Small Wars Journal

Clausewitz, Center of Gravity, and the Confusion of a Generation of Planners

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 3:06pm

Clausewitz, Center of Gravity, and the Confusion of a Generation of Planners

Robert Dixon

There are likely few strategic concepts that instigate arguments more than Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity (COG).  The 19th century Prussian theorist introduced the topic in his famous treaties, Vom Krieg, calling the Schwerpunkt the point where all force must be directed.[1]  But just what is Schwerpunkt? That depends greatly on who answers.  German scholars’ views in the 1800s differ significantly from what modern US doctrine writers and strategist refer to as the COG.  Indeed, few “experts” seem to agree on a truly useful definition of the term.[2]  While arguments over theory among strategists may seem a bit esoteric, the outcome of the arguments is of paramount importance: the theory of centers of gravity leads to a theory of victory for each conflict, and having a faulty theory leads to mission failure and unnecessary loss of life.  The doctrinal term “Center of Gravity” is an artifact of a bygone era, and has done more damage than good in the modern era.  It is past time for US doctrine to omit the term from its lexicon.

COG first entered US Joint doctrine in the 1993 Joint Publication 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations [3] calling the COG the “foundation of capability” and quoting the Howard and Paret 1973 translation of Clausewitz’s On War "the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends… the point at which all our energies should be directed." [4] While the Joint definition changed slightly with every iteration of doctrine, the current version (as of August 2014) defines COG as “The source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act.  Also called COG. See also decisive point.”[5]  The governing manual referred to in JP 1-02 is the 2011 Joint Publication 5-0 Joint Operation Planning which defines COG as “a source of power…”[6]  The difference is subtle: “the hub of all power” versus “a source of power”.  The distinction here is important: as Clausewitz described the Schwerpunkt as the point where all force must be directed, a seemingly singular point of focus.  Current US joint doctrine has watered down the term, allowing multiple COGs and offering little help in focusing military efforts.  Indeed, joint doctrine now allows for separate COGs at the tactical, operational and strategic levels and multiple COGs throughout each phase of the operation.[7]  The defining example of COG analysis in the 2009 Joint Publication 2-01.3 Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment shows the COG analysis for Operation RESTORE HOPE in Somalia outlining six separate parties each with 3-4 COGs.[8]  While this level of detail is important to understanding the context of the operation, there is nothing central or gravitational about this kind of analysis, and the outcome does little to help the commander focus “all force” as Clausewitz intended.

But is finding a single focal point really important?  Army doctrine departs from the Joint definition by using the definite article, and keeping the language from the 1993 Joint Publication.  ADRP-3-0, Unified Land Operations translates COG as “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends," suggesting a singular point where land operations should focus its efforts instead of the multi-layered approach suggested in joint doctrine.[9]  The Army’s translation may be closer Howard’s, but the inconsistency with Joint Doctrine is a source of friction within the joint community.

US Navy doctrine fits most closely with the Army, and defines COG as “the source of power…” for both friendly and enemy forces.[10]  The Navy Planning Process then outlines a systematic method for determining the COG by first identifying strategic and operational objectives, critical factors (strengths and weaknesses), the COG, and then critical capabilities (crucial enablers for a COG).  To actually identify the COG, though, Navy planners are instructed to evaluate each critical strength and then “specifically ask the question: Does this critical strength accomplish the objective? If the answer is that it does not accomplish the objective but only assists in accomplishing the objective, it is probably a critical capability or critical requirement but not the COG.”[11]

Both the Air Force and USMC use the JP 5-0 definition and apply the “Strange Model” (sometimes referred to as CG-CC-CR-CV) for determining enemy vulnerabilities, and both stress that analysis should be iterative as the COG may change during operations.[12]   The Strange Model was also adopted in JP 5-0 as a means of identifying critical capabilities, critical requirements, and critical vulnerabilities associated with each COG.  The model is useful in identifying important characteristics associated with COGs, but does not actually help planners or commanders actually correctly identify a COG.  Moreover, since the model allows for any number of dynamic agents within a system, the approach does not focus on elements that could be decisive.  In applying the model, commanders and planners may be better informed about the enemy system but are no closer to identifying anything central that could help focus resources and effort.[13]

Ironically, the Joint COG Model example in Air Force doctrine outlines the logic behind the bombing of ball bearing plants in Germany in World War II, identifying the ball bearings, petroleum and rail yards as critical vulnerabilities that lead to the German COG, its industrial base.[14]  The irony lies in the fact that while the Allied air forces successfully bombed these plants, it had no discernable impact on the outcome of the war.  Had the ball bearing factories actually been a COG, the destruction of these (according to the logic of COG) should have brought down the German war machine.  It did not.[15]

All of the services claim to have a process for identifying COGs, but none of the doctrine actually tells planners how to find it.  Each service approaches COG analysis methodically, but nearly always ends in a tautology: critical capabilities lead to COGs, which are important because of their capabilities.   ADRP 3-0, for example, calls COG a “vital analytical tool for planning operations. It provides a focal point, identifying sources of strength and weakness.”[16]  The manual later admits that finding the COG is mostly an art.  Indeed, COG analysis is clearly not as scientific as the term “center of gravity” might suggest.

The outcome of the inter-service differences in how to identify a COG often leads to disagreements over what the COG for a particular operation is.  Different methodologies produce different answers, often at different echelons.  Clearly, the Prussian could not have intended such confusion: he instructs his reader to “dare all to win all” against the COG, clearly indicating that he was looking for a single point on which to focus all force.

Yet the lack of focus caused by inter-service translational issues is not the worst outcome of the use of COG.  Actually narrowing the focus to a single COG but getting it wrong is much worse. Joseph Strange, designer of the “Strange Model” says the Iraqi Republican Guard was the COG in '91 and in '03.  Yet in a 2004 article Strange says that with the benefit of hindsight the COG "was more likely the asymmetric Fedayeen forces..." (emphasis added).[17]  Even with the benefit of hindsight, the Strange model can only produce a "more likely" assertion about what the COG was in 2003.  It begs the question as to whether the model could be used to guess it correctly in foresight?

The fixation on the Republican Guard (operational COG) and Baghdad (the strategic COG) led leaders to ignore the emergence of something that did not fit their template.   This is the true danger of the term: while looking for Clausewitz’s focal point (something central, the source of all power, the hub, etc.) leaders forget that they are not observing a static system.  Dynamic systems do not have centers, and if they did it would constantly move.

