U.S. Marine Corps
The Conduct of War
“Now an army may be
likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and
hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.”
“Speed is the
essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness;
travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”
“Many years ago,
as a cadet hoping some day to be an officer, I was poring over the
‘Principles of War,’ listed in the old Field Service Regulations,
when the Sergeant-Major came up to me. He surveyed me with kindly
amusement. ‘Don’t bother your head about all them things,
me lad,’ he said. ‘There’s only one principle of
war and that’s this. Hit the other fellow, as quick as you can,
and as hard as you can, where it hurts him most, when he ain’t
The sole justification for the United States Marine
Corps is to secure or protect national policy objectives by military force
when peaceful means alone cannot. How the Marine Corps proposes to accomplish
this mission is the product of our understanding of the nature and the
theory of war and must be the guiding force behind our preparation for
The challenge is to develop a concept of warfighting consistent with
our understanding of the nature and theory of war and the realities of
the modern battlefield. What exactly does this require? It requires a
concept of warfighting that will help us function effectively in an uncertain,
chaotic, and fluid en-vironment—in fact, one with which we can exploit
these conditions to our advantage. It requires a concept with which we
can sense and use the time-competitive rhythm of war to generate and exploit
superior tempo. It requires a concept that is 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.
It requires a concept with which we can recognize and exploit the fleeting
opportunities that naturally occur in war. It requires a concept that
takes into account the moral and mental as well as the physical forces
of war because we have already concluded that these form the greater part
of war. It requires a concept with which we can succeed against a numerically
superior foe because we cannot presume a numerical advantage either locally
or overall. Especially in expeditionary situations in which public support
for military action may be tepid and short-lived, it requires a concept
with which we can win quickly against a larger foe on his home soil with
minimal casualties and limited external support.
The Marine Corps concept for winning under these conditions is a warfighting
doctrine based on rapid, flexible, and opportunistic maneuver. In order
to fully appreciate what we mean by maneuver, we need to clarify the term.
The traditional understanding of maneuver is a spatial one; that is, we
maneuver in space to gain a positional advantage.4 However, in order to
maximize the usefulness of maneuver, we must consider maneuver in other
dimensions as well. The essence of maneuver is taking action to generate
and exploit some kind of advantage over the enemy as a means of accomplishing
our objectives as effectively as possible. That advantage may be psychological,
technological, or temporal as well as spatial. Especially important is
maneuver in time—we generate a faster operating tempo than the enemy
to gain a temporal advantage. It is through maneuver in all dimensions
that an inferior force can achieve decisive superiority at the necessary
time and place.
Maneuver warfare is a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the
enemy’s cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected
actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with
which the enemy cannot cope.
Rather than wearing down an enemy’s defenses, maneuver warfare
attempts to bypass these defenses in order to penetrate the enemy system
and tear it apart. The aim is to render the enemy incapable of resisting
effectively by shattering his moral, mental, and physical cohesion—his
ability to fight as an effective, coordinated whole—rather than
to destroy him physically through the incremental attrition of each of
his components, which is generally more costly and time-con- suming. Ideally,
the components of his physical strength that remain are irrelevant because
we have disrupted his ability to use them effectively. Even if an outmaneuvered
enemy continues to fight as individuals or small units, we can destroy
the remnants with relative ease because we have eliminated his ability
to fight effectively as a force.
This is not to imply that firepower is unimportant. On the contrary,
firepower is central to maneuver warfare. Nor do we mean to imply that
we will pass up the opportunity to physically destroy the enemy. We will
concentrate fires and forces at decisive points to destroy enemy elements
when the opportunity presents itself and when it fits our larger purposes.
Engaged in combat, we can rarely go wrong if we aggressively pursue the
destruction of enemy forces. In fact, maneuver warfare often involves
extremely high attrition of selected enemy forces where we have focused
combat power against critical enemy weakness. Nonetheless, the aim of
such attrition is not merely to reduce incrementally the enemy’s
physical strength. Rather, it is to contribute to the enemy’s systemic
disruption. The greatest effect of firepower is gen- erally not physical
de-struction—the cumulative effects of which are felt only slow-ly—but
the disruption it causes.
