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Chapter 4
Army Group Offensive Operations


Prerequisites for Success
Assessment of the Situation
Issuing the Decision
Determining Factors for Operational Formation
Objectives and Missions
Prerequisites for Success
Actions in the Enemy Rear
Indicators of Success
Army Group Missions
Attack Across a Broad Frontage on Multiple Axes
Combined Methods
Attack Along a Coastline
Meeting Engagement
Attack Against a Defending Enemy
Water Obstacles
Defensive Actions

Operational art is the component of military art that falls between military strategy and tactics. Combined arms operational art prescribes the interaction between ground forces and other forces, especially aviation. Within ground forces, operational art refers to the operations of army groups, armies, and corps.


Army groups conduct the major ground maneuver component of strategic operations in a theater. (See Chapter 2) However, an army group also incorporates the air forces and other assets required for operations in a given area. The army group is both an administrative and an operational entity. Although army groups do not exist in peacetime, the OPFOR activates and organizes them for a specific strategic operation within a theater. The basic combat elements of a wartime army group are the armies, corps, or divisions assigned to it. These exist in peacetime within the structure of the military districts. In wartime, the General Staff (or possibly a theater headquarters) coordinates the operations of several army groups.

An army group is a large formation comprising several armies (or corps) or separate maneuver divisions (or brigades). Its size and composition vary with the mission it receives within the overall strategic operation. A typical army group may have--

  • One to four mechanized armies (MAs) or tank armies (TAs).
  • Perhaps one or two mechanized corps (MCs) or tank corps (TCs).
  • Perhaps one or two mechanized infantry divisions (MIDs) or tank divisions (TDs) not subordinate to an army or corps.
  • Perhaps one separate mechanized infantry or tank brigade not subordinate to an army or corps.

(See FM 100-60 for more detail on possible army group organizations.)

There is no fixed army group organization. The number of armies/corps and separate divisions/brigades that might constitute the combat elements of an army group vary widely. The army group's composition depends on its mission within the context of the overall strategic operation. Most of the combat divisions assigned to an army group are subordinate to the armies (or corps). However, some divisions (or brigades) may remain independent of a large formation; in this status, they could function as an army group combined arms reserve, depending on the nature of the operation and on the combat situation as it develops.

The rudimentary framework of the combat service support units for the wartime army groups is present in the peacetime structure of the military districts. The OPFOR organizes the combat service support structure of an army group to meet logistics support requirements. Army group logistics must support all aspects of the army group operation, including augmentation of its armies.

If required, the army group may include airborne forces (a separate airborne infantry brigade or perhaps an IFV-equipped airborne brigade from an airborne division) and amphibious forces (naval infantry). Other forces from the Reserves of the Supreme High Command may also provide support to the army group. These assets include strategic missile forces, strategic air armies, and naval forces.


Army group offensive operations are always the most important element of a strategic operation in a continental theater. Only ground forces can seize or hold ground. In the offensive, army groups advance rapidly (quite possibly before their mobilization, concentration, and deployment are complete) with the aim of destroying major enemy groupings and seizing critical economic and political objectives. From the start, army groups attempt to shift the frame of combat into the enemy's rear. Doing so forces the enemy to fight in several directions at once, and at the same time disrupts the enemy's ability to do so by destroying command and control (C2) and logistical support elements.

Lacking cohesion and supply, fragmented enemy forces are vulnerable to destruction in detail. Rapid penetrations would also prevent enemy operational or strategic reserves from establishing a new, stable defense line farther to the rear.


The aims of an army group offensive are to destroy enemy military forces and to achieve operational missions in support of strategic political and economic goals. An army group offensive involves much more than attacks against enemy forward defensive positions. It involves coordinated, repetitive, and intensive strikes throughout the entire depth of enemy field forces. These strikes might include--

  • An initial, large-scale, nonnuclear, air offensive.
  • Surface-to-surface missile strikes.
  • Heliborne and airborne landings.
  • Deep attacks by operational maneuver groups (OMGs).
  • Special-purpose forces operations.
  • Naval and amphibious forces.
  • Information warfare (IW).
  • Chemical and nuclear warfare, if necessary.

The OPFOR expects high rates of advance by attacking ground forces. It also plans to conduct strikes throughout the rear. These actions should cripple the enemy's ability to respond effectively to the offensive and to initiate nuclear warfare.

The aims of army group offensive operations naturally depend on the army group's role, composition, and scope of its operation in terms of depth, width, duration, and speed of advance. Aims also depend on the relationship of the army group's actions to those of other army groups in the theater. Whatever the conditions, however, aims usually include the following:

  • Destruction of enemy precision weapons and all their support systems.
  • Destruction of enemy ground and air forces.
  • Prevention or at least delay of enemy mobilization and deployment.
  • Seizure of the enemy's political or economic center of gravity.
  • Elimination of certain enemy nations from the war.

These aims translate into the army group's immediate and subsequent missions. The following paragraphs briefly detail army group missions. (See "Missions and Norms" for additional details.)

Immediate missions include the elimination of enemy nuclear and precision weapon complexes, the destruction of major enemy ground and tactical air groupings, and the seizure of vital areas. Together, these actions should destroy the stability of the enemy defense and the bases of his tactical aviation. The successful execution of these first steps creates favorable conditions for developing the army group offensive to the depth of the theater.

Subsequent missions include the elimination of newly detected nuclear and precision weapons, the destruction of enemy deep reserves, and the occupation of areas that contribute toward or achieve the strategic aim.

An army group executing a coastal operation has the tasks of destroying coastal groupings, seizing peninsulas or straits, occupying naval bases or ports, and establishing a coastal defense against amphibious landings to protect the flanks of inland thrusts. (For more information on coastal operations, see "Attack Along a Coastline.")

An army group attacking in a mountainous area must pay particular attention to the destruction of enemy forces in areas of (or leading to) road junctions, mountain passes, built-up areas, and other vital regions that lead to wide valleys and plains. The plan is generally to bypass enemy defensive positions, isolate them, and attack them from the flanks and rear. Thus, terrain features normally determine the aim of army group offensive operations.

An army group operating in the desert has the same basic aims as in normal terrain. However, missions are likely to be to greater depths, and frontages are wider, with gaps in them. The offensive typically takes the form of high-speed attacks from the march against the enemy's flanks or rear.

An army group in the offense is likely to have cities in its zone of responsibility. Its aim is to encircle and destroy enemy forces before they can occupy cities. If that is not possible, the army group's first echelon is to bypass pockets of resistance, encircle the city, and continue the advance. Follow-on forces could later neutralize the bypassed enemy-held areas.

Prerequisites for Success

The OPFOR believes that victory depends on achieving surprise, gaining air superiority, and establishing a sufficient superiority in the correlation of forces (COF) on key axes. Combat aggressiveness and decisiveness also play a part, and all of these imperatives translate into the characteristics of army group offensive operations--surprise, rapid advance, concentration of forces, maneuver, and deep strikes.


The OPFOR regards operational surprise as an important principle of operational art. It is one of the most important conditions for the successful achievement of operational missions. Operational-level forces can achieve decisive surprise by conducting unexpected actions, thus forcing the enemy to conduct combat operations at a disadvantage.

Surprise in offensive operations results from a skillful application of the elements of IW, used in conjunction with more traditional means. The OPFOR believes that there are numerous ways to achieve surprise, for example--

  • Keeping the concept of operations absolutely secret.
  • Selecting the right axis and timing for the main strike.
  • Concealing preparations for the operation.
  • Using new methods of conducting combat operations.
  • Opening massive fire unexpectedly from all assets.
  • Employing new technological means of warfare.
  • Achieving a swift penetration and carrying the offensive to the enemy's operational depths.
  • Maneuvering personnel and equipment extensively.
  • Exploiting terrain, weather, season, and time of day for combat operations.
  • Deceiving the enemy about one's intentions by extensive and skillful use of operational concealment, disinformation, and other information warfare activities.

Under modern conditions, reconnaissance and intelligence-collection capabilities have increased greatly. So have the scale and complexity of warfare. Totally concealing preparations for large operations is difficult. The OPFOR does not believe, however, that the importance or necessity for surprise has lessened. At the operational level, concealment of the scope and scale of the operation, the plan for and axis of the main strike, and the exact time at which combat operations will begin is crucial.

Commanders and staffs maintain great secrecy regarding the concept of the operation and the composition of the main strike groupings. They pay much attention to issues such as--

  • Communications discipline.
  • Concealment of C2 assets.
  • Deceptive actions on secondary or false axes.
  • Active disinformation to mislead the enemy.
  • Electromagnetic spectrum operations at critical points and times.
  • Skillful use of new tactics and technology to accomplish the operational mission.

The importance of surprise has also increased because of the enormous destructive power of modern weapons. Achieving operational surprise can ensure mission success. In many cases, it is the decisive factor.

Rapid Advance

A high rate of advance characterizes the offensive. The OPFOR anticipates that, over a period of several weeks or more, an average rate of advance of from approximately 40 to 60 km per day will occur. However, it does not expect this rate to be uniform.

When confronting an enemy in a defensive position, the OPFOR targets weak points in the defense. It drives to the enemy's rear whenever possible by bypassing major force concentrations. It attempts to cripple the enemy quickly by destroying or disrupting nuclear and precision weapons capability, C2 facilities, and logistics systems before the enemy can effectively react.

Even if the OPFOR must deal with an enemy emplaced in defensive positions across its entire frontage, it tries to avoid a costly, time-consuming battle of attrition. Using an overwhelming COF in its planned strike sectors, the OPFOR attempts to develop penetrations leading to the enemy's rear to topple his defensive structure. It anticipates that elements of an army group's second echelon most likely will not have to fight enemy forces in defensive positions. It expects to have overrun prepared positions within the first 2 to 4 days of the war. At that point, it expects combat to be characterized by rapid movement into the enemy rear interrupted by violent, relatively brief meeting engagements.

Concentration of Forces

An army group normally conducts a main attack over one or more axes. The proximity of one axis to another depends on whether the army group is to fragment or encircle the enemy in its drive to achieve its missions. The choice of axis for a main attack is critical in defeating the enemy and seizing territory. One or more supporting attacks accompany the main attack. A supporting attack ties down enemy forces to prevent them from reinforcing the sector threatened by the main attack.

An operational-level commander may designate certain sectors of enemy defenses as strike sectors. These are areas, normally across a main attack axis, that he deems necessary, desirable, or likely for major penetration. The commander may attack the sector with precision weapons, massed air and artillery fires, and with numerous attacks on multiple axes by maneuver units.

The greater range and increased mobility of precision weapons and modern artillery weapons enables the OPFOR to mass fires against a target without concentrating the weapons themselves. This practice reduces vulnerability to an enemy precision weapon strike. It also hinders the enemy from predicting long in advance where a main attack might occur. Along with precision weapons and artillery fires, the integrated fire plan can include the fires of SSMs, fire support helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and even naval guns. Again, this enhances its ability to concentrate fires without exposing masses of troops to possible enemy precision weapons strikes.

