Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 5, Issue 1  /  

The Post-Operational Level Age: The Operational Focus Approach, Part 3

The Post-Operational Level Age: The Operational Focus Approach, Part 3 The Post-Operational Level Age: The Operational Focus Approach, Part 3
To cite this article: Bengo, Yacov and Shabtai , Shay, “The Post-Operational Level Age: From Concept to Implementation, Part 3,” Infinity Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1, Fall 2015, pages 4-8.

© Lucidwaters | – Israeli Soldiers Photo


In memory of our friend and colleague, IDF Brigadier General Giora Segal, a military thinker and practitioner who was our partner in the journey in the post-operational level age.

May his soul rest in peace.



To achieve the optimal connection between policy, strategy and tactics (described in part 1) through an operational focus approach that connects the strategic value to the combat worth (described in part 2), a new kind of situational assessment is required. The staffs from brigade to General Staff level should include two separate groups: a Planning Group that will include the required military and civilian experts dealing with all the topics that affect the operational focus who 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 C2 Group that will conduct the processes of command and control in addition to monitoring the implementation of the plan. We believe the dramatic question mark hovering over the utility of military force in achieving the national goals makes this new structure crucial for the effective application of that force.

The Post-Operational Level Age – Direct Contact Between Tactics And Strategy

In Part 1[i], we described the worsening problem created by the conceptualization of the operational level as a central component in the methods of command, structure of headquarters and processes of operational planning. We showed that the current environment and the types of problems armies face today this concept creates difficulties, and even failings, more than advantages.

The strategic context of conducting military operations is becoming tacticalized, and makes redundant the artificial mediation of the Operational Art. The connection between policy, strategy and tactics is created by experts of the three disciplines brainstorming and discussing the issues with the commander. The commander, in his mind, is the connector.

The participants in this process create simple (though not simplistic) understandings of the environment by learning, analysis and conceptualization. The results of the process are the creation of an understanding, common to both the commander from General Staff level to brigade level (and the commanders of the sub efforts) of the commander’s intent vis-à-vis achieving the political objectives, the central strategic concept, the definition of the mission and the principles guiding the tactical actions. This is translated into a Campaign Plan which is then implemented.

The Post-Operational Level Age – The Operational Focus Concept, Strategic Value And Combat Worth

In Part 2[ii], we described the approach we use to connect the strategic and tactical levels in the design and planning process – Operational Focus on Strategic Value and Combat Worth. Operational Focus means that only the exactly suited actions are undertaken, because we have no spare resources or time.

Focus is a cognitive process that enables people to understand each other. The focusing process is based on information acquired from all relevant external environments. The more relevant the information, the sharper is the picture. Every commander and every staff officer at every level interprets the situation differently. Historical experience shows that military organizations can create a common understanding, or at least consent, of how to interpret the situation they face. However, the chaotic nature of war can distort the situational assessment and it therefore must be constantly adjusted. Strategic and tactical assessment of intelligence, the operational capability to exploit it and the commander’s leadership capabilities will determine the Operational Focus.

The combat worth of military mass is a tactical concept that describes the overall capability of a military force – aerial, ground, naval or cyber – to conduct missions relevant to achieving the campaign objectives. The strategic value of employing force is determined by the political gain acquired by its actions. If the military force’s actions have achieved the policy objectives decided by the statesman, it has high strategic value. It follows that the strategic value is a function of the objectives of the war or of the conflict as a whole – as decided by the statesman.

The definition of Combat Worth and Strategic Value and the ability to connect them in the design and planning phases of the campaign as well as in the conduct phase are the basis for achieving Operational Focus. In this context we will aspire that the activation of a mass of high Combat Worth to fight for objectives of high Strategic Value will lead to decisive outcomes and further the overall strategic achievements of the campaign. Understanding the connection between these concepts enables us to ask questions concerning the connection between various combat worth and their contribution to achieving overall strategic value.

The Post-Operational Level Age – How To Do It

Situational Assessment

The basis for optimal connectivity between policy, strategy and tactics through operational focus requires a form of situational assessment different from that conducted today. This assessment requires combining the experts on the multiplicity of factors influencing the operational focus of a military force:

  1. Military experts able to define the potential combat worth of all relevant force types: air, ground, sea, cyber/information warfare and special-forces.
  2. Intelligence and Civilian Population Liaison officers able to assess the enemy in depth – his strategic decision making process and style, the civilian environment within which he operates and his military capabilities.
  3. Experts on the wider context of the campaign – diplomats, foreign liaison officers, public-relations experts, media and psychological warfare specialists for both overt and covert perception management operations and experts on the home public’s resilience and mood.
  4. Military and Civilian Strategic Planners able to add insights on the policy of the home government and the wider national context – the diplomatic, economic, social and national infrastructure issues. In some cases there must also be experts representing the thinking of international or regional allies.

