Battlefield Deception At The Operational Level Of War
An integral part of any campaign or major operation
is the deception plan. -- FM 100--5
Operational-level deceptions are within the purview of Theater
Army component, Army group, field Army, and in some cases, corps
commanders. The objective of deception operations at the
operational level of war is to influence the decisions of enemy
commanders before battle occurs. This is done so that the tactical
outcome of battles and engagements is favorable and, subsequently,
operationally exploitable. The goal is to maintain operational
fluidity. For this reason operational deceptions have a much
larger potential payoff than those at the tactical level.
These echelons of command may have operational or logistic
sustainment or a combination of both types of mission
During peacetime, the unit's true and deceptive efforts
concerning how the force is organized, equipped, trained, and
maintained directly contribute to--
During peacetime and wartime transition periods,
true and deceptive efforts concerning how the force is allocated
and sustained directly contribute to--
- The strategic aim of deterring war.
- If deterrence fails, the operational requirement to win
campaigns and major operations.
- Delaying final enemy war-waging decisions so political
intervention or war-avoidance processes can be engaged.
- If political intervention fails, the operational requirement
to induce the enemy to revisit his already-made force
allocation and sustainment decisions.
CENTER OF GRAVITY
The essence of operational art is the identification of the
enemy's center of gravity and the design of campaigns which expose
it to attack and destruction.
Enemy operational centers of gravity can be a function of the
political, economic, military, sociological, ideological, or
psychological context (or combinations thereof) which give rise to
the presence of the enemy. Operational centers of gravity have been
A center of gravity is a fundamental source of enemy power and
strength, and, in most cases, it will have to be attacked in phases
- The mass of the enemy force.
- The boundaries between two major enemy combat formations.
- Vital command and control centers.
- Vital logistic bases.
- Cohesion among enemy alliances.
- Mental or psychological balance of a key commander.
A campaign plan's ultimate objective should be the destruction
of the enemy's center of gravity. Deceptions supporting the
campaign plan should be consciously designed to expose the enemy's
center of gravity to increasingly higher levels of risk.
Deceptions that are developed around branches and sequels to
campaigns and major operations plans weaken the robustness with
which the enemy can preserve his center of gravity.
LINES OF OPERATION
Lines of operation define the direction of a force in relation
to the enemy. Multiple lines of operation in a campaign are not
uncommon, although often there is usually only one per campaign or
major operation. This line, or lines, connect the friendly
operational base or bases geographically with the operational
objective. By manipulating these lines, it is possible to mislead
the enemy and cause him to adopt inappropriate courses of action
(see Figure 2-1.).
All offensive operations reach a point-the culminating
point-when the strength of the attacker no longer decisively exceeds
that of the defender. Continuing to operate beyond that point risks
overextension, counterattack, and defeat. The aim of attack is to
achieve decisive objectives before reaching the culminating point.
While on the attack, deception operations make it easier to
move supplies forward and to preserve--
Figure 2-1. Operational base: objective relationships
- Available stocks.
- Numerical advantage of the attacking force.
- Reserve forces.
- Local air superiority.
Offensive deception operations can take the form of displays,
feints, or demonstrations (which reduce enemy maneuver or fire-induced
force attrition), or a combination of displays, feints, and
demonstrations. All contribute to delaying premature achievement
of friendly culminating points.
Operational commanders who are attacking can manipulate the
indicators which the enemy commander uses to perceive friendly
culminating points. This can induce the enemy to--
Defense hastens culmination of the enemy attack, and then
exploits it offensively. While on the defensive, deception
operations are employed to--
- Miscalculate which major operation is the main effort (where
the decisive battle is sought).
- Miscalculate which branch of the major operation is then
assuming main effort emphasis.
- Miscalculate postbattle disposition, objectives, and
- Prematurely shift to the offensive.
- Prematurely commit reserves.
- Hold forces in reserve too long.
- Adopt hasty defensive postures.
- Be logistically underprepared for the impending battle.
- Inappropriately over-weight a sector logistically, or with
fire support, where a decision is not sought.
- Inappropriately exhaust or withhold enemy close air support
or battlefield interdiction sorties.
