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The Journal of Military Operations

The Journal of Military Operations  

A new peer-review “journalzine” from the IJ  Group, which publishes Infinity Journal.  The difference between the two is that Infinity focuses on strategy while the former, as the masthead implies, is dedicated to military operations as well as tactics. If you do not know what the difference between strategy and tactics are….well….reading these should help. The Editor is Dr. Jim Storr, a.k.a  Colonel Storr, author of the well regarded The Human Face of War.  Registration is free.

The maiden issue of JoMO has articles from two friends of ZP, Deputy Editor Wilf Owen and Adam Elkus.

Ironically, Wilf is  arguing against the existence of an operational level of war or the utility of separating operational art from sound understanding of tactics and strategy and criticizes Soviet strategist A.A. Svechin:

“The Operational Level of War Does Not Exist”

….Thus the definitions of strategy and tactics were and are simple, coherent and highly workable. While armies conducted ‘operations’, such activity did not impinge on the delineation of strategy and tactics. Conducting operations did not an operational level of war make!

The operational level of war is strongly associated with Soviet military thought. A.A. Svechin is often seen as the originator of the idea, when he discussed ‘Operational Art’ (operativnoe iskustvo) as conceptual connection between tactics and strategy.[iii] He defined an operation as ‘the effort of troops directed towards the achievement of a certain intermediate goal in a certain theatre of military operations without interruptions.’[iv] In the very next sentence he went on to explain that operations were designed to destroy or encircle a portion of the enemy forces to force a withdrawal of other forces, to capture or hold a ‘certain line or geographical area.’ Destroying a portion of the enemy’s armies is what battles traditionally sought to do. Svechin’s description equates strongly with battle and thus tactics, at least in terms of the outcome described.

Much Soviet and Russian writing (and Western analysis of it) on the Operational Level of War is, once subject to rigour, paper-thin and mostly a sophistry that arbitrarily creates a false and unneeded link between strategy and tactics. The extremely high losses suffered by Soviet Forces in WW2 are not symptomatic of anything other than bad tactics poorly executed. If the acme of operational art is encirclement operations, then at what level of command does this operational level of war take place? A platoon can encircle an enemy section, just as much as an army group can encircle an enemy army.

Svechin’s fundamental intellectual problem was not that he did not understand strategy or tactics, but how to function as a strategist in a society where politics as normally understood no longer existed and adherence to yesterday’s policy could be regarded as today’s evidence of treason. Indeed, this is what ultimately resulted in Svechin’s demise during the Great Terror despite his best effort to the contrary. Whatever the other merits of defining an “operational level of war” or “operational art” Sevechin was looking for an ideological safe harbor, a purely “technical” realm where military officers could do the campaign planning war required without the act of planning or doing strategy itself being ideologically suspect in Stalin’s eyes.  In 1937, this was a hopeless task, but Svechin’s legacy carved out a degree of professional autonomy for Red Army general staff officers in milder times that was unthinkable under Stalin’s rule.

Adam Elkus explains “D&D”:

“The Continuing Relevance of Military Denial and Deception”

….From the end of the Cold War onwards, Western militaries have rightly assumed that military competitors would attempt to disguise their power and deceive to draw attention away from their real capabilities and intentions. Moreover, the West’s enemies also are frequently authoritarian states for whom cheating and deception is basic political behavior. The attractiveness of deception operations and capabilities to opponents ranging from Mao’s China to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq provides empirical support for this prejudice.

But democracies are also capable of information manipulation and deception. The United States was able to exercise remarkable control over information in the 1991 Gulf War, not only shaping the media coverage’s tenor, but also protecting secrets. It is true that America cannot do so today in regards to its remotely piloted vehicle (‘drone’) program and its cyber operations in Iran. But while this demonstrates the difficulty of conducting D&D in democracies, it is not proof that D&D is impossible.

Now that the West has become fiscally weaker and weary of war, denial and deception will be crucial to engaging and destroying both conventional and irregular forces. Currently, the United States is employing special operations forces, paramilitary intelligence capabilities, and regular air and sea military platforms to acquire and target al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Information denial is key to this campaign, lest press leaks alert al-Qaeda to ongoing operations. The US reliance on human intelligence also presents opportunities for adversary deception operations, like the Jordanian double agent who executed a hit against an American spy base in Khost in 2009.

Future conventional campaigns are likely to also hinge on the employment of denial and deception. Information denial has always been a hallmark of successful Western operations, but deception has been neglected due to the brute fact of Western qualitative and material superiority. If one marches with big battalions and has better troops, platforms, and weapons, why do any extra effort to engage in deception? At times, such as during Operation Moshtarak in Afghanistan and Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza, operational objectives have been served by telegraphing the attack in advance in order to allow civilians to leave the target zone and intimidate the enemy.

I think Adam is on the right track here with his analysis. In an age of austerity, as the advanced states field shrinking, increasingly expensive, militaries, this will force a return to the employment of force-multiplying stratagems that are supplementary to and supportive of the employment of military force and coercion.

Scarcity is the mother of strategic invention.

3 Responses to “The Journal of Military Operations”

  1. joey Says:

    hmmmm,  I would think that at the least the US Military already marches with an army of friendly bloggers and news gathering organizations,  and running on past experience most of those engage in self censorship and deception when it comes to military activities.  This confers a huge advantage when pitted against authoritarian governments.
    Syria is a perfect example,  American, Saudi, and Turkish aid and support for increasingly dubious groups fighting the good fight in Syria, is skirted around,  but every unsubstantiated rumor and report put out by the Syrian opposition gets air time.  
    In this brave new world however the information op’s you run against your own people are far more important than what you inflict on the enemy, at least when the enemy lacks your mad skillz at media manipulation. 

  2. zen Says:

    Hi joey,
    The news gathering orgs, not sure I would say “friendly” so much as “agenda driven” and when the agenda of the newscorp coincides with the US military’s you can get very friendly coverage. When it does not (ex. “The Runaway General” ) you won’t. The military tries very hard to shape their coverage, sometimes not seeing the forest for the trees.
    Agree on the advantage over authoritarian governments and I think we should stay clear of intervening in Syria 

  3. joey Says:

    Hi Zen,

    China and Russia are clearly opposed to a Libya mark 2,  and direct intervention by the Nato powers would be incredibly risky, and risk the drawing in of the Iranians before the sanctions against Iran have fully had there chance to weaken the Iranian state.  

    There are occasional critical articles published, but in general the Military are treated with reverence by the press, who have no wish to anger the most respected institution in america today.  This is a great advantage that shouldn’t be under estimated.  It allows the American government unprecedented power to shape the news narrative,  they dont even have to do it themselves, they just inject the talking points into the media at key points, and the story takes on a life of its own.   This is invaluable when you need to prepare the ground (escalating/deescalating) or when you need frame the debate within a narrow field of options.

    But what I think the author is talking about is PR for the most part,  and that is incredibly important when you need to keep allies on board and your own citizens happy.  I’m sure the US Military has plenty of media relations companies watching its back.


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