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From Breitenfeld to Baghdad: Perspectives on Combined Arms Warfare

This working paper analyses the continuing importance of combined arms warfare in modern armed conflict. The paper consists of three edited essays: a conceptual introduction to the theory of combined arms combat; a case study of combined arms warfare based on the Australian Army's experience in Vietnam; and a concluding essay with historical and contemporary insights on the continuing relevance of all-arms combat.

The first essay by Michael Evans provides a conceptual context for understanding the relevance of combined arms warfare. The essay provides a historical snapshot of developments in combined arms warfare over three centuries. The article examines the tactical interaction of infantry, armour and artillery in close combat from the early 17th century, through World War I, to the recent military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The central message of Evans's essay is that success in contemporary warfare can only be achieved by the combined use of movement, firepower and protection. No single weapons system, no matter how lethal, can succeed in modern combat operations, if it is used in isolation.

The second essay by Robert Hall and Andrew Ross moves the analysis of combined arms from the general to the particular. The authors present an important case study of Australian combined arms assault operations in Vietnam between 1966 and 1971. This case study is based on a careful analysis of quantifiable data, including after-action reports from Australia's direct-fire battlefield in South-East Asia. Hall and Ross demonstrate how, in assaulting prepared defensive positions, a combination of infantry and armour remains vital to tactical success. The lesson from Vietnam is a timeless one: in close combat, particularly in complex terrain, the Australian Army must be capable of employing well-equipped combined arms teams if it is to achieve tactical success. To think and act in a different way is to risk the lives of our soldiers. In a concluding essay, Alan Ryan points to the importance of American combined arms teams in the 2003 Iraq campaign. The use of such teams emphasises the continuing need for armies in the field to integrate their capabilities. Ryan argues that, in an era where low-cost munitions proliferate, the dismounted infantryman will always be vulnerable in action and must be protected by a direct-fire armoured vehicle.

All three essays in this edited working paper point to the need to conceive of the character and use of military force in more systemic terms. In the 21st century, the application of armed force has become a phenomenon in which the united effects of all weapons systems must be considered. In these conditions, the integration of combined arms capabilities remains fundamental and must be understood by all those concerned with the art of war.