Cold War Tactical Doctrine

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This page is intended to describe Cold War era tactical doctrine to help with scenario design.

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Reference Data for Firefight

Firefight was a boardgame (from SPI, 1985) that modeled tactical level combat at a scale of 50m per hex. The game itself was notable for the day, and was converted by many into a miniatures game, but was later overshadowed by the more superior and detailed MBT boardgame (from Avalon Hill, 1989), which was also converted to a miniatures game.

The most under appreciated part of the Firefight game was its "Modern Combat Reference Data" book, which had a generally well written comparison and contrasting summary of Cold War tactical doctrine. The summary provided a good general description to get the basics of the US and Soviet Cold War tactical doctrine, without having to study actual military manuals (but of course the manuals would be a superior source of information).

NOTE: FM 100-2-1 (The Soviet Army Organizations and Tactics) and ST 100-7 (OPFOR Battle Book) are much superior and detailed sources, but this page is intended a short general summary of tactics. ST 100-7 was intended to be used by OPFOR units for training purposes (such as at Ft. Irwin, NTC), but it is often considered easier to digest than FM 100-2-1.

FM 100-2-1 The Soviet Army Organizations and Tactics
ST-100 OPFOR Battle Book

It has been recognized that this summary of Cold War doctrine could help Steel Beasts scenario designers who want to create Cold War scenarios, so the text is recreated here.

(Keep in mind that this summary was written in either the late 1970s or early 1980s (probably between 1979-1984) so some of the description is based on the then changing doctrines of the early 1980s.)


Irad B. Hardy
Stephen B. Patrick
Frederic Georgian
(SPI, 1985)

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Tactical Doctrine


U.S. Doctrine

The entire gamut of U.S. tactical doctrine has undergone examination and revision in the past several years. Movement to contact is one of the major areas which has been changed. In the past, the maneuver battalions either road-marched in columns or moved across country in some variation of line abreast. The most common of those formations was the wedge and, for the infantry, the diamond. But the 1973 Arab-Israeli War showed that regular formations were easily identified and the units picked off by an enemy in a prepared defensive position. In addition, the old concept was to have as much fire power as possible up front. This meant a very strong response to enemy contact, but, by the same token, an enemy ambush could effectively wipe out a force before it could react. This led to the realization that in modern warfare what can be seen can usually be hit and if it can be hit, it can usually be killed. The result was the development of a three-tiered scheme of movement to contact.

The first phase, when enemy contact is not likely, is known as "traveling." Traveling is the most rapid means of advance and it is essentially the old concept of movement in column. The difference is that while there is a lead element, such as a platoon for a company, the following elements can either be in a single column or they can be in two parallel columns. If enemy contact is possible, but not probable, traveling over-watch is used. In light of the possible enemy contact, it is a slower-moving formation since it requires a certain degree of responsiveness not required in the traveling situation. In traveling overwatch, all elements keep moving but the elements which are following the lead element stay close enough so that if contact is made, they can support that element by fire with a minimal amount of maneuvering. This formation requires the ability to respond quickly to unexpected enemy contact. Therefore the distance between the lead elements and those following is determined by the terrain. The lead element will be far enough ahead that if it is fired upon, the following elements are not also endangered, but, at the same time, the following elements must remain close enough that they can quickly support the lead element if it encounters resistance. Finally, if enemy contact is expected, bounding overwatch is used. Under this form of maneuver, one element assumes the bounding role and the other the overwatch role. This is the slowest means of advance. The slowness is dictated by the requirementthat the overwatching element must be in a good overwatching position before the bounding element moves out. This is usually dictated by terrain features, cover and concealment and fields of fire—elements which occur again and again in small unit tactics as key considerations. Once the overwatch element is in position, the bounding element can move forward. It moves as far forward as it safely can and still keep within the area of protective fires of the overwatching element. How far this bound will be is, again, determined by terrain. Open terrain will permit a longer bound than terrain with clumps of trees and a rolling nature, which would obscure the observation and fields of fire of the overwatching element. Since the overwatching element's task is to bring fire on enemy positions, in any event, the length of the bound will be well short of the maximum effective range of the overwatching weapons since it is undesireable for the bounding element to "flush out" the enemy at the extreme range of the overwatching weapons. When the bounding element has reached its next position, it then acts as the overwatching element so that the element which is on the rearward position can move forward. It is the moving element which is most vulnerable to enemy fire. Moreover, movement attracts attention by itself and draws attention away from elements which are not moving. Once the two elements are together again on the same basic line, either the original bounding element moves forward again or the former overwatching element becomes the bounding element. In fact, it is not mandatory that the former overwatching element stop on the same line as the former bounding element. It can move right on past to a more forward position. This leap-frogging technique is more rapid than halting on line with the original bounding element and having that element move forward again.

