Examining Our Warfighting Doctrine

reviewed by Capt Cory D. Hoggatt, USMC

THE ART OF MANEUVER: Maneuver Warfare Theory and Airland Battle. By Maj Robert Leonard, USA. Presidio Press, Navato, CA, 1991, 310 pp., $24.95. (Member $22.45)

The close of the last decade and the start of this one witnessed an amazing resurgence of thought in military circles concerning strategy and the operational art. The concept of the “indirect approach” has been reborn in the creation of what the Marine Corps has coined “maneuver warfare” and the U.S. Army has renamed “AirLand Battle” (ALB). During this same time. America has been involved in major military actions in Panama and in Southwest Asia. How much of our victory in both conflicts can be attributed to this “new” style of warfighting? Have the principles of maneuver warfare been validated by fire, or have we been unable as yet to grasp them firmly enough to apply them in these recent conflicts? Does our current doctrine fully embrace the fundamental approach to warfare embodied in maneuver or are we still clinging to the last vestiges of our traditional approach to waging war? These questions form the basis of this masterly analysis of where we stand today and where we are going with respect to our style of fighting. Although the focus is on the U.S. Army’s doctrine as expressed in FM 100-5 Operations, this commentary on warfighting is of value to any student of warfare, especially with our current emphasis on the importance of joint and combined operations.

Maj Leonard has been a commissoned officer in the U.S. Army since 1978. He has served most of his career as a mechanized infantryman and has commanded a rifle company. Currently, he is a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. He has written a number of articles for both Infantry and Army magazines. These assignments and his previous duties drafting doctrine at the U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA, prepared him well to be the author of this work.

The book has two major parts. In the first, the author performs an extensive analysis of maneuver warfare theory and develops criteria that help us judge doctrine as either “attrition-oriented” or “maneuver-oriented.” He describes the evolution of maneuver theory and its fundamentals and surveys the framework of ideas that define the theory. While similar to both the Marine Corps and Army approaches to warfare, his maneuver concepts differ from accepted thought in several significant respects. His descriptions and examples provide the most coherent explanation of maneuver warfare I have read, and any Marine who took the time to review just this section alone would benefit from it.

Maj Leonard has clearly developed many of his ideas in terms of the strategies of chess. Most Marines, when asked to identify the chess piece most closely reflects the opponent’s “center of gravity,” would select the queen. As the author writes:

When I first considered the question. I hastily concluded with my friend that the center of gravity in a game of chess must be the strongest piece, the queen. Remove the queen, and the opponent has suffered a terrible reduction in his ‘warfighting capabilities.’ And indeed, as my friend pointed out, usually when he captured my queen, he won the game-but not always. Greater reflection revealed our flawed thinking. We had both come to the wrong conclusion, because we had incorrectly defined the characteristics of the opponent’s center of gravity. The enemy’s center of gravity is not his source of strength: it is his critical vulnerability. Destruction or neutralization of his center of gravity must not result merely in reduction of his capabilities, but rather in the paralysis of his forces. The answer then becomes obvious: the opponent’s center of gravity is the king. By no means the strongest piece, the king is the one piece whose neutralization wins the war.

His analysis of maneuver theory is quite comprehensive, including discussion of the psychology of war, force dichotomy, combined arms tactics, the “means of defeat” (preemption, dislocation, and disruption), command and control, and risk in warfare. His section on the “physics of war” is amazingly concise and quite comprehensible. Of particular note is his comparison of the U.S. and (former) Soviet approaches to maneuver warfare.

In the second part of the book, Maj Leonard subjects ALB to critical scrutiny and finds it wanting in many areas. His careful study of its tenets reveals an impressive depth of thought on the subject. His commentary boils down to a fundamental disagreement with ALB’s focus on maneuver for the sole purpose of winning an inevitable attrition-style battle. While not specifically analyzed in this manner, FMFM-1 is quoted often, and the author’s opinions provide some valuable insights on our own doctrine. The author goes on to describe the Army’s forays into future doctrinal developments, such as Airland Battle-Future (Heavy), with no less critical an eye.

The author completes his work by describing and analyzing the salient aspects of Operations JUST CAUSE and DESERT STORM, and how we applied or failed to apply these principles. His summary is cogent, complete, and accurate. While necessarily brief, he makes a strong argument that our actions in Panama reflect the essence of maneuver: speed, surprise, timing, and a focus on a critical vulnerability. He entitles his appendix on DESERT STORM “arguing with success,” which reveals his views on our performance there (in terms of applying maneuver theory). Primarily, he cautions us against drawing invalid conclusions based on a unique set of circumstances.

This is an intelligent, thorough, and well-researched work. The author’s knowledge is demonstrated amply throughout, and his ability to express maneuver warfare concepts in simple terms is unequaled. Any Marine would benefit from his clear descriptions of the terms and ideas we continue to grapple with today. Our maneuver warfare instructors could easily incorporate his style of teaching to ease the absorption of concepts that can often be ambiguous or misleading.

This book is an important milestone in the evolution of the maneuver style of warfare. Read it!