Dysfunctional Doctrine: The Marine Corps and FMFM 1, Warfighting

by Maj Robert S. Trout

1992 Chase Prize Essay Contest Honorable Mention

The fact that we teach it means we believe it. If we teach it and don’t believe it. we’re all frauds. If we teach it and we believe it. then we must buy the weapons that make it work and write the manuals that say how to use the weapons that make it work.

-Gen William E. DePuy, USA

Unlike the ongoing equipment modernization process, doctrinal development has remained stagnant. Thus, as the Corps faces the next century, it does so with 1990s weapons and 1970s doctrine-completely forgetting that even the best weapons can be rendered impotent by improper employment. The root causes of the Corps’ dysfunctional doctrine lie in two areas. First, a capstone manual that is amorphous and not solid enough to support a foundation for future development; and second, a doctrinal development process that thus far has been unable to produce a utilitarian and pragmatic doctrine.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff define military doctrine as a set of fundamental principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of national objectives. Doctrine is authoritative, but requires judgment in application.

FMFM 1, Warfighting announces itself on the first page as being both doctrine and the authoritative basis for how we fight. Eschewing formulas, it is the capstone doctrinal manual of the Marine Corps. Enclosed within its 74 pages is a mixture of maneuver warfare concepts. Clausewitz, and Sun Tzu. All are carefully blended to expand on the well-founded nine principles of war* that have guided U.S. military thought since 1921. It purposely does not contain specific techniques or procedures, but instead provides broad guidance in the form of concepts and values.

The principles of war are fundamental to doctrine, but they are not doctrine in and of themselves. It is an attractively deceptive argument to believe that broad guidance in the form of concepts and values, based on the principles of war, is doctrine. It is not. Doctrine must be constructed by the organization and include those attributes that are unique to the force that is building it. Each organization has a different view of its cultural heritage, subordinate span of control, and junior leadership. It is these special attributes along with the principles of war that make up a military organization’s doctrine. If this were not so, every military force would look and perform in an identical fashion. What separates the successful militaries of the world from the defeated is not the principles of war, but how they blend and bend them into a particular style of warfare-into doctrine.

To succeed on the battlefield, Marines need solid doctrinal underpinnings. This is particularly important in giving commanders and subordinates on the battlefield shared assumptions that enable them to know intuitively what others might be doing under the confused pressures of combat. Warfighting with all its generalities does not provide this, nor does it provide guidance in four other areas that are doctrinally related to an organization’s warfighting ability.

First, it does not provide guidance on weapons procurement. Given the relative sophistication of today’s battlefield, it is vital that the Corps continues to acquire advanced weapons. It is equally vital that those weapons “fit” into the organization’s doctrinal style of warfare, in order to magnify the capabilities of both. Without a specific doctrine, a weapon is merely purchased to fill a gap or perceived need. There is a difference. One method speculates on what the organization and the weapon together will do to the enemy. The other method is centered on just the weapon, regardless of who employs it or how it is employed.

Second, Warfighting doesn’t explore force structure. Military organizations design their forces around their doctrine and equipment. Their style of warfare determines the size and capability of not only the combat forces, but the combat support and combat service support formations as well. All are structured and integrated to display the organization’s warfighting ability to its best advantage. A dated or unclear doctrine indicates that the organization employing it is not clearly structured and therefore not fully combat capable, regardless of its weapon suites. Poor doctrine also indicates that a force deploying modern weapons will not be able to properly maintain or employ them to their maximum potential.

Third, doctrine alone is useless unless training and education can instill the necessary standards of performance. Doctrine sets these educational and training standards. It also ensures that there is a link between education, training, and battlefield realities. Doctrine also provides the educational and training laboratory in which to test new equipment and methods outside the unforgiving arena of combat. Additionally, a thorough education and training process not only teaches doctrine, but is itself a pathway for doctrinal change.

Fourth, a well-written capstone document should serve as a foundation for subordinate doctrine. It has the dual purpose of stringently examining current practices while simultaneously serving as a base for tactical and technical innovations. It also ensures that the organization’s tactical and operational concepts are interrelated and mutually supportive. A successful capstone document is the Army’s Field Manual 100-5 (FM 100-5) Operations. Revised in 1986 to present AirLand Battle doctrine, it serves as the basis for all Army warfighting field manuals. Its precepts were the chief cause of victory during Operation DESERT STORM. Using FM 100-5 as a doctrinal template, Central Command was able to engineer a tactical success into a deep operational turning movement to meet its mandated strategic goals.

As the authoritative basis for how Marines fight, Warfighting is woefully inadequate and fundamentally flawed. It does not provide the necessary guidance that is needed to glue weapons acquisition, force structure, education and training, and subordinate doctrine together. Furthermore, Warfighting ignores the attributes that are unique to the Corps, and are our greatest strength-a balanced combined arms team, integrated air support, tactical excellence, and the ability to quickly task organize. Nor in its generalities, does it furnish the operating forces with a battle-tested, lucid method of waging war. The flaws in Warfighting, grave as they are, are only a symptom of a larger and more intractable problem-the doctrine development process.

