2013/03/25

Shaping Operations

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There is at times the impression that I'm anti-American. As mentioned before, this is rather because I rarely spend my time lauding anyone or anything but have a sizeable interest in addressing shortcomings. The German armed services and the civilians who back them get their share of critique here as well. The American military is simply huge and hyper-active, thus offers a lot of points of attack and it's within the anglophone sphere, which the blog happens to be as well (for reasons of personal training in English and of size of the potential audience).


Today I want to highlight a contribution to military theory which is in my opinion vastly underrated - and it's NIH (not invented here). It's from the U.S. as far as I know.

I'm thinking of "shaping operations" (quel surprise! - after the blog post title ;) ).

A shaping operation is "an operation at any echelon that creates and preserves conditions for the success of the decisive operation." (The definition is also in FM 3-0, 2001, chapter 4-86)

This includes anything from logistical preparations or reconnaissance to deception and is really rather unspecific.

Illustration to make text more
easy on the eyes; from U.S.Army FM 3-0
The great utility in this is that there's a general term for all the activities which shall provide an unfair advantage in your favour prior to the decision in battle (amongst others). We have seen very much emphasis on battle itself in military history, military theory including field manuals, political discussions and such. The problem is that great performance and heroism in battle is often times simply useless. Very often the battle has won even before it began; someone has done something really right or really wrong in such a case.

I cannot really withhold some critique about U.S. doctrine and "shaping operations", though: Doctrine does have a tendency to inflate the use of a useful term instead of giving it more accuracy and a sharper silhouette over time. The end-result is that "shaping operations" is an unspectacular and widely ignored term of little value to many of its readers because while summing up a most useful field of activities, it doesn't particularly emphasize their importance or redirect much attention to them.

Moreover, U.S. Army doctrine makes the (in my opinion) huge mistake of pretending that the decision shall be sought in battle and only made more promising by shaping operations. An example:
Contingency operations in the 1990s normally followed a sequence of alert, deployment, extended build-up, and shaping operations followed by a period of decisive operations to terminate the conflict.
(FM 3-0, "Operations", dated 2001, chapter 3-4)


My minority opinion on this is that the decision shall be sought in shaping operations themselves instead of in the main effort. Your shaping operations effort was at least a partial failure if the decision only happens in battle, not prior to it. So-called decisive operations should merely confirm the decision, rarely create it by themselves.
 

S O

P.S.: I suppose this nails down a bit better what I already meant to say in 2010.
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