Small Wars Journal

Operational Art and Design: General MacArthur and the Battle of Inchon

Tue, 01/17/2023 - 11:31pm

Operational Art and Design: General MacArthur and the Battle of Inchon

By Daniel L. Dodds

            The Korean War began on 25 June 1950 when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea) with the goal of unifying the two nations as a single communist country (Tonder, 2018). The war lasted slightly longer than three years, until 27 July 1953 when both countries signed a ceasefire known as the Korean Armistice Agreement, resulting in the establishment of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (Tonder, 2018). During this war, the United States and 21 nations under the umbrella of the United Nations Command supported South Korea. Conversely, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) and the People’s Republic of China (China) supported the DPRK. There were several campaigns during the Korean War, all of which required the use of joint planning through operational art and design, to accomplish strategic, operational, and tactical objectives. One such battle, the Battle of Inchon, occurred from 15 September to 18 September 1950 after the Inchon landing, using the moniker Operation Chromite (Gammons, 2000). The purpose of this paper is to analyze the Battle of Inchon, specifically the Inchon landing, using the lens of operational art and operational design to describe the ends, ways, means, and the arranging of operations, which led to the halting of the North Korean People’s Army offensive.

Operational Art

            The Joint Chiefs of Staff [JCS] (2017), states “commanders use operational art to determine when, where, and for what purpose major forces will be employed and to influence the adversary’s disposition before combat” (p.36). Operational art and design is the primary method commanders and their staffs use to create shared understanding of the operational environment (JCS, 2020a). Furthermore, it enables commanders to use knowledge acquired from previous experience, sound judgement, and imagination to create concepts for employment of military forces (JCS, 2020a). This concept addresses the tools needed, time required, and many other parameters that can lead to mission accomplishment or mission failure. Planners choose each tool for specific problems, capitalizing on their strengths and opportunities, while minimizing the potential weaknesses and threats. The JCS (2020a), states that “Operational art supports a commander’s ability to sort through the mass of information, identify key and critical information, and make decisions or provide guidance with incomplete information” (p.157). During the Inchon landing, General MacArthur used his awareness of the region and its enemy, and extensive knowledge in military tactics to conduct an amphibious assault behind enemy lines (Langley, 1979). General MacArthur’s actions led to a successful execution of the Inchon landing and subsequent objectives (Langley, 1979). Conversely, the North Korean People’s Army had to employ a plan that would counter the amphibious assault, while simultaneously advancing south toward Pusan, their original objective. In both cases, operational art for the United Nations backed South Korea, and Soviet Union and China backed DPRK, played a critical role in their operational design.

Operational Design

            Operational design is the principal technique for applying operational art (JCS, 2022). Moreover, the JCS (2022) states, “Operational design is the analytical framework that underpins planning … and supports commanders and planners in organizing and understanding the operational environment” (p.62). This framework provides structure for joint planners to solve complex operational problems using a logical sequence while evaluating strategic guidance, the operational environment, as well as facts and assumptions (JCS, 2022). An important aspect of operational design is the formulation of ideas, including the commander’s intent. Abaianiti (2019), wrote the formulation and concept of operational design is the consideration of balancing the strategic estimates and the overall mission analysis. Additionally, operational design must nest with the joint planning process. A crucial factor in the success of the Inchon landing was the mission analysis and course of action development. General MacArthur and his staff’s awareness of what problems could or would likely occur during the operation, along with their ability to consider the ends, ways, means, and risks, assisted with course of action development for mitigating and solving each of the problems presented. The operational design methodology is a sequence of nine steps that assist commanders and staff with shared understanding of the strategic and operational environment, identification of the problem, and identification of key decision points. These three factors combine and enable the commander to determine their operational approach (JCS, 2020a). This process is continuous and occurs before, during, and after each military operation. Joint Force Commanders and staff make changes to operational design based on space, time, and forces available, which leads to the military end state (JCS, 2020a).


