Maneuver Warfare

by Col Larry S. Taylor, USMCR

The reappearance of B. H. Liddell Hart in the pages of the Gazette (May90) brought to mind a potential solution to a problem that has bothered me ever since we all began to speak “OODA” [observation-orientation-decision-action], the language of maneuver warfare.

It is difficult to discuss maneuver warfare and avoid the inevitable misunderstanding that will always affect part of your audience. That is, there will always be some who, despite your best efforts, will equate “maneuver” with “movement.” To be sure, maneuver frequently does mean movement but, in the context of our warfighting philosophy, it means much more than that.

Think of the arc of a pendulum labeled “fire” on one end and “maneuver” on the other. In the heyday of the combined arms exercise (as they evolved in the late 1970s) the pendulum became pegged on the “fire” end. We unwittingly developed a mindset in many of our small unit leaders that the thing to do upon encountering an obstacle was to stop until you could blow it away with supporting arms. Then we started speaking “OODA,” the pendulum began to swing back, and we now run the risk of unwittingly developing a mindset that the thing to do upon encounlering an obstacle is to move; no matter the mission or circumstances, just move. Already we are suffering from an explosion of maneuver warfare jargon, frequently with little understanding of the underlying concept. It is a little reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution in Red China, when all that was required to justify criminal behavior or terminal incompetence was to be able to quote from Chairman Mao.

In his classic Strategy, Liddell Hart refers to the “indirect approach” as a “law of life in all spheres: a truth of philosophy,” as applicable to politics, business, or staff functioning, for example, as to battlefield tactics.

I propose that, to help prevent the pendulum becoming pegged on the “maneuver” end of the arc, and to honor B. H. Liddell Hart, we stop calling it “maneuver warfare” and start calling it “indirect warfare.”