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Chapter 2
Strategic Operations


Strategic Regions
Strategic Axes
Operational Axes
Covering Forces
Mobile Forces
Strategic Reserves
Conventional and NBC Operations
Strategic Goals and Missions
Strategic Operation
Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations
Protection and Security Measures
Computer Warfare
Perception Management
Long-Range Fire Strikes
Air Defense Operations
Army Group Offensive Operations
Other Components
Commander's Concept of Operations
Forms of Strategic Offensive
Deep Operations
Mission Depths
Multi-Army Group Defensive Operations
Long-Range Fire Strike
Antilanding Operation

The highest component of OPFOR military art is military strategy. In its broadest sense, it concerns war as a whole. However, it also includes planning and conducting strategic operations. War can consist of a complex system of such operations, including strategic operations in a theater, to achieve strategic goals and missions.


Military geography is a branch of military science within the conceptual framework of OPFOR military thought. As such, it deals with political, economic, natural, and military conditions in various countries and theaters. It studies their effect on the preparation for, and conduct of, military actions in those geographic areas. Thus, military geography closely parallels military art, particularly at the strategic and operational levels. (See Figure 2-1.)

Figure 2-1. Military-geographical concepts.


The broadest concept of military geography is that of the theater (sometimes called a theater of military operations). A theater is a geopolitical reference and strategic military territorial designation, but not necessarily a command echelon. Theaters are geographically distinguished as continental, oceanic, or intercontinental.1 They are further classified by their significance as primary or secondary.

The OPFOR defines a theater simply as that particular territory within whose limits a known part of the armed forces of the State or coalition operates in wartime. Continental theaters include not only land masses but also airspace, inland waterways, and segments of surrounding oceans and seas. As military territorial designations, theaters have clearly defined boundaries. However, theater boundaries do not always coincide with political boundaries; the theater may include enemy territory as well as State territory. A theater has political and economic significance that shapes military goals in the region and the strategy the state employs to achieve them.

A theater may include a military headquarters. If not, the General Staff or its designated agents (operations groups) would directly control operations in the theater. The theater concept allows OPFOR military planners to work out the strategy, operational art, and tactics to achieve political goals in a given geographic region. Planners should take into consideration the capabilities of the missiles, aircraft, ships, and ground forces at their disposal in that region. The forces in a theater receive specific strategic missions in wartime that contribute to the general strategic effort of the State's armed forces. Those missions determine the necessary force developments and deployments within the theater in peacetime. The forces in various theaters report through the General Staff to the Supreme High Command and the Supreme CINC. (See Chapter 7.)

The OPFOR sometimes establishes a theater headquarters to effectively centralize and integrate General Staff control over theater offensive (or defensive) operations. Headed by a theater CINC, such a headquarters serves as an intermediate command between the General Staff and the principal operational forces within the theater.

Strategic Regions

Strategic regions are isolated parts of a theater containing objectives of fundamental strategic significance. They might include the following:

  • Missile, air, and naval bases.
  • Major groupings of field forces.
  • Major headquarters.
  • Nuclear depots.
  • Areas designated for the formation of strategic reserves.
  • Logistic bases.
  • Industrial, energy-producing, and administrative-political centers.

The occupation of hostile strategic regions, and the destruction of targets within them, can radically change the strategic situation within the theater. It can also alter the economic and political, as well as military, correlation of forces (COF).

Strategic Axes

Within a theater, the OPFOR might designate one or more strategic axes. A strategic axis is part of a theater. It is neither an equivalent expression of the same terrain nor an independent entity of forces. The strategic axis does not move, since it is not a force grouping. As a geographical control measure, it lies within the theater of which it is a component part.

A strategic axis incorporates a wide strip of land (or sea), contiguous coastal waters, and the airspace above it. This vast area contains major enemy groupings and vital strategic objectives. The destruction of such groupings and the occupation of such objectives is the goal of strategic military action. Like the theater, the strategic axis is a military-geographical term for terrain where operations may occur. It differs from the theater in that it designates not only the location of potential operations but also the general area of the objective.

A theater might contain one or several strategic axes leading to or including strategic regions. The strategic axis essentially leads the State's armed forces to the enemy's most important administrative-political and industrial-economic centers. A strategic axis involves the coordinated actions of large formations of the State's various armed forces: army groups, fleets, and strategic air armies. Planners must deploy sufficient forces along this axis to achieve the necessary COF for attaining the strategic goals.

Operational Axes

Military planners often divide strategic axes into operational axes. These are areas that lead to objectives of operational significance, such as major enemy groupings and/or political and economic centers that underpin the combat actions of operational forces.

Within a strategic axis, military planners designate one or more operational axes as the main axis, or axes, of advance. However, they may also establish operational axes (main attacks) in sectors of the theater outside the area designated as the strategic axis.

An operational axis is a zone of terrain, including contiguous coastal waters, and its airspace, within which an operational, or operational-strategic, force conducts its operations. Within the context of the theater in which they lie, operational axes may be internal or coastal.


At the strategic level, the OPFOR maintains a three-tiered force structure consisting of covering forces, mobile forces, and strategic reserves. This structure allows the General Staff to respond flexibly to contingencies in any theater or strategic axis.

Covering Forces

Included in the first strategic echelon are the OPFOR's covering forces. These are high-readiness forces permanently located in various theaters near the State's borders. Some of these forces may consist of corps and separate brigades. These have less combat power than armies and divisions but, by virtue of their smaller size, are easier to maintain at high levels of readiness. These smaller formations may be adequate to deal with local, low-level conflicts in their immediate areas of responsibility. To deal with medium- or large-scale conflicts, however, they would require reinforcement from mobile forces and/or strategic reserves. Given sufficient warning time, it is also possible that the OPFOR could expand some of these brigades to full divisions and the corps to armies.

Mobile Forces

In each theater, the OPFOR also maintains mobile forces of two basic types: immediate-reaction and rapid-deployment forces. These forces come under the operational control of the General Staff as a powerful asset to deal with various contingencies.

Immediate reaction forces consist of a high-readiness strike force prepared to move at short notice to meet threats from any direction. For the sake of mobility, airborne forces form the nucleus of this strike force. Along with these, there may be some ground-force brigades (perhaps with helicopters for rapid transport), as well as naval infantry and special-purpose forces (SPF). These forces are the mobile forces only permanent assets.

Rapid-deployment forces consist of heavier ground-force formations held at secondary levels of readiness. These forces normally are not subordinate to mobile forces but, rather, to operational-force groupings of the ground forces in the various theaters. However, they can come under the mobile forces' operational control for less immediate redeployment to other contingencies. Most of these forces maintain the structure of armies and divisions. However, those potential mobile forces assets in forward areas tend to be at lower readiness levels than covering forces.

Forces in the second strategic echelon are more likely to be at only cadre strength. During a period of crisis or the initial phase of war, the OPFOR may strengthen these units and deploy them to reinforce covering forces. Together with the latter, they should be capable of dealing with medium-scale, regional conflicts. In larger-scale conflicts, they should be able to at least buy time to allow the mobilization and deployment of strategic reserve forces.

Along with ready forces possibly redeployed from other theaters, rapid deployment forces constitute the OPFOR's second strategic echelon. Some rapid-deployment forces could also be part of the second operational echelon of the first-strategic echelon.

Strategic Reserves

Located in the OPFOR's strategic rear are the strategic reserves. These can form additional maneuver divisions by combining conscripts or reservists with equipment in storage depots. This mobilization process can take months. Therefore, it is important that it begin during the threat-of- hostilities period. Nevertheless, it is possible that a war could begin before mobilization and forward deployment of strategic reserves are complete.


Army group-level commanders now have weapons whose ranges exceed the scope of army group operations. Conventional weapons with improved accuracy and lethality are approaching the destructive power of nuclear weapons. Thus, operational, and even tactical, weapons can reach and destroy strategic targets. The ability to collect timely intelligence on such targets is also increasing. Sharply improved troop mobility has decreased the time required to concentrate forces. It has also increased rates of advance. Modern communications allow the coordination of simultaneous operations by large numbers of complex forces. These trends are forcing a change in the level at which forces conduct operations. Army groups and other forces in a theater now conduct strategic operations to achieve strategic goals and missions.

Conventional and NBC Operations

Even though the OPFOR is a nuclear power, it would prefer for any war to remain conventional. The introduction of precision conventional weapons affords most of the advantages of nuclear weapons, but without such problems as contamination. If the OPFOR has numerical superiority in conventional forces in a particular theater, it would view nuclear escalation as unnecessary. It is unlikely that a nuclear exchange with the enemy could serve any political or military goals. For additional detail on OPFOR doctrine and capabilities for nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare, see Chapter 14.

