Published Aerospace Power Journal - Fall  2001

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.


Every great revolution brings ruin to the old army.

        —Leon Trotsky

Dominant Effects: Effects-Based
Joint Operations

Col Edward Mann, USAF, Retired
Lt Col Gary Endersby, USAF, Retired
Tom Searle*

*Colonel Mann is a research project director at the Airpower Research Institute; Colonel Endersby is a defense analyst with Cubic Applications; and Mr. Searle is a research fellow at the Airpower Research Institute.

Editorial Abstract: This and the following article are thought-provoking pieces generated primarily from results of the Title X Global Engagement war game hosted by the College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, in 1999. The articles are synopses of larger research projects published as monographs and are available on Air University’s Research Web site: The concept of “Dominant Effects” explores targeting under a new paradigm for success that steps away from traditional thinking based on destruction. The concept of “Global Dynamic Operations” argues for a change in command and control that would more efficiently employ limited, high-demand aerospace assets needed in several theaters at the same time. These challenges to conventional thinking represent the kinds of products our Air Force war-gaming and educational programs should keep producing.

"The point I’m trying to make is that you can’t just rack them [targets] up and prioritize them and go from top to bottom. You have to look at what you want to achieve in each one of those individual target sets, and maybe you don’t have to kill the target to achieve your objective. Maybe absolute damage and levels of destruction ought not be your measure of merit and, in fact, might not be what you really want to have happen. . . . You know, a 2,000-pound bomb can go off down the hall, it will make a heck of a lot of noise and we won’t be dead, but I can guarantee you we ain’t gonna continue to sit here and drink coffee and carry on this conversation. . . . You’re going to get out of there."1

The power of this argument may make the conclusion seem obvious, but then Lt Col Dave Deptula argued long and hard with Air Force targeteers to apply effects-based thinking to the air plan for the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. According to Deptula, "They [Air Force targeteers] go to JMEMs [Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manuals] and they open it [sic] up and that’s what they’re focused on. They’re focused on destruction, absolute destruction" (emphasis in original).2 As chief planner in-theater of the strategic air campaign, however, Deptula had certain desired effects in mind and didn’t particularly care how they were achieved, so long as they were. He was not concerned about killing individual sector operations centers (SOC); rather, the objective was to break down the Iraqi integrated air defense system itself. This approach might leave individual air defense elements functional but only in the autonomous mode, which would make them much easier to avoid and attack, if necessary. In other words, once the air defense system was no longer integrated, it would be much easier to deal with. By thinking this way, Deptula was able to reduce from eight to two the number of 2,000-pound precision-guided bombs directed at each SOC on the first night of the war. Not only did this achieve the desired effect, but also it released an enormous amount of firepower to concentrate on other critical systems.

This example demonstrates the basic premise of effects-based operations (EBO). Focusing on the conditions desired—the effects—to achieve assigned objectives enables one to avoid focusing on pseudo-objectives, such as destruction. Stated so simply, it seems patently obvious. But experience suggests the difficulty of maintaining such a focus. For example, according to Gen John Jumper, commander of US Air Forces Europe during Operation Allied Force over Kosovo, planners managed an approved target list on a day-by-day basis without reference to specific effects they desired to create.3 Further evidence that planners have difficulty staying focused on effects-based thinking came to light during the chief of staff of the Air Force’s Title X Global Engagement IV war game, executed in October 1999 to explore EBO. After the game, key players and overseers said that EBO had worked fine as long as the players focused on the concept. Yet, it broke down rapidly during the game as players concentrated their attention on the mechanics of operational planning rather than the outcomes desired by senior leadership involved in the game.4

On the one hand, in the current joint and interservice debate over EBO, critics argue that the US military has essentially always done EBO—that it is nothing new. On the other hand, is it possible that in the area of EBO, our military might be languishing with institutional or procedural thinking that fails to keep pace with technological capabilities? Perhaps EBO is indeed something new that will require changes in the way the military thinks and operates.