            At every level of military operations, there is an end state. End state is a pre-planned condition that describes success on the battlefield (JCS, 2020a). While end state may culminate with success on the battlefield, national objectives may still linger and require non-military instruments of national power (JCS, 2020b). At the strategic level of the Korean War, the end state was to terminate the spread of communism. Meanwhile, at the operational level during the Inchon landing, the end state was to capture Inchon, then quickly liberate Seoul, and cut off the north and south bound supply routes of the North Korean People’s Army (Heinl, 1979). The strategic end state for the DPRK was in stark contrast to the UN as they planned to reunify the country under the communist control of Kim Il Sung (Tonder, 2018). Their operational end state was to secure the Kimpo Airfield near the capital city of Seoul and use it as a logistics hub as they pushed south to Pusan (Tonder, 2018). A systematic perspective to understand the operational environment is necessary for commanders to generate an end state. One method of developing the understanding is to evaluate the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure (PMESII) elements that can hinder a mission or lead to its success (Abaianiti, 2019). Commanders and staff carry out end state through linked objectives. Objectives must form a single result, bond with higher headquarters’ intent, be specific, and not be written as tasks (JCS, 2020a). With both the DPRK and the South Korean governments establishing their end state, it is now the responsibility of military commanders to reach the desired ends by utilizing unity of effort and using various ways through linking objectives.


            To achieve success at the strategic and operational end state, commanders and staff must first develop “ways” that lead to that point. According to the JCS (2022), ways are the actions or plans of action that aid commanders with reaching the desired end state. In this context, ways can be military capabilities, concepts, or logic that enables the military instrument of national power (JCS, 2020a). During the joint planning process, staff must consider various methods to address problems in the operational environment. Complex problems often require complex solutions. According to the JCS (2022), commanders can “choose from a wide variety of joint and Service organizations, people, equipment, and technologies and combine them in various ways to perform joint functions and accomplish the mission” (p.71). Ways is synonymous with the operational approach, and as such is the point of view for employing capabilities to achieve the objectives (JCS, 2020a). General MacArthur’s operational approach was to use the application of a joint force to control the air, land, and sea, and defeat the DPRK and North Korean People’s Army will too fight (Langley, 1979). According to General MacArthur, the best way to reach the desired end state was to conduct “an amphibious landing in the enemy’s rear area to win the Korean War” (Gammons, 2000, p.2). An amphibious assault is a type of amphibious operation, which denies the enemy freedom of movement, in support of other offensive operations to seize and control ports, airfields, and critical infrastructure for follow on forces (JCS, 2021). With the ends and ways established, commanders must visualize what means are necessary for mission success.


            According to the JCS (2022), the instruments of national power are the means the government uses to pursue its national objectives. Within the military instrument, means are elements such as available forces, resources, attributes, and authorities (JCS, 2020a). During tactical engagements, means are the capabilities that Commanders bring to the fight and enhance their ability to reach the end state. Simply put, means are the resources needed to execute the way. For the Inchon Landing to be successful and reach the desired end state, General MacArthur needed significant numbers of personnel and equipment from all services within the Department of Defense and United Nations.

            The United Nations use of “cruisers, destroyers, and rocket ships from half a dozen navies” (Spurr, 1988, p.87) were quickly incorporated in the plan. The U.S. Air Force supplied the B-29 bombers, B-26 invaders, and the F-80 fighters from the 5th, 13th, and 20th air wings in Japan (Tonder, 2018). The U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry, 24th Infantry, and 25th Infantry Divisions were the ground forces (Gammons, 2000). The Navy use of various ships including landing craft vehicles and personnel (LCVP), landing craft mechanized (LCM), and landing ship tanks (LST), were critical for providing the resources, and delivering the personnel needed to accomplish the Inchon Landing (Heinl, 1979). The LCVPs, LCMs, and LSTs included an armada of more than 260 ships, 4,547 vehicles, 14,000 tons of supplies, and 25,000 personnel from the United Nations Command (Spurr, 1988). Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps did not have enough personnel for the amphibious assault. General MacArthur sent three requests to President Truman before the activation of the Marine Corps Reserve to fill the troop requirements for the First Marine Divisions amphibious assault force (Gammons, 2000; Heinl 1979). With the operational design framework complete, the arranging of operations was the only thing standing between General MacArthur’s plans, and the execution of Operation Chromite.

