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Sweeping Changes Ahead in Military Doctrine to Meet Current Threat

    By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

    WASHINGTON, June 4, 2004 - Military doctrine needs to be less detailed, more adaptable and less rooted in Cold War mindsets to guide U.S. military forces confronting new challenges, particularly global terrorism.

That was the synopsis of Army leaders, who gathered this week at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command headquarters at Fort Monroe, Va., to describe sweeping changes they envision in military doctrine - that shared way of thinking about the way the military approaches a problem and carries out missions.

Lt. Gen. William "Scott" Wallace heads the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and commanded the Army's 5th Corps in leading Army forces during major combat action in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said much of the combat phase of the campaign followed closely along age-old doctrinal principles.

But other aspects of the operation diverged significantly from traditional doctrine, he said: the lack of clear-cut distinctions between the phases of operations, the increased blend between conventional and special operations forces, the emphasis on joint operations at increasing lower levels, among them.

Perhaps most significant, the Army leaders agreed, was the nature of the enemy himself and the way he fights.

Under Cold War assumptions, which guided military doctrine for decades, the adversary was relatively steady and predictable, explained Brig. Gen. David Fastabend, director of concept development and experimentation at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Futures Center.

Not so with the estimated 30 million to 60 million people in the world who Fastabend said are "violently and irreconcilably opposed" to the concepts the United States and much of the world has embraced: globalization, free markets and the free exchange of ideas.

This enemy, Fastabend said, lacks the structure of the U.S. military as well as its traditional adversaries, so it's able to adapt quickly to suit the circumstances. "Its weakness is actually its strength," he said. In addition, these adversaries simply don't think the way most other people think, making it difficult to understand what motivates them or predict how they'll act.

These uncertainties, the Army leaders agreed, turn many doctrinal principles rooted in the Cold War on their head. "Both the predictions and outcomes have changed," Wallace said.

In response, Wallace said doctrine must become more streamlined so it's more of a playbook than a textbook and gives commanders more flexibility on the battlefield. "If you're looking for specificity in doctrine, you're not going to get it," he said.

Similarly, as the enemy constantly adapts, so too must military doctrine, the leaders agreed. Gone are the days when doctrine required little more than periodic tweaking to stay current. More appropriate for today's military, they agreed, would be a "living" doctrine that regularly incorporates new, proven tactics, techniques, procedures and other lessons learned.

Fastabend said doctrine needs to be detailed enough to help military leaders think and reason through an issue, but general enough to prepare them for "more dimensions of uncertainty" than they faced in the past.

As the armed forces face these uncertainties, the military leaders agreed the fundamentals of warfare - being able to shoot, communicate and move on the battlefield - become more important than ever.

"When you've got that, you can deal better with uncertainty. It makes it easier to do things nonstandard and unusual," Wallace said. "If you have the fundamentals right, you can deal with the broken play."