The important part about all of these techniques of movement is that they afford flexibility in deployment, afford varying degrees of protection for the leading element, and, most importantly, ensure that only a small element will make contact with the enemy initially. This is important as it automatically reduces the number of potential losses if the precise enemy positions are not known. If the enemy has a good defensive position, he will try to destroy as many vehicles or men as possible when he initially opens fire and he will not open fire until the advancing force is within range to ensure kills. In this way, even though the positions are now revealed, the defender will draw "first blood" and so badly cripple the advancing force that it will not be able to effectively fight back. In fact, under the overwatch technique, the advancing force does not have the principle responsibility of returning fire. Its main function is to get to cover or, if possible, overrun the enemy positions while the overwatching forces put down fire to suppress the enemy defensive fires.

Once contact is made, the lead elements must promptly react to find out the size, nature and dispositions of the enemy. As the movement to contact involves using only a small element to lead the way and make initial contact, the following element must be prepared to react. In a battalion, the lead company may be moving by bounding over-watch while the following company or companies may be moving by traveling overwatch to permit rapid deployment in the event of contact. Once contact is made, the preferred technique to use is the hasty attack. Maximum use is made of suppressive fires—both high explosive artillery and mortar fires, as well as smoke, from the indirect fire weapons and the tanks. Smoke is valuable since the goal in a hasty attack is to disrupt the enemy target acquisition means and disrupt his command control. Advance must be rapid and the U.S. control of forces must be firm since indecision can be very costly in a hasty attack. Once enemy strongpoints are encountered, an effort is made to slide off them and drive to the enemy rear between strongpoints. This bypassing of enemy positions represents a departure from older doctrine. Formerly, bypassing was very unusual in the initial breakthrough operations, but the Soviets deliberately design their strongpoints with the goal of having the attacker dash its forces to pieces trying to overwhelm them. Key terrain should be seized when necessary to prevent its use by the enemy or if necessary in order to dominate enemy positions and lines of communications. This, too, is a departure from former technique since past practice turned on key terrain being taken or controlled. Now, if the capture of key terrain is not necessary, that, too, is bypassed. Merely seizing key terrain for its own sake is to be avoided because that may cost time, which could have been better spent in getting into the enemy rear.

If it is necessary to attack an enemy strong-point, the attack should be made on a narrow front. This minimizes the amount of fires the enemy can bring against the attacking force and permits greater concentration of attacking forces at that point. Preferably attacks should be made at weak points in enemy positions. A rapid, vigorous attack is necessary to ascertain exactly what the enemy situation is. It may be that the enemy positions are too strong for a hasty attack to succeed. As a result, it is imperative that the commander have firm command of his troops, know exactly what is going on and assess rapidly and accurately whether the hasty attack will succeed or whether it will be necessary to make a deliberate attack. In a hasty attack, more than at any other time, rapid and accurate reporting is necessary.

The hasty attack makes use of the principle of fire and maneuver. In execution it is much like bounding overwatch. However, instead of merely watching for the enemy to reveal his positions, the firing element knows where the enemy is and lays down the base of fire necessary for the maneuvering element to advance. As already mentioned, the bypass is a critical element in the hasty attack. It is executed by having one element engage the enemy strongpoint with sufficient fire both to keep the enemy defensive fire down and to keep the enemy troops in position so they cannot move to block the bypassing force. It is important, however, that bypassing not be done without permission of the next higher headquarters. This is to ensure that that headquarters knows where enemy troops have been bypassed and the general nature of the bypassed force. Then plans can be made to deal with the bypassed strongpoints at a later time.

When well-prepared defensive positions exist, a deliberate attack may be necessary. The advance is halted to permit this type of attack to be made. The enemy positions are reconnoitered, a detailed, well-coordinated plan prepared, the organization of the company/teams rearranged and reinforcements received, as necessary. Since the Soviets use the strongpoint concept in their defense, the key is to isolate a portion of the battlefield, usually by suppressive fire and smoke, and attempt to overwhelm that position. In that isolated area at least a 6:1 advantage for the attacker is considered necessary.

In keeping with the deliberateness of the attack, the attacking force is reorganized into three elements: the breaching force, an assault force and a support force. The breaching force, a single platoon of the company/team, breeches enemy obstacles at key points. The assault force covers the breaching force by fire and, once the breaches are made, moves through them to assault the enemy position with the breaching force resuming its normal function and assisting in the attack. Engineers are used to widen the breach. The assault force, in this type of situation, as well as the breaching force, will normally be dismounted infantry. Finally, the support force—the tanks and infantry carriers—provides supporting and suppressive fires. It is important in the deliberate attack that the assault force does not get bogged down fighting dug-in positions. Penetration and bypass are still used in a deliberate attack.