If the aim of maneuver warfare is to shatter the cohesion of the enemy
system, the immediate object toward that end is to create a situation
in which the enemy cannot function. By our actions, we seek to pose menacing
dilemmas in which events happen unexpectedly and more quickly than the
enemy can keep up with them. The enemy must be made to see the situation
not only as deteriorating, but deteriorating at an ever-increasing rate.
The ultimate goal is panic and paralysis, an enemy who has lost the ability
Inherent in maneuver warfare is the need for speed to seize the initiative,
dictate the terms of action, and keep the enemy off balance, thereby increasing
his friction. We seek to establish a pace that the enemy cannot maintain
so that with each action his reactions are increasingly late—until
eventually he is overcome by events.
Also inherent is the need to focus our efforts in order to maximize effect.
In combat this includes violence and shock effect, again not so much as
a source of physical attrition, but as a source of disruption. We concentrate
strength against critical enemy vulnerabilities, striking quickly and
boldly where, when, and in ways in which it will cause the greatest damage
to our enemy’s ability to fight. Once gained or found, any advantage
must be pressed relentlessly and unhesitatingly. We must be ruthlessly
opportunistic, actively seeking out signs of weakness against which we
will direct all available combat power. When the decisive opportunity
arrives, we must exploit it fully and aggressively, committing every ounce
of combat power we can muster and pushing ourselves to the limits of exhaustion.
An important weapon in our arsenal is surprise, the combat value of which
we have already recognized. By studying our enemy, we will attempt to
appreciate his perceptions. Through deception we will try to shape the
enemy’s expectations. Then we will exploit those expectations by
striking at an unexpected time and place. In order to appear unpredictable,
we must avoid set rules and patterns, which inhibit imagination and initiative.
In order to appear ambiguous and threatening, we should operate on axes
that offer numerous courses of action, keeping the enemy unclear as to
which we will choose.
Besides traits such as endurance and courage that all warfare demands,
maneuver warfare puts a premium on certain particular human skills and
traits. It requires the temperament to cope with uncertainty. It requires
flexibility of mind to deal with fluid and disorderly situations. It requires
a certain independence of mind, a willingness to act with initiative and
boldness, an exploitive mindset that takes full advantage of every opportunity,
and the moral courage to accept responsibility for this type of behavior.
It is important that this last set of traits be guided by self-discipline
and loyalty to the objectives of seniors. Finally, maneuver warfare requires
the ability to think above our own level and to act at our level in a
way that is in consonance with the requirements of the larger situation.
ORIENTING ON THE ENEMY
Orienting on the enemy is fundamental to maneuver warfare. Maneuver warfare
attacks the enemy “system.” The enemy system is whatever constitutes
the entity confronting us within our particular sphere. For a pilot, it
might be the combination of air defense radars, surface-to-air missiles,
and enemy aircraft that must be penetrated to reach the target. For a
rifle company commander, it might be the mutually supporting defensive
positions, protected by obstacles and supported by crew-served weapons,
on the next terrain feature. For an electronic warfare specialist, it
might be the enemy’s command and control networks. For a Marine
expeditionary force commander, it might be all the major combat formations
within an area of operations as well as their supporting command and control,
logistics, and intelligence organizations.
We should try to understand the unique characteristics that make the
enemy system function so that we can penetrate the system, tear it apart,
and, if necessary, destroy the isolated components. We should seek to
identify and attack critical vulnerabilities and those centers of gravity
without which the enemy cannot function effectively. This means focusing
outward on the particular characteristics of the enemy rather than inward
on the mechanical execution of predetermined procedures.
If the enemy system, for example, is a fortified defensive works, penetrating
the system may mean an infiltration or a violent attack on a narrow frontage
at a weak spot to physically rupture the defense, after which we can envelop
the enemy positions or roll them up laterally from within. In this way
we defeat the logic of the system rather than frontally overwhelming each
We should try to “get inside” the enemy’s thought processes
and see the enemy as he sees himself so that we can set him up for defeat.
It is essential that we understand the enemy on his own terms. We should
not assume that every enemy thinks as we do, fights as we do, or has the
same values or objectives.
PHILOSOPHY OF COMMAND
It is essential that our philosophy of command support the way we fight.
