What’s Wrong With FM 3-0? Well, Most People Haven’t Actually Read It

The Long March

The current edition of “FM 3-0 (Operations),” published in October 2017, represents a departure from the U.S. Army’s historical approach to its tactical doctrine for large scale ground combat.

Understanding how different it is requires an understanding of how we addressed operations by large units – armies, corps, divisions, and brigades – in previous versions of FM 3-0 and its 100-5 predecessors. It also requires that one read the entire publication and understand the current strategic and operational environment of contemporary great power competition and conflict. FM 3-0 is written for today, not the Cold War.

Maj. Jamie Schwandt’s recent article on “The Long March” stated the following:

It appears as though we have decided that insurgents are no longer a threat and we would rather fight a near-peer enemy. In the new field manual, FM 3-0 Operations, the U.S. Army has apparently decided to forget past lessons learned. FM 3-0 signals a shift in military strategy and a focus back to large-scale ground combat operations against near-peer threats, where belligerents possess technology and capabilities similar to the U.S. military. Essentially, we no longer want to do the “Vietnam or Iraq thing” again.

What’s odd here is we find similarities when comparing the latest FM 3-0, published in October 2017, to FM 100-5 Operations of Army Forces in the Field, published in September 1968 while Gen. William Westmoreland was the Army chief of staff. FM 3-0 resembles the losing strategy Westmoreland used in Vietnam. He sought victory by winning a head-to-head war by “grinding down” the enemy.

The application of doctrine requires judgment. We say so explicitly in ADP 1-01 (Doctrine Primer). Doctrine and strategy are not synonyms, and conflating the two is a mistake. Doctrine provides the ingredients that operational artists measure and mix into different recipes appropriate for a specific situation. Others have written eloquently about Westmoreland’s failings so I won’t, but I would say he was dealing with three separate problems simultaneously: a conventional threat, an insurgency, and the lack of an effective military-political partner. Focusing on one issue and indicting all doctrine, then or now, is a mistake.

We are not walking away from COIN or any other type of operation just because we published new doctrine for large-scale ground combat operations. We filled a doctrinal gap. We had no tactical doctrine for large units conducting large-scale ground combat since the previous FM 3-0 was rescinded in 2011. Our strategic level leadership, from the Secretary of Defense to the Army Chief of Staff, has repeatedly stated that the possibility (not probability) of large-scale combat against peer threats like Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. We needed warfighting doctrine to address the most dangerous aspects of the contemporary operational environment, not just those with which we are most personally familiar.

Our COIN, stability, security cooperation, and peacekeeping doctrine remains relevant and in use daily by 180,000+ Soldiers forward positioned in CENTCOM, AFRICOM, EUCOM, SOUTHCOM, and PACOM. We continuously incorporate lessons learned from the forces conducting such activities. Those missions and tasks are simply NOT the primary focus of FM 3-0, although we address many of them in the broad category of stability tasks, a key element of Decisive Action. FM 3-0 discusses them in detail as part of operations to shape and prevent in chapters 2 & 3. FM 3-0 also emphasizes that the tasks we execute while shaping, preventing, and consolidating heavily influence our ability to prevail in large scale ground combat. There is no "either-or" mindset in FM 3-0.

FM 3-0 addresses the range of military operations that encompass both competition and conflict, in accordance with the Army strategic roles. Consolidation of gains, which requires effective execution of offensive, defensive, and stability tasks, is central to the narrative. No previous operational level doctrine linked strategic purpose to operations and the tasks assigned to Army echelons to achieve a desired end state. That’s why we described what winning looks like during operations that support each strategic role.

The Army Chief of Staff has repeatedly said that our benchmark of readiness is not our ability to conduct those types of operations for which we get months or longer to prepare. Rather, it is our ability to conduct large-scale ground combat against peer or near-peer regional threats (Russia, China, Iran, North Korea), which “are come as you are fights” of scale, scope, and lethality that exceed anything done since the Korean War. You have time to adapt down from that level of readiness without accepting a lot of risk to the mission or risk to the force. You cannot adapt an Army “up” to large-scale ground combat in wartime without suffering heavy losses and potential early defeat.

We need professional discourse about doctrine, particularly FM 3-0, across the Army. FM 3-0 is imperfect, and we need people to read it if we are going to have informed conversations about how to make it better. Opinions about opinions will not get us where we need to be. I congratulate Maj. Schwandt for beginning what I hope to be an ongoing and powerful discussion about how FM 3-0 should evolve. Our Army will be better off for it.

Col. Rich Creed is director of the Army’s Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and one of the authors of the new edition of FM 3-0. His team is revising other parts of doctrine to align with FM 3-0 over the next two years. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the United States Army.

In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

Read More Show Less

An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

Read More Show Less

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in 2014, earlier on Sunday saw coastguard boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially be handed over to Ukraine.

Read More Show Less