Air University Review, May-June 1976

The Thread of Doctrine

Lieutenant General John W. Pauly

doctrine- Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.

JCS Pub. 1, Department of 
Defense Dictionary of Military 
and Associated Terms

Aerospace doctrine is an authoritative statement of principles for the employment of United States Air Force resources. It is based on an accumulation of knowledge gained through military experience, study and test. It is designed for continuing applicability in war and peace.

AFM 1-1, United States Air 
Force Basic Doctrine

The essence of doctrine lies in its purpose: to teach, to endow a body of people with a common set of broad assumptions, ideas, values, and attitudes as a guide to future actions. Rather than a one-time revelation from on high to be taken as dogma, doctrine is the product of a continuing effort to join theory and practice--one of the most difficult of all enterprises. Theory, without the leavening of experience, lacks substance and foundation; experience without theory lacks an adequate frame of reference to accommodate future changes that will surely come. Meaningful Air Force doctrine, suitable for all the complexities and forms of modern aerospace warfare, is the synthesis of theory and experience.

In this context, the human equation plays a fundamental role. For example, the act of one man hitting another man was the genesis of man's combat experience from which military doctrine evolved, albeit in its most rudimentary form. Today's doctrine is the product of combat experience in the form of yesterday's lessons learned, applied to tomorrow's expectations. Doctrine, therefore, is the discipline that is applied to bring about a reasoned adjustment to the dynamics of modern aerospace warfare and promote the rational employment of modern aerospace forces. Warfare has winners and losers. More often than not, winners have successfully applied certain time-proven principles in the employment of their forces. Such principles and their application are the substance of the discipline of doctrine. We can reasonably conclude, then, that in the future, as in the past, our success or failure in war will rest to a large degree on our doctrine and how we apply it.

This article will trace the evolution of doctrine, more specifically basic doctrine, as it applies to the United States Air Force, and in doing so will answer the questions: (1) How did it come to be this way? and (2) Was it through logic and careful analysis of experience? (3) What has been the influence of the Air Force--wide coordination process? and (4) What ideas have prevailed? In reviewing the history of basic military doctrine for answers to these questions, we are led to the conclusion that the ultimate product is a carefully and thoughtfully derived statement of well-established and proven employment principles, which also reflects adjustments to changing national security policy and strategy. Tracking these principles in Air Force basic doctrine, we will find that there is a consistency or "thread" of doctrine that has stood the test of combat, the evolution of Air Force thinking, and the dynamic aspects of doctrine development.

Let's begin by tracing the evolution of basic doctrine from its roots in the minds of our early Air Force leaders. As we proceed through time, the doctrinal thread that persists, and is slowly but steadily refined, is the idea that air power is an entity and as such can best be employed under the principles of centralized control and decentralized execution. While the early manifestation of this idea was in the concepts of strategic bombardment, it has come to be applied to all aspects of aerospace operations.

Many officers of our earlier Air Service, Air Corps, and Army Air Forces contributed to the development of such concepts, which have been elevated to the level of Air Force doctrine. Earliest and best--known of American air power advocates was General Billy Mitchell, whose flamboyant personality and flair for publicity gained wide recognition of his ideas about air power, particularly those of an independent air arm and the primacy of strategic bombardment. Generals "Hap" Arnold, Hugh J. Knerr, and Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., among others, were disciples of Mitchell and helped put many of his ideas into practice. Eventually, theory and practice evolved into Air Force doctrine.

The basic documents produced during this period that reflected the evolution of these early ideas include:

War Department Training Regulation No. 440-15, "Fundamental Principles for Employment of the Air Service" (1926)

Air Corps Tactical School, "Employment of Combined Air Force" (1926)

War Department Training Regulation No. 440-15, "Employment of the Air Forces of the Army" (1935)

WDFM 1-5, "Employment of the Aviation of the Army" (1940)

AWPD-1, "Munitions Requirements of the Army Air Forces" (1941)

FM 31-35, "Aviation in Support of Ground Forces" (1942)

WDFM 100-20, "Command and Employment of Air Power" (1943).

