A Schwerpunkt is a focal point, or a center of gravity. This is the “hub of all power and movement” which you must strike to knock the enemy off balance.

So imagine two wrestlers grappling with each other on the floor. They may be doing many things at once, but they primarily exert their physical force upon a single focal point to pin down the opponent. This is a dynamic struggle as each tries to neutralize the other wrestler’s force. They demonstrate an ability to rapidly change focal points to overcome the other wrestler.

Clausewitz’s orgininal description:

one must keep the dominant characteristic of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed… If the enemy is thrown off balance, he must not be given time to recover. Blow after blow must be aimed in the same direction: the victor, in other words, must strike with all his strength and not just against a fraction of the enemy’s.

Clausewitz’s wrestling analogy is highly descriptive of the schwerpunkt theory.

Taking it even further, consider the wrestling match a contest between the strengths and skill of the men. The focal points are determined by a mixture of their strengths, weaknesses, and relative positions in time. It changes moment to moment. To pin down his opponent, the wrestler must leverage his strength and position to dominate the other’s weakness at a decisive moment. The wrestlers do not have infinite stamina so they are physically worn down by the struggle. They must use an economy of force, applying just enough force to the focal point, but not so much that it makes them vulnerable elsewhere or later on.

Consider this analogy and extend it to warfare. The concept is scale invariant and applies to all levels of struggle.

In mechanics, the center of gravity (or mass) is the point where the forces of gravity converge. If you strike the center of gravity, you destabilize the target.

From Beyerchen’s essay on Clausewitz and Nonlinearity:

Practicing soldiers may warm to the idea of focusing one’s efforts on the most critical concentration of the enemy’s fighting forces in order to strike the most telling blow. But they balk when Clausewitz goes on to suggest that under specific circumstances the center of gravity could be a city, or a community of interest among allies, or the personality of a leader or even public opinion. (68) Furthermore, he urges an awareness of the restraints imposed by considerations of economy of force: an excess of force is worse than a waste, for it means unnecessary weakness elsewhere

The trick, of course, is identifying the Schwerpunkt at the strategic level. Clausewitz, much like the wrestlers, noticed that the focal points constantly changed over time. This focal point may be the moral or material center of gravity and this changes due to circumstance. The commander can only capitalize upon an opportunity he senses.

It is important to note that the Schwerpunkt is not really a weakness or strength. The center of gravity provides stability for the entire structure. Without this source of balance, the structure will collapse.

A material example is the German Blitzkrieg. German armies found the Schwerpunkt and concentrated their forces against it. This was normally a weak part of the enemy’s line. German mechanized units breached the line and penetrated deep into the enemy’s rear causing mass disruption and destabalization of the entire enemy force. Once the enemy were disrupted, other German units could win more readily elsewhere. The Blitzkrieg worked so well because the Germans sought a succession of Schwerpunkt to prevent the enemy from recovering from the original blow.

This is not a new concept. The Steppe nomads excelled at rapidly changing the Schwerpunkt to keep their enemies constantly off-balance.

A moral example are the “People’s Wars” like insurgencies. The Cold War and the War on Terror follow this dynamic. Combat in guerrilla wars is designed to be indecisive and prolonged in order to target the moral sphere. The centers of gravity are the moral, political and ideological. In the many insurgencies of the Cold War, the primary focal point was defeating Communist ideologies amongst the people; combat was incidental.

Whether it is moral or material, the focal point is the thing which gives the enemy forces their structure and stability. This could be the army, the commander, cities, alliances, pubic opinion, ideology, or the newsmedia.

There are only one or a few focal points possible at a time. This is contrary to the Air Force doctrine that the enemy has roughly 40,000 centers of gravity, all of which can be bombed from the air.

This essay tries to redefine military doctines to create a more precise and unified theory of centers of gravity.