Embrace Maneuver Warfare

by Maj Jason W. Heuer

The “Embrace Maneuver Warfare” author, Capt Andrews J. Graham (MCG, Feb 10, p. 27), calls for placing aviation assets in direct support (DS) of an infantry battalion in order to better adhere to the Marine Corps’ doctrinal employment of maneuver warfare in a counterinsurgency environment. The author believes that placing a Marine light attack helicopter squadron section in DS of a battalion will allow for better and more responsive support as the aviation assets would be collocated with the battalion. This in turn would facilitate quicker response times in a complex and fluid battle and improve face-to-face planning and the aircrew’s overall situational awareness and intelligence-gathering ability. It is clear that the author intends to enhance the combat power of the infantry battalions by increasing the options available to the battalion commander when he must rapidly decide how to act with the speed and boldness required in a dynamic tactical situation. However, I believe this proposal equates to a dismantling of the aviation request and tasking process and overlooks one of the three tenets of maneuver warfare – unity of command.

On the surface this proposal appears feasible and shows a fundamental understanding of the overall intent of maneuver warfare – breaking the enemy’s will to continue to resist by constantly presenting him with conditions to which he is unable to effectively respond. It also shows that the author understands chat our doctrine implores us to be flexible and accepting of change when presented with the opportunity to improve our warfighting capabilities. However, closer examination of the author’s argument reveals that implementation of this concept would require significant changes for employing and maintaining limited aviation assets and resources. As a response I offer three areas of Capt Graham’s proposal that were overlooked.

First, the process whereby units request aviation support is not adequately covered. The current process requires that requesting units analyze their aviation requirements during the detailed planning process and integrate it into their overall concept of operations. The unit then submits to the common headquarters (e.g., MAGTF) a joint tactical airstrike request/assault support request (JTAR/ ASR) 72 hours prior to execution that requests aviation support and then has the appropriate assets assigned via the air tasking order (ATO). The necessity of submitting the JTAR/ASR 72 hours prior to execution allows for proper apportionment and allocation. The process allows headquarters future operations personnel to analyze the requests and prioritize which of the requests will be sourced by our relatively limited aviation assets. The intent is to source every request, but limited assets and the large number of requests doesn’t always make this goal a possibility. Planners will attempt to roll requests that are not sourced on the requested day to the next ATO in production. The process is intended to ensure that the use of Marine Corps aviation assets is scrutinized, the subsequent tasking of assets is based on established priorities, and effective battlefield results are achieved.

Requests must be thoroughly scrutinized in order to ensure that aviation assets currently being flown at a rate beyond their planned utilization are used in an efficient and effective manner. The author of “Embrace Maneuver Warfare” believes that this process is slow, unresponsive, and unable to react to the immediate needs of a maneuver element commander. He counters that the assignment of a section of aircraft in DS would repair this shortfall and allow for better face-to-face planning and integration in the overall scheme of maneuver. This proposal negates the need for supported units to do the essential detailed planning that results in a thorough and well-written JTAR/ ASR. In order to be able to continuously employ our valuable aviation assets and ensure that they are utilized effectively, their tasking must be supervised, planned in detail, and efficient. The detailed planning requires a requesting unit to identify a requested capability then srare a ca sfc a nd purpose, not request a specific asset for DS. The aforementioned planning expedites the ATO development process, allowing ATO development cells in future operations to allocate an asset with the requested capability, versus filling a request for DS aircraft.

When this process doesn’t match up with a rapidly evolving battlefield, there are allowances and decisions integrated in the ATO development process and execution to ensure that aviation support remains responsive to ground forces. First, allowances are made that permit supported units to submit requests for aviation support inside of 72 hours when the request is in response to a change on the battlefield or when planning assumptions and factors have changed. Second, untasked aircraft will be assigned to a strip alert status on the ATO. These strip alert aircraft allow the aviation combat element (ACE) to react to immediate requests for air support. Watch officers in the tactical air command center can immediately answer the request and respond to a dynamic situation by authorizing the launch of these assets when the situation dictates. Watch officers also have the option to divert airborne aircraft from lower priority missions to the evolving situation. The decision to divert aircraft or to launch aircraft on strip alert is executed within the parameters of the priorities assigned by the MAGTF commander and executed by the ACE commander. These allowances and decisions allow the ACE the flexibility to provide what is necessary at the point of attack when changes on the battlefield must be reacted to inside the ATO planning cycle.

Second, in addition to ensuring that aircraft are used effectively, the ATO planning process is in place to ensure that the MAGTF commander’s aviation assets are used in a way that supports his overall scheme of maneuver, objectives, and intent. Simply requesting an asset (vice a capability) when seeking the support of aircraft and subsequently granting the battalion commander tactical control of these assets doesn’t ensure that the use of aviation assets is constantly nested with the MAGTF commanders intent and tasks. Utilizing the current process ensures that the overall structure of a MAGTF and its employment is maintained in accordance with our doctrine. Further, the Marine Corps Planning Process requires that the MAGTF commander’s tasks and intents be continually nested in the planning process. The request for a capability in the JTAR/ASR is a result of this planning. If aircraft were assigned to a battalion in a DS role, I believe the ACE’s flexibility and effectiveness would be diminished by the requirement to simply supply a specific asset, vice being able to match the request for air support with the proper platform manned with a crew best trained and equipped to execute the mission. Simply assigning a section of aircraft to DS of a single battalion for an extended amount of time does not keep with doctrinal procedures and eventually denies the use of aviation assets to other maneuver battalions who desire the increased battlefield effects that a section of Marine aircraft provides. Our doctrine and the Marine air command and control system are designed to ensure that units requesting aviation support receive it in a manner that supports the MAGTF commanders priorities and that these assets are commanded and controlled in a safe, responsive, and efficient manner.

Finally, the proposal of placing aircraft in DS of a battalion commander (and potentially allowing the battalion air officer to directly task aircraft vice advising the battalion commander about methods for integrating aviation into the scheme of maneuver and doing the detailed coordination work) places the ACE commander in a subordinate relationship relative to the ground combat element (GCE) commander vice a supporting relationship. Effectively the ACE commander becomes a force provider vice a warfighter. This is a departure from the synergistic employment of the MAGTF concept, where the GCE, ACE, and logistics combat element commanders maintain a habitual relationship and constantly ensure that the tasks they assign their subordinates are nested with their higher headquarters/MAGTF commanders objectives, while still having the authority and duty to decide and act with initiative and boldness.

Capt Graham presents a solid argument in defense of his concept, but I believe further analysis reveals other issues. Our warfighting doctrine encourages us to be flexible and agile in our thoughts about, and application of, maneuver warfare concepts, but the proposed concept is too significant a departure from our MAGTF-centered employment of aviation. Use of aircraft in an extended DS role dismantles the ATO planning process, goes against the unity of command tenet of maneuver warfare, and alters the chain of command relationship between the MAGTF commander and the major subordinate elements. Our limited number of aircraft implores planners and commanders to ensure that tasking is scrutinized and the right effects are achieved on the battlefield in order to ensure that we are consistently prepared and postured to apply the effects ground commanders require at the point of attack and eventually achieve our Nation’s strategic objectives.