Air University Review, May-June 1985

Ira C. Eaker Third Prize Essay

Airland Battle: The Wrong Doctrine
for The Wrong Reason

Major Jon S. Powell

SOVIET/Warsaw Pact military forces are arrayed in significant numbers against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in central Europe. They have numerical superiority in tanks, artillery, aircraft, armored personnel carriers, and soldiers. In 1981, to overcome this superiority, General Donn A. Starry, Commander, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, proposed the doctrine of the extended or deep battlefield.1 This concept, now called AirLand Battle Doctrine, forms the central theme of U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations––the Army's "how to fight" publication.2

Despite wide acceptance, this doctrine has serious flaws. Although it assumes that Soviet/Warsaw Pact forces will use two-echelon combat deployments, strong evidence suggests that they will use only one major echelon. The doctrine also assumes that the U.S. Air Force can support the deep battle, but intelligence, target acquisition/destruction, and intratheater airlift capabilities fall short of the support required. Finally, AirLand Battle Doctrine does not counter current Soviet/Warsaw Pact doctrine, which stresses using operational maneuver groups and air assault brigades. After briefly reviewing basic AirLand Battle principles, I shall examine these flaws and make some recommendations.

Basic Principles of AirLand Battle Doctrine

Colonel Huba Wass de Czege, USA, Research Associate, U.S. Army War College, in the September 1983 Art of War Quarterly describes AirLand Battle Doctrine as exploiting the vulnerabilities of Soviet/Warsaw Pact armies––vulnerabilities resulting largely from their in-echelon combat deployment.3 The key to exploiting those vulnerabilities is the deep attack, and the Army, with Air Force support, must:

see deep

The first step in AirLand Battle is to see deep. Colonel William G. Hanne, USA, Strategic Studies Institute, Carlisle Barracks, in the June 1983 Military Review, points out that "the linchpin…to the entire operational concept, is accurate and timely intelligence on enemy forces, the terrain, and the weather."5 FM 100-5 supports the importance of intelligence and states that corps-size units must seek information on enemy forces located up to ninety-six hours from the main battle area.6 Collecting this perishable information requires intelligence from all sources, including tactical and strategic sensors.7

strike deep

Striking deep logically follows seeing deep. As General Starry states, "The real goal of the deep strike is to create opportunities for friendly action ––attack, counterattack, or reconstitution of the defense––on favorable ground well forward in the battle area."8 FM 100-5 indicates that these opportunities can be created by preventing the enemy from reinforcing committed units by delaying second-echelon forces. This delay creates time periods where friendly forces achieve battlefield superiority and the enemy may be defeated piecemeal.9

battlefield air interdiction

In his account of the deep battle, General Starry indicates that our forces have three main tools for the mission: interdiction using air strikes, artillery fires, and special operating force strikes; offensive electronic warfare, including jamming the enemy's command, control, and communication systems; and deception. However, he also states:

…in practical current terms, interdiction––principally battlefield air interdiction––is the primary tool of deep attack. At present, [for example,] the range of jammers precludes effective use against follow-on echelons.10

Problems with AirLand Battle Doctrine

AirLand Battle Doctrine relies on several premises: Soviet/Warsaw Pact forces will deploy in a two-echelon configuration; the U.S. Air Force can execute critical support missions; and Soviet/Warsaw Pact doctrine will not negatively affect the deep battle. Problems with AirLand Battle Doctrine center on these premises.

Soviet/Warsaw Pact combat deployments

Army doctrine has long assumed that Soviet/Warsaw Pact forces will deploy in two distinct echelons. A U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command publication, Soviet Army Operations, describes typical Soviet/Warsaw Pact fronts with a first echelon of three combined arms armies, a second echelon of one combined arms army and one tank army, and a front reserve with a single tank or motorized rifle division.12 AirLand Battle success depends on finding and destroying (or delaying) the second echelon.

Although Soviet/Warsaw Pact combat configurations form the basis for AirLand Battle Doctrine, many contest the very existence of a second echelon. Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy, USA (Ret), Executive Director, Historical Evaluation and Research Organization, in the January 1983 Armed Forces Journal International, indicates it is a faulty premise that Soviet/Warsaw Pact armies will keep dual echelons. This structure would commit only 20 percent of their regiments as forces in contact and keep 48 percent of mobile, high-value targets more than thirty kilometers behind the battle line––not a likely scenario, according to Colonel Dupuy.13

Colonel Hanne, in the June 1983 Military Review, also challenges the two-echelon premise. Historically (primarily in World War II), Soviet armies used two echelons only when facing strong, in-depth, enemy defensive forces. However, when the enemy had strong forward-deployed defenses with relatively small operational reserves, Soviet armies consistently used single echelons and employed mobile groups to break through enemy defenses and open the way for major attacking forces.14 Today's NATO combat deployment is based on strong forward defenses. NATO's defensive forces do not deploy in depth because doing so would imply willingness to trade space for time––and trading space is politically unacceptable.

