Crisis Operations

Military Reference: Multi-Service & Specialty

Military Reference: Service-level

Joint, Strategic, Interagency, & National Security

Threat, OPFOR, Regional & Cultural

Homeland Defense, DSCA, & Disaster Response


Books in Development


Joint doctrine describes the strategic environment in terms of a competition continuum. Rather than a world either at peace or at war, the competition continuum describes three broad categories of strategic relationships—cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and armed conflict. Although combatant commands and theater armies campaign across the competition continuum, Army tactical formations typically conduct operations within a context dominated by one strategic relationship at a time. Therefore, Army doctrine describes the strategic situation through three strategic contexts in which Army forces conduct operations:

Army Strategic Contexts

The Army strategic contexts generally correspond to the joint competition continuum and the requirements of joint campaigns. Because cooperation is generally conducted with an ally or partner to counter an adversary or enemy, Army doctrine considers it part of competition. Army doctrine adds crisis to account for the unique challenges facing ground forces that often characterize transition between competition and armed conflict.


A crisis is an emerging incident or situation involving a possible threat to the United States, its citizens, military forces, or vital interests that develops rapidly and creates a condition of such diplomatic, economic, or military importance that commitment of military forces and resources is contemplated to achieve national and/or strategic objectives (JP 3-0). Commanders have to consider the possibility that overt military action may escalate a crisis towards armed conflict. The use of space and cyberspace capabilities provides other options that are less likely to cause escalation. The context of crisis is relative to an adversary, which is different from crisis response, which can result from a natural or human disaster. During crisis, armed conflict has not yet occurred, but it is either imminent or a distinct possibility that requires rapid response by forces prepared to fight if deterrence fails. (See pp. 1-77 to 1-86.)

Note. A crisis can be long in duration, but it can also reflect a near-simultaneous transition to armed conflict. Leaders do not assume that a crisis provides additional time for a transition to armed conflict.

Army forces contribute to joint operations, seeking to deter further provocation and compel an adversary to de-escalate aggression and return to competition under conditions acceptable for the United States and its allies or partners. Through rapid movement and integration with the joint force, Army forces help signal the readiness and willingness to prevail in combat operations. When authorized, Army forces can inform or influence perceptions about an operation’s goals and progress to amplify effects on the ground during a crisis; however, commanders ensure their message aligns with reality and that their narratives are truthful and credible. Army forces help the joint force maintain freedom of action and associated positions of relative advantage through the activities they conduct and their presence on the ground. They operate in a way that disrupts adversary risk calculations about the cost of acting contrary to U.S. national interests, compels de-escalation, and fosters a return to competition conditions favorable to the United States. If deterrence fails to end a crisis, Army forces are better postured for operations during armed conflict.

Crisis response operations are characterized by high degrees of volatility and uncertainty. A crisis may erupt with no warning, or it may be well anticipated. Its duration is unpredictable. Additionally, adversaries may perceive themselves in a different context or state of conflict than U.S., allied, and partner forces. What is seen by one side as a crisis might be perceived by the other as armed conflict or competition. Army leaders must demonstrate flexibility anticipate changes in an operational environment, and provide JFCs with credible, effective options. This requires trained forces agile enough to adapt quickly to new situations and commanders and staffs adept at linking tactical actions to attaining policy objectives.

Regardless of the capabilities employed, there are generally two broad outcomes from a crisis. Either deterrence is maintained, and de-escalation occurs, or armed conflict begins. While this requires that Army forces be prepared for either type of transition, forces deploying during crisis always assume they are deploying to fight. While Army forces prepare for armed conflict, they avoid sending signals that armed conflict is inevitable, regardless of what the adversary does, to avoid inadvertent escalation. Generally, senior leaders at the corps and higher echelons influence those perceptions through public communications in support of the JFC and national leaders.

Force Projection

The demonstrated ability to project Army forces into an operational area is an essential element of conventional deterrence. Army forces depend almost entirely upon joint lift capabilities for deployment. Force projection is the ability to project the military instrument of national power from the United States, or another theater in response to requirements for military operations (JP 3-0).

Sound force projection planning encompasses—

Opening the Theater

During the transition to crisis or armed conflict, Army forces open the theater to receive deploying forces. Army forces execute existing plans to establish and open air, sea, and rail terminals. Distribution systems and intermediate staging bases may be established where required. Higher echelon (including theater, corps, and division enablers) and rapidly deployable C2 elements begin to integrate with host-nation forces as quickly as possible to set the conditions for RSOI of follow-on tactical forces. This includes coordination with the forces of other supporting nations to assure effective distribution of services, facilities, and supplies to all deploying units across the alliance or coalition. During theater opening, designated arriving forces draw available APS. This provides the JFC with increased capacity and capability during the initial stages of a crisis or armed conflict. Army forces must be prepared for combat while conducting theater opening operations. The first deploying units require the capability to defend themselves while they provide reaction time and maneuver space for follow-on forces.


