Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.

Document created: 1 June 03
Air & Space Power Journal - Summer 2003

“Reining in” the Center of Gravity Concept

Lt Col Antulio J. Echevarria II, USA

Editorial Abstract: The US military has often debated the true meaning of centers of gravity as developed by Clausewitz. We find our Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps in varying degrees of conflict, but the debate draws no closer to a resolution. Using a three-step process, Lieutenant Colonel Echevarria provides a detailed explanation of how we can fully comprehend centers of gravity and use them to our benefit.

For nearly two decades, the US military has struggled both to understand the center of gravity (COG) concept as developed by the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz and to find practical ways to apply it.1 The volumes of research papers and other studies that fill the shelves of service schools and war colleges testify to both the level of our interest and the intensity of our struggle. Despite all of that, we are not there yet. The vast literature on the COG reflects a variety of individual and service perspectives. The US Marine Corps- a relatively small force designed for expeditionary, ship-to-shore operations- prefers to strike at enemy weaknesses. Accordingly, it tends to equate enemy COGs with key vulnerabilities.2 In contrast, the US Army, which has the role of fighting large-scale battles and winning major wars, sees the enemy’s COG as a "source of strength."3 It tends to look for a single COG, normally the principal capability- the opponent’s land force- that stands in the way of marching on the enemy’s capital. Likewise,

charged with the mission of winning maritime wars, the Navy initially had a concept of the COG that resembled the Army’s. Navy doctrine defined a COG as "something the enemy must have to continue military operations- a source of his strength, but not necessarily strong or a strength in itself. There can only be one center of gravity."4

In keeping with views espoused by some of the early airpower theorists, such as Billy Mitchell and others at the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama, the US Air Force tends to see COGs as "vital centers" located deep in the enemy’s heartland.5 In fact, John Warden, arguably the most well-known modern airpower theorist, has gone so far as to say that COGs exist within each of the five component parts (or rings)- leadership, organic essentials, infrastructure, population, and fielded forces- that describe any strategic entity.6 Warden defines a COG as "that point where the enemy is most vulnerable and the point where an attack will have the best chance of being decisive."7 His principal argument is that airpower has the unique capability to strike at such COGs simultaneously through "parallel"- as opposed to sequential or serial- attacks, which can overwhelm and paralyze an opponent and thereby prove decisive. Thus, the theory of parallel attack goes hand in hand with the view that multiple COGs exist. The one tends to reinforce the other. Air Force doctrine followed suit.8

Each of the competing definitions of the COG has merit. However, as the Gulf War (1990–91) demonstrated, the lack of a single, coherent definition of a COG can lead to potentially serious problems with regard to joint planning and resource allocation. In the early stages of the conflict, Gen H. Norman Schwarzkopf, combatant commander of US Central Command, had a different notion of the enemy’s COG than did Gen Charles A. Horner, his joint air force component commander. Schwarzkopf saw three distinct COGs: Saddam Hussein; the Republican Guard; and Iraq’s nuclear, biological, and chemical capabilities. Horner, however, identified 12 "target sets"- ranging from national leadership and command and control to railroads, airfields, and ports- each of which corresponded to a COG.9 Although the leaders eventually agreed upon three COGs- strategic leadership; military forces (Republican Guard); and the nuclear, biological, and chemical capability- they lost much time in the process.

Unfortunately, joint doctrine has still failed to resolve the differences in these competing views, preferring instead to construct a definition that includes aspects from each of the services’ definitions. Joint Publication (Pub) 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, for example, defines COGs as those "characteristics, capabilities, or locations from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight."10 Joint Pub 5-00.1, Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning, based upon Joint Pub 3-0, defines the COG similarly but replaces "locations" with the phrase "sources of strength."11 It also describes COGs as "those aspects of the adversary’s overall capability that, theoretically, if attacked and neutralized or destroyed will lead either to the adversary’s inevitable defeat or force opponents to abandon aims or change behavior" (emphasis added).12 Although this definition takes the much-needed step of linking COGs to effects, joint doctrine still fails to address two key issues: (1) determining a combatant’s COG, and (2) deciding whether he has one COG or multiple COGs.