Once the enemy has been driven from the position, rather than automatically halting and consolidating the objective, pressure is maintained. In this way, the enemy has no time to mount a counter-attack. If a continued advance is not possible, then consolidation is required. The enemy would then be cleared from the objective and plans made to meet any counter-attacks and to continue the attack when it is possible. In addition, the U.S. force will reorganize; that is, take the various necessary steps to maintain combat effectiveness, such as reporting on casualties and fuel and ammunition expenditure, redistribution of supplies and equipment and so forth.

When a breakthrough has been achieved, the U.S. forces then attempt to move into the exploitation phase. This involves deep penetration of rear area support, lines of communications and disruption of reinforcements. Following a successful exploitation, the advance would then shift to a pursuit. In the pursuit, the objective is the destruction of the enemy. Bypass and encirclement is the practice.

An important change in emphasis is the increased attention paid to night operations in the U.S. Army. In the past, the U.S. Army has been notorious for teaching but rarely practicing night operations. This is changing. A major part of this change is attributable to the passive night vision devices which have recently come into the system and which give much greater visibility in times of limited visibility than ever before. A second factor favoring night operations is the change in emphasis in tactical doctrine. It has now been recognized that keeping the pressure on the enemy is critical. To stop and halt for the night gives the enemy a chance to do the same and can undo any successes of the previous day in terms of breaking the enemy's ability to defend. Night operations are broadly similar to day operations, but, because the night vision devices afford a narrower field of vision, night operations decidedly favor the defender. The major difference between day and night offensive operations will be in the deliberate attack. Because it is only used against a strong defensive position, it should be avoided at night since the strong defensive position already favors the defender considerably. The additional edge of the night makes a successful deliberate attack very hard to achieve.

In the advance, the question of whether tanks or infantry leads is not related to the type of U.S. unit involved; that is, whether it is a tank-heavy team or an infantry-heavy team. It is the tactical and terrain situation which controls. If the terrain has good traffic-ability and presents no obstacles to mounted movement and if enemy anti-armor fires can be effectively suppressed by fire and/or smoke, then the tanks normally lead and the infantry follows, remaining mounted if mechanized. On the other hand, if there are obstacles to mounted movement which cannot be bypassed, or if effective anti-armor weapons fire cannot be suppressed or destroyed or conditions severely limit the tank's observation and fields of fire, or built-up areas which cannot be bypassed or areas such as marshes or un-fordable bodies of water lie across the route of advance, then the infantry will lead and may move dismounted. The tanks would then support their movement by fire.

Obviously, more often than not, the situation will be a mix of factors favoring tanks leading and favoring the infantry leading. The Israelis' had excellent tank terrain against Egypt in 1973, but could not adequately suppress Egyptian anti-tank fires. In Europe. terrain may well prevent long-range fires. In all cases, the emphasis is on making maximum use of terrain to avoid revealing friendly positions and avoid exposing friendly forces to enemy fire.

The battalion/task force will normally have three company-sized units which will, in turn, be cross-attached to give at least two, teams. In the offense, one company/team is normally kept in the reserve, following the company/team where the commander expects the greatest resistance or where the company/team can then be committed when the situation requires without moving too far from its initial position, though it can also swing over to assist the other leading company/team if the situation requires.

Soviet Doctrine

The Soviet system in the offense is more rigid than the U.S. system. As has already been noted, the Soviets are more rigid in their attachment system and do not really tailor their units for the combat mission. Rather, they cross-attach as a rule, regardless of whether the situation makes it advantageous or not. On the other hand, the system the Soviets use means that the motorized rifle company will retain its three platoons and gain the attached tank platoon, while the U.S. system leaves the company/team with still only three platoons. The result is to reduce the numerical advantage the U.S. has in having basically larger companies.

In a Soviet movement to contact, the tanks will normally lead, followed by the infantry, mounted in the BMP carriers. The BMP's have four Sagger anti-tank missiles apiece to provide anti-tank fire for the attack. Behind the infantry come the BRDM's, wheeled vehicles attached from the anti-tank company of the regiment. The BRDM carries fourteen Sagger's, six ready to fire at any time. Finally, the command element follows, rather than being located in the middle of the formation, as would be common in U.S. practice.