If the development of combat doctrine is used as a test, the Corps has failed. Established in 1984 to write doctrine, the Doctrine Center-now the Doctrine Division-has yet to produce a doctrinal capstone manual written for a force preparing for war. Warfighting is not adequate nor is its companion manual FMFM 1-1 Campaigning. In Campaigning, the Corps’ preeminent publication on the operational level of war, less information is contained on the employment of Marine aviation than in a like manual, FM 100-15 Corps Operations, published by the U.S. Army (11 lines versus 4 pages).

Not only has the Corps’ doctrine development process failed to publish a pragmatic doctrine, it has also failed to update or upgrade those “doctrinal” manuals that are obsolete. For example, FMFM 6-1 Marine Division, last updated in 1988, contains numerous organizational errors and contains absolutely no information on light armored infantry or how the division operates in the rear, close, and deep battle areas. However, it contains no fewer than 14 pages on how to mark a railroad flatcar.

A process that publishes ambiguous doctrine and allows years to pass without doctrinal upgrades needs to be changed. Three specific changes that are needed include greater involvement of the operating forces in the doctrine writing process, ensuring that a group and not an individual writes the doctrine, and insisting that the developed doctrine be pragmatic.

The U.S. Army brought the whole force into its doctrinal writing process. The idea of the French peasant’s proverbial “pot of soup,” i.e., a mix to which new ingredients were continually being added for the general benefit, was fostered. Involving the whole force also had the effect of crystallizing doctrinal theories into valid and workable concepts. Unworkable or nebulous ideas would never be acceptable to the frontline units, who had a say in the matter. This not only created interest within the operating forces, it also made the subsequent introduction and adoption of new doctrine easier. The Army made it a point to consult with its soldiers down to the battalion level about proposed doctrine. When was the last time the Corps consulted its officers, and in particular its experienced staff noncommissioned officers in the operating forces, on new doctrine?

When the whole force is consulted on a new doctrine, a facilitator and not necessarily an author is needed. While supervising the writing of the revolutionary Stormtroop doctrine, Gen E. F. Ludendorff, Deputy Chief of Staff of the World War I German Army, saw himself as a doctrine coordinator, not as an author. As such, he emphasized a group effort in writing doctrine. Appointing a group of junior officers (majors and captains) of various occupational specialties to do the actual writing, Ludendorff coordinated their efforts with the various staff sections. The group ensured, through its mix of occupational specialites, that battlefield concepts were both workable and supportable. The result was a remarkable document that not only met the German Army’s immediate needs, but later served as the doctrinal foundation for the blitzkrieg operations used in World War II. The writing of Marine Corps doctrine compares unfavorably to this practice, and may account for the dearth of information in Marine Division on deliberate breaching operations, an engineer/ infantry task.

Both the German and the U.S. Armies dealt with the pragmatic. They were concerned with winning the first battle of the next war. A solid doctrine was seen as a means to do this. To this end, both produced capstone doctrines that encompassed both proven and conceptually proven methods. This attempt to articulate specific and useful ideas is in direct contrast to the Corps’ cautious retreat into vagueness.

Incorporating the above changes into the Corps’ doctrinal development process can be done easily and cost effectively. Consulting the operating forces by a simple phone call or a liaison visit can put these forces back into the doctrinal loop. Requiring Fleet Marine Force concurrence on new doctrine can have the same effect.

Collocated with the Doctrine Division at Quantico are the Senior SNCO Academy of the Marine Corps, the Amphibious Warfare School, Communications Officer School, Command and Staff College, School of Advanced Warfighting, and the Marine Corps War College. All are composed of experienced Marines of various ranks and specialties. It would be a simple matter to consult them, or to require their involvement, in the formulation of doctrine. Gen John H. Russell successfully did this during the 1930s, thereby producing the amphibious doctrine that was used to devastating effect in World War II.

The first step in achieving a pragmatic doctrine is to recognize Warfighting and Campaigning for what they are. Both contain useful information that can serve as a foundation for doctrinal development, but in themselves are not doctrine. Neither document is written in enough detail to serve as the capstone manual for the Corps. Their publication as training circulars-a Reader’s Digest version of Sun Tzu and Clausewitz-would be more appropriate. Retaining them as existing doctrine creates a barrier to future doctrinal development. Use them as an educational tool, not as doctrine.

If it is to maintain its battlefield edge into the next century, the Corps needs something it currently does not have. It needs a pragmatic warfighting doctrine-a doctrine written by a group of Marines of diverse operational backgrounds in close consultation with the operating forces and coordinated by the Doctrine Division. Its key doctrinal tenets should be practical, achievable, and supportable. It should build upon the principles of war and upon those attributes that have been crucial to the Corps’ success in the past-employment of balanced combined arms, integrated air support, tactical excellence, and the ability to quickly task organize. These measures will give the Corps a viable doctrine that will have an immediate use today and will serve as a doctrinal foundation for tomorrow. With an adequate doctrine, effective forces can be deployed. With an inadequate doctrine, a military force and a nation are courting disaster.