Lieutenant Colonel David M. Glantz, USA, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, in the February 1983 Military Review, criticizes two-echelon dogma through his analysis of Soviet military writings. According to him, the Soviets originally supported two-echelon formations because nuclear battlefields seemed to require better dispersal of combat forces.15 However, recent Soviet articles indicates that

maximum force can best be projected if applied simultaneously across a broad front (single echelon at the theater, front, and army level). The results…can generate rapid penetration to the depths of the defense and possibly result in a reduced capability or willingness of an enemy to respond with nuclear weapons.16

It seems likely, therefore, that Soviet/Warsaw Pact armies will not use two-echelon combat deployments. If our forces seek and attempt to strike enemy second echelons (supposedly forming deep to the rear), they will attack phantoms while the real and most immediate threat confronts them face-to-face.

USAF intelligence collection capabilities

Battlefield air interdiction is the key to deep battle, and timely, accurate intelligence is the key to battlefield air interdiction. As Colonel Thomas A. Cardwell III, USAF, Deputy Commander for Operations, 323d Flying Training Wing, states in the March-April 1983 Air University Review, "Air assets are limited…[and] must be directed at critical points and times from the highest tactical level."17 Primary Air Force intelligence collectors include small numbers of tactical and strategic systems and high-technology systems still under development (and congressional scrutiny).

Except for ground-based signals intelligence units, the RF-4C is virtually the sole source of Air Force tactical intelligence data. The RF-4C is designed for all-weather, day or night reconnaissance. Because of air defense threats on modern battlefields, side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) and tactical electronic reconnaissance (TEREC) sensors were developed for standoff surveillance. However, only twenty-four TEREC-equipped RF-4Cs and eleven SLAR-equipped aircraft (with six more planned) have been produced.18 The size of the European battlefield, the deep reconnaissance required by AirLand Battle, the thousands of mobile enemy targets, and even modest projected attrition rates make this small force's capability questionable.

U.S./NATO forces also depend on strategic intelligence assets. These include aircraft such as the TR-1 (U-2 derivative for standoff surveillance), the SR-71, and the EC-130E/H (C-130 airlifter derivative for electronic surveillance/jamming).19 They also include electronic and imagery surveillance satellites.

Strategic reconnaissance aircraft have limitations similar to those of tactical aircraft. Although covering more territory (SR-71s can image 100,000 square miles in one hour), they are also few in number. For example, the TR-1, designed for the European combat environment, was budgeted for only nineteen aircraft through Fiscal Year 1984.20

Satellites cover even more territory, but their limited numbers are increasingly subject to enemy interference. Speaking before an Air Force Association symposium on "The Threat in Space," General James V. Hartinger, then Commander, Air Force Space Command, indicated that the Soviet Union possesses the world's only operational antisatellite system, an extensive ground-based electronic warfare system aimed at our satellites, plus a high-energy laser research program far ahead of similar U.S. programs.21 These pose a considerable threat. Even without degrading effects of weather and discontinuous satellite orbits, U.S./NATO commanders may find themselves stripped of intelligence assets critical to AirLand Battle.

Finally, many intelligence systems essential to AirLand Battle are still under development and are pawns in congressional budget struggles. General Robert T. Marsh, Commander, Air Force Systems Command, summarized the status of several of these systems for Air Force Association's September 1983 National Symposium on Tactical Air Warfare. He stated that the Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) system would be a vital addition "if Congress provides the needed funds."22 The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) is still "under development."23 He also predicted that the Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) "will be in place by 1988."24

USAF target acquisition and destruction capabilities

Besides providing timely and accurate intelligence, the Air Force must acquire and destroy critical second-echelon targets. To do this, the Air Force must fight through dense, multilayered, mobile defenses and strike large numbers of bridges, combat support facilities, command posts, and armored vehicles of the second echelon.25 AirLand Battle Doctrine stresses using high-technology weapons to achieve success, but, like high-technology intelligence systems, many of these assets are still under development.

