US Army Home Page""
""Main MenuIndex of PublicationsResourcesArchives""
The U.S. Army Professional Writing Collection
"" Featured Article ""

Featured Articles

The Victory Disease

Iraq: Heavy Forces and Decisive Warfare

Managing Friction Through Training: The U.S. Army's Implicit Appreciation of Clausewitz's Thought

Renaissance of the Attack Helicopter in the Close Fight

"" ""
Maj. Suzanne Nielsen
"Commendable Papers," Combat Studies Institute Command & General Staff College

Printer-Friendly Version


Managing Friction Through Training: The U.S. Army's Implicit Appreciation of Clausewitz's Thought

In the doctrine and practices of the U.S. Army today one can find intellectual debts to both Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine Henri de Jomini, two of the early nineteenth century's leading military thinkers. Field Manual (FM) 3-0 Operations, the Army's current capstone doctrinal manual, bears this out. The manual explicitly quotes Clausewitz on the fundamental requirement to relate military objectives to political purposes. The manual's assertion that "Commanders need to appreciate political ends and understand how the military conditions they achieve contribute to them" is perfectly consistent with Clausewitz's thought. At the same time, the manual's discussions of enduring principles of war, decisive points, and lines of operations surely owe a portion of their formulation to the influence of Jomini. Jomini would be very likely to agree with FM 3-0 that "Part of the operational art consists of selecting the decisive points that will most quickly and efficiently overcome the enemy center of gravity." It is a formula for success of the sort Jomini sought to reveal.

Setting aside these questions of strategy and operational design, I will argue in this essay that the Army is more Clausewitzian than Jominian in a different way--one that it may not even recognize. My thesis is that since the mid-1970s the Army has shown respect for Clausewitz's emphasis on the unique environment of war in the manner that it trains to fight. In making this argument, I will start by recounting Clausewitz's explanation for why "Action in war is like movement in a resistant element." The factors that Clausewitz identifies as responsible for this aspect of war are ones which Jomini gives little emphasis, and have implications for tactical training. I will then briefly describe what one historian has labeled the Army's "training revolution," and draw the connection between this revolution and the Clausewitzian depiction of war. Finally, I will conclude by arguing that the Army's implicit embrace of Clausewitz in its training practices is one it should sustain.

The Nature of Combat

One of the striking aspects of Clausewitz's classic work of military theory, On War, is his portrayal of the actual conditions of combat. To Clausewitz, combat is a realm of fear, danger, physical exertion, uncertainty, and chance in which "the simplest thing is difficult." Although many of the formulations that guide an army's actions in war are not in themselves intellectually complex, implementation is challenging in an environment characterized by the sources of friction mentioned above. In Clausewitz's view, "Friction is the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper." In real war both material and psychological factors are important, and a true military genius must have both intellectual qualities and strength of character to deal with them.

These special characteristics of warfare do not receive much emphasis in Jomini's The Art of War. Jomini does allow that the morale of an army can be important to a general's ability to execute plans, but the nature of combat does not have much impact on his prescriptions. In Jomini's view, rules...become, in the hands of skillful generals commanding brave troops, means of almost certain success. The correctness of this statement cannot be denied; and it only remains to be able to discriminate between good rules and bad. In this ability consists the whole of a man's genius for war. There are, however, leading principles which assist in obtaining this ability. Every maxim relating to war will be good if it indicates the employment of the greatest portion of the means of action at the decisive moment and place.... As regards tactics, the principal thing to be attended to is the choice of the most suitable order of battle for the object in view.

Compared to Clausewitz, Jomini does not make much of a distinction between real war and war on paper. Jomini emphasizes the orchestration of a campaign, or the array of forces for battle, at the expense of the execution of these operations in the special environment of combat.