Mobilization is the process by which the Armed Forces of the United States, or part of them, are brought to a state of readiness for war or other national emergency (JP 4-05). During mobilization, the Army focuses its efforts on filling joint manning documents to augment combined and joint task force (JTF) headquarters, land component headquarters, and Army units designated for deployment. During crisis, strategic leaders may decide to mobilize select portions of the U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve to provide key capabilities to JFCs. During armed conflict, it is likely that strategic leaders will remove some or all mobilization limitations, enhancing the Army’s ability to respond to an aggressive act by an enemy with the necessary capabilities. An example of a limitation that is lifted for armed conflict would be ordering a full mobilization of the Army National Guard or Army Reserve in lieu of a selected reserve call up or partial mobilization.


Deployment is the movement of forces into and out of an operational area (JP 3-35). Proper planning establishes what, where, and when forces are needed to achieve objectives. How the JFC intends to employ forces is the foundation of the deployment structure and timing. For example, a JFC may deploy a combat-ready brigade combat team (BCT) or division early in a crisis to stabilize a situation or secure ports for follow-on forces, accepting risks to the movement efficiency of follow-on forces. Corps and division staffs examine all deployment possibilities and conduct parallel planning.
Most Army equipment travels via strategic sealift. It will take weeks or months for the equipment to arrive in theater. Commanders and planners must not underestimate the joint deployment challenges of operating against peer adversary forces with robust air, maritime, space, and cyberspace capabilities.

Protection During Transit

Threats may attempt to impede or prevent unit deployments. This creates a requirement for coordination of the physical security of deploying unit personnel and equipment as they move to ports of embarkation. Physical security is required for personnel and equipment while awaiting transport at ports of embarkation, during movement, and after arrival at ports of debarkation. Planning for physical security remains a focus in unit staging areas, along routes upon which units and supplies move, and for tactical assembly areas prior to onward movement into AOs.

Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI)

RSOI is the process that delivers combat power to the JFC in a theater of operations or a JOA. RSOI is the responsibility of the theater army and its associated theater sustainment command (TSC). During crises involving a peer adversary, RSOI must occur rapidly in as many dispersed locations as possible to complicate adversary targeting. It is a theater-level process, with careful coordination required between units, theater sustainment personnel, host-nation support, and commercial entities. Effective RSOI matches personnel with their equipment, minimizes staging and sustainment requirements while transiting these ports of debarkation, and begins onward movement as quickly as possible. Deploying units need to understand and implement previously developed plans to accomplish integration and maintain combat readiness upon their arrival.

Initial Employment of Forces

The initial employment of Army forces during a crisis will most likely be as part of FDOs or FROs. This employment may represent the opening stages of a joint operation or a show of force demonstration. The objective of this early employment is to deter an adversary from further aggression, expand the theater to receive follow-on Army and joint forces, and form a credible defense with host-nation forces to prevent adversary gains. Without a robust theater infrastructure, a large number of forward-stationed forces, or a robust APS inventory that enables rapid deployment, Army forces can only provide limited support to partner forces. While immediate support may be limited, even limited support could prove decisive when it is obvious that additional capabilities are quickly moving into the theater to address initial shortfalls.


Sustainment is central to force projection, and sustainment preparation of an operational environment is the basis for sustainment planning. Corps, division, and brigade planners focus on identifying the resources available in an operational area for use by friendly forces and ensuring access to them. The theater army is a key partner in providing this information to deploying units. A detailed estimate of requirements allows planners to advise the commander of the most effective method of providing adequate and responsive support, while minimizing the vulnerable sustainment footprint. There is no fundamental difference in sustainment preparation of an operational environment during competition, crisis, or armed conflict, except that sustainment activities intensify as Army forces respond to crisis and prepare for armed conflict, since time available decreases and requirements from risks to units on the ground increase exponentially. Proper sustainment permits the Army to project force over time and through the necessary depth of an AO.


Redeployment is the transfer or rotation of forces and materiel to support another commander’s operational requirements, or to return personnel, equipment, and materiel to the home and/or demobilization stations for reintegration and/or out-processing (JP 3-35). National strategic leaders determine the appropriate time for the redeployment of Army forces. Usually, redeployment of Army forces does not occur until tensions reduce and conditions permit the transition of security and stability responsibilities to other legitimate authorities.

AODS7: The Army Operations & Doctrine SMARTbook, 7th Ed. (Multidomain Operations)This article is an extract from "AODS7: The Army Operations & Doctrine SMARTbook, 7th Ed. (Multidomain Operations)" by The Lightning Press. Download a free PDF sample and learn more at:  AODS7: The Army Operations & Doctrine SMARTbook, 7th Ed. (Multidomain Operations).

Browse additional military doctrine articles in our SMARTnews Blog & Resource Center.

About The Lightning Press SMARTbooks. Recognized as a “whole of government” doctrinal reference standard by military, national security and government professionals around the world, SMARTbooks comprise a comprehensive professional library. SMARTbooks can be used as quick reference guides during operations, as study guides at education and professional development courses, and as lesson plans and checklists in support of training. Browse our collection of Military Reference SMARTbooks to learn more.

Subscribe to the SMARTnews mailing list!

* indicates required