The OPFOR's preference for a conventional war does not mean that it would forego the use of nuclear weapons in every case. There are two circumstances in which the OPFOR might choose to use nuclear weapons: to preempt an enemy nuclear attack or to defend the State if its political or territorial integrity are threatened.

Strategic Goals and Missions

Goal, in OPFOR terminology, refers to an overall aim, end, or purpose, which may be political rather than purely military. Mission, on the other hand, refers to a specific task or objective set for the military. A task-type mission may call for the OPFOR to destroy, neutralize, disrupt, seize, or defend a particular entity. That entity may be political, economic, or military in nature. If political or economic, the mission may be a terrain-oriented objective. If military, the mission may be a line corresponding to the rear boundary of a particular enemy unit. The latter type of mission involves not only the seizure of the line, but also the destruction of the enemy in that zone.

Strategic Goals

A strategic goal is the specified end result of military operations on a strategic scale. The State's highest political and military leaders determine the strategic goal. Its achievement should substantially, sometimes radically, change the military-political and strategic situation and lead to victory in war. There are two types of strategic goals: general and particular.

General strategic goals. The general goal defines the desired end result of the war as a whole. Ideally, that amounts to a complete defeat of the enemy or enemy coalition. This involves the following conditions for victory:

  • Survival of the State's political system.
  • Defeat of an enemy's military forces.
  • Limited damage to the State.
  • Occupation of enemy territory.

Under other circumstances, such a victory may be military unrealistic or politically undesirable. Therefore, the declared strategic goal can simply be quick termination of the war and restoration of the status quo. That can still constitute success, in terms of the State's national security interests. In either case, the Supreme High Command translates the State leadership's policy decision into a general goal. This overall strategic goal serves as the basis for orchestrating the particular strategic goals within a theater (or strategic axis).

Particular strategic goals. The particular strategic goal is the desired end result of a campaign or strategic operation. Within a theater (or strategic axis), the strategic goal determines the following:

  • Force structure and size.
  • Forms and modes of military operations.
  • Strategic missions.

These goals, too, are under a single plan, which the General Staff controls on behalf of the Supreme High Command.

Strategic Missions

A strategic force consisting of army groups, armies, corps, and divisions of various branches of service conducts a strategic mission in the course of a war or strategic operation. The mission must conform with the strategic goal. Its accomplishment leads to a sharp change in the situation in a theater (or strategic axis).

Strategic Operation

The strategic operation in a theater has become the principal form of operation. It may include one or more of the following types of military action:

  • Strategic offensive.
  • Strategic defensive.
  • Strategic counteroffensive.
  • Strategic redeployment.

However, the counteroffensive occurs in connection with strategic defensive operations. (This chapter, therefore, discusses it under that heading.) Since the OPFOR may have only limited forces in a particular theater, it may need to mobilize and redeploy forces to a threatened area in order to build up a strong strategic grouping. It may also need to redeploy forces from other theaters to one where it plans a strategic offensive. Therefore, the General Staff has elevated strategic redeployment to the status of yet another form of strategic operation.


A strategic operation is the aggregate of interconnected operations by the combined arms forces in a theater. These forces may comprise--

  • Several army groups.
  • Strategic nuclear forces.
  • Strategic air armies.
  • National air defense forces.
  • A naval fleet.
  • Airborne forces.
  • National space assets.

All of these act under a single unified plan and concept of operations, coordinated in aims, time, and area to achieve strategic goals and missions.


A strategic operation may be offensive, with the goals of liberating or seizing politically and economically important areas or destroying the main enemy forces, or it may be defensive, with the goal of repulsing the offensives of enemy force groupings and inflicting heavy casualties on them. The defense protects strategic regions, gains time, and creates preconditions for mounting counteroffensives. It is possible for theater forces to simultaneously conduct strategic offensive and defensive operations. Whether offensive, defensive, or mixed, the focal point for operational-strategic planning is the theater, with army groups and other large formations executing operations within the context of the theater plan.


Information warfare (IW) is a fundamental component of OPFOR military operations in both the offense and defense. An integral part of every combat operation at all levels, IW is a significant combat multiplier.

IW occurs through the integration of its components. However, it is not necessary to employ all of them together, at all times. Likewise, using one element or sub-element, such as camouflage, does not, by itself, constitute IW. The size and sophistication of the OPFOR force determines the extent to which it employs the various components of IW. The armor- and mechanized-based OPFOR will use all of the components at one time or another. A less technologically-advanced force may not conduct operations relying on high technology, such as electromagnetic spectrum operations. However, it may effectively conduct deception, and protection and security measures to protect and influence the use of information.2 What follows is a discussion of each of the six elements of IW.

Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations

Electromagnetic spectrum operations (ESO) deny the enemy's use of the electromagnetic spectrum, while retaining friendly use. The goal of ESO is to control the use of the spectrum at critical locations and times on the battlefield. To do this, the OPFOR employs both nonlethal and lethal measures. The OPFOR targets frequencies ranging from:

  • Low-frequency radio waves used for communications and television transmissions.
  • Microwave frequencies used by radar and high-capacity communication systems.
  • Infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths used by rangefinders, designators, and thermal sights.

The OPFOR is developing means to extend capabilities into the x-ray and gamma ray frequencies, although there are no fielded systems now operating at these wavelengths.

ESO are a clear example of the integrated nature of IW operations. ESO overlaps significantly with protection and security, deception, and destruction. Electronic combat, reconnaissance, aviation, air defense, artillery, and engineer support may contribute to ESO.

Protection and Security Measures

Protection and security measures conducted as part of IW include:

  • Cover, concealment, and camouflage.
  • Reconnaissance and counterreconnaissance.
  • Force protection.
  • Information security.
  • Secure use of information-collection and -processing systems.

Protection and security measures encompass a broader range of activities than the US concepts of operations security and force protection. Protection and security integrate elements of deception and ESO. Engineer fortifications that provide only protective cover from enemy fire are not considered part of IW.

Reconnaissance provides information critical to the planning process. Similarly, successful counterreconnaissance takes the initiative away from the enemy, while forcing him to react to the OPFOR's actions. The OPFOR uses signature-reducing and -altering devices, along with diligent application of operational security measures, to improve survivability. The OPFOR considers the protection of sensitive information a national priority. The types of information considered sensitive by the State include military, scientific, economic, and political data.


The State considers deception a legitimate part of competition and integrates it into many aspects of society. There is no cultural aversion to its use. Deception measures are a part of every military operation, and are also used to achieve political and economic goals. The OPFOR applies all forms of deception in support of operations. These range from physical and electronic devices to operational activities. Because of the number and sophistication of sensors available to the enemy, a multispectral effort is required to deceive him. This includes providing false or misleading thermal, visual, and electronic signatures.


The OPFOR may integrate all forms of destructive fires, especially artillery and aviation, with other IW activities. The increased accuracy provided by precision weapons allows the OPFOR to strike at specific IW-related targets rapidly and accurately.

Computer Warfare

Computer warfare includes a variety of activities, ranging from unauthorized access ("hacking") of information systems, to the insertion of destructive viruses and deceptive information into enemy computer systems. The OPFOR can do this through human agents with direct access to enemy information systems. It can also access systems at great distances via communications links such as the Internet.

The OPFOR uses its own information systems to pass misleading or false information in support of deception operations. Such information may cause the enemy to analyze incorrectly OPFOR capabilities and intentions. The inherent risk in this type of activity is the potential for such misinformation to be used by other OPFOR elements, without knowledge of its inaccuracy.

Computer warfare operations conducted in peacetime or prior to the outbreak of hostilities can affect later military operations. For example, by accessing information about the enemy's projected troop movements, the OPFOR can disrupt or even halt enemy deployment. Altering this same information supporting an enemy's deployment could produce substantial confusion.

The enemy relies heavily on computers and supporting communications links down to the tactical level. The development and fielding of unmanned aerial vehicles and robotic ground vehicles, along with the computerization of weapons and miniaturization of components, are evidence of this. The growing enemy use of computers at the tactical level is causing the OPFOR to develop increasingly sophisticated means to attack these systems.

Perception Management

The OPFOR integrates several widely differing activities with the goal of creating a perception that furthers OPFOR objectives. The OPFOR uses a combination of true, false, and misleading information. Enemy or foreign audiences, as well as its own public, may be targets.

Psychological warfare, and propaganda are major parts of perception management during military operations. They are conducted to influence the attitudes, emotions, and will of the enemy. The goal is to induce or reinforce attitudes and behavior favorable to the OPFOR.

Diplomacy and public affairs can be used for perception management in both peace and war. Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations with other nations. The State employs public affairs and censorship to control its own people's access to information. While not targeted against an external enemy, successful preparation of the State's population can enhance public support for military operations. In addition to conducting IW operations, the State prepares its own soldiers and population for enemy military and information operations.