The tanks are to the front for the Soviets because of the emphasis placed on the offensive and the feeling that only tanks can really make the offensive go. The Soviets recognize three forms of the offensive: the movement to contact/meeting engagement, the breakthrough, and the pursuit, with the meeting engagement considered to be the most likely technique. As a result, high emphasis is placed on mobility. This order of march in a movement to contact is one which permits the Soviet forces to deploy rapidly into attack formations. The concept of moving by bounds is not used. Rather, the Soviets • are especially fond of mass and will employ a major part of their effort in bringing a substantial amount of firepower to bear at the critical point, both from ground forces and artillery. The Soviets will often have two direct support artillery battalions in support of a maneuver battalion, whereas the U.S. will have, perhaps, two battalions supporting a brigade of three to five battalions. The only counterpart to the Soviet system is the concept of the dedicated battery, discussed elsewhere. The Soviet artillery preparation may involve up to 2000 rounds while the Soviet forces move up to their attack positions.

In a company attack, the tanks will lead the assault, employed in sections or as a platoon. The infantry will remain mounted as long as possible (which is common in U.S. doctrine, also, if tanks lead). Tank fires are either by section or by platoons on a single target, rather than the individual engagements which characterize U.S. tank employment.

When contact is made, a hasty attack will be launched, preceded by a rapid reconnaissance to test enemy strength. The Soviets like to probe with a pair of reconnaissance vehicles, such as the PT-76 or BRDM-2.

A direct comparison between Soviet and U.S. offensive techniques is difficult because the Soviets deploy in echelon, a concept not really used in the U.S. Army. The echelon concept will have an additional element—the first echelon—which consists of two-thirds of the attacking force. The first echelon has the mission of seizing the principal objectives. The second echelon, the remaining third, takes care of secondary objectives and mops up pockets left by the advancing first echelon. The echelon concept is used at regimental level and above, but impacts directly on lower units.

Returning to the company and battalion, if they meet an enemy position which is stronger than they are, they will detail a sufficient force to pin the enemy and bypass with the main force, leaving the second echelon to reduce the enemy pocket. An essential to the Soviet offensive concept is mobility and deep penetration. This is why the main force tries to bypass, rather than destroy the enemy. This concept is carried out in the doctrine of seeking a breakthrough, avoiding the main enemy defensive positions, and driving deep into their rear. The Soviet battalion keeps a small reserve, whereas the U.S. will keep a company/team in reserve—a third of the typical battalion/ task force strength. Momentum is the keynote of the Soviet offensive procedures. In advance of a division, the Soviets make greater use of an advance guard than does the U.S. This advance guard, like the organization of the main body for movement, is rather rigid in organization. It will be about a battalion in strength with a reinforced platoon usually constituting the point. Up to one-half day's movement in front of the point will be either the division recon battalion or the regimental recon company. The vanguard, moving behind the point, will be the remainder of the company furnishing the point platoon and behind that will be the main guard, consisting of the remainder of the advance guard battalion. Both tank and motorized rifle battalions will attack with tanks forward, regardless of terrain. Of course, the tank battalion will have more tanks forward to reflect its mix. The motorized rifle battalion will also maintain an anti-tank reserve, but this is not used in the tank battalion.

The Soviets regard pursuit as the second phase of an offensive operation. The deliberate attack, as such, has no specific place in the Soviet system, though it must be assumed that they are capable of conducting such an attack, regardless of the name. Likewise, there is no exploitation phase. The Soviets consider that the next step in a successful attack will be the pursuit phase. The Soviets allow their commanders greater freedom in this phase than the U.S. system. The pursuit is automatically initiated in the Soviet system when the enemy tries to break contact and starts to withdraw. In the U.S. system, pursuit is not initiated without approval of higher headquarters. The Soviet pursuit doctrine involves a portion of their force in keeping direct pressure on the withdrawing enemy in order to slow their rate of withdrawal. At the same time, a second force, moving parallel with the withdrawing enemy force, tries to get to the enemy rear. Also, airborne and airmobile forces will at this time be inserted in the rear of the withdrawing enemy to hold them in place while the pursuing force crushes the withdrawing force. In general outline, Soviet pursuit is about like the U.S. concept.


U.S. Doctrine (pre-1980s)

U.S. defensive operations are also undergoing a major change. The Soviets are expected to enjoy a substantial superiority in numbers in any potential U.S.-Soviet conflict, both due to the actual numbers of the forces involved, and the Soviet doctrine of concentrating a considerable force at the planned breakthrough point. This means that U.S. forces must be especially adept at defending against a superior force.

Basically, the U.S. recognizes two defensive missions: to defend and hold and to fight from battle positions. In the defend and hold mission, the defending forces must retain a specific area or specific positions until ordered to do otherwise. A battle positions mission requires the defender to organize a series of positions in depth which are occupied, abandoned and reoccupied as necessary.

Regardless of the mission, a unit will normally have three echelons of positions to deal with: those which they must initially occupy, those which must be prepared for future occupation (and which are not necessarily to the rear of the initial positions) and a third set of positions to be reconnoitered and prepared as time permits.

