Revise FMFM 1, Warfighting

by Maj Philip E. Knobel, USMCR

1992 Chase Prize Essay Contest Honorable Mention

FMFM 1 Warfighting was published in 1989 as the foundation document that would set a new direction for Marine Corps doctrine. It was well received and widely regarded as a useful “short, concise, lively, and easy to read” guide to a new style of warfare. But even from the earliest days some believed it had shortcomings that would undermine its effectiveness as the fundamental statement of Marine Corps warfighting philosophy (MCG, Nov89). Now 4 years later, as the articles below illustrate, criticism continues and some believe revisions are overdue . . .

FMFM 1, Waifighting is the Marine Corps’ stated doctrine. By publishing fundamental principles to guide its actions, the Marine Corps made substantial improvements in unifying its organization and to its effectiveness. Waifighting is both a statement of intent and an aid to thinking, communicating, planning, and executing. It serves as the official acceptance of the maneuver style of warfare, and its packaging and distribution evidently were the model for the later development of Joint Pub 1, Joint Warfare of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Because doctrine is authoritative and requires judgment in application, its statement in a document such as Warfighting should be comprehensive and accurate. It should be easier to arrive at better decisions using the doctrine. However, a significant body of experience indicates that as written, Warflghting is incomplete, misleading, or has been superseded. For good reasons we plan and fight differently than we say we will.

To be plain, we fight better than our doctrine. It is time to fix that by revising Warfighting.

Ground Rules

The purpose of the current Warfighting is to provide broad guidance in the form of concepts and values and to establish maneuver doctrine unambiguously. The doctrine expressed should be:

consistently effective across the full spectrum of conflict, because we cannot attempt to change our basic doctrine from situation to situation and expect to be proficient.

A revised Warfighting should support the same broad guidance while providing a more general and effective description of how we prepare and fight.

What causes changes in doctrine? Changes in national policy, relative national strength, or capability derived from technology can stimulate fairly rapid changes in doctrine. Changes in human nature and psychology are slower, so doctrine should be expected to remain more stable in these areas.

The target audience remains the same, however. It consists of Marine officers and staff noncommissioned officers, other military leaders, elected and appointed officials, and interested members of society. The broad range of the audience is intentional, since all are concerned with maintaining the Marine Corps as an effective organization. Effective writing will make its guidance understandable to the full audience.

Publication of Joint Pub 1 and “. . . From the Sea” change the situation for Warfigltting. These two “senior” documents and establishment of the Naval Doctrine Command provide a framework into which Warfighting must now fit. This is not to say that unique Marine aspects should be abandoned or diluted. On the contrary, they should be explained well and strengthened while fulfilling the intent of the senior documents. The broad audience and the necessity for judgment require logic, clarity, and supporting rationale.

The purpose of this article is to look at specific areas where improvements are needed.

The Object of War

From the beginning, Warfighting is influenced heavily by Carl von Clausewitz’ On War. This is understandable, given the seminal nature of the work and the strong emphasis that On War receives at the war colleges. Warfighting defines the object of war to be the imposition of our will on our enemy. This is a straightfoiward development from the hostile characterization of war and also serves to introduce the maneuverist maxim of “orient on the enemy.”

But another statement from On War is provided in Section 2: “War is an extension of policy by other means.” This is much closer to our system of civilian control of the military. Along these lines, serious defense reform efforts have been taken to rationalize command structure, planning, and employment by linking policy rigorously to execution. Joint Pub 1 states that the object of war is to win. In this context, we can see that the object is to realize policy goals and establish a desired condition at the termination of hostilities.

The difference between the views is crucial. If the object is to impose our will, then we risk subordination of national to military goals. If the object is to achieve national goals, then appropriate means can be apportioned and other elements of national security brought into play. Consistent with the National Military Strategy and much of the rest of Warfighting, we should adopt the latter view.

Better Emphasis

To be complete and accurate, four areas require better emphasis in the revised Warfighting:

Mission. At any level the externally assigned mission dominates preparation and action. Specific means are provided to accomplish the mission and constraints in area, timing, or actions are imposed. Within this framework commanders and staffs detail plans and identify additional necessary actions. In fact, externally imposed constraints on risk often determine the style of operation to be performed. Warfighting does not acknowledge the primacy of the assigned mission.

Because of these constraints, the Marine Corps may not be able to adapt a doctrine that exclusively demands a maneuver style of warfare.

* Estimates. To fulfill a mission responsibly, evidence of military judgment must be made tangible. Estimates are the means a priori to show the results of judgments, and a number of techniques have been developed to prove and improve estimates and resulting plans. We all can agree that comparison of objective factors does not represent a complete estimate. Yet words such as “combat power,” “multiplier,” and “optimum” are found throughout Warfighting, indicative of some basis of comparison. The “Combat Power” section makes clear, however, that relative comparison and description of its elements are undesirable. Perhaps this stems from an emphasis on the intuitive.

Military judgment is developed through education and experience based upon individual aptitude. The basis of our actual estimating process and its use in developing military judgment should be described.

