Definition of 'shock'

Would the real definition of "shock" in a military (not medical-military) context please stand up?


[shok]   noun
1. a sudden and violent blow or impact; collision.
2. a sudden or violent disturbance or commotion: the shock of battle.
3. a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities: The burglary was a shock to her sense of security. The book provided a shock, nothing more.
4. the cause of such a disturbance: The rebuke came as a shock.
5. Pathology . a collapse of circulatory function, caused by severe injury, blood loss, or disease, and characterized by pallor, sweating, weak pulse, and very low blood pressure. Compare anaphylactic shock, cardiogenic shock, hypovolemic shock.
6. the physiological effect produced by the passage of an electric current through the body.
7. shocks, Informal. shock absorbers, especially in the suspension of an automobile.

So far I have found three interpretations of (and uses for) the word "shock" in a military context:

(1) An attack with the potential to dislodge defenders or to break a defending formation. Example melee attack in close order (musketeers with bayonets, typical late Republican Roman legionary, tanks, armoured horsemen with lances, Stoßtruppen)

(2) An attack / action which overwhelms the defending system's or troops' ability to cope with the stress (does not need to include the loss of ground). This is often associated with the words 'surprise' or 'saturation'.

(3) A dangerous attack which shatters the hostile leaders' perception of the situation (such as by sinking a capital ship or two).

I suppose (2) is the most interesting version for a theorist. (1) appears to be the most widespread use. (3) - only saw this used once, but it's not uninteresting.

The problem is of course that these are three distinct meanings, and calling them all the same is no good idea. I suppose I'm not alone in wasting hours trying to find some authoritative definition of "shock" in military-related literature.

(2) would probably be better described as "saturation", if this hadn't such a bias for quantity. Maybe "threshold attack"?



  1. I think your second definition is a method to achieve the first. For an individual focus point of course you have the Leader bring his people through a narrow combat sector and he has the Anschluss because everyone aligns to him. The shock here comes from using the ground and smoke so only the enemy in that narrow sector can return fire and you can break-in, break-through his network with more troops.

    But the second definition you have, I remember your comment about 'shaping operations' and also I recall how the Soviets used parallel breakthroughs to "cut out" a big slice of the defensive belt at once... so now the door they've opened is too big for your mobile troops to close, he's beaten your defensive tactic and now it's a challenge for your delay tactic against his parallel pursuit to the next fighting line.

    Then you have concepts like artillery fire on your roads to overwhelm your motor capacity, or ECM to disrupt... well, anything you're trying to do when it comes to modern war. Maybe a good term to express your second definition in English would be 'depletion' or 'exhaustion' (of capacity)?

  2. So, with shock, we seem to be working with the idea of an overwhelming attack, something that overwhelms the enemy's ability to respond in a way that prevents you from imposing your will on them. This based also on J. Gabriel's ideas.

    1. Exactly so, an action that exceeds your resources to contain the crisis, not because your resource is inappropriate to the threat (that would be, perhaps, asymmetry). Shock is either exceeding the capacity in time (sudden attack, you cannot deploy your reserve before the breach), or in volume (your capacity is overwhelmed).

  3. I argue that all 3 definitions in fact describe the same thing on different levels (physical, psychological-troops, psychological-command). First is propably superficial so shock action could be described as an action intended to trigger a psychological (as opposed to positional, attritional etc.) defeat mechanism. In order to succeed a (pure) shock action needs to induce the enemy to react in an ineffective way, for example to break formation in face of a cavalery charge, run away instead of reforming formation if a physikal break is achived, or a commander waiting for further information instead of acting immeadiately.

  4. "It's sudden, extreme and leads to a break down."
    There are some settings to accomodate sudden and extreme events, but a shock is an attempt to override them.
    That's my 2 cents.
    You might look at psychology, nervous breakdowns sound like the thing a shock induces and this on a massive scale among humans. Thus for a shock to be achieved with limited resources a psychological preparation might be useful. It's a kind of stressing, before going for the breaking.