U.S. Army War College Senior Level College Curricula

Successful completion of either the distance or resident Senior Level College program leads to the award of a U.S. Army War College Diploma and, for qualified graduates, the Master of Strategic Studies Degree.

The USAWC is also accredited by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a program for joint education, Phase I Senior Level for the distance education program (DEP) and Phase II Senior Level for the resident education program (REP).

Both the resident and distance education programs prepare students for strategic level leadership, although the delivery systems are different.

The Resident Education Program consists of a six core courses, the Strategic Decision Making Exercise, five elective courses, and the National Security Seminar.

The Distance Education Program consists of a series of ten on-line courses and two, two-week resident courses, taken over a two-year period.

Resident Education Program Curriculum

The Resident Education Program consists of a six core courses, the Strategic Decision Making Exercise, five elective courses, and the National Security Seminar. Each student also must complete a Strategy Research Project. A number of Special Programs (voluntary, for credit) are available to selected students as part of the core or elective curriculum. Numerous complementary programs (voluntary, not for credit) are available.

Resident Curriculum Chart

Strategic Thinking (ST), an interdisciplinary course, focuses on the cognitive domain of strategic leadership, and reorients participants to good habits of graduate level scholarship appropriate for stewards of a profession. The course emphasizes lifelong learning through increased self, organizational, and environmental awareness. It also provides a foundation for self-directed learning throughout the year and for future assignments.

Theory of War and Strategy (TWS) prepares students for service at the strategic level through the study of war and strategy. The course emphasizes a theoretical approach to war and strategy and sets the intellectual framework for all subsequent courses. The course introduces political science and international relations theory to give the students the necessary tools and models from those disciplines to think about conflict as well as an understanding of the causes and uses of war. It then examines a wide range of theories of war and strategy with emphasis on the strategic level.

Strategic Leadership (SL) helps students appreciate the uniqueness of the strategic leadership environment and the required knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to lead in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. It builds on the Strategic Thinking Course by applying strategic thinking skills to assess and creatively address the many challenges facing strategic leaders, to include scanning for future trends and issues, managing and changing organizational culture, leading the profession, establishing a positive command climate within the senior leader team, and making strategic and ethical decisions.

National Security Policy and Strategy (NSPS) prepares students for service at the strategic level through the examination of key national security issues, national security policy and strategy formulation, the instruments of national power and the U.S. Government processes for integrating, balancing and synchronizing the instruments of power in promoting and protecting the national interest. Additionally, students examine key national strategy documents to include the National Security Strategy (NSS), National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the National Military Strategy (NMS) are examined as products of the strategy formulation process.

Theater Strategy and Campaigning (TSC) focuses on theater strategic warfare and Combatant Commands. Using a realistic future scenario that examines both conventional and irregular warfare, TSC addresses vexing and complex problems associated with war, operations other than war, unified and multinational operations, and stability operations. The course examines on the fundamentals of theater warfare and design of a theater campaign plan. It provides the doctrinal basis for employment of national elements of power with an emphasis on military capabilities. The course addresses Campaign Design; the need for the Commander to frame the problem and provide a vision for subordinates; courses of action development, war-gaming, and selection; strategic concept; and Combatant Commander concept of operations.

Defense Enterprise Management (DEM) provides students the tools necessary to understand how strategic guidance is used to develop trained and ready combat forces for the Combatant Commanders. It addresses the systems and processes used by OSD, Military Departments, and the Joint Staff in terms of the underlying purposes for the systems and processes and the specifics of how they operate today. It includes the ability to assess current systems and make improvements.

Strategy Research Project (SRP)

All students attending the USAWC are required to complete an individual Strategy Research Project (SRP). The SRP is an opportunity to enhance independent thinking, research, inquiry, and writing. The SRP is an individually authored research manuscript which meets contemporary standards for professional scholarship.

Strategic Decision Making Exercise (SDME): The SDME is an experiential learning vehicle for USAWC students to apply the concepts, processes, methodologies, and knowledge gained earlier in the core curriculum. The exercise builds on the core courses and provides students the opportunity to distinguish the uniqueness of strategic level leadership and apply skills and competencies required of strategic leaders. A credible and complex virtual environment challenges students to use senior leadership skills and to apply and evaluate several interrelated strategic processes: the Interagency policymaking process, the Crisis Action Planning (CAP) process, the Multinational Coordination process, and the Resourcing process. Set in the future, SDME includes multiple crises (ranging from major combat operations to humanitarian assistance and stability operations, to domestic response, to terrorism and natural disasters) to stress these integrated strategic processes.