Fortunately, by returning to Clausewitz’s original concept, we can eliminate much of this uncertainty. As it turns out, both sides of the debate are right- and wrong! In the Clausewitzian sense, COGs are neither strengths nor vulnerabilities per se but focal points where certain forces come together. Moreover, the number of COGs- if, indeed, they exist at all- depends upon the nature (overall unity) of the combatant. COGs do not exist in all cases!

Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity

The great Prussian military theorist appears to have derived his idea of the COG after being influenced by a series of lectures presented by German physicist Paul Erman, a professor at both the University of Berlin and the Prussian Allgemeine Kriegsschule (war college).13 Clausewitz served as director of the war college from 1818 to 1830, and we know that he and Erman had at least a cordial relationship during which they exchanged ideas related to the mechanical sciences.

In modern elementary physics, which was about the state of the mechanical sciences in Clausewitz’s day, a COG represents the point where the forces of gravity converge within an object.14 It is also, generally speaking, the point at which a force applied to an object will move it most efficiently. In other words, we will not waste any of our energy when we move the object. Striking at the COG with enough force can cause the object to lose its balance- or equilibrium- and fall. A COG, therefore, is not a source of strength but a factor of balance. A warrior’s strength, for example, might derive from his muscles, brains, or weapons- or any combination of these- but they relate to his COG only insofar as he needs to be balanced to use them. Also, a COG is not a weakness. A warrior might be physically weak, intellectually challenged, or wanting for weapons, but these conditions have little to do with his equilibrium. Strictly speaking, then, a COG is neither a strength nor a weakness although striking it can compromise a strength or exploit a weakness. If one can direct a blow with enough force against the warrior’s COG, he can be laid low, despite the sum of his strengths and weaknesses, because his COG is connected to those things by means of his physical body.

The concept is not without its problems, however. Depending on the circumstances, we might find it much easier to knock a warrior down by sweeping his feet out from under him rather than hitting him in his COG. Similarly, circumstances might not permit us to take up a position from which we can strike a blow at our adversary’s COG, in which case we might have to settle for a blow against a vital organ- a head shot for instance. It is misleading, therefore, to think that only a blow against an adversary’s COG will yield decisive results. Rather, the point is that, if it is strong enough, a blow against the COG will usually lay our opponent low.

Most of the US military’s definitions of COGs derive from Sir Michael Howard and Peter Paret’s English translation of Clausewitz’s On War, especially book 6 ("Defense") and book 8 ("War Plans"). From these passages, we learn that a COG is "always found where the mass is concentrated most densely"; that it is "the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends"; and that it emerges from the "dominant characteristics of both belligerents" (emphasis added).15 Unfortunately, this translation, a portion of which is reproduced below, creates the false impression that COGs are akin to sources of strength:

The first principle is that the ultimate substance of enemy strength must be traced back to the fewest possible sources, and ideally to one alone. The attack on these sources must be compressed into the fewest possible actions- again, ideally, into one. . . .

The task of reducing the sources of enemy strength to a single center of gravity will depend on:

1. The distribution of the enemy’s political power. . . .

2. The situation in the theater of war where the various armies are operating (emphasis added).16

In fact, a closer look at the German text shows that Clausewitz never uses the term source (Quelle). Instead, he advises tracing the full weight (Gewicht) of the enemy’s force (Macht) to as few COGs as possible.17 As in the previous physics example, the COG connects the warrior’s various strengths without being a strength itself. A more literal translation of the above passage appears below:

The first principle is: To trace the full weight (Gewicht) of the enemy’s force (Macht) to as few centers of gravity as possible, when feasible, to one; and, at the same time, to reduce the blow against these centers of gravity to as few major actions as possible, when feasible, to one.

Reducing the enemy’s force (Macht) to one center of gravity depends, first, upon the [enemy’s] political connectivity [or unity] itself . . . and, second, upon the situation in the theater of war itself, and which of the various enemy armies appear there (emphasis added).18

Further examination of Clausewitz’s references to the COG throughout the German text of On War reveals, first of all, that the concept remains valid only where the enemy possesses sufficient "unity" or "interdependence" (Zusammenhang) to act as a single body:

Just as the center of gravity is always found where the mass is most concentrated, and just as every blow directed against the body’s center of gravity yields the greatest effect, and- more to the point- the strongest blow is the one delivered by the center of gravity, the same is true in war. The armed forces of every combatant, whether an individual state or an alliance of states, have a certain unity and thus a certain interdependence [or connectivity] (Zusammenhang); and where such interdependence exists, one can apply the center of gravity concept. Accordingly, there exist within these armed forces certain centers of gravity which, by their movement and direction, exert a decisive influence over all other points; and these centers of gravity exist where the forces are most concentrated. However, just as in the world of inanimate bodies where the effect on a center of gravity has its proportions and its limits determined by the interdependence of the parts, the same is true in war (emphasis added).19

In other words, before applying the concept in war planning, we must ask ourselves whether we can assume the enemy will act as a single entity. If so, we should look for connections among the various parts of an adversary or adversaries in order to determine what holds them together. In 1809, for example, Napoléon had to fight on two fronts- against Anglo-Spanish forces in Spain and Austrians in central Europe. Although they had a common enemy, the Anglo-Spanish and Austrian forces did little to coordinate their efforts. Hence, it would have been correct for Napoléon to look for two COGs- one on each front. As Clausewitz states, the degree of unity formed by military forces and the geographical spaces in which they have to fight can create more than one COG. He advocates tracing multiple COGs back to a single one whenever possible. Yet, he allows for the possibility that one specific COG might not exist. The key question we must ask, then, is whether the enemy’s forces are connected sufficiently so that actions against him in one area will still have a decisive effect on him in other areas.

Second, just as in physics, the COG refers to the thing that holds the enemy’s force together or, in a manner of speaking, that serves as a focal point. Indeed, when we reexamine the German text in one of the popular passages from book 8, in which Clausewitz describes the COG as it applies to war planning, we find that emphasis on the COG as a focal point becomes clearer: "What theory can admit to thus far is the following: Everything depends upon keeping the dominant characteristics of both states in mind. From these emerge a certain center of gravity, a focal point (Zentrum) of force and movement, upon which the larger whole depends; and, it is against the enemy’s center of gravity that the collective blow of all power must be directed" (emphasis added).20

To find the COG in any particular situation, then, we must look for the thing that provides a certain centripetal or center-seeking force (as opposed to centrifugal, which is outward-seeking) for the enemy. Clausewitz points out, for example, that in the February 1814 campaign against France, the allies’ COG lay more with Prussia’s Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher than with Austria’s Prince Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg, even though the latter had a larger army (140,000) than the former (100,000). "Blücher," Clausewitz explains, "although [numerically] weaker than Schwarzenberg, was nonetheless the more important adversary due to his enterprising spirit; hence, the center of gravity lay more with him and it pulled the others in his direction" (emphasis added).21 In the actual campaign, Napoléon’s force (75,000) first defeated Blücher’s Prussian army and then turned on Schwarzenberg’s Austrians, driving them back. Nonetheless, both Blücher’s and Schwarzenberg’s armies recovered and defeated Napoléon one month later.22 Clausewitz criticizes Napoléon’s decision, arguing that the French emperor should have fought Blücher- the allies’ COG- until the Prussian force was completely defeated. Such a victory, in Clausewitz’s view, would have induced the Austrians to withdraw as well. As in the mechanical sciences, therefore, Clausewitz’s military COGs have a centripetal quality; they represent a focal point- a location where forces come together.

Clausewitz gives several examples of such focal points. The COGs of Alexander the Great, Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII of Sweden, and Frederick the Great, for instance, resided in their respective armies. In different circumstances, the personalities of key leaders, a state’s capital, or a network of allies and their community of interest might serve as COGs.23 What all of these various elements have in common is not that they are sources of power but that they perform a centripetal or centralizing function that holds power systems together and, in some cases, even gives them purpose and direction. Strictly speaking, an armed force is not a "source" of power. Rather, it serves as a focal point that draws and organizes power from a variety of sources: a population base (recruits), an industrial base (weapons and materiel), and an agricultural base (foodstuffs). The same holds true for the personalities of key leaders, state capitals, or alliance networks: they draw raw power from different sources and organize, refine, and redirect it.