Largely due to the lack of clarity or a proven method of determining a COG, there are no relevant historical examples of the use of the term that has led to decisive victory.  There are, however, plenty of examples where the use of the term has led commanders astray.  Focusing combat power almost exclusively on ball bearing factories or the capital at the expense of other targets illustrates the danger of misapplication or misunderstanding of COGs.  

One critic of US performance in Iraq and Afghanistan has asserted that there is a “stunning inability of modern American generals… to identify and defeat the enemy center of gravity.”[18] Despite the impressive intellectual talent that has served over the past decade in these theaters, no truly useful conclusions about COGs have emerged.  Perhaps, then, it is time to consider that there is something wrong with the concept itself.  Perhaps the modern understanding of social systems and warfare has evolved to a point where the US military can abandon a concept whose only proof of existence is a 19th century theorist writing about war based on his observations of Napoleonic warfare.

On War reveals that Clausewitz probably had a sophisticated view of systems: his understanding of cohesion and its effects on system dynamics, the gestalt view of systems, and the problem with causal linkages that are separated in time and space all point to an understanding of complex systems that was not popularly understood until Ludwig von Bertalanffy published his General Systems Theory in 1946.[19]  Perhaps Clausewitz only lacked the vocabulary and experience necessary to produce a theory that would be relevant today.[20]

As Clausewitz used Newtonian physics to describe the focal point for warfare, some modern theorists have begun to apply modern science to social constructs.[21]  Applying complexity and systems thinking to complex, ill-structured problems, theorists can describe and investigate systems in ways Clausewitz could not.  Applying the language of quantum mechanics, for example, would enable military theorists to explore the Clausewitzian concept of cohesion in terms of “energetic relationships and patterns of interaction” that determine system structure.[22]  Since, as Clausewitz stated, “the effect produced on a center of gravity is determined and limited by the cohesion of the parts,” the energy that holds the system together is equivalent to the “gravity” of that system.[23]  As systems are dynamic, it would make little sense to call it a “center” of gravity as it would constantly move and change shape as the system evolves and operates in the real world.  Investigating the nature and source of the energy that holds systems together would reveal far more about the nature and logic of the system than any COG analysis could.

Just as the language of science has evolved from the mechanistic, Newtonian roots of the 19th century, it is far past time for the military language and concepts to enter the age of quantum physics and systems theory.  As science begins to describe the world in ways that reveal and rationalize its complexity, so should military doctrine.

End Notes

[1] Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Krieg (Berlin: Vier Falfen Verlag, n.d.), 567. As cited in Christopher Fowler, “Center of Gravity – Still Relevant After All These Years”, USAWC Strategy Research Project, 2002.

[2] See, for example, Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings , edited by Daniel J. Hughes. (Presidio Press, 1993), 78 which indicates that Schwerpunkt is the location of the middle of his unit.  Also see Antulio Echevarria, Clausewitz and Contemporary War, (Oxford University Press Dec 2007), where Echevarria states that “The German text reveals that Clausewitz never used the word 'source' (Quelle) when describing the concept; nor did he equate the term center of gravity to 'strength' or 'a source of strength'.”

[3] Joint Publication 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations. September 1993.

[4] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. And trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1976).

[5] Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, (as Amended through) 15 August 2014.

[6] Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Operation Planning. 11 Aug 2011.

[7] Joint Publication 2-01.3 Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment.16 Jun 2009.

[8] Ibid, B-20.

[9] ADRP 3-0, Unified Land Operations.16 May 2012.

[10] NWP 5-01, Navy Planning, December 2013

[11] Ibid, Annex C.

[12] MCDP 1-0, Marine Corps Operations, 9 August 2011 and Air Force Doctrine Annex 3-0, Operations and Planning, Appendix A: Center of Gravity Analysis Methods, November 2012.

[13] Antulio Echavarria, “Center of Gravity Recommendations for Joint Doctrine”, Joint Force Quarterly 35: 10– 17 Oct 2004.

[14] AFD 3-0, Appendix A.

[15] World War II Database, Schweinfurt Ball Bearing Factories, (accessed Oct 11, 2014).

[16] ADRP 3-0, 4-3. 

[17] Joseph L. Strange , and Richard Iron, “Center of Gravity: What Clausewitz Really Meant.” Joint Force Quarterly, 35: 20– 27 Oct 2004.

[18] Stephen L. Melton, The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (A Way Forward), ( Zenith Press, 2009), 17.

[19] Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, (Chelsea Green, VT: 2008).

[20] Paul Kan: "Clausewitz didn't have to fight the 'war on drugs'" Personal notes from USAWC Strategy Conference 8 Apr 2010, Carlisle.  Panel 4: "Who Participates in War?"

[21] See, for example, Grant Martin, “Carl von Clausewitz, Meet Albert Einstein and Max Planck”, Small Wars Journal, Oct 3, 2012.

[22] T. Irene Sanders, Strategic Thinking and the New Science: Planning in the Midst of Chaos, Complexity and Change, (Free Press, NY: 1998), 62.

[23] On War, 486.


About the Author(s)

Colonel Robert Dixon, U.S. Army, is currently the Corps Engineer at I Corps. He is a distinguished graduate of the US Army War College where he was a member of the Carlisle Scholars Program.  He is an alum of the CSA’s Strategic Studies Group and a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  He holds a B.S. in Physics from Florida Institute of Technology and an M.A. in Defense Management from American Military University.



Sun, 11/22/2015 - 11:10am


I enjoyed the article and detailed assessment of COG and critical factors analysis. I like to get some thoughts from you and the community on the below:

"The model is useful in identifying important characteristics associated with COGs, but does not actually help planners or commanders actually correctly identify a COG."

"The outcome of the inter-service differences in how to identify a COG often leads to disagreements over what the COG for a particular operation is."

From the Federation's perspective, what is the COG for Ukraine?

Center of Gravity (COG) Analysis: Greater Ideological COG involving “Project Novorossiya” and Neo-Eurasianism.

A center of gravity can be defined as the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, and will to act. A COG is always linked to the objective (JP 2-01.3.

The idea and further manifestation of “Novorossiya” or New Russia can be defined as the Russian Empire denoting a region north of the Black Sea (presently part of Ukraine). It is possible that the center of gravity is its aggregated capacity to project Eurasianism. Eurasianism can generally be defined as political aspiration of pan-Russian nationalists to retake some or all of the territories of the other republics of the former Soviet Union and territory of the former Russian Empire and amalgamate them into a single Russian state. This ideology directly applies to regions in Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. This assumption has two dimensions, physical and moral, that are pertinent in the discussion of geo-political objectives. As a two-dimensional force, the Russian Federation’s critical capabilities are to protect compatriots living abroad and uphold foreign policy. Compatriots are considered to be the “tens of millions of people” artificially separated from their historic Homeland (Russia) after the collapse of the USSR. A sizeable majority in the Donbas supported separatist goals based on core grievances associated with discriminatory redistribution within Ukraine and negative perceptions involving European Union (EU) membership. There are varying assessments which assert Project Novorossiya is defunct as of May 2015 based on lack of popular support. Based on the core grievances mentioned above, the population once again is placed between Novorossiya’s inadequate nation-building initiatives and ineffective policy intervention from the Ukrainian government due to the Federation’s occupation.