An additional advantage of the OPFOR's using precision weapons and modern acquisition means on the battlefield is that the enemy must avoid concentrating forces. The defender must leave gaps or lightly manned sectors between his units. When possible, the commander directs his attack against these undefended or lightly defended areas. He thus achieves a favorable COF without massing his own forces.

The OPFOR has a wide range of options for echelonment. (See "Operational Formation.") It might have a clear numerical advantage over the enemy across its entire frontage, or the enemy might have positioned the bulk of his defending forces forward. If so, the OPFOR is more likely to use a single, strong echelon to effect multiple, narrow penetrations. In other cases, enemy defenses might be well prepared or echeloned in depth. Then, the OPFOR uses an attack force echeloned in depth to maintain the momentum of the attack after the initial penetration.


Offensive operations emphasize the role of maneuver. An offensive operation has three basic goals:

  1. The achievement of a penetration through the enemy's tactical zone of defense.
  2. The development of the offensive into the operational depths.
  3. The resulting isolation, encirclement, and destruction of the enemy force.

The OPFOR tries to attack the enemy's weakest points and gaps, preferring to make multiple penetrations. It shifts combat forces (air, ground, naval) and combat support assets (such as fire and materiel) to win a decided COF advantage over the enemy and to make maneuver possible.

Exploiting the effects of maneuver by fire has assumed an increasingly important role in warfare. Fire is a generic term that includes artillery, aviation, tank, and other kinds of fire. The OPFOR believes that modern precision weapons are approaching the destructiveness of tactical nuclear weapons. The OPFOR masses ground forces and fires while also attempting to minimize detection by the enemy or to deceive him. It concentrates forces rapidly at the decisive points and times and then disperses them. Air superiority remains a key factor.

Deep Strikes

An army group offensive begins with a large-scale air offensive. This air offensive might begin shortly before, or concurrent with, the initiation of ground force operations. The OPFOR employs the air offensive continuously for as long as several days, using massed assets from army group, strategic, and naval aviation. The main goal of the air offensive is to gain air superiority for the remainder of the operation.

Typical targets of the air offensive are--

  • Delivery systems for nuclear and precision weapons.
  • Airfields and aircraft.
  • Air defense systems.
  • C2 facilities.

Ground attacks by army group ground forces follow a massive fire preparation conducted by first-echelon armies. While it is not likely to use tactical nuclear weapons, the OPFOR always includes nuclear strikes in its fire planning.

An army group could launch an airborne operation either at the start of an offensive or at a later time, possibly after completing the air offensive. In any case, the airborne insertion would rely on penetration corridors the air offensive creates in enemy air defenses. The airborne operation could involve elements of an airborne division (against a key strategic objective in the army group's sector), but would more likely involve one of its subordinate brigades (or battalions) or, possibly, a separate airborne infantry brigade.

The airborne force normally plans to link up with advancing ground forces, probably an operational maneuver group. Objectives are precision weapons systems and support facilities, C2 centers, enemy airfields, major bridges, and logistics facilities. The OPFOR equips its airborne forces (except the separate airborne brigades) with airborne infantry combat vehicles. On the ground, especially in the enemy rear, these forces fight as mechanized infantry.

Many aspects of an army group operation contribute to achieving simultaneous deep attacks throughout the enemy's defense. These include the air offensive and airborne operations mentioned above, as well as air defense, SPF, naval, and amphibious operations.

Information Warfare

The OPFOR commander relies on IW to be a major contributor to offensive operations. Continuous IW activities during the attack assist in preventing the enemy from a creating or maintaining a stable defense. This can force enemy planning into a reactive mode, responding to OPFOR initiative.

Specific, timed activities support each phase of an offensive operation. In addition to contributing to the penetration, the aim of IW activities can be to prevent the enemy from committing strategic or operational reserves and establishing a new defensive line to the rear. Eventually they could lead to the fragmenting and destruction of defending enemy forces.

Information warfare objectives in support of the offense include the following:

  • Disruption or destruction of enemy C2 links coordinating the defense.
  • Protective measures to maintain C2 for the OPFOR.
  • Deception efforts to conceal the main effort and critical assets.
  • Disruption or destruction of precision weapon-related C2 links and sensors.

The contributions of the IW elements to offensive operations are discussed below.

Electromagnetic spectrum operations (ESO). ESO in the offense focus on identifying critical enemy C2 nodes and links supporting the defense, as well as disrupting the communications and sensors required for the defense. Due to the increased vulnerabilities of an attacking force, particular emphasis is on identifying and disrupting communications and data links associated with precision weapons. Specific C2 links can a high priority for disruption or destruction depending upon the phase of the operation.

Coordinated jamming and fire support strikes are extremely effective when timed for the most critical phases of the attack, especially during a penetration or commitment of an OMG. The OMG in particular often depends on the electronic combat (EC) assets accompanying it during its penetration of the enemy defense, as it will be further removed from supporting reconnaissance assets of its parent organization.

The OPFOR uses airborne jamming and reconnaissance systems extensively. Large-scale air offensives in particular require extensive support from airborne EC systems. These systems provide protection for air formations through jamming of air defense radars and associated communications systems.

Destruction. Enemy assets that can most effectively disrupt or halt the OPFOR offensive are the focus of OPFOR destruction measures. All available assets, both ground-based and airborne, contribute to this effort. High-priority targets include C2 and reconnaissance systems associated with precision weapons, tactical C2 nodes, command posts (CPs), and communications facilities.

The OPFOR focuses on the destruction of precision weapon-related communications and sensor systems. OPFOR maneuver forces massing in the strike sector in preparation for the attack are extremely vulnerable to the enemy's precision weapons. Specific unit types selected as targets and the times for engaging them depend on their location on the battlefield and the phase of the operation.

Protection and security. Reconnaissance activities focus on identifying the maneuver forces and fire support assets of the main enemy defense, especially those in the area of the OPFOR main effort. Successful counterreconnaissance efforts are critical to winning a meeting engagement, allowing the OPFOR to react and deploy prior to the enemy, at a time and place of its choosing.

Protective measures such as camouflage, cover, and concealment, are much more difficult to employ during the attack. The OPFOR must therefore emphasize those signature-reduction measures it can conduct while on the move, both while moving up from the rear and during the attack. These include strict adherence to information security procedures, maximum use of encryption systems, and the minimum use of communications and sensor transmissions. These measures are doubly important in the case of the employment of an OMG. The OPFOR conducts extensive force protection and reconnaissance screens and patrols to limit enemy detection or observation of OPFOR units as they prepare for the offensive.

Deception. Each level of command prepares a deception plan to the extent that time allows. Most deception activities in the offense focus on preventing the enemy from identifying the OPFOR's operational formation and intentions. While the best case for the OPFOR is to force the enemy into an unprepared or ill-prepared defense with limited covering forces. This situation also affords the OPFOR the least time for preparing a deception plan. However, the necessity to deceive the enemy is reduced when he is unable to present a strong, coordinated defense.

Because of the nature of the offense, and the conduct of a meeting engagement in particular, deception operations are often a protective measure as much as an attempt to influence the enemy's decision-making process. Deception measures and activities can include--

  • Creating the false picture of a main offensive effort.
  • Maximizing protective measures to conceal movement.
  • Creating false high-value assets such as dummy SSM launchers, CPs, or armor concentrations.

The fact that there is no fixed army group or army organization lends itself to deception operations aimed at misleading the enemy as to the OPFOR's composition and strength. Enemy force calculations based upon incorrect analysis of the OPFOR's strength, especially in the main strike sector, may create a more favorable COF for the OPFOR. When successful, deception can force the enemy to focus on limited or nonexistent forces and axes, thus tying down valuable enemy assets outside the actual main strike sector.

Perception management. Perception management activities are tailored to meet the cultural, social, and education levels and traditions of the enemy. The OPFOR conducts psychological warfare and propaganda against enemy military forces, as well as against the civilian populace in the areas controlled by the enemy and the OPFOR. The OPFOR may include elements of the truth, as well as false and misleading information, in developing the perception management strategy.

The OPFOR employs all forms of information media. Television, radio, and newspapers all contribute to the effort. The OPFOR might also distribute a variety of leaflets, pamphlets, and posters throughout occupied territory.

The OPFOR carefully integrates psychological warfare or propaganda activities with the goals and objectives of the overall IW plan. Perception management efforts may also serve as a significant contributor to a deception operation. The spread of leaflets, along with radio transmissions, into a part of the enemy's defense not intended as the main effort could serve to draw attention from the OPFOR's main effort.


A sound decision depends first and foremost on a clear understanding of the concept of the higher commander (theater commander in chief (CINC) or General Staff). The commander must understand the role and place of his army group in the theater plan as well as the mission of adjacent army groups and of other services and the nature of his interaction with them. Having clarified his mission, the commander makes his assessment and issues his decision. (See also Chapter 7.)

Assessment of the Situation

An accurate assessment of the situation is of vital importance to the outcome of the operation. It must take into account all the situational influences that can hinder or facilitate mission accomplishment. Thus, the commander and his staff usually consider the following factors.

Enemy Forces

The commander must assess the composition and operational formation of the enemy and his capabilities and limitations. Included in his assessment is the enemy's likely intentions and the character of his actions. The commander can then identify--

  • The main enemy grouping and the consequent form its destruction should take.
  • The most favorable axes for his main and secondary attack, these being determined largely by the enemy's strong and weak points.
  • The requirements for establishing a sufficient COF superiority over the enemy on each axis.
  • The enemy commander's personal style, strengths, and weaknesses.
  • Targets for the air offensive.
  • Targets for airborne, heliborne, or amphibious operations.

The commander always considers enemy deception efforts when assessing the enemy.

Friendly Forces

The commander must also assess the strength and capabilities of his own army group (including logistics support) and the proposed actions of neighboring formations. These factors help determine such issues as the width of strike sectors and the army group's operational formation.


The geography of the area of operations exerts a considerable influence on the commander's decision. He also takes into account the weather and such considerations as the hours of light and darkness appropriate to the season.

Economic and Social Factors

The assessment also includes the economic situation and the sociopolitical composition of the population in the area of operations. This allows the commander to determine whether he should expect help, hindrance, or neutrality and from whom. This assessment also allows the OPFOR commander to determine how best to exploit economic, political, and social factors using information warfare.

Issuing the Decision

When he issues his decision, the commander specifies--

  • His concept of the operation, to guide his subordinates in making their own decisions.
  • The missions of the various armies, the missile troops and artillery, the air defense forces, the air army, airborne and amphibious units, and various types of reserves.
  • Objectives for his reconnaissance assets.
  • Objectives and means for IW.
  • Measures for the organization of C2, coordination, and logistics support.

