The Air Land Battle - The Right Doctrine For The Next War?
AUTHOR Major Thomas J. Gill, USAF
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
The Air Land Battle
The Right Doctrine for the Next War?
THESIS: The Air Land Battle Doctrine of the U.S. Army, endorsed by the U.S.
Air Force, is well designed and can be adapted to all levels of conflict in the
operational continuum. The current threat to the doctrine is not from those
critics who view it as too narrow in scope, but rather, from instablity in the
defense budget. The Air Land Battle Doctrine must be tailored to fit the
capabilities of the force which will fight using it.
ISSUE: Since the advent of aerial warfare, planners from each of the two
services have worked together to design the warfighting formula with which the
the Army and the Air Force will fight. This cooperative effort has evolved to
the point that doctrinal designers from each service work side by side daily to
insure that the meshing of the two forces will be done to the best advantage of
each. The current doctrine, the Air Land Battle, has guided joint operations
since its publication in 1982, in the Army Field Manual 100-5. Critics of the
doctrine have questioned its focus on the central European theater, as well as
the ability of the Air Force to support the concept in the vital areas of
intra-theater airlift and deep reconnaissance. In spite of these criticisms, the
doctrine has stood up well in the face of the threat it was designed for, and
even shown itself to be capable of responsiveness to low intensity conflict in
the recent Operation Just Cause. The real threat to the doctrine is not the
criticisms from within the Department of Defense, but rather from the
downsizing of our defense capabilities due to Congressional and Executive
branch budget reductions. It is these pressures that will make the Air Land
Battle plan an obsolete one if the forces necessary to see deep, strike deep,
and fight the close battle are not made available to the warfighters. The
process is well underway, and mission area capabilities are disappearing rapidly
in some areas most critical to the successful application of the doctrine.
CONCLUSION: As the budgetary reduction process seems to be on an
irreversible course for the present, we must make an honest appraisal of our
capabilities to fight with the forces we will have available. If we determine
that we cannot fight according to the plan with what we have been given, we
must either take the action necessary to restore those capabilities lost, or
change the plan to reflect reality. The most dangerous course would be to cling
to what we believe to be the best plan if we know full well that we will be
unable to deliver.
THE AIR LAND BATTLE
THE RIGHT DOCTRINE FOR THE NEXT WAR?
The warfighting formula for the U.S. Army and Air Force team is set
down in the Army's official doctrinal manual, Field Manual(FM)100-5. While not
official USAF doctrine, there is agreement between the respective service
chiefs that, when called jointly to arms, these forces will operate in the manner
described by that manual. Critics of this doctrine have described it as too
narrow in scope, designed exclusively for high intensity conflict(HIC) in the
European theater. Others have questioned the capabilities of the Air Force to
support the deep battle, particularly in the intelligence and intra-theater airlift
capabilities. Whatever its shortcomings, this doctrine has provided a foundation
for a defensive posture which has played its role in the deterrence of war
between the world's two mightiest nations for the past ten years. These ten
years have seen the military strengths of the potential adversaries reach
With the likelihood of European war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
on the wane, we have a chance to reflect upon this doctrine and examine
whether or not it is the plan we feel is best suited to take us into the next
decade and beyond. This opportunity is not being missed, as the doctrinal
engineers of both services are currently examining the present plans and
charting the future of joint operations by the Army/Air Force team. This paper
will examine these efforts and determine if the doctrine can provide the
optimum capability against the most likely threat scenario in the context of
what will surely be lean years for the defense budget in our nation.
A review of the hisory of the Air Land Battle Doctrine would be
useful at this point. While it took its name from the 1982 edition of FM 100-5,
cooperative efforts between the services greatly pre-date that publication. The
earliest use of the airplane in support of ground forces occurred in Europe
during the first World War. These efforts were primitive, with the role of
aircraft restricted initially to reconnaissance. It filled the void created when
Europe's vast maze of trenches denied horse-borne cavalry the mobility needed
to see the battlefield. An offshoot of reconnaissance, artillery ranging, led to
the advent of the counter-air mission. It did not take long for the troops in the
trenches to connect the appearance of an airplane overhead with the
devastating artillery barrage which would soon follow.1 The early counter-air
efforts against these aerial observers were frustrating, characterized by
incidents of propellors being sheared off by one's machine gun, or worse, by
bullets ricocheting off the newly metal-clad propellor back into one's cockpit.
