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Course of action (COA)

Definition A Course of Action (COA) in military operations is a plan that encompasses a potential manner in which a mission can be completed or an objective achieved. It involves all the operational aspects, including troop movement, resource allocation, and strategy planning. A COA is formed after thorough analysis to provide various alternatives for achieving […]


A Course of Action (COA) in military operations is a plan that encompasses a potential manner in which a mission can be completed or an objective achieved. It involves all the operational aspects, including troop movement, resource allocation, and strategy planning. A COA is formed after thorough analysis to provide various alternatives for achieving the desired military goal.

Key Takeaways

  1. A Course of Action (COA) in military operations refers to the sequence of activities or tasks that must be undertaken to achieve a specific military objective. It is essentially a plan that outlines how to utilize available resources and capabilities to achieve strategic goals.
  2. A COA must meet the criteria of being suitable, feasible, acceptable, distinguishable, and complete. This ensures that the plan is fit for the intended purpose, can be realistically achieved with available resources, is ethical and legal, is distinct from other plans, and thoroughly addresses all necessary aspects of the operation.
  3. COA development and analysis is a critical part of the military decision making process (MDMP). After multiple COAs are developed, they are analyzed and war-gamed against potential enemy actions, and the most effective COA is then selected for implementation.


The military operations term “Course of Action” (COA) is crucial as it serves as a roadmap to achieving desired objectives in a military operation.

This term signifies a plan that outlines the strategy, tactics, necessary resources, and logistic arrangements to be implemented in a specific operation.

Its importance lies in its ability to guide the military command in decision-making processes, ensuring all angles are considered, risks are assessed and mitigated, and resources are allocated efficiently.

The development, evaluation, and selection of a COA also provide accuracy, flexibility, and the ability to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances on the battlefield.

Therefore, it plays a significant role in ensuring the success of a military operation.


A Course of Action (COA), in military operations, serves a crucial purpose: it primarily guides decision-making and strategy development. It is an integral part of the military decision-making process and operational planning to determine the best possible strategy to achieve desired wartime objectives or mission goals. The COA provides a roadmap for accomplishing the mission.

It outlines the movement and arrangements of military resources, troops, and equipment, details how troops will be utilized, and specifies potential actions for probable contingencies or challenges that could arise during the execution of the mission. By establishing a COA, the military gains a blueprint for strategic action, essentially providing a guide for how best to apply military force or respond to enemy actions. Different COAs are developed and analyzed to expose potential risks and pitfalls, as well as advantages that can be exploited.

As such, a COA isn’t just a procedural directive; it assesses and analyzes the battlefield environment to create various hypothetical scenarios. These varying scenarios allow the military to predict possible outcomes and be better prepared to adapt to changes in the situation, leading to more successful mission completion. It is thus a crucial part of managing risk and minimizing uncertainty in military operations.

Examples of Course of action (COA)

Operation Overlord – D-Day: During the Second World War, the Allied forces had to choose a COA for invading Nazi-occupied Europe. Their decision was to commence amphibious and airborne operations in Normandy, France. This was one of several proposed courses of action, each with potential to change the tide of the war.

Operation Desert Storm – First Gulf War: In response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the United States military devised several COAs to provide a robust response. The selected COA involved a five-week air campaign followed by a ground assault, and ultimately resulted in the liberation of Kuwait.

Bin Laden Hunt – Operation Neptune Spear: In 2011, upon receiving intelligence about Osama Bin Laden’s location in Abbottabad, Pakistan, several COAs were proposed to the U.S. President for approval. These included a joint raid with Pakistani intelligence agencies, a bombing operation, and a small-scale raid by U.S. Navy Seals. The chosen COA was the Seal raid, which successfully eliminated the terrorist leader without large-scale civilian casualties or damage.

FAQs about Course of Action (COA)

What is a Course of Action (COA) in military operations?

A Course of Action (COA) refers to a specific plan or method that is designed to achieve a mission or task within military operations. It is a sequenced set of actions associated with the application of resources with specific means to achieve ends. It includes the forces involved, the timing, duration, and location of deployment, and the actions and reactions of the troops.

What is the purpose of a Course of Action?

The primary purpose of a Course of Action is to provide military personnel with a clear and detailed approach on how to accomplish a mission or task. It serves as a guide that can be adapted and modified to suit changing circumstances during the operations.

How is a Course of Action developed?

The development of a Course of Action involves several steps, including mission analysis, assessment of the situation and resources, identifying goals and objectives, and developing a program for action. It requires critical thinking, communication, and coordination among military leaders and troops.

How many Courses of Action should be developed for a particular mission?

Typically, military leaders develop multiple Courses of Action for a particular mission to provide several options that can be used if the situation changes. The number of COAs can vary based on the complexity and duration of the mission, and the resources available.

What is COA comparison?

COA comparison involves evaluating and comparing different Courses of Action to identify the most effective and suitable one for the mission. This process enables military leaders to assess the risks and benefits of each option, and decide on the best course forward.

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