The army group commander normally presents his decision graphically on a 1:500,000 or 1:250,000 map. Figure 4-1 provides an example of such a map. Based on the commander's decision and instructions, the army group staff does the detailed planning, as follows.

Figure 4-1. Map of the army group commander's decision.

Initial Operations

The most detailed work goes into planning the first few, most predictable days of the operation. The staff cannot discount the possibility of the enemy's preempting the offensive, since surprise spoiling attacks are a highly effective method of disrupting an offensive at the start. The staff identifies possible enemy axes and assigns covering forces to protect the army group's deployment. The staff works out the lines and areas occupied and held by covering forces, together with plans for combat and air support and for coordination with border troops and forces of the first echelon. The staff then plans the actions of the first-echelon armies in terms of time, lines or areas, and how forces are to accomplish immediate and subsequent missions. The staff works out in great detail the required COF, and it plans the form and duration of artillery and air support and the requirements for air defense in great detail for all axes and sectors. It also determines the methods and missions of formations in destroying covering forces, penetrating the defense, conducting meeting engagements, and annihilating the main enemy grouping.

Plans for the destruction of enemy precision weapons receive high priority. These are targets for SPF, air, missile and artillery troops, and raiding detachments (both ground and airborne forces).

Subsequent Operations

At this point, planning for the later stages of the operation appears in general outline only. The staff assigns axes of advance, designates areas or lines to seize, and gives a broad indication of how to destroy approaching enemy reserves and surviving groupings.


An army group operations plan as well as directives specifying missions of subordinate troops in the initial army group operations normally exist in peacetime. However, the commander briefs only a limited number of his staff (including the chief of staff and the chiefs of branches), and then only as to matters relating to their function. At the discretion of the General Staff (or possibly the theater headquarters), army commanders may personally receive operations plans of their armies in the military district (wartime army group) headquarters. With the approval of the same authorities, army commanders might participate in creating these plans. However, they normally are not authorized to convey the assigned missions to commanders at division level or below in peacetime. Army commanders keep the sealed plans and orders in their personal safes until they receive instructions for their release from the military district (army group) commander.


Alongside the real plan, the staff creates another, worked out in just as much detail, for deception. Thus, the OPFOR attempts to conceal the movement and deployment of actual forces, or where that is impossible, makes efforts to disguise their true scale. Deception can serve to confirm enemy expectations as to the likely actions of the army group. It can mislead the enemy into mistaken deployments and to draw attention from real preparations.


The number of axes on which the OPFOR attacks depends largely on the requirement for establishing a decisive COF superiority on specified axes. Often, an army group mounts attacks on two, or even three, axes during its initial offensive operation. One of these is the main attack, and the operations plan specifies its axis to the depth of the immediate mission, sometimes even to the entire depth of the operation. The axes of other, supporting attacks depend on the need to support the main axis and to destroy the principal enemy grouping. (Of course, it may happen that a secondary axis proves more successful than the main one once an operation begins. In this case, the commander reallocates resources as rapidly as possible to exploit success.)

Strike Sectors

The commander's concept of operations identifies the main groupings of the enemy, together with the forms of their destruction. Force density and the establishment of the requisite COF superiority over the enemy are crucial. (See Chapter 7.) The OPFOR's ability to employ precision weapons to achieve decisive effects can reduce the COF required for success in a given sector. Precision weapons can also lessen the need for massing tanks, infantry, and artillery on narrow axes.

To reduce vulnerability while establishing superiority on limited sectors, it is necessary to disperse strike groupings laterally and in depth, conduct engineer preparations of assembly areas, thoroughly camouflaging forces, and conduct rapid attack from the march. Thus, dense groupings appear only during the penetration, when forces converge on the strike sector (penetration sector). As the strike groupings penetrate the enemy tactical zone of defense, they disperse to the flanks and advance at high speed into the enemy's rear.


Mission requirements and the concept of operations determine the operational alignment of the forces within the army group. The OPFOR term for this basic organization for combat is operational formation. The operational formation of an army group (or army) is the grouping created for conducting a particular operation. It must be in accordance with the higher commander's concept and must develop the necessary COF for achieving the mission. The army group must establish strike groupings of the required strength to penetrate the defense and thereafter constantly expand its efforts on the main axis.

The OPFOR is quite flexible in its organization for combat. Against a fully prepared or partially prepared defense, the army group normally deploys in two echelons. Against a very weak, ill-prepared, or overextended enemy, however, it may attack in a single echelon with a combined arms reserve. An echelon is a grouping with a predetermined mission before the start of the operation. As a general rule, mechanized armies normally make up the first echelon of the army group. Tank armies normally appear in its second echelon or as the army group operational maneuver group (OMG).1 An army group may place tank armies in its first echelon to attain greater speed when terrain and other conditions permit this employment. This variant is likely if a large precision weapons strike precedes the ground offensive or if enemy defenses are unprepared.

To ensure success, the operational formation must--

  • Secure decisive COF superiority on designated strike sectors (and prevent the enemy from achieving the same in defensive sectors).
  • Make possible the rapid reinforcement and maneuver of forces in the course of the operation.
  • Enable a rapid transition from one form of combat action to another.
  • Ensure uninterrupted C2 and conduct of operations.
  • Provide protection from enemy use of precision (and nuclear) weapons.


In an offensive, operational formations include most or all of the following elements:

  • A first echelon (containing most of the army group's forces).
  • An OMG.
  • A second echelon or a combined arms reserve.
  • Antitank reserve (with mobile obstacle detachments).
  • Engineer and other special reserves.
  • Groups of missiles, artillery, and air defense.
  • SPF.
  • Airborne or amphibious landing forces assigned from higher command.
  • Air army assets.

An army group's first echelon normally contains most of its forces. The remainder, or follow-on forces of the army group could include--

  • A second echelon or a combined arms reserve.
  • An OMG.
  • Special reserves.

However, the "follow-on" label applies to the operational maneuver group only in the initial stage of an operation. At the first opportunity, it moves through a gap to lead the way for the main forces, which include the first echelon, the second echelon or combined arms reserve, and the special reserves.

OPFOR planners use the concept of echelonment of their forces to ensure the continuous buildup of combat force in the decisive sectors at the critical time. They do not consider reserves to be echelons. (A discussion of reserves appears later in this section.)

First Echelon

First-echelon forces have the important task of penetrating through the enemy's tactical zone of defense and defeating enemy immediate operational reserves. After that, they continue the offensive into the enemy's rear. Therefore, the OPFOR deploys the bulk of its forces in the first echelon. Its task is to destroy the enemy's corresponding first echelon (immediate mission) and develop the offensive into his depth (subsequent mission).

Given the power and mobility of its divisions, the OPFOR expects its first-echelon divisions to penetrate to the entire tactical depth of at least a partially prepared defense (that is, to the rear boundaries of forward enemy divisions). The should be able to accomplish this before the parent army has to commit additional forces to maintain momentum.

The mission of the army group's first-echelon armies is to overcome enemy defenses and to attack through the immediate operational depth (to enemy corps rear areas). Army group first-echelon forces may receive support from the artillery, other combat support, and logistics elements of the army group's second-echelon forces.

Second Echelon

When formed, a second echelon augments and reinforces the efforts of the first. The second echelon is formed and receives its mission at the same time as the first echelon.

Its commitment to battle can thus be preplanned and accordingly rapid, needing only last-minute refinements. It may--

  • Develop the success of the first echelon wherever that success occurs, conduct pursuit, and/or penetrate deeper defense zones.
  • Defeat counterattacking enemy groupings and destroy them in flank and rear attacks.
  • Destroy bypassed groupings that threaten the development of the operation or unduly restrict deployment and limit operational flexibility.

An army group second echelon (norm-ally at least one army) has the primary mission of exploiting success achieved by first-echelon forces. This usually occurs by continuing the main thrust of the offensive to the army group's subsequent mission. Thus, it is usually desirable to commit the second echelon only after completing of the army group's immediate mission. Circumstances, however, may compel the second echelon's earlier involvement to reinforce the first echelon's efforts in completing the immediate mission. Therefore, commitment of the second echelon normally follows rather than precedes that of the OMG.

Once the OPFOR has penetrated the enemy's tactical zone of defense, the frontage of advance widens. Usually the second echelon should be able to pass through a gap in the first echelon's combat formation or commit to a flank. Once the second echelon is committed, the former first-echelon forces then, normally, become a combined arms reserve. In this context, it is worth noting the impossibility of committing a second-echelon army through the wreck of a first-echelon army in battle formation. Always, the basic principle is to use second echelons to exploit success--not to redeem failure.

Second-echelon formations are components of a higher formation's main forces. Their missions are preplanned and well-defined, and can include--

  • Building up further pressure in the attack on the main axis, completing the work begun by the first echelon, and penetrating the enemy's subsequent defense zones or, at least, widening any breach in forward zones.
  • Completing an encirclement and destroying the surrounded enemy grouping through flank and rear attacks.
  • Repelling counterattacks or possibly acting as an outer arm of encirclement.
  • Providing flank protection for an advance into the enemy rear.
  • As a last resort, redeeming failure, either by switching to a new axis of main effort or by replacing exhausted first-echelon elements.

Operational Maneuver Group

Perhaps the most significant characteristic of operational formation of army groups and armies is the OMG concept. The OMG is distinct from the second echelon or reserves. It represents a unique element in the operational formation of army groups and armies.

The term OMG does not signify any particular organization. The "group" in its name connotes a force that is task-organized for a particular mission. An operational commander may form an OMG either before or during the course of an operation. At army level, an OMG probably consists of at least one division. At army group, the OMG would be larger--from two or more divisions to an entire army. It is unlikely that a corps would form an OMG, because a corps would not generally have the assets to create a large, independent formation.

The OPFOR might not always form OMGs. Forming OMGs depends on a number of factors:

  • The mission.
  • The planned axis of the main attack.
  • The tactics, strength, and readiness of enemy forces.
  • The nature of the terrain over which an attacking force must maneuver.

The OPFOR is most likely to use an OMG when the enemy defense is at a low state of readiness, or when enemy defenses are relatively shallow and not supported by large reserves. Formation of an OMG directly affects the COF that an army or front commander can achieve. The commander must sacrifice forces in either the first or second echelon to form an OMG. However, the OMG is also a force multiplier. It meets the OPFOR goal of placing a substantial force in the enemy rear area quickly to conduct simultaneous attacks throughout the depth of the enemy's defense.

The OMG is, in effect, a formation tasked to achieve at the crucial operational level what the forward detachment accomplishes at the tactical and operational-tactical level. It is little more than the logical development of the latter. As an exploitation force, its role is quite distinct from that of the second echelon and requires a different level of flexibility, mobility, and combat power.

The concept of facilitating the advance of the main forces through the use of an OMG is more flexible, more dynamic, and perhaps more potentially damaging and difficult for the enemy to counter than the concept of using a second echelon. A comparison of the possible roles of each element makes the point quite clear. (See Figure 4-2.)

