Combined Lethal/Nonlethal Engagement Methodology

Professional Content,

Combined Lethal/Nonlethal Engagement Methodology
Authors: Jason West and Thomas Duffy


Joint and Service doctrine lacks a single methodology for generating desired effects that facilitates targeting the threat while simultaneously engaging allies/partners or civilians present in the operational environment (OE). This gap exists because the nonlethal engagement of friendly and neutral entities cannot be nested within the threat-oriented joint targeting cycle. The following engagement methodology allows commanders to conduct multi-domain, combined arms operations using a single process that generates and synchronizes the desired lethal and nonlethal effects on all entities in the battlespace, whether friendly, neutral, or threat.

An Engagement Methodology

The combined lethal/nonlethal engagement methodology is a logical and iterative process that systematically analyzes, prioritizes, and assigns assets against entities to create desired effects, contributing to the accomplishment of the commander’s objectives in any OE. This six-phased methodology nests within the joint targeting cycle and provides battalion or higher commander’s seamless integration with a joint force headquarters.

Combined Lethal/Nonlethal Engagement Methodology

  1. Commander’s objectives, engagement guidance, and intent
  2. Entity development and prioritization
  3. Capabilities analysis
  4. Commander’s decision and force assignment
  5. Mission planning and force execution
  6. Assessment

PHASE 1—Commander’s Objectives, Engagement Guidance, and Intent

The methodology begins with the commander’s objectives, engagement guidance, and intent. These flow from problem framing, and provide a clear, concise expression of the operation’s purpose, desired effects across the friendly, neutral, and threat entities, and an understanding of the end state. Guidance includes expectations for tasks to subordinate units and the criteria to prioritize potential engagements. An objective-to-task approach ultimately links design elements (e.g. mission, end state, commander’s guidance, and mission objectives) to desired effects. There are numerous information models and tools available that can help staff gain a better understanding of the OE. The models below * should be integrated into Phase 1:

  • Political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure (PMESII).
  • Areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE).
  • Mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available—time available (METT-T).
  • Intelligence preparation of the battlespace (IPB).
  • Civil preparation of the battlespace (CPB).
  • Sewage, water, electricity, academics, trash, medical, safety, and other considerations (SWEAT-MSO).
  • Stability assessment framework.
  • Five dimensions of operational culture.

See Marine Corps Tactical Publication 3-02A, MAGTF Network Engagement.

PHASE 2—Entity Development and Prioritization

Entity development entails the systematic examination of entities in the OE and the networks or systems they belong to in order to determine the necessary type, duration, and focus of action that can be exerted to create the desired lethal or nonlethal effect(s) consistent with the commander’s objectives. This phase includes entity analysis, entity development, and list management.

Entity Analysis

Marine Corps Tactical Publication 3-02A, MAGTF Network Engagement outlines the processes required to conduct an analysis of the numerous entities (friendly, neutral or threat) in the OE. This analysis entails the thorough examination of networks and systems in the OE and includes three steps:

  • Step 1 – Categorize networks and systems in the OE.
    • Identify key friendly, neutral, and threat networks/systems.
    • Focus on intent and capabilities.
    • Use commander’s engagement guidance/intent to determine which networks/systems are relevant to the planning effort.

Identifying relevant networks/systems in the OE and categorize them as friendly, neutral or threat ultimately dictates how the entities associated with these networks/systems are engaged. Entities deemed threats will become targets attacked to generate lethal or nonlethal effects; those deemed neutral or friendly are engaged to generate nonlethal effects.

  • Step 2 – Identify network formation variables, per relevant network, to the commander:
    • Identify catalysts.
    • Identify receptive audiences.
    • Identify accommodating environment.

Planners analyze conventional enemy forces and non-state actors to identify catalysts and receptive audiences while also determining an environment that will accommodate success. For example, an enemy may have mechanized forces and special operators. A detailed analysis of the formation variables around the mechanized forces may reveal that they will surrender (when) if the appropriate amount of lethal force is applied. A similar analysis may reveal that the special operations forces will not surrender, but may disband and melt back into society to fight as insurgents.

