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Management and utilisation of Mission Essential Tasks Lists

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Section 2: Strategic and operational level planning


Implementation of METLs-based training is a multi-layered process with multiple responsibilities. The intention was and is for HQ Joint Forces New Zealand (HQ JFNZ) to devise the operational or joint level lists of mission essential tasks according to higher-level military strategic guidance. Development of the subordinate but connected tactical lists of mission essential tasks and associated planning is the responsibility of the Service Chiefs.

The terms 'strategic level', 'operational level' and 'tactical level' as used in this report are broadly consistent with the NZDF definition of those terms.7

  1. Military strategy concerns the broad military end-state to support national strategic objectives. It is a product of the strategic level which is HQ NZDF and the Ministry of Defence.
  2. Planning and command of campaigns and major operations is at the operational level. The NZDF operational headquarters is HQ JFNZ. This leads to some planning using the terms 'operational' and 'joint' interchangeably.
  3. The tactical level is the Service-level, where the training of forces to take part in joint or other operations takes place.

These levels are related to mission essential tasks as follows:

  1. Mission essential tasks and task lists produced at the operational level headquarters (HQ JFNZ) are joint in nature. Joint METLs focus on military response options and therefore change when contingency or mission plans change.
  2. Services devise their own systems of mission essential tasks and task lists to focus the training they must conduct to be able to contribute to contingency and mission plans based on Joint METLs. Service METLs tend to have a more annual planning focus, on current or imminent deployments or contingency plans that are being emphasised within the annual planning focus.

Strategic overview

Through the medium of defence policy and output planning the Government provides direction to the NZDF regarding the range of military responses it may wish to make to possible security events. Security events can be current or imminent operations or hypothesised events such as those represented by the Outputs and ECs in the NZDF Output Plan. The Outputs are descriptions of the capability that the Government has at its disposal for military responses under each EC.

NZDF Force Elements must be ready, within prescribed Degrees of Notice8 or Response Times9 to respond to directed tasking. Maintaining 'Readiness'10 is expensive in terms of individual and collective training and the associated costs of ammunition and equipment maintenance and repair. It is now recognised that training costs can be reduced by maintaining higher degrees of Readiness only for more likely tasking, and lesser degrees of Readiness for less likely tasking. Scenario-based planning including the formulation of Military Response Options, mission essential tasks and METLs is a key cost effectiveness approach.

Operational level planning

Work which began in about 2003 in HQ JFNZ resulted in the production in about 2007 of a New Zealand Defence Force Universal Joint Task List,11 a Joint Mission Essential Task Lists (JMETLs) Handbook, and supporting documentation12 for representative ECs.

A top-down approach is evident in the NZDF's Joint METLs Handbook. According to the Handbook, strategic-level planning against ECs involves the production of scenarios, Military Strategic Estimates and potential Military Response Options. Operational level planning further develops Military Response Options into mission plans including the assignment of Force Elements and the operational level joint mission essential tasks needed for the various response options. The joint mission essential tasks required for a particular Military Response Option form the Joint METL for that option. At the point that joint mission essential tasks are compiled into Joint METLs scenario-specific conditions are applied to them. An outline of these steps is shown in Figure 2.1, and a fuller description of this process is shown at Annex A to this report.

Tactical level steps are included in Figure 2.1 to illustrate the major steps involved in turning strategic intent into tactical level training. Tactical level planning is discussed in the next section.

Fig 2.1: Outline Joint METLs-led training development

Figure 2.1: Outline Joint METLs-led training development.

View text equivalent of above image.

Using the processes depicted at the strategic and operational levels in Figure 2.1, HQ JFNZ has developed suites of documentation for eight representative employment contexts. The eight so-called 'fully documented ECs' are:

  1. EC 1A: Illegal exploitation of marine resources within the New Zealand EEZ, and other low-level threats to New Zealand territorial sovereignty
  2. EC 1D: Terrorist and asymmetric threats
  3. EC 2B: Natural and manmade disasters
  4. EC 2C: State failure or fragility leading to internal conflict and/or humanitarian crisis
  5. EC 2E: Challenges to legitimate governments, including civil war and secessionist conflict
  6. EC 4A: aggression to alter maritime boundaries or seize resources, or threats to freedom of navigation
  7. EC 4F: Inter-State conflict
  8. EC 5D: Terrorist threats (“The War Against Terrorism”)

The fully documented ECs represent an aggregation of other like ECs across the five geographically defined regions. In this way 23 of 28 ECs are covered by some level of contingency planning.

