Lessons: Making a Difference on Operations
Why is it important? The lessons process is important because it works and it is already making a difference on operations. This was recently seen with changes to how JHF(A) handles Helicopter Landing Site construction and operations in theatre.
Following a period of delays and wasted effort, the HLS management process was refined, with the in-theatre Mobile Air Ops Team assuming responsibility for the siting and safe running of HLSs as part of a formal management process. This not only assures the efficient and timely creation of HLSs, but importantly ensures that HLSs remain safe and fit for purpose but flexible enough to adapt to the developing operational requirements. These changes to the HLS management process occurred precisely because an issue was raised through the lessons process. This enabled JHCHQ to engage with counterparts in Theatre and Army HQ to resolve a pressing operational problem.
Along with military intelligence, lessons learned surely ranks as one of the great military contradictions …right? Well it might have at one point, but now JHC has fully embraced the lessons process with the aim of putting the idea of identifying rather than learning lessons firmly behind us. Just as flight safety is everyone’s business, so is the lessons process. Whilst flight safety concentrates on the physical activity of flying, the lessons process covers the whole spectrum of operational effectiveness, air and ground, the good and the bad.
Until recently JHC, as with many other units, relied heavily on individual experience, trial and error and in the worst case re-visiting past mistakes to learn its lessons. It worked – after a fashion – but it wasn’t the best way of learning from our hard won operational experience. To counter that, and ensure that we do make best use of our collective experience, the recently formed JHC Lessons Team sits within JHCHQ Doctrine and Concepts Branch and is the lead for the collation, analysis and exploitation of operational lessons across the Command.
With its links to operational risk management, learning lessons is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of aircrew and operators. But more importantly, it’s about using our operational knowledge and experience to help us fight smarter rather than harder. What we learn through the lessons process should at the lowest level drive training and the development of tactics, techniques and procedures and influence how we fight. At the higher levels, what we learn will inform doctrine, influence equipment development and procurement and ultimately have an impact on how JHC develops as an organisation.
How it works?
Far from being an exercise in generating paperwork, the Lessons Process is designed to be simple, logical and transparent in order to ensure the rapid exchange of information, allowing appropriate and timely action to be taken. Importantly, it is rank and specialisation neutral, capitalizing on the idea that not all the good ideas come from the HQ. Although Post Operation and Exercise Reports are the main source of lessons, anyone of any rank can, and is encouraged to, highlight areas for improvement or those things that work well through their local lessons chain of command.
Once you have identified an issue or problem, the lessons process is intended to make sure that it does not simply disappear into the usual ‘HQ black hole’, never to be seen again until the next time. All issues are analysed by the Lessons Team who draw out the observations and identify the appropriate lessons. Once analysed, lessons are submitted to the JHC Military Judgement Panel. This is run quarterly, is headed by a full colonel and is made up of senior desk officers with specialist knowledge who endorse lessons and assume the responsibility for their resolution. And to make sure the process works, and that lessons are not just disappearing into the HQ black hole, the process is overseen at 1* level by JHC Director Development. He chairs a biannual Lessons Stocktake, where feet are held uncomfortably close to the fire.
Being able to fight smarter than an opponent has always allowed armed forces to do more with less and at less human cost, and this is why the proper and timely identification of lessons is essential to JHC’s future success. Having briefly introduced you to the JHC Lessons process, we aim to provide regular lessons updates through LZDZ, highlighting key trends and issues affecting the Command both at home and in the operational environment. A more detailed explanation of JHC’s Lessons Process can be found on the JHC website in the Lessons Exploitation Command Instruction which also constitutes Command policy or by contacting the JHC Lessons Team – Sqn Ldr Mark Tobin, SO2 J2 & LI or Mrs Linda Mundy, SO3 Lessons Data Capture.