Working through the problem, American military thinkers identified two types of wars that the United States could face in the future: a heavy mechanized war in Europe or a light infantry war in some other part of the world. Although the mechanized war in Europe was the least likely scenario, it was also the most dangerous. U.S. military doctrine had to be revised to be able to defeat America's strongest and most dangerous enemy.
Initially, the sights of the American military were fixed at the tactical level—"Win the First Battle"—with little consideration beyond that. There also was a recognition that the next major conflict would be a "Come As You Are War." Under the direct guidance of General William E. DePuy, the first commander of the newly established U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the initial expression of this doctrinal rethinking was the 1976 edition of FM 100–5, Operations. The new manual introduced the notion of active defense, a highly questionable substitute for the tested defensive concepts of mobile defense and defense in depth. In focusing on the lethality of modern weapons, the new doctrine stressed the effects of firepower by devoting the preponderance of space to a discussion of its effects. The new FM 100–5 did not ignore maneuver, but it did relegate that element of combat power to the mere function of movement to deliver firepower rather than gain positional advantage.
The 1976 edition of FM 100–5 was wildly controversial even before it had been fully distributed to the field. The critics of DePuy's doctrine rejected it as too mechanical, too dogmatic, and too mathematically deterministic. Nonetheless, DePuy's efforts were a major contribution to the post-Vietnam U.S. Army because, for the first time in many years, officers were again thinking and writing about doctrine. The resulting debate fueled a renaissance in American military thinking.
The immediate reactions to the 1976 edition resulted in the notion of follow-on forces attack (FOFA), which in turn led to recognition of the operational depth of the battlefield. That led directly to the final acceptance by the American military and NATO of the concept of the operational level of war, as distinct from the tactical or the strategic. The Soviets had formally recognized this level of warfare as early as the 1920s and had aggressively worked to define and expand the theory of operational art ever since. The West had long rejected the concept as little more than yet another crackpot element of Marxist thinking, but the Soviets had been right all along on this point.
The principal guiding force behind the development of AirLand Battle doctrine was General Donn A. Starry, who assumed command of TRADOC in July 1977. Working directly under Starry, Major General Donald R. Morelli, TRADOC's deputy chief of staff of doctrine, closely supervised the team of doctrine writers, which included Lieutenant Colonels Leonard D. Holder, Huba Wass de Czega, and Richard Hart Sinnerich. Classical German military thought had a great deal of influence on the development of the new doctrine. Even in the 1976 edition of FM 100–5, General DePuy had instructed the doctrine writers to study carefully the current capstone doctrinal manual of the West German Bundeswehr. That manual, HDv 100/100, Truppenführung (Command and Control in Battle), was based closely on the manual of the same name first introduced in 1932 with which the German Army fought World War II. Through the influence of the German manual, such standard German doctrinal concepts as Auftragstaktik (mission orders) and Schwerpunkt (center of gravity) became firmly embedded in American military thinking.
The 1982 edition of FM 100–5 marked the U.S. military's first formal recognition of the operational level of war and introduced the concepts of AirLand Battle and Deep Battle. AirLand Battle doctrine took a nonlinear view of combat. It enlarged the battlefield area, stressing unified air and ground operations throughout the theater. It recognized the nonquantifiable elements of combat power and restressed that maneuver was as important as firepower. Most significantly, the doctrine emphasized the human element of war, "courageous, well-trained soldiers and skillful, effective leaders." An undercurrent to this last theme, of course, was the fact that the United States had only recently abolished conscription and was then in the process of building an all-volunteer, professional army. AirLand Battle doctrine identified the keys to success in war, which included indirect approaches, speed and violence, flexibility and reliance on the initiative of junior leaders, rapid decision making, clearly defined objectives and operational concepts, a clearly designated main effort, and deep attack.
Depth was one of the keys. A commander had to fight and synchronize three simultaneous battles: close, deep, and rear. The deep battle, of course, would be the enemy's rear battle, and vice versa. A well-coordinated attack deep in an enemy's rear might in fact prove decisive. This marked the first recognition in American military doctrine that the battle might not necessarily be decided along the line of contact.
One of the most controversial features of the 1976 edition of FM 100–5 had been the elimination of the venerable Principles of War, first adopted by the U.S. Army in the early 1920s. The 1982 edition restored the Principles of War but then went one step further by introducing the Four Tenets of AirLand Battle: initiative, depth, agility, and synchronization. Initiative is the ability to set the terms of the battle by action and was identified as the greatest advantage in war. Depth has components of time, space, and resources. Agility is the ability to act faster than the enemy to exploit his weakness and frustrate his plans. Synchronization ensures that no effort will be wasted, either initially or as operations develop.
Some critics complained that the Four Tenets of AirLand Battle were unnecessary additions to the Principles of War or were ultimately an attempt to replace them. But as other analysts pointed out, the Four Tenets were for the most part combinations of two or more of the Principles of War. Synchronization, for example, combined economy of force and unity of effort. Initiative combined offensive, maneuver, and surprise.
The 1982 FM 100–5 was a major milestone in American military thought, but it was far from a perfect document. After its release to the field the debate continued, and the doctrine writers continued to refine the document. The 1986 edition of FM 100–5 contained no significant changes or innovations, but it presented a far better discussion of the doctrine and corrected some of the minor errors in the 1982 edition. Some errors still remained, however. The 1986 edition used the German concept of the Schwerpunkt interchangeably as either the center of gravity or the decisive point. As defined originally by nineteenth-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, however, the center of gravity and the decisive point ( Entscheidungsstelle) were two distinct and separate concepts. The confusion was not corrected until the 1993 edition of FM 100–5, which stated clearly: "Decisive points are not centers of gravity, they are the keys to getting at the centers of gravity."
NATO never fully embraced the AirLand Battle doctrine, and, ironically, neither did the U.S. Air Force. In any event, the new doctrine never had to be used in an actual war against the Warsaw Pact on the plains of Northern Europe. AirLand Battle, however, greatly concerned the Soviets and was just one more element of pressure in the 1980s that eventually contributed to the collapse of the communist Soviet Union. The overwhelmingly successful prosecution of the First Gulf War in 1991 was based on the 1986 edition of FM 100–5, which was arguably the single best official articulation of American war-fighting doctrine ever published.
The 1993 edition of FM 100–5 actually shifted the emphasis away from operations and conventional war fighting toward strategy and operations other than war (OOTW). Even the term "AirLand Battle" was dropped in favor of "Army Operations," but that was more the result of bureaucratic infighting between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. A new edition of FM 100–5 in 1998 was supposed to shift the emphasis back to the operational art, but the final coordinating draft caused considerable internal controversy. The new manual was finally issued in June 2001, under a new numbering system, as FM 3–0 Operations. Although the term "AirLand Battle" is no longer officially in use, the U.S. Army continues to train and operate in accordance with its principles.
David T. Zabecki
Herbert, Paul H. Deciding What Has to Be Done: General William E. DePuy and the 1976 Edition of FM 100–5. Leavenworth Papers, Number 16. Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute, 1988.; Naveh, Shimon. In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory. London: Frank Cass, 1997.; Romjue, John L. From Active Defense to AirLand Battle: The Development of Army Doctrine, 1973–1982. Fort Monroe, VA: United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, 1984.; Zabecki, David T., and Bruce Condell, eds. and trans. Truppenführung: On the German Art of War. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2001.