Only a Beginning

By William S. Lind

The May issue of the GAZETTE carried a news story (p. 10) about the mechanized task force tests at 29 Palms entitled, Mechanized combined arms task force test exercise concluded. Unfortunately, this story may have created some misconceptions, especially where it stated that, “the test, held at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, from 26 February to 2 March, marked the third and final phase of the Corps’ evaluation of its capability to operate in a mechanized environment by temporarily task organizing with current assets to accomplish missions.”

In fact, it appears many more phases of testing may be required to enable the Corps to field an effective mechanized force. While Phase III was successful, it had only limited objectives, and it was essentially administrative, not tactical. Future tests appear required to explore the following areas, among others:

* Reconnaissance. Current reconnaissance capabilities, especially force recon, do not seem suitable for mechanized operations. Recon units appear to need more mobility, and, if “recon pull” tactics are to be adopted, greater ability to turn information into intelligence on a real-time basis.

* Definition of the objective. Phase III showed some units still conceive of objectives in terrain terms. Units more than once exerted themselves to seize pieces of terrain which were thought a priori to be significant, but which proved meaningless in terms of the real objective in mechanized warfare-destruction of the enemy forces.

* The basic concept of maneuver warfare may not yet be adequately understood. In Phase III, the focus remained on tactical success. Operational success was presumably to be achieved by accumulating tactical successes. In contrast, maneuver warfare attempts to achieve operational success directly, shattering the enemy command by maintaining an increasing tempo of operations deep in his rear area. Tactical engagements are necessary evils. Operations are not a linear extension of tactics, but are qualitatively different.

* Integration of foot infantry into mechanized operations. If Marines go to war, the bulk of their force for the foreseeable future will be foot infantry. Future phases should attempt to integrate a large quantity of foot infantry into the mechanized operation. The German World War II system of consecutive reliefs, in which the foot infantry permitted the mechanized forces to focus on the operational battle by taking on the actual tactical engagements, may be a useful model. Unless future test phases develop a suitable integrating system, we risk tasking the foot infantry with little more than guarding the baggage on the beach while the small percentage of the force which is mechanized fights the campaign.

* In Phase III, as in almost all exercises, the aggressor was heavily outnumbered. It is unlikely this will be the case in actual campaigns. Future tests appear necessary to address the problem of undertaking offensive operations against a numerically superior opponent.

* Contrary to what might be understood from the GAZETTE article, it is not certain that mechanized forces can be task organized quickly. It may be necessary to have some units mechanized on a permanent basis in order to permit timely response with well-trained forces. Future tests are needed to investigate this further.

These and similar issues should be considered before the Marine Corps decides it is prepared for mechanized operations.