First and foremost, in order to generate the tempo of operations we desire
and to best cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat,
command and control must
be decentralized. That is, subordinate commanders must make decisions
on their own initiative, based on their understanding of their senior’s
intent, rather than passing information up the chain of command and waiting
for the decision to be passed down. Further, a competent subordinate commander
who is at the point of decision will naturally better appreciate the true
situation than a senior commander some distance removed. Individual initiative
and responsibility are of paramount importance. The principal means by
which we implement decentralized command and control is through the use
of mission tactics, which we will discuss in detail later.
Second, since we have concluded that war is a human enterprise and no
amount of technology can reduce the human dimension, our philosophy of
command must be based on human characteristics rather than on equipment
or procedures. Communications equipment and command and staff procedures
can enhance our ability to command, but they must not be used to lessen
the human element of command. Our philosophy must not only accommodate
but must exploit human traits such as boldness, initiative, personality,
strength of will, and imagination.
Our philosophy of command must also exploit the human ability to communicate
implicitly.5 We believe that implicit communication—to communicate
through mutual understanding, using a minimum of key, well-understood
phrases or even anticipating each other’s thoughts—is a faster,
more effective way to communicate than through the use of detailed, explicit
instructions. We develop this ability through familiarity and trust, which
are based on a shared philosophy and shared experience.
This concept has several practical implications. First, we should establish
long-term working relationships to develop the necessary familiarity and
trust. Second, key people—“actual-s”—should talk
directly to one another when possible, rather than through communicators
or messengers. Third, we should communicate orally when possible, because
we communicate also in how we talk—our inflections and tone of voice.
Fourth, we should communicate in person when possible because we communicate
also through our gestures and bearing.
Commanders should command from where they can best influence the action,
normally well forward. This allows them to see and sense firsthand the
ebb and flow of combat, to gain an intuitive appreciation for the situation
that they cannot obtain from reports. It allows them to exert personal
influence at decisive points during the action. It also allows them to
locate themselves closer to the events that will influence the situation
so that they can observe them directly and circumvent the delays and inaccuracies
that result from passing information up and down the chain of command.
Finally, we recognize the importance of personal leadership. Only by their
physical pres-ence—by demonstrating the willingness to share danger
and privation—can commanders fully gain the trust and confidence
of subordinates. We must remember that command from the front should not
equate to oversupervision of subordinates. At the same time, it is important
to balance the need for forward command with the need for keeping apprised
of the overall situation, which is often best done from a central location
such as a combat operation center. Commanders cannot become so focused
on one aspect of the situation that they lose overall situational awareness.
As part of our philosophy of command, we must recognize that war is inherently
disorderly, uncertain, dynamic, and dominated by friction. Moreover, maneuver
warfare, with its emphasis on speed and initiative, is by nature a particularly
disorderly style of war. The conditions ripe for exploitation are normally
also very disorderly. For commanders to try to gain certainty as a basis
for actions, maintain positive control of events at all times, or dictate
events to fit their plans is to deny the nature of war. We must therefore
be prepared to cope—even better, to thrive—in an environment
of chaos, uncertainty, constant change, and friction. If we can come to
terms with those conditions and thereby limit their debili- tating effects,
we can use them as a weapon against a foe who does not cope as well.
In practical terms, this means that we must not strive for certainty
before we act, for in so doing we will surrender the initiative and pass
up opportunities. We must not try to maintain excessive control over subordinates
since this will necessarily slow our tempo and inhibit initiative. We
must not attempt to impose precise order on the events of combat since
this leads to a formularistic approach to war. We must be prepared to
adapt to changing circumstances and exploit opportunities as they arise,
rather than adhering insistently to predetermined plans that have outlived
There are several points worth remembering about our command philosophy.
First, while it is based on our warfighting style, this does not mean
it applies only during war. We must put it into practice during the preparation
for war as well. We cannot rightly expect our subordinates to exercise
boldness and initiative in the field when they are accustomed to being
over-supervised in garrison. Whether the mission is training, procuring
equipment, administration, or police call, this philosophy should apply.
Next, our philosophy requires competent leadership at all levels. A centralized
system theoretically needs only one competent person, the senior commander,
who is the sole authority. A decentralized system requires leaders at
all levels to demonstrate sound and timely judgment. Initiative be- comes
an essential condition of competence among commanders.
Our philosophy also requires familiarity among comrades because only
through a shared understanding can we develop the implicit communication
necessary for unity of effort. Perhaps most important, our philosophy
demands confidence among seniors and subordinates.