  • Step 3 – Network and System Analysis:
    • Conduct network analysis.
    • Build network analysis products for each relevant network.

Planners conduct detailed analyses of relevant networks using social network analysis, nodal analysis, critical factors analysis, physical network analysis, and network affiliation criticality, accessibility, recuperability, vulnerability, effect, and recognizability (CARVER). These processes generate products such as an association matrix, activities matrix, network diagram, and network function template. See MCTP 3-2A, Appendix C for more details on these analyses.

Entity Development

A preliminary analysis of networks/systems reveals which entities are threat, neutral, or friendly. Analysis products from the previous step help planners identify high-value targets (HVTs) or high-value entities among the myriad entities discovered in the OE. Mission objectives and desired effects reveal high-payoff targets (HPTs) or high-payoff entities among those HVTs or high-value entities. These are then placed on appropriate threat target, friendly entity, and neutral entity lists in preparation for possible attack or engagement. Concurrently, targets or entities with attack or engagement restrictions are placed on the appropriate restricted lists. Joint Publication 3-60, Joint Targeting further details the procedures required to develop and prioritize targets, while MCTP 3-02A describes how to develop and prioritize neutral and friendly entities. The graphic below assists with understanding the taxonomy of entity development:

List Management

Entity list management begins with entity development nomination and ends with the creation and maintenance of an integrated prioritized entity list. The staff collects and analyzes information from various sources to determine which entities to nominate for development. The process includes entity nomination, vetting, validation, listing, and prioritization. It is imperative that procedures for additions or deletions to the various lists are responsive and verifiable. Entity list management terms and processes are described below:

  • Entity development nomination list – Friendly, neutral, and threat entities are identified for potential engagement. The staff adds them to the entity development nomination list and an entity folder is begun. This list of entities meets basic entity development criteria, but requires development before being submitted as candidate entities.
  • Candidate entity list – After further development, some of the nominated entities are placed on the candidate entity list, based on criticality. These entities still require vetting and/or validation.

  • Entity vetting – An optional process that supports proper functional characterization and highlights considerations for engagement. Entities may be deemed a high risk for mischaracterization or potential dual use.

  • Entity validation – Ensures all vetted candidate entities meet the objectives and criteria outlined in the commander’s guidance; ensures compliance with the law of war and rules of engagement.

  • Threat target list – Validated targets with no target engagement restrictions. All lethal or nonlethal effects are authorized. The entities on this list may be referred to as HVTs or HPTs.

  • Restricted threat target list – Validated targets with target engagement restrictions.

  • Friendly entity list – Validated friendly entities with no restrictions. Only nonlethal effects are authorized. These entities may be high-value individuals.

  • Restricted friendly entity list – Validated friendly entities with engagement restrictions.

  • Neutral entity list – Validated neutral entities with no restrictions. Only nonlethal effects are authorized. These may be high value individuals.

  • Restricted Neutral Entity List – Validated neutral entities with entity engagement restrictions.

  • No-strike list (NSL) – Entities protected from the effects of military operations under international law and/or by rules of engagement.

  • Entity nomination lists – The threat target, friendly entity, and neutral entity nomination lists consist of targets or entities that are nominated for engagement after being identified, researched, developed, vetted, and validated. The staff adds them to respective nomination lists and submits them to the commander for approval, focusing engagement efforts for a designated period of time during force execution.

  • Integrated prioritized entity list – Once approved, the three nomination lists are combined by the staff into a single integrated prioritized entity list of targets and entities approved by the commander and designated for engagement to create those desired lethal or nonlethal effects required to accomplish the commander’s objectives. A single list simplifies the concurrent management of lethal and nonlethal effects.

    • Cut line – The integrated prioritized entity list may contain more targets and entities than can be engaged with available resources during a given time period. In such cases, a cut line is established to reflect the targets and entities that will most likely be engaged.

