Comments on Maneuver

by MajGen J. Michael Myatt, USMC(Ret)

Maneuver warfare has been a topic of discussion for two decades, but some aspects of the concept are not fully appreciated. I recommend we use the term “maneuver” for this mission area and avoid the term “ground maneuver.” My reason is that the term “ground maneuver” is far too narrow in its description of joint operations on land-particularly when you consider that tactical aviation can be used as a separate maneuver element in land operations; that operational maneuver from the sea has been decisive in many campaigns of military history; and that “maneuver” requires sustainment, making it impossible to conduct land warfare on someone else’s turf without a robust maritime transportation capability for the logistic support of the forces ashore.

Maneuver warfare is recognized Department of Defense doctrine, however, not many seem to really understand what this doctrine means. Recently, I reread JCS Pub 3-0 and then read a new brochure on diitizing the battlefield. Both documents emphasize synchronization as a tenet of maneuver warfare. This emphasis has some unintended effects. It implies waiting to do something to the enemy until everyone on our side is ready. It makes the synchronization matrix the end and not just a means to the end. Synchronization is a catchy buzzword, and I worry that some junior officers might actually believe that synchronization is more important than speed of action and initiative.

Our joint doctrine is deficient, and the proof is provided by the joint definition of maneuver, which concentrates only on the spatial aspect of gaining a positional advantage over our opponent. We should consider maneuver in time also, where we generate a greater operational tempo than an adversary, gaining a temporal advantage. We need to consider both dimensions of maneuver to truly understand how we can use maneuver to achieve decisive superiority at the right time and place. This must be understood as we do any mission area analysis.

First and foremost we must recognize that warfare is an intellectual endeavor because combat is between thinking adversaries, each trying to gain an advantage over the other through trickery of all forms. The moves and countermoves of a conflict all originate in the intellect, and are not generally subject to prediction or modeling. Ironically, because men are involved, there is a strong human tendency to attempt to organize and control the battlefield. This perspective is one that ignores the fact that war is incontinued after Insert herently chaotic-an uncontrollable, two-sided contest dominated by chance and confusion. Some people predict chaos on a battlefield where a senior isn’t in complete control of his subordinates. In fact, due to friction, uncertainty, and the inherent chaos of war, complete control is an unattainable goal, just as much as is a goal of “perfect information.” Coordination of actions of subordinates on the battlefield is possible because the commander has expressed his intent (the “why”) and there exists a trust between the commander and subordinates that the subordinates will act (take initiative) and make decisions in consonance with the commander’s intent, which is the glue that binds these actions together. Some erroneously label this as “centralized planning, decentralized execution.” What we are describing here is “centralized vision and decentralized decisionmaking!”

I want to stress the importance of maneuver’s temporal aspect. Speed of actions is vital to generate the tempo necessary to be relevant-and it is possible to unhinge an opponent and unravel his unit cohesion by continuing to cause him to focus inward. In the analysis of maneuver, we need to address “speed of action” and rise above the tendency to use “tons of steel on target,” as our sole criteria for decision.

The tendency to focus on firepower in analysis could be blamed on the fact that we know how to model “tons of steel on target,” but we aren’t able to model the “intellect.” However, I think it is more a result of the complete absence of the proper view of war that I mentioned above as being primarily a process of outthinking one’s opponent. This is not to say that it will ever be devoid of fighting. But, if we [senior leadership] at our level understand that we must outthink our opponents, then there will be a lot less fighting and a lot less dying by those youngsters entrusted to us to lead, teach, and train to fight.

At least some conscious addressal of the fact that it is the intellect that must be paramount in the Pentagon warfighting appraisal is appropriate. One way to achieve this goal is to begin to think of our way of war as being one focused on defeating an enemy rather than trying to destroy him. I have example after example of why this is important. It is vital that we all understand that destroying an enemy is far more costly in national treasure (i.e., lives and dollars) than it is to defeat him. Some will laugh and say the Sun Tsu doesn’t apply in modern war. How ludicrous! He is more relevant today than ever. Isn’t that what the public has been saying when calling for victories with no casualties? We have a far better chance of satisfying this political imperative by teaching our subordinates to defeat the enemy rather than to destroy him. J.F.C. Fuller was obsessed with this problem and wrote about it in his essay on Battle, published in 1931. Although his prophetic insights are even more relevant today, his own countrymen (and the Americans, too) proved it is “easier to think like a wild beast,” ignoring Fuller while the Germans adopted his every recommendation.

