The U.S. strategy for the Persian Gulf ground war, which brought victory in 100 hours with amazingly few allied casualties, was largely the work of a small, little-known group of Army officers who call themselves the Jedi Knights.

The adoption of their ideas by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Operation Desert Storm, marks a radical revision in the way the U.S. Army wages war, and represents a triumph for a way of thinking known as "maneuver warfare."Once espoused by a clique of renegades and reformers, this philosophy has percolated through the ranks of a new generation of officers who have risen to key positions over the past few years, including several high-ranking billets on the staff of Schwarzkopf's Central Command.

In this sense, the gulf war displayed not only new technologies in American weaponry but also a new breed of American warrior.

Schwarzkopf never mentioned the Jedi Knights at his celebrated Feb. 27 news briefing in which he laid out the strategy that won the war, nor did any of the Knights on his staff agree to be interviewed. Still, his briefing was a classic description of their style of maneuver warfare.

All the major elements were there - the feinted assault up the middle, the simultaneous sweep of armored forces way to the Iraqi army's westward flank, the multiple thrusts that surrounded the Iraqis from all sides, hurling them into confusion and disarray, which made the final envelopment and destruction of the strongest Iraqi tank divisions remarkably easy.

The Jedi Knights are all alumni of the School for Advanced Military Studies, which was set up in 1983 at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as a one-year extension program for the top few of the college's graduates, the students destined to be tomorrow's commanders. The school's purpose was explicitly to inculcate the art of maneuver warfare.

Brimming with esprit de corps, the students named themselves after the maneuver-warrior knights in the movie "Star Wars." Immediately upon graduation, they were assigned to the staffs of Army divisions and corps, both to give the young officers practical experience and to infuse their ideas into the mainstream.

The school's founder, Brig. Gen. Huba Wass de Czege (pronounced VOSS-de-say-ga), calls the program "a graduate-level education, sort of what the Harvard Business School would be for the business executive."

Wass de Czege, who serves in Brussels as special adviser to the secretary-general of NATO, was a colonel when he set up the school, in the forefront of officers eager to change the way the Army thought about war.

"We, the guys who went to Vietnam as lieutenants and captains, fell into two groups," Wass de Czege said in a telephone interview - "those who left the military and those who said, `you know, we've got to think about this business. This is a very complicated business and we're not prepared.' "

In 1982, Wass de Czege had written a major revision of the U.S. Army's war manual, FM 100-5 - the official expression of Army doctrine and the foundation for all decisions about strategy, tactics and training.

The previous edition, written in 1976 by Gen. William DePuy, outlined a strategy of attrition warfare, a static line of defense against the enemy's strongest point of assault, beating him back with high-tech weapons and superior firepower.

DePuy's was a modern expression of longstanding Army doctrine, which had always stressed frontal assaults and firepower, relying in the end on a superior industrial base.

Yet to Wass de Czege and many of his contemporaries, this approach would no longer do. It failed miserably against the guerrilla warfare of the Viet Cong, and it would be equally ill-suited to the intense, high-tempo combat seen in the Middle East wars of 1967 and 1973.

"It was a doctrine that would play out fairly well on a gameboard," Wass de Czege said, but not on a battlefield of human soldiers.

Wass de Czege's rewrite outlined a strategy of counterattack, agility, speed, maneuver and deep strikes well behind enemy lines.

His school was set up the next year, to weave this new strategy into the fiber of the Army establishment.

The school set out to shatter the old order, but the shape of the new order was not yet fully defined. Into this transition stepped an Air Force colonel and former fighter pilot named John Boyd.

Boyd, too, had been appalled by the 1976 edition of FM 100-5. "I'd stand up at meetings," Boyd recalls, "and tell these guys, `This is a disgrace! Even if you win the war, you're going to mow down thousands of your own soldiers!' "

In 1979, Boyd came up with his own vision of a new Army doctrine - a study called "Patterns of Conflict," which grew over the years into a six-hour oral briefing on battles from ancient Rome to Vietnam and which established a case for maneuver warfare.

Boyd, who estimates he has delivered the briefing more than 1,000 times, lectured annually at the School for Advanced Military Studies and had a clear impact.

He made a still deeper dent on the Marines. Col. Mike Wiley, the vice president of the Marine Corps University at Quantico, says a revision that he wrote on Marine war doctrine, similar to Wass de Czege's was based entirely on Boyd's briefing.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Alfred Gray, is an avowed Boyd disciple. In Desert Storm, he ordered his commanders to avoid frontal attacks and to maneuver around the Iraqis, bypassing them or ambushing their flanks.

Boyd's thinking on ground wars evolved directly from his view of air wars. A celebrated fighter pilot in Korea, he helped establish the Tactical Fighter Training Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., which later inspired the Navy's Top Gun school. At Nellis, he earned the nickname "40-second Boyd" for his challenge to pay fighter pilots $40 if he could not outmaneuver them in 40 seconds. He never lost a challenge.

While there, he wrote the "Aerial Attack Study," which concluded that air-to-air duels would be won by the pilot who could most quickly shift his plane from one maneuver to another.

Boyd's briefing on "Patterns of Conflict" concluded that successful warfare involved surprise, deception, "multiple thrusts" sweeping quickly around flanks, "creating confusion and disorder," forcing the enemy to surrender.

The key, Boyd said, was to get "inside an adversary's O-O-D-A loop." This loop entailed "observing" the enemy's actions, "orienting" one's own forces to the changing situation, "deciding" on a counter move and then "acting" on it. The side that completes these cycles more quickly will win the war.

This is what the allied ground forces did in Desert Storm.

On Feb. 15, Brig. Gen. Richard Neal, U.S. Central Command's deputy director of operations, told reporters in Riyadh that the Iraqi army was in deep trouble because "we're inside his decision-making cycle. We're kind of out-thinking him. We can see what he's been doing, we can kind of anticipate what his next move is going to do, and we can adapt our tactics accordingly."

One of Boyd's former Air Force colleagues, retired Col. James Burton, said, "I just about fell out of my chair when I heard Neal say that. This whole operation is pure John Boyd."