Kinetic and Nonkinetic Versus Lethal and Nonlethal Operations

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 2 months ago

In the article concerning On Point II we supplied preliminary observations on the voluminous report concerning unpreparedness for post-invasion Iraq.  One nuance of doctrine and terminology stands out in the crowd of ideas in the report, and is worthy of a bit of unpacking.  On page 87 we read:

To face this evolving and complex threat, American Soldiers began conducting full spectrum operations designed to directly and indirectly engage the insurgent enemy. This response is the subject of the second part of this chapter. At times, US Army units launched focused combat operations—often described using the unofficial term “kinetic operations”—to destroy insurgent forces and capabilities. However, from the very beginning of the full spectrum campaign, US forces also mounted broader efforts to build popular support for the new Iraqi Government and the Coalition project in Iraq. These operations, sometimes called “nonkinetic” operations, concentrated on the reconstruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, the establishment of representative government, the training of ISF, and general efforts to improve the quality of life for the population.

With the following doctrinaire footnote: The 2008 version of FM 3-0, Operations, uses the terms “lethal” and “nonlethal” actions instead of “kinetic” and “nonkinetic.”

This isn’t the first occasion we have noticed the distinction between kinetic versus nonkinetic operations and lethal versus nonlethal operations.  We had previously discussed this with another interested party who brought up the same thing in response to one (or more) of our articles.

The definition of kinetic is “relating to or characterized by motion – supply motive force.”  This seems to be an apt definition of numerous tactics employed in the battle space.  For instance, a satellite patrol conducted for the purpose of finding the enemy or ridding the streets of gangs, criminals and/or insurgents, should count as kinetic operations, whether there was force employed or even whether that force was lethal or nonlethal.  Similarly, an intelligence-driven raid where no shot was fired and the target surrendered without resistance should be considered a very dynamic operation, and thus a part of kinetics.

A leisurely stroll by a squad down a street in Fallujah to meet and greet the citizens and assess atmospherics should be considered nonkinetic operations, and would only transition to kinetic operations if shots were taken.  Also, the transition to kinetic operations would become effective whether or not a shot was fired in response, and whether there was any lethality involved on either part.

The distinction we are drawing is this.  Lethal and nonlethal should be seen as subsets of kinetic operations, not replacements for the concept, no matter which phrase came first historically.  Nonkinetic operations by definition can only be nonlethal.

On the other hand, to opt for lethal and nonlethal as replacements for kinetic and nonkinetic operations would imply the following: a patrol where no shots were fired, and yet casualties sustained due to shots being taken from the enemy, would have to be categorized as nonlethal operations if the casualty survived (and perhaps even if not, since no lethality was employed by U.S. forces).  This is absurd.

Regarding common, ordinary, everyday usage (regardless of how they may be described in an Army Field Manual), the terms lethal and nonlethal are poor terms to describe the totality of U.S. operations.  They are very wooden and un-malleable terms which cannot hope to encompass all potential actions or reactions in the battle space.  The Captain’s Journal recommends that the doctrinaire writers go back to the drawing board on this one.


You are currently reading "Kinetic and Nonkinetic Versus Lethal and Nonlethal Operations", entry #1175 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency and was published June 30th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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