Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1-0, Marine Corps Operations

by LtCol John A. Bass, USMC(Ret)

With the Commandant’s signing of Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1-0 (MCDP 1-0), Marine Corps Operations, in September 2001, the Marine Corps‘ inaugural series of capstone and keystone doctrinal publications was completed. This series of official Marine Corps publications has provided the top-level doctrine that has articulated the Marine Corps way of fighting in the early 21st century-from its warfighting philosophy of maneuver warfare to application of that philosophy across the range of military operations and the warfighting functions.

MCDP 1-0 addresses how the Marine Corps conducts operations to support the national military strategy in naval, joint, and multinational operations. In the MCDP series, it serves to “operationalize” the philosophy. It does this by focusing and transitioning the philosophical discourse of the capstone-keystone MCDP series into an operations manual for the Marine Corps. MCDP 1-0 also provides the operational overview that influences the development of the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) addressed in subordinate Marine Corps Warfighting Publications (MCWPs) and Marine Corps Reference Publications (MCRPs).

The MCDP Series

MCDPs provide higher order doctrine-the fundamental truths and broad philosophy about the nature, theory, and conduct of war. The MCWPs and MCRPs describe methods and TTP for the practical application of those fundamental truths and warfighting philosophy. The intent behind the MCDP series is to provide a body of high-quality, forward-thinking, intellectually rigorous knowledge about armed conflict that will help prepare the Marine Corps for the challenges of the 21st century.1 Although each manual might have a different center-mass audience, the MCDPs are written for all Marines. The doctrine contained in MCDPs represents the Marine Corps‘ most developed and innovative thinking on the nature, theory, and conduct of war. It is meant to project Marine Corps thinking well into the future. To Marines, doctrine is a teaching of the fundamental beliefs of the Marine Corps on the subject of war.2 As the authoritative basis for how Marines fight and operate, the doctrine and TTP form the foundation of Marine Corps education and training curricula.

The doctrine presented in MCDPs is meant to be enduring and universal. In the capstone-keystone publications above MCDP 1-0 (see Figure 1), the doctrine is not tied to any specific organization, structure, technology, type or intensity of conflict, or specific echelon of command. Subjects are described holistically, in their full complexity. Generally, the capstone-keystone MCDPs above MCDP 1-0 describe the nature of war as it applies to a particular subject, discuss the fundamental theories, and present the Marine Corps‘ philosophy on the subject.

While authoritative, MCDPs are descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. The intent is to provide Marine leaders a common intellectual framework for applying judgment in solving the challenges they face-not to provide the solutions. The MCDPs above MCDP 1-0 describe key doctrinal concepts and considerations but do not provide specific methods and TTP. MCDP 1-0 does both. It provides a degree of “how to” with the “why” as it bridges the doctrinal publications to the MCWPs and MCRPs. It transitions the philosophical discourse of the capstone-keystone MCDPs into an operational summation that focuses on conducting Marine Corps operations.

MCDP 1-0

MCDP 1-0 broadly describes how Marine Corps leaders apply the maneuver warfare philosophy of warfighting across the range of military operations-from war to military operations other than war (MOOTW). The manual is larger and more descriptive than the other MCDPs. Its 11 chapters and 6 appendices describe how Marine Corps forces plan and conduct combat operations in war and how Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTFs) operate daily in MOOTW around the globe. MCDP 1-0 presents today’s doctrine and introduces maturing expeditionary maneuver warfare (EMW) concepts to guide the developing doctrine of tomorrow. This introductory methodology allows the manual to maintain relevancy through its 8-year life cycle.

MCDP 1-0 represents the combined efforts of the Operating Forces, Supporting Establishment, and Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC). Its development was coordinated by MCCDC’s Doctrine Division while the preponderance of the writing was performed by the proponent MAGTF Staff Training Program team. MCDP 1-0 was rewritten, restaffed, renamed, and shifted from MCDP to MCWP status several times as other MCDPs were being written and the overarching joint visions and Service concepts were being developed. In its final form, this operations manual was written as an MCDP, vetted by the senior leadership of the Marine Corps, and signed by the Commandant. In his foreword, the 32d Commandant wrote that this publication represents how the Marine Corps‘ warfighting philosophy is codified in operational terms.3 As an MCDP it establishes vetted and accepted warfighting practices as today’s doctrine and simultaneously guides the Corps‘ doctrine development toward EMW.

MCDP 1-0 can be divided into three focal areas. The first (Chapters 1 through 3) presents the reader with a broad overview of the historical role of the Marine Corps in national defense; the character of modern conflict; today’s operational environment, national security structure, and unified action; and the roles, functions, organization, and structure of the Marine Corps. The intangibles of the Marine Corps ethos and the five Marine Corps core competencies are described and followed up with discussion of expeditionary operations requirements, force projection and forward deployed naval forces, and MAGTFs conducting expeditionary operations.