Tasks of OMG

Tasks of Second Echelon

  1. Drive deeply, rapidly into enemy rear, destroying/disrupting enemy nuclear and precision weapon capabilities, C2, and logistics support in raids.
  2. Parallel pursuit and destruction of withdrawing enemy groupings.
  3. Create the inner arm of encirclement or act as the outer arm, destroying enemy reserves moving forward in meeting engagements.
  4. Seize defense lines in the enemy rear before he can occupy them.
  5. Seize objectives that facilitate the advance of the main forces.
  6. Seize key political, economic, or military objectives.
  1. Build up pressure on the main axis and penetrate deeper defense zones.
  2. Widen the strike sector or bridgehead.
  3. Repel counterattacks and provide flank protection for further advance.
  4. Strengthen the inner arm of encirclement and destroy the encircled grouping with flank and rear attacks.
  5. Replace exhausted first-echelon formations where necessary. (This is not by design, but as a last resort.)

Figure 4-2. Comparison of roles of OMGs and second echelons.

The role of an OMG is the conversion of tactical into operational success (army OMG) or operational into strategic success (army group OMG). By operating in the enemy's rear, usually ahead of and separate from the main forces, OMGs crumble the defense from within. OMGs can help precipitate the collapse of the defense and accelerate the advance of the main force in two ways. First, they could attack the enemy first echelon's C2 and logistics support. Second, they could engage his operational or tactical reserves and seize deeper defensive lines before the enemy can man them. Thus, the actions of OMGs, if inserted early, could make the deployment of second echelons superfluous.


Reserves are an integral part of the operational formation of army groups. They are contingency forces held by the commander to meet any unforeseen circumstances. Reserves do not receive definite missions when the operation is planned. Their role is to increase effort, to replace or reinforce formations of the first echelon, and to complete unforeseen missions that suddenly arise in the course of the operation. Thus, unlike second echelons, they cannot receive their missions in advance. In the offense, the army group commander specifies the composition, possible missions, concentration areas, and methods of relocation of three basic types of reserves--combined arms, antitank, and special reserves.2

In some cases, as in an offensive against a relatively weak and shallow enemy defense, the army group might employ only a single echelon. If an army group does not have a second echelon, it generally retains at least one division as a combined arms reserve. If the operation is likely to develop in a highly fluid, unpredictable fashion, an army group may form a combined arms reserve instead of a second echelon, since its mission could not be readily foreseen and pretasking is therefore impossible. In that case, or against a partially prepared defense, the army group retains a larger combined arms reserve of two, three, or more divisions. Such a reserve might be similar in size to a second echelon or even larger. The difference is that it might not have all the support elements present in an army and, of course, it would have no definite mission at the outset.

Depending on the developing combat situation, the combined arms reserve might--

  • Reinforce or exploit the success of first-echelon forces.
  • Repel counterattacks.
  • Provide flank and rear area security.
  • Respond to other contingencies that might arise.

Normally, an army group has an organic antitank brigade. The army group's antitank assets may reinforce first-echelon armies or the combined arms reserve.3 Alternatively, they may form an army group antitank reserve, often reinforced with engineer assets. (See Chapter 9 for more information on the employment of antitank reserves.)

All commanders from brigade up to army group automatically form antitank reserves. Their main role is to repel counterattacks and/or provide flank security. They usually have antitank units as their basis, but may be reinforced by tank and/or mechanized infantry troops as appropriate. Antitank reserves play an important role in the fluid maneuver battles and engagements anticipated by the OPFOR. They provide an economy of force, a grouping that can deal with developing armored threats without having to weaken an attack echelon and thereby compromise its viability.

The OPFOR considers antitank fire to have the decisive role in repelling attacks or counterattacks by enemy armor. Therefore, antitank reserves are an important element of the operational formation in offensive as well as defensive operations. Their basic missions are to--

  • Screen the advance and deployment of OPFOR formations for attack.
  • Reinforce army antitank defense.
  • Repel enemy tank counterattacks.
  • Screen the advance, deployment, and commitment of second echelons or combined arms reserves.
  • Screen the flanks of attacking formations and consolidate occupied positions.
  • Screen areas weakened by an enemy precision weapon strike.

With additional antitank brigade(s) possibly allocated from the Reserves of the Supreme High Command, an army group might have one or two antitank reserves. As a rule, they operate jointly with army group mobile obstacle detachments.4 These assets normally are ready to deploy on tank-threatened axes or at the line of commitment for the army group's second echelon.

The OPFOR often forms special engineer, chemical defense, medical, or other rear services reserves. The role of these special reserves is to reinforce efforts on the main axis and/or cope with unforeseen problems (particularly those created by the enemy use of precision weapons). In conventional conditions, their primary roles are in defense against enemy counterattacks, security, and tasks requiring specialty skills.

Combat Support

In highly mobile, fluid operations, the OPFOR decentralizes most combat support elements to divisions and below. However, an army group (or army) would retain some long-range systems as part of reconnaissance-strike complexes to conduct deep fire missions. An army group forms army artillery groups (AAGs) and army rocket artillery groups (ARAGs). These groups ensure the concentration of fire on the main axis and the maneuver of massed fire in support of the penetration. They also support the commitment of OMGs and second echelons (or combined arms reserves). Similarly, an army group forms strong air defense groups to protect the concentration of forces necessary for a penetration. In subsequent, mobile operations such artillery and air defense groupings are likely to be reduced or broken up altogether, their elements reinforcing formations on key axes.

Airborne and Amphibious Forces

Airborne and amphibious landing forces are also part of the operational formation of army groups. The army group commander lays down the following for each landing element:

  • Its composition.
  • Its staging areas and times of occupation and for preparation.
  • The means, time, and area of delivery.
  • Combat mission in the enemy rear.

The commander also issues orders for coordination with army group main forces and air and naval forces.

Separate airborne brigades and possibly divisional airborne brigades are available to army groups to conduct deep battle and deep operations. They often work in conjunction with tactical and operational maneuver elements (forward detachments and OMGs) to help convert tactical into operational or operational into strategic success. They conduct raids on high-value targets (especially nuclear and precision systems and C2 and communications facilities). They can seize key crossroads, defiles, and obstacle crossings in advance of maneuver elements to help maintain momentum or to prevent (or at least delay) enemy attempts to withdraw from or reinforce the battle against either main forces or OMGs.

Determining Factors for Operational Formation

Along with selection of the main and secondary axes, the commander's decision on the operational formation of his army group (or army) is the most important element of his decision. The determining factors are--

  • The aim of and plan for the operation.
  • The strength, depth, and degree of preparedness of enemy defenses and of his operational reserves.
  • The availability of resources.
  • The nature of the terrain in the zone of the advance.

The OPFOR is not rigid in its organization for combat, nor does it adhere to a inflexible formula in all circumstances. Given the imperative of a high rate of advance, the operational formation must prevent or delay the enemy use of reserves, or at least render them ineffectual. The OPFOR can accomplish this either by advancing on such a broad frontage that these reserves have only limited, local significance. Another method for the OPFOR to defeat enemy reserves is to maintain a high tempo in the attack, engaging and defeating enemy reserves before they are able to react effectively.

Influence of Nature of Enemy Defense

The operational formation must ensure a rapid penetration of the tactical defense zone and transfer of combat action into the enemy's operational depth without delay. Its precise organization depends primarily on the nature of the defense.

Prepared enemy defenses are likely to have a high density of major antitank weapons. Moreover, the depth of the tactical defense zone can be up to 50 km, and the terrain is generally favorable to the defender, offering both obstacles and protection to the defense as well as inhibiting the deployment and maneuver of large OPFOR formations.

A fully deployed enemy would have strong operational reserves capable of broad maneuver and massive counterstrikes. Against such defenses, the OPFOR would have to attack in two echelons. (Figure 4-3 shows a typical army group operational formation against a prepared defense.)

Figure 4-3. Example army group operational formation against a prepared defense.

An army employs a similar operational formation if on a main axis, and would have a strong AAG and an ARAG concentrated on the main strike sector.5 In such an operation, an army--and perhaps even an army group as well--might try to penetrate on only one, probably narrow axis.

If the enemy has had time to prepare, the stability and cohesion of his defense and his ability to maneuver operational reserves onto threatened axes in a timely manner remains high. In such a case, the OPFOR could generate operational maneuver only after a prolonged engagement of attrition. The defeat of enemy forces then has to be sequential, not simultaneous. Surprise becomes difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

A partially prepared defense might have strong covering forces deployed when the offensive begins. However, the main defensive area is not even fully manned, far less prepared, and operational reserves are not fully deployed. Penetrating this defense is a far easier task for the OPFOR. The concern here is to maximize the rewards of surprise by delivering the strongest possible strike before the enemy's defense becomes fully prepared.

The closer the enemy comes to having a prepared defense, the more likely it is that the OPFOR army group would have (or need) a second echelon. Figure 4-4 shows a typical operational formation of an army group facing a partially prepared defense that is close to being prepared.

Figure 4-4. Example army group operational formation against a partially prepared defense (variant 1).

Having caught the enemy off balance, it is essential to keep him so, to keep him in a purely reactive posture, and to prevent the creation of a stable defense, even in the operational depth. An army group is then likely to use all available axes (including difficult terrain), attacking in a single echelon with either one or even two OMGs or a relatively strong combined arms reserve (perhaps three to four divisions). Figure 4-5 illustrates this variant of a typical army group operational formation, against a defense at the lower end of the partially prepared category.

Figure 4-5. Example army group operational formation against a partially prepared defense (variant 2).

Armies, too, might well attack in one echelon with an OMG. However, an army might form a second echelon under certain conditions. One example might be if there is insufficient room to deploy all its constituent divisions in one echelon. Another would be if it is advantageous when maneuvering against enemy forces still moving forward from the operational depth to occupy the main defensive area. The AAG may be smaller, with more assets decentralized to divisions on the main axes.6

Against partially prepared defenses, the commitment of OMGs successively at army and army group levels to conduct deep operations should be both relatively easy and rapid (probably on the first day at army level and the first to third at army group). The insertion of air-delivered forces should pose fewer problems, and the delay before linkup with operational maneuver elements should be short, solving the problem of survivability. With a combination of air interdiction, airborne and heliborne landings, and the deployment of OMGs at all levels, the OPFOR can effectively follow the principle of simultaneous defeat of the enemy throughout the depth of his deployment.

Such a scheme of maneuver is not easily countered with weapons of mass destruction, thanks to the speed of advance (expected to average 40 to 60 km per day) and the intermingling of the enemy and friendly forces. For that matter, it also sharply reduces the relevance of the deep interdiction capabilities of enemy precision weapons.

