Rebutting the Rebuttal

by Capt Andrew J. Graham

In “Embrace Maneuver Warfare: A rebuttal” [MCG, JunlO), Maj Jason W. Heuer writes a counterargument to my February 2010 article, “Embrace Maneuver Warfare: The DS section.” He adds to the debate on the subject; however, much of his counterargument is incorrect.

Maj Heuer alleges that the details of the joint tactical airstrike request (JTAR) application process prohibit the assignment of aircraft to direct support (DS), but this is not the case. Requesting units demonstrate evidence of proper mission planning by the written detail in the JTAR request. The air tasking order (ATO) cell should require the same kind of detailed planning and analysis for a DS section JTAR request as the ATO cell would for any other air support request.

The author argues that watch officers can immediately answer requests for air support and reallocate assets from low-priority missions to higher priority missions. But what about transferring air support from low-priority missions to other lowpriority but strategically important counted nsurgency (COIN) missions? Is a direct air support center (DASC) officer likely to reapportion a mixed section of H-Is that is providing convoy escort and divert them to ferry two Afghan villagers whose child has broken his arm? This seems unlikely. The decision not to divert aircraft reflects a risk-averse aviation culture that restricts creative thinking and problem solving. Unless the MAGTF commanders guidance is so minutely detailed that it identifies and ranks every contingency, the DASC officer will likely never decide to divert the assets to another low-priority mission.

Maj Heuer additionally writes that a section in DS will not support the MAGTF commanders aviation scheme of maneuver and that the DS section does not keep with Marine Corps doctrine. This is patently untrue. Our doctrine, Marine Corps Warfìghting Publication 3-2, Aviation Operations, defines and allows for aviation in DS. The ATO cell must still assign aircraft according to their capability, DS or not. To say that the aviation combat elements (ACE s) flexibility is reduced through a DS section request instead of matching a capability to a mission, and that the crew supplied would not be the best choice for the specific mission, implies two fallacies – first, that our Marine ground brethren cannot tell Marine aircraft apart, and second, that the Marine Corps does not have properly trained aircrews.

Maj Heuer maintains that DS neglects one of the tenets of maneuver warfare – unity of command. Unity of command is a Clausewitzian principle of war and not a tenet of maneuver warfare. The squadron commander retains command over squadron aircrew and airframes, whereas the battalion landing team commander has tactical control of the aircraft during the JTAR. The author also incorrectly states that the DS section role puts the ACE commander in a subordinate relationship to the ground combat element commander. Just like the MEU, the squadron commander is already in a supporting-supported relationship with the battalion commander. Squadron commanders routinely fly and lead their crews in combat. Both the lieutenant colonel squadron commander and the lieutenant colonel battalion commander work for the MAGTF commander, with all parties supporting a designated mission commander for specific missions. Unity of command remains constant throughout, and there is no confusion about who commands the pilots or the infantrymen.

What is missing from Maj Heuer’s argument is a tie into maneuver warfare. How do we speed the flow of information and push decisionmaking down to the lowest level? Do we allow our air and ground forces to use creative thinking to solve our problems using everything in our repertoire? The ideas and experience of junior officers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan led to new COIN doctrine and tfie authoring of a new joint COIN field manual. Where is our contribution from the air wing? Regardless of the form it takes, there is clearly a need for more flexible and imaginative use of aviation assets in the current and future COIN fights.