Chapter 2

Designing the Campaign

"By looking on each engagement as part of a series, at least insofar as events are predictable, the commander is always on the high road to his goal."1

—Carl von Clausewitz

"To be practical, any plan must take account of the enemy's power to frustrate it; the best chance of overcoming such obstruction is to have a plan that can be easily varied to fit the circumstances met; to keep such adaptability, while still keeping the initiative, the best way is to operate along a line which offers alternative objectives."2

—B. H. Liddell Hart

    Having defined and described the operational level of war and the campaign, we will now discuss the mental process and the most important considerations required to plan a campaign. The commander's key responsibility is to provide focus. Through the campaign plan, the commander fuses a variety of disparate forces and tactical actions, extended over time and space, into a single, coherent whole.3


Campaign design begins with the military strategic aim. The campaign design should focus all the various efforts of the campaign on the established strategic aim. Effective campaign planners understand the role of the campaign under consideration in the context of the larger conflict. They also understand the need to resolve, to the extent possible, any ambiguities in the role of our military forces. This focus on the military strategic aim is the single most important element of campaign design.

There are only two ways to use military force to impose our political will on an enemy.4 The first approach is to make the enemy helpless to resist the imposition of our will through the destruction of his military capabilities. Our aim is the elimination (permanent or temporary) of the enemy's military capacity—which does not necessarily mean the physical destruction of all his forces. We call this a military strategy of annihilation.5 We use force in this way when we seek an unlimited political objective—that is, when we seek to overthrow the enemy leadership or force its unconditional surrender. We may also use it in pursuit of a more limited political objective if we believe that the enemy will continue to resist our demands as long as he has any means to do so.

The second approach is to convince the enemy that making peace on our terms will be less painful than continuing to fight. We call this a strategy of erosion—the use of our military means with the aim of wearing down the enemy leadership's will to continue the struggle.6 In such a strategy, we use our military forces to raise the enemy's costs higher than he is willing to pay. We use force in this manner in pursuit of limited political goals that we believe the enemy leadership will ultimately be willing to accept. (See figure.)

All military strategies fall into one of these fundamental categories. Campaign planners must understand the chosen strategy and its implications at the operational level. Failure to understand the basic strategic approach (annihilation or erosion) will prevent the development of a coherent campaign plan and may cause military and diplomatic leaders to work at cross-purposes.

Campaigning Under an Annihilation Strategy

If the policy aim is to destroy the enemy's political entity—to overthrow his political structure and impose a new one—then our military aim must be annihilation.7 Even if our political goal is more limited, however, we may still seek to eliminate the enemy's capacity to resist. In the Gulf War, we completely destroyed the ability of Iraqi forces to resist us in the Kuwaiti theater of operations, but we did not overthrow the enemy regime. Our political goal of liberating Kuwait was limited, but our military objective, in the Kuwaiti theater of operations, was not.8 In the Falklands war, Britain had no need to attack the Argentine mainland or to overthrow its government in order to recover the disputed islands. In the area of operations, however, the British isolated and annihilated the Argentine forces.

Determining Military Strategy

Strategies of annihilation have the virtue of conceptual simplicity. The focus of our operational efforts is the enemy armed forces. Our intent is to render them powerless. We may choose to annihilate those forces through battle or through destruction of the infrastructures that support them. Our main effort resides in our own armed forces. The other instruments of national power—diplomatic, economic, and informational—clearly support it.9 Victory is easily measured: when the enemy's fighting forces are no longer able to present organized resistance, we have achieved military victory. Regardless of whether our political goal is limited or unlimited, a strategy of annihilation puts us into a position to impose our will.

Campaigning Under an Erosion Strategy

Erosion strategies are appropriate when our political goal is limited and does not require the destruction of the enemy leadership, government, or state. Successful examples of erosion appear in the American strategy against Britain during the American Revolution and the Vietnamese Communist strategy against France and the United States in Indochina.

Erosion strategies involve a great many more variables than annihilation strategies. These distinctions are important and critical to the campaign planner. In erosion strategies, we have a much wider choice in our operational main efforts, the relationship of military force to the other instruments of power is much more variable, and our definition of victory is much more flexible.