Further COG analysis is required to assess the information environment and cognitive links between ideology (geo-political, social-ethnic, religious and economic implications) and physical terrain which is also applicable to the Taliban, Islamic State, Al Sham and as they claim global Caliphate. The nexus between ideology, rhetoric and operations must also be assessed further for deterrence and counter strategies. This assessment asserts that population, infrastructure and physical environment should be the focal areas for critical factors analysis in order to defeat the enemy's COG.


Sat, 11/14/2015 - 7:58am

Bill M wrote:

‘Regarding your comments on the GWOT COG, we don't have the will, nor the means to invade and compel our will on the population a of SA and Pakistan.’

When I said we don’t have the political or moral will to attack Islamabad, Riyadh or Tehran I included myself in the sentiment that it was a good thing. The Fruitcake loaded the planes on 9/11 with Saudi nationals with the deliberate intention of goading us in attacking the KSA and bringing down the HoS. Why we decided bomb Afghans and Iraqis instead probably surprised the Fruitcake as much as it surprised the poor bastards in Iraq and the Afghanistan.

However I for the life of me cannot understand what we hope to achieve by giving comfort and aid to the HoS. It is if we weren’t impressed by what the political dissidents in the KSA did on 9/11 so we have decided to pour petrol on the political fires that drive those like-minded folks who continue to spread their venom across the region and elsewhere.

Likewise the fascists that have a stranglehold on the livelihoods of 200 million Pakistanis. A tiny core of elites need to cultivate a siege mentality in order to maintain their political and economic status in Pakistan. They need to cultivate a supposed threat posed by India and the Persian hordes from the west. Widespread mindless violence throughout their neighbor’s everyday lives is the operational method to successfully maintain their strategic choke-hold on Pakistan's destiny.

The attack on Mumbai was a perfect example of how to maintain the rage. The attack on Paris is a copy of that – tactically, operationally and strategically – for sure done by different actors aimed at a different political construct - but method behind the madness has the same political intention. The Indians played their response masterfully (they have 6000 years of practice) by doing absolutely nothing. Despite having irrefutable evidence that those responsible were actively in command and control of the actors their reaction was a strategic master class in how to counter UW.

It will be interesting to see if the French follow our stupid response to 9/11 or follow the Indian strategy. Hollande has already got the war-talk BS going so it doesn’t look very promising.

If in response to Mumbai the Indian Gov should have given $billions of military and economic aid to Islamabad it is hard to imagine a greater insult you could have cast upon the victims of the Mumbai attack. However, like I mentioned earlier, that is precisely what we are doing in Riyadh, Islamabad and now Tehran of all places.

The Spartly reefs offer another lesson in how the game is played with a skill that alludes us. The 10,000 odd families that are the chief beneficiaries of the latest manifestation of the ruling Chinese dynasty are starting to feel the heat from the masses. The traditional ‘Heavenly Mandate’ that China’s masses grant those who exploit them is beginning to fade in the minds of 1.3 billion people. The green-eyed dragon that throughout Chinese history has swept every ruling elite from power is beginning to stir.

The economic contraction impacting the masses is bad news for those who aspire to be seen buying 50 million dollar tea cups, 150 million dollar paintings, real estate, jewelry etc. and they need to do something fast to distract the gaze of the all-consuming dragon. They may not be able to stop the onslaught but at the very least delay its wrath long enough to spirit away their ill-gotten wealth and evacuate their offspring to the West.

So best to build the most vulnerable military installation in history (even mother-nature attacks it twice a day), surround it by six hostile nations and the US Navy. For it to feature every night on Chinese TV they need their ancient Japanese and Vietnamese enemies to join up with US ships and planes to buzz around at regular intervals like strutting peacocks. If we follow their script they will gleefully feature our saber-rattling on the nightly Xinhua News. The hope is this ‘heroic’ Chinese Alamo will still ol green-eye’s stirrings
A walk-on by the icon from the previous ‘American attempt to invade China’, the good ol B-52, suggests they are pressing all our right buttons.

The great irony is when the Russians attempt to try this crap we see straight thru the ruse and refuse to rise to the bait. Is it inverse racism? I suspect it is. We can’t accept that brown and yellow-skinned folks don’t have the intellectual capacity or cognitive sophistication to lead us by the nose. I find that deeply depressing as I have always hoped our acceptance of the folly of that arrogance was the one good thing to come out of the defeat in Vietnam.

We are living in interesting times,



Fri, 10/30/2015 - 1:19pm

There is no COG analysis that will make up for policy failure and the US government has been in failure mode for decades. The military needs to recognize that sometimes obeying the Constitution(which is the ultimate COG) may require telling some temporary occupant of the WH that he or soon maybe she needs to get the policy right and then leave Strategy to the Generals where it belongs.

Move Forward

Fri, 10/30/2015 - 8:50am

In reply to by RantCorp

RantCorp, while it is certainly correct that we bombed Japanese cities, you may in part be confusing the night bombing campaign against German cities by the Brits under “Bomber Harris” (whose own cities were being bombed) with the largely day formation flights of our Eighth Air Force that had more strategic targets. That difference is highlighted in a RAND Note (linked inside COL Pietrucha’s USNI article that I cited elsewhere), titled “Roles and Mission for Conventionally Army Heavy Bombers--An Historical Perspective” by Dana J. Johnson. In that RAND Note, the great losses we experienced attempting to bomb ball-bearing factories are mentioned with two particular raids involving heavy bomber losses in August and October of 1943 as Rant Corp notes. Here is a quote on page 26:

<blockquote>Despite the number of aircraft and bombs sent against the Reich, their cumulative effect was not as severe as might have been expected because of the inaccuracy of the bombing (largely technology- and weather-dependent) and an underestimation of German reconstitution ability. A severe handicap to the bombing campaign lay in the lack of intelligence and understanding about the German industrial dispersion and recovery effort. What intelligence the Allies had was predicated largely on faulty assumptions about the ability of German industry, especially the ball-bearing industry, to recover from the mass raids of 1943 and 1944. Although the efforts were made to repair the damage inflicted by the early bomber raids, the German leadership decided to initiate a program of plant dispersal. Between November 1943 and August 1944, thirty-two new sites were built for the ball-bearing industry alone.</blockquote>

The subsequent paragraph in that RAND Note cites that earlier bombing of the known 90-95% of factories led to a 50% drop in ball-bearing production. Subsequent German dispersion of production meant that attacked targets represented just 20% of production because allies did not know where production had been dispersed. This illustrates both enemy adaptation and lack of WWII space-based ISR.

