PJ Neal is a staff member at Harvard University, which he joined after serving for several years as a consultant to the Department of Defense and various federal agencies.  “FIELD MANUAL 100-5 (OPERATIONS)” is a featured entry from The Art of the Future Project’s “Third Offset” creative challenge exploring man-machine integration, among other issues around the future of war. He can be found on Twitter at @pjneal.


Headquarters, Department of the Army

June 2027


The Army’s doctrine lies at the heart of its professional competence. It is the authoritative guide to how Army forces fight wars and conduct operations other than war. As the Army’s keystone doctrine, FM 100-5 describes how the Army thinks about the conduct of operations. FM 100-5 undergirds all of the Army’s doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leader development, and warfighter concerns.

Never static, always dynamic, the Army’s doctrine is firmly rooted in the realities of current capabilities. At the same time, it reaches out with a measure of confidence to the future. Doctrine captures the lessons of past wars, reflects the nature of war and conflict in its own time, and anticipates the intellectual and technological developments that will bring victory now and in the future.

Winning wars is the primary purpose of the doctrine in this manual. Since wars are fought for strategic purposes, the doctrine addresses the strategic context of the application of force. Since battle is translated into strategic objectives by operational art, a major portion of the manual addresses the operational level of war. And, since all operations must be based on sound tactics, a major portion of the text covers tactics. The manual also addresses the related fields of joint and combined operations, logistics, the environment of combat, and operations other than war. But, its primary focus is warfighting and how commanders put all the elements together to achieve victory at least cost to American forces.

Doctrine derives from a variety of sources that profoundly affect its development: Strategy, history, technology, human behavior, the nature of the threats the nation and its armed forces face, robot-human relationships, and political decisions that allocate resources and designate roles and missions. The advent of Active Defense in 1976 was preceded by the emergence of a new order of weapon lethality that was dramatically revealed in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. The doctrine of that era also reflected a decreased role for the US Army in the evolving national strategy that followed the country’s decade-long experience in Southeast Asia. The 1976 doctrine set as its priority the defense of NATO Europe against a quantitatively superior Warsaw Pact. It accepted force ratios as a primary determinant of battle outcomes and argued the virtues of armored warfare and the combined arms team.

By 1982, rising defense budgets and a stronger recognition of the possibility of worldwide commitment of Army forces combined with a sharpened appreciation of operational depth and maneuver to formulate a more fluid doctrine. The notion of stronger interservice integration, introduced as “air-land battle” in 1976, solidified to AirLand Battle doctrine in the 1982 version of FM 100-5. The ability to see deep translated into recognition of the need to fight deep a reality fully achieved after the publication of the Army’s revised AirLand Battle doctrine in 1986, which emphasized operational art.

The Army’s ideas about warfighting were evolving in a number of key areas: from service independence (an unequivocal claim in the 1954 FM 100-5) to service interdependence; from defense to offense and then to a more proper balance between the two; from battlefield linearity to greater fluidity; from set-piece battle to simultaneous operations throughout the depth of the battlefield. Throughout, doctrine reflects the adaptation of technology to new weapons systems and capabilities, organizations, missions, training, leader development, and soldier support. In this way, doctrine continues to be the Army’s engine of change.

The 1993 doctrine reflected Army thinking in a new, strategic era. That doctrine recognized that the Cold War ended and the nature of the threat, hence the strategy of the United States as well, changed. That doctrine reflected the shift to stronger joint operations, prompted by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. That doctrine considered the high quality of Army leaders and soldiers. It caused AirLand Battle to evolve into a variety of choices for a battlefield framework and a wider interservice arena, allowed for the increasing incidence of combined operations, recognized that Army forces operate across the range of military operations. It was truly doctrine for the full dimensions of the battlefield in a force-projection environment, as we understood it at the time.

Revised in 2018, the doctrine began to incorporate the growing role of drones, artificial intelligence, and other technological advances. While many seem rudimentary in hindsight, they were the beginning steps in what is now known as the Third Offset, and were revolutionary at the time. Early efforts were run from research laboratories (e.g., the use of AI for offensive cyberattacks), or were forward deployed technology controlled by a human from a safe location (e.g., drones used in the myriad of Middle Eastern, African, and European conflicts that defined the 2010s). More importantly, this version of doctrine reflected the growing dialogue taking place within government, the military, industry, and academia about the role of AI and autonomous systems, and the evolving relationship between machine and man.

This current version – written in 2027 – evolves our doctrine again, capturing the changes that have taken place in the nearly 10 years since the previous version was written. This doctrine retains the best of all the doctrine that has gone before and expands upon it as appropriate. The battlefield framework has been revised to allow practitioners of Army operations a wider range of options in which to organize their forces on the terrain. It also recognizes that the Army is the only national contingency force capable of achieving land dominance. This manual offers a doctrine for full-dimension operations. This doctrine recognizes that the primary purpose of the Army is deterrence; but, should deterrence fail, the Army’s purpose is to win the nation’s wars by fighting as part of a joint force of the United States. The doctrine provides for a force-projection Army that can build and sustain substantial combat power in remote regions of the globe.

As with all previous Army keystone doctrine, this doctrine provides direction for the Army and reflects its progress through the years. Baron von Steuben’s 1779 Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (the antecedent of our modern-day FM 100-5) was not penned in a setting of well-ordered formations and well-disciplined troops; but it allowed for their creation and led to a highly professional Army that generations later stands foremost in the world. It reflects the collective wisdom of our Army against the background of history. It reflects the lessons learned from recent experiences and the setting of today’s strategic and technological realities. It considers the nature of today’s threats. It highlights ways in which we can best utilize our human forces, for roles which they are uniquely suited to perform, and the roles where they outperform us. It is a doctrine for the entire Army, one that seeks nothing less than victory for the United States—now and in the future.