Redefining Operational Art: Continuing The Reform
SUBJECT AREA Warfighting
Title: Redefining Operational Art: Continuing the Reform
Author: Major Jeff D. Grelson, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: To build a whole new way of thinking about and
conducting military operations -- in other words continue the
reform -- and at the same time counter the effects of the
national ethos, we must precisely define the operational art in
terms that can be taught, assimilated, and practiced.
Americans are amateurs at war; but this may be an
advantage. The weakness of the career soldier, bred in the
military tradition and trained in his duties through years
of service is that he knows when he is whipped. (24:viii)
The national ethos has prevented the American military from
achieving professional excellence since its' inception over two
centuries ago. Because this ethos has been, and remains,
negative, as suggested by the above quote, its' effects are also
negative. Thus, "American Negativism" is felt not only in
reduced budgets, but in more subtle ways -- like our difficulty
with change and the inability to develop educational
institutions and standards equivalent to, or better than,
This paper describes a success story. The Services are
coming together, rallying around efforts to improve our
professionalism and operational excellence, in spite of the
national ethos. An important step was the recognition of the
operational art. This term, presently somewhat nebulous, gives
our educational efforts focus, allowing us to create effective
supporting curricula and combat American Negativism. But, we
have a considerable way to go.
Recommendation: To build a whole new way of thinking about and
conducting military operations, we must first precisely define
the operational art to include both the employment and the
development of military capability, with three sub-elements:
planning, decision making, and staff f action.
REDEFINING OPERATIONAL ART:
CONTINUING THE REFORM
To build a whole new way of thinking about and conducting military
operations -- in other words continue the reform -- and at the same time
counter the effects of the national ethos, we must precisely define the
operational art in terms that can be taught, assimilated, and practiced.
I. U.S. Military Thought: The Effects of American Negativism
II. Redefining the American Operational Art
Appendix: A Brief History of the Term Operational Art
REDEFINING OPERATIONAL ART:
CONTINUING THE REFORM
Changes in the military are affected in many ways.
Some changes are formal, mandated by civilian or military
leadership. Others are informal, largely evolutionary
changes that permit the Services to keep pace with other
societal segments. Some occur dramatically, others more
subtly. Some changes are required to undergo due process,
to be analyzed and tested before a complete committal is made.
Others are directed, with no concern for consensus or support,
based on the convictions of senior civilian or military leaders.
There is a very temporal aspect to major changes: they are
considered revolutionary or evolutionary, based not only on
their magnitude but on the speed of their proposed implementation.
Some changes are dubbed reforms while others are natural
solutions to obvious problems; labels which apparently rely almost
entirely on the perspective of the labeller. By its very nature, change
in the Services is seldom easy. Most people categorize change
by the difficulty of its implementation, rather than on the merits
of the change itself.
The mechanics of change themselves change over the years,
often causing a sense of frustration or even futility. The professional
military needs to come to grips with its corporate structure, recognizing
its characteristics and personality if it is to effectively make
changes. And, in order to develop the operational
capabilities our nation will need in the 21st century, the
Services must, of course, change. The capability
development process, used to identify, analyze, and
implement operational changes, needs to be firmly
established. Every soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine needs
to know how he or she can contribute to operational
improvements within their respective Services.
Change is a complicated and important issue within the
Services; one which affects many but only a few understand.
Of the many influences on change within the military, one of
the least understood, and most important, is the national
ethos. Unfortunately, because the national ethos regarding
the professional military has been, and remains, negative,
its effects are also negative. We must understand how this
influences the way we deal with change, and why we often
fail to take the full step.
Few would argue that in recent years the American
military has undertaken a major reform effort, seeking
improvements in every area from warfighting to dependent
dental care. In the Marine Corps, at the grass-roots level
of how we fight, the reform has focused primarily on
doctrine, training, education, and the replacement of old
warfighting beliefs with new ones. Because of the influence
of the national ethos, it has always been easier to change
equipment than doctrine, or the training and educational
practices necessary to institutionalize new ways of
practicing war. This has made improvements in these areas
difficult to implement. The personality of some of the
reformers has also contributed to the difficulty. In fact,
the improvement effort was label led a "reform" more because
of the tactics of the reformers than of the magnitude of the
changes themselves. But this, too, is a result of the
national ethos. In spite of the turbulence, over the last
fifteen or so years, and to the great credit of every Marine
involved, there has indeed been significant improvement.