Most of these documents were narrowly circumscribed statements about the employment of aviation. They considered air support of the ground forces to be the main mission of Army aviation. The exceptions were the Air Corps Tactical School publication, "Employment of Combined Air Force" (1926), AWPD-1 "Munitions Requirements of the Army Air Forces" (1941), and WDFM 100-20 "Command and Employment of Air Power" (1943).

The first "envisioned the air arm being coordinated with land and sea forces, having as its aim the destruction of the enemy's morale and will to resist, preferably by means of attack against the enemy's interior."

AWPD-1, prepared in 1941 and incorporated as part of a joint Army-Navy study of overall U.S. production requirements for defeat of the Axis, has been called "a notable achievement which marked both the apex of pre-war doctrinal thought and a blueprint for the air war which would follow."1

FM 100-20, published on 21 July 1943, grew directly out of the experience of the then recently concluded North African Campaign. The lesson of North Africa lay in the fragmentation of air power and the consequent inability to concentrate air power; this was the result of organizational arrangements that had the effect of making air support organic to Army divisions.

FM 100-20, reflecting the lessons learned, declared that land power and air power were coequal, that gaining air superiority was the first requirement for success in land operations. More important, it rejected the principle of organic control of tactical air assets by stating that control of available air power must be centralized to realize the maximum benefits. This represented a complete turnaround in official Army doctrine and helped pave the way for an independent Air Force. It was a landmark document, expressing the principle of centralized control of air power in joint operations.

The basic concepts, beliefs, principles, and attitudes that emerged in the years between World War I and World War II provided the foundation for the broad statement of air power doctrine found in FM 100-20 and subsequent USAF doctrinal publications. Air as a separate operating medium, an independent Air Force, emphasis on the offensive, strategic bombardment, centralized control of air power, and control of the air--all represented the essence of Air Force doctrine. These essentially consistent and interrelated ideas were driven chiefly by the strong and persistent belief of most Air Corps officers in an independent Air Force and in strategic bombardment. The doctrine of the 1920s and 1930s--that the bomber was the dominant air weapon--supported the concept of strategic bombardment, the most independent of all air missions, and therefore was the primary justification for an independent Air Force. The insistence on centralized control of air power grew out of theories that were formulated during World War I but remained only a hope until 1935, when the General Headquarters Air Force (GHQAF) was organized. The preparation of AWPD-1 in 1941 was next in a crescendo of events leading to the acceptance of air power doctrine. In 1943,with the issuance of FM 100-20, the Army formally accepted the principle of centralized control of air assets. By the end of World War II the Army Air Forces had gained acceptance of most of its doctrinal precepts, with the notable exception of independence. That came shortly thereafter.

In the years immediately after World War II, the Army Air Forces was too busy demobilizing and reorganizing to pay much attention to doctrine. Not until after the passage of the National Security Act of 1947 did the newly born United States Air Force direct attention to its doctrine. In September 1947, the month in which the independent Air Force emerged, Headquarters USAF, realizing the void in current air power doctrine, directed the new educational center, Air University, to revise the 1943 version of FM 100-20 and recommend a system of doctrinal publications. Five and one-half years later, on 1 April 1953, the first USAF basic doctrine manual, AFM 1-2, was published.

The sources of inspiration for this initial statement of Air Force basic doctrine were, of course, all of the documents and ideas previously mentioned, plus the experience of World War II and some postwar additives. The Air Force declaration of independence, the National Security Act of 1947, did not spell out missions and functions, except in the most general terms. It did charge the Air Force, by law, to develop the basic tenets regarding the use of air power. The President's Air Policy Commission, headed by Thomas K. Finletter, placed overriding emphasis on an air strategy of retaliatory attack against an enemy's industrial capacity. The Key West and Newport Agreements, both in 1948, represented early official statements of roles, missions, and functions of the three services. Those agreements set to rest notions that all aviation, including Navy and Marine, would be included in a single Air Force. The functions of the services were spelled out, providing boundaries for the subsequent formulation of doctrine. These agreements eventually were incorporated into DOD Directive 5100.1 and JCS Publication 2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF), which clearly spell out the functional responsibilities for the services.

