Stick With Maneuver

by Capt Francis G. Hoffman, USMCR

The series of three articles by LtCol Gary W. Anderson on enemy-oriented operations (MCG, Apr, Jun, Aug89) demonstrate a common but erroneous perception of maneuver warfare. While the basic characteristic of lowintensity conflict (LIC) is the absence of conventional military operations, it does not rule out application of maneuver-oriented planning and doctrine.

Perhaps this misperception is due to the connotation of “maneuver,” which has allowed many to associate the doctrine exclusively with mechanizedtype operations in the Delta Corridor. Or maybe it is because, as Maj Moore pointed out in his prize-winning Chase essay (MCG, Apr89), “The advocates of maneuver warfare have done a poor job of explaining their theory.”

Whatever the reason, the myth that maneuver doctrine is only applicable at the high end of the conflict spectrum should be quickly erased. Maneuver doctrine is not just for operations against Soviet bloc forces in a high-intensity scenario. The doctrine is based on the operational art and in its most basic aspects deals with the use of military means to achieve policy and military objectives. It is a way of thinking that drives the planning and execution of campaigns in pursuit of the attainment of strategic objectives. We have strategic and policy objectives that must be achieved across the spectrum of conflict and thus we need a doctrinal approach that is applicable across the same range of potential applications.

There are more tenets of maneuver warfare than the selective few that LtCol Anderson listed. For example, maneuver warfare is oriented toward chaotic and fluid environments. What is more chaotic and dynamic than counterinsurgency or stability operations? LtCol Anderson’s brief list omits the orientation against the moral and physical cohesion of the enemy. Maneuver doctrine, in this sense, might assist us in planning and executing counterterrorism or counternarcotic operations against terrorist groups or drug cartels.

The author also forgot to include those aspects of maneuver doctrine that call for shaping the battle. Security assistance operations, psychological operations, counterintelligence programs, and combined action programs can shape the nature of the conflict and the ability of the insurgent group to establish itself within the mainstream of the indigenous population. In this sense, the other tenets of maneuver warfare (focus of effort, surfaces and gaps, and state of mind) are also equally applicable to LIC.

In sum, I do not think we need a new approach as postulated by LiCol Anderson. Rather we need to refine and educate ourselves with the maneuver doctrine we already have. Furthermore, we need to seek ways to incorporate the tenets and principles of this doctrine in our daily business.