An excellent question from my MILS521 - Strategy, Tactics, & the Operational Art
In order to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze the operational art, some aspects clearly standout as lessons for military and political leaders.
The qualitative variables can be basically divided between technology, training & doctrine, and leadership. When comparing the operational capability of two or more opposing armies, the qualitative differences are fairly well discerned. Technology is probably the easiest to describe, for example the differences between the American and Iraqi forces in 2003 clearly gave American forces an operational edge.
Qualitative differences in leadership, training & doctrine can also be easy to tell if there is a clear differential, i.e., the difference between the Israeli and Arab armies in 1967 and 1973 is pretty stark. However, when tactical and operational differences are less obvious or telling, an operational comparison is more difficult. Allied and German forces were much more matched evenly matched at the tactical level in World War II, and many historians, like Max Hastings, give a marked qualitative edge to the Germans. However, other historians such as Rick Atkinson, note that Allied forces quickly adapted to the battlefield and were, by 1944, able to engage German forces much more successfully at the tactical, operational and most important, strategic level.
Quantitative issues would seem to be a more obvious marker of operational and strategic success, however history offers many examples where quantity did not always guarantee successor failure on the battlefield.
“God is on the side with the big battalions” is a common military maxim, but the American Civil War offers some excellent examples where this was not true at the operational or tactical level.
The Seven Days Campaign and battles of June 1862 shows how poor quality of leadership can negate a significant numerical advantage. General McClellan’s cautious approach to Richmond in spite of his overwhelming superiority gave his more audacious opponent Robert E. Lee time to marshal his forces for a counteroffensive to drive the Union army back. When the two generals met later, in September 1862 at Antietam, McClellan squandered his numerical advantage in a tactical setting by committing his army in piecemeal and uncoordinated attacks, allowing the outnumbered Confederates to shift forces along interior lines and fend off his offensive. When the armies met again in May 1863, the outnumbered Confederates were able to overcome their quantitative inferiority through superior battlefield awareness and tactical prowess to defeat a much larger Union army through a daring flank attack.
The interaction between qualitative and quantitative aspects of an army is also a factor to study in the operational art. Armies that know they must always fight outnumbered usually try to maintain a qualitative edge over their potential opponents, i.e. Frederick the Great’s Prussians, the modern Israeli Defense Forces. This qualitative edge will almost always provide a significant advantage over more numerous but poorly trained and equipped foes. However, if this qualitative edge slips, as it did in the first phase of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it can provide a costly and severe challenge.
Qualitative and quantitative measurements are the beginning of understanding the operational art and provide a good basis for beginning a campaign or battle analysis.