- Induce the allocation of numerically inferior forces to the
offensive (feign or demonstrate weakness).
- Dilute the enemy's ability to concentrate his main effort
with fires and maneuver (notionally threaten his flanks and
- Through notional means, canalize enemy movement into special
or conventional (air and ground) weapon kill zones.
OPERATIONAL DECEPTION PLANNING AND EXECUTION
Operational commanders plan and execute campaigns and major
operations that extend from ports and support areas far to the rear
of the line of contact to similarly distant sources of enemy
support. They concentrate superior strength against enemy
vulnerabilities at decisive times and places. These commanders set
the terms of battle, which will be fought by subordinate units, by
For these reasons, rear, close, and deep operations truly
become one AirLand Battle, whether offensive or defensive in
- Ground force movement of corps, field armies, and Army
- Air force close air support, counterair, and battlefield
- Logistic sustainment activities.
- Where appropriate, naval activities.
The operational commander is the catalyst who converts
strategic ends into operational means--campaigns and major
operations--to accomplish the ends. He focuses on executing the
campaign plan by staging, conducting, and exploiting the outcome
of major operations. Campaign plans set long-term goals that are
accomplished in phases in most cases. Depending on what the enemy
center of gravity is, they can be designed to defeat the enemy in
a number of different ways, such as--
- Physically destroying enemy forces.
- Defeating or depriving the enemy of his allies.
- Separating his armies in the field for piecemeal defeat.
- Preventing enemy deployment.
- Destroying enemy logistic support.
- Occupying decisive terrain, which forces battle on terrain
unfavorable to the enemy.
- Carrying the war into the enemy homeland.
The plan for the first phase of the campaign depicts the
commanders intent, allocates forces to major subordinate units,
disposes the force for operations, and coordinates air and naval
support for ground maneuver.
Employing deception during the first phase of a campaign
affords operational commanders ample opportunities to--
All this is done to predispose the enemy to adopt a posture that
is operationally exploitable in the first as well as coming
- Influence enemy perception of friendly operational intent
(objectives), and by extension, strategic ends.
- Induce incorrect enemy conclusions and decisions about
friendly forces being allocated to fight the battle.
- Induce incorrect enemy conclusions about force dispositions.
- Induce incorrect enemy conclusions about the nature and
extent of air and naval support to the ground maneuver.
Preplanned branches to the campaign plan--options for changing
dispositions, orientation, direction of movement, and decisions to
accept or decline battle--are the fertile soil into which the seeds
of deception can be sown.
Sequels establish dispositions, objectives, and missions for
subordinate units after battle. Preplanned sequels allow effective
transit to exploitations, counteroffensives, withdrawals, retreats,
or reorientations of the main effort. Deceptions can be as
effectively woven around preplanned sequel variants as branch
variants (see Figure 2-2).
Figure 2-2. Use of branches and sequels as deceptions
MAJOR OPERATIONS PLANS
Major operations planning begins prior to war (as long as a
campaign plan is in place) or can begin as branches or sequels to
campaign plans. Major operations are coordinated elements of
campaigns, and their outcomes impact on different phases of a
DECEPTION SUSTAINMENT PLANNING AND EXECUTION
Operational sustainment provides support by--
The following sustainment imperatives facilitate the
- Manning the force with leaders and soldiers.
- Arming the force with weapon systems and munitions.
- Fueling the force with supplies.
- Fixing or replacing damaged or destroyed materiel.
- Transporting the supported force.
- Protecting the sustainment system from degradation or
- Lines of Support
Operational sustainment planners must ensure that base
facilities, priorities of support, lines of communication (LOC),
and troop movements support the main lines of operation. They must
also be robust enough to postpone attainment of the culminating
point until after the friendly decision point is reached, in
anticipation of attacks by enemy--
Operational sustainment planners should create notional base
facilities and establish and use notional LOC.
- Agents and sympathizers.
- Special purpose forces.
- Point and area deep attack systems (air and/or ground).
- Airborne forces.
- Airmobile forces.
- Ground maneuver (exploitation) forces.