The strategic offensive is a military activity conducted to achieve strategic goals. A successful strategic offensive should result in the total defeat of enemy armed forces, the neutralization of enemy military-economic potential, and the seizure of enemy territory. Plans and preparations for such an offensive should ensure--

  • A continuous and rapid advance to a great depth.
  • The successful breakthrough of enemy defenses.
  • Dependable fire support.
  • The conduct of successful deep operations.
  • The rapid exploitation of success.
  • Successful countermeasures against enemy reconnaissance and strike weapons. (Particular targets for countermeasures are precision conventional weapons.)

An OPFOR strategic offensive in a continental theater consists of several joint and combined arms operations. (See Figure 2-2.) The goal is to conduct simultaneous deep operations throughout the theater sector. These operations conform with a single concept and the Supreme High Command's plan.

Figure 2-2. Strategic offensive (distances and targets are scenario-dependent).

In a continental theater, major component operations of a strategic offensive may include the following: long-range fire strike, air defense, army group, airborne, naval, and amphibious. The strategic offensive also might include missile- and air-delivered nuclear or chemical strikes. The OPFOR might execute all or selective combinations of these operations. The developing military and political situation determines the particular selection. It may also cause the subsequent repetition of the various operations.

Long-Range Fire Strike

What was previously essentially an "air operation" has become a component of a long-range fire strike phase, including the actions of all deep-strike systems (air-, sea-, and ground-based).3 The long-range fire strike comprises the aggregate combat activities of all branches of aviation in coordination with other services of the armed forces. This operation is a massive, joint activity on an operational-strategic scale that would include the following:

  • Air strikes by strategic, army group, and army aviation and, possibly, naval aviation.
  • Fire strikes by artillery, surface-to-surface missiles, and air- and sea-launched cruise missiles.
  • Troop strikes (raids) by airborne, heliborne, and SPF and by ground forces raiding detachments.
  • Electronic fire strike by electronic combat assets and reconnaissance-strike complexes.

The goals of the long-range fire strike are--

  • Disruption of enemy mobilization and deployment.
  • Destruction of the enemy's precision weapons capability.
  • Establishing air superiority within the theater by destroying or neutralizing enemy air defense and air forces.
  • Disruption or destruction of the enemy's military C2.

The long-range fire strike phase may dominate the initial period of war. Its emphasis is on the enemy's precision stand-off systems. The OPFOR envisions the fire strike as lasting several days or even several weeks; the length depends on enemy force capabilities and actions. It could involve two or three massed strikes on the first day and one or two on subsequent days. Alternatively, the OPFOR may conduct sustained strikes spaced over weeks. The long-range fire strike has increased in scope, from an operation to destroy high-priority targets to assist the commitment of ground forces, to an operation that can decisively defeat the enemy. Although this theoretically can occur simultaneously with ground forces operations, the latter may not begin until a subsequent period of war, if needed at all.

Fire Strikes

The long-range fire strike operation might begin with strikes by artillery and operational-tactical SSMs from army group ground forces. These fire strikes would suppress time-critical enemy air and air defense activities and strike high-priority targets. Such strikes employ precision, conventional, and possibly, chemical munitions. This would be a preemptive massed attack. Although in some cases, the availability of precision weapons might reduce the requirement for massed forces. A single precision weapon, properly employed, might do the work of large amounts of conventional ordnance.

The OPFOR would then conduct a sustained assault on enemy air defenses and the infrastructure supporting its air forces. The assault would systematically destroy enemy airfields, including runways, facilities, and aircraft on the ground, with forces making every effort to bring enemy fighters to battle in disadvantageous circumstances. The fire strikes would also target C2, reconnaissance and target-acquisition systems, and precision weapons. These targets equate to the enemy's reconnaissance-strike complexes.

Air Strikes

The air portion of the operation employs penetration corridors in the hope of reducing aircraft losses. Electronic combat assets attempt to "blind" enemy air defense radars and associated communications; then, missiles and aircraft can destroy the air defense systems.

The first mission of army group and army aviation assets is to open corridors through enemy ground-based air defense already under attack by artillery and missiles. Subsequently, these aviation assets can prevent enemy aircraft from moving into such corridors, or enemy air defense from firing into them.

Fighters and fighter-bombers attack selected airfields and key C2 points throughout the depth of army group aviation. The Supreme High Command can allocate strategic aviation assets to the operation to constitute the "shock" force; this force includes bombers, fighter-bombers, and fighters. Along coastal axes, naval aviation can take part in the operation as far as possible; it can also target enemy aircraft carriers in the theater.

Troop Strikes

As part of the long-range fire strike, the OPFOR employs battalion-size airborne and heliborne raiding detachments against enemy air, precision weapons, and air defense assets, along with associated C2 assets, at the operational depth. However, small SPF teams also conduct raids against the same categories of targets, throughout the entire depth of the theater. In addition, army group ground forces can conduct spoiling attacks and raids into the enemy's deep rear areas. All this, combined with air and fire strikes, can create favorable conditions under which army groups can quickly accomplish their missions.

Electronic Fire Strikes

The electronic fire strike combines EC with RSCs to destroy or neutralize, electronically and by fire, priority targets throughout the entire depth of the enemy's force. The electronic fire strike is an integral component of the long-range fire strike. It consists of surprise, massed, continuous strikes by missile, aerospace, electronic, and naval assets. It typically begins with a surprise air attack and continues simultaneously with fire strikes by long-range, precision, stand-off weapons. However, the EC portion can also be preemptive, with the aim of disorganizing civilian and military C2. Thus, the electronic fire strike permits not only seizure of the strategic initiative, but also disruption of the enemy's strategic deployment.

Expected Results

A successful long-range fire-strike operation results in overall strike superiority in a theater. Its preemptive strikes disrupt or destroy the enemy's ability to conduct air strikes, precision weapons attacks, or other conventional fire strikes. It is possible, although unlikely, that this phase could result in the enemy's decisive defeat, without the initiation of major ground force operations.

If ground operations are necessary, their success depends on a favorable air situation. At the least, the OPFOR needs air superiority at the time and in the area of its choosing. Without this, airborne and all but the shortest-range heliborne operations become exceedingly hazardous or impossible. Forces operating in the enemy rear can be quite vulnerable to air attack and thus have limited effectiveness. Without air superiority, the OPFOR cannot inhibit the ability of enemy reserves to maneuver and create new, in-depth defense zones. Likewise, it cannot effectively engage enemy deep-strike precision systems and higher headquarters. At the same time, failure to severely limit the enemy's strike capacity can leave the OPFOR's follow-on echelons vulnerable to interdiction.

Air Defense Operations

Air defense operations focus on defending friendly forces and contributing to air superiority. (See Chapter 11 for more detail.) The emphasis depends on whether or not the OPFOR has already been able to seize the initiative in the air and decimate enemy air power. The primary method of achieving this is through the long-range fire strike. If that operation succeeds, the air defense operation can focus on defensive actions to protect friendly forces and installations from the enemy's remaining air capability. However, the failure of the long-range fire strike operation to achieve the knock-out blow means that the OPFOR may not yet hold the initiative in the air. Then its immediate priority in the possibly prolonged air defense operation may be to provide friendly forces freedom of movement; simultaneously, it may try to cause maximum attrition of enemy air and air defense assets. The protection of friendly forces from air attack is obviously crucial to the success of both army group and air offensive operations.


In the air defense operation, the OPFOR attempts to gain the initiative through combined offensive and defensive actions of the following forces:

  • Army group aviation.
  • Ground-based air defense assets of ground forces.
  • National air defense forces.
  • Air defense elements of other branches of the armed forces.
  • Naval forces.

This coordinated operation of offensive and defensive forces should include attacks both against aircraft in the air and against their bases.


The air defense operation combines all ground- and air-based air defense assets in any theater under a single concept and plan within the context of the strategic operation. The range and flexibility of enemy air power requires this unification of theater assets. It provides protection for--

  • Aircraft and missile systems conducting the long-range fire strike.
  • Ground maneuver forces striving to rapidly penetrate into enemy territory.
  • OPFOR tactical nuclear weapons.

It would also protect lines of communications and friendly air bases throughout the theater.


Initially, an air defense operation consists of two echelons: the air and air defense units of the first-echelon army groups and air defense forces protecting the rear area. As first-echelon army groups advance, they can create gaps the enemy can exploit to attack follow-on forces. Therefore, the OPFOR may have to organize an additional air defense echelon to prevent the development of gaps in the rear. This can involve theater resources with a mix of aviation and ground-based air defense systems. National air defense forces ensure continuity of air defense behind the first-echelon army groups.

Army Group Offensive Operations

Single or multiple army groups conduct the ground maneuver portion of the strategic offensive operation in a theater. (There is a separate section later in this chapter devoted to multi-army group operations.) (See Chapter 4 for a more detailed discussion of offensive operations from the perspective of individual army groups.)

