Ideas for Changing Doctrine

by Col Michael D. Wyly

Marine Corps tactical and operational doctrine is aged beyond relevance to modem war. It would be difficult to show that the Fleet Marine Force Manuals (FMFMs) on the Marine division through squad ever were of value in combat They say little of tactics. Beyond defining terms, describing control measures, and establishing some procedures that are as likely to bring about defeat as victory, they serve little purpose. We need to change. Quantico has been restructured. Now is the time for the revolutionary change we need.

Existing FMFMs are categorized by unit size; that is, there is a book called FMFM 6-1 for the division, another, FMFM 6-2, for the regiment, another for the battalion, and so on. Within each book, one finds subdivisions generally running along the lines of offensive, defensive, and amphibious operations, none of which is particularly meaningful.

First of all, it is needless to publish a separate book for each echelon of command. After all, the battalion will not abide by one tactical concept while its parent regiment employs another. Needless structure is appended to our tactics the moment we say that only battalion and higher normally employ the mobile defense, that only companies and higher normally hold out reserves, or that any tactical employment is to be exercised at one echelon but not another. It is the situation and not the size of the friendly unit or the seniority of its commander that dictates what is best to do in combat The notion that there are “normally” correct solutions to problems in combat is misleading. Perhaps it was the expectation of “normal” conditions that led to our loss in Beirut in 1983.

Under the present set of doctrinal manuals, it is particularly awkward to change any of our FMFMs. If the officer responsible for FMFM 6-3, The Marine Infantry Battalion, makes any change at all, we then have the ridiculous situation of having one doctrine for battalion and possibly a conflicting one for the regiment. The ensuing difficulty in making changes has been one of the factors that has kept Marine doctrine out of date. Rather than complete the slow, painful process of change, we have remained static.

The categorization by ground unit has become less relevant, also, because we train more and more as Marine airground task forces (MAGTFs), and plan to fight that way. Our FMFMs should be made relevant to MAGTFs, not regiments and battalions. Basic FMFMs on warfighting should be equally relevant to infantry, aviation, engineers, artillery, and tanks.

The separate sections on amphibious operations included in each manual can be traced to the same era when the junior School became Amphibious Warfare School and when Marine expeditionary forces were changed to Marine amphibious forces. The Marine Corps felt compelled to justify its existence in the late 1960s and early 1970s and clung to amphibious warfare as its raison d’etre. This was a mistake borne of ignorance. Had we not been so willing to compromise sound military thinking in deference to politics we might have realized that amphibious warfare is not a specialty separated from tactical and operational concepts, ashore or afloat.

Defensive and offensive tactics cannot neatly be separated one from another. In fast-moving combat, a commander may employ a combination of both simultaneously. Whether a force is on the offensive or defensive is not always readily identifiable, unless the tactics employed are rigid and set piece.

First of all, we must scrap FMFMs 6-1 through 6-5. No book should be heeded to tell a Marine how to fight the various elements of the division, the regiment, the battalion, etc. To say how is to provide too much structure. Let the tables of organization define unit structure. If a commander cannot decide what to do with the units given him, he should be relieved and sent back to study tactics. One who knows about tactics can make such determinations without being told how.

Modem Marine Corps doctrine should center around a single manual to set forth how we fight Capt R. Scott Moore’s “Bridging the Doctrinal Gap” (MCG, Apr88, p. 47) provides an excellent basis. Hypothetically, suppose we publish our basic doctrinal philosophy in a new FMFM 6-0, entitled Marine Combat Principles. I would suggest three additional manuals, divided according to the levels of war that have proved useful for conceptualization and study: strategy, the operational art, and tactics. I would entitle the manuals: FMFM 6-1, Strategic Concepts for Employment of Marines; FMFM 6-2, Operational Level Doctrine for MAGTFs; and FMFM 6-3, Marine Tactics. Each should be read by all Marine leaders from the division down to the squad. We are, after all, one Corps, and we should all speak the same language.

FMFM 6-0, Marine Combat Principles, could follow along the lines suggested in Capt Moore’s article mentioned above; that is, the universal principles that should govern all Marine operations would be set down as the Marine Corps’ doctrinal “battlefield philosophy” or “approach to combat” (quotations from Capt Moore). Capt Moore’s principles-“know the commander’s intent, focus on the enemy, create a dilemma, maximize combined arms, and be unpredictable”-serve as an excellent starting point Rather than “maximize combined arms,” I would have been inclined to say “integrate combined arms for maximum effect” in order to reject the notion that more is necessarily better. History’s great combined arms practitioners-Genghis Khan, Gustavus Adolphus, and Heinz Guderian-seemed to be intent on integrating the various arms into a single team more than maximizing their use. Capt Moore clearly understands this, as he states, “Fire support . . . is an integral component that can be maneuvered as readily as a tank.”

