Military Strategy Magazine  /  The Post-Operational Level Age of War  /  

Introducing “The Post-Operational Level Age of War”

Given that humans will continue to fight in armed conflicts for the foreseeable future, it is critical that we clarify the role of military operations in international relations. In our view, without a comprehensive approach that enables critical thinking about the phenomenon of war and the effective ways of building forces and using them, no military force will succeed in meeting the challenges of the early 21st century.

In this Infinity Journal special edition, we attempt to explain our opinion that the Operational Level is redundant in response to current military challenges. By properly defining the problem and detailing the principles we can create the optimal connection, in both planning and action, between strategy and tactics.

The politician and the tactician operate directly within the real world. The politician is involved in the dialogue with other international leaders, sometimes also those of the enemy, and with the public. The tactician meets the enemy on the battlefield. Strategic headquarters’ deal mostly with interpretations of policy and tactical level engagements with the real world. Based on that, they attempt to conceptualize the situation, the problem and possible solutions.

Therefore, there is a need to return to a three-level hierarchy of thinking and conceptualization – policy, strategy, and tactics. These three levels of thinking exist at all levels of the command structure – from the President or Prime Minister who thinks mostly about policy, but also considers strategy and tactics, down to the junior commander who focuses on the tactics of actual combat but also considers the political and strategic ramifications of the situation he is facing.

The senior level of the military command structure – between the Chief of Staff and the Division Commander – is where significant friction between considerations of policy, principles of strategy, and implementation of tactics takes place. Whilst this friction occurs only in the mind of the commander, it is a product of brainstorming between experts of policy, strategy, and tactics. In this process, the participants create simple insights (not simplistic or shallow) of the complex environment through learning, analysis, and conceptual design.

In order to help that process, we define an approach of focusing operations on strategic value. Focusing is a cognitive process that facilitates understanding between people. The focus of an operation is a commander’s decision. This decision is the product of a situational assessment. The process for conducting that assessment must assist in producing focus.

The Focus of Operations Approach (hereinafter – Operational Focus Approach) and Value Focused Action is based on two supporting concepts:

‘Combat Worth’ of a particular aerial, naval, or ground force mass is its overall military capability to achieve its operational missions. Thus for example, the combat worth of an aerial ground attack force is the number of targets it can attack within a specific time-frame

‘Strategic value’ of using military force is dependent on the political benefit accrued from this use: if the force achieves the goals set for it by the statesman then the strategic value was high. The strategic value, therefore, is determined by the goals set by the statesman for the conflict.

Understanding the concepts of Combat Worth and Strategic Value enables us to employ them while planning and conducting military campaigns. Achieving the sought after strategic objective requires directing a mass of high combat worth towards objectives assessed to be of high strategic value. This means that actions of high strategic value will be defined as opportunities, whereas actions that have low or negative strategic value will be defined as threats. The chosen course of action will be that which the commander assesses will have the greatest strategic value. Actions without a strategic benefit will not be discussed.

The traditional methods of the military situational assessment should be maintained in spite of the need to change some of the emphasis to achieve the required focus.

These changes are based on structuring two separate groups in the staffs from brigade to General Staff level. A Planning Group will conduct general situational assessments and define the principles of the campaign plan, guiding the discussion between the commander and his sub-commanders; and a Command & Control (C2) Group will conduct the processes of command and control and monitor the implementation of the plan. These two groups must combine expertise on the multiplicity of factors influencing the operational focus of a military force, which is influenced by a collection of inter-service, inter-agency and, in some cases, international, experts.

Situational awareness and explicit framing of the problem create the understanding and common language needed between the commander and his group of experts and between the commander and his sub-commanders. The discourse with his sub-commanders leads the commander to define the stratagem of the operational efforts he intends to conduct based on high combat worth and strategic value.

Headquarters Structure seems to be the best starting point for the required transformation. The operational core of these staffs must be split clearly between the planning group and the C2 group. It will require the appropriate military and civilian joint communication networks to be created.

The serious doubt raised on the effectiveness of the military force in achieving national goals requires an in-depth analysis by decision-makers and commanders. We think that the proposed post operational level age change in concept, implementation methods, and structures is necessary, not for the tactical effectiveness of the military force, but rather to maintain the political and strategic relevance of the military organization, without which it has no reason to exist.



Note: all articles in this special edition have been published in past issues of Infinity Journal. No aspect of the articles has been altered, including author biographies. In some instances, author biographies may have changed since the publication of the original articles.