In preparing a defensive position, high speed armored routes of advance—not only to the front, but to the flanks and rear—must be identified and covered. Armored kill zones must be selected and positions in depth are required to permit coverage of assigned defensive sectors. Defensive positions, especially those for anti-armor weapons, have to be selected with a view to restricting opportunities for being overrun. However, care should be taken not to occupy obvious cover which will be a logical target for reconnaissance by fire. The objective of the defense is to slow the enemy advance, force the attacker to deploy and dismount the infantry. Hopefully the enemy will be forced to attempt to bypass, thereby exposing the flanks and rear of their vehicles. Denial of covered routes of approach is important in order to permit bringing the enemy under long range fires. The use of obstacles—both natural and man-made—performs a key role in doing this. Minefields set out as obstacles and barriers to improve natural obstacles, as well as old but effective means such as felled trees and cratered roads will assist in forcing the enemy out into the open.

A key objective of the defense is to destroy enemy force integrity. Where possible, flank and rear attacks are better then frontal attacks. This not only takes advantage of the fact that armor is weaker on the flanks and rear, but also that advancing forces habitually look to the front. This means that while an anti-tank weapon might get the first round off and destroy an enemy tank, it may well be detected if firing from the front, but chances are better that it will not be seen firing if it fires from the flank and even better if it fires from the rear.

Former doctrine considered accepting a certain amount of penetration which would then be crushed by a pre-planned counterattack or, in the alternative, destroying the enemy forward of friendly positions by long range fires. These concepts all tended toward a linear defense with everything on the line except for the reserve.

Newer thinking relaxes the linear defense in favor of a defense in depth. Destruction of the enemy at long range is still a desired goal, but it is recognized that this may not be possible. If the enemy gets in close, to rest everything on a timely counter-attack seems to be an unlikely tactic, since such an overwhelming number of troops will be used by the enemy that there may be critical penetrations in several places, rather than just one neatly foreseen at the time the defense was planned. The solution has been the strongpoint concept, which makes a defense in depth work. These strongpoints are set up with alternate and supplementary positions to permit the unit occupying them to displace as the tactical situation requires. The strong-points are integrated with the fields of fire of anti-armor weapons and obstacles to canalize the enemy advance and force the enemy to slow down and deploy.

The large reserve which was typical of the mobile defense is broken up into smaller elements, normally of platoon size in a battalion/task force defense, which are deployed throughout the defensive sector. They are not used to smash the enemy penetration, but, instead, the reserve strengthens the forward area by adding density against a dismounted attack; or it can be used to set up a blocking position to halt an advance which threatens to destroy the integrity of the defense; or it can be used to restore or reinforce other defensive positions or to attack enemy flanks or rear. The initial location for the reserve will be in the rear of the battle area along the most dangerous armor approach.

The basic defensive position is based on the platoon, though company and battalion sized positions can be used if the terrain and tactical situation favors that. Positions are prepared for 360 degree defense, if at all possible. This is an important change since it implies a willingness to remain in position if bypassed in order to attack the enemy rear.

An innovation is the concept of a tactical area of responsibility (TAOR). The former technique simply divided a battalion into company/team sectors, with boundaries, and left it to the company/team in each sector to handle that sector. The TAOR is used when more than one company is integrated into the defense of a given sector and it is desirable to coordinate their activities. The company/ team within a TAOR has total responsibility for defense within the TAOR while the defense outside the TAOR is the responsibility ' of the battalion/task force commander. The result might be two goose eggs-boundaries representing two company TAOR's. The companies would be solely responsible inside of the goose eggs, but outside of them, and insofar as it is necessary to integrate the fire of the two companies, the battalion/task force would be responsible.

Another major departure is a designated armor kill zone. A major goal of defensive operations, especially when dealing with the Soviets, who emphasize tanks, APC's and high mobility, is to canalize the enemy armor into a location where it can be destroyed. The armor kill zone turns on being able to bring fires on enemy flanks and rear. It is helped by a blocking position, either physically manned or set up using natural and man-made obstacles, in order to restrict the ability of the force trapped in the kill zone to maneuver out of danger. It is the flank and rear fire which is the key to the kill zone since it not only brings fire on the more vulnerable areas of armored vehicles, but it has a major disruptive effect on the enemy advance. The enemy finds itself suddenly attacked from every side, perhaps unable either to advance or to withdraw due to the fire and blocking positions, and forced to give its attention in every direction but the one in which it really wants to go.

The key to the whole defense now becomes a series of pre-planned positions. Previously a unit might fall back to a new position under enemy pressure, but it would normally not leave its sector unless as part of a delay or an advance. Now, units can, as part of their defense, expect to move to multiple positions (rearward, laterally and even forward). For example, if the enemy is coming into the center of the battalion/task force sector, the flanking elements may well move forward in order to concentrate their fires on the proposed kill zones.

