New Doctrine or Slipping Into the Past?

by LtCol Gary I. Wilson, USMCR

Maj Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. in a well-crafted piece (MCG, Jul93) covers the spirited debate that over the last decade has led to a major change in the Marine Corps’ warfighting doctrine. The Gazette has been a key forum in this debate about warfighting philosophies.

Today, the warfighting philosophy emphasizing force ratios, attrition, and frontal bludgeoning contests has largely been replaced by one of maneuver and deception. The significance of this philosophical change was even noted by the Secretary of Defense in his Annual Report To The President And The Congress of February 1992:

The effectiveness of our Marine Corps forces was most dramatically demonstrated by the brilliant movement of I MEF through numerically superior defensive forces into Kuwait City revalidating the maneuver warfare doctrine adopted by the Corps.

While McKenzie highlights the positive aspects of maneuver warfare philosophy, he doesn’t get it all quite right and may miss the mark all together in a couple of crucial areas. For example, McKenzie contends that maneuver warfare is only now moving beyond the partially formed visions of its founding enthusiasts to become a workable, guiding doctrine. Does this mean maneuver warfare thinking of the Gulf War and the execution that sliced deep into Kuwait were mere flukes? One thinks not. Also, the advent of maneuver thinking was marked by an intellectual revival sometime ago as noted by MajGen Paul K. Van Riper in Perspectives On Waifighting No. 2, Vol. 1:

. . . many of the ideas put forth by the military reformers found a wide acceptance in the armed forces in the 1980s, especially in the Army and Marine Corps, the climate for this acceptance was created by the self-generated intellectual revival begun within the professional military schools.

One can’t help but believe that the process of transition from theory and philosophy to doctrine is more advanced than McKenzie realizes.

In fact, maneuver warfare or third generation warfare was conceptually developed and operationally tested 75 years ago during the German offensives in the spring of 1918. Recognition of this led the “founding enthusiasts” of maneuver warfare in the 1980s to ask what might fourth generation warfare look like and where do we go from here (see “The Changing Face of War: Into Fourth Generation” MCG, Oct89).

McKenzie, on the other hand, argues that maneuver warfare thinking (as mature doctrine) is “now” culminating in a set of precise terms and techniques that describe and control combat as reflected in draft FMFM 2-1, a document that he seems to regard as the Holy Grail of maneuver doctrine. FMFM 2-1 centers in part around three fundamental concepts: battlefield geometry, battlefield operating systems/battlefield activities (BOS/BACT), and top-down planning (TDP). McKenzie goes on to point out the hidden goal of these fundamental concepts is “synchronization”

While McKenzie has given credit to the Corps for throwing off its philosophy of attrition and head-on bludgeoning, he sharply turns in his focus and becomes logically inconsistent when attempting to link maneuver thinking to the concepts of synchronization, BOS/BACT, and TDP. Synchronization means you can only move as fast as your slowest unit. This definitely is not a tenet of maneuver warfare. Col James G. Burton. USAF(Ret) in Proceedings (Jun93) describes in vivid detail how VII Corps Ml tanks performed in DESERT STORM. They did well, but an overemphasis on synchronizing and battlefield geometry (phase lines and control measures) allowed Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard to slide out the back door.

If synchronization is indeed a hidden goal of FMFM 2-1 as McKenzie suggests, it appears that the Corps’ warfighting philosophy is being led down the primrose path. Marines will be so busy synchronizing battlefield operating systems and battlefield activities with top-down planning (to say nothing of scoping out battlefield geometry) that there will be little time left to engage the enemy. As Col Burton commented:

Clearly, Frank’s failure to cut off the Republican Guards’ escape can be traced to his strict adherence to the synchronization element of the Army’s new doctrine Synchronization also prevented Luck and McCaffery from circling around behind.

Additionally, McKenzie describes draft FMFM 2-1 as a close cousin of the Army manual FM 100-15. Corps Operations. Does the Marine Corps want doctrine that so closely resembles Army doctrine? After all, it was this doctrine that literally provided the dogmatic underpinnings allowing the Republican Guard to skip out the back door.

I suspect LtGen James C. Breckinridge is rolling in his grave at the prospect of Marine Corps doctrine so closely iesembling Army doctrine. Ms Kerry Strong, Archives Director, Marine Corps University, in a research paper quotes one of Gen Breckinridge’s constant complaints in the 1930s, “Marine officers are not Marine officers in much more than official designation. They are Army officers in Marine uniform . . .” Ms. Strong writes that Breckinridge believed this because Marine Corps schools imitated Army schools. When Army personnel asked for information on what the Marines were doing and what they had developed “in their own particular line as Marines,” the Marines offered them back most of their own Army teachings.

One can only wonder if Maj McKenzie’s views and draft FMFM 2-1 do not represent a throwback to an earlier era and a resurgence of old doctrinal dogma so disdained by Gen Breckinridge.