In countries the size of China or Russia’s, however, it is doubtful that even satellites could identify all targets for our bombers or that the adversaries would make military and production targets obvious and consolidated. We also might assume that if the Germans and Japanese had the capability to respond in kind to our bombing of cities and factories, they would have done so. Today’s near peers <i>would</i> have a response to our murderous city bombing---nukes. The mere act of sending invisible bombers and UCAVs over their territory also would be inherently escalatory risking a potential tactical nuclear weapon response that ultimately could lead to strategic nuclear exchange.

The other historical lesson we are not heeding with the LRS-B is the need for a fighter escort. If the LRS-B is intended to penetrate deep into Russia or China without fighter escorts, they would remain vulnerable to shoot-down by visual fighter aircraft pickets spotting ingressing bombers with other patrols near key facilities. Do we need a new stealth bomber? Of course, but perhaps we should anticipate that most of their attacks would occur at and near the <i>point of aggression</i> rather than deep inside the territory of a nuclear armed state. That means we would not require even 100 of such bombers let alone the 175 that other retired USAF generals are claiming are essential.

Bill M.

Fri, 10/30/2015 - 6:31pm

In reply to by RantCorp

No one I'm aware of in WWII called what we were targeting centers of gravity, they simply used reasoning. Was it good or bad reasoning? When you have unlimited objectives, or in other words you are demanding the unconditional surrender of a nationalistic people you have to break their will to resist. Did targeting cities do that? In Japan, they accepted our demands of unconditional surrender after the second atom bomb was dropped, but that wasn't a given. Extremists almost foiled the Emperor's acceptance of our surrender terms.

The bombing of the cities didn't shorten the war in Europe. It was only won after the allied armies rolled into Berlin. The cities and population turned out not be an imaginary COG after all. Analysts offered the war in Europe would have ended sooner if air power directly supported the ground forces in defeating Germany's army. In Japan we can imagine what would have happened if the extremists did foil the Emperor's effort to surrender. We most likely would have invaded and engaged in a costly slug fest. There are no silver bullets in war, we only fool ourselves when we imagine them. Clausewitz had a point about the COG concept, but our doctrine attempted to expand on this to the point of foolishness.

Regarding your comments on the GWOT COG, we don't have the will, nor the means to invade and compel our will on the population a of SA and Pakistan. Even if we did I see little to indicate it would do anything but make our extremist challenge greater, while exposing us to greater strategic risk from other actors. COG analysis doesn't address all the other variables that should shape decisions, it merely dumbs down strategy to a targeting exercise.


Thu, 10/29/2015 - 4:17pm

It is interesting to read Allied wartime propaganda being used in evidence to support/undermine a POV regards strategy – or more precisely CvC’s CoG thesis. The ‘ball-bearing’, ‘aircraft engine’, ‘synthetic fuel refinery’ target description was merely a fig-leaf used by Bomber Command and the USAAF so as not to alarm those gentle souls within the Allied homeland populace. The purpose of the ruse was to avoid any political fallout that might stem from shocked civilians if the harsh realities of a war of annihilation impacted civilized society.

IMO the reality was best described by Air Marshal ‘Bomber’ Harris:

QUOTE ‘..the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive...should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.

... the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.’ UNQUOTE

Peering down thru their Perspex windows every Allied airman flying over German and Japanese cities would have had no doubt the Boss meant every word he wrote. Rather than a postage stamp-sized factory ablaze below them the aircrews (especially in last year of WW2) would have witnessed entire cities on fire.

Bomber Command used acreage as the measure of effectiveness for carpet bombing civilians – i.e. how much of a civilian habitat had been annihilated. If the ‘yield’ per acre was considered adequate they moved on and harvested civilians somewhere else. McNamara cut his teeth as a USAAF Captain attached to the Office of Statistical Control and brought his Harvard bean-counting genius to this strategy of destroying enemy civilians. LeMay confessed to McNamara long after the war’s end that if we had lost WW2 he ( LeMay) and other Allied air commanders would have been rightfully tried as war criminals.

As the war went on it was realized it was more effective to burn people rather than blow them and their houses to pieces. In fact, prior to the fire-bombing being widely adapted, some raids resulted in more airmen dying than enemy civilians being killed by Allied HE bombs. This reality was epitomised by events on the Aug 17, 1943 when 350 USAAF Heavy Bombers attacked Schweinfurt & Regensburg. 60 bombers were shot down (20 before reaching the target), 4 were written off on return and 168 were damaged – on a single day. There is an abandoned Bomber Command air-field near Lincoln in East Anglia wherein the entire squadron was wiped out three times – in a single year.

The Operational philosophy was shaped by the belief that German and Japanese militancy was the CoG of the conflict. The inevitable fallout from this belief was that the whole of German and Japanese society was responsible for creating and nurturing the fascist entity within their communities. In accordance with CvC’s thesis this made the civilian society the CoG and as such the CoG must be attacked with relentless force.

This uncompromising attitude towards the enemy’s social fabric was evident in shaping strategy in the ground war as well. In 1945 the Allies agreed to halt at the Elbe River despite the comparative weakness of German resistance opposing them on the Western Front and the ferocious German resistance the Red Army was facing in the East. The strategic reason for this was to ensure the Red Army completed the task the strategic bombers had started – i.e. annihilate German society into unrecognizable pieces.

Once again Bomber Harris summed up this philosophy soon after the ‘infamous’ 1945 Dresden raid:

QUOTE ‘ I assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.’ UNQUOTE

In other words he considered the entire German population as worthless . The just as bloody-minded LeMay was in complete agreement – especially towards the Japanese.

After burning 60% of all major Japanese cities to ash it was decided the stiffening resistance experienced by the Marines on Iwo and Okinawa indicated more pressure needed to be applied to the Japanese CoG. As a consequence the ultimate fire-mission was brought down on two minor Japanese cities -and peace reigned. Not only that peace still going strong but Germany and Japan are arguably the two most peace-loving nations on the planet.

IMO the strategic bombing supports CvC thesis vis-à-vis the strategic effectiveness of identifying the correct CoG and the merits of applying a significant portion of your Ways and Means against it to achieve your desired Ends. MAD is derivative of the success of strategic bombing hastening the end of WW2 and the preservation of peace in Europe.

MAD is not about destroying factories, dams, rail-heads or even Armies (in fact post-MAD front line units would be some of the safer locations on both sides.) it is grounded in the threat to your opponent’s CoG – i.e. the threat to their centers of population.

However, just because in today’s world it is politically and morally unacceptable to apply military force against the CoGs of the AF, Iraq and Syria conflict, it should not mean we cannot apply considerable non-military pressure on the primary drivers.

Unlike the kinetic option, the list of non-military measures that are applicable are as extensive as they are numerous. The one thing the absence of an acceptable military option should not entail is that we surrender our own strategic interests and that of our allies.

IMHO this is precisely what we are currently doing. Our liberal democratic values should not be cast asunder by fascism born out of Punjabi paranoia within Pakistan and the political ambitions of the Fruitcake threatening the House of Saud.

Alarmingly, the recent boost to Iranian Realpolitik ( that has been in check since 1979,) suggests 15 years of failure has exhausted our desire to free oppressed people from tyranny and as such more lunatics are seizing the opportunity to run the asylum.

It appears to me one of our primary faults when we do choose to apply military force is we fixate on the propagated WW2 ‘ball-bearing’, ‘oil refinery’, ‘a/c engine plant ‘ misconception alluded to in this essay. When we select and apply military force to CoGs supposedly shaped by ‘God’, ‘Shia-Sunni divide’ , Revolutionary/Resistance Energies’, ‘Governance’ etc., we appear to be beating a drum to our own WW2 propaganda and misunderstand what in fact drove the strategic thinking of Harris and LeMay.

An endless supply of hapless ‘strategic Mujahid’ are tossed to us by the cod-eyed General Staff in Riyadh, Islamabad and Tehran and we gleefully fire up our tactical meat-grinder and rip them to pieces. We are so blinkered by these ‘strategic Mujahid’ that the CoG of the conflict continues to ghost straight thru us.

Fifteen years of thrashing about has twisted our efforts into such a convoluted state that our strategic thinking appears to emerge from the place where the sun never shines.

Rather than having a more hardening and effective approach to a winning strategy over the last 15 year period – as epitomized by the leadership of the Golden Generation in the 5 years of WW2 – our military strategists appear to not even think about applying pressure to the CoG in AF & Iraq; dare not speak its name and god help any off-message maverick who attempts to actively apply pressure against it.

I imagine if CvC was asked his thinking as to why such a tiny, poorly funded badly trained opponent had fought us to a standstill I’m guessing his first and foremost question would why we insist on searching for CoGs at the Tactical and Operational level. I dare suggest Harris and LeMay would be in complete agreement.

We’ve all got one,


Chris jM

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 1:32pm

I don't have my copy of 'On War' to hand, but it strikes me that we read very narrowly into the COG metaphor that CvC provided - and one, I recall from distant and whiskey fueled reading, was an extrapolation of CvC trying to emphasise why efforts needed to be directed rather than dispersed, even though in appearance they might appear to be the same (especially to an observer of 18th/19th Century combat).

I agree that we, the western military, have elevated something that was prescribed as a tool for understanding how you should plan campaigns and battles and have made it into a cornerstone, albeit highly abstracted, short-cut to success.

In my own views, based of a rather non-academic and non-rigorous scanning of On War, is that we have elevated the COG from being a lesson and heuristic on how we need to concentrate force at an appropriate time to achieve tactical effects and victory, into a shortcut to victory. If we apply force to an opponent's COG it should be expected that he will be pushed off balance and either shift his COG or realign it, extending the wrestling metaphor via Newtonian physics. To expect that pressure against a metaphorical COG to result in systemic collapse is naive, yet that is what our teachings compel us to do. Instead, if we concentrate force against a proper, tangible part of the enemy system and expect him to adjust his response ('shift' his COG) which we link into our campaign plan or operational concept, then we have a chance of bridging the theory-practice divide.

The worst thing we can do - and, from my observations, this is EXACTLY what we do - is impose our own COG theory or viewpoint on an adversary, shut our minds off from viewing how the enemy is adapting or adjusting to our actions and then wonder why we aren't winning, when our Methods of Performance / Methods of Effectiveness are showing huge success. If we 'demote' COG from being the central short-cut that tells us how to defeat the enemy and instead return it to an instructional concept on how we can shape the enemy towards defeat, fully expecting his COG to shift and adjust to changes in the situation, then we are leaving behind the ivory tower of disconnected and theoretically-fixated staff and instead viewing unfolding operations with greater clarity and realism - which, in my view,is what CvC was advocating all along.

With regards to the good Colonel, thank you for your thought-provoking and concise article.


Thu, 10/22/2015 - 3:59pm

In reply to by andy_attar

You raise some valid points which were actually known back in 50's and 60's era of systems analysis and the solution was apparently forgotten to.
Einstein came along and gave Newton fits with his General theory of Relativity but there were times when it didn't work! So he also had a Special Theory for when the General theory didn't work!

The Army used to have a theory of General Warfare (very CvC) but it also had a theory of Special Warfare because sometimes (just like Einstien) General dosen't work and requires a Special approach.

Like I wrote earlier even CvC recognized his theory has problems when you "arm the population" and he did not truly understand it. But for whatever reason this part of CvC is overlooked.

We need to go back and have a General Theory of Warfare and a Special Theory of Warfare because what we are doing is not working!


Thu, 10/22/2015 - 9:49am

September 11, 2001, and the aftermath of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, introduced post-modernism as a competing (and I'd argue now dominating) paradigm within American society, and especially foreign and military policy. Western Europe began its slow death spiral with post-modernism after the Second World War. However, perhaps as the Enlightenment's Eldest Daughter, America carried the banner far longer: defeating Nazism, Imperial Japan, containing and defeating Soviet Communism, landing and returning men from the Moon, leading a multi-generational period of peace and global prosperity, etc. Now, at the hands of some backward semi-literate tribes, we are prepared to call our operating paradigm into question, and quickly join Western Europe's death spiral with post-modernism.

Newtonianism is far from perfect. But, as the author alludes, it had a profound impact on not only war, but the entire Enlightenment, and thereby Western Europe and especially our country, founded deliberately as a grand Enlightenment project. Newtonianism was used as the lens through which not just the mechanics of physics was interpreted but pretty much everything: economics (free markets), politics (separate but equal branches of government), and of course, war. Adam Smith, James Madison, and Carl von Clausewitz all were applying a version of Newtonianism when they developed their respective theories.