However primitive, all of those uses of the airplane represented the first efforts
at cooperation between the ground and air arms of our military.
The increased lethality and sophistication of new weapons platforms
led to the need for a much greater synchronization of airpower into the scheme
of manuever during the second World War. The early phases of that war,
particularly on the part of the Allies, were characterized by a piece-meal
application of air assets by tactical commanders, and poor integration of air
into the operational level intent. An example of this would be the disasterous
battle for the Kasserine Pass during the North African campaign of late 1942.
When it became apparent that the German focus of effort was against his U.S.
Army II Corps, Maj Gen Fredendall requested air support from adjacent, but
idle, corps commanders. No command authority existed which could divert those
sorties necessary to avoid a resounding German victory.2 Those bordering
commanders had nothing to gain from offering their subordinate supporting arms
to Fredendall's aid, and held them in reserve. Partially as a result of this, and
other similar occurrences, an agreement was reached at the Casablanca
Conference held in January, 1943. This agreement raised the status of the air
arm to that of the ground forces, and established a command structure which
would allow for the integrated use of air power to support the campaign plan at
the operational level. This new relationship paved the way for Eisenhower's use
of the Eighth Air Force heavy bomber assets against the German transportation
network through France prior to Operation Overlord. Following the breakout,
Patton's pursuit of the Germans across France in concert with the Nineteenth
Tactical Air Force further demonstrated the value of close air support.3
Innovations such as ground based fighter pilots equipped with VHF radios on the
lead tanks of attack formations, able to direct the overhead action, helped
insure the success of that operation.4
The Air Force became a separate service in 1947, and the Key West
agreement of the following year began the task of specifying overall roles and
missions. The Air Force was assigned the strategic air mission, defense of the
U.S. against air attack, and air and logistic support of ground units.5 1949 saw
further discussions and refinement of the respective roles by the service
secretaries, Bradley and Vandenburg. Army fixed and rotary wing aircraft were
limited by weight, and these aircraft were provided to expedite and improve
ground combat procedures in forward areas, specifically tasked to provide fire
adjustment, route reconnaisance and courier duties.6
Having been tasked to support the Army, the Air Force found itself in
the early fifties going in exactly the opposite direction. The monopoly on
atomic weapons enjoyed by this nation led to the pre-eminence of the Strategic
Air Command at the expense of tactical aviation. A generation of aircraft not
well suited to the close air support role flew that mission during the Korean
war and the Vietnam conflict. The lack of a mad threat to our air superiority
in both of those wars allowed tactical success in spite of the hardware.7 One
lesson learned from the Vietnam war was that the Army and Air Force team
would need more doctrinal and training commonality to avoid repeat of the
errors made in the area of synchronization.
The Air Land Battle Doctrine, as defined by the Army Training and
Doctrine Command(TRADOC), is the vehicle through which this commonality is
assured. It been continually endorsed by the Air Force Tactical Air
Command(TAC) since its list publication in 1982, and the support has been
more than verbal. Since 1975, both services have combined their doctrinal
design teams at TAC and TRADOC to insure that the interests and capabilities
of the respective forces are represented. The prime mover in this effort is the
Air Land Forces Application Agency(ALFA) at Langley AFB, Virginia. In
addition there are several other Army/Air Force teams working together daily
to enhance joint compatibility and capability. These include the Air Ground
Operations School(AGOS) at Hurlburt Field, Florida, the Directorate of Air Land
Forces Agency(DALFA) in Europe, the Airlift Concepts and Requirements
Agency(ACRA) at Scott AFB, Illinois, and the Center for Low Intensity
Conflict, also at Langley.8
This present doctrine, most recently laid down in the 1986 edition of
FM 100-5, is based upon the need to defeat a series of Soviet echelons flowing
across a linear battlefield. The design intent is fora numerically inferior force
to be able to use its superior battlefield vision (see deep) to direct a massive
interdiction effort against the following echelons (strike deep). These strikes
would complement the main battle area commander's intent of using his more
concentrated and synchronized firepower at the critical place and time against
the enemy by limiting the quantitative advantage that enemy would enjoy. The
decisive defeat of the enemy takes place in the main battle area while the
contribution of forces in the deep battle is measured by their influence upon
the close battle.