Furthermore, Clausewitz’s COG focuses on achieving a specific effect- the total (or strategic) collapse of the enemy. Hence, it is an effects-based approach rather than a capabilities-based one, and it applies only to one level of warfare- the strategic. To be sure, effects and capabilities are linked. Attacking specific capabilities produces certain effects. Achieving certain effects often requires attacking specific capabilities. Indeed, we could say that they represent the proverbial two sides of the same coin. In the capabilities-based approach, the first step is to identify the key enemy strength or capability that could prevent us from achieving our objective. In the effects-based approach, the first step is to identify the effect we want to achieve and then determine what actions we should take to achieve it. Frequently those actions might go well beyond merely neutralizing or destroying specific capabilities. In a manner of speaking, the capabilities-based approach seeks a negative aim- destruction of a certain capability. The effects-based approach, on the other hand, pursues a positive aim because it seeks to create a certain effect. The US military has gotten into the habit of narrowly focusing on the former approach. It could well benefit from pursuing the latter.

Clausewitz’s effects-based COG resembles the emerging concept known as effects-based operations (EBO), which, as Gen Anthony Zinni, USMC, retired, has remarked, forces political and military leaders to determine what specific effects they want military (and nonmilitary) action to achieve.24 For Clausewitz, the desired effect and the military objective- total collapse of the enemy- are always the same. Like EBO, Clausewitz’s COG requires the ability to predict, with some reasonable probability, how to achieve at least first- and second-order effects- and possibly more. That said, it is important to point out that Clausewitz eschews prescriptive formulae and considers the calculation of a COG a matter of "strategic judgment" (strategische Urteil) at the highest levels.25 It is a matter of judgment, and, given Clausewitz’s distaste for prescriptive formulae, it is doubtful that he would have approved of some of the current efforts to develop them by means of new kinds of information technology and software. Educating senior leaders to develop their strategic judgment in order to make such determinations, however, was something he certainly would have supported since this theme runs consistently throughout On War.

It is worth noting that Clausewitz does not distinguish among tactical, operational, or strategic COGs. As in physics, an individual body can have only one COG at a time. Clausewitz defines the COG by the entire system (or structure) of the enemy- not by a level of war. A local commander might determine a COG for the portion of the enemy’s forces arrayed before him, providing those forces are sufficiently removed from the remainder of the enemy’s forces. However, this separate COG would amount to only a local rather than a tactical or operational COG. In order for us to speak of an opponent’s tactical or operational COG, he would have to have an independent existence at each of those levels of war. Use of the COG concept should have a unifying effect- pulling all tactical and operational efforts toward the strategic end. "Salami-slicing" a COG into tactical, operational, and strategic pieces only stretches the concept to mean everything- and therefore nothing.

In addition, Clausewitz emphasizes that we should look for COGs only in wars designed to defeat the enemy completely. Only the vast amount of energy and other resources that go into wars aimed at achieving decisive victory can cause COGs and their areas of influence to emerge.26 Perhaps more important, in such wars military and political objectives- the total political and military defeat of the enemy- essentially complement one another. We want to achieve the total collapse of the enemy, so we strike at his COG. In limited wars, on the other hand, COGs tend to compete with the typically more restricted political objective(s). For example, under Clausewitz’s concept, determining the Iraqi COG during the Gulf War would have been unnecessary since it was a limited war- not one aimed at regime removal. Simply translating the war’s strategic objectives- expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and reduction of Iraq’s offensive capability- into operational and tactical objectives should have given coalition forces all the operational guidance they needed for success.27 This is not to say that the COG concept can only apply in wars of annihilation but to point out that it is neither appropriate nor necessary in all cases.

In sum, Clausewitz’s COG is a focal point, not a strength or a weakness- or even a source of strength. Second, COGs are found only where sufficient connectivity exists among the various parts of the enemy to form an overarching system (or structure) that acts with a certain unity, like a physical body. Unless the enemy’s parts have sufficient connectivity, he may not necessarily have a COG at all. Third, COGs possess a certain centripetal force that acts to hold an entire system or structure together. A blow to the enemy’s COG would throw him off balance or, put differently, cause his entire system (or structure) to collapse. Fourth, the concept necessitates viewing the enemy holistically, as a system. Finally, identifying COGs is not appropriate for all types of wars. It is also important to remember that Clausewitz’s COG concept rests on the assumption that an opponent’s COG, if it exists, can be identified and is accessible.

Toward a Simple Method

Getting the definition of a COG correct, however, is only half the battle. War planners need a practical method for determining a specific adversary’s COG.28 The method should be simple, in keeping with Clausewitz’s dictum that in war even the simplest thing is difficult, yet it should make use of the best intelligence available and accommodate revision as the result of rigorous analysis.