The purpose of AFM 1-2 was to "provide and impart to all Air Force personnel a basis for understanding the use of air forces in peace and in war, and to serve as a background for succeeding manuals covering the tactics and techniques for employing air forces."2

The purpose of the U.S. military instrument was to deter aggression or to repel it if it occurred. Air Forces were purported to be most decisive in actions dealing immediately and directly with the enemy's warmaking capacity, a reflection of the consistent thread of thought on strategic operations since the early years. The manual emphasized the uncommon versatility of air forces and related them positively to the principles of war. It distinguished two broad and interdependent aspects of air operations: heartland and peripheral actions. Control of the air was emphasized as necessary for both of these categories, and unity of effort was also stressed. While offensive operations were considered to be the best way to provide security for the homeland against attack, an effective air defense was also considered mandatory. In general, AFM 1-2 was a clear reflection of contemporary Air Force ideas and attitudes at that time; it retained the concept that air power was an entity and that offensive strategic operations and centralized control of air operations were fundamental precepts in the employment of air power.

The Air University played a central role in the development of USAF doctrine during this period. At the direction of Headquarters USAF, it functioned as a doctrinal center, at first unofficially and then officially, beginning in 1951. In addition to the 1953 version of AFM 1-2, Air University developed and submitted for publication during 1953 and subsequent years a series of operational manuals designated 1-3 through 1-11. These had to do with theater air operations, air defense operations, strategic air operations, and the like.

The first revision of AFM 1-2, published in April 1954, differed very little from the 1953 version. Although the 1953 edition had been subjected to review throughout the Air Force, only minor editorial changes were made in 1954. The edition of the manual published in April 1955 was, however, a major revision. Nevertheless, as in previous manuals, it continued to stress the principle that air forces are an entity and their employment must be under the centralized control of an air commander at a level high enough to exploit their characteristics fully. The new manual also stressed the capabilities of air power throughout the entire spectrum of international conflict, taking cognizance of the capabilities of air power in periods other than general war. It defined air power as including the entire aviation capacity of the United States. Control of the air was the desired position; "control is achieved when an air force can effect planned degrees of destruction while denying this opportunity to the enemy."3 The manual advocated minimizing the striking capacity of enemy air forces as a primary consideration in war. It considered air defense forces in-being as indispensable to national security, and it set forth the view that air forces have the capability to conduct wartime operations against all components of an enemy's strength. This briefest of the basic doctrine manuals had only 4100 words, setting a worthy standard for those that have followed.

Sputnik, missiles, and space were reflected in the 1959 revision of AFM 1-2. This revision incorporated the concept of aerospace as "an operationally indivisible medium consisting of the total expanse beyond the earth's surface."4 Moreover, the manual declared that the operating systems of the Air Force--air systems, ballistic missiles, and space vehicle systems--were the "fundamental aerospace forces of the nation."5 It stressed the importance of maintaining a position of general supremacy in aerospace in both peace and war. Such supremacy could affect the fundamental elements of a nation's strength.

The years between 1959 and 1964 witnessed great changes in the strategic environment and the thinking about that environment. The advent of the submarine-launched ballistic missile and the acquisition of a major strategic nuclear offensive capability by the Navy, the development of missile and satellite technology and deployment of missiles and satellites on a large scale, the adoption of a flexible response and the search for multiple response options by the Department of Defense, the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962--all impacted significantly on the scope and context of the Air Force basic doctrine manual. The emergence of "flexible response" as our national security policy brought a new surge of initiatives, notably by the Army, to develop organic airlift, reconnaissance, and close air support capabilities, which competed with Air Force missions. Thus, roles and missions and doctrine-related matters became national issues, with their focus not only in the Department of Defense but in the Congress as well. During this period also, when matters related to doctrine were becoming national issues, responsibility for preparation and publication of USAF Basic Doctrine was transferred from Air University to the Air Staff in Washington. A Doctrine Division was established in the Directorate of Plans to assume the responsibility. Later, the division became a part of the Directorate of Doctrine, Concepts, and Objectives under the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations. The Doctrine Division retains the responsibility, today, for the development, formulation, and implementation of USAF Basic Doctrine.