Soviet/Warsaw Pact air defenses are highly developed and constantly improving. Addressing the September 1983 National Symposium on Tactical Air Warfare, Colonel Donald R. Arnaiz, Tactical Air Command's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence noted:

Between 1972 and 1980…the Soviets brought out three completely new surface-to-air missiles [SAMs]…Since 1980, two additional systems…have been brought into the inventory, and by the mid-1980s two more new SAM types are expected to achieve operational status.26

Soviet/Warsaw Pact industries produce 28,000 SAMs each year. Although exporting many of these missiles, they also deploy for themselves between three and six times as many as does NATO.27 In fact, the United States Military Posture for FY 1985 states that in 1984 the Soviet/Warsaw Pact will have one tactical SAM system for each NATO aircraft. These defenses are strengthened by large numbers of highly effective, mobile antiaircraft artillery (AAA), such as the ZSU 23-4.28

In addition to SAM and AAA threats, Air Force fighter bombers must cope with increasing numbers of highly capable enemy aircraft. These latter include the Soviets' latest MiG-31 Foxhound and MiG-29 Fulcrum, both with demonstrated look-down/shoot-down capabilities against low-flying fighter-bombers and cruise missiles.29Soviet/Warsaw Pact defenses are not totally impenetrable. The United States Military Posture for FY 1985 states that our tactical aircraft are qualitatively superior and will remain so. Mission-capable rates for most of our aircraft are at all-time highs. Our joint and combined exercises and flying programs provide realistic training and nearly twice the flying time per pilot received by Soviet/Warsaw Pact counterparts.30 Clearly, the present danger is not in diminished force quality.

However, as penetration distances to targets increase, acquisition capability and weapons effectiveness severely decrease. This decrease in effectiveness is particularly pronounced because enemy rear area forces are not as constrained by terrain as those in direct combat, and they can disperse, hide, and limit communications, making them difficult to find and destroy. The long distances involved also afford better warning and defenses, since attackers must run the depth of the SAM/AAA fighter gauntlet.31 In the September 1982 issue of Armed Forces Journal International, Contributing Editor Mark Stewart posed the following argument:

It is difficult to envision a weapons concept that could not be employed more efficiently against…forward echelons than against rear echelons––even if the weapons were specifically designed for attack at the longer ranges.32

In attempting the deep attacks required by AirLand Battle, Air Force capabilities may decrease to the point where Air Force ability to influence the outcome of battle becomes insignificant.

Finally, many of the weapons required to win the AirLand Battle are still under development. A West German study of long-range defense alternatives, cited in the September 1983 Armed Forces Journal International, states that destroying 60 percent of a single Soviet division will require 300 aircraft sorties using new high-technology weapons––weapons still under development. If current weapons are used, destroying 60 percent of that same Soviet division will require 2200 sorties.33

USAF intratheater airlift capabilities

AirLand Battle Doctrine also depends on Air Force intratheater airlift to support ground units striking deep. As units slice into enemy territory, supply lines become critical. If these lines are cut, deep-strike forces must depend on requisitioned local supplies, captured enemy materials, or airdropped assets.34 In the February 1984 Military Review, Lieutenant Colonel Bloomer D. Sullivan, USA, Commander, 4th Supply and Transport Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, analyzed logistics for AirLand Battle and concluded:

The Air Force's capability and commitment to support the deep strike force by airdrop or air delivery in a highly lethal air environment is the key to resupply when ground lines of communication are discontinuous.35

Unfortunately, Air Force capabilities fall far short of requirements. In a July 1982 interview with Armed Forces Journal International, General James R. Allen, former Commander in Chief, Military Airlift Command, stated that Air Force capability for intratheater airlift of outsize cargo (such as tanks) is virtually nonexistent.36 The C-17, which the Air Force wants for this mission, has yet to receive significant congressional funding, and, at present, intratheater airlift depends on C-130 and C-141 aircraft. According to General Allen, there is an airlift shortfall of twenty-five million ton-miles per day, and 60 percent of that shortfall is a C-130/C-141 requirement.37 Because of battlefield unpredictability and competing requirements, units striking deep into enemy territory may find the Air Force unable to meet intratheater airlift requirements.

current Soviet tactical doctrine

The final major problem confronting AirLand Battle is our potential enemy's current doctrine. To a large extent, AirLand Battle is based on presumed Soviet/Warsaw Pact force structure. However, current Soviet emphasis on operational maneuver groups (OMGs) and air assault brigades indicates that a much greater threat exists than any supposed second echelon.