It is therefore a collection of inter-service, inter-agency and, in some cases, international, experts. It has a permanent core of members, but it can add others according to the needs of the evolving planning process and battle situation.

This group is constantly discussing the integrative situational assessment with the commander in order to inculcate in his mind the optimal situational awareness as a background for his decision-making. It is conducted on all levels – General Staff, Regional Command, Corps, Division and Brigade, each level adapting the assessment to suit its purposes. The General Staff, for example, might include a techno-tactical expert on underground warfare, whereas the Brigade might include an expert on the home front civilian population in its area of responsibility or an expert on a foreign army with which it is coordinating actions or cooperating.

This is not a new idea. In his book, The Utility of Force, Rupert Smith wrote: “There are two sets of questions to be asked in making a plan. The first set deals with the context of the operation as a whole, at the political and strategic level, and the second with the context of its conduct at the theatre level… The questions in each set are iterative… the first set is to define the outcome and the effort to achieve it… The second set of questions is answered on the basis of the answers to the first set of questions, and the circumstances in the theatre understood at the time… one is establishing at what level it is possible to expect military force on its own to have utility… it must be clear that the answers to the questions lie with a wide range of agencies, in which the military is but one, and only a minor one at that”.[iii]

U.S. Army COIN Field Manual, FM 3-24, COIN, published in 2006, states that: “…dialog among the commander, principal planners, member of the interagency team, and host nation (HN) representatives helps to develop a coherent design. This involvement of all participants is essential. The object of this dialog is to achieve a level of situational understanding… such that the situation no longer appears complex… framing the problem rather than developing courses of action”.[iv]

Designing Force Employment

Situational awareness and 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. This facilitates the designing of the force employment according to the operational focus. The experts discuss the combat worth of various actions with the commander and the connection between them and the strategic value.

The discourse with his sub-commanders leads the commander to define the stratagem of the operational efforts he intends to conduct. The stratagem must be of high combat worth and strategic value in order to properly complement the civilian effort, political, economic and strategic communication, and combine the civilian and military efforts.

This framework enables the unique and optimal mix of civilian and military efforts required to achieve the strategic objective and ultimately the policy goals. This mix will be expressed in the formation of the relevant task force as per the unique mission requirements.

Planning Force Employment – task forces

This is a critical component of the concept. Operational focus requires the different levels, from brigade level up, to completely integrate the various services and agencies and enable the employment of a wide variety of civilian and military capabilities:

  1. Ground maneuver of all types.
  2. Fire efforts whether aerial, ground or naval.
  3. Information warfare including cyber warfare, electronic warfare and overt and covert strategic communication assets.
  4. Intelligence assets from tactical UAVs and interrogators to the allocation of General Staff or national assets whether military or civilian in origin.
  5. Civilian administration for maintaining and assisting the civilian population in or near the battlefield; defensive assets for protecting the home front population from various threats; and liaison with international organizations (inter-governmental or non-governmental) operating in the area.
  6. Secured IT capabilities to link all the assets into one communication network enabling command and control of all the various combat, civilian and logistic efforts.

This integration of these capabilities complicates the campaign planning process, specifically the conduct of standing operating procedures, assembling of the components and organizing the task force. It requires a staff and headquarters different from those that currently exist, at least in the IDF, and probably in other western militaries.

Execution and controlling of the campaign

The execution and controlling of the campaign is also a more dynamic process than in the current method. The situational assessment process is continuous, constantly updating the situation report and integrating it into the commander’s understanding. It takes into account numerous changing factors of the reciprocal effects and consequences of the various elements and actions that reframe the reality. All of those could affect the task force’s ability to maintain operational focus in order to achieve its mission in accordance with the strategic objective.

The changes could be in any element of the situational assessment – the combat worth of one of the military efforts is high or too low; the effect of our actions or the enemy’s actions on each other’s leadership, military operations and home front or on the international arena may be different from what was anticipated; international, regional or media reaction is more negative or positive than expected; our own leaders and public change their opinions and perceptions vis-à-vis the political goals and the strategic objectives; an unexpected singular event can basically change a variety of the elements.

Such an analysis, that guides the commander in understanding the changing environment and in redefining the problem, is an integration of the knowledge and understanding of each expert in his own field and the joint learning of all the experts together.

The commander’s and sub-commanders’ conclusions from these new insights can lead to one of three decisions:

  1. Stick to the plan – despite the changes, it will still create a positive outcome even in the evolving context.
  2. Change the plan – based on revised operational focused analysis in order to improve the fit between the combat worth and the strategic value of the current task force.
  3. Redesign the concept – an updated plan that changes the task force composition and mix of efforts.