Let me cite two examples of the “defeat vs destroy” situation:

During the 5 months of Operation DESERT SHIELD, the Ist Marine Division spent a great deal of time studying how the Iraqis fight and looking extensively at the Iran-Iraq war. Iraqi artillery was very effective in trapping Iranian soldiers time and time again in `firesacks’ where thousands of Iranians perished. We knew there were 1,200 artillery pieces belonging to the 6 divisions facing the 1st Marine Division. In our studies of the two obstacle belts in Kuwait and the amounts of Iraqi artillery, we concluded that the Iraqis were planning on trapping us in at least two firesacks when we attacked. We also recognized that there wasn’t enough ordnance in the aviators’ inventory to “destroy” all that artillery during the first phase of DESERT STORM. So we designed a series of ambushes (combined arms raids) to “defeat the Iraqi artillerymen” before we ever attacked into Kuwait.

DESERT STORM kicked off on 17 January and the Iraqis began firing their artillery into Saudi Arabia at Marine and Arab units (along with an extensive air defense artillery display when our aircraft ventured over Kuwait. Two aircraft were lost over Kuwait and two French aircraft were badly shot up forcing them to change their tactics and go high). On 19 January, we ran our first raid. In all, we conducted 9 raids from 19 January until G-day on 24 February. Having chosen a lucrative target during the day with a Pioneer remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), our scheme was to move an artillery battery close to the Kuwaiti border at night, escorted by a light armored infantry company. We would station an EA6B to jam the Iraqis ground surveillance radars (which they had in large numbers and employed liberally) until after we had fired the entire battery-6 on the target, using dual purpose, improved conventional munitions. Then, just as the artillery battery started its withdrawal phase of the raid, the EA-6B would stop jamming just long enough for the Iraqi’s to detect the battery’s movement before “turning on the buzzer” again. The Pioneer RPV would orbit the Iraqi artillery. Our intent was to cause the Iraqi artillery to respond to our fires, which they did each and every time, meaning that there were Iraqi soldiers on their guns. Once they would begin firing, our F/A-18 FastFac would detect their muzzle flashes and he would then direct the “wolfpack” of F/A-18s and AV-8Bs waiting in orbit to roll in on the firing Iraqi artillery.

Please remember that our aim was to defeat the “minds” of the Iraqi artillerymen-to convince them that it just wasn’t smart to man their artillery pieces because every time they did, aircraft came rolling in on them. We achieved this objective in the third week of February when Iraqi artillerymen were observed by the RPV abandoning their howitzers as our aircraft began attacking their positions after such a raid.

My second example is about the time we conducted an operation in mid-February of 1991 to cause the Iraqi infantrymen to think we had prematurely commenced the ground attack. We were just trying to screw with their minds. We collected all the old trucks and cars we could find that were still able to run and rigged them with explosives and remote detonators. Then one night we put the vehicles in a formation and tied the steering wheels to keep them pointed toward the first obstacle belt. We used the huge psyops speakers to broadcast tapes of tanks moving around the battlefield. Then we conducted an extensive artillery prep and sent the trucks heading toward the awaiting Iraqis. As the vehicles approached the obstacle belt, we detonated the explosives in the trucks. We called this event “Operation Flail.” In digesting all the captured documents after the war, we were most pleased to note that the frontline division commander concluded that he had been attacked that night and had been defeated.

Lastly, we need to ask about the confusion of the term “overwhelming force” with the term “decisive force.” We must guard against conveying the impression that the United States will always commit overwhelming force to end all conflicts quickly with minimum casualties, or we won’t get involved. Is this a policy statement that would prohibit action with forces positioned at the right place at the right time to take decisive action even though it might take much longer to achieve “overwhelming force”? How might this confusion affect the assessment process? Will we spend more resources to make sure we always have “overwhelming force?”

As we get on with the Joint Warfare Capabilities Assessment process, our focus should be on the interoperability of systems and programs. Comparing one Service’s “system A” with another Service’s “system B” isn’t what we need to do at this level. And, in the assessment process, using a series of attrition-based analytical models would do nothing more than reward “brute force instead of generalship.” As this is our first year to do the assessments, our expectations should be realistic. I personally think that each Service would derive enormous benefits and knowledge about the other Services from discussions and education resulting from the professional debates during a series of seminar wargames. The games could be held in a decision lab-type facility where professional military judgment makes the calls and where the results are supported by computer software that permits a free exchange of ideas and opportunities to sway, convince, and prioritize the value of programs for the chairman’s use.