The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Doctrine after Vietnam

Lieutenant General John H. Cushman, Combined Arms Center (CAC)Commander 1973-1976, and General William E. DePuy, US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Commander 1973-1976, had dyametrically opposed views of the purpose and nature of army doctrine. Ultimately, General Depuy’s view won out, resulting in the ineffective 1976 FM 100-5 focused on the concept of the “Active Defense.” General Cushman’s opposing view which included a nuanced view of war-fighting; emphasized education over training; and focused on creative thinking over predictable solutions, was the loser. Depuy’s view is largely credited with setting the conditions for the transformation to the successful “Airland Battle” doctrine of the 1980s. Did the army make an error following Depuy’s doctrinal view, and how does this debate provide insights into the on-going doctrinal transformation of the 21st Century? Was Depuy just “Lucky?”

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March 21, 2014 - Posted by | H300, leadership, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. General DePuy’s concept of Active Defense and the resultant Air Land Battle strategy was vital for modernization of the U.S. Army following Vietnam. Much like today, severe budget constraints make it vital to be able to tie requests for funding to specific items as vital to the National Security Strategy. Without being able to show Congress why the equipment/troops/weapons are vital it is nearly impossible to sell the allocation of funds for these projects. In the budget constrained and volatile post-Vietnam period, Gen DePuy successfully sold his defense strategy to the DoD and Congress using solid metrics to make the argument for development of the force. Using this tactic, Gen DePuy’s used Active Defense and Air Land Battle to justify the development and fielding of the “Big 5” (Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Abrams Tank, Apache Attack Helicopter, Blackhawk Helicopter, Stinger Missile). Once modern weapon systems and capable equipment were in the Army inventory, the strategy could shift to more of what General Cushman had envisioned, a focus on doctrine and training.

    This tactic should be considered and used today in order to maintain the necessary force size and equipment required for the force. It is going to be vital for the Army to sell a solid message on their strategy that can be displayed using clear metrics and a real threat. Army strategy must evolve and go beyond the tactics and strategy of the War of Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan if they want to maintain a significant piece of the budget pie. While Strategic Landpower seems to have been one approach, it was heavily focused on special operations (who seem to have benefitted in the proposed budget) where the Army was unable to convince the DoD or Congress that a large land force is still required. The Air Force and Navy have been working to sell Air Sea Battle as part of the nation’s Pivot to the Asia-Pacific Region. Under the Navy’s plan, afloat staging bases, prepositioning ships, aircraft carriers and engagement opportunities have been sold as vital capabilities and as such, survived the budget cuts for the most part.

    The bottom line is that the U.S. Army did not make a mistake following DePuy. A solid strategy that is both easy to understand and easy to display is vital to maintain funding or gain a portion of the budget for equipment and personnel and this is exactly what DePuy’s Active Defense strategy provided. Once the required force size and modern equipment become part of the approved budget, the focus can shift to training and doctrine. If done in reverse, there is danger that training and doctrine will advance but force size and equipment will suffer and will not be able to ramp-up to meet the emerging threat as these often take longer to develop and field. The threat and strategy should be used to justify the budget and then training and doctrine developed. It is of less importance if the eventual threat and strategy are later disproven because by then, the equipment and force size will have been justified.

    Comment by LCDR Matthew Krull | March 24, 2014


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