A review of a number of cases going back as far as World War II indicates that the US military has struggled to apply effects-based principles for over 50 years. For example, one finds the US military attempting to apply EBO in Air War Planning Document 1, written in August 1941 by US Army Air Corps planners.5 A historical review of EBO lies outside the scope of this article, but the general picture is that, despite deep EBO roots, the military has never really institutionalized the thought processes necessary to ensure consistent adherence to EBO principles.

Only now is EBO being tentatively and unevenly incorporated into service and joint doctrine.6 At the same time, the concept is neither thoroughly nor evenly understood among military people. Is EBO synonymous with effects-based targeting? Is the joint developmental concept known as "rapid decisive operations" merely EBO with a different title? Does EBO have as its objective, as one presumably well-informed source stated, the "disabling of targets while minimizing collateral damage"?7 The simple answer is no. All of these concepts are much too narrow and unnecessarily constrained to war-fighting scenarios. Broader views consider EBO equally applicable and useful to all forms of military operations, whether combat related or not. The current confusion inhibits the full implementation of EBO, and a fully developed theory is necessary to move beyond petty debates. Toward that end, this article presents a comprehensive EBO concept designed to encourage joint discussion in hopes of avoiding the potential negative outcomes of such an ad hoc implementation. How did we end up in the present predicament, whereby a piecemeal and incoherent application of EBO may be currently under way within the US military?

More than 10 years after the end of the cold war, the US national security establishment is still calling the current era the "post cold war," a sign that the nation is looking back at least as much as it is looking forward. In other words, the United States is still struggling to understand the dominant characteristics of the New World Order. The Soviet Union is gone. China, the only remaining communist threat of any size, is maturing as a military power but remains too weak to be considered a significant near-term threat. Joint Vision [JV] 2020 proceeds from the premise that the United States will have no "peer competitor" for the next 10 to 20 years.8 Nonetheless, it is widely accepted that significant, though difficult-to-define, threats to US and international security lurk in the shadows—brushfire wars; drug traffic; international terrorism, including "cyberterrorism"; and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, increasingly numerous peacekeeping and peace-enforcing missions, as well as increased deployments for the post-cold-war US military, create concerns over operations and personnel tempos. In light of these developments, one finds a growing consensus for a new paradigm in international security affairs that requires an updated vision for military operations.

In the past, the US military has viewed itself as the ultimate guarantor of the nation’s destiny, holding the mandate "to fight and win the nation’s wars." In this view, presence proved useful as a deterrent, but military planning had as its basis a "conquest paradigm" rooted in Napoleonic warfare as articulated by Carl von Clausewitz. The ultimate goal in warfare, according to Clausewitz, is to impose a political settlement by capturing or threatening an opposing nation’s territory and capital. Since a military force protects the enemy capital and nation, "disarming" or destroying that force becomes the principal aim of Napoleonic-type warfare.9 In the twentieth century, the concept of "total war" raised this view close to its pinnacle. Almost everything even remotely connected to the support of war fighting, especially national industrial capacity, was subject to attack and destruction. In fact, destruction became the penultimate measure of combat assessment and success—this was the twentieth century’s total-war conquest paradigm.

Following World War II, however, an American war of conquest became less and less likely, and the objectives of military operations much less clear. In fact, military operations often represented only a small part of a much larger effort aimed at achieving limited political objectives. This perspective is one reason that World War II might occasionally be called "the last good war" by students of history who believe US military operations in Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s were aberrations in which "unnecessary" political constraints tied the hands of the military. This opinion has led some people to argue that one should employ the military only when political commitment allows the use of overwhelming force to "conquer" the opposing force with minimal losses.10 Recent history, however, suggests the existence of many relevant uses of military force besides conquest or even coercion.

As conquest and coercion become less relevant to American security concerns, the US military grows increasingly aware that the Napoleonic paradigm of destroying the enemy army is of little use in the current geopolitical structure. In its place are peacetime engagement, military operations other than war (MOOTW), and smaller-scale contingencies (SSC). One may also conduct a major theater war (MTW)—but usually to achieve limited objectives. This does not mean that Napoleonic-type warfare no longer exists or that "fighting the nation’s wars" is no longer an important role for the US military. It simply suggests that the conquest paradigm no longer offers a sufficiently broad view of the purpose and nature of military action and that a new paradigm has arrived—something that one might term a "success paradigm." In this view, achievement of national political goals—not conquest—defines military success. Applications across the entire spectrum of military engagement combine with other instruments of national power to achieve these goals. The growing interest in EBO amongst the military services is one indicator of this paradigmatic shift. As already indicated, however, the US military, working jointly, needs to pull the EBO concept together into a cohesive theory.