In a continental theater, army group operations are the most important element of a strategic operation. Only ground forces can hold, or seize, and then retain ground. In the offensive, army groups advance rapidly. Their goal is to destroy major enemy groupings and seize critical economic and political objectives within the first few days of the war.

Other Components

The OPFOR intends to make extensive use of airborne and seaborne landings within a strategic offensive in a continental theater. It considers the vertical envelopment to be an indispensable maneuver in modern offensive operations. Naval and amphibious operations may be of lesser, but not insignificant, importance. On coastal axes, the OPFOR would use amphibious landings in conjunction with airborne raids.4 It targets these raids against deep theater-strategic objectives and against shallower operational objectives directly supporting the advance of army groups and armies.

Raids on strategic targets normally take the form of joint operations. They involve the forces of several arms and services under a single commander. In a coastal region, strategic operations probably involve amphibious and airborne forces supported by naval surface combatants and by aircraft of the navy and air forces. Elements of ground maneuver forces airlanded or sealanded in the objective area can also quickly reinforce such operations. Missions for such strategic airborne or amphibious operations include the following:

  • Seizing important enemy administrative-political centers and industrial-economic regions.
  • Disrupting enemy governmental and military C2 systems and centers.
  • Seizing important maritime straits, forcing the enemy to fight in two directions.
  • Forcing selected governments of the enemy alliance to withdraw from the war.
  • Allowing the use of these coastal regions as bridgeheads for further operations in the continental heartland.

Airborne Operations

The use of airborne assets in support of army group operations is likely, at least initially. Their purpose is to help generate operational maneuver and maintain momentum and to help destroy key enemy groupings. However, it is possible that the OPFOR may use some airborne operations at the outset to accomplish theater objectives. (See Chapter 16 for more detail on airborne operations.)

Naval Operations

A naval operation using surface ships, submarines, aircraft, and naval infantry can be an integral part of the strategic offensive in a continental theater. Missions of this operation can include the following:

  • Destruction of enemy naval offensive forces at sea.
  • Neutralization of enemy naval forces in their bases.
  • Bastion defense of strategic naval forces.
  • Defense of sea lines of communication.
  • Protection of the theater's coastal flank from attack by enemy naval and amphibious forces.

The naval component can also support missions ashore by participating in amphibious operations and providing naval gunfire, air defense, and logistic support to land operations. Submarines can also launch cruise missiles. All of these actions probably fall under the immediate control of the General Staff (or a theater headquarters, if established).

Amphibious Operations

An important principle of OPFOR military art is the insertion of forces into the enemy rear areas to disrupt the stability and cohesion of the defense. Amphibious landings are one means of achieving this object during operations on a coastal axis.

Categories of amphibious landings. The OPFOR categorizes amphibious landings according to their scale. These categories are strategic, operational, and tactical. However, landings in operational or tactical categories may have repercussions at higher levels. Special category landings include reconnaissance and sabotage landings. A landing may also have secondary missions, such as coastal defense.

Strategic amphibious landings can support theater forces in opening up a new area of military operations. The aim is to exert a decisive influence on the course of the war as a whole. They call for the employment of a multidivision force, with appropriate naval and air support. Because of modern surveillance means, only shorter-range landings conducted during hours of darkness have a chance of achieving the surprise that is critical to success. Just the logistic support required for a landing by a corps or larger force is reason for the OPFOR to continue to favor smaller-scale, shallower landings. Lacking experience but strongly aware of the complexity and difficulty of a strategic amphibious operation, the OPFOR is unlikely to try it in war. Therefore, it is only likely to mount limited operational and tactical amphibious landings.

Even operational amphibious landings are risky; the OPFOR certainly would not attempt them outside the range of land-based air cover and support. Landings of this scale may entail the landing of a naval infantry brigade as the first echelon.

The second echelon, consisting primarily of mechanized infantry troops, follows as the main force. The aim is to help ground or naval forces in a coastal region surround and destroy enemy ground or naval units in that area. Another aim may be to execute a major encirclement against an enemy flank resting on a seacoast. Other possible missions include seizing major islands or a group of islands, maritime straits, naval bases, and other important coastal objectives. Thus, it is possible for an operational amphibious landing to have major strategic consequences.

Tactical amphibious landings probably are the most frequent form of OPFOR amphibious operation. Their purpose is to strike at the rear area or flank of any enemy force along a coastline or to seize islands, naval bases, coastal airfields, ports, and other objectives on an enemy-held coastline. This diverts enemy attention and resources away from the decisive area of the battlefield. The naval infantry force can be a battalion or larger, operating independently or with ground force units. Tactical landings normally reach up to 50 km or so into the enemy rear.

In the offensive, tactical amphibious landing forces can seize bridges or road junctions near the coast and hold them until the arrival of the main land forces. Such landings can stop or delay enemy reinforcements or cut off his line of retreat. They may also help to maintain the tempo of the OPFOR ground forces' advance, or they can be for deceptive purposes. Thus, landings that are tactical in scale may nevertheless have important operational repercussions.

Reconnaissance and sabotage amphibious landings are in a special category. Seaborne raids may perform the multiple functions of--

  • Conducting reconnaissance.
  • Damaging or destroying high-value installations located near a coast.
  • Disrupting the enemy's C2 and/or logistics.
  • Tying down substantial numbers of enemy troops in the defense of long, vulnerable coastlines.

The naval infantry force employed normally consists of a battalion, company, or platoon. Sea-delivered SPF teams may also perform deep reconnaissance tasks of operational or strategic importance.

Conduct of amphibious landings. The preference for smaller-scale landings reflects the limited and subordinate role amphibious landings play in OPFOR thinking. Also, the OPFOR does not use its naval infantry in exactly the same way as others use their marines. For the latter, the seizure of a beachhead is often merely a prelude to extended action ashore. The OPFOR, by contrast, generally intends to use its specialist troops only to secure a beachhead (and perhaps to raid inland). Any buildup of effort is by ordinary mechanized infantry units, with supporting artillery and staying power. The OPFOR withdraws naval infantry from combat as soon as possible to keep it available to ensure the success of subsequent landings. This, along with coastal defense, is the primary role of OPFOR naval infantry.

An amphibious landing takes on a combined arms character. No amphibious landing can be successful unless there is at least temporary air and naval superiority. A heavy fire preparation is also necessary to suppress all but the weakest of enemy defenses. Naturally, much fire is air-delivered, including using helicopter fires in an accompaniment role. Also, the main forces' long-range artillery may be able to provide support for shallow landings.

For successful amphibious and supporting air landings, the OPFOR must have an accurate picture of what enemy land, air, and naval forces are in range to intervene. Intensive intelligence-gathering always precedes the landing.

An airborne or heliborne landing precedes or accompanies any important amphibious landing. If the amphibious landing is to be small in scale and shallow, a heliborne force may suffice. However, a major deep landing probably requires the aid of an airborne drop. These air-delivered forces may either seize a beachhead or port, interdict the approach of enemy reserves, or attack important strongpoints from the rear.

Naval infantry units constitute the first echelon of any operational-level amphibious operation. They have responsibility for breaching antilanding obstacles in the water and on the shore, for seizing a beachhead, and for securing the approach of the main force to the landing area. Once ashore, naval infantry units employ standard OPFOR tactics as they fight their way forward to link up with supporting air-landed troops. These troops often land 1.5 to 2 km from the beach, about 15 minutes before the amphibious assault. Their immediate mission is the establishment of a line to provide protection for the landing and deployment of second-echelon forces. The first echelon also receives an axis of further advance (as well as the overall objective of the landing).

When the naval infantry secures a beachhead, mechanized infantry units land in the second echelon. At that point, they take over the battle. They normally replace, rather than reinforce, the assault force, even if the latter has taken only light casualties. Thus, the naval infantry remains available to spearhead additional landings.

As pointed out, the OPFOR expects to commit mechanized infantry units through a secure beachhead to perform combat missions inland. However, these units may share in the assault landing role as well. If so, the OPFOR recognizes the need for at least a degree of special training. Mechanized infantry units may have attached naval infantry personnel to help overcome the special problems of an assault landing.


Normally, the combined actions of several army groups are necessary to achieve the main strategic missions in a theater. One or more other army groups may also act on secondary sectors in support of the main strike or in deception (dummy) attacks. Some army groups, or even entire theaters, may adopt a defensive posture in economy-of-force missions to allow a buildup of forces in another, main theater. The OPFOR can only build a single strong grouping within one theater capable of conducting a strategic offensive.

The OPFOR's current goal is to plan and conduct strategic operations consisting of simultaneous army group operations. Ideally, each army group should be able to conduct two or more successive operations with brief pauses or even without pauses. This more effective method allows army groups to achieve deeper missions. However, the depth of operations still depends on the nature of enemy defenses.


