Center for Strategic Communication

The Journal of Military Operations  

A new peer-review “journalzine” from the IJ  Group, which publishes Infinity Journal.  The difference between the two is that Infinity focuses on strategy while the former, as the masthead implies, is dedicated to military operations as well as tactics. If you do not know what the difference between strategy and tactics are….well….reading these should help. The Editor is Dr. Jim Storr, a.k.a  Colonel Storr, author of the well regarded The Human Face of War.  Registration is free.

The maiden issue of JoMO has articles from two friends of ZP, Deputy Editor Wilf Owen and Adam Elkus.

Ironically, Wilf is  arguing against the existence of an operational level of war or the utility of separating operational art from sound understanding of tactics and strategy and criticizes Soviet strategist A.A. Svechin:

“The Operational Level of War Does Not Exist”

….Thus the definitions of strategy and tactics were and are simple, coherent and highly workable. While armies conducted ‘operations’, such activity did not impinge on the delineation of strategy and tactics. Conducting operations did not an operational level of war make!

The operational level of war is strongly associated with Soviet military thought. A.A. Svechin is often seen as the originator of the idea, when he discussed ‘Operational Art’ (operativnoe iskustvo) as conceptual connection between tactics and strategy.[iii] He defined an operation as ‘the effort of troops directed towards the achievement of a certain intermediate goal in a certain theatre of military operations without interruptions.’[iv] In the very next sentence he went on to explain that operations were designed to destroy or encircle a portion of the enemy forces to force a withdrawal of other forces, to capture or hold a ‘certain line or geographical area.’ Destroying a portion of the enemy’s armies is what battles traditionally sought to do. Svechin’s description equates strongly with battle and thus tactics, at least in terms of the outcome described.

Much Soviet and Russian writing (and Western analysis of it) on the Operational Level of War is, once subject to rigour, paper-thin and mostly a sophistry that arbitrarily creates a false and unneeded link between strategy and tactics. The extremely high losses suffered by Soviet Forces in WW2 are not symptomatic of anything other than bad tactics poorly executed. If the acme of operational art is encirclement operations, then at what level of command does this operational level of war take place? A platoon can encircle an enemy section, just as much as an army group can encircle an enemy army.

Svechin’s fundamental intellectual problem was not that he did not understand strategy or tactics, but how to function as a strategist in a society where politics as normally understood no longer existed and adherence to yesterday’s policy could be regarded as today’s evidence of treason. Indeed, this is what ultimately resulted in Svechin’s demise during the Great Terror despite his best effort to the contrary. Whatever the other merits of defining an “operational level of war” or “operational art” Sevechin was looking for an ideological safe harbor, a purely “technical” realm where military officers could do the campaign planning war required without the act of planning or doing strategy itself being ideologically suspect in Stalin’s eyes.  In 1937, this was a hopeless task, but Svechin’s legacy carved out a degree of professional autonomy for Red Army general staff officers in milder times that was unthinkable under Stalin’s rule.

Adam Elkus explains “D&D”:

“The Continuing Relevance of Military Denial and Deception”

….From the end of the Cold War onwards, Western militaries have rightly assumed that military competitors would attempt to disguise their power and deceive to draw attention away from their real capabilities and intentions. Moreover, the West’s enemies also are frequently authoritarian states for whom cheating and deception is basic political behavior. The attractiveness of deception operations and capabilities to opponents ranging from Mao’s China to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq provides empirical support for this prejudice.

But democracies are also capable of information manipulation and deception. The United States was able to exercise remarkable control over information in the 1991 Gulf War, not only shaping the media coverage’s tenor, but also protecting secrets. It is true that America cannot do so today in regards to its remotely piloted vehicle (‘drone’) program and its cyber operations in Iran. But while this demonstrates the difficulty of conducting D&D in democracies, it is not proof that D&D is impossible.

Now that the West has become fiscally weaker and weary of war, denial and deception will be crucial to engaging and destroying both conventional and irregular forces. Currently, the United States is employing special operations forces, paramilitary intelligence capabilities, and regular air and sea military platforms to acquire and target al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Information denial is key to this campaign, lest press leaks alert al-Qaeda to ongoing operations. The US reliance on human intelligence also presents opportunities for adversary deception operations, like the Jordanian double agent who executed a hit against an American spy base in Khost in 2009.

Future conventional campaigns are likely to also hinge on the employment of denial and deception. Information denial has always been a hallmark of successful Western operations, but deception has been neglected due to the brute fact of Western qualitative and material superiority. If one marches with big battalions and has better troops, platforms, and weapons, why do any extra effort to engage in deception? At times, such as during Operation Moshtarak in Afghanistan and Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza, operational objectives have been served by telegraphing the attack in advance in order to allow civilians to leave the target zone and intimidate the enemy.

I think Adam is on the right track here with his analysis. In an age of austerity, as the advanced states field shrinking, increasingly expensive, militaries, this will force a return to the employment of force-multiplying stratagems that are supplementary to and supportive of the employment of military force and coercion.

Scarcity is the mother of strategic invention.