Historical Perspectives on Operational Environment Research and Objective Determination in Air Campaign Planning

Article excerpt

Editorial Abstract: The process of planning any air campaign includes five steps: operational environment research, objective determination, identification of centers of gravity, identification of strategy, and development of the joint air and space operations plan. Lieutenant Colonel Wolusky focuses on the first two planning steps, using historical examples to illustrate important concepts for today's air campaign planners. Although airpower is a relatively recent phenomenon, we can learn valuable lessons from past military campaigns, both ancient and modern.

The art of war is simple enaough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving.

-Ulysses S. Grant

ALTHOUGH AIRPOWER IS a phenomenon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, examples from past military campaigns show us the timeless quality of managing warfare. Xerxes, Alexander, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, Mao, and Patton imposed their will on their enemies by brilliant planning before they used military force. We can apply the lessons learned from military giants of the past to modern air campaign planning.

When our leaders need airpower to support American strategic objectives, the theater combatant commander tasks the joint force commander (JFC) and the subordinate joint force air component commander (JFACC) to create an air campaign plan that embodies the "combatant commander's strategic vision" and consists of "a series of related joint military operations that arrange tactical, operational, and strategic action to accomplish strategic and operational objectives within a given time and space."1 The joint air and space operations plan details how joint air and space forces will integrate to support the JFC's campaign plan. The JFACC's staff prepares the air campaign plan in five steps: operational environment research (OER), objective determination, identification of centers of gravity, identification of strategy, and development of the joint air and space operations plan.2 This article examines the first two steps from a historical perspective.

Operational Environment


No matter how enmeshed a commander becomes in the elaboration of his own thoughts, it is sometimes necessary to take the enemy into account.

-Winston Churchill

During OER, which gives the air campaign plan its context, planners gather information about our allies' and enemies' capabilities and intentions, doctrine, and the environment facing the joint or combined force-a process also known as intelligence preparation of the battle space. The JFACC staff tries to understand the enemy and his motivations; it also examines the perspectives of the United States, as well as those of allied and neutral countries, in relation to the enemy.

OER planners study the major players' history, culture, military capabilities, leadership, geography, and weather. Of these factors, weather analysis is as important as it is unpredictable. The forces of nature have always haunted war planners. Gen Douglas MacArthur had to master the tides at Inchon, South Korea; Gen Dwight Eisenhower had to hit the beaches in Normandy, France, when the clouds parted; and the Russian winter ravaged Napoleon's retreating forces (400,000 men set out, but only 10,000 returned). Today, the vagaries of cloud cover and dust storms affect our precision-guided weapons and modern fighter aircraft.

Planners must also analyze all parties' command relationships, available forces, rules of engagement (ROE), applicable treaties and agreements, base-use rights, overflight rights, and logistics capabilities. For example, on 14 April 1986, in response to a terrorist attack on US servicemen in Berlin, the United States launched Operation El Dorado Canyon against targets in Libya. The strike package consisted of 24 F-111 fighters and five EF-111 jamming-- support aircraft, flying out of bases in England. …