Academic journal article Military Review

Multi-Domain Battle: Driving Change to Win in the Future

Academic journal article Military Review

Multi-Domain Battle: Driving Change to Win in the Future

Article excerpt

This is the first of three articles discussing the impact of multi-domain battle through the lens of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. This article frames the ideas taking shape for how land forces might conduct future operations under the multi-domain battle concept being developed by the Army Capabilities and Integration Center. In recognition of the centennial of American Expeditionary Forces entering World War I, the articles will incorporate relevant historical observations and lessons to help drive home the new and differentiate it from the old.

"Perhaps we are losing too many men," is not the way to start a conversation about changing doctrine. (1) Army Gen. John J. Pershing penned these words in August 1918 after American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) sustained more than sixty thousand casualties over about four months. (2)

When the United States entered World War I in the spring of 1917, Pershing firmly believed the Germans would be driven from the trenches and defeated in the open by self-reliant infantry employing a doctrine of open warfare. (3) Open warfare doctrine imagined infantry brigades maneuvering outside the trenches that had immobilized the war months after it began in 1914. Instead of stationary fighting from trenches, U.S. brigades supposedly would employ speed and mobility to inflict decisive defeats on the Germans. Though Pershing coined the phrase open warfare, the ideas were consistent with prewar doctrine--heavily influenced by German military thought--that minimized the use of artillery and machine guns.

However, casualties suffered by German and Allied forces starting in 1914 forced the combatants to realize that the lethality of rapidly firing artillery, machine guns, mortars--and later, gas, tanks, and aircraft--made tactics such as those advocated by Pershing's open warfare doctrine almost suicidal. European armies, confronting unsustainable casualties, had to adapt and develop new doctrine and tactics after a stalemate settled in.

Facing his own unsustainable list of casualties, Pershing directed his General Headquarters to conduct a doctrinal review. (4) What little change came was too late; over half of U.S. casualties in World War I happened in late 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. (5) Despite the talk of change, open warfare persisted as leaders such as Pershing maligned Allied tactics and doctrine while continuing to create extraordinarily aggressive and optimistic attack plans. (6) They underestimated the importance of heavy firepower and their control, communication, and coordination. (7)

The approaching centenary of the end of World War I provides a moment to reflect on how land forces should adapt to changing operational environments. Despite the heroism of the AEF in 1917 and 1918, it is clear that the Army did not adapt its doctrine for the operational conditions that existed on the Western Front before the United States entered the war. The United States had an opportunity to observe and learn from European experience. Instead, the Army persisted with doctrine that had already been found wanting. The United States now faces a comparable moment. Operational environments are changing rapidly. However, when called to fight, the Army cannot afford the price paid in blood during World War I. This time, the Army must understand the changes as they occur and anticipate how they will affect operations. Doctrine must evolve before the Army faces potential enemies, not after. We must learn from careful study and analysis so we will not have to learn from bitter experience.

Changes to How the Army Will Fight

When the Nation calls upon the Army to fight and win its next war, the operational environment will be unlike the circumstances of our recent experiences. It will be defined by an enemy who will challenge our ability to maintain freedom of maneuver and superiority across the air, cyberspace, land, maritime, and space domains and the electromagnetic spectrum. …

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