SHAPING THE ACTION
Since our goal is not merely the cumulative attrition of enemy strength,
we must have some larger scheme for how we expect to achieve victory.
That is, before anything else, we must conceive how we intend to win.
The first requirement is to establish what we want to accomplish, why,
and how. Without a clearly identified concept and intent, the necessary
unity of effort is inconceivable. We must identify those critical enemy
vulnerabilities that we believe will lead most directly to undermining
the enemy’s centers of gravity and the accomplishment of our mission.
Having done this, we can then begin to act so as to shape the campaign,
operation, battle, or engagement to our advantage in both time and space.
Similarly, we must try to see ourselves through our en-emy’s eyes
in order to identify our own vulnerabilities that he may attack and to
anticipate what he will try to do so that we can counteract him. Ideally,
when the moment of engagement arrives, the issue will have already been
resolved: Through our influencing of the events leading up to the encounter,
we have so shaped the conditions of war that the result is a matter of
course. We have shaped the action decisively to our advantage.
To influence the action to our advantage, we must project our thoughts
forward in time and space. We frequently do this through planning. This
does not mean that we establish a detailed timetable of events. We have
already concluded that war is inherently disorderly, and we cannot expect
to dictate its terms with any sort of precision. Rather, we attempt to
shape the general conditions of war. This shaping consists of lethal and
nonlethal actions that span the spectrum from direct attack to psychological
operations, from electronic warfare to the stockpiling of critical supplies
for future operations. Shaping activities may render the enemy vulnerable
to attack, facilitate maneuver of friendly forces, and dictate the time
and place for decisive battle. Examples include canalizing enemy movement
in a desired direction, blocking or delaying enemy reinforcements so that
we can fight a fragmented enemy force, or shaping enemy expectations through
deception so that we can exploit those expectations. We can attack a specific
enemy capability to allow us to maximize a capability of our own such
as launching an operation to destroy the enemy’s air defenses so
that we can maximize the use of our own aviation.
Through shaping, commanders gain the initiative, preserve momentum, and
control the tempo of operations. We should also try to shape events in
a way that allows us several options so that by the time the moment for
decisive operations arrives, we have not restricted ourselves to only
one course of action.
The further ahead we think, the less our actual influence can be. Therefore,
the further ahead we consider, the less precision we should attempt to
impose. Looking ahead thus becomes less a matter of direct influence and
more a matter of laying the groundwork for possible future actions. As
events approach and our ability to influence them grows, we have already
developed an appreciation for the situation and how we want to shape it.6
The higher our echelon of command, the greater is our sphere of influence
and the further ahead in time and space we must seek to shape the action.
Senior commanders developing and pursuing military strategy look ahead
weeks, months, or more, and their areas of influence and interest will
encompass entire theaters. Junior commanders fighting the battles and
engagements at hand are concerned with the coming hours, even minutes,
and the immediate field of battle. Regardless of the sphere in which we
operate, it is essential to have some vision of the result we want and
how we intend to shape the action in time and space to achieve it.
Decisionmaking is essential to the conduct of war since all actions are
the result of decisions or of nondecisions. If we fail to make a decision
out of lack of will, we have willingly surrendered the initiative to our
foe. If we consciously postpone taking action for some reason, that is
a decision. Thus, as a basis for action, any decision is generally better
than no decision.
Since war is a conflict between opposing wills, we cannot make decisions
in a vacuum. We must make our decisions in light of the enemy’s
anticipated reactions and counteractions, recognizing that while we are
trying to impose our will on the enemy, he is trying to do the same to
Time is a critical factor in effective decisionmaking—often the
most important factor. A key part of effective decisionmaking is realizing
how much decision time is available and making the most of that time.
In general, whoever can make and implement decisions consistently faster
gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage. Decisionmaking in execution
thus becomes a time-competitive process, and timeliness of decisions becomes
essential to generating tempo. Timely decisions demand rapid thinking
with consideration limited to essential factors. In such situations, we
should spare no effort to accelerate our decisionmaking ability. That
said, we should also recognize those situations in which time is not a
limiting factor—such as deliberate planning situations—and
should not rush our decisions unnecessarily.
A military decision is not merely a mathematical computation. Decisionmaking
requires both the situational awareness to recognize the essence of a
given problem and the creative ability to devise a practical solution.