But now this effort is in danger. This is not the
fault of those currently challenged with completing the
changeover, but of those who initially began it. They went
too far, too fast, not taking into account the affects of
the national ethos. Publication of FMFM 1, "Warfighting,
in the Summer of I989, was the beginning of a major redesign
of Marine doctrine, training, and education. It's purpose
was to introduce new thought, raise the level of detailed
knowledge about the military profession, and improve the
professionalism of officer and Marine alike. If, as a
result of detailed analysis from new perspectives, old
tactics, techniques, and procedures were found wanting, then
new ones were to be developed in their place. Those current
practices that were re-validated in light of new perspectives
would, of course, be unnecessary to change. This kind
of intellectual pursuit is probably not the forte of every
officer, however. With "Warfighting" was a
package of several other important initiatives intended to
re-vitalize doctrinal, educational, and training
organizations. Some of these have been acted upon, and
the improvements have been almost Immediately felt.
Others, however, have not.
The heartfelt purpose of the so-called reform was, and
still is, to improve the operational excellence of our
operating forces. Although the initial reformers chose the
rather nebulous term "Maneuver Warfare," I believe
"Operational Art" more closely describes the real focus of
the reform effort. At present, "Operational Art" is itself
a nebulous term, calling to mind ideas and practices that
would be only remotely recognized by its first, and
greatest, practitioners. But, even in it's current
abstract form operational art is useful. Coming as it does
near the top of the hierarchial relationship between
national policy and military strategy, it is in the perfect
conceptual location to drive the development of operational
capability. Ambiguous notions, however, seldom yield
useable results. To build a whole new way of thinking about
and conducting military operations -- in other words
continue the reform -- and at the same time counter the
effects of the national ethos, we must precisely define the
operational art in terms that can be taught understood, and
U.S. MILITARY THOUGHT: THE EFFECTS OF AMERICAN NEGATIVISM
How did the ambiguity in our underlying doctrinal
principles develop? The answer can be traced to the
influence of the national ethos on the professional
It should not be surprising that the complexion of the
American military has been heavily influenced by the
country's history and evolving culture, or ethos. As a
national institution, the professional military has seldom
enjoyed the confidence of the American people. Democratic
nations, even ones as militaristic as ours, are always
suspicious of the motives, legitimacy, and quality of a
professional military. According to Edward M. Coffman,
writing in a recent edition of "Military Review," the
professional journal of the United States Army, the national
ethos is a "traditional prejudice:"
In peacetime, the national ethos - the traditional
attitudes and customs of a nation - is apt to play a
more important role than other factors in establishing
the limits and conditions that frame the shape of a
military force. This ethos also plays a role during
war; but when there is no menace large enough to bring
about a sense of emergency, hence urgent need for
military power, the army is not the focus of national
interest and is more subject to the attitudes and
customs of the people it serves.
The two aspects of this ethos that have been
particularly influential in US history are the
traditional prejudice against professional soldiers
and a Standing Army generally and the concept
that if wars came, civilians, not Regulars, would
save the day. (4:50)
Most people recognize these suspicions by their effects
on the budget and size of the military. Few, however,
appreciate the depth to which the national ethos infuses our
military system and influences the development of military
thought. The most visible way that this ethos, which I term
"American Negativism," has influenced the military is the
almost constant fight waged since before the Revolutionary
War about the need, size, and composition of the American
military. One side claims that a large, professional,
standing military is unneccesary, in fact outright dangerous
for a democratic nation, especially with no enemies sharing
its borders. The other side argues that defense of the
democracy is too important to trust to anything but a
qualified, professional military.
But there are other, less visible ways in which
American Negativism influences the professional military.
