The concept of nonlinear warfare, which is fully embraced in joint doctrine, has met with virtually no argument. Nonlinear warfare proponents envision combat operations without the traditional lines drawn on the map, such as the forward line of own troops. "The conduct of land operations in Operation Just Cause is an excellent example of nonlinear operations," states the 1 February 1995 version of Joint Publication 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations.
The narrative description paints a picture of joint attacks occurring simultaneously in 26 locations, giving the reader the impression that these happened in relative isolation from each other. This kind of nonlinearity occurs only in the "beam-me-up-Scotty" dreams of science fiction enthusiasts. I believe there is little, if any, utility in the proposition of nonlinear operations, either for the joint force commander or his logistics planner.
While the idea of nonlinearity is practically meaningless, the study of what I call multilinearity provides the commander with a much broader picture of modern warfare. Nonlinearity suggests the commander's vision must be unconstrained from overlays depicting phase lines, boundaries, and arrows. Multilinear warfare, on the other hand, while not ignoring the complexity of line graphics, recognizes the human limitations of the commander to fully comprehend operations if all the lines are portrayed on a map.
I will simplify my argument using "line of operation," the often misunderstood theoretical construct of warfare. A line of operation is an imaginary line between the force's base of operations and the objective. Nonlinear warfare implies that we have somehow revolutionized warfare and that the linear relationship between the base and objective of the force no longer applies. Multilinearity insists that this relationship, although immeasurably more complex in modern warfare, still exists.
A good way of contrasting nonlinear warfare with multilinear warfare is to examine what each branch of the armed services can bring to the joint warfare table in terms of lines of operation. Nonlinear theory inadequately addresses the unique capabilities that services provide to the joint warfighter. Examination of each service's capability in terms of multiple lines of operation is infinitely more useful.
The Army is the decisive force in any major regional conflict. It must either create forward bases of operation or augment existing forward-presence bases. The Army's line of operation in a forcible entry operation may depend on continental United States (CONUS) bases such as Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, or a prepared intermediate staging base, such as a port facility provided by a host nation.
A relative disadvantage for Army forces is a requirement to have sufficient airlift and sealift. The Army almost always is forced to conduct phased operations to gain a desired line of operation for decisive action. To be successful, Army operations depend on being able to quickly shift lines of operation from CONUS to theater (external lines of operation) to intratheater (internal lines of operation). Even at the pinnacle of Army force readiness achieved by the Reagan administration's buildup of the eighties, it took 7 months to make this shift during the Gulf War. Today, this is an even riskier proposition, given American and allied coalition demands for a quick, decisive victory and our lack of a strong forward Army presence.
The Navy and Marine Corps
The Navy and the Marine Corps, joined as an amphibious force, furnish mobile, sea-based lines of operation. Lines of operation from maritime systems can offer tremendous flexibility to the joint force commander. Naval forces offer uniquely adaptable lines of operation because of their relative advantage in moving great distances and then loitering without a nearby fixed base. The Navy and Marine disadvantages are a lack of decisive combat power projection on land and a relatively short operational reach. The Marine Corps, for example, must rely on Army logistics for extending their line of operation inland past 50 kilometers, as exemplified during Operation Desert Storm.
The Air Force
The Air Force's lines of operation differ depending on the type of weapon systems employed. Certainly a relative advantage over other forces, the line of operation for their intercontinental ballistic missiles or strategic bombers is from CONUS to target, termed by General Merrill A. McPeak, the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, as equivalent to forward presence. However, lines of operation for Air Force strike and air superiority systems may require bases in closer proximity due to "shorter legs." Generally, all Air Force bases are fixed, a disadvantage considering the need for multiple lines of operation in oversea locations. Also, operations may be constrained due to restricted overflights and use of host nation facilities.
Interrelationship with Lines of Communications
Another important multilinear concept is found in the study of lines of communications (LOC's). Not to be confused with lines of operation, LOC's are the "pipelines" that move supplies and forces. These pipelines are ground, sea, or air connections between the force and its base of operations. That pipeline may extend all the way back to the industrial base of a nation.