Step 1: Determine Whether Identifying and Attacking 
a COG Is Appropriate for the Type of War We Are 
Going to Wage

For example, the campaign against Al Qaeda, though part of the larger global war on terrorism, is essentially a war that, for the United States at least, cannot end without the neutralization or destruction of that group; hence, it is the kind of war in which the identification and pursuit of a COG serves a constructive purpose.

Step 2: Determine Whether the Adversary’s Whole
Structure or System Is Sufficiently Connected to Be
Treated as a Single Body

Al Qaeda has numerous cells operating globally, most of which do not know of the others’ existence. At least some of these cells- or certain individuals within them- appear to be linked to the group’s leadership by networked electronic communications. Messages and commands are thus passed via the Internet, cellular phones, and other electronic devices. It is also possible that a fair number of cells already have orders- and have had them for some time- that they will attempt to execute at a certain time and place if they receive no other orders to the contrary. Thus, the physical links are only intermittent at best. Successful operations against Al Qaeda cells in Europe will not likely cause those in Singapore to collapse. However, the group’s psychological- or ideological- links appear strong. Even if they are not particularly well linked physically, the cells do have fairly strong ideological ties. We might do better, therefore, to seek an ideological COG.

Step 3: Determine What Element Has the Necessary
Centripetal Force to Hold the System Together

One ideological element does appear to have sufficient centripetal force to hold Al Qaeda together- its avowed "hatred of apostasy."29 That hatred, rooted in a radical branch of Islam- rather than Osama bin Laden or another individual leader- probably serves as the group’s COG. Admittedly, bin Laden laid much of the groundwork to establish Al Qaeda, but it does not appear that his removal will cause his organization to collapse. Most analysts and intelligence sources claim that if bin Laden were captured or killed, another leader would simply take his place. That leader can only turn out to be either more or less effective than bin Laden. Thus, Al Qaeda’s leadership really amounts to a center of critical capability- something we want to neutralize but not something, in itself, that will end the war.

Instead, the hatred of apostasy is what draws raw power- recruits, money, and the support of other states- and serves to motivate Al Qaeda’s members to wage their particular style of asymmetric warfare. It will likely continue to do so after bin Laden is removed. Decisively defeating Al Qaeda will require neutralizing that COG- that hatred of apostasy. However, doing so will mean employing the diplomatic and informational elements of national power as deliberately, if not more so, as the military one. It is a campaign that will also require the support of moderate branches of Islam.

Recommendations for
Air Force Doctrine

If the Air Force is to put its doctrinal definitions of the COG more in line with Clausewitz’s idea and thereby bring the concept back under control, Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine; AFDD 1-2, Air Force Glossary; and AFDD 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power (as well as Joint Pub 3-0 and Joint Pub 5-00.1, mentioned previously) should redefine the COG to mean a focal point. AFDD 1 and AFDD 1-2 mostly reiterate the flawed definition in Joint Pub 3-0, but AFDD 2 comes closer to the true sense of COGs, stating that they are "those centers of power that if defeated or disrupted will have the most decisive result."30 However, the definition has two problems. First, one can construe centers of power as centers of strength, rather than those things that have enough centripetal force to hold everything together and that provide the enemy’s raw power with purpose and direction. Second, results are either decisive, or they are not- they include defeat of the enemy and achievement of our objectives, or they do not. In war, a decision is not a matter of degree.

War planners should refrain from applying the concept to every kind of war (or operation) so as to eliminate or reduce the competition that can occur between COGs and political/ military objectives. We must ask ourselves whether the total military collapse of the enemy is commensurate with our political objectives and end state.

If it is, then war planners should identify the location of the connections- and gaps- in an enemy’s entire structure or system before deciding whether a COG actually exists. In short, war planners must then determine whether the enemy (or enemies) has one, several, or no COGs. The COG concept does not apply in a situation in which the enemy is not connected enough to act with unity.

If a COG does exist, war planners must then determine whether it is accessible- that is, whether it can be attacked. If not, they must decide if another point (or points) exists that, if attacked, will lay the enemy low- the equivalent of a head shot, for example. If the answer is still no, political and military leaders should assess the risks involved before committing to the conflict, if possible. The risk of defeat or failure may be too high unless we can create more favorable circumstances by adding allies and other resources to our cause.