Soviet/Warsaw Pact OMGs are tank-heavy forces. A typical OMG tank division may contain as many as 415 tanks compared to the 325 tanks in a normal Soviet tank division. With this heavy striking power, OMGs are designed to penetrate NATO's defenses quickly, with fighters, armed helicopters, and artillery providing additional fire support.38

These thrusts are to disrupt the enemy rear area, including attacks on C3I and logistics assets, reserves, lines of communications, and key terrain.

An OMG can also counterattack any deeply striking ground forces it might meet. According to Soviet writings, the most critical battlefield event is the time and place that an OMB is committed––not the time and place that the second echelon arrives.39

Soviet air assault brigades will supplement OMGs in any attack against NATO. Previously, Soviet heliborne forces lacked mobility and firepower. Air assault brigades overcome these shortcomings with integral parachute and armored personnel carrier-equipped assault battalions. Like OMGs, air assault brigades depend heavily on fighters and armed helicopters for additional fire support.40

Air assault brigades seize key terrain, such as river crossings, and create opportunities for advancing forces.41 In these missions, they will be supporting OMGs and are perhaps best envisioned as vertical versions of OMGs. The times and places where air assault brigades are committed will also be critical battlefield events.

Jeffrey Record, an outspoken critic of many DOD policies, posed an interesting question in the November 1983 Armed Forces Journal International:

If the Warsaw Pact's first echelon alone is capable of winning a decisive victory, or at least crashing deep enough into NATO Center to shatter the Alliance's political cohesion, of what value would be even the most disruptive strikes on second- and third-echelon Pact forces in Poland and western Russia?42

AirLand Battle Doctrine was developed to offset Soviet/Warsaw Pact numerical advantages in tanks, artillery, aircraft, armored personnel carriers, and soldiers. Basic AirLand Battle requirements are to see deep and strike deep. However, this doctrine makes two faulty assumptions: first, that Soviet/Warsaw Pact forces will deploy in two-echelon configurations and, second, that the U.S. Air Forces can support the extended battle. Furthermore, it ignores significant threats posed by current Soviet doctrine.

Although U.S. Army AirLand Battle Doctrine is based on a Soviet/Warsaw Pact two-echelon structure, strong evidence from history and Soviet military writings indicates that if the Soviets attack Western Europe, they will use single major echelons. U.S./NATO forces attempting substantive strikes against hypothetical second echelons will be striking mirages and wasting valuable resources.

AirLand Battle Doctrine dictates that the U.S. Air Force supply intelligence, acquire and destroy targets, and provide intratheater airlift. However, current tactical and strategic intelligence systems are too few, and often too vulnerable, to meet deep-battle requirements. Moreover, many intelligence systems critical to AirLand Battle are not yet operational. Besides intelligence limitations, the Air Force faces considerable air defenses en route to deep targets. Although these defenses are not impenetrable, as distance to target increases, our acquisition and destruction capability significantly decreases. Like our intelligence systems, many weapons critical to AirLand Battle exist only in the most limited quantities––or not at all. In addition, deep-strike ground forces depend on intratheater airlift, should supply lines be cut. Unfortunately, airlift is one of our most serious shortfalls, and the Air Force, because of higher priorities, may be unable to help.

Finally, AirLand Battle ignores the most serious threats to NATO's forward-deployed defenses––operational maneuver groups and air assault brigades. NATO's greatest danger will not be mythical second echelons far from the main battle. Instead, it will be these quick-striking units driving through our forward defenses and leading major enemy forces.

Doctrine should provide a general blueprint for action that addresses the threat and ensures victory. Doctrine must make the best use of existing resources and capabilities, while guarding against future enemy developments. The concept of deep battle fulfills none of these requirements and therefore should be discarded. Specific deep interdiction missions, particularly against fixed command posts, airfields, etc., are still valid; and we must continue developing weapons to strike these targets. However, a doctrine requiring a lemming-like rush to find and destroy nonexistent second echelons while Soviet/Warsaw Pact front ranks tear through NATO territory is not valid.

The most logical doctrine is to use current intelligence capabilities to locate the most serious threats––operational maneuver groups and air assault brigades. It must use current weapon systems to acquire and destroy those forces before the enemy can commit them. And it must stress maximum coordination and centralized control of all Army and Air Force capabilities throughout the battlefield, so that we can apply force at critical times and places to defeat the enemy. Adopting such changes would not imply lessening the spirits of offensive and initiative. Rather, it would ensure that offensive and initiative were tempered by realistic discipline and accurate knowledge of both our capabilities and limitations and those of our enemy.