An unprepared enemy defense, with weak covering forces, no preparation of the main defensive area, and few operational reserves, offers the ideal target for an OMG. It is desirable to maximize the fire and shock action brought to bear at the outset, the weight of the strike being sufficient to overwhelm the defense and to generate momentum. An army group can then deploy in a single echelon, with an OMG prepared to assist on the main axis. There would be a relatively small combined arms reserve, along with antitank and special reserves. A similar operational formation might occur at army level, though limitations of space might force the holding of a division-size reserve. An army would make more extensive use of forward detachments. It might not form an AAG at all, with all assets distributed to the first-echelon divisions. The OPFOR could make even bolder use of air-delivered forces. Figure 4-6 illustrates a typical army group operational formation against an unprepared defense.

Figure 4-6. Example army group operational formation against an unprepared defense.

Influence of Terrain

Terrain may play a dominant role in determining operational formation. Open terrain permits more lateral dispersion and affords more axes for attack; restricted terrain limits the number of axes. Thus, limitations of space or maneuverability may prevent the adoption of the optimal operational formation.

Terrain limitations might dictate an initial operational formation in two echelons (or one echelon with a large combined arms reserve) in cases where the commander otherwise would have preferred to array the bulk of his forces in a single echelon with a small combined arms reserve. Mountainous terrain may even dictate a three-echelon formation.

On the other hand, an army group mounting an offensive in forested mountainous terrain would often adopt a single-echelon formation. Circumstances could dictate that, even if the commander had a second echelon, he could not commit it to battle in a timely manner. The reason would be the difficulty in maneuvering laterally and in passing one echelon through another (passage to a flank of the first echelon being precluded by the terrain). The viability of this single-echelon option depends, of course, on a disposition of targeted enemy forces and of adjacent formations that would allow a wider zone of attack for the army group in question.


The OPFOR identified a need for a concept that would enable it to fully exploit its growing technical capability while preventing the enemy from using his. By attacking the enemy simultaneously throughout the depth of his deployment, the OPFOR intends to ensure rapid collapse before the enemy can resort to the use of precision or nuclear weapons. Air-delivered forces play an important role in disrupting the cohesion of the defense, but only significant armored groupings can provide the decisive element in the struggle in the enemy's rear. Their early commitment into the enemy's rear can overstretch the defender's resources by forcing him to fight in two directions, to front and rear, while denying him the means to do so by disrupting his C2 and logistics systems. At the operational level, this is the role of OMGs.7 It is important to understand that the OMG is a concept and not a specified formation. It is possible for virtually any division, corps, or army to receive the mission of acting in the OMG role, as circumstances dictate.


The basic concept of the OMG is to fracture the stability of the enemy defense at the earliest possible moment by conducting deep operational maneuver into the enemy's rear area. Once in the enemy rear, the OMG's main purpose is to help smooth and accelerate the progress of the main force by eroding the defense from within.

The OPFOR sees the OMG as part of a total package of operations in the enemy rear involving air offensive and airborne/heliborne operations and the offensive by more traditional echelons.

It is a concept which can only apply in favorable circumstances. Nevertheless, the OPFOR makes every effort to bring about these circumstances, principally by achieving surprise. The OPFOR sees the concept as a way of fully exploiting the characteristics of modern weapons systems while denying the same to the enemy.

In contrast to a second echelon (or combined arms reserve), the OMG's role is not to overwhelm the defense from in front but to disrupt it from the rear. This is why the OPFOR wants to commit OMGs early, usually long before the second echelon. The OMG is designed to preempt and negate possible enemy countermeasures--

  • By destroying and disrupting the soft infrastructure that supports and directs the hard defensive shell.
  • By forcing the defense to face the possibility of attack, from behind as well as in front.
  • Through its impact on enemy military and civilian morale.

Moreover, the OMG is designed not merely to overstretch the enemy's conventional defenses but also to preclude his precision weapon or nuclear option.

The OMG harasses and destroys the defender's precision and nuclear weapons and C2 system and denies him a lucrative interdiction target during concentration for a penetration. The concept is most easily translated into practice if the OPFOR achieves at least partial surprise.


The composition of an OMG is task-oriented and normally determined in advance of operations. At the army group level, an OMG may consist of anything from two divisions to an entire army. At the army level, an OMG generally consists of one division. Because it lacks the assets to form a large, independent formation, a corps does not normally form its own OMG.

Predesignated OMG

If selected for a predesignated role, the army group OMG is likely to be a tank army or possibly a corps. In a strategic offensive operation of limited depth, it is quite possible that the OPFOR would not form large army group OMGs; instead, the multiple effects of several army-level OMGs could provide a suitable force.

Improvised OMGs

Should the OPFOR achieve an unexpected success, it would automatically adjust the missions and momentum of the operation to fully exploit its advantage. It might, as part of this process, nominate any formation in a favorable position to become an OMG. Such an improvised grouping, lacking both preparation time and probably the resources normally allocated, would probably receive a less demanding mission than a OMG.


Operating separately from their parent formations in the enemy's rear, OMGs need substantial reinforcements such as air defense, engineers, fire support, logistics assets, and C2 elements.

The OMG needs to take its own air defense coverage with it, and it also needs extra assets. It may well have dedicated fighter aviation. For example, because the OMG would be operating within a corridor cleared through enemy air defenses, it should be possible to provide fighter cover at acceptable cost.

Substantial and varied engineer support is necessary. Support functions might include elements for route clearing, bridging, ferrying, minelaying, exploiting captured POL resources, and even creating improvised runways.

Being some distance from the main forces and with the likelihood of meeting strong enemy reserves, the OMG needs additional fire support. This could include long-range guns and MRL systems. There would also be a need for strong air support from both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Helicopters, and quite probably the ground-attack aircraft as well, would be under operational control.

An OMG might also have a considerable electronic combat component. This greatly enhances effectiveness of communications intercept and jamming by operating from within the enemy rear areas.

With no secure land line of communications, an OMG has to carry most of its logistics needs with it and would, therefore, need extra cargo transport. However, this should not be a serious problem since the OMG should not have to fight the sort of grueling battle or engagement that characterizes the action of the main forces. Raids, and short but intense meeting battles/engagements, should be the norm. At least limited air resupply may well be possible, either by parachute or by airlanding.

To improve command and control, OMGs would almost certainly make use of airborne CPs (in medium and heavy-lift helicopters) and liaison aircraft. They would also have secure, long-range, and reliable communications means (for example, troposcatter and satellite communications).

Objectives and Missions

An army group-subordinated OMG, if formed, would have much deeper and larger targets than the smaller army-level group. The objectives/missions assigned by the General Staff (or theater CINC) would be of strategic significance; for example, seizure of an enemy capital or conducting a major encirclement (in conjunction with the OMG of another army group). (Figure 4-7 illustrates a variant of such missions in the enemy rear.)

Figure 4-7. Army group OMGs advance on strategic objective while main forces execute an encirclement.

They may, however, also have the requirement to execute intermediate missions en route. The army group (or army) commander outlines these missions in a broad directive rather than detailed orders. The OMG commander thus has much greater latitude than his second-echelon counterpart. The higher commander expects him, as well as his subordinate commanders, to show much more independence and initiative, once the OMG has launched into the enemy rear.


An OMG receives its orders at the same time as the first echelon. Possible missions can include the following:

  • Creating the inner arm of an encirclement to help main forces destroy enemy forward formations by attacking from the rear, establishing blocking positions on withdrawal routes, or conducting parallel pursuit and destruction of withdrawing enemy formations.
  • Acting as the outer arm of an encirclement to destroy in meeting engagements enemy operational-tactical (corps) or operational (army group) reserves moving forward to counter the main forces of the army group or army.
  • Seizing key objectives or favorable lines from which the OPFOR can mount further operations.
  • Seizing possible defense lines in the enemy's rear before he can prepare and occupy them (army group operations often end with occupation of a bridgehead over a major obstacle).
  • Seizing key political and/or economic objectives assigned to the army group (such as an enemy capital).

Through rapid penetration into the enemy's rear, and working in conjunction with airborne forces and forward detachments, OMGs accomplish such tasks of operational or even strategic importance.

Planners normally establish alternative lines of commitment and routes to them for the OMG. These are established along with orders for the march and projected support for commitment to combat.


Whatever the primary missions, OMGs would also conduct raiding actions deep into the enemy rear as early in the offensive as possible. Possible objectives for raids include--

  • Destroying, or at least disrupting, enemy precision weapons, air defenses, communications, C2, and logistics.
  • Seizing airfields or disrupting lines of communication.
  • Assisting advancing main forces by seizing bridgeheads, road junctions, and similar objectives.

The purpose of these raids is to help the main forces by reducing the effectiveness of the enemy opposing them. Thus, the raids are an essential part of the OMG's operational task and not merely an option. Nor do the raids distract the OMG from its ultimate geographical objective, since their targets are generally on or near the axis of the OMG's main thrust.

Prerequisites for Success

The commitment of the OMG is the most difficult, most dangerous, and most crucial part of the whole concept. The time and area of commitment must remain unknown to the enemy until it is too late for him to take effective countermeasures. Aside from that, there are certain things that the OPFOR must accomplish if the commitment of the OMG is to be successful.

Assembly Area

The OMG's assembly area must be close to the line of contact to ensure the OPFOR does not lose the opportune moment and the element of surprise by having to conduct a long approach march. Thus, the OMG is likely to remain just out of artillery and surveillance-radar range (from perhaps 30 to 50 km from the line of contact). The enemy could easily mistake the OMG for a second echelon if detected by aerial reconnaissance.

The OPFOR should take every a precaution to conceal the presence of the formation using normal camouflage means and strict electronic silence. The OPFOR often attempts to confuse the defense by--

  • Locating the assembly area to the flank of the intended line of commitment.
  • Deploying dummy concentrations behind secondary sectors.
  • Using false radio sets and misleading radars to reinforce the deception.

While concealment of a large grouping so far forward is certainly difficult, it does not have to last long if insertion is to be on the first day (or more likely, night) of the operation.

Movement Forward

As the OMG moves forward for commitment, there must be careful coordination with the first-echelon formation through which or around which it is being committed. Considerable engineer effort is necessary to improve routes, and routes must be clear of first-echelon traffic. The CPs of the two formations normally colocate, with the forward CP ideally providing observation of the battlefield. Until the last minute, communications would be restricted to wire and couriers in vehicles and helicopters to avoid sacrificing surprise.

The Commandant's Service must deploy a massive traffic control effort. Key traffic control posts often are under the command of senior officers, for instance the OMG's deputy commander or chief of engineers, to make sure traffic jams do not occur.

The OMG normally moves forward, and indeed through the defense, on two or three routes to ease control problems and to shorten the time taken to insert the formation. It would largely ignore normal march intervals in the interests of control and speed, and an entire reinforced division may be only about 25 km deep on a frontage of as little as 4 to 6 km. The passage of the line of commitment, however, is likely to take place at speeds of only 8 to 10 km per hour, given the presence of battle damage (both to the terrain and to first-echelon elements) and of enemy minefields and antitank ditches. Thus, a division-size OMG could take 2 to 3 hours to complete its commitment, and a tank army in two echelons, using four routes, might require up to 10 to 12 hours.


