Talk:Operational level of war

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Rename from "Operational mobility" to "Operational level of war"[edit]

What would people think of a name change to 'operational level of war' which I believe would capture the concept better? Thoughts invited. Buckshot06(prof) 13:03, 23 August 2008 (UTC)

I'd agree with that, the current title is highly misleading, the problem is that there isn't (in English) a single work like strategy or tactics that can be used. I'd also suggest that the assertion that the operational level of war originated in Germany is a tad contentious. IIRC Simkin pointed out that the main reason for Germany's defeat by the USSR was because the German general staff didn't understand operational art, the Soviet STAVKA and generals did, ie the Germans were out-generalled, I realise this isn't a popular view in some circles that worship at a particular shrine.Nfe (talk) 02:09, 29 January 2011 (UTC)

The idea that the Germans were out-generalled doesn't bother me. Nor does it bother me that it was their lack of understanding of the operational level that caused this. However, one would have to worship at a somewhat different shrine to consider this the _main_ reason for Germany's defeat. The sheer size of the U.S.S.R. had a lot to do with it. If they had no more depth to retreat into than France they would have fallen faster. The size of the Soviet population and the amount of aid they received from their allies and the fact that the Germans eventually had to fight a multi-front war all seem more important than the Germans' inability to understand operational warfare. (talk) 14:41, 20 September 2013 (UTC)Will in New Haven65.79.173.135 (talk) 14:41, 20 September 2013 (UTC)

 Done Done. I've found no reliable sources to back up "opertional mobility" as a better established concept, or a more common term, than "operational level of war". I've further checked that the latter yields a lot more Google Books hits, as of now, than "operational art" and "operational warfare", two more candidate names backed by sources. --Kubanczyk (talk) 13:12, 6 November 2012 (UTC)

Operational level of war vs operational mobility[edit]

This article seems to conflate operational level of war (art) vs operational mobility. I plan to rework using Robinson with a focus on operational art. Please let me know of any concerns. K.e.coffman (talk) 18:39, 3 May 2016 (UTC)

Parking uncited / off-topic material here in case anyone wants to use it. K.e.coffman (talk) 18:21, 5 May 2016 (UTC)
@K.e.coffman: My concern is that the "off-topic" material you parked here is much, much closer to what the other articles linking to this one expect the primary topic to be: an explanation of what operational warfare is, how it has developed over the last century, and what it looks like when put into practice. (It is uncited though.) Now we have a shiny new article about the cognitive approaches required to conduct operational warfare, but is that what we need? - (talk) 20:37, 8 December 2016 (UTC)

Role in battle[edit]

At first, the operational level of war was conceived by military theorists, to describe the movement and logistics necessary for the coordinated concentration of many units for an offensive. Operational warfare is considered on a large enough scale that the tactical factors, such as line-of-sight and the time of day, are not recognizable but smaller than the strategic scale, where production, politics and diplomacy come into play.

What constitutes the operational level has changed with the size and function of armies. During the Second World War, an operational-level formation was typically a corps or army. With the increase in combat power of individual units during the Cold War era, an operational-level formation became a mechanised division, and in the post-Cold War, the combat power of relatively small formations is today as great as that wielded by larger formations in the past. A brigade of some 6,000 personnel has emerged among many armed forces (notably the United States Army) as an operational-level formation, replacing the division.[citation needed]

Operational mobility began as a concept during the period of the mechanisation of armed forces and became a method of managing the movement of forces by strategists, from the staging area to their Tactical Area of Responsibility.[1] Operational mobility functions to implement the strategy of an armed force, by giving direction to tactical forces and providing them with support to reach their tactical objectives. Operational formations contain sufficient force to perform most or all military roles and the Operational Manoeuvre Group of the Soviet Army besides elements of the combat arms included logistic, medical and often supporting aircraft such as armed helicopters from the military force and are capable of independent operation.

The tactical forces of the lowest level of operational units perform actual engagement of the enemy and the commanders of these units are responsible for determining how best to perform this combat task. Tactical decisions such as where to entrench and the formations that attacking units will move in are determined at this level.

The lowest operational units define the immediate objectives of these tactical units within their zones of command coordinating the offensive and defensive actions of the units as well as planning and applying supporting artillery fire as needed to accomplish those actions. Higher level operational units such as divisions and corps support the lower level operational units with logistics and medical supplies, and have more extensive artillery and air support assets at their disposal.

These supporting fires are concentrated at the higher level in order that their striking power can be used where it is needed most. These forces may order lower level fire support to be applied at particularly important targets, through the technique known as Time on Target.