The graphic below provides a visual depiction of the Phase 2.

PHASE 3—Capabilities Analysis.

The staff correlates all available capabilities against the targets and entities nominated on the integrated prioritized entity list to determine the best possible engagement solution. This analysis must be performed as a collaborative and synchronized effort across the staff. Since the commander never has unlimited resources to generate lethal and nonlethal effects, the analysis must focus at the target/entity level, matching specific capabilities against identified target vulnerabilities and entity criticalities and estimating the effects across the threat, friendly, and neutral networks/systems. The considerations below should be integrated into the analysis:

  • Match specific military capabilities against identified target vulnerabilities or entity criticalities.
  • Estimate the ability to generate the desired effects.
  • Analyze information that characterizes the physical, functional, and behavioral aspects of the entity.
  • Connect the target or entity to the commander’s objectives, guidance, and intent.
  • Inform the commander’s decision-making process.
  • Highlight intelligence gaps and refine collection requirements.

Capabilities analysis is comprised of four steps:

  • Step 1—Target vulnerability/entity criticality analysis. Target vulnerability and entity criticality analysis reveal all aspects of the target or entity that, if engaged, would result in desired effects for the commander.

  • Step 2—Capabilities assignment. Once a target’s vulnerability or entity’s criticality is known, appropriate engagement capabilities are suggested by the staff and assigned by the commander. These capabilities may create nonlethal effects for targets and entities, or lethal effects for targets. Weaponeering is accomplished for all capabilities against targets and all lethal and nonlethal, information-related capabilities, such as deception or electronic warfare, should be considered. Other information-related capabilities, such as key leader engagements or military information support operations, are assigned to partner or engage with friendly and neutral entities.

  • Step 3—Feasibility assessment. Each target and entity must be evaluated for feasibility of engagement. Assets should be applied judiciously. Engagement may not be feasible in some cases based on wide-ranging operational considerations (i.e. diplomatic, political, or legal consequences).

  • Step 4—Effects estimate. For each feasible target or entity, planners should identify first, second, and third-order effects caused by engagement. Collateral damage is a second-order effect. The collateral damage methodology encompasses the joint standards, methods, techniques, and processes for a commander to conduct a collateral damage estimation (CDE) and mitigate unintended or incidental damage or injury to civilian or noncombatant persons or property in the environment.

PHASE 4—Commander’s Decision and Force Assignment

The force assignment process integrates the previous phases and fuses capabilities analysis with available forces, sensors, and weapons systems. The combined lethal/nonlethal engagement methodology is based on the logical linkage between tasks, effects, objectives, and guidance. Planners should balance the available employment options with their expected effects. Their recommendations should reflect an assessment of the most appropriate and efficient capability to create the effect required to meet the commander’s objective. This phase is primarily an operations function, but requires considerable intelligence support to ensure collection requirements are validated and sufficient collection assets are made available and properly integrated into the plan.

There are five steps in the force assignment process:

  • Step 1—Consolidate entity development and capabilities analysis results. Planners consolidate summary files and worksheets that contain four types of information: entity development data, capabilities analysis or number of assets required, CDE, and attrition calculations.

  • Step 2—Assemble data on friendly force status, factoring in operational limitations and apportionment guidance. Planners assemble data on the current status and availability of friendly forces and assets. Considerations include weather, enemy/adversary operations, force protection concerns, law of war, rules of engagement, and special constraints.

  • Step 3—Assign forces to specific targets, entities, and supporting missions. Planners assign forces, munitions, capabilities, and activities (including information-related capabilities), and intelligence collection assets to specific targets or entities.
    • Develop force packages.
    • Assign supporting assets.
    • Resolve timing, sequencing, and deconfliction issues.

  • Step 4—Present engagement recommendations to the commander for approval. Here the commander’s decision regarding the draft integrated prioritized entity list, is to approve, approve with modifications, or disapprove.