The four tenets of the doctrine which help acheive that success are
initiative, depth, agility, and synchronization.9 Initiative is required to establish
a favorable tempo for us on the battlefield, impede our opponents temporal
progress, and force him to do battle on our terms. Depth should not be
considered as only a two or even three dimensional concept, but rather an
expansion of the enemy's problems in resources, time and space. To properly use
depth we must attack the enemy using our entire arsenal of weapons. These
would include air operations, maneuver, deep fires, electronic warfare,
deception and special operations forces, all aimed at vulnerabilities which allow
us to set the terms of the battle.
Like depth, agility cannot be viewed in just the physical sense. Mental
agility is required to attack the mind of the enemy as well as to be able to
fully comprehend and implement our own commanders intent. Physical agility
requires that we move quickly, strike hard, and be able to smoothly transition
to the next phase or operation. The glue that binds these three previous tenets
together is synchronization, probably the most elusive of the qualities we seek
on the battlefield. As with the other tenets of the doctrine, synchronization is
achieved on the battlefield only after it is designed into the system by the
planners and practiced by the operators during exercises. It is in this planning
phase that the two services are pushing hardest to make the doctrine responsive
throughout the entire operational continuum.
In August 1989, the TAC and TRADOC commanders, General Russ and
General Foss, issued a white paper entitled Air Attack on the Modern
Battlefield. Their work reaffirmed "basic concepts regarding attack air
employment, suggested some evolutionary changes to the command and control
interfaces and reemphasized the importance of proper training."10 On the
surface nothing too radical there, but a good look at some of the "evolutionary
changes to command and control" reveals that some significant changes are
proposed which may not make the system more responsive at the low end of the
spectrum of conflict.
The current planning processes within each service are well designed
and well practiced. On the USAF side of the equation an air tasking order(ATO)
is a clear and directive document which drives the system to produce sorties
over the target on time. It is the Army problem to insure that requests for
battlefield air interdiction(BAI) or close air support(CAS) sorties from ground
maneuver units flow upward to the Air Support Operations Center(ASOC) in
minimum time. One of the goals of the changes proposed in the white paper is
the meshing of the two processes at a level lower than the ASOC, to allow
earlier concurrence in the process and a more rapid response to that ground
Two methods are being looked at to shorten the planning cycle and
increase this synchronization. The first is to elevate the level of command at
which the air battle is directed. As indicated in the white paper;
. . . .the Army and Air Force planning and execution
interfaces at higher tactical levels require strengthening.
Top down tactical planning requires focusing attention at
the Army and Air Force planning interfaces at the corps
and division. It is at these levels that detailed
synchronization of attack air may have its highest payoff.
Increasing Air Force planning responsibilities at these
levels and commensurate increases in manning for
sustained around-the-clock operations require
The price paid for elevating the echelon of command for the air battle
is that iniative is taken from the regimental commanders. As we enter an era
in which it is even more likely that our conflicts will be below the level of
major theater conventional warfare, we must guard against building a process
which is actually geared towards a higher level on that operational continuum.
For the maneuver unit commander (the regimental or battalion commander) to
have the freedom of action to put together a good combined arms plan, the
direction of the air war from the corps level may be counterproductive.
The second initiative discussed in the white paper involved the
battlefield disposition of the air liaison officers(ALOs), the direct point of
contact between airmen and ground forces. The proposal is to place these
officers in helicopters in order to provide increased mobility, enhanced target
acquisition, and better communications. It further allows massing of control
assets at the point of execution and provides better command and control in
situations where fixed and rotary-wing attack air are employed together.12 This
should be a positive development if implemented, assuming that a low cost
airframe can be devoted to the mission; one that does not detract firepower
from the existing attack air force structure.
