Origins of Soviet operational art

The first reference to operational art as a concept of military art has been attributed to Aleksandr Svechin, officer of the Imperial General Staff and military specialist in the service of new Bolshevik state. According to first professor of operational art at the Red Army’s military academy N. Varfolomeev, Svechin had first used the term in 1922 in conjuction with his lectures on strategy. At that time he defined operational art as a critical conceptual linkage between tactics and strategy. In this manner, senior commanders transormed tactical successes into operational bounds to achieve strategic objectives.

Svechin specifically called attention to the growing complexity of warfare since the wars of the French revolution and noted that the conduct of military operations had become ‘more complex and profound’ and that contemporary commanders could not count on success in any operation, unless they undertook preparations to solve the problems that would appear in course of operation. Strategic foresight was necessary for the conduct of successful operations. He defined operational art by referencing its relationship to tactics and strategy. If tactics solve immediate problems and strategy pursues goals defined by the political leadership, then operational art governs tactical creativity and links together tactical actions into a campaign to achieve strategic goal.

As an alternative to destruction, Svechin offered a strategy of attrition. It was a strategy that was not limited to operational art, but was politically and economically informed. While destruction is driven by its own logic to seek an immediate decision in a campaign, attrition, depending on the intensity of armed conflict, can range from close to destruction to the abscence of combat operations. A strategy of attrition allows for the shaping of a conflict and for continued political engagement to redefine the conflict to one’s advantage in both domestic and international terms. Under such a strategy, the guidance of operations is under the direction of the integral military command, and the conduct of operations in a particular theatre depends upon the general staff.

Source: J. Olsen, M. van Creveld. “Evolution of Operational Art”.