On Operations

Operational Art and Military Disciplines

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On Operations: Operational Art and Military Disciplines traces the history of the development of military staffs and ideas on the operational level of war and operational art from the Napoleonic Wars to today, viewing them through the lens of Prussia/Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. B. A. Friedman concludes that the operational level of war should be rejected as fundamentally flawed, but that operational art is an accurate description of the activities of the military staff, an organization developed to provide the brainpower necessary to manage the complexity of modern military operations. Rather than simply serve as an intercession between levels, the military staff exists as an enabler and supporting organization to tacticians and strategists alike.

On Operations examines the organization of military staffs, which has changed little since Napoleon’s time. Historical examinations of the functions staffs provided to commanders, and the disciplines of the staff officers themselves, leads to conclusions about how best to organize staffs in the future. Friedman demonstrates these ideas through case studies of historical campaigns based on the military discipline system developed.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“Friedman deconstructs the ideas and history of Operational Level of War and Operational Art in this concise volume. Then, as in previous writings, builds a new theory towards a reconceptualization of the Operational Art for modern practitioners, building bridges between tactics and strategy. This is a must-read for any aspiring staff officer.” —Dr. S. Mike Pavelec, chair, Department of Airpower, Air Command and Staff College
“B. A. Friedman’s On Operations follows up his highly successful previous works, this time delving into the critically important realm of operational art. In this fine book, Friedman explores the invaluable contribution of military staffs to a broad spectrum of endeavors, ranging from tactical to strategic. Anyone seeking a nuanced understanding of this crucial aspect of war will profit from reading it.” —William A. Taylor, author of Every Citizen a Soldier; Lee Drain Endowed University Professorship, Angelo State University
“In On Operations, B. A. Friedman makes a compelling case that war, strategy, and tactics have, at least in part, an inherent political nature. This book provides an excellent lens through which one can examine the traditional models of operational staffs, the challenges of 21st-century realities, and the ongoing weaknesses and failures of the U.S. military as well as possible corrective action. Highly recommended for scholars and practitioners of the military arts.” —Stephen C. Kepher, author of COSSAC: Lt. Gen. Sir Francis Morgan and the Genesis of Operation Overlord
On Operations is both well-written and a solid work of theory supported by strong historical research…. His articulation of operational art and its constituent disciplines are both logical and clear. Operational art represents something of a niche topic, but for those studying it, Friedman’s work is the proverbial must-read.” —The Strategy Bridge
“This is a well-written and engaging work that dissects and analyses the operational discipline…. Friedman does a good job at taking the reader through the rather complicated 200-year journey of operations, operational art as well as his nemesis, the operational level…. On Operations is a valuable work for those wanting to learn more about the discipline and those that want to challenge the status quo. Highly recommended.” —Wavell Room
“This is a book for the military professional yet one of interest to anyone curious as to why some operations succeed while others falter.” —Foreign Affairs
On Operations presents a strong argument in support of its main hypothesis that the operational level of war is a myth. However its greatest utility is arguably to those who find themselves posted to a staff role, especially those who are posted to a tactical staff role such as a brigade or divisional headquarters. This is because On Operations does a great job of illustrating the critical function that the staff performs in allowing commanders to make sense of the complexity of modern military operations. The logic of Friedman’s main argument is clear and concise. In an age when the popular commentary surrounding military matters is to increasingly emphasize its increasing complexity, Friedman’s analysis cuts through the noise and in a way that simplifies the process through which tactics achieve strategy and strategy drives tactics.” —Grounded Curiosity
"On Operations outlines a way to understand and manage war. The work is ambitious and covers significant territory. . . " — Naval War College Review