According to Mr. Coffman, ". . . [Many people] may not be fully
aware of the historical baggage they carry that influences
their thinking and actions." (4:50) The American military
is, after all, composed of Americans who have grown up
exposed to American Negativism. Either consciously or
unconsciously, predispositions influence the actions, and
especially the thought processes, of all of us who choose a
military career. Consequently, the way we view our
profession, and the way we develop and implement the various
training and educational systems used to expand and
perpetuate our profession, are all affected by the national
The American fear of a professional standing military
has colored every aspect of how we have evolved. It has
influenced how we have organized, trained for, and conducted
all of our wars and military operations. The militia-mindset
and reduced peace-time budgets have made the professional
military in peacetime a care-taker organization, unable to
devote sufficient resources to raising the collective
professionalism and quality of the professional military.
The reliance on mobilization of large numbers of civilians
in times of national emergency has required us, even
though we may not fully realize it, to reduce tactics,
techniques, and procedures to simplified
terms for easy assimiliation during short basic training
periods. American Negativism influences the institution
collectively and individually, often preventing us from even
seeing the need for improvements in our doctrine, training,
and educational organizations. These organizations, the
military equivalent of civilian colleges and universities,
are the nurturing grounds of operational improvements in our
The national ethos does not excuse our past inability
to develop our professionalism, as have many civilian
professional communities, but it does explain it.
Engineering and medicine are two professions, for example,
that have been heightened by the national ethos because of a
concern for high standards, safety, public service, and
professionalism. Their subjects, complex and detailed, are
part science and part art, their education standards are
extremely high, and professional certification or licensing
is required. Practicing engineers and doctors stay current
in their fields, not only because it is required, but
because it is professionally lucrative. Both swear to
uphold an oath which requires them to perform their duties
conscientiously and cost-effectively, with unlimited regard
for the safety of human life. The parallels to the military
profession are self-evident. Has not war been described as
the costliest, and most demanding, of human endeavors?
American military officers should understand that, as a
result of American Negativism, our efforts, no matter how
good, will always be suspect on Capitol Hill. No matter
what we do, how forward we think, or how capable we become
at managing the delicate balance between preparing for war
and promoting the peace, there will always be some who
question our motives and our professionalism. There will
even be those who base their reputations on the derision of
ours, or worse, base their livelihoods on the creation and
manipulation of the government's military bureaucracy.
Civilian control of the military is essential in our
democratic system. It is how the military remains in tune
with the needs, and the will, of the American people. But,
we should not confuse civilian control with national ethos.
Instead, we should understand that the affects of the
national ethos influence not only the size of the Services,
but their quality as well.
The professional military is not entirely blameless in
this respect, of course. In spite of the fact that it is
only recently that our civilian masters have given us a
cogent national strategy upon which to base the development
of military capability, we could have done a better job at
creating the internal infrastructure necessary to guide
REDEFINING THE AMERICAN "OPERATIONAL ART"
Based on the realization that American Negativism has
had a significant impact on our warfighting doctrines, and
the education systems designed to foster them, some
additional changes are necessary to fully implement an
educational process focused on the operational art.
Good doctrine, while not necessarily prescriptive, is
authoritative. It derives much, if not all, of its authority
and usefulness through the preciseness of its terms
and the collective thought that it produces. For
doctrine to be truly useful, it must be reducable to
teachable, understandable terms. It must be broad enough to
guide thought, yet precise enough to permit development of
consistent, reproducable techniques and procedures. Today,
in American military doctrine, operational art has evolved a
definition heavy on the "art," evoking feelings that I9th
century Prussians would recognize, but only remotely. It
has come to signify an intangible ingredient in great
generalship - that ability to instinctively see through the
fog of war - to mix the components of warfare on an ever-
changing pallet and apply them in new and enlightened ways.
It is an instinct few will have the opportunity to demonstrate
and even fewer will ever attain. But, it is one toward which
all should strive.
