Implementing Enemy Oriented Operations

by LtCol Gary W. Anderson

The regimental commander did not believe that the passage of the river could be forced on that day, and he was eager to carry out the welcome orders and rest . . . . I walked angrily away and tried to decide what measures I should take to improve this unhappy state of affairs. A young Lt Felix came over to where I was standing . . . . “Here, General,” he said, “I’ve just come from the Brahe (river). The enemy forces on the far bank are weak. The Poles tried to set fire to the bridge at Hammermuhle, but I put it out from my tank. The bridge is crossable. The advance has only stopped because there’s no one to lead it. You must go there yourself.

-Heinz Guderian in Panzer Leader

This passage demonstrates a rapid closing of the cycle of recognizing and exploiting enemy mistakes and vulnerabilities (R-E cycle) that is the central concept of enemyoriented operations, but this raises a key question: Would a Marine lieutenant of the 1980s feel comfortable approaching a commanding general with an idea such as the one proposed in the above passage? In all too many cases, the answer is no, and must be rectified if the Marine Corps is to implement enemyoriented operations.

The first article in this series (MCG. Apr89) defined enemyoriented operations; the second (MCG, Jun89) discussed the difficulty of implementing those operations on the modern battlefield. This article will present a plan for implementing enemyoriented operations in the Marine Corps.

The R-E cycle was relatively easy to execute in the days before radio communications when the commander could both recognize the enemy mistake or vulnerability and give the order to exploit this vulnerability. Today, the commander must work through others to complete the R-E cycle in a timely manner.

Not all victories have been achieved by a deliberate effort to complete the R-E cycle; indeed a majority probably have not. Despite this, a force with a philosophy of implementing the R-E cycle in a timely manner has a much better chance of winning than that of an opponent who lacks a similar mindset. If an enemy is vulnerable to the combat style that we currently define as “maneuver warfare,” we must accept that fact and quickly adopt maneuver warfare tactics. If we find that the enemy does not have an observation-orientation-decision-action cycle worth disrupting, we must key on other enemy mistakes or vulnerabilities.

Creating an EnemyOriented Philosophy

In antiquity, the Byzantines came closest to institutionalizing enemyoriented operations. They ruthlessly analyzed their own vulnerabilities while assessing those of the enemy. Their R-E cycle began with thorough campaign planning and was modified by actual field experience. The mechanisms they used for creating this approach were less important than the philosophy that permeated their system. They used enemyoriented operations to capitalize on enemy error and vulnerability while minimizing the effects of their own mistakes. The remainder of this article is devoted to suggesting mechanisms by which the Marine Corps can institutionalize enemyoriented operations over the next few years.

The Warfighting Center. The advent of the Warfighting Center and the current philosophy behind the reinvigoration of Quantico is a superb starting point for the institutionalization of the enemyoriented operations. By giving Marines a focal point for doctrine, tactics, and lessons learned, the Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC) will provide an appropriate repository for the overall institutionalization of military excellence. This is particularly important in the area of developing a system for retaining coherent lessens learned from field exercises and actual operations. Such a system is currently being developed at Quantico; this effort should receive the highest priority.

Tactical Contact Teams. Creating tactical contact teams at the Marine expeditionary force (MEF) level would help us learn from experience and institutionalize a solid lesson-learned program. (See MCG, Sep87, pp. 34-35.) These teams would be comprised of the best operators who have recently completed a Fleet Marine Force tour of duty within each MEF. They would observe all major exercises in order to develop coherent and meaningful lessons learned that could be passed on to MEF units as well as to MCCDC for wider distribution. This concept serves a dual purpose of recognizing tactical and operational excellence while letting the most skillful operators teach their craft.

Vulnerability Recognition Cells (VRCs). Each Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) and its major subordinates should have a VRC in its command element devoted to the quick recognition of key enemy and friendly vulnerabilities. It would meet on an “as needed” basis The cell would be an informal group made up of representatives from the operations, fire support, logistics, communications, and intelligence sections. Its purpose would be to take a look at the vulnerabilities picture using an interdisciplinary approach. This merely formalizes the staff brainstorming that most truly excellent commanders demand, but the formalizing act encourages the good ideas that might otherwise randomly bounce through the command post for lack of focus. At the MAGTF level, these cells should concentrate on the operational art. Lower headquarters cells should look for tactical mistakes.

Some critics have complained that such cells smack of decisionmaking by committee; this is not the case. The only result of the cell’s work should be a recommendation to the commander. He alone makes a decision as to what action, if any, should be taken. The enemy‘s key vulnerability should be our main point of effort (Schwerpunkt, if you prefer), and our decision may well be to shift our primary focus as Grant did when he assumed command of all Union forces in 1864. The primary value of a VRC is that it will continually focus on key weaknesses, friendly as well as enemy. No single staff section can do this alone. Time is the critical factor in the R-E cycle. The VRC is designed to make the completion of the cycle as rapid as possible.

Enemy Mistake/Vulnerability (EMV) Reporting System. The concept of quickly recognizing and exploiting EMVs can be undermined by the miles of space and layers of command between the individual who spots an enemy mistake or vulnerability and the commander capable of exploiting it. Too many good opportunities are lost when the messages reporting EMVs are delayed, garbled, or neglected through many layers of command. What is needed is a reporting system that will be dedicated to spotting EMVs quickly and highlighting them all the all the way up the chain of command.

Figure 1 outlines the proposed EMV reporting system. It is not an intelligence reporting mechanism. The concept is to provide a report that contains an actual evaluation of the opportunity presented by the enemy mistake or vulnerability. Figure 2 contains the suggested report format. It is brevity coded to make it succinct and easy to use. The report is voluntary on the part of the sender, and it stresses judgment on the part of the sender and trust in that judgment on the part of the receiver. It highlights an enemy orientation on all levels of command.

Using the Light Armored Infantry (LAI) Battalion. The LAI battalion is a natural tool for creating an enemyoriented mindset. George Patton was an advocate of the thought process that holds that the best way to get to know an enemy is to fight him. Used properly, the LAI battalion will be the first unit to make physical contact with the enemy. If the battalions are used at a proper distance from the friendly forward line of troops (a minimum of 25 kilometers), the LAI battalion will have time to develop knowledge of how the enemy fights and how well the preconceived notions of him hold up under combat experience.

An EMV report from an LAI battalion commander would not be a mere recon report. It would represent an operational judgment by a commander who has engaged the enemy. The LAI commander will have a feel for how cautious or aggressive the enemy is as well as how the enemy reacts to our use of supporting arms. These can be key observations early in the battle.

Needed: A New Attitude. Enemyoriented operations represent a philosophy of war. The mere adoption of the mechanisms outlined in the article will not guarantee the successful implementation of this philosophy. Trust is key here. Subordinate commanders must act as the eyes of their seniors. This requires an extraordinary trust between superiors and subordinates. We must rid ourselves of the excess psychological limitations imposed by the zero defects mentality and the selfsyndrome. This will be far easier said than done; a generation of officers and staff noncommissioned officers have grown up burdened by this unneeded and unwanted baggage. These twin evils can be likened to malignant tumors; you can grow used to such things even while they are killing you. Enemyoriented operations can cure what ails us, but we will need radical surgery first.

The Panzer troops of Guderiah’s 1939 German army had a philosophy of trust. They lacked a systematic approach for reporting good opportunities quickly. That is why Lt Felix had to seek out Gen Guderian. A system is easy to build, but mutual trust is much harder. Both are desperately needed.