Academic journal article Military Review

Operational Art's Origins

Academic journal article Military Review

Operational Art's Origins

Article excerpt

This article examines operational art's evolution in response to strategies' shifting content, operations' changing nature and military structures' evolving character. The author contends "the appearance of major new elements within the international order and the constant intrusion of new technology into military conflict" also contributed to operational art's protracted development since the 1920s. The 1998 US Army Field anual 100-5, Operations, marks a return to operational art, ensuring the Army focuses its efforts at the operational level of war. Because this concept is such an important one, the Army must continue relating tactical means to ever-changing strategic ends, thereby providing a framework for large operations if they should arise.

OVER THE LAST DECADE, and especially since coalition victory in the Gulf War, the term "operational art" has achieved buzzword status within the Army and joint communities. However, despite growing acceptance, a good deal of confusion surrounds the meaning and significance of operational art. For some, it is merely tactical arrows drawn larger. For others, it is a cumbersome transplant from foreign military usage. For still others, it remains a key to recent and future victories, but one whose origins are murky and whise nature and content are difficult to define.

This article will attempt to increase the comfort level of those confronting operational atr for the first time, or those still harboring doubts about its meaning and significance for future war. The discussion focuses on concept, with an emphasis on doctorial evolution as the product of interaction over time among combat experience, theory, technology, and circumstance.

The term operational art long antedates US Army usage. Six decades before operational art gained currency in the West, it wasn used by the Soviets. Arguably, a rough equivalent had also appeared among the Germans, who before World War I coined something they called operativ. However, neither term immediately entered the US military vernacular for two possible reasons: Before World War II and the Cold War, there was no persistent requirement in peacetime to prepare for the conduct of extended military operations on a vast scale; and during a less complex era it was possible-even comfortable-to remain firmly wedded to a 19th-century inheritance which taught that military art consisted of strategy and tactics.

For the Soviet military culture of the 1920s and 1930s, this was not the case. Fresh from the seemingly contradictory experiences of World War I (1914 to 1918) and the Russian Civil War (1918 to 1920), Soviet army theorists and practitioners sought systematic explanations for the complexities underlying victory and defeat in modern war. Armed with an ideology that emphasized theory and scientific method in military affairs, they brought new perspective to the study of military history and refreshing rigor to views on the nature of possible future war, including the conduct of operations.1 By the late 1920s, they had emerged with an altered view of the constituent components of military art, and it is to this period-a golden age of military thought-that we owe the origins of our basic understanding of operational art. To understand why the Soviets developed this concept when they did, the reader must understand their perspectives and preoccupations.

Military Art's Changing Nature

A chief problem bedeviling all military theorists of the period was the changing nature of modern operations. Historically, the term "operation" had been in use at least since the end of the 17th century to describe what European armies did in the field. Initially, during the age of pre-industrial warfare, generals and kings raised professional armies to fight limited wars for the dynastic state's limited objectives. Within limited war's framework, the conduct of operations formed an integral part of strategy, and strategy was simply conceived as "the tactics of theater-level operations. …

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