In October 1979, the Gazette published "Winning through maneuver: Part I - Countering the offense" by Capt S. W. Miller.
This article sparked Marine Corps wide discussion over Maneuver Warfare. The decade following Capt Miller's article saw the Marine Corps come to grips understanding maneuver warfare, its efforts culminating in the publishing of MCDP-1.
31 years after Capt Miller's article, 20 years after MCDP-1's first publication, has the Marine Corps truly institutionalized Maneuver warfare, effectively passing on the knowledge and understanding to each new generation of officers? Do we, as an institution, practice what we preach in our doctrine pubs?
Last edited by 5th_Req; 06-28-2010 at 05:18 PM.
Based on the Attritionist Letters series in the Gazette it would appear that many if not most commander's are paying lip service to the tenets of maneuver warfare. A quest for certainty and control on the battlefield has taken root. I would go so far as to say that in some cases the old troop leading mnemonic of BAMCIS has become BAMCIM with supervise being replaced with micro manage.
I don't see how seeking greater certainty and control undermines our practice of maneuver warfare. A good Watch Officer, for example, would know that he is there to facilitate the decision making of the lower echelons. It is not so much certainty for micro-managerial control, but more like certainty for the sake of a broader vision of what we can and can't do to support the troops in contact. You could say the modern mentality of C2 imitates Artillery. We seek out as much information as possible so that we can say "if you want us, we can give you this capability, and you can depend on it."
You mention the good watch officer, your very description implies he is an exception. The question posed was as to whether or not we have truly institutionalized the maneuver mentality, or philosophy, in the Marine Corps. If the good watch officer, as opposed to the average watch officer, is the only one on the watch staff who "gets it," then it would seem we have not fulfilled our hope of institutionalized maneuver warfare.
Another thing to consider, if we did develop the capabilities described in the recent Attritionist Letter # 3, would the definition of a 'good watch officer' be the same? The good Gen Screwtape talks about a Bn CO being able to see the detailed location of each of his Marines, there ammo status, and health. He describes the CO's ability to draw a route to direct the Squad leader to where the CO in the COC believes the Squad would best be able to neutralize the threat. Basically, technology that gives small-unit tactical control back to the Bn or Company CO. The last time these COs had such detailed tactical control was when men moved in skirmish lines.
With such detailed information of the battlespace, and the ability to link directly into the squad leader or platoon commander's decision making process, the definition of a "good Watch-O" might become "one who exercises good tactical control over the unit on the ground." How would this technology be conducive to anything but tighter and more centralized control?
Imagine a CO being able to synchronize all of his units with a PDA stylus.
I don't see how greater technological abilities will push the Marine Corps into the camp of the firepower-attritionists. Even you've said yourself that sometimes centralization is good, ( Centralized Liason Sections).
For a Company or Bn CO to have detail command over squads is not a negative thing. If you think about it, with the information feed from the Squad, UAVs, satellites and other supporting assets, the COC will have the best vision of what's going down on the ground. In fact, our ability to envelop and out-maneuver the enemy is increased due to this technological increase. In many ways it serves maneuver warfare to a greater degree than allowing autonomy of the Squad leader in his on the scene decision making. There are things the squad leader doesn't know, things he is being distracted from, so why should we not give the decision to the one who knows, why not give it to the COC?
The key to being a superb watch officer is knowing how to handle multiple inputs and handle them appropriately. Some tasks are action oriented and some are information management. I would be loathe to assume that the watch officer will always or even usually make a better decision than the squad leader on the ground. It won't take long in an environment were decisions are often deferred to the COC until small unit leaders stop making decisions. There is no checklist for every situation that occurs in the COC for the watch officer to follow. Experience, judgment,situational awareness and tactical acumen are required. Technology only helps with one of these characteristics-situational awareness.
How, as new technologies are employed, would a watch officer not be able to make a better decision than the small unit leader, especially as the watch-o has more situational awareness? All things being equal but their location and situational awareness, it would seem that the Watch-O would have the upper hand in making a sound decision.