Although the military has already made progress toward this goal, the concept is moving forward in piecemeal fashion rather than cohesively or deliberately. This has continued and will continue to produce inconsistent and unreliable results. Only a comprehensive, shared vision of what EBO is and how it works can provide the necessary cohesion. Such a vision must include the following:

1. a fully developed theory grounded in effects-based thinking,
2. a process to facilitate development of an organizational culture of EBO, and
3. a lexicon to promote understanding through a common language.

The remainder of this article presents a developmental concept called "Dominant Effects" (DE) that provides all three of these features. DE fits well with the terminology of JV 2020 and captures the idea of effects-based thinking as a lens through which one may focus JV 2020’s four operational concepts to create the goal of "full-spectrum dominance" (fig. 1). DE posits that appropriate movement, supply, attack, defense, and maneuver create functional, systemic, and psychological effects well beyond the immediate physical result of tactical or operational events. Military organizational schemes and thought processes, therefore, should focus first on achieving these higher-level effects. Yet, it is worse than folly to assume that military operations will produce only the desired effects. Hence, DE explicitly considers potential effects, either unintended or collateral, of planned operations that might otherwise complicate achievement of the intended effect(s).

Figure 1. Creating Full-Spectrum Dominance

Figure 1. Creating Full-Spectrum Dominance

Certain effects (often called indirect or second- and third-order effects) are relatively far removed from the action itself and likely to cascade through an entire system and into other systems. Some of the resulting outcomes may assist in creating the intended effects, while others tend to negate them. By considering these collateral and cascading effects in military planning, one can plan actions to mitigate the likelihood of serious, negative, unintended effects. Other possibilities include choosing an alternative approach to achieve the same desired effect(s) or altering military objectives.

The effects-based approach argues against focusing upon tactical-level actions such as the physical destruction of targets. Although important, the delivery of weapons on targets is not as significant as the positive or negative aspect of higher-level effects. For this reason, it is crucial to predetermine the indicators useful in measuring successful achievement of the desired higher-level effects.

Fully incorporating the envisioned paradigm shift requires sophisticated research, assessment planning, and analysis, including appropriate attrition- and nonattrition-based modeling and simulation. To exploit systemic or psychological reactions requires extensive research on the target audiences, the specific reaction desired from the target audience, the methods of inducing that reaction, and the means of collecting and analyzing data that indicate progress toward success. One cannot expect to find finite and universal answers, but this process should provide a better basis for planning and should help in achieving national objectives and policy goals in the new geopolitical context.

An idealized planning model (fig. 2) will enhance effects-based thinking before, during, and after operations. The process depicted is both continuous and iterative. The initial phase in the model is strategic environment research, which begins well before the conception of any specific operation. This phase asks and attempts to answer several broad-ranging questions: What kind of functional, systemic, and psychological effects might one seek in certain generalized circumstances? How might one produce them and under what circumstances? And what kinds of indicators would be appropriate to determine the nature and extent of these effects? The second phase involves determining policy goals, including a statement of the intended effects and outcomes that will lead to achieving those goals. The third phase entails developing a strategy to employ the vast range of resources available to achieve the desired effects. Next comes mission parsing and integration, which determine the elements of national power best suited for each task and the ways all the elements will work together to achieve policy goals. The final phase, effects assessment, calls for using information provided through intelligence collection and other sources to determine whether policy goals are being achieved and what needs to be done next. This series of steps requires interagency discussion and decisions by the National Command Authorities. The military needs to participate proactively in these deliberations and research, but it will not control them. The military can benefit from fully articulating a clearly defined effects-based process even though it might not precisely implement that process.