This system of multiple positions also permits another departure from past practice. Formerly, it was quite possible for one part of the sector to be attacked and the other part left alone. The inactive section of the sector would simply wait out the results in the active part. Now, if it is determined that the main attack is going into one area, the quiet sectors may be thinned out or even abandoned in order to move the necessary firepower to the critical point in the defense.

The net result of this is that a great deal of activity must now take place in the U.S. defense. Whereas before there were nominally supplemental and alternate positions, which were more often ignored than even planned for, now those positions must not only be selected, but prepared and marked so that, as the situation requires, the unit can move to that position and fight from it.

Soviet Doctrine

The Soviets view defense as a temporary expedient, to be employed locally, while on the offensive elsewhere, or while consolidating an objective. They again use the echelon concept, as was done in the offensive.

The Soviet doctrine allows for a hasty, mobile defense, or a deliberate,. area defense. The hasty defense, as its name implies, is set up on a rapid basis. It makes use of a large reserve to crush any enemy penetration and is focused around anti-armor weaponry, as is the case with U.S. doctrine. The principle of armored kill zones is followed by the Soviets and they will accept being bypassed as they, too, use the all-around defense concept. The first echelon will set up the kill zones and have their own counter-attack forces. The second echelon will have the main counterattack force. The main weakness in this is that of the forces massing for the counterattack. They are ideal targets for nuclear weapons and, more importantly, the counterattack is central to the defense. If it fails, the defense is shot since the penetration which triggered the need for the counter-attack will have already gone through most of the first echelon before the counter-attack is launched.

The deliberate defense is more formal. It has a main defense belt consisting of battalion strongpoints on likely avenues of approach in two echelons. A security zone beginning 20 to 30 -kilometers in front of the main defense belt has covering troops to locate, and determine the axis of the attack. Immediately (5km) in front of the main defense belt is a forward defensive area containing company-sized strongpoints positioned to deceive the attacker as to the location of the main defense and to weaken him early in the battle. Both the motorized rifle division and tank division retain at least a tank regiment in the second echelon of the main defense because ultimately the deliberate defense turns on the counter-attack as did the hasty defense. The counter-attack, in Soviet terms, is based on the tank playing a decisive role. Counter-attacks are formed and executed by elements above battalion level.

The area or deliberate defense is used when the offensive will be halted for more than a l w hours. Shorter halts will result in the hasty defense. The principal difference between the U.S. and Soviet defense is in the use of strongpoints. The U.S. will abandon strongpoints as required, while the Soviets, aside from being able to switch for all-around defense, do not do this.


U.S. Doctrine

The third major phase of tactical operations is the retrograde. The retrograde is a planned movement away from the enemy. This, in turn, requires freedom of action in order to accomplish the movement. For the U.S. Army, a primary means of affording this freedom of action is the use of anti-armor weapons positioned along principal enemy armor approach routes. In this context, primary enemy armor approaches mean areas where platoons or larger forces can be deployed in a line formation and keep an adequate rate of movement. Secondary routes are covered by security forces equipped with anti-armor weapons coupled with obstacles or barriers. Withdrawal of the forces is accomplished in a reverse of the overwatch technique used for the advance. In fact, this area differs the least from the former doctrinal concepts since one element would be pulled out to cover the withdrawal of the remainder. Strictly speaking, the withdrawal involves actually breaking contact with the enemy. Long range anti-armor weapons, such as tanks and TOW's, are important in keeping enemy armor at its distance. The retrograde involves breaking down into a covering force and a withdrawing force. The covering force and withdrawing force are like the over-watching force and the bounding force. Just as platoons are divided to move forward in bounds, they are organized in the same manner for the retrograde.

The second form of retrograde is the delay. In the delay the friendly force does not break contact, but it does give up ground.'Traditionally, delay was used to trade space for time and there is no difference under. present doctrine. A second purpose of the delay is to inflict casualties on the enemy. The delay may require that the delaying force use long range fires and pull out before the enemy can close, or that it accept decisive engagement (which is a major departure from former doctrine). Delay against armored forces is accomplished with combined arms teams in the main routes of enemy advance and combined arms reserve built around long range anti-armor weapons which can be massed where the enemy is making his main effort. Company- and platoon-sized ambushes and spoiling attacks are used against enemy forces which are not fully deployed with the purpose of defeating enemy reconnaissance units and advance guard formations.

The over-all effort is to destroy the enemy or force him to slow and deploy by bringing long range fires on him at ranges where he cannot effectively retaliate. U.S. forces will fall back along succeeding delay positions as long as necessary. If they can hold on a given position, they will not necessarily fall back to a rearward one, unless directed to do so. Strict delay lines, characteristic of the older doctrine, are being played down in favor of using all of the terrain in the delay zone.