The 1986 version of FM 100-5, "Operations," defines
Operational Art in vague, somewhat ethereal terms that leave
a great deal to interpretation. This is the opposite of
what good doctrine is supposed to be: the basis for mutual
understanding and harmonious actions. While the words
contained in the section entitled "Operational Art" are
eloquent and thought-provoking, they provide almost no basis
from which to actually teach its mastery. The implication
is that practice of the operational art relies on qualities
typically considered unteachable like "broad vision," the
"ability to anticipate," and "a careful understanding of
the relationship of means to ends." The remainder of the
book essentially neglects the concept, neither referring to
it directly nor implying that mastery of the remaining
contents yields mastery of the "art" itself.
Marine doctrine, in FMFM 1, "Warfighting", doesn't
actually address the operational art although the whole
manual is obviously based on it. "Warfighting" does,
however, have a section entitled, "Art and Science of War,"
in which it makes the following statements:
The science of war stops short of the need for military
judgement, the impact of moral forces, the influence of
chance, and other similar factors. We thus conclude
that the conduct of war is ultimately an art, an
activity of human creativity and intuition powered by
the strength of the human will. The art of war
requires an intuitive ability to grasp the essence of a
unique battlefield situation, the creative ability to
devise a practical solution, and the strength of
purpose to execute the act. (25:14-15)
As eloquent and worthwhile as these words are, their
meaning really only has relevance for a select few - those
who possess the innate qualities to which they refer. It
further implies that mastery of the science of war is only
secondary, and not really an element of the operational art
at all. Rather than contributing to the corporate
understanding of war and encouraging Marines to improve
their individual professional skills, the interpretive
nature of these words, and much of the rest of FMFM 1, has
instead encouraged "battles over buzz-words. " Most of FMFM
1 is philosophical. It contains things that needed to be
said but impossible to implement. It was intended to
establish and guide new patterns of thought, not to be
dissected into buzzwords for continual debate. Although
things are clearly improving, the Marine Corps doctrine and
education systems are not yet fully capable of injesting new
concepts and philosophies and converting them into practical
supporting doctrines, techniques, and procedures.
To improve the operational capabilities of our
operating forces, we need something much more definitive and
concrete than the current definition of operational art upon
which to base continued improvements. For it to become the
foundation of our doctrine and military education systems,
the first step is to define "Operational Art" in terms that
can be handled by our doctrine development and education
systems. In this new definition, we must think bigger. We
cannot focus on the employment of military capabilities, but
on their development as well. Because, without the
development infrastructure in place, new employment
strategies will rarely achieve their full potential. I propose
the following definition --
Operational Art is the effective development and
employment of military capability. It has three
components: Planning, Decision Making, and Staff
This definition is consistent with the definitions of
both "capability" and "military capability" in the DOD
dictionary (JCS Pub 1-02) and has the added benefit of
reducing both AirLand Battle (now AirLand Operations) and
Maneuver Warfare to tactical options, which is where the
majority of officers already perceive them. The definition
is neither nebulous nor complex, and it's components can be
readily taught. And finally, the three components support
the understanding that art consists of both mechanical
(planning and staff action) and creative (decision making)
The three components should be expanded according to
the broad definitions below.
PLANNING. Management is an element of leadership, not it's
antithesis. Good leaders understand the importance of
management and recognize that it offers tools that help make
units more efficient and effective. We frequently assume
that potential leaders have an innate understanding of the
elements of getting a job done that only needs to be
modified to fit the military model. To many people, this
feeling is so strong that, to them, the word "planner" is
synonomous with "leader." Many also assume that the
elements of platoon leadership and high level command are
nearly identical: the same fundamentals practiced at
increasingly higher levels of authority and responsibility.
While there is some truth to this, especially in the sense
of leadership experience, the relationship between platoon
leader and high level commander is more akin to job foreman
and design engineer: similar fields, yes, but hardly
interchangeable. Planning, as an element of leadership at
every level, is not the same at every level. It should
therefore be taught in it's most basic, general form, as a
component of job management, mission accomplishment, or
whatever, rather than as an element of leadership. This
makes it pertinent to both capability employment and
development, at any leadership level.