The Newtonian model within these other fields of human society is not perfect. But its saving grace is the Newtonian association with empiricism and rationalism: That we can fix ourselves based on observation and evaluation over time.

The new models proposed under post-modernism are highly speculative and very theoretical within even the field of physics. Physicists will admit that many of these areas of speculation (chiefly within the extremes of observable universe [at the cosmic and sub-atomic levels]) are not open to the scientific method of empirical observation, testing, evaluation, falsification, etc. They will remain speculative until better speculations are developed. Are these the models that we want to tie our military or foreign policies to? Rashly abandoning models tried and tested over centuries and replacing them with models that are nearly (if not entirely) impossible to test and evaluate is madness.

The end-state of post-modernism within foreign and military policy is a weakened military. It's the logical conclusion. If we break the hold of the Newtonian worldview (and we may already be well past that point [e.g., the world now apparently is "unknown and unknowable" -- a phrase as contrary to the Enlightenment as probably possible.]) and determine that Newtonian mechanics (force) is no longer the central governing principle of the universe, what need we of a military? This has been the logical conclusion within Western Europe. The military exists to apply force. If the Newtonian Laws of Motion no longer have central application in human events, what need we of a large capacity for generating and applying force?


Wed, 10/21/2015 - 7:59pm

In reply to by slapout9

You're entitled to your opinion. Personally, I think that most of On War is truly timeless, a manifestation of the Ecclesiastical wisdom that "there is nothing new under the sun." I'm currently reading it chapter by chapter over the course of several months, a little bit each weekday. Some of it's certainly very dry, and a lot of it is difficult (though not impossible) to relate to modern operations, but I've been absolutely gobsmacked by the amount of Clausewitz's magnum opus that could be applied directly to current events without any updating or clarification. And, given the recent performance of all of those "smart people" in the "21st century military", I'm more inclined to listen to the "dead German guy", deathbed disclaimer or no.


Wed, 10/21/2015 - 3:15pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

Before CvC died he left a warning letter!!!! on the cover of his papers saying this was an unfinished and unedited collection of papers that could be easily misunderstood. So the final fact is nobody will ever truly know what he meant they can only guess,assume and conjecture. Is that really anyway to run a 21st century military? We have many smart people in the military and I think we can do better than wondering what some dead German guy meant about War.


Wed, 10/21/2015 - 12:54pm

There's a lot to say about this article, and I'll try to be brief, but I'll fail. The author presents some convincing evidence, but I disagree that it supports his conclusion. This essay does not effectively argue that the Clausewitzian "COG" concept is obsolete or fallacious. Rather, it argues that America suffers from a shortage of competent senior officers, and faulty joint doctrine, the result of which has been underwhelming results in the battlespace. Several of the author's sentences point to the leadership vacuum:

<BLOCKQUOTE>"There are, however, plenty of examples where the use of the term has led commanders astray."

"Focusing combat power almost exclusively on ball bearing factories or the capital at the expense of other targets illustrates the danger of misapplication or misunderstanding of COGs."

"One critic of US performance in Iraq and Afghanistan has asserted that there is a 'stunning inability of modern American generals... to identify and defeat the enemy center of gravity.'"</BLOCKQUOTE>

Have commanders been led astray? Certainly. Are there plenty of examples demonstrating the danger of misapplication or misunderstanding of COGs? Absolutely. Do American generals suffer from a stunning inability to identify and defeat the enemy center of gravity? Unquestionably. This points to shortfalls in competence and strategic literacy, rather than shortfalls in Clausewitzian doctrine.

I also simply disagree with the author's assertion that there are no historical examples underpinning the "COG" concept. Clausewitz's magnum opus is chock full of historical examples to illustrate his major points. When I was learning these concepts, my peers and I were regularly required to identify the COGs in various battles and campaigns. Clausewitz also warns of the danger of misused historical examples, and of the importance of unity of command. Examples of the latter of these are pervasive in the author's essay. The author is entirely right that "clearly, the Prussian could not have intended such confusion"; he also wouldn't have intended for the sort of disunity of effort that results from wars being run by committees of operational planners masquerading as strategists, representing multiple echelons and four independent services, all answerable to a Commander-in-Chief who may have zero background in strategy or foreign policy. That doesn't negate the "COG" concept, it points to breakdowns in American joint doctrine and a resulting disunity of command. Again, this doesn't negate Clausewitzian doctrine, it negates the non-Clausewitzian manner in which command has been diluted by too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, as well as the pervasive belief that everything can be reduced to a "warfighting function" that can be codified, plugged into a formula, and written into a Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks. Following from this, Clausewitz also discusses friction and the fog of war, which further undermine the proposition that a formulaically-identified COG can be attacked, resulting in victory.

I'm also concerned that author's case rests upon a variety of examples in which the strategic culture of the U.S. Air Force, the least Clausewitzian of the four services, has been disproportionately influential. The Air Force has enjoyed a long history of what might be described as strategically failing forward. The author's discussion of the Strange Model and "dynamic systems" seem to omit mention of the Air Force's role in pushing RMA/Transformation concepts like RDO and EBO in OEF '01 and OIF '03. Robert Farley's <A HREF="… book</A> discusses much of this in detail, as does <A HREF="… Sloan</A>; Farley also discusses the Air Force's viral focus on "capabilities".

My biggest concern about the "COG" concept is that when I was learning it, it was commonly confused with the concept of "critical vulnerabilities". I would hope that senior field grade and flag officers would gain a better understanding of the distinction, but given some of the evidence of what is and isn't taught at the war colleges, I'm not confident that the distinction is well understood by war college graduates.


Mon, 10/26/2015 - 4:30pm

In reply to by thedrosophil

Sorry for the late response, missed this somehow. In reponse to your post. I was not trying to provide evidence. CvC is such an institution that he has become an immovable "Center of Gravity" almost a religion. So the only hope is for a counter balancing theory.

CvC has many good and valuable lessons but fhe has some serious flaws. The most serious is his definition of war...."Force used to impose ones will" That is only half right. It should be closer to the definition of a crime ....."Force or FRAUD used to impose ones will"

America is especially vulnerable to such a misunderstanding IMO becuase we seem to think that if somebody isn't shooting at you then everything is fine.


Sat, 10/24/2015 - 4:41pm

In reply to by slapout9

Re: #4, I do not believe that you or the author have provided sufficient evidence to support the suggestion that "we need a counter balancing loop to the CvC concept(s)". I am particularly concerned that you would recommend Sun Tzu as that counter-balance, as Sun Tzu's analysis, while strong in some spots, borders more on philosophy than on actual strategic theory. I concur with MF that undue stock put in Warden's theories is also cause for concern.