Having looked at some of the organizational changes proposed within
the warfighting team, it is appropriate to consider the resources available to
that team with which they can prosecute the war. Specifically, we must
examine the impact of the shrinking defense budget on the force and determine
the extent to which phased out weapons systems will deny us the mix of assets
necessary to fight using the Air Land Battle Doctrine. Interdiction is the key
function of air in almost all scenarios, whether supporting the close battle in
the BAI role or disrupting the flow of follow-on echelons to the battlefield in
the deep interdiction role. In order to be successful in this mission, air assets
must be able to identify enemy reserve strongpoints for targeting and then
suppress the integrated air defenses to allow access to the targets. To
accomplish this air will be deployed across the FEBA in large packages with the
intent of overwhelming that defensive shield. It is in these two vital mission
areas, tactical air reconnaissance and suppression of enemy air defense(SEAD),
that the effects of recent budget reductions are being most strongly felt. These
two missions have been the province of the venerable F-4 Phantom, now in its
thirtieth year of operational employment. The variants used in these roles, the
RF-4C and the F-4G Wild Weasel, are both approaching the end of their service
lives. In the past three years, three of the six mission ready USAF RF-4
squadrons have been disbanded, with a fourth slated for dissolution in FY91.13
This capability will be degraded for an indefinite period of time while a
successor weapon system is developed. The advanced tactical reconnaissance
system(ATARS) development is ongoing, but will probably not be operational
until FY94 or beyond. Coupled with the loss of our strategic capability, in the
form of the recently retired SR-71, we are no longer capable of providing the
targeteers with near real-time intelligence data on the enemy disposition. The
picture is less grim for the SEAD capability, but a follow-on weapon system has
not been identified and we can exect the budgetary pressure to draw down the
F-4G community before a replacement can be fielded. Even if we develop an
off-the-shelf airframe, such as the Panavia Tornado, it is unlikely that this
system can be deployed before the mid to late nineties.
The importance of these two missions in support of our interdiction
efforts bears further discussion. In order to be successful in the high threat
environment, air assets must be massed. This mix of aircraft includes, in
addition to the reconnaisance and SEAD jets, the strike aircraft, escort anti-air
elements, electronic combat platforms, and refueling aircraft if necessary. Each
mission element depends upon the success of the other elements of the package
to a greater or lesser degree. Even if the force chooses to be launched without
the benefit of acccurate pre-strike reconnaisance, the prospect of massing
significant portions of the available tactical airframes without the benefit of
SEAD escort is a daunting one. An integrated air defense capability comparable
to that presently fielded in eastern Europe would absolutely decimate the
attacking package. If that package fails in its mission, the effect on the entire
air-land battle is obvious. Should enemy follow-on echelons be able to advance
unimpeded to the main battle area, no amount of smart weapons and
sophisticated command and control will be able to long withstand the massed
Just as current budgetary pressures are impacting our ability to fight
according to the resent doctrine, there will be significant downward pressure
on weapons system development for those capabilities needed to fight the Air
Land Battle Future. It must be noted that this evolution is still in the early
conceptual stages. Little has been published about it, but what is known
indicates that the importance of seeing deep and striking deep will not be
diminished. The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar SystemRadar (JSTARS)
currentlly in development, will be lynchpin for air command and control. This
system, designated the E-8A, will have capabilities which make current C3I
systems look like two tin cans and a piece of string, and will transform the
control of the ground battle as AWACS has for the air battle. Technologies
being designed into the system will enable it to scan deep into enemy areas in
search of ground activity. Specifically, "there will be a zoom capability down to
the individual road, very small towns, ... individual vehicles, to tell which way
they are moving and at what speeds."14 This technology comes at no small cost
however. Estimated in June 1989 to cost in the vicinity of $200 milion per
aircraft, the program was initially planned for 22 systems. This number has now
been revised downward to 15.15 The USAF's newest tactical fighter, the F-15E
Strike Eagle, has also been a victim of budgetary reductions. This force, which
will have the greatest degree of interoperability with JSTARS, has seen over 40
percent of the originally planned 392 airframes axed. Doctrinal planners must
read the writing on the wall regarding the size and capability of the force they
will be asked to plan for, and design the doctrine accordingly.
The ability of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force to operate together
has been the determining factor in the successes this country has
enjoyed since the advent of the airplane. Neither component can go it alone,
and no one with any knowledge of military science would suggest otherwise. In
order to accomplish their task, the two services have worked together to an
increasing extent since the 1920s, to the point now that the doctrinal designers
of each service work side by side to direct the present and chart the future of
joint operations. The focal point of this commonality is now, and has been for
the past eight years, the army publication FM 100-5.