Planning is, quite simply, the effective management of
resources to achieve a goal. Whether planning a family trip
to the zoo or a complex military operation, the same basic
planning fundamentals apply. This gives us a much broader
appreciation for the importance of planning in all facets of
military management and operations. It also puts memory
aids like BAMCIS and SMEAC, and deliberate planning
processes like the "15 Step Command and Staff Action
Process," PPBS, and others into their proper perspectives.
Once the basics are understood, these refined, specialized
processes become less sacrosanct, and for some, less mind-
Over time, military planning has developed a mystique
of its own. It has been the predominant subject at command
and staff colleges for generations. A body of opinion
exists that separates planning an operation from its
execution, probably because nations try to develop warplans
well before they are actually needed. Misinterpretation of
Moltke's famous saying about the fragile nature of most
plans and their ability to survive the first contact probably
contributes as well. These convictions lead many
to conclude, "Why prepare a plan? It will only be overcome
by events, anyway. Let's just pull out the old one and
change the dates.
The essence of planning is, of course, execution, or
implementation. The fact that the physical acts of planning
and execution may be separated in time does not mean that
each is a separate event. The basic planning cycle, as
adopted by almost everyone who manages resources to achieve
goals, includes information collection, plan preparation,
implementation (or execution) , evaluation, modification
(event driven) , and so on in a continuous information
collection, planning, execution effort. To separate the
components, for example, into campaign planning and
campaigning, is therefore erroneous. The basic planning
cycle, and consequently curricula designed to teach it, must
obviously be modified to make it effectively serve the
military's many planning requirements. But, this can easily
be done without violating the integrity of the cycle itself.
Planning can, of course, be an exercise in drudgery,
particularly if convinced that the plan is doomed before it
starts. But, when seen as part of a dynamic, contributory
process it can also be an exercise in creativity.
DECISION MAKING. Decision making, in the military context,
is the ability to select an appropriate course of action
that is consistent with the initial plan, in the shortest
possible time, with the minimum amount of "hard"
information. Like planning, it should be taught first in
its basic, fundamental form. Decision making is a complex
subject, the complexity of which changes depending on many
different variables. It is the special privilege, and the
heavy responsibility, of the commander alone. It should
therefore receive much more attention, as an individual
subject, than is currently allotted in most military
curricula. Decision making, as a soft skill that relies
heavily on individual traits like creativity, accumen, and
cognition in general, is a difficult subject to teach.
However, its elements can be taught, and continually
reinforced through wargames, decision making exercises, and
historical case studies.
In our system, it has become practice to postpone the
decision to the very last minute, in hopes that some last
bit of information will appear that removes all uncertainty.
While this is clearly appropriate, in fact, essential in
deliberate planning circumstances, it is frequently
inappropriate, especially in fast moving situations. A
comprehensive study of decision making should make this
clear. Also, our present system does not recognize the
difference between planning and decision making, frequently
confusing the two. Studying each separately will improve
our understanding of both, and of how they complement each
STAFF ACTION. As the name implies, staff action is the
collective efforts of all subordinates, including
subordinate commanders, to develop and implement a plan
consistent with the commander's decision. Implied is an
absolute attention to detail, focused on providing an
accurate, useable product. Of the three elements of the
operational art, staff action is the most mechanical. On
the surface, it may seem unneccessary to highlight staff
action as an integral component of the operational art.
However, since it is so basic, and at the same time so
essential, it cannot be overlooked. Effective staff action
is not a substitute for sound decision making nor is it a
panacea for all the ills that can befall a command. It can,
however, mean the difference between success and failure and
therefore deserves separate attention. The focus should be
on attention to detail, communications ability, and staff
relationships. The assistance offered by communications,
word processing, and computer-assisted planning, and other
technologies should not be neglected.
It would be difficult to address the subject of staff
action without addressing the functions of the commander,
particularly with respect to how he uses his staff. (It is
interesting to note that FMFM 3-1, Command and Staff Action,
was titled, "Staff Action," in its original 1955 edition.
Although the name changed shortly thereafter, the contents
of today's manual are almost identical to the original version.)