* Transitions. Transitions from one mode of operation to another are central to Warfighting. Whether changing tempo, shifting the main effort, modifying task organization, or changing from attrition to maneuver style, the ability to make a smooth transition quickly minimizes risk and improves our effectiveness.

Operational and strategic transitions lie at the heart of various proposals to restructure the military’s operating forces. How well one trusts our capability to execute such transitions seems to determine where one stands in the “forward deployed” to “surge from the United States” spectrum. Expeditionary Marine air-ground task forces (MAGTFs) have demonstrated the transition from zero to a full operational capability to the world. That they can sustain themselves while supporting entry of additional units is a decisive advantage on the scene and in the Washington battles. Smooth command and control transitions between smaller and larger MAGTF headquarters and joint task force headquarters remain to be demonstrated to an equivalent level.

The revised Warfighting should explicitly discuss transitions within Marine Corps operations and in combined and joint settings.

* Joint Operations. Joint operations were not central to the initial development of Warfighting; they are today. Both domestic political reality and the fragmented international order will require contributions from more than one Service to achieve national goals.

“. . . From the Sea” states an intention to link air, land, and naval warfare to ensure truly joint warfare. A revised Warfighting should describe how the Marine Corps should fit into a joint operation.

Overemphasis on ‘Maneuver’

A key aspect of Warfighting is that it prescribes the maneuver style of warfare as the Marine Corps’ doctrine. To meet the challenge described in Section 4, we need to be able to exploit a range of options. The mission and situation may limit or constrain courses of action, so current practice is to operate using a range of styles adaptable to the situation and its timing requirements. Stated differently, Warfighting is ignored under certain conditions because a strict maneuver concept is not generally appropriate. A significant portion of the differing professional opinions between the maneuverists and the “firepower tribe” stem this reality.

The means used to establish maneuver warfare as the dominant style in Warfighting appear to be unfair and arbitrary. Unfair because the attrition examples are evidently lacking an equivalent level of judgment and subscribe to literal interpretations of Clausewitz. Arbitrary because neither logic nor experience lead from the statement of the problem to selection of maneuver warfare. The argument presented is basically that effective maneuver is better than ineffective attrition.

Examination of the first three phases of DESERT STORM’S air war shows attritionist behavior while I Marine Expeditionary Force’s Ground Combat Element was confined to Saudi Arabia. The national goals of inflicting damage and recapturing terrain are described as attritionist objectives. So the situation, the buildup, and the national goals all required a portion of the war be fought in the attritionist style. Evidently we are both attritionists and maneuverists as the conditions suit us.

Part of the problem lies in the limited definition of maneuver warfare that is provided, a definition that combines gaining positional and temporal advantages and that apparently limits supporting arms to suppressive roles. Another part of the problem stems from misinterpretation of history and technological change. Maneuverists did not clearly envision the consequences of precision guided munitions well targeted at known locations. The problem is not that we cannot trust naval gunfire, rather that we cannot trust indiscriminate fires of any type.

Overstatement of maneuver’s benefits and of attrition’s drawbacks weakens our ability to use doctrine as an aid in judgment. As a tool to overcome the ineffective bombing campaigns in Vietnam and to convey a point of view to senior civilian leadership, such overstatement may have been effective. However, a lack of balance hinders the document’s usefulness.

The Presentation

Warfighting’s effectiveness in communicating both a philosophy and an intent is governed by its presentation. The structure of factual information in Sections 1 and 2 followed by prescriptive information in Sections 3 and 4 supports the reader’s understanding. The use of examples to achieve desired goals communicates ideas well as in “Command Philosophy” and “Mission Orders.” The uniformity and consistency of the presentation can be improved to the same high level throughout.

Providing new principles of war gives a new perspective, but an opportunity to link them to the well-known and accepted set used in Joint Pub 1 is missed, as is an opportunity to communicate to the wider audience. Terms should be used in their common military sense or be consistent in use of specialized meanings. Use of buzzwords such as “shape,” “gap,” and “force multiplier” cloud the message. Since Warfighting wants to avoid approaches based on formulas, it is contradictory to think of “optimizing.”

The marketing phrases “nation’s force in readiness” and “nation’s rapid response force” likely belong in another document. The offensive remark about the Navy should be eliminated.


* First, as the naval doctrine is established, Warfighting should be revised, reissued, and given broad distribution. An opportunity to communicate broad guidance in this manner is invaluable to this widely dispersed organization and to supporters within and outside the Government.

* Take advantage of our operational experiences and change the balance to reflect the use of a fighting style appropriate to the situation.

* Maintain the strong points of “Philosophy of Command” and “Focus of Effort” and provide additional examples such as found in “Mission Orders.”

* Address the impact of joint operations as well as other omissions in the mission and estimates discussions.

* Finally, an effective editorial review can identify internal inconsistencies and deliver a more coherent document.


Using a short book, such as Warfighting, to communicate common concepts, values, and a common doctrinal basis is a good idea and can improve the Marine Corps’ effectiveness. However, if it is to be effective in this role, a clear consistent message must be sent. The book will be found useful to the degree that its contents help the users in performing their duties.

We are fortunate that we are able to fight smarter than our doctrine would suggest. It is time to upgrade Warfighting to support more effective Marine Corps and joint performance in the future.