FMFM 6-1, Strategic Concepts for Employment of Marines would be but a brief pamphlet Marines are not expected to make strategy. But they must understand it Without the context in which battles are being fought, it is easy to lose direction, to employ tactics that are overly destructive or not destructive enough, or to choose the wrong battles. FMFM 6-1 would simply examine the ways in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be likely to employ Marines. I would suggest subsections on topics such as deep intervention aimed at destruction of enemy forces, amphibious turning movements (for example, Inchon), amphibious landings in support of major ground campaigns (such as Patton employed in conjunction with his drive along Sicily to Messina), seizure of ports and shorelines, seizure of airfields, counterguerrilla operations, and counterterrorisna. Some general guides might also be included, such as the wisdom of designating a strategic main effort and strategic reserve. Also, strategic objective ought to be defined and discussed.

FMFM 6-2, Operational Level Doctrine for MAGTFs, would be much more detailed. It should be worthy of study by all officers, including very senior ones. Topics treated in depth would include the subject of maneuver itself, not only defining the term but explaining it, using examples from actual campaigns. Other topics would include speed and its advantages; attrition and its minor usefulness within a maneuver scheme and its futility in most cases; the operational offensive compared to the operational defensive and how the two can merge into the defensive-offensive; the role of battles and consideration when to engage and when not to; operational reconnaissance; and the operational reserve and the main effort at the operational level.

FMFM 6-3, Tactics for Marines, would be the most detailed and should be read and studied by all Marines, most importantly, junior officers and noncommissioned officers. But senior officers would have to understand it Though they would be less likely to employ forces at the tactical level, they must understand the tremendous latitude junior leaders need to fight modern war. The starting point for this manual would, of course, be mission order tactics, for it is upon this concept that all tactics in maneuver warfare are based. More important than whether tactical deployments can be diagrammed to look like the sketch of the envelopment, the frontal assault, or the penetration-or for that matter, one of the defensive postures-is that the lowest level commander act against the ‘enemy in the best way possible without waiting for orders. Essential also is that the subordinate’s initiatives fit within his commander’s intent. Once that is clearly explained, the tactics manual would discuss such topics as the infiltration attack, fluidity in the defense, the tactical defensive-offensive, the merits and demerits of getting into the enemy’s rear versus going against his front, and strength against weakness (“soft-spot tactics”). “Objective” would be defined at the tactical level and numerous examples of possible objectives drawn from real battles would be cited. Tactical reconnaissance, the tactical reserve, and the main effort at the tactical level would all be described in depth.

A section must be devoted to the subject of fire suppression. What do artillery and air do to the enemy? What have they done in history? I did not understand this when I went to Vietnam. I found out. I later discovered the lessons had been learned back in 1915 when I came home and studied military history. Why had the Marine Corps not taught me? It should have. But little mind was paid to history at Quantico in the 1960s.

A final section of Tactics for Marines, perhaps an appendix, might define and standardize a few control measures. But these must never be central to the study of tactics. It is high time that we allowed thinking about how to undo the enemy to replace our focus on how to control our own forces. Control is not our main problem. Commander’s intent is replacing control as a concept. The uncontrolled subordinate commander, acting within his commander’s intent, as did Nelson at Cape St. Vincent and Copenhagen, and Patton in relieving Bastogne, is of far greater value than the commander closely controlled or restrained. Wars are hardly won through restraint Control, then, seems an unfortunate fixation. Most of our doctrine on control measures would be better scrapped than perpetuated. Only by eradicating the old baggage will we get the clean slate we need to revolutionize doctrine.

So much of future warfare seems bound somehow to guerrillas and terrorists, so much so that psychological operations will be important for the rest of our lifetimes. They must be dealt with in our new FMFMs.

None of these new manuals would have a separate section entitled “maneuver warfare.” Nothing could be less appropriate. All our doctrine will be maneuver warfare. The term maneuver warfare, after all, has merely been a substitute for modern war, or faster moving tactics, or relevant tactics. It has been a name for the new, a way of saying it is time for change. The atomic bomb, after all, did not make the study of the art of war obsolete. Thinkers in the Pentagon in the 1950s thought that it did but now we know better. Korea and Vietnam proved that. We now must learn from those less-than-victories and move on, as professional armies always must

Our manuals must be readable. They must be more than listings of “principles” that have bored students for years. For tactics, operations, and strategy are the heart of our profession. Whether you are a logistician, an engineer, an aviator, an artilleryman, an infantryman, or a tanker, we are in business for one purpose: to win war. So war is what we all must understand. Our various specialties should follow an understanding of war. It cannot work the other way around.