Risk Management in Military Operations

Military operations are inherently complex‭, ‬dynamic‭, ‬dangerous‭, ‬and‭, ‬of course‭, ‬involve an acceptance of risk‭. ‬Because risks are‭ ‬often associated with profit‭, ‬commanders weigh risks against the benefits that can be obtained from an operation‭, ‬as conditions‭ ‬for the success of the mission are balanced with the risks inherent in the military operation‭, ‬and usually all commanders practice risk management in military decision-making‭, ‬but the risk management approach‭, ‬the degree of success vary widely depending on the leader and the level of training and experience‭.‬

Since the Korean War‭, ‬the U.S‭. ‬Armed Forces have suffered more non-combat losses than combat losses from the enemy due to the rapid change in the operational environment‭, ‬the speed and high frequency of operations‭, ‬the overabundance of manpower‭, ‬equipment‭ ‬failures‭, ‬poor support‭, ‬and the effects of the physical environment and human factors‭.‬

Battle losses

Throughout the history of armed conflicts and wars‭, ‬military and political commanders take into account the impact of human losses on the execution of missions‭, ‬strategies and policies‭. ‬Military and political commanders consider battle losses from different points of view‭. ‬Nevertheless‭, ‬the two sides try to balance the effects of casualties‭, ‬impact on civilians‭, ‬damage to the environment‭, ‬loss of equipment‭, ‬the level of public reaction and the value of achieving the national goal‭.‬

Risk management is used by commanders and soldiers at all levels‭, ‬and it applies to all missions and environments across a wide‭ ‬range of military operations‭. ‬Recently‭, ‬military commanders have become aware of the importance of clarifying principles‭, ‬procedures‭, ‬and responsibilities for the successful execution of the risk management process‭, ‬in order to maintain combat power and resources‭. ‬Sun Tzu says in his book‭ ‬“The Art of War”‭ (‬Reducing the factors that hinder victory‭, ‬shortening the distances to it‭, ‬and assessing the risks is the correct course of action for military commanders‭). ‬The main objective of risk management is to help units protect their combat power through accident‭ ‬prevention‭, ‬enabling them to win the battle quickly and decisively with minimal losses‭.‬

Threat‭, ‬danger‭, ‬risk management from a military perspective

A threat is any current or potential situation that could cause injury‭, ‬illness‭, ‬or death to people‭, ‬damage or loss of equipment‭ ‬or property‭, ‬or lead to a mission regression‭. ‬Whereas risk is the possibility of the threat or bad consequences of the threat and exposure to loss and injury‭. ‬The level of danger is expressed in terms of the likelihood and severity of the threat‭. ‬Threats‭ ‬and dangers are always present in the battlefields and training fields‭. ‬Risk management is an integral part of tactical planning‭. ‬Risk management must be carried out at all levels of the chain of command during each phase of military operations‭. ‬This requires commanders‭, ‬officers and soldiers to know how to use risk management to ensure that the mission is carried out with the highest efficiency and with the least losses‭.‬

Risk management is the process of identifying‭, ‬evaluating and controlling risks and threats arising from operational factors and‭ ‬making decisions that balance the costs of risks with the benefits of the mission‭. ‬Risk management does not affect or prevent the resilience and initiative of commanders‭, ‬does not mean that it will eliminate risks completely‭, ‬does not impose or justify the violation of international law‭, ‬does not require a decision‭ (‬to execute or not to execute‭), ‬and does not eliminate the necessity of standard exercises‭, ‬tactics‭, ‬techniques‭, ‬and procedures‭. ‬Rather‭, ‬it integrates risk management into the planning‭, ‬preparation‭, ‬execution of missions and risk-related decision making at the appropriate level in the chain of command and help to avoid any unnecessary risks‭. ‬

commander of the Rangers paves the route on an electronic tablet

Risk management helps‭ ‬the leader by‭:‬

1‭- Preserving lives and resources and avoiding unnecessary risks‭.‬

2‭- Make informed decisions to carry out the task‭.‬

3‭- Determining the possible and effective control measures when there are no defined criteria‭.‬

4‭- Provide reasonable alternatives to carry out the task‭.‬

Types of risks of military operations

1‭- Tactical Risks‭:‬‭ ‬Tactical risks are risks related to the dangers that exist due to the presence of the enemy or opponent‭. ‬They apply to all levels of warfare and across the scope of operations‭.‬

2‭- Accident risk‭:‬‭ ‬Accident risks include all operational risks except for tactical risks‭. ‬They include the risks of friendly fire and also risks‭ ‬to civilians as a result of military operations‭, ‬as well as the impact of operations on the environment‭. ‬Activities associated with risks may include civilian personnel‭, ‬equipment readiness‭, ‬and environmental conditions‭.‬

