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Since the galvanizing event that was the 2014 Annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, NATO has been consistently devising new ways to augment the speed at which their fighting forces are able to deploy.  Initiatives taken by NATO include the creation of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) situated within the NATO Response Force (NRF), development of weapon components using 3D printers, and the use of drones to deliver light supplies.  High-tech advancements such as these promise to expedite the process of moving necessary resources in support of military operations. However, no amount of organizational or technological advancements will be allowed to reach their fullest potential without a comprehensive reform to the decision structure that does more than anything to govern the swiftness of NATO’s operations, similar to most other bureaucratic organizations.  Team First ACT’s Decision Forcing Exercise promises to be that comprehensive reform.


A Decision Forcing Exercise (DFE) is a computer-based application designed to press participants into making decisions where they may otherwise desire to wait for more actionable information.  DFE is based upon the same concept as the OODA Loop, originated by John Boyd and focusing on fighter pilots. “OODA” stands for observe, orient, decide, act – the basis of this idea is that the person who can go through this process the fastest will have the best chance of success, regardless of the skillset. Through various interviews, we discovered that the issue lies in the tendency to delay decision-making for the sake of information. Through the DFE, people will eventually be able to shift the prejudice from delaying to that of taking action. DFE has proven successful in both the military and civilian sects – decision-forcing exercises have been used in the classroom to aid in history lessons, as well as, being implemented in the development of maneuver warfare within the United States Marine Corps.  


Conventional war games enumerate everything from troop numbers to the exact locations hostile forces are situated in order to give participants opportunities to practice their strategic thinking and decision making skills.  Decision forcing exercises are different in that they are often modeled after real military issues that have already taken place in the past. In such exercises, participants take on the role of a military professional in the decision-making position who has at one point in their life contended with the issue being proposed and attempt to solve it with no knowledge of the historical commander actually dealt with the problem. Additionally, DFE can be very easily altered to accommodate multiple scenarios – logistics, transportation, supply chains, and so on.


For the purpose of expediting the decision-making process within NATO, decision forcing exercises–when properly adjusted for NATO’s unique environment and the nature of contemporary warfare–can be used to great effect.  As opposed to conventional wargames that layout as many variables as possible to allow participants to make the most informed decisions, First ACT’s DFE does almost the opposite. First ACT’s take on an effective DFE sees it emphasize aspects of modern warfare that characterize strategies such as those employed by the Russian government in its annexation of Crimea.  This means depriving participants of most of the information to which they would like to be privy; information such as the identities of any suspicious operatives proximate to an attack and even the specific state or non-state actor to which the act(s) of aggression are attributable. On top of this, participants will be given a set amount of time to decide on their plan of action with only the information made available to them.  As it stands in the First ACT’s DFE, this time limit is 60 seconds, but such can be changed to fit larger more complicated DFE’s. The main goal of First ACT’s DFE is to replicate scenarios in which many relevant facts cannot be ascertained with certainty in a timely manner, and force participants to rapidly but responsibly hasten the process by which they make decisions that ultimately get the logistical ball rolling. The scenarios are designed to only provide the participant with two options, designed in a tree-branch matrix. To control for the passivity and hasty decision-making that can be a result of other computer-based applications; First ACT has implemented an ending reflection in which the participant must be able to defend each of their decisions, ideally calling upon past events.


Although not a cure-all to NATO’s logistical woes, DFEs will be an excellent foundation due to the nature of the adaptability. DFEs can be used in almost any scenario, both in war and peacetime. Allowing participants to practice decision-making during peace times will aid in wartime decision-making, as political psychology has proven that individuals act differently in these times. These scenarios have established realities that must be planned around in order to achieve optimal results, while gray zone warfare scenarios have many of their critical facts obscured.  The proclivity of decision makers to wait for more information before making large-scale military decisions is one of the characteristics of gray zone warfare that makes it so appealing to use against large consensus-driven bureaucracies. Actions can be taken against a target, and so long as many of the realities of the offense are obscured, the target will very likely wait for such facts to be made clear before retaliating. This quality of NATO was cited by the ACT’s Chief of Logistics Deployment and Sustainment COL William Cain as a prime reason behind NATO’s slow reaction to Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014.  


Should military action be taken, supply lines would be, perhaps the most, vital aspect in terms of aiding forces. A study by the RAND Corporation showed that should Russia invade a state in the Baltics, NATO and its allies would be out-gunned, out-bordered, and out-numbered almost immediately. This demonstrates the dire need for efficient supply lines. Time is of the essence, NATO needs to be able to move items and people as quickly as possible. Here is where DFE can help, DFEs will be able to pose scenarios in which supply chains have been activated and decision-making can be practiced. Take the following for example: throughout much of Europe, there are varying rail gauges; so, although a train is typically regarded as the fastest means of transportation, this might not be the most optimal method. A DFE will let the participant work through this when the aspect of time is not as imperative.



The link below shows a video demonstration of how a computerized version of a DFE would appear and function.  Similar to the visual representation of the DFE above, there exist only two pathways of action for participants to choose, but this can be scaled up as more complex scenarios are crafted.  As can be seen in the video, DFE’s can be applied to a wide variety of scenarios, but First ACT’s DFE focuses on logistical principles so as to address NATO’s insufficiently rapid logistical capabilities.


Implementation and constant practice of DFE’s within multiple levels of NATO’s command structure promise to foster a greater capacity within the organization to respond quickly to aggressive actions by hostile actors.  In a context of sophisticated disinformation campaigns being waged in tandem with infrastructure-crippling cyber attacks and unmarked military units annexing territories, NATO must take steps to combat the slow bureaucratic decision process that allows threats to fester into more severe international problems.  First ACT’s DFE promises to be the first step in combating this slow, mission-killing decision stagnation, and push NATO to become a more agile military alliance capable of addressing new threats with unrivaled rapidity. Beyond the military realm, DFE will continue to be beneficial as it increases efficiency and speed in logistics, supply-chains, and virtually any scenario that can be thought of.