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Helicopter insertions moved troops forward quickly during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Third generation warfare is a term created by the U.S. military in 1989, referring to the tactics of warfare used after the Wehrmacht's development of the blitzkrieg.

Third generation war focuses on using speed and surprise to bypass the enemy's lines and collapse their forces from the rear. Essentially, this was the end of linear warfare on a tactical level, with units seeking not simply to meet each other face to face but to out-maneuver each other to gain the greatest advantage.



The use of blitzkrieg during the German invasion of France first demonstrated the power of speed and maneuverability over static artillery positions and trench defenses. Through the use of tanks, mechanized infantry, and close air support, the Germans were able to quickly break through linear defenses and capture the rear.

The emphasis on maneuvering and speed to bypass enemy engagement remains a common strategy throughout the world, and collapsing an enemy's defenses by striking at deeper targets is — in a somewhat different way — a major strategy in fourth generation warfare.


3rd generation warfare marks a break in the previous generations primarily in the realm of centralization. The previous generations were marked by centralization and an attempt to create order in an increasingly disorderly act. 3rd generation warfare embraces this chaos in warfare by decentralizing.

This decentralization allows for the lower level commanders to exercise their own initiative in an engagement. This decentralization increases the speed of the Boyd Cycle (OODA Loop or Decision Cycle) of the 3rd generation fighting force and allows to get inside of their opponent's decision cycle.

As a result, the opponent's decisions become more and more obsolete compared to the current situation. Due to this the enemy is outmaneuvered and eventually loses their will to fight or generally becomes ineffective.

Contributions to warfare

The contributions of the third generation were based on the concept of overcoming technological disadvantage through the use of clever strategy. As strictly linear fighting came to an end, new ways of moving faster and more maneuverably began to appear.

The emphasis on cavalry moved from heavy armor to greater speed, the development of the helicopter allowed insertions in hostile territory, and advanced missile technology allowed forces to bypass enemy defenses and strike at targets from great distances. The speed inherent in these methods necessitated a greater degree of independence allowed to the units on the front lines.

Greater trust needed to be placed in junior officers commanding sub-units by higher ranking officers - a belief that they could adequately achieve their objectives without micromanagement from higher ranking commanders in command headquarters.

Smaller units were allowed greater decision flexibility to deal with changing situations on the ground, rather than have decisions made for them by commanders who were distant from the front. This began to break down the regimented culture of order that was so important in previous theoretical eras of military command and control.


See also




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