Current Training and Maneuver Warfare

by CWO-2 Bryan N. Lavender

You fight the way you train. If you train with misconceptions, those misconceptions will follow you into combat, where reality will disabuse you of them at a severe price. This price can be more than you are able to afford.

For several years now, we have been told that we are going to fight the first battles of the next war outnumbered. This assertion appears time and again in civilian and professional military publications, in U.S. Army manuals, in Marine Corps Development and Education Command (MCDEC) publications.

As Operational Handbook (OH) 9-3, Mechanized Combined Arms Task Forces (MCATF) so succinctly puts it:

In many situations, MCATFs will be out-numbered and outgunned. An attrition contest, relying on firepower, is not likely to bring a positive result. Therefore, MCATFs must be prepared to USE MANEUVER WARFARE.

In light of our current training practices, this brief statement does not bid well for the future, because we are not training for the conditions described above. When was the last time your unit conducted an exercise against an aggressor force that outnumbered and outgunned you? When was the last time your unit faced an aggressor force that was not restricted in its actions by a script, i.e., a scenario?

Just what are we training for? Exercise after exercise puts units in the field that enjoy such a preponderance of combat power that the issue, scenario aside, could never really be in doubt. There is little or no suggestion of maneuver or finesse; we just blast our way from one hill to the next, with the aggressor forces conveniently placed in time to obligingly “die” for us. This situation actively encourages the firepower/attrition style of warfare that our latest publications tell us is obsolete! To paraphrase the French observer at Balaclava, “Magnificent! But it isn’t maneuver warfare!”

In addition to encouraging firepower/attrition, the scenario-driven exercise is training operational/tactical initiative and flexibility out of the Marine Corps. There is no challenge, if you know you are going to “win,” because the scenario will prevent the aggressor forces from interfering with the “training objectives.” Where is it written that Marine units must always “win” their exercises? This is an unwritten rule that results from the “zerodefects” or “be careful” mentality described by Capt G.I. Wilson, in his Apr81 GAZETTE article.

It is ironic that this approach to training not only will prevent us from mastering maneuver warfare, it will also degrade our ability to conduct firepower/attrition warfare. When mistakes are forbidden in training, then the only place left to make mistakes is in combat. This is certainly an expensive approach to learning, to say the least.

If we accept Mr. William Lind’s definition of tactics as “a process combining learned techniques with an educated understanding of the art of war, all applied in a unique way to the unique circumstance that is each opponent, each battle,” then the fallacy of scenariodriven exercises is apparent.

OH 9-3 (Rev.A) offers the following definition of maneuver warfare:

an overall STYLE OF WARFARE. It seeks to DISLOCATE, DISRUPT, and DISORIENT the opponent, DESTROYING HIS COHESION, rather than destroying him piece-by-piece with firepower. In maneuver war, the MCATF seeks to create SUCCESSIVE UNEXPECTED and THREATENING situations for the opponent. The opponent should be brought to see his situation NOT JUST AS UNFAVORABLE OR DETERIORATING; he must see it as DETERIORATING AT AN EVER INCREASING PACE.

Education Center Publication (ECP) 9-5, Marine Amphibious Brigade Mechanized and Countermechanized Operations continues this theme:

The commander must orient on the enemy rather than the terrain. He must exploit every advantage afforded him by the ever changing terrain and enemy to achieve his assigned mission.

How can we continue to develop and utilize detailed scenarios and continue to think it is realistic tactical training? The enemies we will face in the next war will not be following our script.

The field exercises alluded to above are only part of the problem. The combined arms exercises (CAXs) conducted at Twentynine Palms are a valuable training vehicle for refinement of fire support coordination techniques and represents the most realistic live-fire training currently available; but since the course of the CAX is totally scenario-driven, there is little or no tactical training derived. We have to accept the risk of firepower/attrition reinforcement in the minds of the participants, though a more forceful or detailed definition of what is being accomplished in the conduct of a CAX may be helpful to mitigate this reinforcement. As it is, too many Marines come away with the idea that the movement they made was maneuver and the techniques they practiced were tactics.