Where present, theater headquarters not only improve control, they also permit greater flexibility in responding to situational changes within key theaters. They can also improve the OPFOR's capability to conduct theaterwide operations consisting of simultaneous army group operations of more extensive depths and integrated complexity.

Commander's Concept of Operations

The concept of operations reflects the content of the Supreme High Command's strategic decision. To achieve strategic aims, it is necessary to accomplish a large number of tasks, either simultaneously or successively. The commander's concept defines the tasks and the methods for their execution.

Strategic Missions

The general political goals of the war determine the particular goals and concept of strategic operations within a theater. Military considerations are always subordinate to political goals. Military considerations include the COF as well as the military geography in the theater. Political influences are paramount in selecting areas of military action and the methods and sequence of inflicting losses on military groupings and attacking targets in the enemy's depth.

In conducting a conventional strategic offensive operation, a theater may receive limited, but strategically significant, missions. The overall goal is to fundamentally tip the balance against the enemy. The seizure of territory is often of great importance to alter the COF between opposing sides. The following paragraphs highlight the most common missions.

Seizure of key political and economic centers. Planners should identify the economic and administrative centers that contribute to the enemy's military and political ability to wage war. These geographical objectives determine what territory the OPFOR must seize and by when. Seizing key centers can disrupt the enemy's political control and the materiel support of his armed forces. It can also cause a collapse of political will in an enemy coalition, driving at least some smaller, more-vulnerable members out of the war. Thus, it can alter the COF and worsen the enemy's strategic situation.

Destruction of enemy military groupings. Planners must identify enemy major groupings and decide which to destroy, in what sequence, and by what forms of operations. Political calculations and the varying degrees of readiness and combat power of enemy forces often determine these decisions. The OPFOR singles out for destruction the enemy's reconnaissance-strike capability and one or more of his key operational-strategic groupings. Their elimination could make the position of other forces untenable and bare key geographical objectives to attack.

Disruption of enemy mobilization and deployment. The OPFOR must prevent, or at least delay, the full mobilization and deployment of enemy forces. Foiling mobilizations, both military and economic, is vital against a coalition with superior potential for waging war. The importance of this task is such that it can have a great influence on the timing, form, and objectives of operations.

Choice of Axes and Echelonment

The attacker must exploit the initial surprise with a strike conducted without pauses in a critical area or areas. The strike must be of sufficient weight and the advance of such high speed, that the enemy cannot recover his balance and establish an effective defense before the OPFOR has attained the strategic objective. Thus, the most important part of a commander's concept of a strategic offensive operation is the selection of those axes of advance and forms of operation likely to yield a quick decision. He must choose those which should destroy the enemy's willingness and/or ability to continue the war. The second most important decision is on the organization for combat, that is, the strength of the attack and depth of echelonment in the selected strike sectors.

The need for concentration to achieve the COF required in main strike sectors limits the number of axes the attacker can use simultaneously. The result might leave long secondary sectors, in which supporting attacks only reach into the enemy's tactical depth, for the purposes of fixing and deception. Other sectors may have to be purely defensive.

Forms of Strategic Offensive

There are two basic types of strategic offensive action. The first is the encirclement and consequent destruction of the main enemy grouping. This is in conjunction with simultaneous thrusts into the enemy's depth to attain geographical objectives. However, an attack across a broad frontage on multiple axes can split the defense into isolated fragments. The choice of form depends on specific conditions at a particular time. Therefore, commanders must have plans to transition from one form of action to another.


Historically, encirclement has been an important method of destroying major enemy groupings. It offers decisive operational and, often, strategic results. Encirclement currently remains a possible form of operation in conventional conditions, although new weapons capabilities have forced some modifications. The vulnerability of the encircling forces and second echelons to enemy precision weapons may decrease the viability of encirclement. The OPFOR identifies six forms of encirclement. (See Figure 2-3.)

Figure 2-3. Forms of encirclement.

Favoring circumstances. Encirclement is a suitable form of maneuver when--

  • The enemy is in a salient.
  • The enemy has a strong force grouping sandwiched between two weak ones (especially if the enemy is intent on defending forward and is reluctant to withdraw).
  • The attacker lacks a decisive overall superiority in COF.

Economy-of-force elements hold extensive secondary or defensive sectors while powerful concentrations are in the pincer arms of encirclement; the latter can crush the enemy against a major obstacle that precludes his withdrawal. Encirclement is an attractive form of maneuver because its success ensures the annihilation of the enemy grouping. The trapped forces do not have the opportunity to withdraw and live to fight another day.

Requirements for success. Essential to success is the correct choice of axes. First, it is important to identify the enemy's main grouping. The destruction of this grouping can destabilize the entire strategic axis. Then, the aim is to penetrate on vulnerable sectors (on boundaries between units, through weak groupings, or at the base of a salient) and advance rapidly.

The OPFOR recognizes that the fastest route can be over difficult terrain that is accordingly ill-defended. Advancing forces must resist the temptation to seize desirable geographical objectives at the expense of tempo and concentration. They must bypass isolated groupings they cannot overrun. With the enemy main force destroyed, they can take geographical objectives quickly and mop up any bypassed forces.

A large overall operational superiority is not necessary. However, deeply echeloned strike groupings in the pincers must attain a decisive COF superiority over the defense in order to--

  • Deliver a powerful initial blow to rapidly penetrate the enemy's tactical zone of defense.
  • Thereafter maintain momentum into the operational depth to complete the encirclement.
  • Deliver strong attacks into the encircled grouping from flanks and rear while maintaining a favorable force ratio on the principal axes throughout the operation.

Speed is all-important. It is essential to keep the enemy off balance throughout the operation and allow him no time to stabilize the situation.

Surprise is usually crucial to encirclement. Deception, including feint attacks, can conceal intentions and the strength of the concentration on the strike sector. This is especially important if the enemy has a shorter distance to withdraw to escape encirclement than the pincer arms have to travel. A rapid advance, of course, has a surprising and paralyzing effect.

It is necessary, in advance, to create inner and outer arms of encirclement. Both pincer-like arms should be active and fast-moving.

The inner arm completes the encirclement, preventing any breakout. It may receive assistance from air-delivered forces, working in combination with forward detachments and operational maneuver groups (OMGs), to cut withdrawal routes. It must start to destroy the target grouping even before the encirclement is complete. It can launch splitting attacks to divide the enemy grouping into fragments for destruction in detail. Any pause gives the enemy time to prepare an all-around defense that might greatly slow the completion of his destruction.

The outer arm of encirclement presses on into the enemy's depth, widening the gap between encircled and relieving forces. Ideally, it destroys enemy operational reserves in meeting engagements, retaining the initiative. If, however, the enemy is too strong, it may have to transition to defense on a favorable line. The outer arm, too, may receive help from air-delivered forces. The latter can block the movement of enemy reserves and seize key defiles or obstacle crossings on which the enemy could, with time, establish a new defensive line. Past experience suggests that approximately half the force should usually be in each arm of encirclement.

Flank security for strike groupings is vital. Security can be provided by the concurrent advance of flanking forces (especially when the defending enemy, being outflanked, must withdraw from prepared positions). In other instances, it may require the formation of flank security detachments working with mobile obstacle detachments.

Encirclement operations require careful organization of command and control, especially if two or three army groups are participating. Decisions on this lie with the General Staff (or theater headquarters), which corrects army group plans as necessary and issues coordinating instructions. Changes often occur during the course of an operation. For instance two army groups might participate in attacks on both inner and outer arms of encirclement, thus impeding cooperation between the two army groups. Sectors have to come under unified command, often changing the subordination of forces. The General Staff (or theater headquarters) also has to be ready to alter plans if the operation does not develop as foreseen by shifting axes or emphasis, for example.

Air superiority is essential. Air cover and support are vital to the rapid progress of both army groups of encirclement. Air power can--

  • Establish an air blockade of the encircled grouping.
  • Engage enemy reserves in the interests of the outer arm of encirclement.
  • Help with the destruction of the encircled forces.

Ground forces raids or airborne and heliborne seizure of airfields can materially aid a vigorous long-range fire-strike operation.

Attack Across a Broad Frontage on Multiple Axes

In this form of offensive, strong frontal thrusts deliver separate strikes on two or more axes right through to the depth of the enemy's deployment. Powerful initial strikes on several axes create considerable breaches and split the enemy's defenses into isolated, noncohesive parts for subsequent destruction in detail. The OPFOR can concentrate these splitting attacks and use their timing and sequence to deceive the enemy as to the main effort.