This new definition of the operational art offers the
military tangible, teachable subjects upon which to base
curricula meaningful to future military students. It is
neither nebulous nor abstract. Nor does it impinge upon or
deviate from current commonly held opinions or definitions;
it merely refines them. And, it allows room for all of the
other subjects essential to the military profession, helping
to create a training and education structure in which every
subject can contribute to the common goal of improving our
Taken collectively, the three elements of planning,
decision making, and staff action comprise the operational
art. By concentrating on them, and being ever mindful of
the effects of the national ethos, we will indeed achieve
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TERM "OPERATIONAL ART"
The evolution of the American military's interest in
the term "operational art" is, I believe, a good example of
the effects of American Negativism on our military thought.
Our interest in operational art" and the related
concept of operational level of war" is relatively recent.
There are probably two reasons why these concepts have
become important. The first is the result of the
introspection that went on within the Services after the
series of military failures since World War II, particularly
Vietnam. The first big revelation to emerge was the
disjointedness of the Department of Defense, a problem
compounded by doctrine, training, and equipment ill-suited
to employment in modern combat by an all-volunteer force.
In the early 1970's, the Services began significant
organizational and doctrinal changes, some might say
reforms, that continue today. For the Army, the cognizant
agency for development of land warfare doctrine, one of the
most controversial steps in this "modernization" effort was
the publication of General William E. DePuy's 1976 edition
of FM 100-5, Operations (26:1). This doctrinal manual
introduced one important concept and reinforced another.
The new concept, AirLand Battle, was a new approach
to the Army's problem of assisting in the defense of western
Europe. It was full of new ideas about fighting smarter and
winning the first battle against a numerically superior
enemy who possessed the initiative. Although the terms
operational art and operational level of war do not yet
appear, it is obvious that the authors were beginning to see
modern combat from-these perspectives. Not so obvious is
the evident influence of the German approach to large unit
operations, and especially, officer education. The entire
reform was considered radical by many Army officers, and was
almost directly opposite to the more traditional thinking
championed by Major General John Fl. Cushman, the commanding
general of the Combined Arms Center (CAC) at Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, the Army's Integrating Center for
combined arms doctrine (7:52-58).
The 1976 edition also reinforced a relatively new
concept within the Army: that operational capabilities
should be based on operational requirements that are
themselves determined by analysis of most likely missions.
The book also helped institutionalize the new combat
development organization through which the Army would
implement this process, using its various major commands,
training centers, and TRADOC to identify and integrate
changes to Army combat capabilities (7:28). This process
has since come to be known as the Concept Based Requirements
System, (CBRS) , the system used to identify and guide
changes to operational capabilities within the Army. In
this respect, AirLand Battle and the doctrine that would
support and embellish it would become the basis for changes
to Army equipment and structure, as well as its doctrine.
In short, it would become a true warfighting philosophy (13
years later the Marine Corps would follow suit with the
publication of its-own new philosophy, Maneuver Warfare, and
a Marine Corps version of CBRS).
Due to its controversial nature, the 1976 edition of FM
100-5 was never fully accepted and quickly superseded by the
1982 version. However, the seeds of reform had been sown.
Many of the book's ideas, among them the education versus
training issue and AirLand Battle fundamentals, began to
receive attention throughout the Army, followed again a few
years later by the Marines. By the 1986 edition of FM 100-
5, both "operational art" and "operational level of war" had
become part of the American military lexicon.
The second reason for the interest in these two terms
is the attention paid to them in Soviet doctrine, most
notably in the early 1980's. Over time, armies tend to take
on many of the characteristics of their principal enemy, and
such is she case here. In Soviet doctrine, "operations"
translates to operational art (20:6). Operational art is
one of the three components of what the Soviets called
"military art" - the other two being strategy and tactics.
"Operational level of war" apparently doesn't appear in
Soviet doctrine, but since Soviet doctrine, especially
regarding the operational art, is written for "officers and
generals of the Soviet Army," it is a fair assumption that
American analysts of Soviet doctrine would agree that the
concept does exist. American ideas of these two terms are
not literal translations, of course, but it is safer to, say
that Soviet reference to them and heightened U.S. Army
interest are not just coincidental.
