Strategic Multilayer Assessment to Combatant Commands


The Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) is an Office within the U.S. Department of Defense Joint staff that provides planning support to Combatant Commands (COCOM) with complex operational imperatives requiring multi-agency, multi-disciplinary solutions that are not within core Service/Agency competency. The U.S. Special Operational Command (SOCCENT) asked the SMA to to better understand what the Middle East might look like after the eventual defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  Terrorist, non-state and sub-state groups have demonstrated an ability to learn from the experiences of other groups and adopt successful methods.  No matter the eventual fate of ISIL, other irregular and terrorist groups will likely learn from and utilize many of these methods. Noetic’s report sought to identify and forecast the potential ripple effects that ISIL’s rise will have regionally and globally in the future.


In support of the SMA effort, Noetic used its Evolved Irregular Threat (EIT) methodology to examine ISIL comparatively with other irregular groups such as Hezbollah and the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam, which had previously been studied. The EIT methodology was developed for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to analyze the comparative advantages and innovations that underpinned the success of irregular groups to reach near-state like status. Noetic analyzed ISIL’s capabilities to better understand the elements that have underpinned its rapid and remarkable rise. By mapping the capabilities using the same EIT methodology, it was possible to undertake a like-for-like comparison with the findings from the earlier research and compare ISIL’s strengths and weaknesses to historical examples and forecasted trends. These capabilities were mapped along a ‘spectrum of control’ to understand the resiliency of the organization. The analysis then used the capability map to build a ‘Centers of Gravity’ (COG) construct to better understand ISIL’s key innovations and successes, such as its sophisticated organizational and funding model and its ability to harness identity politics to generate support.


Earlier applications of the EIT methodology forecasted a number of trends that sophisticated irregular groups might display in the future. The analysis of ISIL validated many of these earlier predictions and provided concrete examples of how they would be applied in the real world. While the report did not identify any new trends, it clearly highlighted the aspects of ISIL’s approach that would likely be adopted by other groups in the future, as well as highlight areas of weakness that could be exploited to undermine ISIL’s strength. The report constituted a broad range of analysis that was given to SOCCENT to assist them in their fight against the terrorist group.