Attacking the Center of Gravity

One thing I teach in advanced Intelligence classes is what’s called “Center of Gravity” analysis.  That’s a concept first described by Prussian military strategist and “cerebral savage” Carl von Clausewitz, and one that’s now used in the Army and Marine Corps to describe any idea, base, or associations that are critical in enabling an adversarial force to continue the mission.

Remember those gyroscopes you played with in grade school?  Perfect example of a “center of gravity”.

A gyroscope’s center of gravity is the spinning wheel that allows it to stand up-right and balance.  When that wheel slows down or is otherwise disrupted, the whole thing falls down.  What is Earth’s center of gravity?  If the sun were to be moved or its course altered, its gravitational effects on Earth would change.  I’m no astrophysicist, but I think the case could easily be made that all life as we know it would end.

Now consider the likely threats to your community in any SHTF scenario.  What is the Leroy Jenkins Gang’s center of gravity?  What idea, base or associations enable him to continue spinning in your Area of Operations?  We identify, make plans, and then disrupt that center of gravity.

Maybe some folks don’t like the “battle for legitimacy” or the “parallel war” fought among the people because these concepts aren’t sexy and they don’t fit the hero paradigm that internet commandos have imagined for themselves.  Disrupting an organization’s center of gravity may certainly require kinetic activity (i.e., war fighting and violence) and so we always have to be prepared for that course of action; however, in counterinsurgency and stability operations, there stands a great chance that the center of gravity for insurgents is the populace — non-combatants.

According to Clausewitz, an adversary’s center of gravity is in its concentration of mass.  For successful insurgencies, there are necessarily more support roles than insurgents, therefore, an insurgent’s center of gravity is more likely to be its combat support and combat service support positions; i.e., the auxiliary and the underground consisting of the populace.  If an adversary’s concentration of mass consists mostly of non-combatants then using violence alone is not our best option.

One reason why the U.S. buys the loyalty of Afghan or Iraqi tribes is to deny that support to our adversaries.  That support is the center of gravity and we want to disrupt it.  A counterinsurgent’s goal is to protect the populace, therefore  the greatest concentration of mass is going to be in these population centers.  The force’s mere presence in these cities doesn’t make that concentration of mass the center of gravity; but the reason why these forces are there is its center of gravity.  In this case, the center of gravity is the populace, or the need to protect the populace.  If the insurgent can disrupt security operations and show the populace that the counterinsurgent’s presence doesn’t make them more secure, then that legitimacy is undermined and the populace begins to doubt the counterinsurgent’s abilities and will look for another alternative.  And if the insurgent can make the case that he will solve the problems of the populace, then the populace may begin actively supporting the insurgent.  Although the insurgent and counterinsurgent are fighting each other, both centers of gravity are the populace.  And popular support is not just a very powerful weapon to wield, it’s mission critical!

If the populace is turned against us, then our support begins to dry up.  That’s our center of gravity, too.


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