  • Step 5—Issue tasking orders to forces. Once the plan is approved, tasking orders are prepared and issued to units. Intelligence assets and organizations, which support mission planning and assessment, are also tasked during this phase. At phase conclusion the stage is set for the planning and execution of operations that perform discrete tasks in synergistic support of the commander’s overarching objectives.

PHASE 5—Mission Planning and Force Execution

Upon receipt of tasking orders, detailed, unit-level planning commences. The combined lethal/nonlethal engagement methodology supports planning with direct access to detailed information on the targets or entities that was developed in the intial phases. During execution, the OE will change due to engagements by forces. These dynamic changes require attention to positive identification, combat identification, and target validation.

At the regiment level and below, dynamic targeting processes will address the evolving array of targets or entities encountered during an operation. Other targeting processes used during Phase 5 include:

  • Decide, detect, deliver, assess (D3A).
  • Find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess (F2T2EA).
  • Find, fix, exploit, analyze, and disseminate (F3EAD).

PHASE 6—Assessment

The assessment phase is continuous and assesses the effectiveness of activities occurring during the first five phases. The commander and staff determine if the ends, ways, and means of the combined lethal/nonlethal engagement methodology have resulted in progress toward accomplishing a task, creating an effect, or achieving an objective. Assessment is not limited to combat assessment, which is not performed for friendly and neutral entities. The assessment phase analysis should be shared to inform the overall operation assessment plan.


Joint and Service doctrine currently lacks a single methodology for generating desired effects that facilitates targeting the threat while simultaneously engaging allies/partners or civilians present in the OE. The combined lethal/nonlethal engagement methodology is a concept that supports the current evolution of both targeting and engagement. It fully integrates staff collaboration and cooperation to utilize every capability the commander has available to generate the desired effect for a specific operation and simplifies the management of lethal and nonlethal effects in the battlespace. This methodology, if adopted, is a paradigm shift that will have a significant and direct impact on joint and ground combat element targeting doctrine.

Author : Jason M. West
Lieutenant Colonel, USMC Reserve (Retired)

Mr. West currently serves as a concept and doctrine developer for the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group, as an advocate and proponent for the ground combat element of the United States Marine Corps. He develops employment concepts, force development requirements, and doctrine as a subject matter expert for the ground combat element’s support of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. He has written or contributed to numerous publications with a focus on offensive, defensive, and stability tactics. Mr. West served 26 years in the Marine Corps ground combat community as an enlisted Marine, infantry officer, and civil affairs officer. His experience included deployments to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Mr. West holds a degree in Finance from The University of Alabama. He is a graduate of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School and Command and Staff College. He currently resides in Alabama.

Author : Thomas C. Duffy Jr.
Colonel, US Army (Retired)

Mr. Duffy currently serves as a fires concept and doctrine developer for the Marine Corps Tactics and Operations Group (MCTOG), as an advocate and proponent for the ground combat element of the United States Marine Corps. Mr. Duffy served 28 years as a US Army field artillery officer with commands that included a cannon platoon, target acquisition battery, cannon battery, cannon battalion, detachment, and fires brigade. As a staff officer, his duties included battery and battalion special weapons officer, battery and battalion fire direction officer (FDO), brigade operations and intelligence officer (targeting), battalion and brigade operations officer (S-3), brigade executive officer (XO), advisor to flag and staff officers of an Afghan National Army (ANA) corps, and plans officer in the US Northern Command’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J-5).

Schools he attended include the Field Artillery Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Nuclear and Chemical Target Analyst Course, Combined Arms Staff Services School, Command and General Staff Course, the US Army War College, and the Joint Staff Officer’s Course. Since retirement, Mr. Duffy has worked with United Kingdom, Australian, German, and French officers as project manager at the ANA’s Training Command (ANATC) helping develop its Infantry, Artillery, and Armor Schools, and training officer for the Joint IED Defeat Organization’s (JIEDDO) at its Joint Center of Excellence (JCOE), Fort Irwin, CA.