Security forces are a critical element in the delay. It can be either in the form of LP's/OP's as early warning or on secondary routes of enemy advance as economy of force measures or to cover flanks and to secure critical rearward areas. Like the defense, delay is accomplished in depth with the principal difference being that the delay acknowledges that ground will be given up at a serious cost to the attacker in terms of putting him behind his timetable and also permitting friendly forces to regroup in order to establish a good defensive position or resume the attack.

Soviet Doctrine

The Soviet concept of a withdrawal is somewhat different from that of the U.S. Army. They combine it with a delay and use it to afford the main body a chance to withdraw to a new main defense line. The covering force will delay back on successive delay lines, while the main body simply withdraws behind the cover. In effect, the Soviets, when they decide upon retrograde, determine how much ground they are willing to give up and do give it up, regardless of whether the attacker has enough power to force them to give up that much ground or not. This is because, once the delay and withdrawal has begun, the main body has moved back to the new position and cannot readily move forward again to some intermediate position. Further, that rearward position has been selected because it is suitable for the defense and that presumes that there is no ground closer to the old positions which is as good. The distance withdrawn is on the order of 25 kilometers. The key to all of this is the premise that the covering force will delay the attacking force long enough to permit the main body to dig in. If it does not, the defenders may be knocked back again and again.


Doctrine of artillery employment will not be covered in depth here. However, there are certain points which should be touched upon to round out the picture.

The Soviets make extensive use of artillery. This has always been their strong point, dating back to Napoleonic times. During World War II, the Soviets would make little pretense of concealing their attacks and would put out intense artillery barrages, followed by the massed attacks which they still favor. They have not changed this doctrine appreciably. The multiple-rocket launchers show that the U.S. concept of a few selectively placed rounds being as valuable as a hit-or-miss barrage is not followed. Rather, they seem to favor inundating the enemy defensive positions with such a volume of artillery fire that the defense is demolished as a viable force.

There have been several major changes in U.S. artillery employment, all designed to make the artillery more responsive and more rapid in that response. Recognizing that the unit requesting fire probably already needed it before it got through on the radio, procedures have been introduced to speed up delivery time. One of the most important of these is the dedicated battery. Under the dedicated battery concept, an artillery battery—six pieces—is temporarily assigned the mission of being responsive to one maneuver company/team. Formerly, the most responsive assignment which could normally be expected was giving a battalion priority of fires. There was nothing to prevent making a battery in direct support of a battalion, but it wasn't done in normal circumstances. The dedicated battery concept presumes that it will be done frequently. In essence, that battery answers no calls for fire except from the supported company/ team, with the single exception of those special emergencies which disrupt all such plans. As a result, the artillery pieces of that battery are aimed into the sector of the supported unit. There will be a series of pre-planned positions along the route of advance of that unit, usually in the center of their sector but also in other likely places, and as the unit advances, the artillery is readjusted to make fires available at the next likely position. At the same time a round is kept in the chamber. Thus, if the need arises, a round can be on the way in less than 30 seconds. This is valuable even if the enemy is not conveniently right at the aiming point. A Sagger missile must be flown to its target, for example, and a round going off in the general area stands a good chance of making the gunner jump a little, causing him to send the missile into the ground instead of a friendly tank. Once the first round has hit, subsequent adjustments also come quickly and the next rounds will be closer to the target, if not right on them.

The dedicated battery is used only in limited circumstances. A company/team cannot expect to have such an arrangement as a general rule. But when the need of such rapid response outweighs the value of having that battery as part of the artillery battalion's fires, then a dedicated battery assignment can be made.


At this time, the U.S. Army is just beginning to undergo the doctrine change in tactics. Many of the critical field manuals are not even published.

[ADDED NOTE: the author(s) are referring to late 1970s here; by 1980s the US had moved to more flexible defensive tactics which were allowed by faster AFVs]

The average soldier is familiar with the older doctrine and if war broke out now, it is a good bet that people would go with what they knew best—the older doctrine. As the new doctrine is used more and more, the Army 'will approach a cross-over point where a significant number of people are more familiar with the new doctrine, either because it is the only one they know or because they have made the transition successfully. There will remain those who do not adapt so rapidly and this will cause a problem since they are resisting the new concepts and can be expected to react in accordance with the old ideas when the pressure is on or at least to execute the new doctrine improperly from lack of skill. Once that cross-over point is passed, it can be assumed that a fair comparison of the doctrines would then be possible.

As can be seen, the U.S. offensive and defensive doctrine bears a broad similarity to that of the Soviets: the hasty attack of the offense, the strongpoints and defense in depth of the defense. The retrograde doctrines do not really bear any comparison since the Soviets use the retrograde for an entirely different purpose.