Fri, 10/23/2015 - 2:57pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Hi Move Forward, hope you don't mind if I call you mf for short. Thanks for the feedback.

So mf, I hang out mostly at the Small Wars Council and if you check my older postings you'll find I grew up in Florida and then moved to Alabama, always following the leading Space technology states. Almost lived in a place called Rockey City ,Fl. for awhile but we found a better house.

As to my 4th grade class we were very smart, back in those days the purpose of the Public Education system was.... to Educate, sadly that is no longer true and hence the serious and potentially fatal decline of America but I degress.

#1-I think you are making a common mistake by confusing Systems Engineering(lots of math) with Systems Analysis. Systems analysis back then(early 60's) had no math just a little arithmetic, it dealt with biological stuff. By the 11th grade they were calling it Ecology.

#2-I am not going to get into the Warden stuff because I have written a great about that over at the council and if you want to look it up there is entire section called the "Warden Collection" it addresses alot of the points you bring up and will put on the right track, stop listening to the massive dis-information campaign against Warden.

#3-Systems Analsis back in the day was the study of organisms "Behavior Over Time" no math involved just looking for "Patterns of Interaction between other organisims and the Environment" The 4th Generation warfare folks are close when they talk about how important culture is (customs and traditions of a population)when you go to war with with them.

#4-We need a counter balancing loop to the CvC concept of "war is force used to accomplish policy" Something like Sun Tzu's "All warfare is based on deception".

Thanks for the Feedback, Slap

Move Forward

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 7:34pm

In reply to by slapout9

Hello Slapout, AL and longtime no see. Did not realize you had another teaching life in Florida and sounds like your 4th graders were much smarter than me. Apparently, the 19 semester hours of calculus and higher math, and other courses leading to my Bachelor of Science degree were a total waste ;).

After reading the Wikipedia for “Systems Theory” it still eludes me because big words and unique newly-invented vocabulary do not impart clear understanding.

IIRC, you embrace Warden’s Five Rings which has some relationship to Systems Theory. An Air Force Major Jackson at the Air War College published a paper on the Five Rings back in 2000. Here is the lead paragraph from his Part 7 chapter on the fifth ring accessible via google under the title: “Warden’s Five-Ring System Theory: Legitimate Wartime Military Targeting or an Increased Potential to Violate the Law and Norms of Expected Behavior.”

<blockquote>Only if one cannot effectively target the four inner rings does Warden advocate targeting the fifth ring--the enemy‘s fielded forces. Unlike von Clausewitz, Warden views the enemy‘s fielded forces as a <i>means to an end</i> that can, under most circumstances, be bypassed rather than <i>the end</i> to be engaged. He does however recognize that situations may exist where one has little choice but to engage the enemy‘s fielded forces.</blockquote>

One might conclude that the enemy’s fielded forces were key to victory in WWII, today’s favorable outcome of a thriving South Korea, Desert Storm, and the “Mission Accomplished” part of OIF. The marginally opposed enemy’s fielded forces are what ultimately won Vietnam for the North in 1975. The enemy’s fielded forces were barely damaged during the 78 days of air attacks in Serbia/Kosovo but that was an aberration as we see in 2011 when Libya’s fielded forces were a critical focus of air attacks. Obviously Desert Storm was not fully successful or there never would have been an OIF. This may indicate that a new factor in modern warfare is that wars often don’t end today with the demise of the fielded force CoG’s if some new insurgent force survives.

Today’s reality is foes with lots of surviving military-aged males (unlike WWII) who face poor future prospects are unlikely to stop fighting. With that postulated, the five rings may actually obstruct the period of stability operations that necessarily follows major conflict. With that theorized, the notion of attacking command and control (1st ring) can be strategically dangerous to our survival/narrative if it means doing so against a nuclear state (same C2 for nuclear and conventional missiles?) or creating civilian collateral damage. Remember the Chinese embassy in Serbia, the targeted underground complex in Iraq, and recent hospital in Kunduz? With that accepted, if you take out the systems and infrastructure (2nd and 3rd rings) and affect/target the population (4th ring with new significance given nukes), the prospect of a quick stability operation is unlikely and the period of building/repairing infrastructure may be prolonged giving insurgents many targets.

A skeptic might suggest that attacking the enemy’s fielded force is not considered one of Warden’s key CoGs because it is a more difficult target for airpower. Fielded forces that move frequently/rapidly before taking cover and digging in, that do not mass excessively, have good armor, hide in complex terrain, hug civilians, and exploit poor visibility and flying conditions are difficult for airpower to address alone. Only Joint power that includes ground forces beyond SF/SOF can force hiding enemies into the open. That is one reason why a year of targeting ISIL from the air has had limited results since until recently no effective ground force has been in play to attack the CoGs of the ISIL ground force.

Thought it was interesting to read the footnote from the Colonel’s article about the Schweinfurt ball bearing factories which implied a different conclusion than that of this author. We see COL Warren elsewhere referring to attacking ISIL IED and VBIED factories and oil facilities in his briefing. That then might be one place where CoG and the Five Rings merge.

However, until some ground force such as the one we saw in Kobani is in play in Syria and conditions give Kurds and Sunnis some prospect for a better life and greater self-rule in both “countries” of the Levant, the Inherent Resolve conflicts are unlikely to end. We also seem to forget that when few resources are applied to quickly address every phase of a conflict, the conflict will last longer and the adversary has more time to adapt, adjust, and shift efforts. If the enemy beats us to the punch on something like the Manhattan Project or better conventional rockets/missiles, air defenses, jammers, aircraft, tanks/ATGMs, MANPADs, swarming where we aren’t strong, and VBIEDs/IEDs/suicide bombers, then outcomes or at least CoGs and casualties may change.


Wed, 10/21/2015 - 3:08pm

In reply to by Move Forward

You raise a good point about the ball bearing factory but the article is incorrect from the standpoint of it being a COG. The fledgling Air Corps was using what was called the "Industrial web design" theory to analyse German war production. In some after war studies the Air Force found German industrial production cities were laid out very differantly than American cities, which were the models that were being used.

Von Braun came to my elementry school and I can tell you he certainly understood Systems Theory. And so do I and my 4th grade class! Systems thinking/analysis was being taught at that level in all schools in the central Florida (Space Zone) area during the Great 60's space program but you would not recognize it today. It would be easier to think of it as Eco-Systems analysis(predator/prey/environment analysis) useful in War Planning.

So what are some of the benifits? The 1950's Army was almost all based on proper Systems Analysis but sadly little remains of it despite what you are being taught. I can give examples of how easy and benificial it is if you are interested?