Figure 2. Idealized Functional-Planning Process

Figure 2. Idealized Functional-Planning Process

With missions assigned to appropriate agencies and an overall lead agent chosen to maintain proper integration of all efforts, the military begins its own planning process (fig. 2, second ring). With the exception of an overt emphasis on effects, this proposed process follows a model very similar to the current joint air operations planning process described in Joint Publication (Pub) 3-56.1, Command and Control for Joint Air Operations, 14 November 1994. The emphasis on effects becomes apparent in two critical ways. The first is an expansion of the phase involving the determination of military objectives, including deliberate consideration and articulation of desired and potential collateral effects. The second is in the assessment phase, which evaluates progress in terms of the positive and negative effects of operations. Again, this is a continuous cycle with no specific beginning or end. Planners, operators, and assessors must consider effects assessment in the objectives- and effects-determination phases to ensure that appropriate means exist to monitor progress toward the established objectives. Less explicit, but seemingly obvious in this process, is consideration of effects during the execution phase. In fact, although the model depicts effects assessment as a phase, assessment planning and actual effects assessment must be integral to the entire process if EBO is to be fully successful. For this reason, the military planning organization must employ a seamless team of integrated experts with a generalist background in aerospace power operations. Intelligence, for instance, cannot be a separate function that delivers a "finished product" to the operations planners. Intelligence experts must fully integrate themselves into the operations-planning team along with experts in operations, maintenance, and logistics, among others.

Assessment includes more than what one customarily refers to as combat assessment or, colloquially, battle-damage assessment. Assessment must provide the commander more information than the physical and functional effects of weapons employment. To conduct EBO, commanders need assessments of both systemic and psychological effects. This part of the DE process represents perhaps the most difficult challenge and will require great effort over many years to deal with a number of complex issues. For example, one of the major issues involves understanding and, more importantly, measuring the will of a target audience (an adversary or other group one wishes to influence). Historically, the United States does not have a good track record in this regard and often resorts to mirror-imaging the target audience. Fully implementing DE will not be easy, but it is a very rich concept for improved operations planning.

The DE concept provides a hierarchical overview of the effects-based process and levels the playing field for the services in terms of EBO. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of EBO is that it applies across the spectrum of engagement, from peacetime through MOOTW and SSCs to MTW. The concept appears ideal for the wide variety of actions that an expeditionary US military force may face in the twenty-first century. Similarly, DE applies across all levels of employment;11 that is, it works equally well from the tactical through the operational and up to the strategic level of employment.

DE shows great promise in illuminating a clear and comprehensive perspective of EBO. It is vitally important in refining a successful transition to a broad new paradigm of military action for achieving national political goals. That paradigm is based not on destruction but on success.


Lexicon of Proposed EBO Terms

Lexicon of Proposed EBO Terms

General Definitions

effects: the physical, functional, systemic, and/or psychological outcomes, events, or consequences that result from specific military action. They may occur at all levels of employment and can produce or trigger follow-on outcomes (modified from Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.2, "Strategic Attack," draft, 1 January 2000).

effects-based operations: military actions and operations designed to produce distinctive and desired effects through the application of appropriate movement, supply, attack, defense, and maneuvers. EBO focuses on functional, systemic, and psychological effects well beyond the immediate physical result of a tactical or operational event. Furthermore, EBO is equally concerned with military actions and operations that trigger additional effects beyond those desired.

dominant effects: an effects-based concept of joint operations applicable across the entire spectrum of operations and at all levels of conflict. It focuses the four operational concepts of JV 2020 (full-dimensional protection, focused logistics, dominant maneuver, and precision engagement) through employment of EBO to achieve full-spectrum dominance.

direct effects: immediate, first-order effects (weapons-employment results, etc.). They are the results of military actions with no intervening effect or mechanism between act and outcome. Direct effects are usually immediate and easily recognizable (see Joint Pub 3-60, "Joint Doctrine for Targeting," preliminary coordination draft, 6 June 2000).

indirect effects: effects created through an intermediate effect or mechanism, producing a final outcome or result. Indirect effects are second- and third-order effects, which may be functional, systemic, or psychological. They tend to be delayed and typically are more difficult to recognize than direct effects (modified from Joint Pub 3-60, "Joint Doctrine for Targeting," 6 June 2000, preliminary coordination draft).