National Security Seminar (NSS), the capstone event of the academic year, is an outreach to civilian leaders across America, providing them an opportunity to become better acquainted with the U.S. Army War College and prospective future leaders of our Armed Forces. The Seminar includes 160 New Members, a diverse group of American citizens from across the country intentionally selected for having little or no knowledge of the military, who come from a wide range of occupations. During this week-long event nationally known guest speakers provide a different focus topic for each day. As a capstone, the Seminar allows students to synthesize their year of professional study, while also better understanding the views of the society they serve.

Elective Courses: Upon conclusion of the core courses, students are required to take five elective courses, one of which is a Regional Study Elective. Electives provide students with instruction in a specialized subject which builds on the knowledge gained during their core courses. Electives are designed to provide the opportunity for greater depth of study with an expert in a specific area of professional or personal interest. USAWC offers approximately 100 electives each year.

Special Programs

Advanced Strategic Art Program (ASAP) focuses at the nexus between national wartime strategy and theater strategy. Through a focused curriculum, ASAP provides selected U.S. students with an appreciation of strategic art, theater design and campaign planning skills, and a deep understanding of the policy-strategy interface. Enhanced skills in campaign planning result from in-depth and exercises. Military history offers a laboratory through which the students gain greater insights. Nationally and internationally renowned subject matter experts, exercises, field trips, and staff visits to key elements of the Interagency reinforce student learning.

National Security Policy Program (NSPP) provides carefully selected volunteer students with a detailed understanding of the contemporary U.S. Government national security policymaking environment, a thorough foundation in the theoretical framework of national security public policy decision making, and the fundamentals for the actual craft of national security policymaking and implementation. NSPP provides students with practical application tools for the national/theater level policy planner. To the extent possible, NSPP utilizes actual case studies, guest speakers who have been policy practitioners, and student participation in policy-based exercises. Students travel to relevant agencies, to include five-seven days with the Washington, DC, interagency and a four-day trip to selected combatant commands as well as a five-day internship within the Washington Interagency. The culminating research project is a student crafted policy proposal for a real world issue for the Joint Staff, J5.

Joint Warfighting Advanced Studies Program (JWASP) is an intensive three-elective program that prepares students to effectively lead and participate in envisioning, planning, and executing joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational operations in support of a multi-national force commander. Studies focus on the challenges facing contemporary commanders through the study of senior joint/combined command, strategic "hotspots," and the operational design, organization, and execution of theater level campaigns across the spectrum of warfare. The study of contemporary joint and combined force employment provides a basis for understanding current doctrine and practices while focusing on applying these principles to the operational environment of the 21st century.

Joint Land, Aerospace, and Sea Simulation (JLASS) is a two-elective course that provides experiential learning through a dynamic simulation designed to challenge future strategic leaders. All Senior Level Colleges participate in the program. JLASS includes a classroom and distributed phase conducted from January through April, focused on integrated development (with students from the other SLCs) of Interagency and Geographic Combatant Commander campaign plans, and a one-week execution phase (war game) held at the Maxwell AFB, AL.


The Distance Education Program consists of a series of eight on-line courses and two resident courses, taken over a two-year period. The program is comparable to the Resident Education Program, utilizes the same institutional learning objectives, and also leads to the award of the USAWC Diploma and the Master of Strategic Studies Degree. In addition, distance education students complete an elective or a program research project (PRP).

DDE Curriculum

Orientation assists students in configuring their computers and provides an introduction to the learning methods and expectations of DDE, such as graduate level writing, and online forum participation. The orientation requires students to enter biographical data, participate in an online forum discussion, and complete a 500-word essay for writing assessment. These ensure that students are fully ready to begin their DEP studies.

Strategic Leadership provides the doctrinal foundation of the Army War College curriculum. In this course, students examine the foundations of leadership at the strategic level with an emphasis on evaluating competencies and challenges and civil-military relations. Students also evaluate strategic decision making to include critical and creative thinking, and ethical decision making. Finally, students apply Strategic Leader competencies and decision making factors to a complex VUCA environment.

National Security Policy and Strategy is focused on American national security and foreign policy formulation. This course provides a theoretical framework for analyzing the international context for security issues. Students examine the interagency process for developing and implementing U.S. foreign and security policies, making the connections between the various external and domestic influences at play. Finally, students are introduced to a methodology for formulating and assessing national security strategies that employ all instruments of national power.

War and Military Strategy examines the history and theory of war and military strategy, providing students with a strategic level understanding of the military element of power. The fundamental nature and evolving characteristics of varying levels of conflict provide students with insights about how war and conflict shape strategic thought and military practice. Studying classic and contemporary masters of strategic thought provides a foundation for examining war and formulating current and future military strategy.