Consistent with this difference, Clausewitz has more to say about the preparation of an army to fight. In Clausewitz's view, "The good general must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible...Practice and experience dictate the answer: 'this is possible, that is not.'" It is not just the generals that need this preparation:

Peacetime maneuvers are a feeble substitute for the real thing; but even they can give an army an advantage over others whose training is confined to routine, mechanical drill. To plan maneuvers so that some of the elements of friction are involved, which will train officers' judgment, common sense, and resolution is far more worthwhile than inexperienced people might think.

Clausewitz argues that the only "lubricant" that will truly be effective in overcoming the friction of war is combat experience. Nevertheless, absent this experience, demanding maneuvers which call for exertions similar to those soldiers will face in war are useful.

The U.S. Army's Training Revolution

In the 1970s, the U.S. Army began a process of changing its training practices to make training more fulfilling for its volunteer soldiers, as well as more demanding and realistic. In retrospect, these changes probably contributed to the Army's extremely low casualties in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In this section, I will discuss some of the major changes in Army training that have their roots in this period, and then relate these changes to Clausewitz's thoughts on the special nature of war.

The Army's training practices began to change in the early 1970s during its transition to an all-volunteer force. Limited manpower led the Army to appreciate the need to make the most of each soldier, and voluntary enlistments led the Army to recognize the role of meaningful training in retaining quality personnel.

Initiatives from this period provided a starting point for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) as it was established on 1 July 1973 to meet the training and combat development needs of the post-Vietnam Army. The first commander of TRADOC, General William E. DePuy, came to the job already convinced that the U.S. Army had historically failed its soldiers by not providing them and their leaders with adequate tactical training before combat. As a case in point, DePuy harkened back to his own experiences with the 90th Infantry Division in World War II. In his words, "the 90th Division was a killing machine-of our own troops!"

As TRADOC's first Deputy Chief of Staff for Training, DePuy appointed Brigadier General Paul F. Gorman. Gorman had headed two Army training boards earlier in the decade, and shared DePuy's conviction that the Army's tactical training was inadequate. In 1973, in Gorman's view, "Army training for dismounted action at the point of the arrow remained formulary, complicated, and situationally vague."

World events and the U.S. Army's responsibilities in the mid-1970s seemed to confirm the priority these two men placed on improving the Army's training. The Arab-Israeli War in October 1973 showed that contemporary warfare between armies equipped with modern weaponry was fast-paced and extremely lethal. In General DePuy's view, one of the important factors that allowed the Israeli Army to fight outnumbered and win was superior training. Looking to its own potential future battles, the Army saw the importance of training reinforced. Any conflict in Europe against the Soviet Union would see the Army fighting against a numerically superior enemy with comparable technology. The Army would need superior training in order to be able to win.

The training reforms introduced during DePuy's four-year tenure at TRADOC constituted a major conceptual redesign. Performance-oriented methods, Soldiers' Manuals, and Skill Qualification Tests together constituted a new approach to the conduct, content, and evaluation of individual training. A new series of "How-to-Fight" manuals and the Army Training and Evaluation Program marked a similarly significant departure from prior practices in the area of unit training. The Army's professional education system supported this redesign by preparing noncommissioned and commissioned officers for their respective roles as the Army's primary individual and collective trainers.

In view of Clausewitz's emphasis on the importance of incorporating friction into peacetime maneuvers, two training techniques deserve particular mention. The first of these, which Gorman called "tactical engagement simulation," is intended to give soldiers and units useful feedback on their warfighting skills. In Gorman's words, "The central concept was reward and punishment for tactical performances through real-time casualty assessment, and portrayal of near-miss to evoke suppression." In the early 1970s, the Army used optical technologies for the recording of casualties in force-on-force training. A decade later, the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System was one of the key technological enablers for the establishment of the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. This training center, along with the Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany, and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, raised the Army's ability to exploit the benefits of tactical engagement simulation to new heights. Units rotating through these centers take part in demanding force-on-force exercises against well-trained opposing forces, and then participate in detailed reviews of their performances. While these centers can not fully replicate wartime conditions, they can go far towards acclimating units to Clausewitzian friction in time of peace.

