Civil Military Operations Targeting in Large Scale Ground Combat: Lessons from Warfighter 22-1

(Photo courtesy of Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)

By MAJ Nicholas Ashley

Editor's Note: This article was initially considered for publication in the Eunomia Journal earlier in the Summer, but the editors and the author agreed that this discussion about the utility of civil military operations in targeting at Division and Corps levels needed to first be published in an official Department of Defense publication due to its relevance to the total force. The Center for Army Lessons Learned concurred and expressed an interest in publishing; over the summer this article underwent a thorough vetting process in order to meet the rigid standards for publication to a widely diverse defense-enterprise audience. This article was published on October 4th, 2022 and can be found on the CALL Restricted website under the file name of CALL 22-726. this article can also be accessed through the Joint Lessons Learned Information System in the document repository with ID#174678.


In October 2021, V Corps concluded a demanding collective training cycle with the successful execution of warfighter exercise (WFX) 22-01. Pitting the corps against a capable, near-peer adversary during large scale combat operations (LSCO), the exercise took place within an operational environment (OE) both dynamic and challenging. In addition to the enemy threat found throughout the area of operations (AO), there existed an array of military, governmental, and civil actors with varying interests, goals, and means for influencing the environment. Mission success required the corps headquarters to integrate and synchronize operations across space and time and between multiple echelons of command.[i] Deliberate systems and processes were vital to ensuring unity of effort and maintaining a shared purpose; of the tools available for facilitating the latter, targeting played a key role.

V Corps’ G-9 Directorate (Civil Affairs Operations), split between two command posts (CPs) on as many continents, prioritized the integration of Civil Military Operations (CMO) into targeting. The G-9 sought to move beyond simply providing input in the form of civil considerations—though this remained an important function—and on to providing the commander with options to influence key civil variables through targeted CMO.[ii] While this may seem straightforward—especially to Civil Affairs professionals experienced working at the lower end of the tactical spectrum—targeting at the corps level presented unique challenges that required the G-9 to reexamine assumptions and move beyond previous operational experiences to support V Corps’ operations effectively.

What follows is a description of the G-9’s approach to CMO targeting and lessons learned during WFX 22-01. By no means is it an exhaustive look at the subject. Nor does it claim to be authoritative in terms of how Civil Affairs planners should support targeting, as a consensus on this subject among the CA community remains elusive. However, the V Corps G-9’s experiences still provide valuable lessons for Civil Affairs professionals supporting targeting across the conflict continuum. This summary demonstrates an effective means to integrate CMO into the targeting process and can be adapted at echelon to achieve the commander’s objectives by, with, and through the civil component of the operation environment—the civil domain. Seven key observations are highlighted in call-out boxes throughout this article. Civil Military Operations planners are encouraged to consider them for planning, experimentation, and validation as best practices for Corps-level CMO targeting in LSCO in future exercises and beyond.

Framing the Fight

Understanding how a corps fights as a tactical headquarters during LSCO is necessary before diving right into the discussion on CMO targeting. V Corps was one of several corps headquarters under the operational control of the Combined Forces Land Component Command. Within this construct, the Corps’ role was to employ divisions and brigades in decisive action “to destroy enemy land forces, seize key terrain and critical infrastructure, and dominate the land portion” of the AO.[iii] A key task for the corps in this setting was to create conditions for subordinate forces to achieve success in close combat with enemy forces.[iv] To do this, each headquarters had to prioritize resources and direct the application of combat power across time and space.[v]

A tool that assists the commander and staff with conceptualizing this task is an operational framework. An operational framework aids in the orientation of friendly forces relative to the enemy by providing a means for visualizing, describing, and organizing operations within a given geographical context. The operational framework also provides a means for linking activities at multiple echelons in purpose and in accordance with the overarching concept of operations and commander’s intent.[vi] Figure 1 below provides a doctrinal template for an operational framework. In line with this model, V Corps divided its area of operations into a close, deep, and rear area (see dashed region). Most close combat took place in the close area, which belonged to the divisions. Within the close area, the division headquarters organized their OE similarly. For the Corps, a central effort was setting conditions for the divisions’ success in the close fight by shaping the deep area. Operations in the rear area sought to ensure continued support to the close and deep fights with the goal of sustaining tempo, maintaining freedom of action, and ensuring operational reach.[vii]

The G-9’s overarching focus was on mitigating impacts to friendly operations emerging from the civil environment while leveraging civil capabilities—existing and latent—to provide the commander with options for creating desired effects through CMO.[viii] The G-9’s chief concern for much of the exercise was managing the flow of displaced civilians (DCs) in a way that minimized disruptions to corps operations. Not only would massive displacement put the populace in harm’s way, but it would also increase risks to friendly forces. Closely related to