Another evolution to be addressed briefly is the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation System (MCCRES). This is also a scenario-driven exercise that is giving more Marines than one might think the idea that they are participating in a tactical exercise, though unit commanders are very aware of the purpose of the MCCRES. LtGen A.S. Collins, USA(Ret), in his book Common Sense Training, has this to say about checklist-type evaluations:

All units have to undergo tests from time to time and it is proper that they should. Too often, training is oriented toward the checklist and the actions of the umpire rather than being sure the soldier knows how to do his job right . . . It is obvious that the major concern of [the] commander was not how well his platoons executed the missions; it was how they scored on the checklist.

In other words, training is sometimes directed toward MCCRES, not toward combat. While recognizing that MCCRES as a scenario-driven exercise is designed to evaluate procedures and not tactics, one must be led to the questions: Is an evaluation that does not include tactics a valid measure of combat readiness? What does test or evaluate tactics?

Command post exercises (CPXs) are an economical means of exercising organizational staffs; but as these, exercises are scenario-driven, operational tactics again are neglected. Often, the entire course of the “battle” is spelled out in advance by an operations order that, more often than not, resembles a telephone directory for a major city. That superlative infantryman Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is quoted in The Rommel Papers (edited by B.H. Liddell Hart) . . .

When two armies meet on the battlefield, each of the opposing commanders has his own particular plan according to which he intends to engage his enemy, and the battle develops out of the two opposing plans. Only rarely in history has a battle gone completely according to the plan of either side and then usually because either the victor has had absolute quantitive or qualitive superiority or the loser has been utterly incompetent.

Our CPX scenarios usually give the friendly forces this superiority; and to remove all possibility of “defeat,” i.e., not meeting the training objectives, the opposing forces are rendered “incompetent” by not giving their commander more than token freedom of action. Wouldn’t a more realistic exercise of the staffs involved result from the constantly changing and often unpredictable situations that result from the unfettered tactical interplay of two opposing forces? If we continue to protect staffs by means of a scenario in training, how will we be able to justify any expectation that those same staffs will be able to function effectively in a fast-moving situation where detailed plans cannot be made for days in advance, i.e., in combat?

The CPX scenario has the added disadvantage in that, by detailing the course of an operation for days in advance, it must of necessity key on terrain objectives. This is in direct opposition to the concept delineated in ECP 9-5 and quoted above. Fixation on terrain makes it easy to fall into carefully orchestrated fire-support coordination assaults that, once again, reinforce a firepower/attrition mindset at the expense of maneuver.

Similar to the CPX, and frequently utilized to support the CPX, is the Tactical Warfare Simulation, Evaluation, and Analysis System (TWSEAS). LtCol M.D. Wyly, in his Apr81 GAZETTE article, has already pointed out the “body-count,” i.e., firepower/attrition, mind-set that TWSEAS can foster. It is necessary only to point out again that tactics are not really present in a scenario-driven exercise. The TWSEAS computer will require an expansion of its capabilities before it can be used to simulate tactics. As this is not possible with the present system, thought should be given to a follow-on system that can simulate the conditions of maneuver warfare.

So where are we? We seem to be in the curious position of saying we’re going to fight outnumbered and win by using maneuver warfare, while we continue to train in firepower/attrition warfare against outnumbered aggressor forces. Serious consideration must be given to rectifying this situation, and the following suggestions are made with this in mind:

* Remove “walk-before-we-run” from our vocabulary. It is an insidious phrase firmly rooted in the “be careful” mindset. If repeated often enough, it will result in a slow plod down the road to extinction. Make mistakes! What better way to learn?

* Institute a Marine Corps-wide policy for the study of military history, compulsory if necessary, beginning at The Basic School (TBS). A military man without an understanding of, and a background in, military history is fighting with one hand tied behind his back if he attempts maneuver warfare. Many officers pursue such an education on their own initiative, but “many” is not “enough.” It is encouraging to note that some progressive commands conduct tactical seminars regularly. This, too, should be policy.

* Remove the toy store onus from wargames or conflict simulations. Those familiar with wargames will assure you that the more advanced games on the market are not only a tough challenge for the adult mind, but also provide a valid teaching tool. Complexity varies from game to game, but overall, they are by far the most economical means of laying a groundwork for further training. Wargames also lend themselves to a better understanding of military history, since virtually all games are based on past conflicts. For those individuals that still depreciate the wargame, a closer study of military history will reveal that, for more than 100 years, several major military powers have successfully used wargames as an integral part of their training and operational planning process.