The means by which a campaign of erosion convinces the enemy leadership to negotiate is the infliction of unacceptable costs. Note that we mean unacceptable costs to the leadership, not to the enemy population. Our actions must have an impact on the enemy leadership. We must ask ourselves:

Often, the most attractive objective for a campaign of erosion is the enemy's military forces. Many regimes depend on their military forces for protection against their neighbors or their own people. If we substantially weaken those forces, we leave the enemy leadership vulnerable. In erosion strategies, however, we may choose a nonmilitary focus for our efforts. Instead of threatening the enemy leadership's survival by weakening them militarily, we may seize or neutralize some other asset they value—and prove that we can maintain our control. Our objective may be a piece of territory that has economic, political, cultural, or prestige value; shipping; trade in general; financial assets; and so on. The aim to seize and hold territory normally makes our military forces the main effort. Successful embargoes and the freezing of financial assets, on the other hand, depend primarily on diplomacy and economic power. In the latter examples, therefore, military forces play a supporting role and may not be engaged in active combat operations at all. We may also seek to undermine the leadership's prestige or credibility. Special forces and other unconventional military elements may play a role in such a campaign, but the main effort will be based on the informational and diplomatic instruments of our national power. Victory in a campaign of erosion can be more flexibly defined and/or more ambiguous than is victory in a campaign of annihilation. The enemy's submission to our demands may be explicit or implicit, embodied in a formal treaty or in behind-the-scenes agreements. If we are convinced that we have made our point, changed his mind or his goals, or have so eroded the enemy's power that he can no longer threaten us, we may simply "declare victory and go home." Such conclusions may seem unsatisfying to military professionals, but they are acceptable if they meet the needs of national policy.


Economy demands that we focus our efforts toward some object or factor of decisive importance in order to achieve the greatest effect at the least cost. Differing strategic goals may dictate different kinds of operational targets. If we are pursuing an erosion strategy, we will seek objectives that raise to unacceptable levels the cost to the enemy leadership of noncompliance with our demands. Depending on the nature of the enemy leadership, our objectives may be the military forces or their supporting infrastructure, the internal security apparatus, territorial holdings, economic assets, or something else of value to our specific enemy. If we are pursuing a strategy of annihilation, we will seek objectives that will lead to the collapse of his military capabilities.

In either case, we must understand both the sources of the enemy's strength and the key points at which he is vulnerable. We call a key source of strength a center of gravity. It represents something without which the enemy cannot function.10

We must distinguish between a strategic center of gravity and an operational center of gravity. The former is an objective whose seizure, destruction, or neutralization will have a profound impact on the enemy leadership's will or ability to continue the struggle. Clausewitz put it this way—

An operational center of gravity, on the other hand, is normally an element of the enemy's armed forces. It is that concentration of the enemy's military power that is most dangerous to us or the one that stands between us and the accomplishment of our strategic mission. The degree of danger a force poses may depend on its size or particular capabilities, its location relative to ourselves, or the particular skill or enterprise of its leader.13

The strategic and operational centers of gravity may be one and the same thing, or they may be very distinct. For example, think of the campaign of 1864 in the case study in chapter 1. Sherman's strategic objectives were the destruction of the South's warmaking resources and will to continue the war. Until Johnston's Army of Tennessee was disposed of, Sherman's army had to stay concentrated and could not disperse over a wide enough area to seriously affect the South's economic infrastructure. For Sherman, Johnston's Army represented the operational, but not the strategic, center of gravity.

Usually we do not wish to attack an enemy's strengths directly because that exposes us to his power. Rather, we seek to attack his weaknesses in a way that avoids his strength and minimizes the risk to ourselves. Therefore we seek some critical vulnerability. A critical vulnerability is related to, but not the same as, a center of gravity; the concepts are complementary. A vulnerability cannot be critical unless it undermines a key strength. It also must be something that we are capable of attacking effectively.

Critical vulnerabilities may not be immediately open to attack. We may have to create vulnerability—to design a progressive sequence of actions to expose or isolate it, creating over time an opportunity to strike the decisive blow. An example would be to peel away the enemy's air defenses in order to permit a successful attack on his key command and control facilities.

Just as we ruthlessly pursue our enemy's critical vulnerabilities, we should expect him to attack ours. We must take steps to protect or reduce our vulnerabilities over the course of the campaign. This focus on the enemy's critical vulnerabilities is central to campaign design.

In order to identify the enemy's center of gravity and critical vulnerabilities, we must have a thorough understanding of the enemy. Obtaining this understanding is not simple or easy. Two of the most difficult things to do in war are to develop a realistic understanding of the enemy's true character and capabilities and to take into account the way that our forces and actions appear from his viewpoint. Instead, we tend to turn him into a stereotype—a cardboard cut-out or strawman—or, conversely, to imagine him 10-feet tall. We often ascribe to him attitudes and reflexes that are either mirror images of our own or simply fantasies—what we would like him to be or to do, rather than what his own particular situation and character would imply that he is. This insufficient thought and imagination makes it very difficult to develop realistic enemy courses of action, effective deception plans or ruses, or high-probability branches and sequels to our plans. In designing our campaign, we must understand the unique characteristics of our enemy and focus our planning to exploit weaknesses derived from that understanding.


After determining whether the strategic aim is erosion or annihilation, describing its application in the situation at hand, and identifying the enemy's centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities that we will attack to most economically effect the enemy's submission or collapse, we must now develop a campaign concept. This concept captures the essence of our design and provides the foundation for the campaign plan. It expresses in clear, concise, conceptual language a broad vision of what we plan to accomplish and how we plan to do it. Our intent, clearly and explicitly stated, is an integral component of the concept. Our concept should also contain in general terms an idea of when, where, and under what conditions we intend to give or refuse battle.

The concept should demonstrate a certain boldness, for boldness is in itself "a genuinely creative force."14 It should focus on the enemy's critical vulnerabilities. It should exhibit creativity and avoid discernible conventions and patterns; make use of artifice, ambiguity, and deception; and reflect, as Churchill wrote, "an original and sinister touch, which leaves the enemy puzzled as well as beaten."15 It should create multiple options so that we can adjust to changing events and so that the enemy cannot discern our true intentions. It should be as simple as the situation allows. It should provide for speed in execution—which is a weapon in itself.

Each campaign should have a single, unifying concept. Often a simple but superior idea has provided the basis for success. Grant's plan of fixing Lee near Richmond while loosing Sherman through the heart of the South was one such idea. The idea of bypassing Japanese strongholds in the Pacific became the basis for the Americans' island-hopping campaigns in the Second World War. MacArthur's bold, simple concept of a seaborne, operational turning movement became the Inchon landing in 1950.

Phasing the Campaign

A campaign is required whenever we pursue a strategic aim not attainable through a single tactical action at a single place and time. A campaign therefore includes several related phases that may be executed simultaneously or in sequence. A campaign may also have several aspects, each to be executed by different forces or different kinds of forces. Phases are a way of organizing the diverse, extended, and dispersed activities of the campaign. As Eisenhower pointed out, "These phases of a plan do not comprise rigid instructions, they are merely guideposts. . . . Rigidity inevitably defeats itself, and the analysts who point to a changed detail as evidence of a plan's weakness are completely unaware of the characteristics of the battlefield."16

Each phase may constitute a single operation or a series of operations. Our task is to devise a combination of actions that most effectively and quickly achieve the strategic aim. While each phase may be distinguishable from the others as an identifiable episode, each is necessarily linked to the others and gains significance only in the larger context of the campaign. The manner of distinction may be separation in time or space or a difference in aim or in forces assigned.

We should view each phase as an essential component in a connected string of events that are related in cause and effect. Like a chess player, we must learn to think beyond the next move, to look ahead several moves, and to consider the long-term effects of those moves and how to exploit them. We cannot move without considering the enemy's reactions or anticipations, unlikely as well as likely.