These abilities are the products of experience, education, and intelligence.
Decisionmaking may be an intuitive process based on experience. This
will likely be the case at lower levels and in fluid, uncertain situations.
Alternatively, decisionmaking may be a more analytical process based on
comparing several options.
This will more likely be the case at higher levels or in deliberate planning
We should base our decisions on awareness rather than on mechanical habit.
That is, we act on a keen appreciation for the essential factors that
make each situation unique instead of from conditioned response. We must
have the moral courage to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty—and
to accept full responsibility for those decisions—when the natural
inclination would be to postpone the decision pending more complete information.
To delay action in an emergency because of incomplete information shows
a lack of moral courage. We do not want to make rash decisions, but we
must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information.
Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty
and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any
battlefield problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one. The essence
of the problem is to select a promising course of action with an acceptable
degree of risk and to do it more quickly than our foe. In this respect,
“a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan
executed next week.”7
One key way we put maneuver warfare into practice is through the use
of mission tactics. Mission tactics is just as the name implies: the tactics
of assigning a subordinate mission without specifying how the mission
must be accom- plished.8 We leave the manner of accomplishing the mission
to the subordinate, thereby allowing the freedom—and establishing
the duty—for the subordinate to take whatever steps deemed necessary
based on the situation. Mission tactics relies on a subordinate's exercise
of initiative framed by proper guidance and understanding.
Mission tactics benefits the senior commander by freeing time to focus
on higher-level concerns rather than the details of subordinate execution.
The senior prescribes the method of execution only to the degree that
is essential for coordination. The senior intervenes in a subordinate’s
execution only by exception. It is this freedom for initiative that permits
the high tempo of operations that we desire. Uninhibited by excessive
restrictions from above, subordinates can adapt their actions to the changing
situation. They inform the commander of what they have done, but they
do not wait for permission.
Mission tactics serves as a contract between senior and subordinate.
The senior agrees to provide subordinates with the support necessary to
help them accomplish their mis- sions but without unnecessarily prescribing
their actions. The senior is obligated to provide the guidance that allows
subor- dinates to exercise proper judgment and initiative. The subor-
dinate is obligated to act in conformity with the intent of the senior.
The subordinate agrees to act responsibly and loyally and not to exceed
the proper limits of authority. Mission tactics requires subordinates
to act with “topsight”—a grasp of how their actions
fit into the larger situation.9 In other words, subordinates must always
think above their own levels in order to contribute to the accomplishment
of the higher mission.
It is obvious that we cannot allow decentralized initiative without some
means of providing unity, or focus, to the various efforts. To do so would
be to dissipate our strength. We seek unity not principally through imposed
control, but through harmonious initiative and lateral coordination within
the context provided by guidance from above.
We achieve this harmonious initiative in large part through the use of
the commander’s intent, a device designed to help subordinates understand
the larger context of their actions. The purpose of providing intent is
to allow subordinates to exercise judgment and initiative—to depart
from the original plan when the unforeseen occurs—in a way that
is consistent with higher commanders’ aims.
There are two parts to any mission: the task to be accomplished and the
reason or intent behind it.10 The intent is thus a part of every mission.
The task describes the action to be taken while the intent describes the
purpose of the action. The task denotes what is to be done, and sometimes
when and where; the intent explains why. Of the two, the intent is predominant.
While a situation may change, making the task obsolete, the intent is
more lasting and continues to guide our actions. Understanding the intent
of our commander allows us to exercise initiative in harmony with the
The intent for a unit is established by the commander assigning that
unit’s mission—usually the next higher commander, although
not always. A commander normally provides intent as part of the mission
statement assigned to a subordinate. A subordinate commander who is not
given a clear purpose for the assigned mission should ask for one. Based
on the mission, the commander then develops a concept of operations, which
explains how the unit will accomplish the mission, and assigns missions
to subordinates. Each subordinate mission statement includes an intent
for that subordinate. The intent provided to each subordinate should contribute
to the accomplishment of the intent a commander has received from above.
This top-down flow of intent provides consistency and continuity to our
actions and establishes the context that is essential for the proper bottom-up
exercise of initiative.
It is often possible to capture intent in a simple “. . . in order
to . . .” phrase following the assigned task. To maintain our focus
on the enemy, we can often express intent in terms of the enemy. For example:
“Control the bridge in order to prevent the enemy from escaping
across the river.” Sometimes it may be necessary to provide amplifying
guidance in addition to an “. . . in order to . . .” statement.