Toward the end of the Cold War, the United States Army developed the doctrine known as AirLand Battle which formalized U.S. operational doctrine around the concept of mobile warfare. This doctrine sought to create a coherent and integrated practice of all aspects of operational warfare from logistics to maneuver and the use of artillery and air support.


  1. ^ p.64, National Research Council Staff

Rename 'operational level of war' to Operational Reach[edit]

Although the vast majority of English language militaries call it 'operational level', there is no ‘operational level’ of warfare despite English language militaries repeatedly stating so.

A ‘level’ uniquely describes an altitude.

Even where 'opearational' is used to refer to the military planning proces, it is in no way a 'level', being conducted at a given command echelon to achieve perception of the threat and ways/means of dealing with it. 'Echelon form 1796, echellon, "step-like arrangement of troops," from French échelon "level, echelon," literally "rung of a ladder," from Old French eschelon, from eschiele "ladder," from Late Latin scala "stair, slope," from Latin scalae (plural) "ladder, steps," Sense of "level, subdivision" is from World War I. But of course ladders that pertain to levels are not relevant in references to location of military decision makers, with military planning often undertaken physically below ground level :-)!

The etymology of ‘operational’ is from Latin operationem (nominative operatio) "a working, operation," from past participle stem of operari "to work, labor" (in Late Latin "to have effect, be active, cause"), from opera "work, effort," related to opus (genitive operis) "a work". The surgical sense is first attested 1590s. Military sense of "series of movements and acts" is from 1749. The principal sense of the ‘operational’ (adj.) is from 1922, "pertaining to operation," from operation + -al. Meaning "in a state of functionality" is from 1944.

Based on th eabove, the unique military sense meaning that ‘operational’ ought to be given is in association with the verb reach, ‘stretch out an arm in a specified direction in order to touch or grasp something’, that something being the enemy. Operational Reach (OR) is - that work, performed to actively cause a functional (the quality of being suited to serve a purpose well) effect. For the most part what operational planning has involved since the Napoleonic Wars is the transitioning of forces from strategic depth (usually bases) to the tactical area of combat (AO). In this OR replaced the 19th century 'grand-tactical movement', i.e. that movement ocurring outside the immediate battlefield and reach of enemy artillery or cavalry.Crock81 (talk) 00:11, 7 August 2016 (UTC)

All this reasoning has very little to do with how we name articles in WP; that's covered in WP:COMMONNAME. If we find a good number of WP:RS that use "Operational Reach", and few that use "Operational level", then we rename it. Otherwise, we cannot. --A D Monroe III (talk) 21:29, 8 August 2016 (UTC)

This whole article is extremely abstract, vague, uninformative, and contradictory: IT NEEDS TO BE MORE SPECIFIC AND TO GIVE CONCRETE EXAMPLES.[edit]

I've read this whole article and I'm still completely in the dark as to what the "operational level of warfare" actually is. It's like I'm reading about a certain type of spider, and 95% of the article consists of statements like "this species is an arachnid, has eight hairy legs, eight eyes, spins a web to catch prey, lays eggs", i.e. things that are perfectly true but give no insight whatsoever as to what makes this particular species special.

The lede starts out promising:

>>the level of command that connects the details of tactics with the goals of strategy.[1]

Okay, so I'm guessing it's some kind of intermediate phase between small-scale tactics and large-scale movements of forces. But this clarity quickly goes away:

>>In Joint U.S. military doctrine, operational art is "the cognitive approach by commanders and staffs—supported by their skill, knowledge, experience, creativity, and judgment—to develop strategies, campaigns, and operations to organize and employ military forces by integrating ends, ways, and means."[2]

Aside from being so obvious as to border on the tautological, how is this specific to the "operational" level? Do small-unit tacticians not do this? Do the strategic bigwigs not do this? It could be applied to any scale of warfare, surely!

>>It correlates political needs and military power.

Isn't this, per Clauswitz, just what war in general is?

>>Operational art is defined by its military-political scope, not by force size, scale of operations or degree of effort.

This seems to be a direct contradiction of the previous (much clearer) Russian definition.

Now into the rest of the article:

>>Operational art comprises four essential elements: time, space, means and purpose. Each element is found in greater complexity at the operational level than at the tactical or strategic level. This is true, in part, because operational art must consider and incorporate more of the strategic and tactical levels than those levels must absorb from the operational level. Although much can be gained by examining the four elements independently, it is only when they are viewed together that operational art reveals its intricate fabric.[3]

This is a lot of words, and the point isn't especially clear.