Types of Direct Effects (First-Order Effects)

physical effects: the effects created by direct impact through physical alteration of the object or system targeted by the application of military action.

functional effects: the direct or indirect effects of an attack or operation on the ability of a target to function properly. In essence, these effects answer the question, To what extent has the function of the target been degraded or affected by military actions?

collateral effects: outcomes that result when something occurs other than intended. They may be either positive or negative as regards the original intent. In one sense, collateral effects may constitute the incidental direct or indirect effects (usually unintentional) that cause injury or damage to persons, objects, or systems. In a broader perspective, collateral effects cover a wide array of possible downstream results (modified from Joint Pub 3-60, "Joint Doctrine for Targeting," 6 June 2000, preliminary coordination draft).

psychological effects: an operation’s impact on the mental domain of a target audience.

Types of Indirect Effects (Second- and Third-Order Effects)

functional effects: (see "Types of Direct Effects," above)

collateral effects: (see "Types of Direct Effects," above)

cascading effects: indirect effects that ripple through an enemy system, often influencing other systems as well. Typically, these effects can influence nodes critical to multiple systems. The effects may cascade either upward or downward; however, most often this cascading of indirect effects flows from higher to lower levels of operations. For example, when an enemy central headquarters is destroyed, the effects cascade down through the enemy echelons, ultimately disrupting numerous tactical units on the battlefield (modified from Joint Pub 3-60, "Joint Doctrine for Targeting," 6 June 2000, preliminary coordination draft).

systemic effects: indirect effects on the operation of a specific system or systems. In essence, they answer the question, To what degree has the system or systems been degraded or affected by military actions?

cumulative effects: the effects resulting from the aggregate of many direct or indirect effects. They may occur at the same level or at different levels of employment as one achieves the contributing lower-order effects. However, cumulative effects typically occur at higher levels of employment (Joint Pub 3-60, "Joint Doctrine for Targeting," 6 June 2000, preliminary coordination draft).

psychological effects: (see "Types of Direct Effects," above)

Maxwell AFB, Alabama


1. Lt Col Dave Deptula, Washington, D.C., transcript of interview with Lt Col Suzanne B. Gehri, Lt Col Richard T. Reynolds, and Lt Col Edward C. Mann III, 11 December 1991, Desert Story Collection, US Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Ala., 17–19.

2. Ibid., 22.

3. Quoted by Benjamin S. Lambeth, "Control of the Air: The Future of Air Dominance and Offensive Strike," speech delivered at the Rydges Canberra Hotel, Canberra, Australia, 15–16 November 1999, 14, on-line, Internet, 16 May 2001, available from

4. Gen John Shaud, USAF, retired, Rosslyn, Va., interviewed by authors, 15 June 2000; and Sam Clovis, Montgomery, Ala., interviewed by authors, 4 May 2000.

5. For a limited set of examples, see Gary Endersby, Tom Searle, and Edward Mann, Dominant Effects: Effects Based Joint Operations (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Airpower Research Institute, in press).

6. The Air Force Doctrine Center is making a concerted effort, in accordance with four-star guidance from past Corona conferences, to write EBO into all service doctrine, and EBO terminology is being written into select segments of joint doctrine (notably Joint Pub 3-60, "Joint Doctrine for Targeting," 6 June 2000, preliminary coordination draft; and program directive for Joint Pub 3-70, Joint Doctrine for Strategic Attack, 16 March 2000). Judging by responses from service representatives at a recent Joint Forces Command/J-39 conference on the subject, the Navy is well on board, but the Marine Corps seems skeptical and the Army at least mildly opposed to incorporating these concepts into doctrine.

7. Amy Butler, "DOD Urged Not to Forget Benefits of Attrition, Annihilation Strategies," Inside the Air Force, 9 June 2000, 14.

8. Joint Vision 2020 (Washington, D.C.: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2000).

9. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), 90–93.

10. This perspective is clearly evident in the [Caspar] Weinberger-[Colin] Powell Doctrine, which considers the use of overwhelming force an important element to ensure military success and decrease the risk of friendly casualties.

11. Although doctrine refers to levels of war, it seems more appropriate to describe them in this context as levels of employment.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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