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Summary: The US Doctrine Discussion - From Annihilation to Shock and Awe

Gray Area between Political and Military Doctrines, Military Concepts and Operational "Strategies”

Friedrich Korkisch

Regulations are binding guidelines with doctrine character for any army. Because of their extensiveness and complexity they call for standardized conduct at (almost all) echelons. The higher the echelon, the more general the regulations would have to be in nature. Unfortunately, politics often tend to interfere with the specifics of an operation. In those cases military logic does not get to bear, and manuals, doctrines, and experience may become void.

No area of US military leadership is as blurred as the concept of operations. The US Forces consider an operation to be the total of measures needed to reach an operational objective. This is in stark contrast to the currently valid classification system of "Strategy-Operations-Tactics” used in the European or for that matter German war theory or leadership concept. As far as leadership is concerned the US, for a long time, found itself improvising. Owing to some ingenious men and good luck, however, it was able to fight wars in a manner that would make defeat bearable and victory persistent.

In the US the concept of doctrine came up in connection with air warfare in the early 30’s, though the regulations were using terms like "principles”, "fundamentals” or "concepts”. Doctrine was understood as the interpretation of what at the time seemed to be ideal principles and actions. Doctrines are intended to help establish strategies that in turn influence the doctrines. They determine the direction of organization, training and define the technological needs. Doctrines are comprised of two elements, one being a set of standing logical norms that may be referred to as "principles of war”, and a set of changing principles that continuously have to be adapted to the technological possibilities.

From the American Civil War up to Vietnam the US pursued offensive warfare. Attack in it self was considered to make sense and promise success, while on the other hand defensive warfare was considered ”un-American”. All wars America could or had to fight outside the continental US were ideally offensive wars.

Winning the War of Independence over the British was also attributable to the strong attrition of the British troops by an enemy who was not very professional in regular combat though very much so in irregular combat. During World War I the US was able to wear down the enemy by adequate materiel employment, a method that was taken a step further during World War II. What was asked for was the optimal employment of materiel rather than ingenious leadership. The result was that materiel supply of the forces took priority in war planning.

The doctrine of Annihilation goes back to General Grant. It is the attempt to defeat the enemy by superiority of materiel and strength and, if necessary, annihilate him. The doctrine of Decisive Force which calls for concentration of forces in order to outnumber the enemy resulted in the US going into offensive combat only after having reached the strength that would ensure superiority.

John Warden’s doctrine of fighting the Center of Gravity is based on the employment of the air potential in order to neutralize the enemy’s command and control mechanism right from the outset. This idea came to bear with the Instant Thunder plan against Iraq in 1990 and has since become part of all ground and air warfare concepts.

The Shock and Awe concepts applied during the War in Iraq in 2003 took advantage of the technological developments of the last few years. It aimed at a rapid dominance over the enemy by means of reconnaissance, maneuver, and firepower as well as the employment of decisive force for rapid neutralization of the enemy by using precision munitions.



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Eigentümer und Herausgeber: Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung | Roßauer Lände 1, 1090 Wien
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