The OPFOR needs an accurate intelligence picture of the battlefield. Of crucial importance is the identification of a weak spot in the defense through which the OMG can penetrate. (It could be a weak spot or gap created by first-echelon forces or by firepower, or it could be a naturally occurring gap in a less than fully prepared defense.) It is also vital to determine the location of any enemy reserves that can react within even the short warning the OPFOR intends to allow, and of all enemy artillery, especially MRLs, that can strike the penetration sector. While elements of the first-echelon army are fighting through the tactical zone of defense, reconnaissance elements from the OMG follow. They must exploit any opportunity to move through gaps created and get into the enemy's operational depth. Also, mobile observation posts of the OMG move in the front line, reporting on progress and likely weak sectors for commitment.

Air Superiority

Commanders recognize that winning air superiority is no easy task against a first-class enemy in a modern war. Yet, they must achieve at least local and temporary air superiority, or enemy air power could severely cripple the OMG. Therefore, they must concentrate overwhelming fighter and attack helicopter strength to provide top cover and also intensify offensive counterair action in the sector. The OMG's air defense weapons and those of the formation through which it moves give priority to its protection. Since the OMG normally operates on the main axis, it may enjoy the protection of an air corridor established in the initial long-range fire strike or army group offensive air operation. Commitment at night further confuses enemy reconnaissance and countermoves, both by air and ground forces.

Concentration of Maximum Support

Every available weapon from first-echelon brigades and divisions, as well as army and army group resources, must concentrate on supporting the OMG as it approaches and then passes through the defense. The aim is to put down so much mortar, howitzer, gun, MRL, helicopter, and ground-attack fire that there would be no combat-effective enemy units in the sector through which the OMG is to move, or to its immediate flanks. Fire support begins up to an hour before the OMG arrives on the line of contact, with the last 20 to 30 minutes being an intense preparation for commitment. Ideally, the OMG does not use its own artillery to support its commitment because it would have to deploy out of the OMG's march formation to do so. However, the need for firepower often forces its employment. Both preceding and during the OMG's commitment, the first echelon delivers supporting attacks on the flanks. (See Figure 4-8.)

Figure 4-8. Tank division as army OMG, or part of army group OMG, completing a penetration begun by mechanized infantry division.


It is essential to commit the OMG as early as possible. Ideally, this should occur when the enemy's defense is essentially unprepared; then army, and even army group, OMGs might lead the advance of their parent formations from the outset. Such an early commitment assumes the offensive has achieved a substantial degree of surprise. Of course, the reduction of the OMG's combat effectiveness because it must complete the penetration is unwelcome--but less so than a loss of tempo. Figures 4-8 illustrates how an army OMG (or part of an army group OMG) could complete a penetration with some help from first-echelon formations. Figure 4-9 shows the more ideal situation where a first-echelon army has created the penetration through which the army group OMG can pass.

Figure 4-9. Tank army as army group OMG exploiting the penetration of the tactical zone of defense by a first-echelon mechanized army.


The OMG masses only at the point of penetration. It then disperses quickly along multiple routes to avoid interdiction by enemy precision weapons and aircraft. For a division-size army OMG, the frontage at the line of commitment may be as little as 4 to 6 km, especially if it has to complete the penetration of a prepared defense. An army group is likely to commit its OMG on a broader frontage (perhaps 12 to 20 km), and after the first echelon has largely completed the penetration of the tactical depth of the defense.


The time of commitment also depends on the preparedness of enemy defenses. Against an unprepared defense, the OPFOR probably would hope to commit an army group OMG on the first, or at the latest, the second day of battle in the enemy's main defense zone. Against partially prepared defenses, commitment could possibly be on the third or even fourth day. In the worst case, it could come after the commitment of the second echelon against prepared defenses of some strength.

Completing Penetration

Although it is quite likely that an OMG might have to complete the penetration of well-prepared forward defenses itself, the OPFOR would not expect it to fight a major battle. If not yet cleanly breached, the enemy defense must at least be on the point of breaking. The OMG would attack on a narrow frontage using forward detachments on each axis to complete the penetration in conjunction with elements of the first echelon. It should receive the maximum support possible from all army assets and maximum aviation effort.

Forward Detachments

The role of the forward detachment is crucial.8 Its flank and rear attacks on enemy strongpoints on the chosen sector for commitment must speedily and reliably complete the penetration. The forward detachment must then rapidly move into the enemy rear to seize a foothold in the enemy's second defense line before that line becomes strong enough to stop the OMG. To ensure decisive action by such forward detachments, they are often under the command of senior officers. For example, the deputy commander of an army acting as the army group OMG might command the reinforced brigade acting as its forward detachment.

Movement Support Detachments

Almost as important an element as the forward detachment is the movement support detachment (MSD).9 An MSD closely follows the forward detachment and improves the routes being used to commit the OMG across battle-damaged terrain.

Window of Opportunity

The aim is not to open a breach and to keep it open; it is merely to push the OMG through the last vestiges of the defense into the rear area. Quite possibly, enemy reserves or troops moved from less threatened sectors to form a defensive counter-concentration could temporarily re-establish the integrity of the defense. This is quite acceptable as long as the OMG has got through; the OMG can then help the main forces to create a more permanent, indeed irreparable rupture. All the OPFOR has to do is to create a window of opportunity and exploit it in a timely manner.

Actions in the Enemy Rear

An army group OMG is less likely to have to expend combat power in raiding activities, especially if preceding army OMGs have already disrupted the enemy's operational-tactical rear. The major point of such raids is the undermining of resistance to the first echelon. If the first echelon has already been successful, the need for raids becomes less compelling. If, as is more likely, an army OMG has not preceded the army group's, then raiding actions would still be the norm, though conducted to greater depth.

Even with diminished raiding functions, there remains a subtle but important difference between an army group OMG and a second echelon. The OMG would drive deep rapidly and seize geographical objectives, whereas the primary task of a second echelon is to destroy enemy forces.


Well-defined norms govern offensive operations and depend principally on an assessment of friendly and enemy capabilities. In particular, norms depend on the preparedness of enemy defenses. They may also reflect other factors such as terrain and weather. Thus, planners have established norms in distances, rates of advance, and time factors. These factors guide planning for an operation.

Indicators of Success

An army group receives immediate and subsequent missions.10 The OPFOR uses three indicators to assess the success of an operation:

  • The degree of destruction inflicted on the enemy.
  • The depth of the penetration achieved.
  • The remaining combat capability of the army group, at least on the main axis.

The OPFOR regards the mission as accomplished if the operation achieves all three indicators, partially accomplished if it achieves only the second, and not at all accomplished if it does not achieve the second. Thus, the depth of penetration is of prime importance.

Degree of Destruction

As a rule, the degree of destruction imposed on the enemy must be at least 50 percent of his initial combat potential and partial disruption of his C2 system. This lessens the enemy's ability to offer effective, organized resistance.

Depth of Penetration

The importance attached to the depth of penetration is not at the expense of the destruction of enemy groupings. Only a rapid and deep penetration can ensure the elimination of enemy forces and his ability to exercise effective C2. Deep operations also fragment the defense and allow easy destruction of bypassed enemy forces. They can also contribute to the political collapse of parts of an enemy coalition.

Remaining Combat Capability

This indicator of success is relative. The ability of the attacking force to maintain the offensive is a function of the loss ratios of the two sides. If the defender has lost not less than 50 percent and the attacker not more than 40 percent, the attacker can maintain momentum. The attacker can accept losses even greater than 40 percent if he still has a slight superiority in COF and the enemy's morale is low.

Army Group Missions

First-echelon army groups receive immediate and subsequent missions. A typical immediate mission for a first-echelon army group includes--

  • Neutralizing or destroying, in zone, the enemy's precision weapon capabilities.
  • Destroying the main forces of an enemy army group or equivalent.
  • Creating favorable conditions for developing the offensive deeper into enemy territory.

A typical subsequent mission for a first-echelon army group includes--

  • Destroying any newly detected precision weapons capabilities.
  • Destroying any remaining army group forces, theater reserves, and national forces.
  • Seizing important industrial and political centers deep in the enemy's territory.

The first-echelon army group's subsequent mission normally coincides with the theater's immediate strategic mission. The theater's second-echelon army groups also receive immediate and subsequent missions that correspond to the overall mission of the strategic operation within the theater.


Army groups may vary widely in size and composition and as widely again in their missions. The following paragraphs are broad guidelines that give a general impression of the scope of operations.

Depth and Duration

An army group generally executes two successive operations to a depth of 600 to 800 km. Its immediate and subsequent missions largely depend on the nature of the defending enemy forces the army group must destroy.

The immediate mission is to penetrate to the rear of the defending army group (or equivalent). By penetrating to this depth, the army group's first-echelon armies complete the destruction of enemy first-echelon corps and destroy the enemy army group's cohesion and integrity. At this depth, they also engage the enemy army group reserve. Depending on the preparedness of enemy defenses, the depth of this immediate mission is 250 to 350 km, achieved over a period of from 6 to 8 days.

The army group's subsequent mission is to complete the destruction of the enemy army group and possibly engage enemy theater reserves. Depending on the preparedness of defenses, this might involve an additional 350 to 550 km in depth and from 6 to 7 additional days. Thus, the total depth of this subsequent mission might be about 600 to 800 km over a total of from 12 to 15 days.

Under favorable conditions, the army group's first-echelon armies (which, like the army group itself, may conduct one or more successive operations) may accomplish the army group's subsequent mission. Against more prepared defenses, however, the army group would normally have a second echelon to complete this task.

Depending on the overall depth of the theater, the army group's subsequent mission may also include seizure of key points in the communications zone (COMMZ). However, it is also quite possible that the army group's second operation could be on a different strategic axis from the first. Ideally, the army group can execute such operations without a pause between them. Against stiff opposition, such deep advances without a pause may be logistically impracticable, even if the army group retains sufficient combat power to go so far.

Expected Average Rate of Advance

Against a partially prepared or overextended defense that lacks strong operational reserves, the expected average rate of advance would be 40 to 60 km per day. However, this rate would not be uniform. It might be no more than 25 to 30 km per day when fighting through defended areas. Once the attacking force has achieved a penetration, the rate of advance would increase considerably, up to 60 to 70 km per day in developing the offensive into the enemy rear. These rates are for normal terrain; in mountains, marshes, jungles, and arctic areas the average rate of advance would decrease to about 30 to 50 km per day; in deserts and steppes, it increases substantially.

