FMFM 1 And Its Implications For USMC Air
AUTHOR Major David P. Westridge, USMC
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
TITLE: FMFM 1 AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR USMC AIR
I. Purpose: To examine the philosophy and intent of FMFM 1 and
its implications in relation to the use of USMC air for today's
Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).
II. Problem: The approval and issuance of FMFM 1 initiates a
significant departure from the doctrinal perceptions and
applications used within the USMC prior to 1989. The use of the
ACE as an independent maneuver element has received stiff
opposition from many quarters. This is based upon a belief that
this would grant more independence to USMC air, and as a
consequence, the ACE would provide less support for the GCE and
III. Conclusion: Historically, aviation has been viewed as a
supporting element of an armed force. The facts concerning the
application of air power during the two World Wars and the Korean
war tend to refute this narrow view. More independent
operations (air campaigns) were conducted to achieve a positional
and psychological advantage over the enemy than were devoted to
the support of ground forces. It is only since the Vietnam war
that aviation became relegated almost exclusively to a support
role. The bombing campaigns within North Vietnam were the major
exception. The thrust of FMFM 1 encourages the wise commander to
utilize all of his assets as best meets his requirements. The
time to broaden our perspective and capitalize on the inherent
flexibility of aviation is again open to the USMC. Innovation
and imagination will allow the astute commander to win the
psychological advantage over the opponent. Aviation can
contribute to this goal.
FMFM 1 AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR USMC AIR
Thesis Statement. This paper explores the possibilities and
rationale of the Aviation Combat Element being a "maneuver
element" as outlined within General Gray's concept published as
FMFM 1, "Warfighting".
A. Frame of reference
1. Historical foundations
a. Douhet- Strategic concept.
b. Trenchard- Tactical concept.
c. Mitchell- synthesis of Strategic and Tactical.
B. Basis for examination.
1. FMFM 1 context.
a. Defined Maneuver and three levels of war.
b. Intent of FMFM 1.
II. Theory of War
A. ACE interaction within levels of war.
1. Offense and defense.
2. Concentration and speed.
3. Surprise and boldness.
4. Exploiting opportunity and vulnerabilities.
III. Conducting War.
C. Missions and Tactics.
D. Commander's Intent.
E. Combined arms.
FMFM 1 AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR USMC AIR
On 6 March 1989, General A.M. Gray, Commandant of the Marine
Corps, dramatically changed the direction and doctrine of the
U.S. Marine Corps. He, with the stroke of a pen, signed the base
document officially titled Warfighting, FMFM-1 which established
maneuver warfare as the doctrine for the United States Marine
Corps (USMC). It can be argued that this is the most significant
document to be produced since the publication of The Tentative
Manual for Landing Operations immediately prior to World War II.
Although there is seldom universal acclaim for a major change of
policy, the method of issue (i.e. directive in nature) and the
clear declaration of his intent were unmistakable. It closed the
debate as to whether the Marine Corps should or should not adopt
maneuver warfare. Of key importance is the opening paragraph of
the forward which contains but two lines. "This book describes
my philosophy on warfighting. It is the Marine Corps' doctrine
and, as such, provides the authoritative basis for how we fight
and how we prepare to fight."
In as much as this philosophy took years to form within the
mind of General Gray, and as it constitutes a significant
departure from the philosophy of previous doctrine, it would seem
reasonable to postulate that the functional areas of the
institution would require examination and appraisal to determine
if the functions can be performed within the new specifications.
The detailed evaluation of the entire spectrum of aviation
functions within the U.S. Marine Corps in relation to FMFM-1 is
beyond the scope of this document. Accordingly, this paper will
explore the possibilities and rationale of the Aviation Combat
Element (ACE) being a "maneuver element" as outlined within
General Gray's concept.
Therefore, in order to establish the structure and
parameters for this evaluation, certain assumptions and
formatting are enumerated. First, like the three levels of war,
the six functions of Marine air are conducted continuously and
concurrently. Next, normal mission parameters and commitment
criterion are followed for the conduct of air operations.
Finally, to aid the comparative analysis, the formatting and
outline structure of this paper selectively follows the contents
of FMFM 1 chapters 2 and 4. This will allow the reader to view
both documents from parallel reference.
Frequently I have chosen to use similar phrasing and words
to ensure universal meaning and connotation. The intent will be
to extract a key element from FMFM 1, analyze its intent, and
discuss its relevancy to Marine air. Undoubtedly, the opinions
and interpretations of the material are the author's.