In August 1964 the changes in the strategic environment and concepts for employment of forces in that environment culminated in publication of AFM 1-1 as the replacement for AFM 1-2. This edition was also strongly influenced by Project FORECAST, a major Air Force study in 1963-64 headed by General Bernard K Schriever, which sought, among other things, to identify the goals of national policy that would influence systems development decisions and other decisions within the Air Force.6 The new AFM 1-1 set forth general characteristics and requirements of aerospace forces and described the various modes of employment of these forces at different levels of warfare. This manual also acknowledged that thermonuclear weapons and an assured delivery capability in the hands of potential enemies had created a new strategic environment and profoundly affected the use of military power. The basic conclusion held that 

. . . the nature of modern war has altered the use of force to the extent that total victory in some situations would be an unreasonable goal. Where enemies with capabilities to destroy our urban centers are involved, we should seek military objectives more realistic than total defeat of the enemy.7

But despite the dynamics of the period, there remained the enduring doctrine that air power is an entity best employed under centralized control at levels high enough to fully exploit its inherent characteristics and capabilities. And, while the 1964 manual retained a strong emphasis on offensive strategic operations, it also identified and discussed each of the tactical air missions in conditions of nuclear, conventional, and counterinsurgency operations.

It should be noted that the nuclear test-ban agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union had been signed in 1963. The preliminary discussions that came eventually, in the years after 1964, led to the strategic arms limitation agreement of 1972. The trend toward parity in strategic nuclear offensive forces became increasingly apparent after 1964 and had impact on later versions of AFM 1-1.

Although a revision of the 1964 manual did not appear for seven years, work on it began almost immediately after publication of the 1964 version. There was a full-scale draft revision in 1965 and a series of additional drafts at least annually thereafter.

A new AFM 1-1 was approved by the Chief of Staff and published in September 1971. This manual took into account the prevailing thought in the Defense Department. It affirmed that the "national leadership must be provided with a wide range of alternatives in the use of military power"8 and stated the characteristics, tasks, and capabilities of aerospace forces for performing a wide variety of functions. The manual reaffirmed that the "primary objective of U.S. national security is deterrence of military actions which are counter to U.S. interests."9 This had been the basic concept underlying U.S. national security policy since World War II. Moreover, the manual used the term "force sufficiency" and found that it included all of the elements required to achieve the basic objectives of the Air Force. It differed, therefore, very little from previous statements of broad requirements to perform USAF missions. It did, however, reflect terminology derived from the Defense Reports of the new Secretary of Defense, Melvin H. Laird. Finally, the manual discarded the terms "general war" and "limited war" in favor of four categories of operations that were considered more descriptive and adequate: conventional operations, low-intensity nuclear operations, high-intensity nuclear operations, and special operations.

Again, work was started immediately on the next revision. After three years of relatively continuous work and broad staffing throughout the Air Force, a new manual was approved by the Chief of Staff in November 1974.

As with previous versions, it is possible to perceive a basic and continuing thread of broad principles that have their roots in the historical evolution of airmen's thinking over the past fifty years. The words have changed, and new excursions into areas reflective of 1973-74 national policy pronouncements are immediately evident. As a result of today's challenges of war, national environment, and international relationships, many generalized concepts and policies have been included in the manual. However, fundamental principles learned from two World Wars reinforced in subsequent armed conflicts, as well as from analyses, tests, and hypotheses, are enduring.

In essence, the changes in the manual reflect the dynamic evolvement of our national security policy and strategy, while at the same time reinforcing the specifics of the enduring fundamental employment principles of aerospace power addressed in basic doctrine.

The process by which AFM 1-1 is produced seems to bear out the maxim that the means are as important as the ends. It is unlikely that anyone reads the manual more carefully or analyzes it more thoroughly than the authors and the critics of drafts of the manual. Among the critics are literally hundreds who are experts on some aspect of doctrine. Thus, hundreds of USAF officers, including generals, engage in an extensive dialogue that examines Air Force basic thinking in depth. This debate illuminates the various facets of Air Force doctrinal issues. Out of this dialogue and debate, issues are identified, doubts resolved, and the enduring concepts of air power employment emerge in their doctrinal vestments.

We assert that Air Force basic doctrine is alive and well. History shows that our doctrine has been responsive to changing times and philosophies while maintaining a consistent thread of fundamental principles. We can conclude that our doctrinal process is a discipline--a discipline for dealing with new concepts, technology, and roles and missions relationships with other services or allies. It serves to sharpen the debate by providing a framework of time--proven principles against which we can illuminate and test contending ideas now and in the future. However, in the final analysis, the most important function of doctrine is that it provides the fundamental guidance for the employment of aerospace forces in combat.