Move Forward

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 9:54am

<blockquote>On War reveals that Clausewitz probably had a sophisticated view of systems: his understanding of cohesion and its effects on system dynamics, the gestalt view of systems, and the problem with causal linkages that are separated in time and space all point to an understanding of complex systems that was not popularly understood until Ludwig von Bertalanffy published his General Systems Theory in 1946. Perhaps Clausewitz only lacked the vocabulary and experience necessary to produce a theory that would be relevant today.</blockquote>

Understood and agreed with most of his points up until this paragraph and the last two paragraphs of the article that alluded me. That is the entire problem of Design and a Systems Approach. Normal humans without Physics degrees cannot understand it so why would normal Soldiers? Do we want military planners with unique vocabularies and Jedi knight views that differ from the rest of the Army that still must understand the commander's intent?

Wouldn’t consider myself an idiot with a grandfather and daughter who were/are medical doctors and many other good genes floating around. Yet this Design and Systems stuff baffles me while the concept of Center of Gravity (ies) is pretty understandable. Something needs to be the doctrinal main effort for particular tactical, operational, and strategic missions and CoG seems related with all others being supporting efforts.

He uses the ball bearing bombing as an example of a flawed CoG yet we cannot possibly comprehend how that may have slowed German development of top-of-the-line technology or at least limited its mass production in numbers like ours that were not hampered by bombing. Given Werner von Braun and many astounding technologies on the drawing board at the time the war ended, it is easy to envision counterfactuals that could have resulted had the war lasted longer. That also argues for going in strong ala Normandy and the USSR masses with our lend-lease (as opposed to today’s hesitancy to arm allies) versus a half-hearted not-sufficiently-in (no need for all-in) effort that has characterized these wars at least initial OIF and OEF.

The Colonel also notes that the Fedayeen perhaps were the true CoG of early OIF. Yet that would seem to lean toward a Clausewitz-like correlation of military and civil/diplomatic efforts that we got wrong when we decided to keep Iraq a single state rather than three new ones. After all, we could not keep Baathists in charge in a Shiite majority state, but we could have formed a Sunni state and military that Baathists would have run, while allowing Shiites and Kurds to have their own governments and separate armies. Would the Baathists have run off to Syria to align with AQI and ISIL if we had given them a future role in their Sunni part of Iraq?

We also display recent hesitancy to go sufficiently-in. Outlaw shows incredible insight in describing events in Syria and in showing the lack of true vs. propaganda success of Iran and Russia in support of Assad. However, what if Russia’s true CoGs are to increase the price of oil and to send more Sunnis on the refugee trail to create an Alawite majority by default? If you don’t care about civil casualties as is apparent by bombing efforts, you send Sunnis running to Europe because the cluster munitions are even worse than the barrel bombs of Assad. We would never bomb in that manner or even like we did in WWII with resultant fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo. Yet Putin shows no such reluctance which may make his efforts less of a quagmire than our own that appear to be slow motion and limited in effect.

In today’s collateral damage environment, only ground forces used Jointly with enabling close air support and precision munitions for interdiction achieve the requisite outcome in a timely manner. Only massed ground forces ensure stability after “Mission Accomplished.” However, massed ground forces that attempt to keep phony states intact will not work. Massed ground forces that train separate militaries and that support separate Sunni-Shiite-Kurd governments <i>may</i> work. Too late now for Iraq but not too late for that approach in Syria unless we exclude any possibility of a ground component in safer sanctuary of Kurd territory. That separate-state approach appears in part to be Putin’s game plan in keeping a small Alawite Syria intact that includes his Tartus.

Our other failing is unwillingness to "stay the course" long term. That is part of the CoG equation versus starting from scratch each time. England and Normandy were friendly CoGs during WWII because we had safe places to build up rapidly. During the subsequent occupation that morphed into the Cold War with German and NATO allies we had forces in place to deter Soviet expansion. As Europe, Korea, and other past conflicts show, if we leave forces in safer areas where they still deter and influence events, peace is facilitated or a response to conflict more rapid. Kuwait is one recent example. The MFO in the Sinai is another. Okinawa Marines are another. The Philippines and Australia may be another with today’s China threat. The forces in the Balkans still another. The Russians and Chinese have few such allies willing to allow safe harbor which explains in part Putin’s attraction to Tartus and the Crimea and Chinese island construction in the South China Seas.

With supported allies and established ports and airfields defended by air defenses and airpower already in play, much of the A2/AD threat is diminished. Runways can be repaired and the adversary rapidly runs out of missiles if he must attack multiple points of entry and our massing of ground forces that more easily can disperse and hide. In addition, if you have deterrence forces in place there is a smaller Gray Zone. The adversary either goes all-in with the Second Artillery Corps risking total war or he has less opportunity to make slow motion major territorial acquisitions. Do we see Iskanders landing on NATO forces exercising in Europe? No, and if we rotate forces there regularly to multiple locations for practice, that scenario is less likely.

That last point calls into question the current USAF and Navy UCAV CoG belief that we need penetrating airpower to strike China and Russia deep vs. striking the potential point of aggression in Taiwan or the Baltics. We won’t even let Russian and U.S. aircraft fly near one another in Syria for fear of escalation. We won’t even sail ships within 12nm of constructed Chinese islands in peacetime. Yet we believe future Presidents would penetrate nuclear states to attack deep CoGs and "Systems Approach" targets with manned stealth bombers and not create risky escalation?

Bill M.

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 11:35am

A superb article that further discredits the concept that underpins joint and service doctrine. I worry about O-4s coming out of ILE who harp the intellectual merits of a concept that repeatedly has contributed to failure throughout history. The concept is certainly seductive, especially if you don't examine its long history of failure. We are more than capable of identifying what are main and supporting efforts without a COG concept (as applied in joint doctrine) that states every objective must be tied to it. There are many sources of power that an adversary can resist with, yet we continue to search for the silver bullet solution. CvC also points to independent wills who are quite capable of adapting, how the character of a war will change, and how our strategic aims will evolve as we come to grips with as ever evolving situation. The real issue is the COG further separated military ends from political ends, and there is nothing more anti-CvC than this.

Many have challenged the utility of the COG, but this article does it best in my view. Overcoming the dogma that informs our doctrine will be a challenging Murray wrote, the iron fist of tradition is hard to overcome.


Tue, 10/20/2015 - 6:24pm

OUTSTANDING!! He is absolutely right.....we must get rid of Clausewitz psychosis and begin following Systems thinking or we will not survive as a nation! Excellent article....why don't we make people like this Generals instead of the losers we have now, our country needs them!