Theories for the use of air power have undergone many guises
and modifications as one would expect from any evolutionary
concept. Indeed, the ability to operate throughout three
dimensions should inspire and provoke thought and innovation.
Aviation has seen tremendous leaps of capabilities and
applications based on the push of demand, improved technology,
materials, and needs. It is readily seen that creative thinking
regarding aviation potential and research technology have always
had an interdependent relationship. Inspiration spurs technology
to overcome a limitation which, in turn, inspires further
innovative application. It is this spiral relationship that
formed and developed military aviation.
Military aviation has remained deeply influenced by the
basic theories of three notable men who recognized the potential
of the airplane for decisive military use. Undoubtedly there
were many others who contributed to the advancement of aviation
and the improvement of the machine, but these three individuals
were unique in that they were able to elucidate the theory for
the use of organized aviation forces.
Colonel Giulio Douhet of the Italian Army proposed the use
of air forces for the strategic bombardment of enemy deep areas.
He advocated the sole accomplishment of this mission would serve
to destroy the ability of the enemy to wage war. Consequently, he
concluded little or no aviation was required to support the
ground forces in the conduct of war. "He believed that the power
of the enemy's (ground) defenses ended any hope of a breakthrough
by the Allied armies; a better course, in his opinion, would be a
crusade to seize command of the air and then destroy the "vital
centers" of the Central Powers. These "vital centers", Douhet
believed, were both tangible and intangible: the enemies' sources
of supply and the will of their peoples to resist."(16:31) This
theory, arguably impossible to accomplish with the equipment then
available, aimed at the strategic and operational levels of war
while ignoring the tactical requirement.
Diametrically opposed to the rigid strategic view of the
employment of air power was then Major General Hugh Trenchard,
Royal Flying Corps (RFC). General Trenchard was convinced that
in order to win a war, aviation forces had to relentlessly
conduct an air offensive. "He insisted that command of the air
over the battlefield was possible only through a "relentless and
incessant offensive."(16:26) Trenchard further stated it is best
"to exploit the moral effect of the airplane on the enemy, but
not let him exploit it on ourselves ... this can only be done by
attacking and continuing to attack."(16:26) It was this belief
that established the RFC policy of the air offensive which
oriented almost exclusively on the tactical level of war.
This is not to imply that General Trenchard did not know and
understand the potential of the operational and strategic use of
air power. In fact he had advocated the establishment and use of
a separate air service that would operate at the highest level of
the army. "Trenchard's goal for the unit: to destroy the German
army's "means of supply, subsistence, and replacements."
Further, Trenchard predicted that his aircraft would someday bomb
Berlin itself ..."(16:26). However, this was more in vengeance
and harassment as he was more interested in what we now call
battlefield air interdiction (BAI). It can be concluded that
General Trenchard's concept and application of air power was
predominately tactical in view. Aviation's primary mission was
to support the ground scheme of maneuver while BAI and isolation
of the battlefield were conducted. The bombing of Berlin would
have served as a means of harassment to erode the will of the
populace rather than seeking a decisive decision.
Wedged between these two opposing theories of the correct
application of air power was Brigadier General William "Billy"
Mitchell of the U.S. Army. Whether he borrowed heavily from the
opposing views of Douhet and Trenchard to form his focus of
aviation is immaterial. It is significant that he formulated and
proposed a balanced approach, albeit strategically oriented, for
the use of air power in the military services. He envisioned
operations on all three levels of war with emphasis on the need
for aviation to be mainly an offensive weapon. He was convinced
that aviation was generally unsuited for defensive roles.
Moreover, defense was a matter of necessity rather than a means
unto itself. It is notable that he recognized the need for a
balanced application of air power and that he emphasized the
focus could shift from one to the other levels of war to achieve
the desired effects.
It is from these three basic theories that the doctrines of
the air forces worldwide have been developed. Indeed, as
technology has changed and aircraft and antiair defenses have
become more capable, the focus for the use of the airplane has
changed accordingly. For instance, the development of the atomic
bomb initially seemed to obviate the need for large conventional
military forces. For effective employment, the atomic bomb
required a specialized delivery platform. These needs shifted
air doctrine and theory towards the Douhet position of strategic
and operational bombardment.