Steps of risk management in military operations

1‭- Identification of threats‭: ‬Commanders identify threats to the mission that may affect people‭, ‬property‭, ‬and the mission‭. ‬Threat means any existing or potential situation that could involve injury‭, ‬illness or death of personnel‭, ‬damage or loss of equipment and property‭, ‬or any reason‭ ‬that leads to mission deterioration‭. ‬All aspects of the area’s past‭, ‬present and future threats must be considered‭. ‬All factors‭ ‬involved in a military operation‭, ‬tactical and training operations include many types of threats‭. ‬Mission factors‭, ‬enemy‭, ‬terrain‭, ‬weather‭, ‬forces and available support‭, ‬time available‭, ‬and civilian considerations are important factors in identifying threats‭, ‬and for this purpose some other resources and tools that support threat identification can be used such as experts‭, ‬regulations‭, ‬manuals‭, ‬standard operating procedures‭ (‬SOPs‭), ‬policies‭, ‬and accidents‭’ ‬data‭, ‬war scenarios‭, ‬data from risk assessment arrays‭, ‬readiness assessments‭, ‬cause and Effect diagrams‭, ‬change analysis‭, ‬logic diagrams‭, ‬mapping techniques‭, ‬training evaluations‭ ‬and post-action reviews‭.

2‭- Threat Assessment‭:‬‭ ‬Threat assessment is the process of determining the direct impact of each threat on a military operation‭. ‬Threat assessment allows for enhanced situational awareness‭. ‬This awareness builds confidence‭, ‬morale and allows soldiers and units to take effective‭ ‬preventive measures in a timely manner‭.‬

The threat assessment process is as follows‭:‬

•‭ ‬Identify threats that can be prevented or avoided‭.‬

•‭ ‬Assess each threat that cannot be prevented or avoided to determine the likelihood of the risk occurring‭.‬

•‭ ‬Assess the severity of the risk of threats that cannot be prevented or avoided‭. ‬Severity‭ (‬defined as the result or cause of a serious accident‭) ‬is expressed as the degree of injury or illness‭ (‬including death‭), ‬loss or damage to equipment or property‭, ‬environmental damage‭, ‬or other mission-impairing factors‭ (‬such as loss of combat power‭).‬

•‭ ‬Determine the level of risk associated with the threats‭ (‬extremely high‭, ‬high‭, ‬moderate‭, ‬and low‭) ‬taking into account both the‭ ‬probability and severity of the risk‭.‬

3‭- Developing controls and take risk-related decisions‭ ‬This step is accomplished by‭:‬

A‭- Develop controls‭. ‬After assessing each potential threat‭, ‬establish one or more controls that seek to mitigate the threat’s risk‭ ‬‭(‬likelihood‭, ‬severity‭, ‬or both‭). ‬When establishing controls‭, ‬the cause of the threat must be considered‭, ‬not just the risk‭.‬

B‭- Make risk decisions‭. ‬A key component of the risk decision process is the determination of whether the acceptance of risk is justified or unneccessary‭. ‬The decision maker must compare and balance the risk against the expectations of the task or process‭. ‬He‭ ‬alone decides whether the controls are sufficient and acceptable and whether the resulting residual risks can be accepted‭, ‬and he may change‭, ‬modify or reject and may direct the development of additional controls or alternative controls‭, ‬as another option‭.‬

Satellite view of land, war operations, sci-fi, night vision with blue hues. Military target. Drone flying over an area. Military operation. Mountain reliefs and plains. Hud head-up display. 3d render

4‭- Execution of controls‭: ‬Controls are the procedures and considerations a unit uses to prevent threats or reduce their risks‭. ‬Execution of controls is the most important part of the risk management process‭. ‬It stems from the chain of command’s contribution to the integrity of the‭ ‬unit‭. ‬The controls executed include coordination and communication with adjacent and associated higher units and with individuals who carry out the task‭. ‬The commander must ensure that specific controls are integrated into the process and that they are converted into simple orders that are understandable at all levels‭. ‬If commanders conduct an in-depth assessment of the risks‭, ‬the‭ ‬controls will be easier to execute‭, ‬enforce‭, ‬and follow‭. ‬Commanders or individuals also develop one or more controls to remove or reduce the risk of an adverse event‭. ‬In developing controls‭, ‬the cause of the risk must be considered‭, ‬not just isolating the‭ ‬risk‭. ‬Controls can take many forms such as educational‭ (‬awareness‭) ‬controls‭. ‬These controls are based on the knowledge and skills of units‭, ‬organizations or individuals‭, ‬and include awareness and control of danger‭. ‬Effective learning controls are executed‭ ‬through individual and group training that ensures performance according to standards‭. ‬Physical controls include positive measures to prevent exposure to risks by reducing or eliminating risks‭. ‬They include engineering and management procedures‭. ‬The concept behind engineering controls is that‭, ‬to the extent possible‭, ‬engineers or army units design equipment or a working environment‭ ‬that is intended to eliminate hazards or reduce exposure‭. ‬If engineering measures cannot eliminate the risks‭, ‬units apply administrative measures designed to reduce them‭.‬