Integration of operational and sustainment deception plans
will result in the anticipatory sustainment requirements, mentioned
earlier, being satisfied within the context of preplanned branches
and sequels to campaign and major operations plans.
By satisfying the integration requirement mentioned earlier,
operational continuity (in terms of linus of operations and
culminating points) will be enhanced.
Deceptive dilution of the sustainment system, through the use
of notional logistic bases and LOC, preserve the robustness of the
system during surge periods needed to reconstitute the defense or
exploit offensive successes.
The key imperative to sustaining the force is the imagination
of everyone involved in the sustainment system to improvise, using
organic and, where possible, host nation resources. For example,
notional sustainment nodes can be created from discarded empty
containers or materiel.
LINES OF SUPPORT
Creation and manipulation of both central and multiple bases
of support, in conjunction with interior and exterior lines of
support; are the means with which the sustainment system is
deceptively enhanced. Reference to lines of support can be found
in FM 100-5.
OFFENSIVE CAMPAIGNS AND MAJOR OPERATIONS
The key to success in offensive campaigns is to defeat the
enemy before reaching your culminating point--the point where the
offense becomes exhausted
Unfortunately, for one or more of the following reasons,
culminating points are often reached before the decisive objective
has been achieved:
To prevent reaching the culminating point at the wrong
time-before the objective is secured-the attacker must cause the enemy
defense to collapse as rapidly as possible. He must simultaneously
protect his forces and sustainment system. Operational commanders
should employ deception in offensive campaigns to-
- Successive battles and engagements result in attrition of
- Forces are allocated to the flanks, reducing numerical
advantage at the forward line of own troops (FLOT).
- Supply lines become more extended and thus more fragile to
interdiction, physically taking longer to get supplies and
ammunition to the front.
- Significant rear area threats require the commitment of
forces away from the main effort.
- Enemy defenses may stiffen, as outer defensive belts are
breached, causing further attrited forces and the use of
more supplies and ammunition.
- The natural friction of war and the sheer physical effort
necessary to move and sustain forces work against
maintenance of offensive momentum.
The reasons for employing deception go to the heart of
maintaining operational fluidity. Deception is employed to-
- Mask the intentions of operational and sustainment forces.
- Put the defender into positions of decisive disadvantage
before battles and engagements are joined by subordinate
- Put the defender into positions of disadvantage so that the
outcomes of battle-success, stalemate, defeat-can be
exploited by operational reserves.
Offensive campaigns may be fought against concentrated or
dispersed enemy forces. Against concentrated enemy forces,
operational deception should induce the enemy to abandon his
positions and fight at a positional disadvantage. This means-
- Preserve the initiative.
- Induce and strike enemy weaknesses.
- Induce the enemy to expose his formations indepth to
facilitate deep attack.
- Prevent the enemy from establishing a coherent defense.
Against dispersed enemy forces, operational deception should
induce the enemy to remain dispersed for piecemeal defeat. This
- Directing operations against enemy flanks or rear, while
demonstrating or feigning a frontal main effort.
- Penetrating weak areas of the defense, while demonstrating
or feigning against flanks and rear.
- Operating on converging exterior lines of operation, while
demonstrating or feigning the use of interior lines.
General Grant's Vicksburg Campaign during the Civil War
graphically depicts the use of deception against both concentrated
(Vicksburg) and dispersed (Vicksburg-Jackson) forces.
- Deceptively manipulating the sequencing of campaign branches
and sequels so that enemy reserves do not decisively
influence current battle outcomes.
- Deceptively manipulating LOC and lines of operations so that
notional convergence occurs at multiple objectives at the
- Feigning or demonstrating forms of maneuver that facilitate
penetration of the attacking force into enemy rear areas of
Grant used demonstrations and feints north of Vicksburg to
mask his maneuver south around Roundaway and Vidal bayous, and up
the Big Black River. This phase of the campaign turned the southern
flank of the Vicksburg defenses and exposed the rear (the town of
Jackson) to attack.
