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On Operations

Operational Art and Military Disciplines

B. A. Friedman

Annapolis, Maryland, US: Naval Institute Press, 2021

Hardcover.  256pp   RRP $56.43


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, August 2022


This is the second book in Friedman’s trilogy ‘tactics to strategy’.  On Tactics (2017) examined commanders and success on the battlefield.  On Operations has the staff officer as its focus, supporting commanders by ‘performing the functions of operational art’.

Napoleon reorganised his military staff, and his model was copied by Prussia/Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The US military misinterpreted the Soviet concept of operations and inserted the term ‘operational level’ into their military doctrine and the terminology persists today. Friedman claims that this term breaks the necessary nexus between tactics and strategy. He goes to great lengths to argue against this and pleads for ‘operational art’ as a far more accurate description of military staff activities that can serve both tacticians and strategists.

Friedman devotes a chapter to each of the six disciplines of operational art:

Administration – the management of available friendly forces. Enables tactics by sustaining the human resources of the military organization physically, mentally, and morally.

Information – enables tactics by ascertaining relevant facts, figures and knowledge regarding friendly and enemy forces, civilian populations and the environment while preventing the opponent from doing likewise.

Coordination – (or operations) enables tactics by conducting and synchronizing tactical actions and operational disciplines across time, space, and forces available.

Fire Support – enables tactics by applying the force’s long-range, stand-off, and heavy weapons in support of its other components.

Logistics – enables tactics by facilitating the movement and sustainment of tactical forces.

Command and Control – enables tactics by establishing a feedback loop between the commanders and subordinate commanders and their staffs, providing direction down and awareness up.

The eight taxonomies available to describe the operational stance of an organisation at war and its relationship to its opponent are then examined. The US military is designed for offensive persistent annihilation campaigns, and its weakness is in waging offensive, raiding, cumulative campaigns against nonstate actors.

There are five case studies of campaigns/operations ranging from 1805 to 1942. After the background and events have been described, Friedman examines how the six disciplines were or were not successfully applied.

It has been very well written, with the reader not confronted with a barrage of technical terms. Commanders and staff officers at all levels can take a great deal from this relatively short work.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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