Monday, December 14, 2009

Operational Art

I feel bad when I write about Adam Elkus. He writes extremely thoughtful stuff on the topic of security and military affairs. Yet, whenever I decide to post about what he writes it is almost always to complain about something. So, let me just say this up front. If you don't read his blog and are interested in the security angle of international affairs, then you absolutely should. I certainly couldn't turn out the same quality of work as frequently as he does.

That said, let's get to the complaining and it's the same complaint that I always make, which is jargon and lingo. Now, I must admit this is part and parcel of any field once you get to a certain level of sophistication. People need shorthand for things, and in this case I'm not sure it's actually Adam's fault. Trouble is that shorthand can get confusing even by people in the field, and it seems to be very bad in the military affairs and security field. Let's take a look at a recent article written by Adam on operational art:
The operational level of war, once dominant in Cold War-era debates over conventional strategy in the 1980s, is the missing link in mainstream security analysis. By demonstrating how strategic aims are realized through the skillful linkage of tactical events in campaigns and major operations, operational art shows the real connection between lofty strategies of war and destructive battle.

Viewing recent American military doctrine through the lens of operational theory reveals some surprising continuity between the much-maligned high-tech doctrines of the 1990s and today’s emphasis on counterinsurgency. Growing strategic commitments, a lack of strategic guidance at the top, and limited military means have placed increasing demands on operational theory, resulting in theoretical innovation amidst strategic uncertainty.

Adam, having explained the benefits and usefulness of looking at operational art, realizes correctly in my opinion and FLG takes credit in his own mind, due to constant harping on stuff like this, for Adam's realization that the reader only has a vague notion of what it means. So, he proceeds in the third paragraph to define it:
The term operational art, military historian Milan Vego notes, has many different meanings (see Milan Vego, Joint Operational Warfare, Newport: Naval War College Press, 2009), and is often used interchangeably to describe any military action. The most recent Army field manual FM 3-0 Operations, however, supplies the most helpful definition. The operational level of war, according to FM 3-0, links together tactical forces to achieve a strategic end state. It consists largely of major operations (battles and engagements) and campaigns (a series of related major operations) coordinated in time and place to further strategic objectives set by national policy (See FM 3-0 Operations, Washington, D.C: Department of the Army, 2008)
So, the attempt to define something that is often used to describe any military action is certainly a start.  But let's pull out the defintion from the paragraph:
The operational level of war links together tactical forces to achieve a strategic end state. It consists largely of major operations (battles and engagements) and campaigns (a series of related major operations) coordinated in time and place to further strategic objectives set by national policy.
If I'm reading this correctly, then operational art is the bridge between strategy and tactics.  It's seems to encompass anything between the President saying do X and breaking shit and killing people.

Really, what Adam seems to be saying in the article, and I completely agree with, is that thinking about HOW the Army ought to do what it does is as important as WHAT the Army ought to do.  Furthermore, in the current environment, with rogue and failed states and various multinational terrorist networks that make figuring out exactly WHAT to do difficult, thinking about HOW to do stuff better may be even more fruitful.


Lastly, does anybody think that terms like "Effects-Based Operations (EBO) and later the Effects-Based Approach (EBA)" are helpful?  And then to term them into fucking acronyms?     I swear the defense establishment spends more time coming up with complex names only to shorten them to indecipherable acronyms.  I'd really like to know how long it took to come up with the term High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle and then shorten it to HMMWV or Humvee when it's a just freakin' jeep.

Anyway, FLG proposes that we change the official name of the Effects-Based Operations (EBO) or the Effects-Based Approach (EBA) to Scare-The-Fucking-Shit-Out-Of-The-Enemy-So-They-Lose-The-Will-To-Fight Approach.  Yes, it's longer and the acronym (STFSOOTESTLTWTFA) would be unwieldy, but anybody who reads it would immediately know exactly what you are talking about.

3 comments:

George Pal said...

“Lastly, does anybody think that terms like "Effects-Based Operations (EBO) and later the Effects-Based Approach (EBA)" are helpful?”

Apparently Marine General James Mattis has little use for the term or the concept.
Effects Based Operations (second paragraph):

http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?s=Effects-Based+Operations&gwp=13

Personally, I’ve always been fond of FFE – Fire For Effect.

A.E. said...

Lol no worries. I assume all the other times you don't link to my articles you agree with me :)

Anyways, I think military terminology can be extremely impenetrable and unhelpful as well. The problem with writing about defense and security though, is that if you want to go into detail about it you have to replicate a certain amount of the terminology.

My favorite jargon-word was "Rapid Decisive Operations" which sounds oddly retarded. Maybe I missed the other powerpoint briefing for "Sluggish and Questionable Operations."

FLG said...

"Sluggish and Questionable Operations" Ha!

 
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.