If all things were equal other than situational awareness the watch officer may be in the best position to decide but that is not always the case. That is where judgment comes in on the part of the watch officer. His or her job is to enable the tactical decision maker, not make the decision for them. The WO is a vital link in information flow, vertically up and down and horizontally. Sometimes intervene in a tactical decision yes, situation dependent but be the default decision maker, no.
Centralization and fidelity of information
A friend pointed me in the direction of this thread, and I am glad he did. I would like to chuck in my two cents in regards to the whole watch officer discussion.
The concept of an omnipotent watch officer is only possible if he is also omniscient. Unfortunately, that is never the case.....for a good example of why rent "Aliens" and see how well the lieutenant does from his watch officer station.
Seriously, though, the problem lies with the flawed innate assumption that just because we have access to information that the information we have is all we need to make decisions. Nothing could be further from the truth, for two reasons:
1. The fidelity of the information is suspect. You can only see what can be observed (via downlink, chat, or whatever) or what you can hear (on the chance the people are still talking on radios). The perspective of the watch officer is framed by the information that he is provided; the view on the video feed is great until the screen ends; there is no way to know what is out of frame without additive information being provided. Likewise, chat windows provide filtered information as opposed to data; as such, the watch officer is not provided with a pristine flow of information with which to make the best of all possible decisions. Those who type in chat windows skew information inadvertently (or on purpose!!) in order to shape the results of their postings. I would further interject that he is actually there to stop those subordinate leaders from making decisions so that he, as the commander's direct representative can make them; if the watch officer is so empowered then the very basis of tactical, lead from the front style leadership is dead. Staying on message, though, the watch officer as the tactical leader is analagous to back seat driving- not behind the wheel, but behind the guy behind the wheel. This creates delay, yeilds the initiative, and creates poor outcomes based on flawed inputs. The information going in is stovepiped and not necessarily correlated and leaves out a lot of what is needed....hence point 2.
2. A lot of information, data, or "atmospherics" never make it to the watch officer. Sure, he can see tiny figures walking about, but are they smiling or scowling? Are the children hugging their parents or being forcibly held as human shields? Are the locals wary or warm? Can you hear the sound of no dogs barking in the COC? Nope. But the guy in harm's way can, and he is always in somebody's sights. The watch officer isn't.
In my opinion, the thought of an all knowing and all seeing watch officer being the tactical leader and decision maker is a dangerous one with far reaching ramifications. It is the basis of how some of our joint partners fight, but in my opinion anathema to how Marines do.
Anyhow, those are my two cents. Great discussion!
It seems like there are two obvious threads of thought here.
One is the traditional attritionist. Verified_By, you are proposing that tactical decisions should ultimately be made for the troops on the ground, in the COC. You claim that this is more in the line of maneuver than decentralizing decision-making. You argue this by saying that decisions made in the COC, the center of information flow, would contribute more to achieving decision in tactical combat because of its broad situational awareness and coordination capabilities.
How does this not imitate the French prior to WWII? The French had a system where was stifled. Commanders could act aggressively only when under orders to do so. The decision making capability at lower levels was non-existent as all officers were trained in absolute obedience to the authority of officers above them in the chain of command. This rigidity prevented them from adequately responding to the German invasion that ignited WWII.
Centralizing decisions a the COC is basically in the French vein. Basically, you are saying, the French system wasn't bad, there was just not the technology to support it against the cellular command mentality of the German army. Now we are approaching the technology necessary to truly allow those 'in the rear' to make the decisions for those up at the front. Now that detailed information is available to them, those with experience and the overall strategy in the back of their minds (or operational goals depending on the level of COC) can make the necessary decisions to ensure the achievement of their ends.
From what you are saying, subordinate commanders merely exist to execute and enforce the decisions of their superiors. This will ultimatley lead to automatons for troops, and bitter or poorly trained leaders who will not make the necessary decisions in the face of the enemy.
Like mdg said, that is not how we should fight. The other thread of though states that Commander's establish mission and intent, and once that is passed, senior commanders exist to support the decisions of their subordinate commanders, within reason.
The question still stands, however, do Marines actually fight and decide as maneuverists, or are they hampered by higher control?