Aviation’s Maneuver Doctrine

Questions about how Marine aviation should respond to the Corps’ adoption of maneuver warfare doctrine first arose more than a decade ago. Would this change in doctrine affect the operational concepts, training, and focus of effort of Marine aircraft wings-perhaps even their organization and aircraft mix? Early discussion of the issue centered primarily on the possibility of using the aviation combat element (ACE) as an independent maneuver element and assigning it missions, such as guarding a flank or seeking out and interdicting the movement of enemy ground reserves. These ideas, however, never really impacted exercises or aviation activities in major way, and the basic questions remained unresolved. Earlier this year discussion of Jaeger Air seemed to renew interest in the topic (see MCG, May, Jun, Sep96). The Commandant’s Warfighting Laboratory now plans to include tests of Jaeger Air in the first advanced warfighting experiment (AWE) to be conducted early next year (see CMC’s discussion of AWEs on p. 15) Now in this issue (pp. 21-23) Maj Richard M. Rayfield revisits the discussion of the aviationmaneuver warfare relationship.

Maj Rayfield’s basic thesis is easily summarized: He recognizes that the strength and success of the Corps’ MAGTFs stem from the combined arms team concept and believes “the adoption of maneuver warfare as the Corps’ warfighting philosophy signals a need for a reevaluation of Marine aviation.” He examines how the capabilities of the ACE relate to maneuver warfare principles and finds that, potentially at least, the match is good. The ACE can provide “a newly realized dimension of flexibility, firepower, and mobility to add to the commander’s tools,” but unless we train and employ aviation properly “we will be unable to effectively maximize it inherent capabilities.”

To put Rayfield’s thesis in different terms, the ultimate goal of maneuver warfare is to bring about the collapse of the enemy, a goal that is to be accomplished not by attacking and destroying his strengths but by confronting him with a tempo of unexpected actions he cannot match and by disrupting capabilities essential to his functioning. Aviation plays a critical part in achieving this. It not only must provide critical close air support for engaged ground units but also must contribute directly to the collapse-a condition that is most likely to occur when enemy commands are stripped of their electronic surveillance means, unable to communicate reliably with their own or external units, unable to obtain direct fire support, unable to move or resupply their forces, and experiencing the psychological effects of this uncertainty and helplessness.

As Marine aviation strives to improve its contributions to a Corps employing maneuver warfare doctrine, locating and destroying or neutralizing the nodes and processes that allow the enemy to function should become a primary goal. Obviously, Marine aviation has always sought these targets, but arguably they have not been central objectives in its operational concept, nor have the means for doing so been available. This is now changing. Aviation intelligence can make the location of nodes critical to the enemy’s surveillance, targeting, fire support, communications, and logistics subsystems a more important focus in its collection/analysis efforts.

Such a shift should further facilitate the functional collapse of enemy regiments, divisions, or corps confronting the MAGTF and could conceivably lead to aviation structure changes driven by the need for increased reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, additional command and control warfare assets, and for closer integration with Joint STARS, E-2C Hawkeye, or other outside assets. Maximizing aviation‘s contributions to the implementation of maneuver warfare remains an important goal, and we would welcome your ideas on this matter.