Special Operations – The CARVE Formula Spec Ops Post 10

Something we used in Special Forces that focused on intent was the CARVE formula for direct action demolitions missions.  Instead of telling the demo man how to attack a target, we would tell him what the result was that we wanted.  The demolitions sergeant would then assess the target in terms of:

Criticality: How important was the target?  What were the critical nodes of the target?  For example, to put a port out of commission for a week, a critical node might be the shipping channel.  Or the cranes that load and off-load cargo.

Accessibility: Could the target be gotten to?  How?  Could the part of the target that was to be destroyed be accessed?  In a nuclear power plant, there are many critical nodes, but some are more easily attacked than others.

Recuperability: How long would it take for the damage done to the target to be fixed?  This goes into the time lock of the mission statement.

Vulnerability: Would the team have the capability to actually destroy the target?  For example, a dam requires a tremendous amount of force to breach, normally more than a team could carry in.  A way around that could be to laser designate the dam and use Air Force assets to destroy the target.  Or, if the team could only rely on itself, perhaps damaging the sluice gates for the spillways, forcing the water to build up behind the dam beyond safety limits.

Effect: What effect outside of the target itself, would the damage have?  For example, a team might have the mission to destroy a bridge that the enemy uses to carry supplies over.  However, destroying that bridge will have a larger effect than just stopping the supply route.  It will also affect the people in the area who rely on that bridge.  Would destroying that bridge have a larger negative effect on the population whose hearts and minds we’re trying to win, then it would be worth to stop the supplies?  Perhaps the supplies could be stopped in another way without destroying the bridge?

After going through these five variables, the demolitions man would have to see if the intent of the demolitions requirement was satisfied.  CARVE was a way intent could be assessed and tunnel-vision could be avoided.

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One time my team was assigned a mission to destroy a strategic oil pipeline (fictionalized in The Green Berets:  Eyes of the Hammer).  We were given the parameters of making the pipeline non-operational for a minimum of seven days.  As we began to do our research on the target, one of the first things we learned was that destroying a normal section of the pipe would not achieve that goal, as the repair estimate for a damaged section was forty-eight hours.  So just walking up to the pipe and blowing it was out.

So the demolitions men began searching for critical nodes.  The thing about critical nodes in targets though, is that the people who own the target also usually recognize these spots and put extra protection on them.  We knew destroying a pump station would achieve the parameters of the goal, but the pump stations were well-guarded.  The odds of successfully destroying one with the assets we had on the team were limited.

We looked at the pipeline terminus to see if we could destroy the means by which the oil was transferred out of the pipeline and onto further conveyances.  However, we were denied attacking the port because the effect would have been greater than simply taking out the pipeline.  So even though such an attack, blocking the channel to oil tankers, would have achieved the goal, we couldn’t do it because it would also have achieved other undesirable effects, including severe environmental damage.

We kept looking, going down the hundreds of miles of pipeline imagery.  Then we found it.  The pipeline crossed rivers in two places.  Over one of those rivers the pipeline was held up by a suspension bridge consisting of two towers and cables.  We consulted with experts and learned that if we blew the cables, the weight of the oil in the length of pipe suspended over the river would be too much to sustain and that section would rip free.  The repair timeline on the pipe over the river was different than that for the pipe on the ground as a barge would have to be brought up river.  Estimates ranged from one week to two.

Security at the crossing was a barbed wire fence and video surveillance, both of which we could overcome.  Apparently the enemy did not realize the significance of this site and had no security force nearby.

We did have to consider the ecological effect of the oil that would be let loose into the river, but the nearest pump station was only a few miles away and as soon pressure was lost on the pipe, the pump station would shut down.

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We had our critical node that satisfied CARVE.  We could achieve the assigned goal.

Sometimes, by using CARVE, the mission statement would have to be changed.  In the same manner, by examining your intent, you might end up having to adjust your goal.

For a personal goal, you should run through something like CARVE.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I do this?
  • How can I do this?
  • What effect will doing this have on me and those around me?
  • Will doing this actually achieve what I want?
  • Intent can help you think ‘outside the box.’

About Bob Mayer

West Point Graduate, former Green Beret and NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has had over 50 books published. He has sold over five million books, and is in demand as a team-building, life-changing, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins concept. He's been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll. Born in the Bronx, Bob attended West Point and earned a BA in psychology with honors and then served as an Infantry platoon leader, a battalion scout platoon leader, and a brigade recon platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division. He joined Special Forces and commanded a Green Beret A Team. He served as the operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and with Special Operations Command (Special Projects) in Hawaii. Later he taught at the Special Forces Qualification Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, the course which trains new Green Berets. He lived in Korea where he earned a Black Belt in Martial Arts. He's earned a Masters Degree in Education.

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Who Dares Wins Special Operations, Write It forward and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Ah, this is an excellent and timely article. I’ve just started editing my special ops short story and could use improvement in detailing how the mission is chosen. Thank you!

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