>>The challenge of operational art is to establish a four-element equilibrium that permits the optimal generation and application of military power in achieving the political goal. Viewing time, space, means and purpose as a whole requires great skill in organizing, weighing and envisioning masses of complex, often contradictory factors. These factors often exist for extended periods, over great distances and with shifting mixes of players, systems and beliefs, pursuing political goals which may or may not be clear, cogent or settled.

Again this doesn't seem to be saying very much. It reads like it was lifted from some military manual whose author was rather full of himself.

>>Compounding factors, such as the opponent's actions, create further ambiguity.

You don't say.

>>The operational-level strategist possesses numerous tools to frame and guide their thinking, but chief among these are mission analysis and end state. Mission analysis answers the question "What is to be accomplished?" Through mission analysis, the operational-level planner fuses political aims and military objectives. In so doing, the planner determines what application of military force will create military power to achieve the political purpose. Subordinate processes here include defining objectives and centers of gravity, but excessive dependence on analytical mechanisms can create false security. The final test rewards success, not the quality of the argument. Conversely, the planner cannot hope to "feel" a way to victory—complexity demands an integration of thought and structure.[3]

Again, how is this distinct from either the tactical or strategic levels? The tactician and strategist both must surely first ask themselves "What is to be accomplished?" and "determine what application of military force will create the military power to achieve the political purpose." Of course, political considerations might not be high on the tactician's list of priorities (though it is not absent), but surely politics must be even more salient for the strategist. What exactly is specific to the "operationalist", here?

>>End state answers the question "What will constitute success?" The campaign end state is not merely a visualization of the military goal. It also establishes a touchstone for the tactical, operational and strategic levels.

"Establishes a touchstone" -- what does this mean?

>>The end state crystallizes the intended results of military power and exposes any limitations. Indeed, an achievable end state may require employment of nonmilitary elements of national power. As such, it recognizes that military power alone may not be capable of attaining political success.[3]

If I'm reading it correctly, this seems like a critical piece of information that should go in the lede: operational level of warfare may integrate non-military assets to secure victory.

>>Operational-level strategy must continually inventory and weigh time, space, means and purpose, extrapolating from them outcomes and probabilities. To accomplish this, practitioners need both skill and theory, experience and knowledge. At the operational level, skills and experience must usually be developed indirectly, through formal training, military history and wargaming.[3]

These seem like valuable skills for any commander at any level in any military hierarchy. You might as well add "the operational commander needs to know how to read and write" for all the insight it gives. How is this specific to the operational level?

How this article can be improved: GIVE SPECIFIC EXAMPLES. Throughout this article there is not a SINGLE REFERENCE to a specific battle or war. It is 100% based on theory, using specialist jargon, with no grounding in example. What was the operational strategy in the Vietnam War, or the Falklands War, or the Gulf War, or the Syrian Civil War? What specific things were done, what mistakes were made, how were they learned from? Which armies lost because of their bad operational skills? Which armies won because of their good operational skills? What specifically made them win and lose? From reading this article, I don't know.

Actually I tell a lie, there is one example cited, but it doesn't go into any level of detail:

In the case of World War II analysis, the Wehrmacht did not use the operational level as a formal doctrinal concept during the campaigns of 1939–1945. While personnel within the German forces knew of operational art, awareness and practice was limited principally to general-staff trained officers. Nevertheless, the existential nature of operational art means that examining a campaign or an operation against political aims is valid irrespective of the doctrine or structures of the period. Thus the elements of operational art—time, space, means and purpose—can illuminate thoughts and actions of any era, regardless of the prevailing contemporary doctrine or structure.[3]

It's just a bald assertion that the Germans weren't as good at operations as the Soviets (and the final sentence is devoid of meaning). What specifically did they do wrong, and what specifically did the Soviets do right? In particular I'm finding it difficult to see how the Germans weren't thinking of political considerations when they were doing their military planning ... (talk) 15:25, 5 September 2017 (UTC)

These are valid issues, but the solution doesn't automatically follow. The definition of "operational level" is inherently weak; the common understanding is just anything above tactical and below strategic, neither of which have an universal precise definition themselves. It's like saying "a mid-size house"; there's only relative meaning, not a stand-alone one.
To avoid this, we need authoritative reliable sources that agree on a comprehensive clear definition. But I don't know that any such exists. (Suggestions for any such possible sources are welcome.)
The article should certainly be improved to be less confusing, or at least be better at stating the inconsistent use at different times and places rather than leaving this to the readers to figure out on their own. But we can't manufacture clarity in WP if it doesn't exist in the real world. --A D Monroe III (talk) 23:32, 5 September 2017 (UTC)