Operational art is an art of war whereby the commander at the operation level utilizes creative processes, designed at the strategic level for him and his staff in which they have to follow in order to carry out a military campaign to some military objectives. The commander must be capable of to use the processes to assess crucial factors in order to reach important decisions that will influence the whole campaign all together. He must therefore be wise, experienced and intellectual.
Operational art is an art that has been evolving over the previous centuries with each power giving contributions to its development. Failure of the powers led to them re-examining their tactics and strategies forcing them to reconsider the way they make war. The art develops increasingly with each successor using elements from previous contributors and enhancing their own. It has over time developed since the 19th century with Prussia being the first to use it after being defeated by the French and led to its development, then the soviets which is followed by its use by the United States in the 20th century. Use of operational art helped nations in battles in which they are out-numbered by use of maneuvers for example the Prussian army defeating the French and Austrian armies even when they were disadvantaged with being out-numbered and having bad topography. They used surprise, deception and the concept of attacking the centre of gravity of their opponents where it would be most effective.
In the early 20th century saw the soviet redefining their art of war as a result of major defeats by the Japanese and polish army in the miracle of Warsaw forcing them to redevelop their operational art and war apparatus and this was through reflections of the previous defeats. Unfortunately the soviet was attacked by the Germans who persecuted the high ranked official that had been teaching the juniors of operational art and was not until the juniors rose to those ranks that they could apply those theories. This led to mastering the capabilities from which they attacked the Germans by the red army in 1944 destroying twenty eight German divisions.
In the late 20th century saw the art being highly adopted by the United States military and this spread to other western militaries. Just as the same scenarios of previous nations succumbing to some form of defeat or rather backfire of initial attacks, the United States after the Vietnam War had to re-define their strategies because most of the battles were won but they lost the war and was as a result of lack coherence between operational level and the strategic level. At the time the us army considered winning of battles meant winning the war but they had no clear political objectives in the war and after they lost the war, they realized that soldiers’ tactics does not matter if the strategies and campaign plans were wrong or faulty. This forced them to adopt operational art used in previous wars for example as used by the soviets to overcome superiority in numbers.
After much re-definition, learning and development the operation was validated during the desert storm whereby a very well-led, small and mobile army conquered massive, poorly led mobile armies. With the help of theories developed from the Prussian era by the help of theorists; Clausewitz that have seen been adopted by successive nations in their need to re-define their operational art. Theories like for one to start war they must have clear definitions of objectives and devise clear strategies which are formal and are passed to the commander at the operational level for which the commander must use together with his wisdom and intellect but also should have clear limitations on his freedom through restraints. Such restraints such as use of nuclear power to seize victory. All in all the end strategy should be achievable, appropriate and accepted
The operational art as important as has been witnessed throughout history has principles crucial for victory during wars which must be clearly co-ordinated for a success. Before everything else is the need to establish a good communication and understanding between the operational level and the strategic level. First of all is to identify the enemy’s centre of gravity and objectives of the campaign identified since the centre of gravity is very crucial and its defeat is mandatory for victory. After this is done is use of deception to have uncertainty for the enemy. The next step is moving in an unidentified axis and not approaching the enemy head which in history has proved futile; this may be followed by stationing allied forces strategically. The next move is the use of maneuver and all this is done through clear calculations of time and space. These steps if followed carefully might bring victory even when disadvantaged by being less in number.
History has seen operational art evolving throughout time and has greatly achieved victory through reflecting previous mistakes and failures and building upon them. It is fact by saying all the case studies above have had failures before redefinition which brought about success and goals and objectives are necessary in a war otherwise tactics without strategy have led to no success.
Davidson, Phillip B.. Secrets of the Vietnam War. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1990.
Harrison, Richard W.. The Russian way of war: operational art, 1904-1940. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, 2001.
Krause, Michael D., and R. Cody Phillips. Historical perspectives of the operational art. Washington, D. C.: Center of Military History, United States Army :, 2005.