[DNI editor's note:  It was impossible to tell from the official briefings and from transmissions by embedded journalists whether US Army and Marine Corps units in the Second Gulf War were actually using maneuver warfare.  There were tantalizing hints, and the results were impressive, but we just did not have the level of detail.  Now we have the first real information.

Bill Lind, one of the originators of the modern concept of maneuver warfare, and author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook, reports that first-hand experiences of Army and Marine units support the conclusion that they indeed were practicing maneuver warfare.  This is important, since in maneuver warfare, opportunities to achieve victory at the strategic level ultimately rest on the training, quickness, cohesion, and initiative of units at the tactical level.]


Some Good News

by William S. Lind
September 11, 2003

Last week, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at a conference on the war in Iraq that included soldiers and Marines who just got back. The focus of the conference was on the first phase of the war, the phase that ended when we took Baghdad (what Martin van Creveld would call the "jousting contest"), not on what is happening now. But there, at least, some good news could be found: both the Army and the Marine Corps units that briefed showed real progress toward Third Generation Warfare, also called Maneuver Warfare.

Here, a bit of background may be helpful. During and after World War I, the U.S. Army learned Second Generation War from the French Army, and they institutionalized it as the "American way of war" (the Marine Corps seems to have picked it up during or after the Korean War). Second Generation War is attrition warfare, based on "synchronization" of massive firepower. Culturally, it is consistent with and reinforces the culture of order that comes out of First Generation War: it is focused inward on process, prizes obedience over initiative and relies on imposed discipline.

Third Generation Warfare, or Maneuver Warfare, was developed in its modern form by the German Army during World War I; Blitzkrieg was conceptually complete by 1918. Relying on speed, tempo and the unexpected, Third Generation War seeks to destroy the enemy's physical and mental cohesion rather than inflict attrition; firepower is used primarily to create opportunities for maneuver. It is war in time more than war in space. Culturally, a Third Generation military focuses outward on the situation, the enemy and the result the situation requires, not inward on process, it prizes initiative over obedience and it relies on self-discipline, not imposed discipline. Third Generation War marks a decisive break from the First Generation culture of order.

For twenty-five years, both the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps have attempted, in a series of fits and starts, to move beyond the Second Generation and into Third Generation War. In the first phase of the Iraq war, at least the two tank battalions that briefed at the conference seem to have succeeded. Speed was their most important weapon; firepower was used mostly for suppressing the enemy to permit maneuver; and the instincts their commanders revealed in their briefs were straight out of the German book. The Marine unit showed video of their attack, and it looked like the German advance into Russia in 1942, right down to box formations with the soft vehicles inside and the tanks on the perimeter.

Not surprisingly, the lessons they learned were ones the Germans knew (and told us) more than half a century ago. The sacred "staff planning process," which is the focus of so much American military education, is useless because it is too slow to keep up with events. Maneuver warfare depends on reconnaissance, not on intelligence coming down from on high (both the Army and the Marines stressed that the stuff they got from higher headquarters was worthless, too late or both). The five-paragraph order, which is drilled into Marine lieutenants in The Basic Training School as if they were training to be secretaries, was not used because high tempo warfare demands short, verbal orders. Commanders could only lead from the front, not from "fusion centers."

Again, all this was good news, even if one wishes we could have learned more from history instead of having to find it out for ourselves. The question is what the Army and the Marine Corps will do with it. Will they make the institutional changes needed in military education, training and doctrine to make maneuver warfare more than a "local option?" Or will the institutions ignore the lessons learned in combat by their own men, as they have ignored what history and historians have been telling them for decades?

Sadly, after leading the move toward Maneuver Warfare from the 1970's through the early 1990's the Marine Corps now seems asleep on the beach, its intellectual interest in war lost, its schools ossified around the staff planning process, and its senior leadership absorbed in budget politics. With a new and dynamic Chief of Staff, the Army's chances of building on lessons learned may be brighter. One thing is certain: a military that cannot transition from the Second to the Third Generation of modern war has no chance against the Fourth Generation and the non-state forces that employ it.

William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. 2003 William S. Lind. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

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