Enemy forces outflanked by the penetrating force may stay put, defending forward. If so, the OPFOR can envelop or encircle them. If they attempt to withdraw, a mixture of frontal and parallel pursuit can destroy them. Once enemy forces start to withdraw, the width of the OPFOR advance grows; forces previously on defensive sectors transition to the offense against enemy forces leaving prepared positions and pulling back. These transitioning OPFOR forces conduct the frontal pursuit, slowing the enemy. Meanwhile, forces on main attack axes execute parallel pursuit to destroy retreating enemy forces in flank attacks.

Favoring circumstances. An offensive on multiple parallel axes is suitable when--

  • The OPFOR's use of precision or NBC weapons obviates the need for concentration for one large penetration to destroy the defense in the tactical zone and to open the way for deep exploitation thrusts by ground forces.
  • The enemy possesses significant numbers of long-range, precision weapons that threaten the encircling groupings.
  • The OPFOR enjoys such an advantageous COF that it can achieve decisive superiority on several axes simultaneously.
  • The OPFOR enjoys operational surprise.
  • When neither enemy deployment nor the terrain favors encirclement, that is--
    • Where there is no salient to exploit.
    • Where the OPFOR has to launch attacks from bridgeheads.
    • Where the enemy's strength is evenly distributed along his frontage with no especially weak points.
  • The OPFOR has a linear objective to reach on a wide frontage (for example, seizing multiple bridgeheads over a major river).
  • The enemy commander appears to be indecisive.

Advantages. An offensive on a broad frontage is in many ways the most dynamic form of operation. It confers several major advantages:

  • Maximum pressure across a broad frontage can prevent the enemy from stripping secondary sectors to reinforce the defense on the principal axes or to create new reserves.
  • Multiple threats make the enemy's decision as to where and when to deploy operational reserves vastly more difficult. This may cause his decision to be too early, with commitment on the wrong sector, or too late, when the offensive has already achieved momentum and width. The enemy is also unable to maneuver his reserves freely in lateral directions.
  • Flexibility is on the side of the attacker. The OPFOR has more options for switching emphasis from one axis to another.
  • Breaching subsequent defense lines on a wide frontage can complicate the defender's efforts to stabilize the situation. It is less a matter of plugging gaps than stemming a flood.
  • Surprise (or at least partial surprise) is often easier to achieve when attacking on a broad army group front.

Requirements for success. The choice of axes is vital. It is essential to correctly identify the enemy's main grouping. The disruption, destabilization, and consequent destruction of this main grouping can compromise the entire strategic axis. It is also important to identify the axes that lead to such paralyzing dislocation.

As in encirclement, speed is all-important. A quick penetration can shatter the stability of the defense. A rapid advance can keep the defender off balance and prevent him from establishing deep defense lines. All this requires strong strike groupings on the principal axes, generally with two echelons at army group level. This should ensure the maintenance of a favorable force ratio in the enemy's depth, despite casualties and the need to deal with bypassed or encircled groupings. The OPFOR also intends to penetrate deep defense lines from the march before the enemy can properly defend them; this is a task well-suited to air-delivered forces, forward detachments, and OMGs.

Surprise is crucial. Surprise as to the weight of the strike, the scope of the operation, and the axes employed is quite sufficient. Even when attacking out of bridgeheads, the OPFOR can achieve surprise as to which is the main axis.

The logistics system must have the capacity and flexibility to supply and maintain forces operating to great depth. In past experience, 600 km proved to be the limit to which the logistics system could support an uninterrupted advance.

Air superiority remains a critical element. While the OPFOR prefers continuous air superiority, this may not always be possible. As a minimum, the OPFOR will seek to achieve local air superiority at decisive points and times during the operation.

Mixed Forms of Operations

The methods of conducting operations described above are not, of course, mutually exclusive. Elements of both encirclement and attacks on multiple axes can characterize operations. Figure 2-4 shows how two army groups can combine efforts to encircle a strong, well-prepared enemy grouping. Figure 2-5 provides an example of how two army groups could employ a combination of attacks on multiple axes with encirclements of bypassed groupings.

Figure 2-4. Attack by two army groups to encircle a strong grouping.

Figure 2-5. Attack by two army groups on multiple axes (with encirclements of bypassed groupings).

Deep Operations

Using a combination of attacks on multiple axes across a broad frontage and encirclements, the OPFOR attempts to achieve operational and strategic missions through deep operations. The goal is to destroy the enemy's defenses using several deep, finger-like penetrations (controlled by a single headquarters) rather than with the driving fist of a frontal assault. Multiple and simultaneous deep thrusts develop tactical success into operational success. This, in turn, creates conditions for the strategic defeat of the enemy.

From the beginning of the offensive, the OPFOR attempts to shift the frame of combat into the enemy's depth. The OPFOR's goal is to force the enemy to fight in several directions at once--to the front, flanks, and rear. At the same time, the OPFOR can destroy the enemy's ability to do so, by disrupting the C2 and logistic backup necessary to sustain the enemy's combat forces. Fragmented enemy forces are vulnerable to destruction in detail, as they lack cohesion and supply. Rapid penetrations can also prevent enemy operational or strategic reserves from establishing a new, stable defensive line farther to the rear.

First-Echelon Army Groups

In the typical OPFOR offensive operation, forces of first-echelon army groups strike rapidly into the depths of the enemy's defenses in selected sectors. Theoretically, this can occur within hours after the long-range fire strike begins. Depending on enemy force capabilities and actions, however, the latter might continue for several days or several weeks before commitment of ground forces. Successful long-range fire strikes and air defense operations can minimize the enemy's air and precision weapons threats to ground maneuver forces. However, ground forces must quickly exploit the opportunity. They must act before the enemy has time to recover, reorganize, and meet the attack. Therefore, they hope to seize or destroy critical military, political, and economic objectives in the first few days of the ground maneuver phase of the war. They plan to do this through a combination of massed fire strikes and exploitation maneuvers. The ground maneuver force executes these operations in close coordination with airborne and heliborne landings.

First-echelon army groups exert pressure across the entire frontage of the theater. Mechanized and tank armies advance in dispersed march formations and on multiple axes. Thus, they can fully engage deployed or deploying enemy forces. Ideally, the first echelon has sufficient weight and force in several locations so the defenders cannot determine the location of the main attack. This prevents or delays the lateral redeployment of enemy troops to reinforce defenses on the most threatened axes.

The OPFOR looks for weak points in the enemy's forward defenses. Its best chance for quick penetration is through weak or partially deployed enemy groupings or along enemy unit boundaries. Once the OPFOR identifies the weak sectors, it tries to--

  • Rapidly penetrate the forward defense in several locations.
  • Fragment the enemy's forward defense into isolated, noncohesive parts.
  • Destroy the defending first-echelon forces.
  • Create favorable conditions for developing the offensive deeper into enemy territory.

At the first opportunity, first-echelon army groups and their subordinate armies or corps send exploitation forces deep into the enemy rear. There they destroy critical targets and disrupt enemy defenses. They also aid the advance of main army group forces.

Exploitation Forces

These exploitation forces are likely to be multiple operational maneuver groups (OMGs). These are tank-heavy formations formed at army group and army levels. (See Chapters 4 and 5 for more detail.) They are specially task-organized for deep, large-scale raid and exploitation missions.

Commitment of an army-level OMG normally coincides with first-echelon divisions' penetration of the enemy tactical defense zone. Commitment of the army group OMG normally occurs before the first operational echelon has achieved the army group's immediate mission and long before commitment of the second echelon.

To get into the operational depth, an OMG may have to help the first operational echelon to complete a penetration of well-prepared enemy tactical defenses. To facilitate this, first-echelon formations would continue pressure on adjacent sectors and provide the necessary fire support (artillery, air and air defense) to suppress enemy defenses in the sector. However, this is not the preferred option; the OMG must not expend too much of its combat power in making the penetration. In any case, the goal is to get the OMG into the depths of the enemy's defenses as soon as possible.

In some cases, the OMG might not have to depend on first-echelon forces to create a breach in the enemy's tactical defense zone in order to maneuver into the operational depth. Rather than exploiting an initial success in ground maneuver, it might exploit existing weaknesses in the enemy defense or opportunities created by the success of other components of the strategic operation. For example, it might be able to move rapidly through less-prepared sectors of forward defenses, where the defenders have not yet fully deployed.

The OMG also might exploit gaps that artillery, missiles, or air strikes create, especially if the OPFOR employs precision weapons. In such cases, OMG commitment can begin soon after the long-range fire strike operation begins and possibly even before the main army group's offensive operations begin.