Proposed Starting Point – Headquarters Structure

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 Command & Control (C2) group. The idea seems simple but to all those with actual experience it is clearly not wholly simplistic.

The fierce controversies between the planners (“The Thinkers”) and C2 staffs (“The Doers”) are well known to all military professionals. The tensions between them are escalated in the post-operational level age. This separation will enable a better connection between the strategic and the tactical, because it correlates to the commander’s core position of bridging planning and execution. His position in between the two groups will affect the planning and the execution of the operations, and will compel him and his staff to act with operational focus based on integrated forces conducting military and civilian efforts coordinated in context and rapid in time. He will be the agent of constant adaptation of the plan and its implementation to the changing situation continuously striving to achieve strategic value.

The concept requires first the creation of the team of experts. Part of this team should be formed from the existing staff officers dealing with analysis of the enemy and planning of fighting and supporting efforts. To them must be added aerial, naval, special-forces, cyber advisors and a variety of experts – population officers, public-relations and media officers, psychological warfare officers, liaison officers, law officers and home front officers, strategic planning officers, representatives from civilian intelligence agencies and the Foreign Ministry and if needed representatives from various civilian authorities or foreign armies. This team, though the exact composition might vary, should not include more than 11 members and should be headed by the chief of staff of the unit.

The planning team conducts overall situational assessments and defines the operational plan principles. It will operate according to a flexible time cycle adapted to the operational situation, the commander’s schedule and its working methods.

The C2 team will be headed by the chief operations officer (G3) and be the commander’s tool for command, control and monitoring the forces in action. This team will translate the commander’s decisions into detailed orders, will monitor in detail the execution of operations for the purpose of command and control, and will decide on issues relevant to the implementation of the plan.

Instead of the general designation of ‘operators’, which, as we explained above, causes more harm than good (“Jacks of all trades and experts in none”), every staff from brigade up will have two separate groups, each manned by true experts trained and educated in their specific professions and the integration of them into an overall concept.

Force Build-up

The Operational Focus Approach does not change the current force composition. The various combat and support services, branches and arms – aerial, naval, ground, intelligence, cyber and information warfare, communications and computers, logistics, public-relations and media, psychological warfare and home front – will continue to create the same basic unit building-blocks of today. The decision concerning how many individuals from each area should make up the group will be determined and prioritized according to the threat analysis.

The change will occur in the realms of organization, doctrine and training of force employment headquarters from the General Staff down to the brigade. These will be rebuilt to include the two staff groups; the planning group and the C2 group.

It will require creating the appropriate military and civilian joint communication networks and logistics capabilities that can adjust to numerous unique operational contexts.

Focusing on these realms of force build up and not the issues of capability development and force composition diverts the discussion from the ever sensitive budgetary and political major platforms and projects debate to the safer environment of concepts implementation.

Bottom Line For All 3 Parts – On The Crucial Neccessity To Change

Ostensibly everything that has been presented is not new – political leaders have always designed policy and defined strategic goals for military leaders to achieve by tactical operations. Our argument is that the extent and strength of the change in the human-global context within which military force is being employed has already overrun the question posed by Rupert Smith a decade ago on the utility of force and raised a new question: what is the essence of military force beyond the mere recounting of its organization and capabilities? What is its new ethos?

This is not an easy question to answer – especially in Western armies which are under constant scrutiny and criticism from their populations and the elected government that is employing them. These questions contain severe tensions and span a spectrum of issues such as; allocation of national resources, prioritization of national efforts, motivation to serve and legitimacy of employing force. They directly impact questions of national security and national resilience of each state for itself and the Western World as a whole. A clear example is the tension placed on the US military between the actual employment of its forces across the globe versus the public desire to reduce military involvement in situations in which it incurs casualties.

These tensions raise the question on the central ethos of any military organization – its willingness to sacrifice the lives of its personnel in order to protect the state and its interests. The one characteristic unique to military organizations, relative to other national organizations (police, intelligence agencies, diplomatic service, etc.) is the depth of identity between it and the national existence. Everything else is deemed to be a supporting service or subsidiary in importance.

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 to maintain the political and strategic relevance of the military organization, without which it has no reason to exist.


[i] Bengo, Yacov and Shabtai, Shay, The Post Operational Level Age: How to properly maintain the interface between Policy, Strategy and tactics in current military challenges, part 1, Infinity Journal, vol. 4 issue 3, Spring 2015, pp. 4 – 9.
[ii] Bengo, Yacov and Segal, Giora, The Post Operational Level Age: The Operational Focus Approach, part 2, Infinity Journal, vol. 4 issue 4, Summer 2015, pp. 4-11.
[iii] Smith, Ruprt, The Utility of Force – The Art of War in the Modern World, Vintage, 2007, pp 382 – 384.
[iv] The US Army and Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp 140 – 141.