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Ground Maneuver and Air Interdiction in the Operational Art

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Journal article

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To attain strategic goals in a theater of war, a commander exercises operational art through his design, organization, and conduct of campaigns. Unfortunately, engagements and battles generally seem to have received more attention than campaigns. This could be because it is easier to understand engagements and battles. Compared to campaigns, engagements and battles are much more confined in time and space and involve many fewer variables interacting with each other. Their comparative simplicity also makes them more susceptible to modeling, especially in models that focus on numerical attrition. As a result, there are those who seem to assume that a campaign can be described as merely the addition of attrition totals resulting from multiple tactical events. Such a tactically oriented perspective seriously distorts reality because it ignores a theater commanders ability to exercise operational art, influencing time and space considerations in a way that creates conditions leading to attrition. This failure to appreciate the potential of operational art may explain why some have tended to discount the value of air interdiction. Using air power to perform air interdiction has had a telling effect on the outcome of many campaigns. Yet, like most developments in war, it has taken time to understand how and why air interdiction makes an important contribution to success. To a certain extent this delay could be the result of a tendency to treat war in the air and on the ground as separate endeavors, rather than as intimately related parts of a unified whole. It could also be the result of an emphasis on tactical events, instead of the campaign. Whatever the reason, in the past we usually were able to succeed. Recent and possible future Soviet developments, however, bring success into question if we do not understand how and why ground maneuver and air interdiction must be synchronized to confront the enemy with an intractable operational dilemma.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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