Once in the enemy rear, OMGs have three main goals. First, they can destroy major enemy weapons systems that survived the long-range fire strike. Their highest priority targets are those systems that are most threatening to the OMG and to the OPFOR army group's (or army's or corps') main first- and second-echelon forces. Destruction of enemy precision weapon systems is especially critical. Second, OMGs can thoroughly disrupt the enemy's defense system. Thus, they can reduce the enemy's effectiveness in engaging attacking OPFOR main forces at the forward edge. Disruption activities might include--

  • Destruction of enemy C2 and logistics assets.
  • Surprise attacks on the flanks and rear of enemy units and advancing reserves.
  • Interdiction of the defenders' lines of communications laterally and to the rear.
  • General disruption of the enemy rear area. This diverts command attention and substantial combat resources away from the main battle against the OPFOR at the forward edge.

Third, OMGs can seize specific objectives and terrain features to aid the rapid advance of the main forces of the army group or army. They focus on the capture of--

  • Bridges.
  • Fording sites.
  • Road junctions.
  • Airfields.
  • Suitable landing sites for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

The deep operations of OMGs are not a substitute for the rapid, steady advance of the main forces of army groups, armies, or corps. Rather, OMGs (along with airborne and heliborne landings) expedite this advance by imposing a deep battle on the enemy. They force the enemy to simultaneously fight rear and close battles. Also, OMGs create conditions favorable for initiating the next deep operation farther into the enemy rear. They continue until the offensive achieves the theater's immediate and subsequent missions.

Successful deep operations depend on the main force taking advantage of the penetration and linking up with the OMG. At that point, the original raiding elements may have lost their effectiveness. Then, an army's or corps' main force could generate a replacement OMG. This is less likely at army group level, since the successful OMG either paves the way for main forces to achieve the strategic mission, or the OMG seizes major strategic objectives by itself.

The larger, army group-subordinated OMGs could have an additional task of seizing or surrounding key political or economic centers deep in the enemy's rear area early in the offensive. Their goal would be to convince the enemy and his allies that continued resistance would be futile.

Mission Depths

The depth of offensive operations depends on the nature of enemy defenses. The OPFOR does not need to have the army groups of its first strategic echelon fully mobilized, concentrated, and deployed prior to hostilities. It is only necessary that the attacking force complete the process before the end of the long-range fire strike. If the attacker wins the race, he can prevent the creation of prepared defenses. He can probably find gaps or weak spots in the defender's combat formation. Thus, he could use preemptive attack to generate momentum and engage in operational maneuver. Therefore, the OPFOR's preferred method, where possible, is to--

  • Catch the enemy during mobilization and deployment.
  • Achieve surprise.
  • Seize and maintain the initiative from the beginning.

Nature of Enemy Defenses

At the tactical level, the OPFOR may measure the preparedness of enemy defenses in terms of the preparation time the defenders have had since occupying their defensive positions. At the operational and strategic levels, however, preparedness of the defense is more likely a function of whether or not the enemy has completed deployment of the force designated to defend in a particular sector of frontage or a defensive line in the operational or strategic depth. Thus, a fully prepared defense in a theater might have all of the following forces in place: covering force, first-echelon divisions, corps reserves, army group reserves, and theater reserves. An unprepared defense might have only a covering force deployed and the rest of its forces still in the process of deploying. Either of these extremes might exist at the tactical level but is rather unlikely on operational or strategic levels. There, the OPFOR expects more often to encounter a partially prepared defense (which encompasses virtually everything in between). Behind the covering force, some of the first-echelon divisions may be fully deployed; others might not. The latter may have one brigade deployed and the remainder of the division still deploying, perhaps up to 100 km from the forward edge. Thus, it may be difficult for the OPFOR to distinguish between deploying first-echelon divisions and divisions intended to be corps reserves. In some cases, entire corps may be deploying late to reinforce a covering force. Yet, there may be some strong corps that are fully deployed.

Figure 2-6 illustrates a probable hierarchy of missions within a theater, in terms of enemy force groupings. These mission depths are likely in an offensive against a partially prepared defense. If the defenses tend toward being fully prepared or unprepared, the missions could be a step lower or higher on this ladder. However, this table, and the following paragraphs, describe typical mission depths against a partially prepared defense.


Immediate Mission

Subsequent Mission

OPFOR Force Grouping

Destroy Integrity/
Cohesion of Enemy

Destruction of Enemy

Destroy Integrity/
Cohesion of Enemy


COMMZ (Including
Theater Reserve)

Key Points in COMMZ


Army Group

Army Group

Army Group


Army or Corps



Army Group

Division (Day 2-4)

Rear of Division

Rear of Division


Division (Day 1)

Reserve Bde of Division

Reserve Bde of Division

Rear of Division

Figure 2-6. Probable mission depths in offensive against partially prepared defense.

First-Echelon Armies or Corps

The ground maneuver portion of a strategic offensive must begin with divisions of first-echelon armies or corps penetrating the enemy's tactical zone of defense. The task of the first day of the operation may be to penetrate through the covering force and to the rear boundary of the defending first-echelon division (a distance of up to 50 km).

Successive divisional attacks over the next 2 to 4 days exploit these breaches to complete the destruction of encircled or bypassed enemy first-echelon divisions and, possibly, to engage a counterattacking corps reserve. During this time, they can also seize important areas that facilitate operations deeper into the enemy corps' rear area. By doing so, they can effectively destroy the integrity and cohesion of the enemy corps. The latter is the immediate mission of the first-echelon army and might involve a total depth of 100 to 150 km and a total of 3 to 4 days.

The army's subsequent mission is to complete the destruction of the enemy corps and, possibly, engage the enemy army group reserve. This might involve an additional 150 to 200 km in another 3 to 4 days. Thus, the total mission depth might be about 250 to 350 km over 6 to 8 days. By accomplishing this mission, the army would destroy the integrity and operational stability of the enemy army group. This equates to the immediate mission of the first-echelon army group.

First-Echelon Army Groups

The second-echelon armies of an army group then execute the subsequent mission of the first-echelon army group. (Under favorable conditions, a first-echelon army can conduct a second operation to the depth of the subsequent mission.) This mission is to complete the destruction of the enemy army group and to engage theater reserves if possible. This can involve an additional 350 to 550 km in depth and 6 to 7 additional days. Thus, the total mission depth can be about 600 to 800 km or more over 12 to 15 days. By accomplishing this mission, first-echelon army groups clear the way for further operations into the enemy communications zone (COMMZ) and to the rear boundary of the theater.

The offensive actions of first-echelon army groups are normally decisive. The enemy army group's depth (600 to 800 km or more) normally constitutes army group subsequent missions and the theater's immediate mission. Depending on the overall depth of a particular theater, first-echelon army groups may also be able to seize important political and industrial centers and lines of communications in the rear of the theater. Thus, they can achieve the theater's strategic missions.

Second-Echelon Army Groups

In view of their vulnerability to interdiction, especially by precision weapons, it is not advisable to rely on the timely arrival of second-echelon army groups to complete the theater's immediate missions.5 The first strategic echelon should be strong enough to reach the nearest strategic objectives (immediate mission) on its own. If necessary, second-strategic-echelon army groups can deliver the final blows to complete the destruction of enemy forces that the first echelon army groups have penetrated and encircled.

If necessary, second-echelon army groups can also expand the scope of the strategic offensive operation either in depth or in breadth. For example, the depth of a theater's subsequent missions can be up to 1,500 km. This can require subsequent army group operations over a total period of 20 to 30 days.


The OPFOR has traditionally stressed the primacy of the offensive. However, it recognizes the strategic defensive as another possible type of military action for achieving strategic goals. Given its requirement for variant planning, the OPFOR always keeps a defensive variant on the shelf. The choice of variant is a function of the COF and the circumstances. However, the OPFOR believes that defensive operations alone are not sufficient. At best, the defensive can only maintain or restore the status quo. Only offensive actions can seize the initiative, completely defeat the enemy, and achieve a favorable conclusion to a war.

The strategic defensive can take place at the beginning of a war or in the course of a war. It can contribute to strategic goals in the context of an OPFOR offensive and also if the enemy has mounts an offensive. In the latter case, successful defense can lead to an OPFOR counteroffensive.6

The strategic defensive has the same types of subset operations as the strategic offensive: long-range fire strike, air defense, army group, airborne, naval, and amphibious. However, operations do not necessarily occur in the same order or with the same priorities. For example, the air defense operation initially focuses on defending friendly forces, if the OPFOR does not hold air superiority. Finally, the strategic defensive might also feature an antilanding operation; this is not part of the offensive. Army group defensive operations take on a different form.

Multi-Army Group Defensive Operations

Neither offense nor defense exists in a pure form. This is especially true at strategic and operational levels. Precision weapons also have erased some of the traditional distinctions between offense and defense. The defender can now use many of the same means and methods as the attacker. He can achieve surprise and seize the initiative. He can strike the attacker as the latter prepares to attack, or even earlier. Under favorable circumstances, he can also launch a decisive counteroffensive.