Width of Zone of Action

In an offensive, the sector of responsibility of an army group (sometimes called a zone of action, zone of advance, attack zone, or overall attack frontage) may be up to 300 to 400 km wide. The army group conducts offensive operations within this assigned sector. The width of the zone depends on a number of factors, including the mission, COF, terrain, weather, enemy disposition, and precision weapon threat.

In an attack against a defending enemy, an army group commander would not distribute his forces evenly across the entire zone. Instead, he would designate main and secondary operational axes, with the desired COF to achieve the missions in the designated time.

In any operation, there are long secondary or defensive sectors, at least at the start, and particularly in attacks on well-prepared defenses. Strike sectors in an army group against prepared defenses are likely to total about 25 to 30 km.

Once the attacking force has penetrated the enemy's tactical zone of defense and the enemy starts to withdraw his outflanked forces, the breadth of offensive actions increases, as forces on previously secondary-attack or defensive sectors transition to the pursuit.

A zone width of up to 200 to 300 km could be appropriate for an army group with two or three armies or corps in the first echelon operating in normal terrain. In other theaters, particularly in the desert or the mountains, the zone of action might be wider. The zone of action depends on the number of axes of advance in the army group's first echelon. In assigning division frontages, the OPFOR considers assessments of friendly and enemy forces as well as the nature of the terrain. The average division zone of action for offensive operations in a main attack is 15 to 25 km. Thus, the width of a first-echelon army making the main attack with 4 divisions in its first echelon might vary from 60 to 100 km; with only 3 divisions in the first echelon, it would be 45 to 75 km; with 2 divisions in the first echelon, it could be as little as 30 to 50 km. For armies not making the main attack, in secondary sectors, on axes where the enemy has no sufficient forces and means, or in areas with much impassable terrain, the width of the zone of action could be up to 100 km or greater.

Thus, an army group with 2 or 3 armies or corps in its first echelon could have a zone anywhere 120 to 300 km wide. However, frontages of 150 to 250 km are probably more typical. If one or more armies had conditions that allowed a frontage of 100 km or more, the width of the army group could approach or even exceed 300 km. (The depth of the army group forces might be 300 to 400 km measured from the forward edge of friendly troops.)


Planning at army group level must support the conduct of operations deep in the enemy's rear area. The OPFOR recognizes two basic forms of operational maneuver: the attack across a broad frontage on multiple axes and the encirclement operation. It is also likely that an army group could use a combination of the two forms.

The OPFOR must achieve decisive operational COF superiority's, exploit weak points and gaps in the enemy's deployment, and use bold maneuvers into the enemy flanks and rear to destroy the enemy's cohesion and split his groupings so that it can destroy them in detail. The availability of long-range, precision weapons can allow the OPFOR to destroy enemy forces deep in the enemy's rear area. Such precision weapons can reduce the COF required by ground maneuver forces and can facilitate the conduct of bold maneuver into the enemy flanks and rear. This concept of offensive operations may take one of the following forms.


The encirclement is a deep flanking maneuver (related to the tactical-level envelopment, but on a larger scale). Army groups and armies conduct encirclement operations extensively. The OPFOR believes that encirclement operations are the most decisive means of destroying the enemy force. It uses two basic methods of achieving encirclement. The first is a double penetration on converging axes and involved two major penetrations by a single army group or by neighboring army groups to encircle an enemy force. (See Figure 4-10.) The second method is a single penetration followed by flanking attacks. This was most useful when a natural obstacle (the sea or a major river) serves to block enemy withdrawal. (See Figure 4-11.)

Figure 4-10. Encirclement with a double penetration.

Figure 4-11. Encirclement with a single penetration (against a natural obstacle).

The OPFOR attacks on selected strike sectors within the army groups to create the initial penetrations. The attacking forces have to form rapidly, create the penetrations, and then disperse to avoid vulnerability to precision conventional strikes. The goal is to maintain a rapid tempo of advance into the depths of the enemy. Commanders insert forward detachments at the tactical level and OMGs at the operational level early on to develop the deep offensive. The OPFOR blocks major withdrawal, supply, and advancing reserve routes by using OMGs, forward detachments, and airborne forces. It adds precision-guided munitions, delivered by SSMs, artillery, aviation, and naval support throughout the depths of the theater. This effectively isolates enemy forces and allows for their subsequent destruction by follow-on forces.

The most advantageous form of operation is usually the encirclement. It is ideal when the enemy has concentrated the bulk of his forces in the tactical and immediate operational depth, without any major reserve far to the rear. Other favorable conditions are where a strong grouping is in a salient, and/or where its flanks are weak, or when the OPFOR can trap the enemy against an obstacle.

Figure 4-12 illustrates an encirclement on converging axes by a single army group. Encirclement of a larger grouping than a single enemy corps would require the forces of two or even three army groups, with two army groups each providing one wing of encirclement and completing the ring deep in the enemy's operational rear. (Refer to Figure 4-7 or Figures 2-4 and 2-5 in Chapter 2 for examples of encirclement operations involving more than one army group.) Simultaneously with the execution of the encirclement, the army group must allocate forces (probably an OMG) to drive rapidly for the army group's subsequent mission (possibly a key strategic objective).

Figure 4-12. Encirclement by a single army group (example).

Attack Across a Broad Frontage on Multiple Axes

The attack across a broad frontage on multiple axes lends itself to situations in which the OPFOR enjoys a considerable numerical advantage over an enemy. The OPFOR may also use this form of maneuver when it has achieved considerable operational surprise or against partially prepared or unprepared defenses.

Such attacks are designed to split the enemy into isolated and noncohesive groupings. Ideally, the splitting attacks would focus on weak or overextended enemy forces in a main attack sector with a secondary/deception or defensive sector facing the strongest enemy groupings. Figure 4-13 illustrates such a maneuver.

Figure 4-13. Single army group attacking across a broad frontage on multiple axes (example).

Combined Methods

It is possible to combine encirclement and attacks on multiple axes. The elimination of the main enemy grouping in one or more encirclements would then allow an advance across a broad frontage to the planned depth of the operation. This combination can be effective if the enemy lacks the strong reserves which would necessitate a more concentrated strike. Equally, it is more than likely that encirclement by second echelons or reserves would destroy enemy groupings bypassed as a result of splitting attacks on multiple axes if they choose to remain in place rather than risk breaking out of the encirclement.

Attack Along a Coastline

The OPFOR may find it necessary to physically occupy ports to preclude enemy reinforcement by sea. There may also be a requirement to establish defense on a coast to protect the flank of strike groupings from an amphibious landing. Thus, a coastal operation may be necessary. One possible form of this operation would be to launch a single-penetration encirclement to the flank and rear of enemy groupings to pin them against natural obstacle (the seacoast) and then destroy them. However, a normal double-penetration encirclement is still an option. Another mission might be to support the landing and subsequent operations of an amphibious force.


The OPFOR defines offensive (and defensive) actions more in regard to the enemy situation (for example, an attack against a defending enemy) than to time (whether hasty or deliberate). This is because the enemy situation dictates the employed tactics and operations as well as the time available. The OPFOR defines three basic types of offensive actions. If both sides are attacking, advancing, or maneuvering, it is a meeting engagement. If the OPFOR is attacking and the other side is defending, it is an attack against a defending enemy. If the enemy is retreating and the OPFOR is attacking, it is a pursuit.

Meeting Engagement

A meeting engagement is a clash between opposing sides when they are both simultaneously striving to fulfill their assigned missions by means of offensive action. The goal of such combat is to rapidly rout the enemy, seize the initiative, and create advantageous conditions for subsequent operations. As a form of combat action, the OPFOR prefers to conduct a meeting engagement rather than defending or attacking an enemy prepared for defense. However, if the OPFOR can achieve its operational aims without combat (by maneuver), then, of course, it avoids a meeting engagement as well.


An operational-level meeting engagement can arise under various circumstances, for example--

  • At the beginning of the war, when formations are moving forward to meet an attacking enemy or when an attacking force meets an enemy moving forward (belatedly, as a result of surprise) to occupy initial defensive positions.
  • During the course of an offensive, when a formation is exploiting a penetration or in pursuit and encounters an enemy's counterattack or advancing reserves.
  • In defensive situations, when the OPFOR is conducting counterstrikes or when dealing with enemy airborne or amphibious landing forces.


In many ways, the meeting engagement is the most difficult, demanding, and unpredictable form of combat. The following paragraphs describe its characteristics.

Shortage of time. There is only limited time to organize for combat. To take an extreme instance, for example, if both sides are advancing at 20 km per hour, the closing speed would be 40 km per hour. Therefore, even an initial separation of 80 km would leave only 2 hours for the commander to make a decision and to transmit its content to his subordinates. This problem is exacerbated for both sides by the fact that neither enjoys the advantage of choosing the time or place of the engagement. Formations and units often have to be committed from the march, though it is also possible that tactical units could already be in prebattle or battle formation.

Obscurity of the situation. With limited time for reconnaissance, forces usually enter combat on the basis of limited information. Once battle begins, there are frequent, abrupt changes in the situation, since both sides are acting aggressively in conditions where there is no continuous frontage.

Struggle for the initiative. The essence of the meeting engagement is an intense struggle to win time and seize the initiative. The winning side is the one that imposes its will on the enemy, forcing him into a reactive posture. The struggle for the initiative begins well before main forces actually clash. The engagement often starts with air attacks, long-range artillery fire, and the use of heliborne forces and forward detachments. Information warfare efforts to achieve information dominance can deny the enemy the ability to coordinate operations and react to the engagement, thus helping the OPFOR to seize the initiative.

Fluid battlefield. The engagement develops on a wide frontage and in considerable depth. Inevitably, there are exposed flanks and gaps in combat formations, and these create opportunities for maneuver.

Decisiveness. The losing side finds itself outflanked and/or penetrated frontally, with its C2 disrupted, and lacking prepared positions to fall back on. Under these conditions, it may find transition to the defense impossible. It would probably be combat-ineffective because of heavy losses and fragmentation.

Conditions for Success

Success in the meeting engagement normally goes to the side that not only achieves some degree of surprise but also seizes and holds the initiative. The OPFOR believes that a smaller force that seizes the initiative might defeat a larger force. It might do so even though it lacks detailed knowledge of the enemy and elaborate plans of its own.

The operational commander extensively employs maneuver. Lead elements (forward detachments and tactical-level advance guards) try to overcome the enemy force; they may fight a holding action as a last resort. The main forces then try to maneuver and strike the enemy force in its flanks or rear. There are several principles for conducting meeting engagements that, when properly observed, can enable an equal, or even somewhat weaker, force to triumph.

Reconnaissance. Constant, aggressive reconnaissance is necessary to detect and monitor the size, composition, order of march, speed of movement, and deployment of the enemy grouping. Especially important targets for reconnaissance are, of course, enemy precision weapons and reconnaissance-strike complexes. Good and timely intelligence is the basis of a correct decision by the commander and, thus, the key to seizing the initiative.