The Air Land Battle Doctrine of FM 100-5 directs the joint forces to
accomplish three tasks in order to win on the battlefield. We must see deep in
order to develop an accurate picture of the enemy's capability and intent. We
must then strike him deep before his sizable follow-on echelons are able to
exert influence in the main battle area. Finally, we must use our technological
and hopefully intellectual edge to administer the killing blow in the main battle
area, combining our arms to defeat the enemy in detail. Just as there is
dissention in each service concerning the manner in which that service makes
its contribution, there are critics of the joint doctrine. This is to be expected,
and is healthy. But the doctrine holds up well in the face of the threat it was
designed to defeat, a Soviet multi-echelon force rolling across central Europe.
Does the doctrine fare as well in the face of a lower intensity conflict? No, but
as a departure point, I submit it will be adaptable to LIC or mid-intensity
conflict in another theater through the proper apportionment of air assets in
support of the ground unit commander. It is not proper to design a different
doctrine for each contingency. As such, a docrine which has to be scaled down
to fight LIC is far preferable to a doctrine designed for the lower end of the
operational continuum if you need to fight the big one against the Soviets.
The real danger facing this concept for Army-Air Force warfighting is
the downsizing of the defense forces by capability rather than by size. The loss
of critical mission areas, such as strategic and tactical reconnaissance, will
greatly diminish our capability to prosecute the war using this formula. As we
witness a diminishing of the threat of a third World War, we have a chance to
redirect our doctrinal thought. We must use this chance to evolve, not failing to
consider the changing threat, but more importantly the tools we will be given
with which to fight. We must not design a doctrine based upon capabilities we
will no longer be able to afford.
1Colonel Dennis M. Drew, "Fire from the Sky," Air University Press, Maxwell
AFB Press, Maxwell AFB AL, 1986, p.24.
2Ladislas Farago, Patton; Ordeal and Triumph (New York:Ivan Obolensky,
Inc., 1964), p. 59.
3General Richard Myers, "The Army and Air Force in Air Land Battle,"
briefing to Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, 2 March, 1990.
5William W. Momyer, Airpower in Three Wars (Washington:US Govt Printing
Office, 1978), p. 112.
6Momyer, p. 117.
8Major Mark Skattum, interviewed at Langley AFB, VA., by author, 16
9TRADOC, U.S. Army, Operations, FM 100-5 (Ft Monroe, VA., 1986), p.17.
10General Robert Russ, Air Attack on the Modern Battlefield, Aug, 1989, p.3.
11General Russ, p.4.
:12General Russ, p.5.
13John Correll, Readiness is Slipping, Air Force Magazine, Sept, 1989, p.32.
14Robert S. Dudney, The Battle Vision of Joint Stars, Air Force Magazine,
June, 1989, p. 44.
Correll, John R. "Readiness is Slipping." Air Force Magazine, Vol. 73, No. 3
(Sept 89), 27-36.
Dudney, Robert S. "The Battle Vision of Joint Stars." Air Force Magazine, Vol.
72, No. 6 (June 89), 42-47.
Drew, Dennis M. "Fire from the Sky." Maxwell AFB:Air University Press, 1986.
Farago, Ladislas. Patton: Ordeal and Triumph. New York: Ivan Obolenksy, Inc.,
Howard, Michael. "1989: A Farewell to Arms?". International Affairs, Vol 65,
No. 3 (Summer 89), 407-413.
Momyer, William W. Airpower in Three Wars. Washington: U.S. Govt Printing
Powell, Major Jon. S. "Air Land Battle: The Wrong Doctrine for the Wrong
Reason." Air University Review, Vol. 32, No. 3 (May-June 85), 15-21.
Russ, General Robert H. "Air Attack on the Modern Battlefield." (White Paper)
Langley AFB, VA., August, 1989.
Swan, Guy C. "Theater Campaign Planning for NATO's Northern Region."
Parameters, Vol. XX, No. 1 (March 1990), 48-63.
u.S. Air Force. U.S. Army Forces. Maxwell AFB: Air University Press, May 1989
U.S. Army. Training and Doctrine Command. FM 100-5 Operations. Fort Monroe,
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