Because each phase involves one or more decision points, we must think through as far as practicable the possible branches or options resulting from each decision. Such decision points are often represented by battles, which—despite everything we can do to predetermine their outcome—can be either lost or won. Each branch from a decision point will require different actions on our part and each action demands various follow-ups—sequels or potential sequels.17 "The higher commander must constantly plan, as each operation progresses, so to direct his formations that success finds his troops in proper position and condition to undertake successive steps without pause."18

Each phase of the campaign is aimed at some intermediate goal necessary to the accomplishment of the larger aim of the campaign. Each phase has its own distinct intent which contributes to the overall intent of the campaign. Generally speaking, the phasing of a campaign should be event-driven rather than schedule-driven. Each phase should represent a natural subdivision of the campaign; we should not break the campaign down into numerous arbitrary chunks that can lead to a plodding, incremental approach sacrificing tempo.

The process of developing a sequence of phases in a campaign operates in two directions simultaneously: forward and backward.19 We begin our planning with both the current situation and the desired end state in mind—recognizing, of course, that the end state may change as the situation unfolds. We plan ahead, envisioning mutually supporting phases, whose combined effects set the stage for the eventual decisive action. At the same time, however, and as a check on our planning, we envision a reasonable set of phases backward from the end state toward the present. The two sets of phases, forward and backward, have to mesh.

Phasing, whether sequential or simultaneous, allows us to allocate resources effectively over time. Taking the long view, we must ensure that resources will be available when needed in the later stages of the campaign. Effective phasing must take into account the process of logistical culmination. If resources are insufficient to sustain the force until the accomplishment of the strategic aim, logistical considerations may demand that the campaign be organized into sequential phases. Each of these must be supportable in turn, each phase followed by a logistical resupply or buildup. Moreover, logistical requirements may dictate the purpose of certain phases as well as the sequence of those phases.

Resource availability depends in large part on time schedules—such as sustainment or deployment rates—rather than on the events of war. Therefore, as we develop our intended phases, we must reconcile the time-oriented phasing of resource availability with the event-driven phasing of opera- tions.

Conceptual, Functional, and Detailed Planning

The process of creating a broad scheme for accomplishing our goal is called conceptual planning. To translate the campaign concept into a complete and practicable plan requires functional planning and detailed planning. Functional planning, as the name implies, is concerned with designing the functional components necessary to support the concept: the subordinate concepts for command and control, maneuver, fires, intelligence, logistics, and force protection.20 Functional planning ensures that we work through the feasibility of the campaign concept with respect to every functional area.

Detailed planning encompasses the specific planning activities necessary to ensure that the plan is coordinated: specific command relationships, movements, landing tables, deployment or resupply schedules, communications plans, reconnaissance plans, control measures, etc. Detailed design should not become so specific, however, that it inhibits flexi- bility.

No amount of subsequent planning can reduce the requirement for an overall concept. While conceptual planning is the foundation for functional and detailed planning, the process works in the other direction as well. Our concept must be adaptable to functional realities. Functional planning in turn must be sensitive to details of execution. The operational concept (a conceptual concern) should be used to develop the deployment plan (a functional concern). However, the realities of deployment schedules sometimes dictate employment schemes. Campaign design thus becomes a two-way process aimed at harmonizing the various levels of design activity.

The farther ahead we project, the less certain and detailed should be our design. We may plan the initial phase of a campaign with some degree of certainty, developing extensive functional and detailed plans. However, since the results of that phase will shape the phases that follow, subsequent plans must be increasingly general. The plan for future phases will be largely conceptual, perhaps consisting of no more than a general intent and several contingencies and options.

Conflict Termination

Two of the most important aspects of campaign design are defining the desired end state and planning a transition to postconflict operations. Every campaign and every strategic effort have a goal. Every military action eventually ends.

The decisions when and under what circumstances to suspend or terminate combat operations are, of course, political decisions. Military leaders, however, are participants in the decisionmaking process. It is their responsibility to ensure that political leaders understand both the existing situation and the implications—immediate and long-term, military and political—of a suspension of combat at any point in the conflict. In 1864, for example, Union commanders understood well that any armistice for the purposes of North-South negotiation would likely mark an end to Union hopes. Regardless of the theoretical gap between the military and the political realms, combat operations, once halted, would have been virtually impossible to restart.21 In the 1991 Gulf War, the timing of conflict termination reflected the achievement of our political and military aims in the Kuwaiti theater of op- erations.