Defense Mapping Agency, Office Europe


1. General Donn A. Starry, USA, "Extending the Battlefield," Military Review, March 1981, pp. 31-50.

2. U.S. Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5: Operations (Washington, D.C., 20 August 1982), p. 1-1.

3. Colonel Huba Wass de Czege, USA, "Toward a New American Approach to Warfare," The Art of War Quarterly, September 1983, p. 52.

4. Starry, p. 36.

5. Colonel William G. Hanne, USA, "AirLand Battle: Doctrine, Not Dogma," Military Review, June 1983, p. 17.

6. U.S. Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5, p. 7-17.

7. Lieutenant Colonel L. D. Holder, USA, "Maneuver in the Deep Battle," Military Review, May 1982, p. 55.

8. Starry, p. 38.

9. U.S. Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5, p. 7-14.

10. Starry, p. 37.

11. Joint Service Agreement, USA/USAF Agreement for the Joint Attack of the Second Echelon, 28 November 1984, p. 2.

12. U.S. Department of the Army, Soviet Army Operations, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command Publication IAG-13-U-78, Arlington, April 1978, p. 3-4.

13. Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy, USA (Ret), "Another View: Why Deep Strike Won't Work," Armed Forces Journal International, January 1983, p. 9.

14. Hanne, p. 19.

15. Lieutenant Colonel David M. Glantz, USA, "Soviet Operational Formation for Battle: A Perspective," Military Review, February 1983, p. 9.

16. Ibid., p. 10.

17. Colonel Thomas A. Cardwell III, USAF, "Extending the Battlefield: An Airman's Point of View," Air University Review, March-April 1983, p. 92.

18. Susan H. H. Young, "Gallery of USAF Weapons," Air Force Magazine, May 1983, p. 152.

19. Ibid., pp. 151-52.

20. Ibid.

21. Edgar Ulsamer, "The Threat in Space and Challenges at Lesser Altitudes," Air Force Magazine, March 1984, p. 128.

22. Edgar Ulsamer, "A Roadmap to Tomorrow's Tactical Air Power," Air Force Magazine, December 1983, p. 45.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Starry, p. 37.

26. Ulsamer, "A Roadmap to Tomorrow's Tactical Air Power," p. 43.

27. Anthony J. Cordesman, "The NATO Central Region and the Balance of Uncertainty," Current News Special Edition, 3 August 1983, reprinted from Armed Forces Journal International, July 1983, p. 23.

28. Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Military Posture for FY 1985 (Washington, D.C., 1984), p. 56.

29. Ulsamer, "A Roadmap to Tomorrow's Tactical Air Power," p. 42; John W. R. Taylor, "Gallery of Soviet Aerospace Weapons," Air Force Magazine, March 1984, p. 115.

30. Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pp. 56-58.

31. Mark Stewart, "Second-Echelon Attack: Is the Debate Joined?" Armed Forces Journal International, September 1982, pp. 108-113.

32. Ibid., p. 108.

33. Benjamin F. Schemmer, "Defense Resources Board, Congress Order Early IOC for 'Assault Breaker," Armed Forces Journal International, September 1982, p. 106.

34. Lieutenant Colonel Bloomer D. Sullivan, USA, "Logistical Support for the AirLand Battle," Military Review, February 1984, pp. 5-6; Lieutenant Colonel John S. Doerfel, USA, "The Operational Art of the AirLand Battle," Military Review, May 1982, p. 9.

35. Sullivan, p. 131.

36. LuAnne K. Levens and Benjamin F. Schemmer, "Interview with General James R. Allen, CINCMAC," Armed Forces Journal International, July 1982, p. 54.

37. Ibid.

38. Cordesman, p. 17.

39. C. N. Donnelly, "The Soviet Operational Maneuver Group; A New Challenge for NATO," Military Review, March 1983, pp. 54-55.

40. Major Roger E. Bort, USA, "Air Assault Brigades: New Element in the Soviet Desant Force Structure," Military Review, October 1983, p. 36.

41. Ibid., p. 29.

42. Jeffrey Record, "NATO's Forward Defense and Striking Deep," Armed Forces Journal International, November 1983, p. 46.


Major Jon S. Powell (B.S., M.S., University of Arizona; M.S., University of Southern California) is the Plans and Requirements Officer for the Defense Mapping Agency Office Europe. His previous duties have included Chief, Plans, Programs, and Research Division at Squadron Officer School and assignments in logistics and intelligence. Major Powell is a Distinguished Graduate of Squadron Officer School and a graduate of Air Command and Staff College, Army Command and General Staff College, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and Armed Forces Staff 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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