A second important technique, which Gorman called "constructive engagement simulation," was designed to support the training of commanders and their staffs. During DePuy's four-year tenure at TRADOC, the Army developed a number of tools, to include board games as well as computer simulations, to enable commanders and their staffs to realistically prepare themselves to meet wartime requirements. At the higher echelons of command, these efforts culminated in the introduction of the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) in 1982. This program, which consists of a five-day warfighting seminar followed by a computer-driven command post exercise, trains active and reserve division and corps commanders and their staffs in skills necessary to warfighting at their levels. By supporting enhanced peacetime training, constructive engagement simulations such as the BCTP are designed to help the U.S. Army overcome problems with poor battle staff integration which had plagued it during earlier wars.

Since the mid-1970s, the idea that the Army's training should be standards-based, demanding, and realistic has become part of Army culture. However imperfect execution may sometimes be in practice, officers and noncommissioned officers have a basic understanding of how the Army ought to train to fight. Training is recognized as being important in helping the Army overcome the friction Clausewitz identified as being inherent in war.


An army that puts significant energy into demanding tactical training is more Clausewitzian than Jominian in at least one important sense. Such an army has accepted the importance Clausewitz ascribes to the friction of war. The benefits that the U.S. Army has garnered from this emphasis are perhaps most evident in comments made by veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Asked by a senior officer how they were able to perform so well in their first combat situation, one of these soldiers replied:

Sir, this was not our first battle. This was our tenth battle! We fought three wars at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California; we fought four wars at the Combat Maneuver Training Center, Hohenfels, Germany; and a lot of other simulations like SIMNET, the Unit Conduct of Fire Trainer, and the Battle Command Training Program. Yes sir, we had been "shot at" before. Many times. This war was just like our training.

Perhaps the U.S. Army's training methods, supported by technologies unavailable in the 1800s, are better able to prepare an army for war than even demanding maneuvers were in Clausewitz's day. In any event, given that friction will endure, so should the Army's efforts to be prepared to manage it.


Biddle, Stephen. "Victory Misunderstood: What the Gulf War Tells Us about the Future of Conflict." International Security 21, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 139-179.

Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated and edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976 [1832].

DePuy, William E. Oral history interview with Colonels Romie L. Brownlee and William J. Mullen III, 1979. Conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Army Military History Institute and published by the U.S. Army Center for Military History as Changing an Army. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1988.

_____. Selected Papers of General William E. DePuy. Edited by Richard M. Swain. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute,

U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1994.
_____. "TRADOC: Young, But Growing Fast." Army 25, no. 10 (October 1975): 33-35.

Gorman, Paul F. "General William E. DePuy." in In Tribute to General William E. DePuy. Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1993: 11-21.

_____. The Secret of Future Victories. IDA Paper P-2653. Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analyses, 1992.

Jomini, Antoine Henri de. The Art of War. With an introduction by Charles Messenger. London: Greenhill Books, 1996 [1838].

Shoemaker, Robert M. "Managing Training to Close the Gaps." Army 28, no. 10 (October 1978): 47-49.

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Historical Office (Anne W. Chapman). The Origins and Development of the National Training Center 1976-1984. Fort Monroe, VA, 1997.

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. TRADOC OPMS Task Group. Education of Army Officers Under the Officer Personnel Management System: Report of the TRADOC OPMS Task Group. Fort Monroe, VA, 14 March 1975.

U.S. Army Training and Leader Development Panel, "Officer Study Report to the Army." Report accessed on-line 20 March 2003 at youcannet/ycn6/resources/osm/Army_Officer_Study.pdf.

U.S. Department of the Army. Field Manual 3-0, Operations. Washington, DC, 14 June 2001.

U.S. Department of the Army. The Modern Volunteer Army: A Program for Professionals. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971.

Also available online at:


U.S. Army Home Page