Conversely, the horrible losses of bomber forces over
Germany in World War II almost stopped the strategic and
operational campaigns waged against the Axis alliance due to
attrition. These losses forced the development of the long range
fighter and its escort tactics which served on the tactical level
while supporting an operational mission as advocated by the
The Korean war exemplified the essence of the Trenchard
position for the use of the air power. These forces operated on
the tactical level almost exclusively as there were few
operational targets authorized for attack and virtually no
strategic targets. The point being, technology meets demands
which in turn affects capability which must then be responsive to
needs and so on in a continuous spiral . In other words, rigid
doctrine is inconsistent with the inherent flexibility of
aviation and its applications as it evolves driven by the demand,
technology, and application spiral.
FMFM 1 defines maneuver warfare as " a warfighting
philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion through a
series of rapid, violent, and unexpected actions which create a
turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which he (the
enemy) cannot cope."(10:59) It is explained that this concept
for the Marines is a "warfighting doctrine based on rapid,
flexible, and opportunistic maneuver."(10:58) FMFM 1 further
explains that maneuver is traditionally viewed in a "spatial"
context to "gain a positional advantage" and that time adds a
second dimension, temporal, which complements this.(10:58)
Therefore, the intent of maneuver warfare is to gain a
positional, temporal, and psychological advantage to defeat an
adversary. Given the key components of this definition, can the
Aviation Combat Element (ACE) fulfill a maneuver element role and
if so why?
It is an irrefutable fact of physics that aviation generates
greater velocity. Additionally, it is relatively unfettered by
geographic topography and it can operate three dimensionally.
Therefore, it qualifies admirably to be defined as capable of
maneuver both spatially and temporally. Yet despite its ability
to move rapidly to achieve positional advantage, it remains
limited by its relatively short duration once employed. Hence
the often learned lesson that aviation can influence the conduct
of the battle, but it remains unable to seize and hold an
advantage. Therefore, by definition of FMFM 1, it is concluded
that the ACE is a maneuver element limited by duration.
Consequently, as a maneuver element, it can be employed as a unit
to effect a change of balance within arrayed forces on the
battlefield for a specified period of time or purpose.
No doubt the temporal issue and the inability of aviation to
seize and hold objectives raises concerns. However, this is not
a prerequisite by the definition of FMFM 1. In fact, the manual
only specifies that we seek positional and temporal advantage to
"render the enemy incapable of resisting by shattering his moral
and physical cohesion - his ability to fight as an effective,
coordinated whole."(10:59) Additionally, battles and campaigns
have sought to hold terrain solely to permit follow on action.
Therefore, the necessity to hold any positional advantage is a
function of required operations. Time or duration is related to
how long the positional advantage is required to achieve the goal
of defeating the enemy's ability to resist. The psychological
objective of maneuver warfare.
Consequently, it would seem that the main thrust of FMFM 1
does not lie solely within the context of positional advantage
and tempo, but is resident within the philosophy. The astute
commander will use the combined sum of advantages offered by all
assets available to win a decision at minimal cost. If this is
defined as the intent of FMFM 1 and the ACE qualifies by the laws
of physics and standard definitions of the words "maneuver" and
"element", then how does the ACE fit within the context of the
theory and conduct of war?
Marine Corps doctrine delineates six functions to be
accomplished by air. Some of these functions compete for assets
and require apportionment and allocation. Other functions are
mutually exclusive and are unable to be accomplished by any other
aircraft. These may or may not assist accomplishment of other
functions.(11:chp 1) Additionally, at times, certain functions
may not be required, while, conversely, there may be a function
required for which no assets are available. In fact, the
variables are endless and change rapidly dependent on losses
(combat or maintenance) and human factors. Let us therefore set
the assumption that usually all six functions of Marine air are
being accomplished during a conflict and that there are periods
of intense activity, medium or steady state activity, and rest or
As a general rule, aviation can and does work on all three
levels of conflict. On the strategic level the Strategic Air
Command and its mission of nuclear strike capability is an
excellent example. Likewise the U.S. Navy carrier battlegroups
and their ability to maneuver to a position of vulnerability has
strategic implications. Yet how does this model fit the U.S.
Marine Corps (USMC) and its mission?
