Military Theory

by Maj W. J. Quentin, USMC(Ret)

Maj Andrew D. Walker’s article, “An Alternative to Maneuver Warfare” (MCG Nov91), is a thoughtful and excellent piece, but I think it is poorly titled.

As I read it. Walker does not reject any of the fundamental concepts associated with the term maneuver. He simply talks about them in a logical and intelligent manner using the six battlefield operational systems that are the basis of AirLand Battle Doctrine. It is important for Marines to do this. In an era of joint operations, those who do not think, talk, and fit in with the doctrine and terminology of the unified commands are apt to be misunderstood and less useful than they ought to be. . . .

by Maj C. H. McGohey

Maj Walker’s article should have been titled, “An Alternative to Movement Warfare.” His thesis is based upon a flawed understanding of maneuver warfare. Maj Walker implies that the “maneuverist” eschews the massive application of firepower in favor of battlefield movement in order to obtain a bloodless decision.

Maneuver warfare encompasses far more than spatial movement. It is primarily a conceptual doctrine of warfighting that focuses on creating and exploiting advantage through a variety of means, including the selective application of massed firepower. The tactics applied are, as always, situationally dependent. The ultimate aim is to shatter the enemy’s cohesion and balance by ensuring that when we commence the destruction of his material assets, we do so at the right place and the right time, for a coherent reason, rather than merely attempting to destroy everything on the battlefield. The act of “maneuvering” often occurs principally in the commander’s mind, as he determines who, when, and where to fight, and what he will fight with.

Operation DESERT STORM was a superb example of maneuver warfare. Targeting priorities, targeting sequence, phasing of the campaign, the identification of critical factors, tempo of operations, and deception are all examples of how Coalition forces “maneuvered” against the Iraqi Army. While some may argue that our massive application of firepower and technology was attritionist, the difference was that when firepower was applied, it was done so for a specific purpose, within the framework of a plan designed to unhinge the enemy. Battles and engagemenls (tactics) were correctly matched against clear operational objectives.

The distinguishing feature of maneuver warfare is economy of force, i.e., the results achieved outweigh the effort expended. The ultimate goal is to defeat the enemy quickly and efficiently. If the attainment of this goal requires the application of massive firepower and technology, so be it.

by LtCol Gary I. Wilson

Maj Walker’s award winning article should be given a second award for using definitions of his own convenience. Walker states that combat has two distinct styles: an attrition style based on firepower and a maneuver style based on movement. His definition of maneuver, however, is nothing more than mere movement.

FM100-5 notes that maneuver is the employment of forces through movement supported by fire to achieve a position of advantage from which to destroy or threaten destruction of the enemy. FM 100-5 further notes that the successful application of the principle of maneuver requires not only fire and movement, but also flexibility of thought, plans, and operations. JCS Pub 1-02 defines maneuver of forces on the battlefield through movement in combination with fire, or fire potential, to achieve a position of advantage in respect to the enemy in order to accomplish the mission.

Proponents of maneuver warfare have never viewed maneuver as mere movement. In fact, maneuverists (for lack of a better term) have always described their style of warfare as fire and movement within a maneuver context.

Maneuver, as defined in FM 100-5 and 7CS Pub 1-02, seeks to exploit firepower. Col John Boyd, USAF(Ret), in “Patterns of Conflict,” describes how the destructive and disruptive effects of fire and movement tie up, divert, or drain away the enemy’s attention and strength. Walker is apparently unaware that fire and movement play a major role in the maneuver style of war. . . . Walker is quick to quote Clausewitz. Clausewitz assumed war was rational, but the preponderance of historical data from 1945 on does not lend itself to rational analysis championed by Clausewitz. Martin van Creveld’s book Transformation of War boldly challenges Clauswitzian assumptions and demands reading by all professionals. Hopefully, Marine Corps thinking regarding maneuver will not see a retreat to 19th century thought.