Furthermore, the view is also expressed in the documentation that the Joint METLs developed for the fully documented ECs can be cross referenced to modified Joint METLs to determine training requirements for operations arising from security events not covered by the standing documentation. However, see paragraph 2.15 below.

The operational level tasks contained in the NZDF Universal Joint Task List were developed within HQ JFNZ by extracting applicable mission essential tasks from the equivalent United States publication.13 At the same time (2003 to 2007) HQ JFNZ produced the documentation comprising the eight fully documented employment contexts and the NZDF Joint METLs Handbook.

There has been no updating of this documentation since it was completed and HQ JFNZ acknowledges that it is outdated.14 HQ JFNZ has commenced validating the documentation as part of an annual planning focus. HQ JFNZ intended validating employment context 2E15 during Exercise Southern Katipo in February 2011, but the Christchurch earthquake meant that the assembled exercise forces were diverted for recovery operations.

The ownership of the planning system that produces military response options and operational-level tasks is unclear. The planning function within HQ JFNZ should reside in J5 (Joint Plans) Branch, but because of resourcing difficulties ownership of the planning documentation has rested with the J8 (Joint Requirements, Evaluation and Development) Branch.

Strategic level planning

There is a level of contingency planning that sits outside that developed at HQ JFNZ. Standing joint plans for interagency operations such as SARABAND16 and AWHINA17 are examples of this. Training based on Joint METLs is intended to focus on what is important and affordable, and should maintain units' readiness for all likely tasking. However, because interagency planning sits outside HQ JFNZ, that focus is lost, and analysis to derive unit level training for these types of interagency operations is conducted at the lower operational level and the tactical levels shown in Figure 2.1.

HQ JFNZ should respond to a strategic context set by HQ NZDF. However, there is not currently any involvement by HQ NZDF in METLs planning processes. HQ JFNZ believes Strategic Commitments and Intelligence (SCI) Branch should produce the Military Strategic Estimates which set the scene for the military response options. SCI Branch has no such current work and no formal link to these processes.

In May 2010 the NZDF Executive Leadership Team directed COMJFNZ to present a plan for updating military response options. This direction has raised more questions than answers at HQ JFNZ. Issues that have arisen include:

  1. The production of Joint METLs involves many interrelated planning processes, and piecemeal changes cannot be made to just one part of the system such as military response options.
  2. The required planning extends higher than HQ JFNZ.
  3. Ownership of the planning processes within HQ JFNZ needs clarification.

There is no champion in HQ NZDF of the whole system for producing Joint METLs and direction and guidance is lacking. HQ JFNZ should not modify Military Response Options in isolation from the higher levels of the NZDF, but there is no engagement from the branches and senior leadership in HQ NZDF. The Ministry of Defence should also have a role in planning at the higher levels. The 1999/2000 Key Result Area referred to in para 1.5 above recorded that the goal involved both the NZDF and the Ministry.

  1. Foundations of New Zealand Military Doctrine, NZDDP-D, 2008.
  2. Hours of notice, where forces have practically no time to be operationally prepared.
  3. Days of notice, where forces have some time to move to an operational level of preparedness.
  4. 'Readiness' is a qualitative measure of the, “current proficiency and effectiveness of a force element or force to conduct a range of activities defined against a Directed Level of Capability and Employment Context”, (NZDF 2010/2011 Output Plan).
  5. The New Zealand Defence Force Universal Joint Task List. This is the Joint Mission-Essential Task List referred to in the 2004/2005 Output Plan Action Step.
  6. Strategic level plans including Military Response Options, operational level plans and a Joint Mission Essential Task/Assigned Force Element Matrix.
  7. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual 3500.04C Universal Joint Task List (UJTL).
  8. See, however, paragraph 2.17 of this Section.
  9. Challenges to legitimate governments, including civil war and secessionist conflict in the South Pacific.
  10. SARABAND is the national counter terrorism plan.
  11. AWHINA is the plan for the provision of NZDF assistance to a civil defence emergency.

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