There is a strong interrelationship between lines of communications and lines of operation. LOC's enable lines of operation by serving as a faucet for the materiel that operating bases need to launch forces to the objective. LOC's may stem from lines of operation or from the secured objectives that lines of operation permit. The commander may have to shift LOC's to accommodate a desired line of operation, or he may have to use a line of operation to establish an LOC. Understanding this interrelationship is the essence of military operational art, maneuver warfare, and the development of a national security strategy. Internal lines of communications may support activities that flow from external lines of operation and vice versa.
World War II
There are many examples of this remarkable interrelationship from World War II. One is the "bridge too far" Market Garden operation that attempted to use an air line of operation (vertical envelopment) in concert with opening land lines of operation and communications. All of the China-Burma-India theater campaigns were based on this relationship. The strategic objective was to open a land LOC to the Chinese and U.S. air forces in China, facilitating ground and naval lines of operation aimed at the Japanese. Operation Bolero, the combined U.S.-British campaign to build up invasion forces in Britain, is an example of establishing a secure line of communications before employing a decisive line of operation. General Douglas MacArthur's entire strategy of island hopping in the Pacific was based on this interrelationship.
Operation Just Cause
From the multilinear perspective, the truer picture of Operation Just Cause comes from a study of the interrelationship between lines of operation and communications. Not the coup de main suggested by Joint Publication 3-0, Operation Just Cause was a sequel to other planned and executed operations that had begun as early as February 1988. No doubt about it, until combat operations commenced in December 1989, the main effort was to prepare bases of operations. More than 60 percent of the forces required, to include all heavy forces, were based in Panama by then and were secured during Operation Nimrod Dancer. LOC's and lines of operation were identified and exercised during Operations Purple Storm and Sand Flea.
From CONUS, elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment were consolidated in order to better synchronize the rangers' lines of operation with Panama-based forces as well as with Fort Bragg- and Fort Ord-based airborne and light infantry forces. Operations began using external (CONUS to Tecumen, Torrijos, and Rio Hato, Panama) and internal lines of operation (Fort Kobbe, Panama, to the objective at Fort Amador, Panama).
What made operations in Panama unique was this mixture of internal and external lines of operation with an immediate shift to internal lines of operation and communications. This transition was feasible because of available inplace forces and because land LOC's were opened within hours of initial combat. Having the inplace, relatively secure bases significantly reduced the risk normally associated with using external lines of operation. Operation Just Cause was not a "nonlinear operation," as claimed by Joint Publication 3-0, but a complicated mixture of internal and external lines of operation and communications. This is an important point that helps to distinguish between an almost pure force projection operation like Desert Shield and a forward presence operation like Just Cause.
Strategic Level of War
Joint force structure issues, such as service roles and missions, strategic mobility, and pre-positioned materiel, also are best examined from a study of lines of operation and communications. The formulation of military strategy can be clearly rooted in the interrelationship between lines of operation and LOC's. For example, in the event of another Korean War, would it be best to reinforce the South Korean peninsula bases or create a "coalition base," allied with Russia in the vicinity of Vladivostok, to enable a line of operation into North Korea from the north?
Operational Level of War
What are the implications of multilinear warfare for the joint force commander? Split-based operations, the essence of our Army's force projection strategy, are more appropriately explained using the multilinear approach to lines of operation and communications. The Army's pre-positioned afloat initiatives are also rooted in the desire to shift quickly from external to internal lines of operation. The problem of transitioning from a forward-based Army to a decisive force-projection Army may best be explained in terms of multilinear warfare. In the recent Haiti operation, the commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command developed a nontraditional line of operation by placing Army forces aboard Navy vessels that served as floating bases.
I conclude that the commander's concepts of operation and support may be better developed if he thinks in terms of multilinear versus nonlinear warfare. The directional relationship between operational bases and the military objective is, and will be in the foreseeable future, linear. The communications between the force and base(s) also are linear. Multilinearity is a pragmatic and evolutionary approach to the study of war, unlike the professed "revolutionary" idea of nonlinearity. I believe that current joint doctrine unfortunately takes the more obtrusive approach and proposes that commanders conduct nonlinear operations. ALOG
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher R. Paparone, a Quartermaster Corps officer, is commander designee of the 47th Forward Support Battalion, Baumholder, Germany. He has served as operations officer, 193d Support Battalion, in Operation Just Cause; G4 plans officer, XVIII Airborne Corps, in the Persian Gulf War; and a battalion executive officer in the 82d Airborne Division. He is a graduate of the College of Naval Command and Staff, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island; and the Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Virginia.