Arranging Operations

            Arranging Operations is critical to the concept of operational design. The JCS (2020a) states, “Commanders must determine the best arrangement of joint force and component operations to conduct the assigned tasks and joint force mission” (p. 191). Arranging operations occurs through a series of simultaneous and sequential steps, which enables tempo, timing, and depth (JCS, 2020a). The rapid application of power, coupled with exploiting the adversary with friendly capabilities is what commanders and their staff must plan for during the operational design process. Moreover, the inclusion of intermediate phases, branches, and sequels give the tactical units the ability to remain flexible during mission execution. The culmination of these activities leads to the strategic objectives and desired end state.

            General MacArthur’s use of vessels from “Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and South Korea contributed their might to this awesome concentration of naval firepower” (Spurr, 1988, p.87) during the Inchon landing. The B-29, B-26, and F-80s of the U.S. Air Force quickly gained air superiority over the DPRKs Soviet Union made Lavoshkin and Yakovlev bombers (Tonder, 2018). The ground forces of the U.S. Army out gunned the North Korean People’s Army along the Pusan perimeter and pushed north (Gammons, 2000), while the Marines (1st Marine Division) and soldiers (7th Infantry Division) stormed the beaches of Inchon, seized control of the Kimpo Airfield, and pushed south (Heinl, 1979). The multinational operation was setting an unmatched tempo and overwhelming the DPRK. The phases were proving to be effective. Outnumbered and with shrinking supplies, the North Korean People’s Army was stretched from Pyongyang to Pusan and in dire need of an operational pause (Gammons, 2000). General MacArthur’s operational approach was a success as he forced the DPRK and North Korean People’s Army to retreat north of the 38th parallel, resulting in the changing the dynamics of the Korean War.


            The purpose of this paper was to analyze the Battle of Inchon, specifically the Inchon landing, using the lens of operational art and operational design to describe the ends, ways, means, and the arranging of operations, which led to the halting of the North Korean People’s Army offensive. General MacArthur, applying operational art, was able to identify critical information, and provide guidance to his staff on his vision for employing military forces while conducting an amphibious assault. The staff, using the operational design methodology and joint planning process, implemented a plan that created the ends, ways, and means for accomplishing the military objectives during the Inchon landing and subsequent objectives. Through shared understanding, and a clearly defined end state, military commanders were aware of the importance of capturing Inchon, liberating Seoul, and cutting of the DPRKs supply routes. Furthermore, General MacArthur and his staff were aware that the best way to achieve success was through the application of a joint force to control the air, land, and sea simultaneously. The inclusion of various means, such as ships, vehicles, fighter jets, and personnel from the multinational forces within the United Nations Command, along with the tempo, timing, and depth of the Inchon landing, was overwhelming the DPRK and North Korean People’s Army. Altogether, the use of operational art and design, along with the establishment of the ends, ways, means, and the arranging of operations during the amphibious assault, led to the retreat of the North Korean People’s Army back to the 38th parallel, ultimately halting their offensive.




Abaianiti, C. (2019). Operational art: Essential component of naval doctrine. Bulletin of "Carol I" National Defense University, 8(1), 25-34.

Gammons, S. (2000). The Korean War: The UN offensive. Center for Military History, 19(7).

Heinl, R. (1979). Victory at high tide: The Inchon-Seoul campaign. The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2017). Doctrine for the armed forces of the United States (JP 1).  

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020a). Joint planning (JP 5-0).  

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020b). The joint force (JP-1 Vol 2).

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2021). Amphibious operations (JP 3-02).  

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2022). Joint campaigns and operations (JP 3-0).

Langley, M. (1979). Inchon landing: MacArthur’s last triumph. Times Books.

Spurr, R. (1988). Enter the dragon: China’s undeclared war against the U.S. in Korea, 1950-51. Newmarket Press.

Tonder, G. (2018). North Korea invades the south: Across the 38th parallel, June 1950. Pen and Sword.

About the Author(s)

Master Sergeant Daniel L. Dodds is a Military Police Senior Noncommissioned Officer. He has served in every leadership position, from Patrolman to Antiterrorism/ Force Protection Supervisor. He currently attends the Sergeants Major Course (Resident) Class 73 at the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. His civilian education includes an Associate Degree from Excelsior University, and he is pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Workforce Development from the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).