The USMC mission requires that it provide forces capable of
reinforcing U.S. Naval forces and the conduct of its
mission.(12:chp 5) One should consider carefully these
implications. The assignment of Marine air to fly compatible
aircraft bought and operated with U.S. Navy funding equates to
Marine air functioning as a strategic reserve for the U.S. Navy.
Hence, Marine air must have comparable capabilities.
This strategic mission takes advantage of the psychological
factor of how potential enemies view the U.S. Navy and United
States policy. The argument can be made that an aircraft "up and
ready" is the essence of ACE as a maneuver element. This is
analogous to the laws of physics concerning energy. There is
always potential energy and kinetic energy. Energy is never
lost, it remains resident in either state awaiting use.
More immediately, should the employment of Marine air be
projected to a lodgement to deter or threaten an enemy weakness,
then it participates strategically to achieve national policy.
It should be noted that the initial deployment of Marine Air
Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is strategic from the national
perspective, but operational for the theater commander while it
is tactical for the MAGTF. Hence, it may operate on the three
levels of war simultaneously. Similarly, while the ACE
concentrates on the tactical battle within its zone, it may well
be accomplishing operational and strategic objectives as well.
For example, the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal principally
operated day to day on the tactical level of war. It literally
fought for its survival against overwhelming enemy superiority.
In the end, the net result was that the Japanese lost the
momentum and control over its expansionist aims as it fought to
hold a bit of island. The paltry USMC forces (a MAGTF) channeled
enemy attention and caused the loss of many more pilots and
airplanes, naval units, and army forces than Japan could afford.
This would not have been possible if any ingredient were missing
from the MAGTF equation. It is interesting to note that the
close air support missions so common today were not the routine
of that day. In fact the aviation forces tended to operate much
more independently in what was then called the "air war" or "air
campaign".(29:122) This could serve as a possible model for
today's goal for the ACE.
Operationally, the Guadalcanal offensive caused the Japanese
to begin an intensive entrenchment and fortification program to
consolidate and hold previous conquests. It focused the Japanese
attention and assets into the Rabaul/Guadalcanal area and drew
many enemy army, navy, and air units into a destructive mill of
attrition. Most importantly, it focused the enemy on a defensive
strategy from which they were never able to regain the offensive.
I believe this was a classical example of maneuver to a
position of advantage as envisioned by FMFM 1. Further, I
conclude that Guadalcanal was maneuver within maneuver. Not only
did it threaten the enemy regionally, but it allowed the air
component to conduct an offensive against the enemy air and naval
forces from which the Japanese were never able to recover.
Surely, had the campaign not taken it toll, the enemy would have
been much stronger at the battle of Midway with more airplanes
and their best pilots. This could have seriously altered the
outcome of that battle.
If the ACE is considered a maneuver element, is it more
suited to the offense or the defense? Clausewitz postulated that
of the two forms of warfare, the defense is the stronger while
the offense, with its positive aim, is the more
decisive.(10:24-25) John Warden III in Air Campaign hypothesizes
that in an air war, the defense is the more decisive as well as
the stronger form.(31:66) He contends that as air forces possess
speed, mobility, and freedom of direction, the defense is the key
to defeating the enemy. This is accomplished by use of interior
lines and ability to concentrate and mass to meet an attack.
While the pure defense posture may be economically prudent
and may work to the advantage of the defender, it will not yield
decisive results. The major fault of the pure defense is that it
remains reactive. The defense does not capitalize on the
flexibility and surprise of the proactive attributes of aviation.
The defense is the least desirable posture as it fails to
maximize the very tenets upon which rest the cornerstone of John
Wardens' argument; speed, mobility, and freedom of direction.
Are these not the same elements sought by FMFM 1?
Speed, mobility, and freedom of direction (action) combine
to produce the ability to exploit time, space, and psychological
shock with which to gain an advantage over an enemy. As applied
within FMFM 1, this is maneuver warfare in its basic elemental
state. The ACE, in performing all six functions, can take
advantage of these elements.
The use of combined air to move assault infantry, conduct
close and deep air strikes, electronic warfare, antiair defense,
and reconnaissance to locate targets can be psychologically
devastating. This is the essence of FMFM 1. The ACE currently
is tasked to complete these requirements, but is held on a
string. The accomplishment of the six functions are viewed
solely as supporting. The use of mission orders has not been
implemented as was commonly the case during the World Wars and
the Korean war.