AFDD 2’s thought process for developing and attacking a COG (fig. 1) makes the error of deriving the COG from political/military objectives rather than from the nature/character of the opponent(s) and does not include steps for determining whether a COG is desirable or even whether it exists. That process should be modified to reflect the fact that COGs do not exist in all cases (fig. 2). Even when they do, it may not be necessary- or desirable- to attack them in order to achieve our objectives. Furthermore, the thought process should include a reconsideration of the wisdom of prosecuting a war in situations in which our opponent’s COG is not accessible.

Figure 1. Developing and Attacking a COG (From AFDD 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power, 17 February 2000, 91)

Figure 1. Developing and Attacking a COG (From AFDD 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power, 17 February 2000, 91)


Figure 2. Determining Whether a COG Applies

Figure 2. Determining Whether a COG Applies

To be sure, the Air Force is under no obligation to accept a concept developed nearly two centuries ago by a military theorist who was influenced by a distant culture and who had different conceptual tools available to him. Yet, each of the services believes that its definition of a COG derives from Clausewitz’s and that this concept has a timeless quality about it. We would do well, therefore, to return to the original idea and build upon that concept to reduce the confusion that it has produced and to give our war-fighting efforts more focus.


1. Although Clausewitz’s military concept of the COG originated in the 1820s, it only recently became popular in US military circles. Its first significant usage appeared in the 1986 edition of the Army’s Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations, which defines the COG as the "hub of all power and movement" (179–80). At the time, doctrine writers were concerned with continuing the Army’s transition from "active defense" to a new war-fighting concept- AirLand Battle- that called for closer ground-air coordination throughout the depth and breadth of the battlefield to defeat Warsaw Pact forces in western Europe. Thus, the strategic context of the Cold War, in conjunction with works by military authors such as Harry Summers (On Strategy) and William Lind (Maneuver Handbook) in the mid-1980s, prompted the resurrection of the concept. Clausewitz’s notion of the COG offered NATO war fighters a conceptual tool for employing their limited resources for maximum effect- namely, to achieve decisive results against overwhelming numbers. However, the concept’s introduction into Army doctrine caused a great deal of confusion since the examples used to illustrate COGs- key terrain, army boundaries, and lines of communication- in FM 100-5 essentially equated to Jominian "decisive points." The concept entered airpower theory with the writings of John Warden (see below) in the late 1980s, but here again the examples Warden used to illustrate it tended to equate more with "vital" or critical points than with Clausewitz’s actual idea of the COG.

2. Recently, Marine Corps doctrine has distinguished between COGs and critical vulnerabilities, calling them different but complementary concepts. COGs are now "any important sources of strength." Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1, Warfighting, 20 June 1997, 45–47.

3. FM 100-5, Operations, 1993, 6–13. Compare this to the Army’s new FM-3, Operations, 2001, 5–7, which now uses the joint definition described elsewhere in this article.

4. Naval Doctrine Publication (NDP) 1, Naval Warfare, March 1994, 35. Navy and Marine Corps doctrine have recently become more aligned due to the projected need to fight in the littoral; hence, the Navy has now made the linkage between COGs and vulnerabilities more explicit.

5. Lt Col Mark A. Clodfelter, "Molding Airpower Convictions: Development and Legacy of William Mitchell’s Strategic Thought," in The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory, ed. Col Phillip S. Meilinger (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University Press, 1997), 79–114; and William Mitchell, Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modern Air Power- Economic and Military (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1925), 126–27, 214.

6. Lt Col David S. Fadok, "John Boyd and John Warden: Airpower’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis," in The Paths of Heaven, 372–73. More a synthesizer of his predecessors’ ideas than an original thinker, Warden merged the views of Mitchell and the Air Corps Tactical School into a coherent theory of airpower. As part of that theory, he represents an adversary’s component parts as concentric rings, earning himself the unofficial moniker of "Lord of the Rings."

7. John A. Warden III, The Air Campaign: Planning for Combat (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1988), 9; and idem, "The Enemy as a System," Airpower Journal 9, no. 1 (spring 1995): 40–55.

8. Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, September 1997, 79, uses the joint definition explained elsewhere in this article.

9. Thomas A. Keaney and Eliot A. Cohen, Gulf War Air Power Survey, vol. 1, Planning and Command and Control (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1993), 2, 145–47. See also the discussion in Seow Hiang Lee, "Center of Gravity or Center of Confusion: Understanding the Mystique," Wright Flyer Paper no. 10 (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air Command and Staff College, 1999), 18–19.

10. Joint Pub 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, 1 February 1995, GL-4.

11. Joint Pub 5-00.1, Joint Doctrine for Campaign Planning, 25 January 2002, II-6.

12. Joint Pub 5-00.1 also stresses the importance of linking COGs to "critical vulnerabilities" so that one can attack the enemy’s COG through weak points in his overall system rather than against his strengths. Ibid., ix.

13. Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 310–11.

14. Geoff Jones, Mary Jones, and Phillip Marchington, Cambridge Coordinated Science: Physics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 52–55.

15. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, indexed ed., ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), 485–86, 595–96. Hereafter, On War.

16. Ibid., 617. In fairness to Howard and Paret, they admit that at times their translation was more interpretive than literal. They could not have foreseen the extent to which the US military would embrace the COG concept and adhere to their interpretation literally.

17. See Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, 19th ed. (Regensburg, Germany: Pustet, 1991). Hereafter, Vom Kriege.

18. Der erste ist: das Gewicht der feindlichen Macht auf so wenig Schwerpunkte als möglich zurückzuführen, wenn es sein kann, auf einen; wiederum den Stoß gegen diese Schwerpunkte auf so wenig Haupthandlungen als möglich zurückzuführen, wenn es sein kann, auf eine; endlich alle untergeordnete Handlungen so untergeordnet als möglich zu halten. Mit einem Wort, der erste Grundsatz ist: so konzentriert als möglich zu handeln. Der zweite Grundsatz: so schnell als möglich zu handeln, also keinen Aufenthalt und keinen Umweg ohne hinreichenden Grund. Das Reduzieren der feindlichen Macht auf einen Schwerpunkt hängt ab: Erstens von dem politischen Zusammenhang derselben. . . . Zweitens von der Lage des Kriegstheaters, auf welchem die verschiedenen feindlichen Heere erschienen.

Vom Kriege, 1009–10.

19. So wie sich der Schwerpunkt immer da findet, wo die meiste Masse beisammen ist, und wie jeder Stoß gegen den Schwerpunkt der Last am wirksamsten ist, wie ferner der stärkste Stoß mit dem Schwerpunkt der Kraft erhalten wird, so ist es auch im Kriege. Die Streitkräfte jedes Kriegführenden, sei es ein einzelner Staat oder ein Bündnis von Staaten, haben eine gewisse Einheit und durch diese Zusammenhang; wo aber Zusammenhang ist, da treten die Analogien des Schwerpunktes ein. Es gibt also in diesen Streitkräften gewisse Schwerpunkte, deren Bewegung und Richtung über die anderen Punkte entscheidet, und diese Schwerpunkte finden sich da, wo die meisten Streitkräfte beisammen sind. So wie aber in der toten Körperwelt die Wirkung gegen den Schwerpunkt in dem Zusammenhang der Teile ihr Maß und ihre Grenze hat, so ist es auch im Kriege.

Vom Kriege, 810–11.

20. "Was sich die Theorie hier sagen kann, ist folgendes: Es kommt darauf an, die vorherrschenden Verhältnisse beider Staaten im Auge zu haben. Aus ihnen wird sich ein gewisser Schwerpunkt, ein Zentrum der Kraft und Bewegung bilden, von welchem das Ganze abhängt, und auf diesen Schwerpunkt des Gegners muß der gesammelte Stoß aller Kräfte gerichtet sein." Vom Kriege, 976.

21. "Weil Blücher, obgleich schwächer als Schwarzenberg, doch wegen seines Unternehmungsgeistes der Bedeutendere war, daß in ihm also mehr der Schwerpunkt lag, der das Übrige in seiner Richtung mit fortreißt." Vom Kriege, 324.

22. David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 960–76.

23. Alexander, Gustav Adolf, Karl XII, Friedrich der Große hatten ihren Schwerpunkt in ihrem Heer, wäre dies zertrümmert worden, so würden sie ihre Rolle schlecht ausgespielt haben; bei Staaten, die durch innere Parteiungen zerrissen sind, liegt er meistens in der Hauptstadt; bei kleinen Staaten, die sich an mächtige stützen, liegt er im Heer dieser Bundesgenossen; bei Bündnissen liegt er in der Einheit des Interesses; bei Volksbewaffnung in der Person der Hauptführer und in der öffentlichen Meinung. Gegen diese Dinge muß der Stoß gerichtet sein. Hat der Gegner dadurch das Gleichgewicht verloren, so muß ihm keine Zeit gelassen werden, es wieder zu gewinnen; der Stoß muß immer in dieser Richtung fortgesetzt werden, oder mit anderen Worten, der Sieger muß ihn immer ganz und das Ganze nicht gegen einen Teil des Gegners richten.

Vom Kriege, 976–77.

24. Christian Lowe, "In Exercise, U.S. Military Practices Unconventional Warfare," Defense Week, 21 May 2001, 2. For a definition of EBO, see US Joint Forces Command, J9 Joint Futures Lab, "Rapid Decisive Operations White Paper," coordinating draft (Norfolk, Va.: US Joint Forces Command, 9 August 2001), A-2, which defines EBO as "a process for obtaining a desired strategic outcome or ‘effect’ on the enemy, through the application of the full range of military and non-military capabilities at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. An ‘effect’ is the physical, functional, or psychological outcome, event, or consequence that results from a specific action or actions." However, the Air Force currently has a vision of EBO that differs from that of the J9. Bruce Rolfsen, " ‘Effects-Based Operations’ Is New Way to Fight," Air Force Times, 7 May 2001, 27.

25. "Diese Centra gravitatis in der feindlichen Kriegsmacht zu unterscheiden, ihre Wirkungskreise zu erkennen, ist also ein Hauptakt des strategischen Urteils. Man wird sich nämlich jedesmal fragen müssen, welche Wirkungen das Vorgehen und Zurückgehen des einen Teiles der gegenseitigen Streitkräfte auf die übrigen hervorbringen wird." Vom Kriege, 810–11.

26. "Denn nur durch diese Entscheidung werden die Schwerpunkte der gegenseitigen Macht und die von ihnen ausgehenden Kriegstheater wirksame Dinge" (emphasis in original). Vom Kriege, 813.

27. These strategic objectives are condensed. The objectives for the Gulf War as outlined by President Bush were as follows: (1) withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait; (2) restoration of legitimate government in Kuwait; (3) assurance of security and stability of the Persian Gulf region; and (4) protection of American lives. Keaney and Cohen, 83–84.

28. Numerous methods, too many to list here, have been devised over the years. The "strategic helix" method, for example, involves attacking all potential COGs until the real one is hit. Put simply, this method amounts to a "recon by destruction" approach and assumes unlimited resources. For a detailed discussion, see Lee, 27–28. Similarly, the "onion method" amounts to little more than eating one’s way through the multiple "layers" of the enemy’s national power to get at the COG. Maj Collin A. Agee, Peeling the Onion: The Iraqi Center of Gravity in Desert Storm (Fort Leavenworth, Kans.: School of Advanced Military Studies, 1992), 26–27. Both of these methods assume that the enemy’s COG lies within the helix or the onion.

29. Al-Qa’ida (the Base), on-line, Internet, 3 April 2002, available from http://www.ict.org.il/inter_ter.

30. AFDD 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power, February 2000, 89.


Lt Col Antulio J. Echevarria II, USA (USMA; MA, PhD, Princeton University; MSS, US Army War College), is currently assigned as the director of National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. He has held a variety of command and staff assignments in Germany and the continental United States, and has served as an assistant professor of European history at the US Military Academy; as the Squadron S3 (operations officer) of 3/16 Cavalry; as chief of battalion/ task force and brigade doctrine at the US Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky; as a researcher in the Army After Next project at Headquarters TRADOC, Fort Monroe, Virginia; and as a speechwriter for the US Army chief of staff. He has published a book, After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers before the Great War (University Press of Kansas, 2001), and articles in a number of scholarly and professional military journals. Colonel Echevarria is a graduate of the US Army’s Command and General Staff College and the US Army War College.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

[ Back Issues | Home Page | Feedback? Email the Editor ]