The overview of amphibious operations is “hooked” or linked to reference publications that address the subject in detail; i.e., Joint Publication 3-02 (JP 3-02), Joint Doctrine for Amphibious Operations, and JP 0-2, Unified Action Armed Forces, etc. Recent changes in amphibious operations doctrine have been introduced in this first section; for example, five types of amphibious operations vice the previous four; supported-supporting vice the past commander, amphibious task force-commander, landing force command relationships; and the changed definition of the term amphibious task force (ATF) to designate only the Navy task organization. Now the ATF, when combined with the landing force, constitutes an amphibious force instead of the former ATF. Future maneuver warfare and amphibious operations are. addressed in sections titled “Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare (EMW),” “Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS),” “Ship-to-Objective Maneuver (STOM),” and “Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) Future.”

Deployment, Employment, and Sustainment

The second focal area (Chapters 4 and 5) addresses deployment, employment, and sustainment of Marine Corps forces at the operational and tactical levels of war. It links the discussion of Marine Corps expeditionary forces operating in the joint force commander’s campaign with the capstone doctrinal publication on the subject-MCDP 1-2, Campaigning. The second focal area takes the art of campaigning into understanding battlespace, in particular the joint battlespace at the operational level of war. It addresses the critical roles of the Marine Corps component commanders and MAGTF commanders in force deployment planning and execution. Employment is discussed in terms of the use of Marine Corps forces to conduct operations to achieve the joint force commander’s objectives. Arranging operations, combat power, effects, information operations, and the warfighting functions are discussed in relation to higher order doctrine linked to planning and executing successful operations. Redeployment focuses on the Marine Corps doctrine of reconstitution-the actions that commanders plan and take in reestablishing the force’s combat readiness as quickly as possible for subsequent redeployment and employment in new missions-in or out of theater.

MCDP 1-0 devotes a full chapter to the critical role of logistics in generating rapidly deployable, self-reliant, self-sustaining, and flexible MAGTFs that can rapidly reconstitute. The chapter gives readers a good view of how and why the Marine Corps, in coordination and cooperation with the Navy, has made logistical self-sufficiency an essential element of MAGTF expeditionary warfighting capabilities. Strategic, operational, and tactical logistics linkages are discussed down to the MAGTF combat service support element level and to the role of the Supporting Establishment as the “fifth element” of the MAGTF.

Conducting MAGTF Operations

MCDP 1-0’s third and principal focal area (Chapters 6 through 11) concentrates on conducting MAGTF operations-full spectrum from war to MOOTW. It describes how MAGTF commanders and their staffs apply Marine Corps maneuver warfare philosophy and doctrine (as described in MCDP 1, Warfighting, and its companion doctrinal publications) to planning and conducting expeditionary operations.

Chapter 6, “Planning and Conducting MAGTF Operations,” is the single most important chapter in MCDP 1-0. The chapter provides the foundation for MAGTF tactical operations because it discusses the importance of single battle, decisive and shaping actions, centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities, main and supporting efforts, security, and the reserve. The chapter describes operational design and addresses how the MAGTF commander plans and conducts expeditionary operations. It also identifies the tactical tenets essential to succeeding on the battlefield.4

Chapters 7 through 9 describe conducting MAGTF operations in the offense and defense. Chapter 7 focuses on the offense as the decisive form of combat. Chapter 8 describes defensive operations conducted in conjunction with offensive operations to defeat enemy attacks and conducting MAGTF operations within the context of the single battle. Chapter 9 addresses other tactical operations that enable the MAGTF to execute offensive and defensive operations. These tactical operations include retrograde, passage of lines, linkup, relief in place, obstacle crossing, and breakout from encirclement. Reconnaissance and security operations are covered in Chapter 11. The warfighting functions and the enduring principles of war, relevant to all discussion of Marine Corps doctrine, are presented in appendices, as is a ready-reference list of MAGTF tactical tasks and their definitions.


MCDP 1-0 is the Marine Corps MOOTW doctrine. The MOOTW-unique considerations used in Marine Corps operations are discussed in Chapter 10, “Military Operations Other than War.” These MOOTW-unique considerations build on existing joint doctrine, addressing the joint, expeditionary nature of MOOTW. The chapter describes MOOTW embedded in operations doctrine because MOOTW typically involves elements of both combat and noncombat operations whether in peacetime, conflict, or war.


Most of what the reader will find in MCDP 1-0 is familiar to Marine Corps field grade officers and senior staff noncommissioned officers. Its usefulness is in codifying Marine Corps operations in doctrine for all to use as authoritative reference and to transition the warfighting philosophy into MCWPs and MCRPs. It discusses Marine Corps forces as a Service component under joint force command, and it doctrinally discusses MAGTFs as they exist and are employed today in joint and multinational operations. It’s the first doctrinal publication to address the fundamentals of how MAGTFs conduct tactical operations, and it concisely addresses the types of operations MAGTFs conduct to accomplish their missions.5 It also serves to introduce maturing concepts for further development in the MCWPs and MCRPs.


1. Commanding General, MCCDC 5000, C42 (Doctrine Division) did 1 April 1996, Letter of Instruction for Development of MCDPs.

2. MCDP 1, p. 55.

3. Jones, Gen James L., in his foreword to MCDP 1-0.

4. MCDP 1-0, p. 6-2.

5. Jones.