Center of Gravity

By Vego, Milan | Military Review, March/April 2000 | Go to article overview

Center of Gravity


Vego, Milan, Military Review


THE CONCEPT OF center of gravity (COG) is perhaps the most critical element of operational and strategic warfare. No plan for a campaign or major operation can be executed quickly and decisively without identifying enemy and friendly COGs and properly applying combat power to degrade, destroy, neutralize or protect them. However, despite the significance of this concept, misunderstanding and confusion surround what really constitutes a proper COG. Many theoreticians and practitioners also doubt the concept's practical usefulness for commanders and staffs planning and executing campaigns or major operations. Identifying a COG provides a locus toward which to duet all sources of power-combat forces and noncombat elements.g

Discerning the COG should optimally start with identifying and analyzing critical factors, both individually and collectively. Center of gravity is of ten confused with objectives or decisive points or critical vulnerabilities. However, these concepts differ greatly. Operational commanders and their staffs should fully know and understand the concept of critical factors and the analytical process used to identify the proper COG for both the enemy and friendly forces.

The term ``critical factors" refers to both "critical strengths" and "critical weaknesses" of a military force or nonmilitary source of power. They exist at each level of war and can be concrete or abstract.'At the strategic and operational levels of war, tangible critical factors range from those purely geographic (geostrategic positions, bases of operations, lines of operations, lines of communication) to those purely military (armed forces, individual services or major forces). Abstract factors might involve the will to fight, coalition unity, public support or morale and discipline. Critical factors are relative and subject to change over time; there fore, commanders and staffs must constantly watch for effects on their plans and operations. In generic terms, critical strengths are capabilities

vital for accomplishing a given or assumed military objective. Critical weaknesses are those sources of power-combat or noncombat-whose deficiencies adversely affect the accomplishment of a given or assumed militiary objective. Some critical weaknesses can be exploited and become critical vulnerabilities-those critical weaknesses or their elements that are inadequate or highly susceptible to enemy actions (military, diplomatic, psychological). To complicate the matter, a critical strength might become a critical vulnerability if it lacks adequate protection or support and thereby becomes open to the enemy attack (command and control, communications and computers or logistics).

What is a COG?3

Any sound plan for employing combat forces essentially hinges on properly determining a COG. Often the COG is understood as being one of the enemy's vulnerabilities. However, a COG is found among critical strengths-never critical weaknesses or critical vulnerabilities. Still, US forces, with the exception of the Army, erroneously believe that COGs are identical to critical vulnerabilities or even synonymous with the targets to be attacked and destroyed. Unlike an objective, decisive point, critical weakness or vulnerability, an enemy COG, particularly at the operational and tactical levels, can physically endanger one's own COG. A COG is also often confused with the military objective to be accomplished. Experience clearly shows that focusing on the objective without identifying and attacking the enemy's COG will invariably result in unnecessary losses of personnel, materiel and time-even despite overwhelming combat power. Another error is to confuse a decisive point with the COG. Although closely related, decisive points do not relate to sources of strength but usually to critical weaknesses, which are relevant if they are open to attack and will facilitate an attack on the enemy COG. Once the COG is determined, decisive points are identified and targeted. …

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