The term operation referred to the employment of military resources to achieve a specific objective, including missions strategic, tactical, humanitarian, or administrative in nature. Similar in nature to an exercise, the primary objectives of an operation had a focus external to the units involved whereas exercises sought mainly to test or improve the capabilities of the units involved. Military operations were often referred to by a code name, for example Operation OVERLORD.

A military operation was properly executed according to an Operations Order drafted in advance. Depending on the type of operation, there were several phases and components. For an attack on an enemy position, for example, planning would include such necessities as objectives and timetables being set, supporting fires ordered, a Start Line and Forming Up Point designated, casualty and prisoner collection areas allocated, etc.

Operations were actual missions carried out by a military force with real world objectives, as opposed to Exercises which were conducted for training purposes. These occurred in peace or in war.


Canadian Forces Publication B-GG-005-004/AF-000 outlines the following:


Military Operations. An operation is a military action or the carrying out of a strategic, tactical, training or an administrative military mission; the process of carrying on combat, including movement, supply, attack, defence and manoeuvres needed to gain the objective of any battle or campaign. Gradations of scale and intensity exist in military operations. These gradations are described in terms of a continuum which distinguishes among low, mid and high-level military operations according to their objective, the use force, the scale, and the tempo of activity.

Levels of Operation

Low-level Operations: Military operations that are normally conducted by forces-in-being, applying the minimum force necessary to achieve the mission. Contact with opposing forces may be infrequent.


Mid-level Operations: Military operations that involve most, if not all, of a nation's forces-in-being and may require the mobilization of additional resources. Deadly force will be applied, although there may be restrictions on the types of weapons used or the geographic area in which they are employed. Military activity will be conducted with speed and violence, but may be non-continuous and localized in an area of operations.


High-level Operations: The entire range of modern weaponry may be used, including weapons of mass destruction. The sustained conduct of such operations will demand the mobilization of a nation's entire military potential. Military activity will be conducted continuously with maximum speed and violence throughout the theatre.


Operations generally consist of five phases;

  • warning

  • preparation

  • deployment

  • employment

  • redeployment

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