In any event, a commander’s statement of intent should be brief
and compelling—the more concise, the better. A subordinate should
be ever conscious of a senior’s intent so that it guides every decision.
An intent that is involved or complicated will fail to accomplish this
A clear expression and understanding of intent is essential to unity
of effort. The burden of understanding falls on senior and subordinate
alike. The seniors must make their purposes perfectly clear but in a way
that does not inhibit initiative. Subordinates must have a clear understanding
of what their commander expects. Further, they should understand the intent
of the commander at least two levels up.
Another important tool for providing unity is the main ef- fort. Of all
the actions going on within our command, we recognize one as the most
critical to success at that moment. The unit assigned responsibility for
accomplishing this key mission is designated as the main effort—the
focal point upon which converges the combat power of the force. The main
effort receives priority for support of any kind. It becomes clear to
all other units in the command that they must support that unit in the
accomplishment of its mission. Like the commander’s intent, the
main effort becomes a harmonizing force for subordinate initiative. Faced
with a decision, we ask ourselves: How can I best support the main effort?
We cannot take lightly the decision of which unit we designate as the
main effort. In effect, we have decided: This is how I will achieve a
decision; everything else is secondary. We carefully design the operation
so that success by the main effort ensures the success of the entire mission.
Since the main effort represents our primary bid for victory, we must
direct it at that object which will have the most significant effect on
the enemy and which holds the best opportunity of success. The main effort
involves a physical and moral commitment, although not an irretrievable
one. It forces us to concentrate decisive combat power just as it forces
us to accept risk. Thus, we direct our main effort against a center of
gravity through a critical enemy vulnerability, exercising strict economy
Each commander should establish a main effort for each operation. As
the situation changes, the commander may shift the main effort, redirecting
the weight of combat power in support of the unit that is now most critical
to success. In general, when shifting the main effort, we seek to exploit
success rather than reinforce failure.
SURFACES AND GAPS
Put simply, surfaces are hard spots—enemy strengths—and gaps
are soft spots—enemy weaknesses. We avoid enemy strength and focus
our efforts against enemy weakness with the object of penetrating the
enemy system since pitting strength against weakness reduces casualties
and is more likely to yield decisive results. Whenever possible, we exploit
existing gaps. Failing that, we create gaps.
Gaps may in fact be physical gaps in the enemy’s dispositions,
but they may also be any weakness in time, space, or capability: a moment
in time when the enemy is overexposed and vulnerable, a seam in an air
defense umbrella, an infantry unit caught unprepared in open terrain,
or a boundary between two units.
Similarly, a surface may be an actual strongpoint, or it may be any enemy
strength: a moment when the enemy has just replenished and consolidated
a position or a technological superiority of a particular weapons system
An appreciation for surfaces and gaps requires a certain amount of judgment.
What is a surface in one case may be a gap in another. For example, a
forest which is a surface to an armored unit because it restricts vehicle
movement can be a gap to an infantry unit which can infiltrate through
it. Furthermore, we can expect the enemy to disguise his dispositions
in order to lure us against a surface that appears to be a gap.
Due to the fluid nature of war, gaps will rarely be permanent and will
usually be fleeting. To exploit them demands flexibility and speed. We
must actively seek out gaps by continuous and aggressive reconnaissance.
Once we locate them, we must exploit them by funneling our forces through
rapidly. For example, if our main effort has struck a surface but another
unit has located a gap, we designate the second unit as the main effort
and redirect our combat power in support of it. In this manner, we “pull”
combat power through gaps from the front rather than “pushing”
it through from the rear.11 Commanders must rely on the initiative of
subordinates to locate gaps and must have the flexibility to respond quick-
ly to opportunities rather than blindly follow predetermined schemes.
In order to maximize combat power, we must use all the available resources
to best advantage. To do so, we must follow a doctrine of combined arms.
Combined arms is the full integration of arms in such a way that to counteract
one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another. We pose the enemy
not just with a problem, but with a dilemma—a no-win situation.