Although their derivations are obscure, and definitions
and interpretations vary, each term has received official
sanction in joint and Service dictionaries and warfighting
manuals. Although references to them do exist in the
military writings of the 19th and early 20th centuries,
neither enjoyed the reverence clearly paid to them today
within the American military. Actually, in the historical
sense, the two terms are both probably misnomers.
To the Germans, the two terms were probably just
convenient expressions of military thinking. Undoubtedly,
Helmuth von Moltke should receive credit for their
quantification as military terms, even though he was
certainly not the first to use them to guide military
thinking. He was, however, the first to explicitly use the
concept of a campaign to guide and link multiple battles
(11:1) . As one of the founders of the German General Staff
system, Moltke also heavily influenced the educational
process in the German Army. While it is unclear whether he
actually defined either term, he certainly wrote extensively
about them. Most of these writings were about planning,
preparing for, and conducting war from the mid-19th century
Prussian perspective (although Moltke was actually a Dane).
One of the traits that characterized him and distinguishes
him even today was an absolute attention to detail and sense
of perfectionism. Whether writing about war, planning for
war, or actually pursuing it, he would continually edit and
re-edit his drafts until absolutely convinced he could make
his meaning, or intent, no clearer and his logic no more
Evidently, Moltke frequently had difficulty getting
subordinates to conform to his plans (11:9). It is
certainly possible that his experiences in this regard, as
well as his personality, were reflected in the curricula of
the Kriegsakademie. Although "operational level of war" was
not a part of their lexicon, the Germans felt that the
"operational art" at what we call the operational level of
war was teachable. And, if the demanding Kriegsakademie
curricula is any indication, mastery required absolute
attention to detail, preciseness of terms, use of sound
tactics and techniques, masterful staff work, and complete
adherence to mission and duty. Mastery of the operational
art was therefore as much a matter of science as of "art,"
and possibly more so. This interpretation also corresponds
to the burgeoning field of military science in the mid-19th
century as well. True, wargames and decision-making games
were raised almost to the level of art in Germany,
especially within the military, but this is part of the
German ethos, and to the pragmatic Germans, focusing on
these without mastery of the military science would have
made little sense. (The concept of military men applying an
"art" was probably-more closely linked to the concept qf
"Feld Herr." In the Prusso-German culture, a "Feld Herr"
(literally, "field commander-in-chief") was a man with, the
innate qualities necessary for inspirational leadership and
command at the highest levels. He was gifted with highly
advanced capacities for comprehension and decision making.
Most historians agree that a few men in German history have
displayed the attributes of a Feld Herr, but to many Germans
he is an almost mythical figure. (12))
Even though Napoleon was one of the greatest
practitioners of the operational art, at any level of war,
there is little evidence that the French military, the other
great influence on American military thought, even
recognized the existence of the term. This appears
especially evident in view of their performances in the wars
of this century. However, in the immediate reverie after
World War I, Francophilia was still a popular phenomenon and
the American military, which had always modelled itself
after the French Army, continued to do so throughout the
interwar years. Many more American officers were posted to
French military schools than to the German Kriegsakademie.
This was no doubt partly responsible for the little concern
paid to the opinions of the American military attache in
Germany during the mid-1930's, who wrote about the
philosophical differences between the Powers.
The American military's understanding of operational
art is thus an interesting mix of ideas, techniques, and
procedures borrowed from previous allies and enemies. Like
almost all of our important principles, it is apparently a
compromise. As currently defined, some of it's elements
quite possibly do fit in the American military vocabulary.
However, lacking the infrastructure to fully develop the
current definition into useable doctrine, tactics,
techniques, and procedures clearly hampers its utility.
Unless refined, it must, by default, remain as something of
an inspirational goal, rather than a clearly obtainable one.
And, if it was hard to comprehend and even more difficult to
achieve in the eyes of its most avid pupils, the Germans,
what hope for the military of a democratic nation unless it
is clearly and narrowly defined?
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