Maneuver Self Study Program

Why Operational Art, Joint Operations, and Multi-National Operations are Important to Maneuver Leaders

Maneuver leaders must understand operational art, joint operations, and multinational operations because wars are won—with the close cooperation of joint services and multinational allies—at the operational and strategic levels. A string of tactical victories does not guarantee success at the operational or strategic level. As a result, maneuver leaders at all levels must understand the strategic and operational context of their tactical operations.

At the same time, maneuver leaders must also understand the capabilities of joint and interagency partners, and our allies. To seize, retain, and exploit the initiative against a wide array of adaptive and determined enemies, maneuver leaders must effectively employ a potent combination of joint and multi-national assets as part of a combined arms, air-ground team. And just as understanding the strategic and operational context of tactical operations is an important first step in applying the “operational art,” understanding the capabilities, limitations, organizations, and interests of our joint and multi-national partners will be critical to maneuver leaders as they seek to assist friends, reassure and protect populations, and identify, isolate, and defeat enemies.

Operational Art, Joint Operations, and Multinational Operations

“In forming the plan of a campaign, it is requisite to foresee everything the enemy may do, and be prepared with the necessary means to counteract it. Plans of the campaign may be modified ad infintium according to the circumstances, the genius of the general, the character of the troops, and the features of the country.”


“The only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.”

Winston Churchill

In today’s wars and in future armed conflict, maneuver leaders will face a wide array of complex challenges. The continuing proliferation (and even use) of weapons of mass destruction, steadily worsening economic conditions, social disorder throughout the world, an increasing rise in militant extremism (both religious and political), the growth of terrorist activities and operations, and a growing number of technically sophisticated hybrid threats and regionally-focused conventional armies are just a small sample of the potential and real dangers our maneuver forces will face.

As a result, US Army maneuver forces must be capable of defeating conventional forces, well-equipped hybrid surrogates, and indigenous paramilitary forces, insurgents, and terrorists. We must be capable of operating in jungles, mountains, deserts, and cities. Moreover, we must be prepared to operate with our fellow services and in the company of our allies and indigenous forces. And throughout all these complexities, the maneuver leader must have the vision and context to understand how best to array the tactical combat power allocated to him in a manner that will ultimately achieve the national policy aims of the United States. In other words, maneuver leaders must understand how to employ the operational art in the context of joint and multinational operations.

Operational Art

According to Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, operational art is “the cognitive approach by commanders and staffs—supported by their skill, knowledge, experience, creativity, and judgment—to develop strategies, campaigns, and operations to organize and employ military forces by integrating ends, ways, and means.” In other words, operational art is the employment of military forces to attain strategic goals through the design, organization, and conduct of campaigns and major operations. If strategy attempts to align military, diplomatic, informational, and economic resources to meet national policy goals and tactics attempts to employ small units (squad to Brigade) on the battlefield, then operational art is the means through which commanders connect tactical combat power to the achievement of national policy objectives.

Highly contextualized and endlessly variable, operational art requires broad vision; a clear understanding of the operational environment, strategic goals, and tactical capabilities; the ability to anticipate future events; a nuanced understanding of the relationship of means to ends; clear communication to articulate a sequence of complex events; and effective joint and multinational cooperation. At its essence, operational art demands that maneuver leaders understand the following first-order questions:

  1. What is the necessary military and political condition required to achieve the strategic goal?
  2. What sequence of tactical and operational actions are most likely to produce that condition?
  3. How should the operational commander apply tactical resources to accomplish that sequence of actions?

Joint Operations and Multinational Operations

Maneuver leaders must understand the role of operational art in the context of joint and multinational operations. According to Joint Publication 1-0, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, joint operations consist of military “activities, operations, and organizations in which elements of two or more Military Departments participate.” For example, the assault into Iraq and the subsequent attack to Baghdad in March 2003 was a joint operation. Ground forces from the US Army fought in concert with the US Marine Corps while both the Marines and the Army were supported by combat aircraft from the US Air Force and the US Navy. Likewise, multinational operations, as defined by Joint Publication 3-16, Multinational Operations, are military “operations conducted by forces of two or more nations.” Multinational operations can result in the formation of coalitions—where an ad hoc arrangement between two or more nations forms a consensus for common action—or in the result of alliances—where a formal agreement (usually a treaty) between two or more nations establishes broad, long-term objectives that further the common interests of the members. For example, the Anglo-Canadian-American assault on Nazi-occupied France in June 1944 was a multinational operation.

Significantly, maneuver leaders must understand the potential opportunities, synergy, and power of joint and multinational operations. In simple terms, the integrated employment of close-air support, naval power, and land power can generate consider combat power and, when employed through the effective application of the operational art, potentially decisive strategic effects. At the same time, however, maneuver leaders must also understand the difficulties and challenges associated with both joint and multinational operations. For example, communications, logistics, and command functions can present significant compatibility challenges to the commander and subordinates within a joint and multinational force.

A Guide to Study

To understand the complexities and opportunities offered by the effective employment of the operational art, joint and multi-national operations, maneuver leaders should first look to Army, Joint, and Allied conceptual and doctrinal publications. The best examples of these conceptual and doctrinal examples are the 2009 Army Capstone Concept and the 2012 edition of ADP 3-0, Operations. Once familiar with the conceptual and doctrinal foundations of joint and multi-national operations, leaders should read an article or a book that highlights the opportunities and the challenges associated with joint and coalition warfare. Next, leaders might study a specific joint or multi-national operation to examine the discussion questions below in an in-depth study of joint warfare.


  1. What are some principles of joint operations, multi-national operations, and the operational art, which you have identified, that have not changed with the evolution of technology?
  2. As technology develops, how do you think the operational art will evolve?
  3. What deficiencies have you identified in your own understanding of the operational art, joint operations, and multi-national operations?
  4. What training can I implement into my unit so that subordinates will develop a better understanding of the operational art? Of joint operations? Of multi-national operations?
  5. How did the leaders who led these joint coalitions prepare prior to combat?
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