Campaign designers must plan for conflict termination from the earliest possible moment and update these plans as the campaign evolves. What constitutes an acceptable political and military end state, the achievement of which will justify a termination to our combat operations? In examining any proposed end state, we must consider whether it guarantees an end to the fundamental problems that brought on the struggle in the first place, or whether instead it leaves in place the seeds of further conflict. If the latter, we must ask whether the chosen method of termination permits our unilateral resumption of military operations. Most practical resolutions of any conflict involve some degree of risk. Military leaders must always be prepared to ask the political leadership whether the political benefits of an early peace settlement outweigh the military risks—and thus also the political risks—of accepting a less-than-ideal conclusion to hostilities.

When addressing conflict termination, commanders must consider a wide variety of operational issues including disengagement, force protection, transition to postconflict oper- ations, and reconstitution and redeployment. Thorough campaign planning can reduce the chaos and confusion inherent in abruptly ending combat operations. When we disengage and end combat operations, it is of paramount importance to provide for the security of our forces as well as noncombatants and enemy forces under our control. The violent emotions of war cannot be quelled instantly, and various friendly and enemy forces may attempt to continue hostile actions.

Once combat operations cease, the focus will likely shift to military operations other than war. The scope of these operations ranges from peacekeeping and refugee control to mine clearing and ordnance disposal to food distribution. Repairing host nation infrastructure and restoring host country control are operational-level concerns. Commanders at all levels must coordinate their efforts with a variety of governmental, nongovernmental, and host nation agencies.

A final issue to be addressed in conflict termination is reconstitution and redeployment. Reconstitution begins in theater. Units are brought to a state of readiness commensurate with the mission requirements and available resources. The results of combat will dictate whether this is done through the shifting of internal resources within a degraded unit (reorganization) or the rebuilding of a unit through large-scale replacements (regeneration).22 The capability to reconstitute and redeploy is especially important to naval expeditionary forces who must be able to complete one mission, reembark, and move on to the next task without hesitation. Regardless of the methods, reconstitution and redepolyment pose a complex and demanding leadership and logistics challenge.


The design of each campaign is unique. The campaign design is shaped first and foremost by the overall national strategy and the military strategic aim. The nature of the enemy, the characteristics of the theater of operations, and the resources available all influence the exact nature of each design. Nevertheless, the basic concepts of campaign design apply in any situation. Consider the following two case studies. While the designs of these two campaigns are radically different, the end result is the same: successful attainment of the strategic aim.

Case Study: The Recapture of Europe, 1944–45

An excellent example of campaign design during a major conflict is Eisenhower's broad plan for the recapture of Europe in the Second World War. The strategy was one of annihilation with the aim of eliminating Germany's military capacity. The design focused on the German forces as the primary center of gravity, although it recognized the importance of both political and economic centers such as Berlin and the Ruhr. The design employed a series of phases that were carried out in sequence as the campaign gained momentum and progressed towards the accomplishment of the ultimate objective. Eisenhower described this campaign design as "successive moves with possible alternatives."23 (See figure)

Eisenhower remarked that "this general plan, carefully outlined at staff meetings before D-Day, was never abandoned, even momentarily, throughout the campaign."26

Case Study: Malaysia, 1948–60

An example of campaign design very different from Eisenhower's can be found in the British campaign against a Communist insurgency in Malaysia. This example demonstrates that the concepts used to design a campaign in conventional conflicts apply as well in military operations other than war. While the British strategy was also one of annihilation, the nature of the conflict and the characteristics of the enemy dictated that the strategy had to be carried out over a much longer period in order to be successful. The centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities were not primarily military in nature. Since this campaign was conducted over a number of years, the phases or building blocks of the campaign had to be pursued simultaneously rather than sequentially.