Mobilization and Deployment

The choice between offensive and defensive variants depends on the amount of warning time and the relative abilities of the OPFOR and the enemy to mobilize and deploy forces into the intended area of operations. Preceding any large-scale conflict, there is likely to be a period of increasing tension as a crisis escalates toward war. The OPFOR should be able to discern the enemy's war preparations to avoid strategic surprise. During this threat-of-hostilities period, the OPFOR should begin to mobilize its strategic reserves and strengthen and deploy its mobile forces to reinforce its ready covering forces.

Within an OPFOR Strategic Offensive

If the OPFOR can complete all or even most of its mobilization and deployment before the enemy can, the preferred course of action would be to launch a preemptive attack. This can--

  • Catch the enemy during mobilization and deployment.
  • Achieve surprise.
  • Seize and maintain the initiative from the beginning.

Even an overall offensive strategy can incorporate defensive operations. It is unlikely the OPFOR can build up the COF advantage needed to immediately initiate offensive operations in all sectors of the theater. Such a buildup would require extensive mobilization and troop movements; detection by the enemy would sacrifice the element of surprise. At the beginning of the war, therefore, forces in some parts of the theater might have to conduct defensive operations before transitioning to the offensive. There may be some sectors where the OPFOR plans no offensive action. These sectors might remain on the defensive throughout the war.

Another possibility is that the OPFOR's strategic offensive might lose momentum before achieving its decisive strategic goal. The OPFOR might go over to the defense for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To consolidate gains.
  • To await additional resources when temporarily halted by the enemy.
  • To protect the flanks of a unit.
  • To repulse an enemy counterattack.
  • To regroup after severe losses.
  • To free resources for other units that are on the offensive.
  • To await logistic support.

Thus, it is likely that some OPFOR formations might be on the defensive while others are on the offense. A typical OPFOR response against an enemy counterattack is to place a division on the defense; that division halts the counterattack while other divisions continue the offensive.

Tactical and operational defense can be an integral part of a larger, strategic offensive. Even a whole secondary theater (or strategic axis) might not be on the offense; some of its forces may have gone to establish superiority in a nearby primary theater (or strategic axis).

Response to an Enemy Offensive

It might be the enemy who seizes the strategic initiative and launches an offensive. If so, the strategic defensive can be the predominant type of OPFOR military action at the outset of war. There are three long-standing goals for the strategic defensive:

  1. To halt and repulse a strategic offensive by enemy forces and inflict heavy losses on them.
  2. To hold or regain key terrain on the territory of the State or its allies.
  3. To create conditions for launching a strategic offensive.

The first two goals apply to any war. Whether or not the third comes into play depends on the relative COF of the opponents and the military-political circumstances at the time.

If hostilities begin before the OPFOR has completed the mobilization of its strategic reserves, that process continues under the protection of the covering forces and reinforcing mobile forces defending in the first strategic echelon. The latter two components combined should be capable of repelling medium-scale aggression.

The second strategic echelon would consist largely of forces redeploying from other theaters. Once that redeployment and the mobilization and deployment of the strategic reserves are complete, the OPFOR should be capable of large-scale operations. Such operations might include launching a decisive counteroffensive or just going over to a strategic offensive. Figure 2-7 outlines the missions of the various echelons and reserves in a strategic defensive.

Figure 2-7. Echelonment and missions in strategic defensive.

First strategic echelon. The theater's first-echelon army groups comprise the first strategic echelon. Within these army groups, the first line of defense would be the first operational echelon; this comprises the first-echelon armies or corps of the first-echelon army groups. Those armies or corps would conduct the stubborn, active defense. Within those units, the first-echelon divisions attempt to hold the forward edge of the army and corps defenses. Division-level defensive tactics are active and mobile, not static, forms of combat. Skillful maneuver can help to destroy the enemy in specifically chosen locales that favor the defense. An exception might be the defense of key areas, although this too remains as active as possible.

The second-echelon divisions of those armies or corps may initially occupy defensive positions. However, their major mission is to counterattack, possibly along with the army or corps combined arms reserves. In certain conditions, they may do this jointly with forces of the first-echelon divisions. Counterattacking forces generally attack the enemy from his flank. They normally wait until the enemy's advance has stopped or at least slowed. Then the parent army or corps hits the stalled enemy force with artillery, missiles, and air strikes. The mission is to destroy enemy forces penetrating the forward defenses. The goal of the counterattack is full or partial restoration of the initial defensive line.

All these actions by the first-echelon armies or corps should halt and repulse the enemy offensive, hold key terrain, and inflict maximum losses. At this point, the enemy will have lost his forward momentum and will not yet have had time to dig in or to use his reserves.

This is when the OPFOR can use the army group's highly mobile second-echelon armies or corps or the army group's combined arms reserves to launch a counterstrike. The counterstrike will have three goals:

  1. To defeat in detail the enemy force that has penetrated the defense.
  2. To regain lost ground and restore the border.
  3. To create conditions for transition to the offensive (counteroffensive).

These aggressive actions involve firepower, maneuver, mines, and barriers. As a rule, it drives into the flanks of the penetrating enemy.

The forces of first-echelon army groups can carry out a counterstrike in one or several sectors. Apart from second-echelon armies or reserves, this may involve parts of first-echelon armies and forces moved from other sectors. It may also involve landing airborne or heliborne forces or using raiding detachments on the axis of the counterstrike.

Second strategic echelon and strategic reserves. Counterstrikes can pave the way for a counteroffensive conducted by the OPFOR's second strategic echelon and strategic reserves.

The counteroffensive is a special type of offensive that defending forces execute. As a rule, it occurs after the enemy has received heavy losses and has expended his principal operational reserves. At this point, he will not yet have time to establish a defensive force grouping and shift to the defense. The counteroffensive can result from exploitation of successful counterstrikes. It can also start while defenders are still in the course of repulsing the enemy offensive.

According to OPFOR doctrine, the goals of a counteroffensive are to--

  • Defeat in detail attacking enemy force groupings.
  • Thwart the enemy's advance.
  • Capture important areas (or lines).
  • Seize the strategic initiative.

This statement of goals conspicuously fails to specify the territorial limitations of the counter-offensive. Depending on the situation, the goal can be to recapture the State territory or to shift the war into enemy territory. However, for the OPFOR to seize the strategic initiative implies its ability to transition to a strategic offensive.

Long-Range Fire Strike

In the worst case for the OPFOR, hostilities can begin before covering forces are fully deployed. These alone may be ready to defend in the first operational echelon of the first-echelon army groups, with divisions or separate brigades of the mobile forces only partially deployed as the second operational echelon. If the OPFOR detects the enemy's intention to attack at that vulnerable point, its best option is probably a preemptive long-range fire strike. This would--

  • Disrupt the enemy's mobilization and strategic deployment.
  • Allow time for the OPFOR to--
    • Strengthen and deploy the rapid deployment forces of its mobile forces within the theater.
    • Redeploy forces from other theaters to reinforce the threatened theater.
    • Mobilize and begin to deploy its strategic reserves.
  • Reduce the precision weapons threat to deploying OPFOR formations.

The degree of success of the initial long-range fire strike phase determines whether the OPFOR remains on the defensive or can use its newly deployed forces to launch an offensive. At the least, it would avoid the undesirable prospect of having to trade space for time at the beginning of the strategic defensive. OPFOR doctrine advocates a forward defense of the State.

Antilanding Operation

The antilanding operation consists of coordinated combat actions by large ground forces formations (army groups, armies, or corps). These actions are in coordination with naval, air, and air defense forces. The antilanding operation has three goals:

  1. To prevent the landing of enemy forces by water or air.
  2. To repulse landings of amphibious, airborne, air assault, or airmobile forces.
  3. To hold defended seacoast, islands, or straits.

The General Staff (or theater headquarters) determines responsibilities for organizing and conducting such an operation. It bases them on its overall concept for the strategic operation, the specific features of the theater, and other conditions. Army groups, armies, corps, or divisions may designate a combined arms antilanding reserve. This would be a quick-reaction force separate from a combined arms reserve or second echelon. However, all OPFOR operational and tactical organizations plan for this contingency, whether or not they form a specially designated reserve.

1 In future wars, an aerospace theater is alsp possible.

2 FM 100-66, Opposing Forces in Stability and Support Operations, discusses the employment of IW apart from combat operations in greater detail.

3 See Chapter 10 for more detail on the air component of the long-range fire strike.

4 This assumes that the OPFOR has a navy and that theater has a seacoast.

5 The long-range precision-weapon threat might cause the OPFOR to reduce the size of second echelons at all levels in favor of the first wchelon. However, it would not eliminate them.

6 In OPFOR terminology, a counterattack is tactical and is carried pit by divisions. A counterstrike is operational and is delivered by forces of an army group, army, or corps. A counteroffensive is usually on a strategic scale; rarely is it operational.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias