The Theory of Special Operations
McRaven, William H.
Stolfi, Russel H.S.
McCormick, Gordon H.
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This thesis develops a theory that explains why special operations succeed. The theory is important because successful special operations defy conventional wisdom. Special operations forces are usually numerically inferior to the enemy and generally these forces are attacking fortified positions. According to Carl Von Clausewitz, both of these factors should spell defeat, and yet, time and again -- these missions succeed. This thesis presents eight historical cases and demonstrates how certain principles of special operations can be combined to achieve relative superiority. Relative superiority is the condition that exists when a smaller force gains a decisive advantage over a larger or well defended enemy. It is how special operations forces achieve this decisive advantage that explains their success. In essence, special operations forces gain that advantage when they have a simple plan, carefully concealed, realistically rehearsed and executed with surprise, speed and purpose. This advantage is tenuous however, and is subject to the frictions of war. Through the use of a Relative Superiority Graph, this thesis demonstrates how, historically, that advantage has been maintained and in the conclusions proposes mission "profiles" that reduce the frictions of war and hasten the achievement of relative superiority.
Distinguished Alumni Award Program author. ADM William McRaven, USN (Presented 7 June 12)
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