Operational Art in the New Century

By Meigs, Montgomery C. | Parameters, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Operational Art in the New Century


Meigs, Montgomery C., Parameters


This article is adapted from remarks made by General Montgomery C. Meigs as the 2000 Kermit Roosevelt Lecturer in the United Kingdom. The Kermit Roosevelt lecture series was established by Congress in 1945 to foster a better understanding and closer relationship between the US and British military forces. -- Editor

In the sense of the old Chinese proverb, we find ourselves in "interesting times" indeed--interesting because we are experiencing a shift in the nature of the art of operations. As we adapt our understanding of the art of operations, we are also challenged to hold onto the relevant aspects of classic theory of operational art.

The realities of the information age are changing the operational environment in fundamental ways. The fungibility of information brought about by broad bandwidth communications, the exponential improvement of sensors, and the rapidly increasing precision of guidance systems demand new rules for how we soldiers must do our business, that is, for our art of operations. The availability to our adversaries of these off-the-shelf technologies, the vulnerability of internetted command and control to exploitation, and the restrictions upon our action imposed by laws and policies intended to ensure access for all complicate our challenge.

This paradigm shift goes beyond simply the new possibilities of information technology. New strategic realities have developed. If recent history is any prologue, we will see more incremental commitment of forces, always in joint formations, and usually in combined or multinational ones. We probably will find ourselves having to wrest the initiative away from an opponent who fights on his own turf and who has us outnumbered, at least initially. Yet we will have a requirement to apply overwhelming force against the enemy's operational center of gravity in order to win quickly at least cost. We will be operating on a very complex battlefield that combines the challenges of difficult and unfamiliar terrain, terrorists and paramilitaries, and refugees and unfriendly civilian organizations (some possibly having links to internationally networked, organized crime). The new information environment makes carrying operations to successful conclusions even more difficult. The increasing complexity of the art of operat ions will place even greater stress on the abilities of the commander.

The art of operations concerns the conduct of campaigns, the actions of corps to combined joint task forces. Campaigns involve the employment of military forces and capabilities in a series of orchestrated, timely movements linking tactical means to the achievement of strategic ends. The art of operations involves execution, coordination, and the collective effort of organizations.

Operational art draws from the mind and personality of the commander, how he sees the battle and makes his decisions. It requires the commander to visualize end-states in an almost intuitive way, to define the causal means to effect them, and to decide on actions to accomplish those ends. Success requires of the commander that he anticipate and recognize opportunity and that he have the instinct and intellect to assess the risks of doing so and the competence to minimize those risks. It requires a knowledge of human nature and a sense for where to place oneself on the battlefield. Operational art entails a feel for the troops, a human touch, a psychological connection between leader and led.

No one can be sure where the information age will take us, but we need not go there blindly. Insights gleaned through the study of military history and literature can help us to understand the problems we will face and how we can shape the process of change. With that in mind, let's examine two questions:

* What is immutable in operational art and must be preserved?

* What must we do to open the way for a new paradigm for the art of operations?

What we preserve will affect how we change and whether we do so successfully. …

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