Reducing the adversary’s capabilities has always been the fundamental objective of any military action. Land maneuver can be defined as the manner in which forces are committed on the battlefield. Combined arms is an approach to warfare that seeks to integrate different combat arms of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects including armored vehicles, artillery, air assets such as helicopters, infantry and long-range rockets.
It combines the capacities of the warfighting functions, components or branches, in order to boost the effectiveness of the overall maneuver. It aims to foster synergy between the various field components down to echelons lower than previously considered. Combined arms action is both a modern and future requirement in land operations.
Experts have pointed to the lack of a combined arms approach as the reason for the failure of Russians to achieve air superiority over Ukraine within days of the start of the invasion. Just as clearly, they failed against a spirited but undermanned and equipped foe. “Without fully coordinating with ground forces in a way that augments their plans — usually through suppression, obscuration, deception and electronic applications — aviation campaigns operate with increased vulnerability. Properly combined with these supporting systems, aviation remains a crucial element of successful combat operations.”
On the other hand, the Ukrainian military adopted the NATO battle tactics, embracing combined arms as a way of war. The Ukrainian military has been able to adapt older, Soviet-era military equipment with these new tactics and outfight the Russians. Ukrainian service members also learned western systems like the M777 howitzers and HIMARS and drones and more and were able to use them with the older systems and integrate them into the battle tactics they are using.
According to the strategist William S. Lind, combined arms can be distinguished from the concept of “supporting arms” as follows: Combined arms hits the enemy with two or more arms simultaneously in such a manner that the actions he must take to defend himself from one make him more vulnerable to another. In contrast, supporting arms is hitting the enemy with two or more arms in sequence, or if simultaneously, then in such combination that the actions the enemy must take to defend himself from one also defends himself from the other(s)
It is defined as the application of the elements of combat power in a complementary and reinforcing manner to achieve physical, temporal, or psychological advantages over the enemy to preserve freedom of action and exploit success (for example by using infantry and armor in an urban environment in which each supports the other).
Seen another way, combined arms is about the combination of effects: fire and maneuver, direct and indirect approaches across domains, orthodox and unorthodox ways and means. It combines movement, actual or potential fire, and non-kinetic effects, so as to gain a physical and psychological advantage over the adversary while accomplishing the assigned mission. Combined arms reduce the decision space of the adversary. The more effects a force brings to bear in time and space, the more likely the enemy system is to collapse.
The necessary effect must be generated at each tactical level, i.e. reduce the adversary’s capabilities, control the environment, and influence hearts and minds, while retaining resources for action (command, support). This maneuver typically employs combined arms at all tactical levels.
The warfighting functions and components are found within the organizational structure of a corps, division or brigade. They require combined arms structures to be established at lower levels. It means unifying the actions of the warfighting functions or components under one command to ensure cooperation while pursuing a common objective.
An existing model: The Marine Corps has long appreciated that full integration of every combat capability is essential, especially when that service has fewer assets available. Without the advantages of numbers or mass, the Corps had taken the combined-arms approach to its highest form. As just a few examples of how inculcated the team mentality is fostered, Marine aviators begin their initial training on ground combat skills alongside their earthbound peers from infantry, cyber and information warfare specialists, armor, engineering and logistics — and continue to do this at every education level. Different primary skills, but common understanding.
Retired Lt. Gen. Barry Knutson and Retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold explain an existing model: The Marine Corps has long appreciated that full integration of every combat capability is essential, especially when that service has fewer assets available. Ground officers of every stripe are assigned to aviation units, as aviators are assigned to ground units. In this combined-arms approach’s highest application, a Marine Expeditionary Unit blends its aviation, ground combat, logistics, and information warfare units for six months into a single entity before they can be certified to deploy, and then they operate as a cohesive unit for an additional six months in operations. They eat, sleep, play and train as one. These longstanding policies (and others) produce the culture and military DNA that can operate, by nature, as a combined-arms organization. It is a team that doesn’t make the mistakes that have produced the Russian failures in Ukraine.
While the nature of combining effects will not change, the character will increasingly stress synchronization and optimization over mass and maneuver. Combined arms will become less about memorized battle drills and human intuition and more a function of augmented consciousness. Machines will offload cognitive tasks from humans to free up space for improvisation and creativity within the bounds of the mission.
The threat of complex, constant missile attack is only one part of the new operational environment. Combined arms in the new missile age should seek machine-enabled decision advantage — sensing, deciding, and acting within an adversary’s decision cycle. The sheer complexity will require algorithmic judgment, using AI and especially machine learning to help prioritize which aircraft and missiles to engage given logistical considerations like ammunition stockpiles, the probability of future battles, and shifting political limitations associated with escalation risk.