* Make training exercises realistic in regards to opposing forces. Put aggressor forces in the field that have a reasonable prospect of being able to “win” if properly employed, but remember that there are no “winners” or “losers” in a peacetime exercise; there are only Marines gaining knowledge and experience through either mistakes made or operations successfully conducted. It is unreasonable to expect units accustomed to a four to one (or more) superiority to take the field with the odds reversed and gain anything more than a sense of futility, but start training for those odds by working up from two to one or one to one. The opposing forces commander should be given a realistic mission to accomplish and no restrictions on his execution of that mission, i.e., a “free-play” vice scenario-driven exercise.

[black right triangle] Integrate operational tactics into CPX/TWSEAS exercises. Make these exercises recon-pull vice command-push, and staffs will be more challenged by the unpredictable, unique situations that result. The experience gained will be more valid. Again, the tactical development of these exercises should be “free-play.”

[black right triangle] Stabilize our units. Unit rotation is a major step in the right direction, but personnel turbulence is still a major obstacle to advanced training in maneuver warfare. People have to know each other to work effectively together. It should be noted that the phrase “breaking in a new staff” is easily translated to “walk-before-we-run,” and so should be regarded with suspicion. If staffs are stabilized to the maximum extent possible, this can be avoided. Unit stabilization will enable commanders at all levels to develop a training program that steadily increases the odds in favor of the aggressor forces until the ratio accurately reflects the three to one (or more) odds we are constantly being told we may have to face in future conflicts.

[black right triangle] Reexamine the concept of task organization. OH 9-3 states:

THE SKILL IN CONDUCTING MCATF OPERATIONS WILL BE IN DIRECT PROPORTION TO THE AMOUNT AND QUALITY OF PREPARATORY TRAINING. It is estimated that, with untrained staffs and forces, it could take as much as forty-five to ninety days to form a MCATF into a viable fighting force. Forces and staffs previously trained and practiced in MCATF operations should be able to field a MCATF in thirty days or less.

The time estimates given above are certainly reasonable, though it must be kept in mind for the latter figure that “or less” will be valid only if the previous training was recently conducted. If the Marine Corps is to be presented as part of the Nation’s rapid deployment force (RDF), it will not be credible as such if one to three months’ advance warning is required to field a “viable” MCATF. Establishing permanent MCATFs at the MAB level, complete with all supporting arms and combat support elements would enable the Marine Corps to field a viable MCATF on short notice. A highly trained and effective combat force could thus be embarked, sealifted, and landed anywhere in the world in the same amount of time (or less) than a comparable force obtained through task organization could finish training.

These suggestions are directed towards improving mechanized maneuver warfare capability. It is essential to keep in mind that, in regard to maneuver warfare, there is no real difference between mechanized and nonmechanized formations; the basic principles are the same. Erwin Rommel handled motorized formations in virtually the same manner as he handled light infantry; the difference in speed and distance was relational. Marine infantry regiments not included in the MCATFs will not suffer for lack of mechanized training. They will be better off in that they will be able to concentrate their attentions on light infantry maneuver warfare, which is just as important.

The only major factor not discussed to this point is time. As we continue to debate the relative merits of maneuver warfare, time is passing us by. If ultimately maneuver warfare as a concept is embraced by the Corps, the major obstacle to its implementation will come from the “be careful” school, which will demand a slow, careful, step-by-step approach. “Walk-before-we-run” will be the justification used to delay the implementation. A sense of urgency needs to be conveyed here. When your advance guard is engaging the advance guard of an enemy motorized rifle division, it’s too late to break out Von Mellenthin’s Panzer Battles for a quick course in maneuver warfare. There is no physical obstacle to training in maneuver warfare now. Training at all levels, actual field training, is essential to mastering maneuver warfare. Discussion and debate is desirable and necessary, but should not be prolonged at the expense of training. As Field Marshal Rommel, describing the difficulties of the inexperienced American forces at Kasserine Pass in World War II, remarked:

Commanders whose battles have so far all been fought in theory tend as a rule to react directly rather than indirectly to the enemy’s moves. Beginners generally lack the nerve to make decisions based on military expediency alone, without regard for what is weighing most heavily on their minds.