By demonstrating and feigning south of the Vicksburg defenses,
extending east from Warrenton toward the Big Black River, rebel
forces at Vicksburg were effectively held in place. By
demonstrating east to Jackson, rebel forces there were held in
place as well. This tactic allowed Grant to-
- Maneuver (interdict) against the Vicksburg defender's supply
LOC in the general vicinity of Champion Hill.
- Keep the Vicksburg and Jackson forces from massing.
- Subsequently defeat by piecemeal the Vicksburg and Ackson
DEFENSIVE CAMPAIGNS AND MAJOR OPERATIONS
The key to success in defensive campaigns is to destroy the
enemy's capability to sustain forward movement-to hasten his
culminating point. Defensive campaigns are undertaken-
Defensive campaigns must control the enemy's attack, while
simultaneously preserving the defending force's ability to defend
and to assume offensive operations. Commanders mix defensive and
offensive battles and engagements. They contest the initiative at
every opportune time and place, within the area of operations, to
exhaust the enemy attack.
- When the military situation does not allow for offensive
- When commanders must economize to support attacks elsewhere.
Operational commanders should employ deception in defensive
The reasons for employing deception go to the heart of
maintaining a coherent defense. Those reasons are to-
- Exploit enemy prebattle force allocation and sustainment
- Exploit the potential for favorable outcomes of protracted
minor battles fought by subordinate units.
- Lure the enemy into friendly territory, exposing his flanks
and rear to attacks.
- Mask the aggressiveness of the sustaining and operational
forces committed to the defense.
Defensive campaigns, like offensive campaigns, contain
branches and sequels that give the commander preplanned
opportunities to exploit the
military situation. It is around these branches and sequels that
deception potentials exist.
- Defeat a large attacking force.
- Retain territory.
- Gain time.
Specific deceptive actions that the operational commander can
take to hasten exhaustion of the enemy offensive include, but are
not limited to-
- Manipulating the SALUTE factors associated with defensive
- Creating notional obstacles.
- Masking the conditions under which he will accept decisive
- Manipulating the SALUTE factors associated with operational
reserves, particularly their mission intent.
- Luring the enemy into a decisive battle, the outcome of
which will precondition branching or sequencing to an
- Inducing enemy operational reserves to remain uncommitted
at the decisive time or place.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STRATEGIC AND OPERATIONAL DECEPTION PLANS
Strategic deception plans are designed to facilitate war
fighting, escalation control and war winning at theater level and
higher. Operational deception plans facilitate the successful
conduct of in-theater campaigns at Army EAC. Although EAC
organizations are not precluded from developing operational-level
deceptions independent of the strategic context, they usually will
be land component-specific, derivative slices of strategic
Campaign plans and operational deception plans must not be
developed in strategic plan vacuums for the following reasons:
- Strategic deception plans are designed to have long-term
effects on the enemy's ability to prosecute the war. They
directly influence those enemy factors from which Army
campaign plans are designed to set the terms of battle.
Therefore, operational deceptions should be constantly
maintained to respond to strategically induced evolutions
in fundamental enemy battlefield capabilities.
- Strategic deception plans must contain deception event
taskings for one or more service components operating in the
same theater. Strategic and Army operational deception
plans must, therefore, be coordinated at the strategic level
to ensure they are not working at cross purposes with one
- Strategic deception plans might call for one service
component to provide support to another
satisfy the latter's strategic deception-related taskings.
Army operational deception plans must, therefore, be
coordinated to ensure they are not working at cross purposes
with one another.
- Strategic deception plans may require that some deception
event taskings be subordinated for execution through Army
operational echelons down to Army tactical echelons.u
- Other-theater deception plans may directly or indirectly
influence Army EAC organizations to set the terms of battle
their tactical formations may have to deal with. Army EAC
organizations do not normally know about potential
other-theater impacts on their ability to wage campaigns.
Army operational commanders, therefore, must look to the
commander in chief to ensure that intertheater coordination
Strategic deception may influence the enemy's total capability
to wage war in-theater. Operational deceptions, taking the enemy's
induced war-waging capability into account, set the terms of battle
for tactical formations (see Figure 2-3).
Figure 2-3 Relationship between strategic and operational