Preemption. The seizure of the initiative, being the first to deliver air strikes, achieve fire superiority, and deploy the main forces is of fundamental importance. Preemption puts a premium on careful organization of both operational and march formation. There is no time to regroup prior to a meeting engagement. Thus, the order of march is the order of deployment and commitment.

Timely decisions. The commander must make timely decisions if he is to preempt the enemy and the seize the initiative. Firm, uninterrupted troop control and constant coordination, forward command, and the exercise of initiative by subordinate commanders are all of critical importance.

Maneuver. Swift maneuver is essential to beat the enemy to advantageous ground and to concentrate a decisive COF superiority on the main axis. It allows the OPFOR to exploit weak sectors in the enemy's deployment and deliver surprise attacks into the flanks and rear of the enemy grouping.

Security. Flank security detachments, antitank reserves, and mobile obstacle detachments assume an important role in meeting engagements. They provide security against enemy attacks without diverting main body elements and thus weakening the force of the main body's strike.

Conduct of Engagement

The engagement opens with air and missile strikes on the approaching enemy grouping. Meanwhile, airborne landings and forward detachments act far in advance of main forces to seize key terrain such as defiles, obstacle crossings, and dominating features. Since their success can ensure favorable conditions for the commitment of the main forces, the commander pays considerable attention to their efforts and provides them with prompt support.

The concept for the engagement is usually one of rapid and bold maneuver to strike the enemy on one or both flanks and/or his rear. Accompanying these strikes is a fixing frontal attack. It is also possible, when the enemy's frontage is overextended, to deliver frontal attacks into the gaps between enemy columns and to split the enemy grouping into isolated fragments. While the destruction of the enemy first echelon is underway, air and long-range artillery strikes (and perhaps heliborne landings) can delay and disrupt the approach and commitment of his second echelon. (See Chapter 5 for a discussion of an army-level meeting engagement.)

A meeting engagement usually concludes with one of the following actions:

  • A transition to the pursuit, if the enemy withdraws.
  • A transition to the defense, if the OPFOR is unable to overcome the enemy force.
  • A transition to an attack against a defending enemy, if the enemy succeeds in establishing a deeper line of defense.
  • A continuation of the march.

Attack Against a Defending Enemy

attack against a defending enemy is the second basic form of offensive action. The OPFOR further defines it in relation to the method used to bring forces into the offensive. Thus, they identify an attack as either from a position out of direct contact with the enemy (from the march), or from a position in direct contact with the enemy.

The enemy situation dictates the operational formation employed and the time available for planning and preparation. Army group (and army) attacks against a defending enemy attempt to exploit gaps, unit boundaries, and other enemy weak points on the most favorable axis.

Modern enemy forces can deploy rapidly and quickly occupy defended lines with a high density of direct and indirect fire weapons. The defeat of a thoroughly prepared defense requires--

  • Artillery annihilation of the enemy forces in the strike sector and to the immediate flanks, using a combination of precision weapons and traditional massed fires.
  • The neutralization of enemy immediate reserves, artillery, and C2 by long-range precision weapons strikes.
  • The establishment of the required COF superiority on specified axes, followed by decisive actions by leading tank and mechanized infantry units.
  • Continuous fire support for attacking troops so that they can increase their efforts on important axes as they advance.

Covering Force Battle

Where the enemy has deployed a weak covering force, its destruction is primarily the responsibility of the forward detachments of first-echelon divisions, with strong artillery and air support. The main bodies of these divisions follow in tactical march column, ready to support the forward detachments or to exploit their success by a rapid advance to gain a foothold in the main defended area. The deployment of elements of leading divisions into prebattle or battle formation depends on the degree of enemy resistance.

Against strong covering forces, the OPFOR might have to deploy the main bodies of first-echelon divisions from the outset. However, it would try to use forward detachments to defeat the covering force, and air landings to cut off enemy withdrawals and seize entries into the tactical zone of defense.


The requirement to concentrate sufficient COF superiority to ensure a penetration determines the density of the attacking forces and the width of the strike sector. Generally, the total width of an army group penetration, whether on one or two sectors, is from about 25 to 30 km; in any event, it should not fall below 20 to 25 km to ensure the simultaneous commitment of 2 to 3 divisions for the exploitation of the penetration.

The key to a successful penetration is fire support. The speed of penetration depends on fire support's neutralization of the enemy to the entire depth of his tactical zone of defense before and during the attack. This involves the use of all available fire support assets of the ground forces, as well as naval guns, where applicable.

Principal targets for artillery and SSMs are enemy precision weapons, artillery, strongpoints, C2 systems, and electronic combat assets. In addition to this indirect fire, many tanks, ATGMs, and artillery weapons can destroy targets by direct fire. Air power also plays a vital role in neutralizing the defense. Principal targets for OPFOR air strikes are precision weapons, artillery, CPs, reserves, and other targets out of artillery range.

In the battle for the tactical zone of defense, the emphasis is on destroying the enemy piecemeal. The OPFOR does this as far as possible by flank and rear attacks, after the initial penetration has disrupted the stability of the defense. To achieve this destruction, the OPFOR must isolate defending units by air and artillery strikes and rapid action. It must not allow the enemy to concentrate and reinforce defensive efforts, especially on key axes. It must interdict the movement of reserves and bypass centers of resistance. Long-range artillery, MRLs, and air strikes, as well as airborne landings and the rapid action of forward detachments and advance guards attacking from the march, must foil enemy attempts to organize defense in depth.


The pursuit is the third basic type of offensive action. Its goal is to exploit OPFOR success and to complete the destruction of enemy forces. The OPFOR uses three pursuit techniques--frontal, parallel, and a combination of frontal and parallel.

The preferred technique is the combination method. Using this technique, a small force pursues the enemy along the enemy's direct withdrawal route, attempting to prevent an orderly withdrawal or enemy occupation of favorable defensive positions. At the same time, forward detachments (or OMGs) moving along parallel routes try to block the path of the withdrawing enemy.

The OPFOR may also insert heliborne or airborne forces to block the enemy's withdrawal. Once these forces halt the enemy, the OPFOR's main forces attempt to conduct a flanking movement to complete the destruction of the enemy force. OPFOR commanders plan for a pursuit when they plan their attack. They outline possible enemy withdrawal routes, friendly pursuit routes, and allocation of precision weapons and other fire support means.

Units at brigade or above initiate pursuit immediately on discovering the enemy's withdrawal. Only the orders of a higher commander can terminate a pursuit. The pursuit ends when--

  • When enemy forces are destroyed.
  • Pursuing elements outdistance their support and are in danger of being cut off.
  • The enemy successfully establishes a strong defensive position.

The OPFOR then regroups and redeploys for the next operation.


The successful exploitation of the attack, converting tactical successes of penetration battles into operational success, depends on an early expansion or reinforcement of effort along the main axis. Only a rapid penetration can throw the enemy off balance, and only a rapid exploitation can keep him off balance.

The OPFOR can preempt enemy efforts to reestablish a defensive front on successive lines or to initiate counterattacks. The advance must reach the enemy's airfields and the deployment areas of precision weapons as fast as possible. Given the mobility and firepower of modern forces, the enemy can quickly maneuver reserves and other forces for counterattacks.

Water Obstacles

The OPFOR expects the enemy to make maximum use of river and canal lines for the creation of subsequent defense lines in depth. The OPFOR plans to preempt this by using airborne landings to establish bridgeheads early and seize dams that the enemy could use to create flooding. The OPFOR plans to rapidly reinforce airborne forces with forward detachments moving up to 50 km ahead of the main forces, or more in the case of army-level detachments. Ideally, such actions should prevent an orderly withdrawal over the obstacle so the OPFOR can trap the enemy against it and destroy him on the near bank.

Where assault crossings are necessary, the OPFOR selects sectors in advance across a wider frontage. The OPFOR crosses obstacles without pause, whenever possible; and having crossed, units do not stop to consolidate bridgeheads but press on into the enemy's rear.

Defensive Actions

Ideally, the OPFOR can defeat enemy counterattacks in meeting engagements. If the COF is unfavorable, however, it may have to go over to the defense to repulse them with maximum casualties in order to create the necessary preconditions for a resumption of the offensive.

While such defensive actions are taking place, the OPFOR can shift the attack onto other, more favorable axes to develop actions into the enemy rear. The best aid for a hard-pressed force is resolute offensive action by its neighbors. Where possible, the OPFOR avoids a battle of attrition.


Once the OPFOR completes any of the above types of offensive action, it may have to regroup and redeploy forces for the next operation. However, regrouping of army groups (or armies) is not likely to occur more than once in a strategic operation, should it be necessary at all.

It is plainly undesirable to carry out extensive operational regrouping during the course of a strategic offensive operation. Such maneuvers can too easily lead to loss of momentum and confusion. Commanders recognize, however, that some regrouping must occur, either because unexpectedly effective resistance forces a change of axis or because the grouping appropriate to the first of a consecutive series of operations is not suited to the next.

The OPFOR believes that its centralization of operational command at the highest possible level makes possible major deployments and redeployments with minimal dislocation and waste of time. Any regrouping of army groups occurs only if ordered or approved by the General Staff or theater CINC. Similarly, only the army group commander can authorize regrouping of subordinate armies or corps.

1 The army group OMG could be a corps.

2 In the defense, OPFOR commanders may also form a fourth type, an antilanding reserve, whose purpode would be to prevent the landing of enemy amphibious, airborne, or heliborne forces.

3 This is especially likely when the army group receives an additional antitank brigade (or brigades) from the Reserves of the Supreme High Command as reinforcement.

4 A mobile obstacle detachment is an enfineer grouping with rapid minelaying and usually also antitank ditching and obstacle-creating capabilities. It usually supports the antitank reserve, though it may also help prepare defensive positions for a transition to the defense. Artillery or air delivery of scatterable mines may supplement, or even on occasion replace, these efforts.

5 Tactical combat formation (division down even to battalion) can also be in two echelons. Divisions and brigades on secondary sectors might deploy in a single echelon, with a combined arms reserve, both to economize in forces to enable concentration on the main sector and because the objectives on secondary sectors are shallow (combat action being of an essentially supporting or deception and fixing nature).

6 For ease of control, to maintain momentum, and because there may be limited room to deploy, tactical combat formation (division and below) is likely still to be in two echelons but with extensive use of forward detachments.

7 Forward detachments and raiding detachments perform this role at the tactical level.

8 For more information on forward detachments, see Chapter 5.

9 For more information on movement support detachments, see Chapter 12.

10 An OPFOR commander usually assigns to a subordinate a mission graphically represented by a line on the map of the operations plan. The line most often corresponds to the rear boundary of an enemy unit. The mission is usually to destroy the enemy within a zone to the depth of the assigned line. A mission can also include an assigned task not involving a line; the task might be to destroy, neutralize, disrupt, seize, of defend a particular enity. The subordinate must achieve all of this by a specified time.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias