The gross ignorance or neglect of operational art has invariably had highly negative consequences, including the British misfortunes in Norway in 1940 and mainland Greece and Crete in 1941, the 1941–42 Allied losses in Southeast Asia, and the Japanese defeat in the Pacific war of 1941–45. The June 1942 Battle of Midway is perhaps the best example of the catastrophic consequences that a lack of operational thinking can have. The Japanese commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, headed a fleet twice the size of U.S. forces, yet due to a deeply flawed plan he suffered a decisive defeat that represented a turning point in the Pacific war.1 The main U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1965–73), aside from serious disconnects at the strategy and policy levels, was essentially conducted at the theater-strategic and tactical levels only; again, operational art was not applied.2 This also explains the Argentinian defeat in the Falklands/Malvinas conflict of 1982, and today, it is one reason that combating piracy off Somalia’s coast and in the Gulf of Aden has not been more successful.
Thinking Between Strategy & Tactics
Regardless of tactical successes, wars at sea are won or lost at the strategic and operational levels.A major prerequisite for success in naval conflicts is operational thinking on the part of flag officers and their staffs. This is mostly ensured through knowledge and understanding of all aspects of this type of warfare, yet the U.S. Navy still largely thinks in terms of tactics and strategy. Operational art is either misunderstood or given short shrift by its senior leaders, even though during the past decade the Navy has made efforts to educate and train operational planners.
By Milan Vego