The use of the combined effects of all the functions of
Marine air is not and should not be different than the
application of the principals of war to other combat means. The
ACE can and must conduct both offense and defense. It can
concentrate and mass for attack or defense. It can exploit speed
and mobility to achieve surprise. In fact all of the functions
of air are and remain valid today. It is the way a commander
elects to employ and control air that requires close scrutiny. A
commander that visualizes and applies the power and flexibility
allowed by air in a bold innovative manner will increase the
dilemma an enemy faces.
The MAGTF commander may elect or be required to employ air
in its traditional role (i.e. supporting operations). The
prudent commander should consider, however, the psychological
impact of a dramatic, unexpected tactic to catch the enemy
unaware and unable to counter. For example, the "rhubarb" of
World War II, played havoc with the German forces in France. In
what amounted to armed reconnaissance, pairs of aircraft were
sent on sweeps into zones to destroy any located targets. The
unexpected maneuver, random attacks, and unrestricted nature of
the operation were impossible to prevent. The enemy was forced
to be reactive and thus unhinged his carefully arranged plans.
Likewise, in a similar vein, the use of all available air during
the invasion of Normandy, France, so dominated the enemy that he
was forced to move and supply under cover of night as the risk of
destruction visited upon him in the light of day was unbearable.
Interestingly, similar procedures late in World War I yielded
similar results as allied pilots flew random profiles locating
and striking targets of opportunity. This would qualify in every
way to be defined as maneuver a la FMFM 1.
Today the ACE "rhubarb" could be a constant use of raiding
parties of infantry and/or artillery on critical enemy areas or
soft spots. Zones of free fire areas for armed reconnaissance
should be employed to demoralize and confuse the enemy while
reducing his forces and momentum. The increased use of the
Tactical Air Controller-(airborne) [TAC (A)] responsive to the
ground combat element commander and assigned a zone of
responsibility would permit maximum flexibility in a now
inflexible and communication intensive arrangement. Provided the
scheme of maneuver, commander's intent, and the appropriate
assets available, there is no reason why the TAC (A) should
function solely as a Direct Air Support Center (DASC) extension.
The TAC(A) is in the best position to oversee and carry out the
execution of the mission assigned. The DASC should be reoriented
as the information coordinator and asset provider it was
originally designed to be.
The increased use of "direct support" missions for both
fixed wing and helicopter assets should be explored and
encouraged. Competent mission commanders should be granted the
authority, responsibility, and means for the planning and
execution of missions. There may be a need to task organize a
raiding force that would best be under the control of a squadron
commander for use as a mobile strike force. Conversely, the
situation could be favorable to provide an aviation element to a
ground task force to work for that commander in a direct support
role. The possibilities are as limitless as the imagination and
are bounded only by the laws of physics.
It must be understood that we all compete for assets and
that sometimes a commander gives most of the toys to someone
else. The current practice of doling out the assets so everyone
gets a share is the same as piecemealing any other force. This
practice must stop as it dilutes the abilities of air to function
properly and is counter to the philosophy of FMFM 1. Ironically,
FMFRP 1-11, Fleet Marine Force Organization 1990, published
subsequent to FMFM 1, still defines " the primary mission of
Marine Corps aviation ...as the supporting air component of the
FM... "(12:5-1) The ACE must get the green light to be employed
as a portion of a combined arms force or it will continue to be a
support rather than a maneuver element.
History has shown that aviation can perform many tasks well.
I believe that throughout its course, there has been the
opportunity and ability of men and machines to fulfill the role
of a maneuver element. It has always been there and men of
vision have argued that it served better on one or the other
level of war. The fact is, that during World War II, aviation
was at its peak of freedom for employment. This was more a
result of communication technology not being able to effectively
provide control over the vast spaces of Europe and the Pacific.
This will most probably continue to be a problem in the future,
not due to poor communications equipment, but due to the war for
the electromagnetic spectrum. Faced with this possibility, the
ACE must be permitted to operate more independently upon the
commanders intent. There will always be a need to communicate,
but when this fails the ACE must have mission orders to prevent a
sudden halt of momentum while awaiting instructions.
The key to FMFM 1 is better and smarter use of limited
assets to create an unresolvable dilemma for the enemy. The
destruction of his ability to wage war is certainly physical.
The mental destruction of his will to resist is decisive. The
opportunities to effectively use the ACE as a manuver element
of combined arms abound; the sound application of the power of
the ACE is but one more tool to defeat the enemy.
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