Magazine article Army

Multi-Domain Battle: Old Wine in a New Bottle?

Magazine article Army

Multi-Domain Battle: Old Wine in a New Bottle?

Article excerpt

Thirty-four years ago, the U.S. Army adopted a new fighting doctrine. Formalized in two successive editions of Army Field Manual 100-5: Operations, it became known as AirLand Battle. While several strands of thinking informed the new doctrine, the problem that ultimately led to its name was very specific: how to defeat a deeply echeloned Soviet attack on Western Europe.

Existing NATO and Army doctrine visualized mounting a positional defense well forward, defeating the initial Soviet onslaught through attrition. The doctrinal watchword became "Win the First Battle."

What would follow was problematic, however. War games and exercises revealed that such a defense merely would delay the inevitable. Follow-on attacks would force friendly forces depleted in that initial fight to choose between defeat and nuclear escalation.

History suggested another alternative. Exploiting observed weaknesses in Soviet command arrangements, NATO forces might be able to envelop and destroy lead formations at less cost, provided follow-on echelons were delayed or disrupted long enough to allow friendly forces to complete those maneuvers and reset.

But the Army lacked the wherewithal to create that delay; only the Air Force could do that. The revised doctrine thus implied close "synchronization" of air and ground offensive operations: AirLand Battle. The new doctrine took some selling to an Air Force that carefully guarded its operational autonomy, never mind the Germans on whose territory it would have to be executed. Within the Army itself, however, AirLand Battle doctrine proved powerfully compelling.

Happily, the specific military threat that inspired its sobriquet never materialized. But its essentials guided Army offensive operations in the First Gulf War until curtailed by what some still claim was an unwise and premature political decision.

After Operation Desert Storm, however, Army doctrine fell into a technological rabbit hole. Seduced by the promise of new sensor and information systems that some insisted would finally dissipate Carl von Clausewitz's fog of war, successive Army operating concepts were long on claims but short on evidence of performance.

Instead, war game results challenging those claims repeatedly were discounted until actual battlefield experience in Afghanistan and Iraq revealed their inadequacies. That experience produced the first real doctrinal innovation since AirLand Battle in the form of Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency.

However useful in its own terms-a utility still debated today-the new doctrine addressed an even narrower military problem than the one that had informed AirLand Battle. Meanwhile, with limited institutional investment in counterinsurgency, the Navy and Air Force turned their conceptual sights elsewhere. …

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