In the experience of three major wars--World War II, Korea, Southeast Asia--we have seen a consistent thread of basic doctrine encompassed in the most fundamental of principles: that air power is an entity and is best employed under the centralized control of a single authority who is at a level that can best orchestrate the total air effort. This has been the basis for Air Force positions on issues involving command arrangements in the employment of air power throughout our combat experience. The most recent example was the issue over single manager for air in South Vietnam that gained sharp focus during the battle for Khe Sanh. The question was whether Marine Corps tactical air would operate independent of, or under the operational control of, the Deputy for Air Operations to COMUSMACV. After considerable debate, which at times reached all the way to the office of the Secretary of Defense, command arrangements that provided for a single manager for air were established. The need for such arrangements lay in the essence of centralized control: enabling a commander to exploit fully the characteristics and capabilities of air power and the flexibility to shift and mass firepower or forces in a single integrated effort, wherever and whenever needed. The late Army Chief of Staff, General Creighton W. Abrams, appreciated and understood this philosophy as well as anyone. In testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, he said:

Close air support, as provided by the Air Force for somebody in the position I was, the overall commander (COMUSMACV), there is no way to replace that with helicopters . . . it can generate . . . more hitting power . . . because high performance aircraft can carry a much greater payload. And you can focus that very quickly. I don't mean from the first brigade to the second brigade. I am talking about . . . instead of putting it in [Military Region] MR-4, you go to MR-1; you switch that whole faucet and you do it in about 45 minutes. The whole control system and base system that supports that, there is nothing in the Army like that. There is nothing anywhere in the world like it.10

As was noted earlier, our basic doctrine is subject to constant and critical review. Numerous drafts are analyzed throughout the Air Force before AFM 1-1 is promulgated. However, the number of people who work directly on it is small when compared to the total USAF population; time and circumstances preclude a formal review by every Air Force member before the document is published. It therefore becomes an individual effort for our men and women to learn about Air Force doctrine. It is essential that each member take it upon himself to be familiar with the manual and understand these fundamentals of our very existence.

Armed with the knowledge gained through reading and comprehending AFM 1-1, we should be able to speak out confidently and discuss our primary missions and how we go about accomplishing them. As with any organization, the professionalism of our Air Force depends in large measure on how well we know our missions and the basic doctrine that guides us in performing them.

Air Force Manual 1-1, USAF Basic Doctrine, can be the source of much of this information, and it's as close as the nearest publications file. The motivation for getting it out and reading it is your own individual professionalism

Hq United States Air Force


1. Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force 1907-1964, Second Printing, Air University, 1974, p. 59.

2. AFM-1-2, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, Washington, D.C., 1 April 1953, p.i.

3. AFM 1-2, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, 1 April 1955, p. 8.

4. AFM 1-2, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, 1 December 1959, p. 11.

5. Ibid.

6. General Schriever reviewed Project FORECAST in an article entitled "Forecast" published in Air University Review, March-April 1965, pp. 2-12.

7. AFM 1-1, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, 14 August 1964, p. 7-1.

8. AFM-1-1, United States Air Force Basic Doctrine, 28 September 1971, p. 1-1.9.

9. Ibid, p. 1-2.

10. Creighton W. Abrams, Testimony before House Armed Services Subcommittee, "Close Air Support," Washington, D. C. 17 April 1973.


Lieutenant General John W. Pauly (USMA; M.S., George Washington University) is Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, Hq USAF. He earned his pilot wings while attending West Point. Following B-25 and B-17 transition, he served with the 60th Troop Carrier Group, Germany. During the Korean War he served as safety officer and squadron operations officer with the 8th Bombardment Squadron. Following tours at Hq Tactical Air Command and Hq Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force in Germany, he was assigned to the Directorate of Plans at Hq USAF. Other major assignments include DCS Operations, 315th Air Division, Japan; Commander, 315th Special Operations Wing, Republic of Vietnam; Commander, First Strategic Aerospace Divisions, SAC, Vandenberg AFB; and Assistant to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Pauly is a graduate of the National War College.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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