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Critical element (CE)

Definition In military operations, a Critical Element (CE) refers to a component, condition, or characteristic that is crucial to the functionality, performance, or effectiveness of a military system or operation. It can be specific hardware, software, infrastructure, or another variable, the damage or loss of which can significantly impact the mission or system’s output. In […]


In military operations, a Critical Element (CE) refers to a component, condition, or characteristic that is crucial to the functionality, performance, or effectiveness of a military system or operation. It can be specific hardware, software, infrastructure, or another variable, the damage or loss of which can significantly impact the mission or system’s output. In essence, a CE is any factor that is essential to the success of a military operation or viability of a military system.

Key Takeaways

  1. A Critical Element (CE) refers to an enemy or friendly component whose disruption, destruction or protection significantly influences the outcome of an operation.
  2. The use of the term Critical Element often arises in Mission Analysis and Targeting. For military strategies, proper identification and handling of Critical Elements could determine the success or failure of an operation.
  3. The Critical Element can comprise personnel, structures, resources, or any other entity that holds significant value or capability. Effective targeting or safeguarding of Critical Elements requires thorough knowledge, sharp analysis, and timely action.


The term Critical Element (CE) in military operations is exceptionally important as it directly influences the success or failure of a mission.

A CE is a component or aspect of the enemy’s structure, system, or process whose disruption could significantly impact the enemy’s military potential.

This could involve their strategic capabilities, logistical systems, command and control, or leadership structure.

Recognizing and exploiting these CEs gives a military force a strategic and tactical advantage, as it enables them to weaken the enemy effectively and efficiently, thereby paving the way for mission success.

Hence, understanding and identifying CEs is crucial for effective military planning and operations.


In the realm of military operations, the term “Critical Element” (CE) plays a significant role in strategic planning and decision-making processes. The central purpose of a Critical Element is to identify, analyze, and target the vulnerabilities within an opponent’s military infrastructure.

They are the core parts of a system or process that, if affected or compromised, has the potential to degrade or stop an adversary’s operation entirely. Critical elements could be physical (like vital weaponry or military infrastructure) or intangible (like command structures or communication channels).Furthermore, the identification and understanding of critical elements contribute to shaping attack plans.

By accurately pinpointing an enemy’s CEs, military strategists can organize their resources and offensive operations to target these elements, thereby gaining an advantage on the battlefield. Additionally, it also aids in defensive strategies, as understanding the CEs within one’s own operations can assist in bolstering defenses and mitigating potential weak points.

Hence, the concept of Critical Elements is highly significant for both offensive and defensive military operations.

Examples of Critical element (CE)

Operation Neptune Spear: This was the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 by U.S. Navy SEALs. One critical element in this operation was the collection and analysis of actionable intelligence that confirmed Bin Laden’s location. Another critical element was the preparation, planning, and training required to execute the operation, including the selection of the elite SEAL Team Six members. A third critical element was the requirement for stealth helicopters to infiltrate Pakistani airspace without detection.

The D-Day Invasion (Operation Overlord): One of the most complex military operations in history, the critical elements of Operation Overlord included the planning and coordination of a massive, multi-front attack; the creation and distribution of deceptive information to mislead German forces about the location and timing of the invasion; the assembly of an enormous invasion force in England, including the necessary logistics and supplies; and the precise execution of airborne and amphibious assaults.

Operation Desert Storm: During this operation to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the early 1990s, several critical elements were at play. One was the deployment of a sizeable multinational force in a short period to the Persian Gulf region, another was the successful implementation of air superiority, and a third was conducting a massive ground assault that avoided urban warfare. The use of advanced technology, such as precision-guided munitions and stealth aircraft, were other critical elements that contributed to the coalition’s victory.

Frequently Asked Questions about Critical Element (CE)

What is a Critical Element (CE) in military operations?

A Critical Element (CE) in military operations is a component or part of a larger entity that is absolutely necessary for the function or success of that entity. If a Critical Element is compromised, it can heavily affect the overall effectiveness of the military operations.

How is a Critical Element (CE) identified?

Critical elements are often identified through a comprehensive analysis of the entity involved. In a military context, this may involve an operational analysis of enemy strategy, which can outline particular variables that, if affected, could influence the outcome of the operation.

How is the Critical Element (CE) used in planning campaigns?

In planning military campaigns, Critical Elements are used to determine the most effective strategy for achieving operational objectives. These elements are often the focus of plans and actions, as their impact can determine the success or failure of a campaign.

Can the Critical Element (CE) change in a given military operation?

Yes, a Critical Element can change based on the dynamics of the military operation. As different challenges emerge and tactics evolve, so too can the Critical Elements. This is why continual analysis and reassessment is important during operations.

What happens when a Critical Element (CE) is compromised?

If a Critical Element is compromised, it can have substantial effects on the overall operation. Depending on the nature of the Critical Element, these effects can range from minor setbacks to major failures. Usually, strategies are in place to protect these elements and contingencies are prepared in case of compromise.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Performance Standard: This relates to the minimum level of performance required for a critical element of a job within the VA benefits system.
  • Performance Appraisal: It is the process of evaluating the job performance of an employee, which often involves assessing their achievement related to the critical elements of their work.
  • Ratings of Record: These are the official assessments of the employee’s performance, particularly regarding critical elements over the appraisal period.
  • Improvement Period: If an employee falls short on a critical element, they may be given an improvement period to fulfil the required standard.
  • Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU): It is a VA benefit term. If a veteran’s service-connected disability prevents them from working, they may be eligible for TDIU, which provides benefits at the 100% disability rate. The ability to perform “substantially gainful employment” could be considered as a critical element.

Sources for More Information

  • U.S. Army Official Website: This website provides a comprehensive understanding of military operations and terms. Check their extensive library or search for ‘Critical Element’ directly in their search bar.
  • U.S. Department of Defense Official Website: A direct source of information from the U.S Department of Defense. Look for the ‘Resources’ tab for further information about military terms and operations.
  • Global Security: Global Security is an authoritative source on various fields like defense, space, intelligence, etc. Type ‘Critical Element’ in their search engine for relevant articles and pages.
  • Federation of American Scientists: This website is dedicated to providing information on national and international security. Use the search function to find information on ‘Critical Element’.

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