The rigidity with which the Soviets organize for combat and the idea of always leading with the tanks would seem to give the U.S. defense an advantage and make the U.S. offensive doctrine somewhat the better. There are times when tanks simply should not lead and to force them into the lead increases the chances of the Soviet tanks being destroyed without accomplishing any end. In that regard, the Soviets do not seem to have learned any lessons from the defeat they inflicted on the Germans at Kursk when the Germans tried to force their way through strong defensive positions with tanks, and were virtually wiped out. Since any U.S.-Soviet War would begin with the U.S. initially in the defense, a well-prepared U.S. defensive position can take good advantage of this doctrinal rigidity. On the other hand, the Soviets have shown a disdain of losses which, when coupled with their doctrine of massing forces, will produce an extremely high concentration of Soviet forces at the point or points where they want to make a breakthrough. A second problem in the Soviet offensive doctrine would seem to be the lack of any real planning on a need for a deliberate type of attack to force their way through a good defense. While it is all well and good to plan a bypass operation, it does not follow that this situation must always arise, and good planning takes into consideration all likely possibilities. On the U.S. side, offensive technique would appear to be troubled by the greater Soviet numbers. A bypass operation may, in fact, consist of avoiding a strongpoint only to move into its kill zone. With greater Soviet numbers, true gaps in their lines are less likely than in a U.S. defensive position. Whether the exploitation phase really should be differentiated from the pursuit is another question. The Soviets see no need to have a separate exploitation phase. Since the goal of exploitation is to disrupt rear communications and prevent counter-attacking forces from moving up, if the pursuit not only crushes the front line forces, but also breaks up any counter-attack, communications, as such, are of little avail no matter how good they are. It may be that out of this will evolve a third concept covering both the U.S. concept of the exploitation and the pursuit.

The U.S. defensive doctrine would seem to be the more flexible of the two. The ability to abandon positions and move where the fighting is, is one strong point. Secondly, the Soviet reliance on the counter-attack as the final saving grace of the defense would appear to be putting too much faith in one operation. On the other hand, the U.S. system still must cope with vastly superior Soviet numbers, especially concentrated at any point of potential breakthrough. The best doctrine in the world is of no value if there are inadequate troops to execute it. But that is a problem beyond the scope of these comments.


This section contains the typical frontages of units, which can be used when making scenarios. The frontages listed here are by doctrine, and can vary depending on the situation, but are typically more standardized in the Soviet Army.

Soviet Formations, Attack

Soviet formations usually are about twice as condensed as western formations. The Soviets tend to concentrate their forces, massing fires into a large unit that can overwhelm the enemy. On the attack, the Soviets strive for a 3:1 superiority to conduct a sustained offensive, and if possible forces are massed to 6:1 superiority.

Motorized Rifle Battalion, hasty attack: 1500m front

Two companies on line, and one company following 1-2km to the rear. Alternatively, the battalion could have three companies on line. Each reinforced MRC is deployed with a platoon of 4x tanks on line on a 500m front, with 12x BMPs on line, following 300m behind.
Normally supported by 3x batteries of artillery.
Motorized rifle company's vehicles in attack formation:

Tank Battalion, hasty attack: 2000m front

Three companies on line.
Normally supported by 3x batteries of artillery.
Tank company's vehicles in attack formation:

If the hasty attack cannot overcome the enemy, the Soviets then plan a deliberate attack. The goal of the deliberate attack is to break through the enemy's forward defense to allow exploitation forces to pass through. The breakthrough attack is characterized by narrower attack frontages and extensive artillery support. Also, tank units are normally used in the deliberate attack force.

Tank Battalion (reinforced), deliberate attack: 2000m front

Two companies on line (1000m frontage for each), followed by a MRC 400m behind, and a third tank company 400m behind that. Lead tank companies are normally deployed with 2x platoons on line, and the third platoon 200m to the rear.
Normally supported by 6-9x batteries of artillery.
Reinforced tank company's vehicles in attack formation:
Reinforced tank battalion's vehicles in attack formation:
________ ________
__TTTT__ __TTTT__
________ ________

Artillery is essential to the success of the deliberate attack. Artillery fire has to be carefully executed, intended to destroy forces in immediate contact and neutralize enemy supporting fires. The fires are shifted only when the lead elements of the attack are within 200m to 400m from the impact area.

As the fires are lifted, the lead Soviet companies assault the enemy position. The infantry remain mounted until they are either forced out of their carriers by fire, or if they are required to clear obstacles (like wire). Primary emphasis is usually on penetrating enemy defenses rather than seizing and consolidating on terrain objectives.