Regional Issues and Interests examines important global transnational challenges such as crime and the international drug trade, poverty and development, disease, migration, energy security, the environment, and fragile/failing states. These issues challenge the prosperity, political capacity and security of many regions and countries of the world. The course also examines the world's several regions and contributes to the regional strategic appraisal process, with each student focusing on one of the following in their regional elective: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Greater Middle East, and Russia/Eurasia.

First Resident Course (FRC): "Strategic Leadership in a Global Environment" The FRC is an opportunity for students to examine the relationships between strategic leadership, international relations, national security policy and strategy, war and military strategy, and regional studies. A combination of guest lecturers, seminar discussions, exercises, agency visits in Washington, DC, a staff ride, and student oral briefings on interagency visits, and participation in a regional strategy formulation exercise creates a dynamic learning environment. Students have the opportunity to utilize the USAWC Library and USAHEC for research and to participate in the Leadership Feedback and Physical Fitness Assessment programs.

Contemporary Military Issues (CMI) is a survey course that challenges students to examine contemporary and future concepts that will influence U.S. National Security and war fighting over the next twenty years. The course provides materials that will provoke student critical thinking on aspects of warfare in the 21st Century, to include globalization, irregular warfare, space, cyber warfare and leveraging information in the operational environment (network-centric operations) that incorporate land, sea, air, and space technologies. Students will investigate emerging issues associated with Defense, Joint, and Army Transformation. The course provides students the opportunity to investigate the Army's Brigade Combat Team Modernization and LandWarNet (Global Network Enterprise Construct). This course acts as a catalyst and resource for students to draw upon as they broaden their knowledge of future joint force capabilities in their role as strategic leaders.

DOD Organization and Processes provides the student, as a future leader in the strategic environment, with information and tools to increase his/her strategic leader technical competency and understanding of DOD structure and function and how DOD integrates into the overall national security structure. Its content furnishes the student with knowledge of the systems and processes that help senior national and military leaders translate theory into military strategy, plans, actions, and resources. The course examines the interactions of systems and processes including the Joint Strategic Planning System (JSPS) and DOD Decision Support Systems including the Joint Capabilities Integration & Development System (JCIDS); the DOD Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) process; and the Defense Acquisition System (DAS). [The course also explores doctrine for unified direction and organization, joint command and control, joint and multinational operations, and interagency, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organization coordination.] The material in DE2308 is a logical follow-on to that of the First Year courses and sets the stage for the remainder of the Second Year core courses.

Theater Strategy focuses on the operational strategic aspects of planning at the theater level. Students will look at the development of theater strategy, and how it links to the overarching guidance received from the civilian leadership. They will also examine how the combatant commanders implement decisions made by that civilian leadership. Finally, the course sets the stage for theater operations by examining the capabilities of the Services, interagency capabilities and joint logistics. This course consists of three blocks designed to explain how combatant commanders translate national strategic guidance into theater strategies. The first block will address Services and interagency capabilities. Block two covers theater strategy and goes into detail regarding one important aspect of that strategy: theater security cooperation. The final block will examine Security, Stability, Transition and Reconstruction Operations and Counterinsurgency Operations.

Campaigning utilizes the concepts covered in DE 2309 (Theater Strategy) to address how combatant commanders translate national and theater strategies into the precursor products required to plan a campaign in an operational environment. The course introduces the emerging concept of design and addresses the fundamentals of operational art and joint doctrine for campaign planning. Students will examine the employment of military forces to attain theater-level strategic and operational objectives through the design, organization and integration of theater campaigns. Students will gain an understanding of the fundamentals of campaign planning and learn how to prepare the key planning products a joint force commander would use to create a campaign plan. This course uses joint and Service doctrinal material, historical case studies and two on line labs to reinforce key concepts and learning objectives. DE2310 continues the process of building upon war fighting concepts introduced in the previous courses.

Second Resident Course (SRC): "Strategic Leadership in Current and Future Warfare" Strategic Leadership in Current and Future Warfare examines strategic leadership and its application of military forces in current and future warfare. In the process students assess and discuss the current issues facing the Department of Defense and those organizations that influence the implementation of national security strategy (e.g., interagency, media, NGO, IO). This course is designed to be the capstone course for the Distance Education Program and builds upon and compliments the previous two years of study. Just as in the First Resident Course, students attend lectures by current military and civilian leadership, participate in seminar discussions, staff rides, case studies and exercises and exploit the full resources of the United States Army War College.

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