necessary for mission accomplishment and for execution of potential branches and sequels.  Once these DPs are identified, the Commander then determines the applicable CCIR for each DP.  DPs are then reached and decisions made when the commander feels that the CCIR justify the need to make the decision. The process is based upon immediate commander notification when significant CCIR related information comes in, or when CCIR in combination establish the need to make a decision.

The commander utilizes CCIR to establish the priorities for information gathering and reporting.  CCIR are a prioritized list of information requirements approved by the commander as critical for decision-making, and are linked to the commander’s DPs.  They should identify opportunities and vulnerabilities that assist the commander in advising his/her higher headquarters and in supporting the JTF (See Fig 1 below). CCIR are a tool for the commander to reduce information gaps generated by uncertainties that the commander may have concerning his own force, the threat or the environment.  Once updated, CCIR enable the commander to better understand the flow of the operation, identify risks, and make timely decisions to fulfill his intent, retain the initiative, and accomplish the mission. They aid the commander by reducing information requirements to a manageable set. More importantly, they focus the staff on the exact type and form of information the commander requires. CCIR will change as situations change and decisions are made. CCIR require continuous assessment for relevance to current and developing situations.

Instead of reacting to the threat, commanders are able to maintain tempo by controlling the flow of information necessary to attain understanding of the battlespace. As events unfold, new decisions will be necessary which thereby drive changes in the CCIR.  This constant state of change requires continual assessment of CCIR for relevance to current and future situations. The commander approves CCIR, but the staff recommends and manages them to assist the commander. They are updated as required by the IM plan and are tracked by the staff.

The following are recommended changes to the definitions of terms for joint doctrine:

Decision Points - Decisions that the commander anticipates he may have to make during a given operation.  The DPs are further defined by type.  The two types of DPs are situational and standing. 

Situational.  DPs that develop and change as the situation adjusts and objectives are met.  Situational DPs are frequently modified or deleted as decisions are made on branches and sequels.  An example of a situational DP would be the execution of the next phase of an operation.

Standing.  DPs that support the entire operation as a whole and are applicable for the length of its duration.   An example of a standing DP would be the decision point associated with a change to the information condition level.

CCIR are broken down into the three categories and the three types listed in the next two paragraphs below.  A CCIR is always one of the three types listed, it is not a stand-alone entity.

CCIR Categories

Enemy or Threat.  Critical items of information required by a particular time that relates with other available information and intelligence, to assist in assessing and understanding the enemy or threat situation. 

This category involves indications and warnings (I&W) of the threat intent and/or actions by the enemy or threat.  Examples include information regarding troop movements, changes in opposing force intent or policies.

Friendly.  Information the commander needs pertaining to his assigned forces to make timely and appropriate decisions.  This category includes such information as force closure, critical supply levels, and levels of combat effectiveness.

Environment.  This category includes, but is not limited to, economic, political, meteorological and infrastructure information.  Examples of information are meteorological conditions, condition of the supporting infrastructure and changes in national policy by the participating nations or neutral governments and/or forces, and relevant activities of non-governmental and private organizations.

CCIR types: 

Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR).  Those intelligence requirements about the enemy and environment for which a commander has an anticipated and stated priority in his task of planning and decision-making. They are often associated with a decision that will critically affect the overall success of the command’s mission.

Friendly Force Information Requirements (FFIRs). Information the commander needs about friendly forces in order to develop plans and make effective decisions.  Depending upon the circumstances, information on unit location, composition, readiness, personnel status and logistics status could become a friendly information requirement.

Essential Elements of Friendly Information (EEFI).  Key questions likely to be asked by adversary officials and intelligence systems about specific friendly intentions, capabilities and activities, so they can obtain answers critical to their operational effectiveness.

The terms “CCIR” and “PIR” are not interchangeable.  PIRs support those DPs that require information related to the enemy and environment and are the highest order of intelligence requirements.  While a PIR may be included in CCIR, not all CCIR are PIR. 

For CJTFs to improve the productivity and focus of the joint staff during mission execution it is imperative that we continue to promote improvement in the definition and utilization of the decision making process as it applies to decision focused C2. 

If for no other reason than commanders are in the business of making decisions that will affect the lives of the men that serve under them.  It is for this reason the joint doctrine for decision-making must become more refined and better defined.  Adoptions of the recommendations made are critical for the pursuit of better decision-making at the JTF level.


1 Joint Pub 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Washington, GPO, 12 Apr. 2001 (as amended through 7 May 2002).

2 Ibid

3 Joint Pub 5-00.1, Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning. Washington, GPO, 25 Jan. 2002, page III-8.

4 Joint Pub 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF). Washington: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 10 Jul. 2001.

5 Joint Pub 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations. Washington: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 10 Sep. 2001.

6 Joint Pub 5-0, Doctrine for Planning Joint Operations. Washington, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 13 Apr. 1995.

7 Joint Pub 5-00.1, Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning. Washington, GPO, 25 Jan. 2002.

8 Ibid page III-11

9 Joint Pub 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF). Washington: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 10 Jul. 2001, page xiii

10 Ibid, page III-14

11 Air Land Sea Application Center, Multiservice Procedures for Joint Task Force – Information Management. April 1999.

12 FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, Department fo the Army, Washington, DC, 31 May 1997, page I-1

13 Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 5-1. Marine Corps Planning Process. Washington: Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Jan. 2000.

14 Air Force Doctrine Document 2-8. Command and Control. Washington: Chief of Staff, Air Force, 16 Feb. 2001.

15 Naval Warfare Publication 5-01 (Rev. A). Naval Operational Planning. Norfolk VA: Naval Doctrine Command, May 1998.