Both sides had clear goals and a clear concept for the political and military phasing of the struggle. The British had promised Malaysia its independence. Their goal was to leave a stable, non-Communist government in place after their departure. The Communists' goal was to obtain such a powerful military and political position within Malaysia that the British withdrawal would leave them dominant in the country. The British identified the center of gravity of the Communist movement as the large, impoverished Chinese minority who furnished the vast bulk of recruits for both the political and military wings of the Communist Party. Overall, the movement's critical vulnerability was its ethnic isolation in the Malay-dominated country. Militarily, its critical vulnerability was the dependence of Communist military units on food and other supplies from the widely scattered Chinese farming population. The center of gravity of the British-backed Malaysian government, on the other hand, was its claim to legitimacy and its promise of a better life than Communism could offer.

The British launched a multipronged campaign against the Communists. The navy insured that external support did not reach the Communists by sea. The army was responsible for keeping organized enemy units in the jungle, away from the population base and food supplies of the settled agricultural areas. The Malaysian government forces recognized that the jungle gave the enemy strength: enemy bases were hard to find and easily relocated if discovered. Search-and-destroy efforts were counterproductive because British strike forces were easily detected as they thrashed through the bush. This permitted the enemy not only to escape but to lay ambushes. However, the enemy's forces needed to move through the jungle as well, especially to obtain food. This made their forces vulnerable. The British knew where the food was grown and the routes the enemy supply columns had to follow to obtain it. Accordingly, the government forces themselves came to concentrate—very successfully—on the tactic of ambush.

Meanwhile, the police forces (recruited from the Malaysian population to a much greater size than the army) concentrated on providing security in the populated areas. They did this under very strict rules of engagement respecting the rights of the citizens, thus upholding the legality and legitimacy of constituted authority. Simultaneously, the destitute Chinese population was concentrated in clean, secure, well-designed new settlements, provided with the economic means to build homes in their own style, and given legal title to those homes and to adequate farmlands. This resettlement policy cut the guerrilla forces off from sources of recruits and, perhaps more important, food. The resettlement effort was accompanied by a political program to ensure that the Chinese minority obtained rights of citizenship equal to those of the Malay majority.

In combination, these patient and thoroughly coordinated military, police, economic, and political operations isolated the Communists both physically and psychologically from the main population. Despite some tactical successes (which included killing the first British commander in an ambush), the Malaysian Communist military forces were annihilated and the Party eliminated as a factor in Malaysian politics.27

Despite the obvious differences in the designs of these two campaigns, they both applied the basic concepts of campaign design to achieve the desired strategic objective. While the type of conflict and the nature of the enemy were radically different, both campaign designs had a clearly identified strategic aim, both focused on the enemy's centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities, and both employed a campaign concept with appropriate phases tailored to accomplish the strategic aim.


The campaign plan is the statement of the design for prosecuting the commander's portion of the overall strategy. It flows directly from the campaign concept and translates the concept into a structured configuration of actions required to carry out that concept. The plan describes a sequence of related operations that lead to a well-defined military end state. The campaign plan is a mechanism that provides focus and direction to subordinates.28

The campaign plan must be built around the strategy. It should describe, to subordinates and seniors alike, the end state which will attain the strategic aim. It must present the overall intent and concept of the campaign; a tentative sequence of phases and operational objectives which will lead to success; and general concepts for key supporting functions, especially a logistical concept that will sustain the force throughout the campaign. The logistical concept is vital since logistics, perhaps more than any other functional concern, can dictate what is operationally feasible.

The plan may describe the initial phases of the campaign with some certainty. However, the design for succeeding phases will become increasingly general as uncertainty grows and the situation becomes increasingly unpredictable. We must build as much adaptability as we can into the design of the campaign plan. Nevertheless, the final phase, the anticipated decisive action which will achieve final success and toward which the entire campaign builds, should be clearly envisioned and described. The campaign plan should establish tentative milestones and provide a measure of progress. It is not, however, a schedule in any final, immutable sense. Until the final aim is realized, we must continually adapt our campaign plan to changing interim aims (ours and the enemy's), results, resources, and limiting factors.

Above all, the campaign plan should be concise. General MacArthur's plan for his Southwest Pacific theater of operations was only four pages.29 The campaign plan does not describe the execution of phases in tactical detail. Rather, it provides a framework for developing operation orders that in turn provide the tactical details.

Chapter 1
Chapter 3