Reexamining Maneuver Warfare

by LtCol Gordon Batcheller

All the coverage on maneuver warfare leaves me uneasy for several reasons: First, I’m not sure how its proponents conceive of its application to a given body of troops. Perhaps at the field marshal level a genius of war can, with imagination, intuition, reliable intelligence, and daring, launch his forces on a series of lightning thrusts that will dismember the enemy-body, brain, and/or will. History is full of stories of successful small unit leaders who were able to succeed because of their aggressive exploitation of opportunities. But I need to hear more about how this technique or doctrine is superimposed upon an entire division or, in our case, a MAF without a certain amount of chaos resulting. Somewhere in the organization, training, and employing of forces, all the trappings of “cookbook recipes” so lightly dismissed by the maneuverists are required. If the maneuverists are talking about good old flexibility, and boldness, I can applaud the objective but am bewildered by all the fuss over something so obvious. But if they are advocating some dramatic new doctrine that rejects fire team, squad, platoon, company, and battalion formations, or recognizable patterns of maneuver, then I think they may be candidates for processing under ALMAR 246-81. History has produced precious few military geniuses, and they have been most recognizable when they were in command of all the forces involved: combat, combat support, and combat service support. I have difficulty with a concept that appears to presume this level of competence down to and including the small unit level.

Second, there is an obvious inconsistency between “mission order tactics” without detailed control and “completely integrated logistical and tactical considerations,” to say nothing of the coordination of supporting arms and adjacent units. Very few logisticians exist in the Marine Corps, and none of them are mind-readers. In the tactical arena, fire and maneuver must be closely integrated, and they both must be continuously supported. This requires, unfortunately, detailed control of all elements of the MAGTF, and its subordinate units. I won’t even go into the demands placed on the communicators by the freewheeling approach. The need to command, control, and support certainly inhibits flexibility, but need not destroy it, nor render imagination and genius ineffective. But I haven’t seen a thoughtful examination of all the ramifications of the “turn them loose” approach yet.

Third, I am concerned that the application of maneuver warfare, with its undeniable roots in land warfare, to the amphibious Marine Corps can lead to a fascination for land vehicles and tactical “mobility” for sustained land warfare that is inconsistent with our primary mission and statutory areas of responsibility. The resulting changes to our force structure, manpower, and training needs, and even our naval identity could lead us down the proverbial rabbit trail and away from areas of our more legitimate concern. I would suggest that our real need in the mobility area is not so much a way to increase or extend our land mobility, but a light, effective, and reliable way or ways to decrease the enemy’s mobility. Although over-simplified, the points is: we don’t need more tracked vehicles; we need more tracked vehicle killers.

Finally, I don’t see a careful consideration of the difference between strategic and tactical maneuver, nor of the relevancy of either to a Service’s primary mission. The simplistic embrace of maneuver warfare leads inevitably to more mechanization as a means of tactical mobility. The effect on strategic mobility is seldom thrown into the analysis. Getting there may not be half the fun, but it’s a prerequisite to what fun there might be. What the relevance of all this tactical mobility is to a Service structured for violent assault, short operations, and stubborn defense is not clear. The promised mobility might be more mirage than oasis. Machines that can’t be maintained or supplied or operated are hardly “force multipliers.” The maneuverists task the combat service support element with providing flexible, responsive support, but there is precious little analysis of the feasibility of this tasking, nor examination of the difference between maneuver warfare fought close to a friendly industrial base and maneuver warfare fought at the end of a 10,000-mile sea line of communication.