We accomplish combined arms through the tactics and techniques we use
at the lower levels and through task organization at higher levels. In
so doing, we take advantage of the complementary characteristics of different
types of units and enhance our mobility and firepower. We use each arm
for missions that no other arm can perform as well; for example, we assign
aviation a task that cannot be performed equally well by artillery. An
example of the concept of combined arms at the very lowest level is the
complementary use of the automatic weapon and grenade launcher within
a fire team. We pin an enemy down with the high-volume, direct fire of
the automatic weapon, making him a vulnerable target for the grenade launcher.
If he moves to escape the impact of the grenades, we engage him with the
We can expand the example to the MAGTF level: We use assault support
aircraft to quickly concentrate superior ground forces for a breakthrough.
We use artillery and close air support to support the infantry penetration,
and we use deep air support to interdict enemy reinforcements that move
to contain the penetration. Targets which cannot be effectively suppressed
by artillery are engaged by close air support. In order to defend against
the infantry attack, the enemy must make himself vulnerable to the supporting
arms. If he seeks cover from the supporting arms, our infantry can maneuver
against him. In order to block our penetration, the enemy must reinforce
quickly with his reserve. However, in order to avoid our deep air support,
he must stay off the roads, which means he can only move slowly.
If he moves slowly, he cannot reinforce in time to prevent our breakthrough.
We have put him in a dilemma.
We have discussed the aim and characteristics of maneuver warfare. We
have discussed the philosophy of command necessary to support this style
of warfare. We have discussed some of the tactics of maneuver warfare.
By this time, it should be clear that maneuver warfare exists not so much
in the specific methods used—we do not believe in a formularistic
approach to war—but in the mind of the Marine. In this regard, maneuver
warfare, like combined arms, applies equally to the Marine expeditionary
force commander and the fire team leader. It applies regardless of the
nature of the con- flict, whether amphibious operations or sustained operations
ashore, of low or high intensity, against guerrilla or mechanized foe,
in desert or jungle.
Maneuver warfare is a way of thinking in and about war that should shape
our every action. It is a state of mind born of a bold will, intellect,
initiative, and ruthless opportunism. It is a state of mind bent on shattering
the enemy morally and physically by paralyzing and confounding him, by
avoiding his strength, by quickly and aggressively exploiting his vulnerabilities,
and by striking him in the way that will hurt him most. In short, maneuver
warfare is a philosophy for generating the greatest decisive effect against
the enemy at the least possible cost to ourselves—a philosophy for
Notes — The Conduct of War
1. Sun Tzu, p. 101.
2. Ibid., p. 134.
3. Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory (London: Cassell
and Co. Ltd, 1956) pp. 550–551.
4. Maneuver: “Employment of forces on the battlefield
through movement in combination with fire, or fire potential, to achieve
a position of advantage in respect to the enemy in order to accomplish
the mission.” (Joint Pub 1-02)
5. Boyd introduces the idea of implicit communication as a command
tool in “A Discourse on Winning and Losing: An Organic Design
for Command and Control.”
6. Hence the terms area of influence and area of interest.
Area of influence: “A geographical area wherein
a commander is directly capable of influencing operations by maneuver
or fire support systems normally under the commander’s command
or control.” Area of interest: “That area
of concern to the commander, including the area of influence, areas
adjacent thereto, and extending into enemy territory to the objectives
of current or planned operations. This area also includes areas occupied
by enemy forces who could jeopardize the accomplishment of the mission.”
(Joint Pub 1-02)
7. George S. Patton, Jr., War As I Knew It (New York: Houghton
Mifflin, 1979) p. 354.
8. In the context of command and control, also called mission command
and control. Mission tactics involves the use of mission-type
orders. Mission-type order: “Order to a
unit to perform a mission without specifying how it is to be accomplished.”
(Joint Pub 1-02)
9. David Hillel Gelernter, Mirror Worlds, or, The Day Software
Puts the Universe in a Shoebox: How It Will Happen and What It Will
Mean (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) pp. 51–53.
If “insight is the illumination to be achieved by penetrating
inner depths, topsight is what comes from a far-overhead vantage
point, from a bird’s eye view that reveals the whole—the
big picture; how the parts fit together.”
10. Mission: “The task, together with the purpose,
that clearly indicates the action to be taken and the reason therefor.”
(Joint Pub 1-02)
11. Hence the terms reconnaissance pull and command push,
respectively. See William S. Lind’s Maneuver Warfare Handbook
(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985) pp. 18–19.