UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Operational Maneuver Group

The Soviet Army 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 Army 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. 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.

From the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, a virtual renaissance in Soviet operational theory culminated in 8. Marshal of the Soviet Union and then Chief of the General Staff N.V.Ogarkov's operational maneuver group (OMG) structure designed to defeat the North Atlantic Treaty Organizationís (NATO) Deep Strike concept. Built on the same principles as Deep Operations, OMG theory added the organic airborne and mechanized infantry absent from World War II formations, and adopted a more modularized, combined-arms structure. Further, to overcome the strengths of NATOís defense in depth, the Soviets positioned a number of divisions, called Forward Detachments, directly on the border between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces.

In a thorough examination of the OMG, two Department of Defense analysts, both with intelligence backgrounds, could find but a single occurrence - in a Polish military journal - of the term "operational maneuver group" in any Warsaw Pact publication. Yet they deemed the article and its new wording so important that it served as the key piece of evidence in their portrait of this new Soviet operational development. Assuming the Polish term for the OMG to be Soviet in origin, they went so far as to suggest the probable Russian language equivalent.


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 Army 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 Army makes every effort to bring about these circumstances, principally by achieving surprise. The Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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.)

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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army should take every a precaution to conceal the presence of the formation using normal camouflage means and strict electronic silence. The Army 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 Army 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 Army 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.)

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.

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 Army 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 Army 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. 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) 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 Army 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. The Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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.)

Encirclement with a double penetration.

Encirclement with a single penetration (against a natural obstacle).

The Army 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 Army 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 Army 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).

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 Army enjoys a considerable numerical advantage over an enemy. The Army 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.

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 Army 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 Army 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 Army defines three basic types of offensive actions. If both sides are attacking, advancing, or maneuvering, it is a meeting engagement. If the Army is attacking and the other side is defending, it is an attack against a defending enemy. If the enemy is retreating and the Army 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 Army prefers to conduct a meeting engagement rather than defending or attacking an enemy prepared for defense. However, if the Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army success and to complete the destruction of enemy forces. The Army 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 Army may also insert heliborne or airborne forces to block the enemy's withdrawal. Once these forces halt the enemy, the Army's main forces attempt to conduct a flanking movement to complete the destruction of the enemy force. Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army expects the enemy to make maximum use of river and canal lines for the creation of subsequent defense lines in depth. The Army plans to preempt this by using airborne landings to establish bridgeheads early and seize dams that the enemy could use to create flooding. The Army 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 Army can trap the enemy against it and destroy him on the near bank.

Where assault crossings are necessary, the Army selects sectors in advance across a wider frontage. The Army 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 Army 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 Army 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 Army avoids a battle of attrition.


Once the Army 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 Army 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.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list


Page last modified: 23-02-2022 19:44:53 Zulu