Examples of risk management controls include‭:‬

•‭ ‬Application of safe work practices‭.‬

•‭ ‬Providing awareness briefing covering all aspects of the mission‭, ‬including relevant risks and controls‭.‬

•‭ ‬Drinking plenty of water‭, ‬eating well‭, ‬and getting as much sleep as possible‭.‬

•‭ ‬Determining maximum speed limits‭, ‬and using seat belts in military vehicles‭.‬

•‭ ‬Creating recognizable visual signs and tags to identify maneuver units‭.‬

•‭ ‬Enforcement of the use of ground guides in assembly areas and on dangerous terrain‭.‬

•‭ ‬Preparing noticeable and protected rest and sleep areas in assembly areas‭.‬

•‭ ‬Wear personal protective equipment‭.‬

5‭- Supervision and Evaluation‭:‬‭ ‬While carrying out the mission‭, ‬commanders must ensure that risk management controls are properly understood and executed‭, ‬and the unit’s effectiveness in managing risks is continually evaluated to gain insight into areas that need improvement‭. ‬It must always be remembered that commandership and unity of discipline are the keys to ensuring the execution of effective risk management‭ ‬controls‭. ‬All commanders are responsible for overseeing and carrying out mission exercises to ensure standards and controls are‭ ‬applied‭. ‬Non-commissioned officers must also execute established safety policies as well as controls established for a specific‭ ‬operation or task‭. ‬They include spot inspections‭, ‬continuous inspection‭, ‬preventive maintenance of equipment‭, ‬confirmation briefing‭, ‬and close supervision‭. ‬The risk management process should also include‭, ‬whenever possible‭, ‬a post review to assess the performance of the unit in identifying risks and preventing dangerous situations‭. ‬Hence‭, ‬commanders should incorporate lessons learned from the operation into units‭’ ‬standard operating procedures‭, ‬mission plans‭, ‬and future operations‭.

Military Operations Risk Assessment Array‭:‬

Risk assessment is the process of thinking to make operations safer without compromising the mission‭. ‬Commanders must continuously assess the risks of the conditions under which they operate to prevent unnecessary loss of personnel or equipment and a deterioration in mission success‭. ‬Risk assessment is how specific threats‭ (‬conditions‭) ‬can lead to harmful events and how these events can affect operations i.e‭., ‬the likelihood of events and their expected effects‭, ‬and the designation of risk levels‭.‬

The risk assessment array is‭ ‬​​based on two factors‭, ‬the first factor is an estimate of the probability of an adverse event‭, ‬in other words‭ (‬the probability‭) ‬assessed as frequent‭, ‬probable‭, ‬incidental‭, ‬rare or unlikely‭. ‬The second factor is an estimate of the expected severity of an event or incident‭, ‬in other words‭, ‬the severity‭ (‬consequences‭), ‬which are the expected results in terms of injury‭, ‬property damage‭,‬‭ ‬or other factors that impede the task‭. ‬It is evaluated as catastrophic‭, ‬critical‭, ‬moderate‭, ‬or Negligible‭. ‬Hazard level of estimated likelihood and severity‭. ‬It is a type of score that assesses the‭ (‬probability‭) ‬of an error and the impact‭ (‬severity‭) ‬of the accident when it occurs and is expressed in levels very high risk‭, ‬high risk‭, ‬medium risk‭, ‬low risk‭.


Embedding risk management into the culture of militaries‭, ‬and the military’s way of thinking‭, ‬is critical to maintaining combat‭ ‬readiness and ensuring an efficient mission‭. ‬This requires standardizing and institutionalizing the techniques‭, ‬tools‭, ‬and procedures that lead to decision-making and the correct acceptance of risks by military commanders at all levels‭.

‮«‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Dr‭. ‬Retired Colonel Eng‭. ‬Khaled Ananzah
Environmental and occupational safety consultant and trainer‭)‬

Al Jundi

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