Maneuver Warfare And OTH Amphibious Assaults
AUTHOR LtCdr. Terry Pierce, USN
SUBJECT AREA - Warfighting
TITLE: MANEUVER WARFARE AND OTH AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS
THESIS: The Navy's inability to view an amphibious assault by
any other means than at the tactical level has left it unaware
that there is a need to conceptualize the OTH assault at the
operational level of war in order to successfully coordinate
ISSUE: The Navy has traditionally viewed the amphibious
assault from an attrition style of war. This approach places
great emphasis on the tactical phases of the operation. As
the era of over-the-horizon amphibious landings begin, the
Navy still views the operation from an attrition style.
However, the Marine Corps has recently changed from an
attrition approach to a maneuver style based on movement.
Maneuver warfare places a higher premium on the operational
level of war than attrition warfare. If maneuver warfare is
to be successfully applied to amphibious operations, the Navy
must take the effort to overcome an entrenched habit of
thinking solely in tactical terms and visualize the operation
in its entirety at the operational level of war.
CONCLUSION: The Navy should take the effort to enlarge its
view of OTH amphibious warfare to include not only the sea
operations but the subsequent ground operations as well. It
is at the operational level where the Navy and Marine Corps
can exploit tactical advantages to achieve success.
MANEUVER WARFARE AND OTH AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS
THESIS STATEMENT. The Navy's inability to view an amphibious
assault by any other means than at the tactical level has left
it unaware that there is a need to conceptualize the OTH
assault at the operational level of war in order to
successfully coordinate the Battle.
I. OTH Assault-Background
A. Traditional Ship-to-Shore Movement
B. Enemy's new High Tech Threat
C. OTH in Response
II. Attrition Warfare
A. WW II Amphibious Assaults
B. Strengths of Attrition Warfare
C. Weaknesses of Attrition Warfare
D. OTH and Attrition Warfare
III. Maneuver Warfare
C. Why Marine Corps Adopted it
D. Challenge to Attrition Warfare
IV. CATF's Responsibility
A. Should Navy care about Maneuver Warfare?
B. Challenge of Maneuver Warfare and OTH Ops
V. Operational Level of War
A. Lack of Awareness
B. Significance of Operational Level to Maneuver
C. Blitzkrieg Example
MANEUVER WARFARE AND OTH AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS
As the Navy begins the era of over-the-horizon amphibious
landings, it should recognize the significant fact that the
Marine Corps has officially changed from an attrition style of
warfare based on firepower to a maneuver style based on move-
ment. The impact of this change is so dramatic that it could
forever alter the way amphibious landings will be planned and
executed. However, since amphibious warfare by attrition
places less of a premium on the operational level than maneu-
ver warfare, the Navy has been content to focus upon the
tactical movement techniques of the ship-to-shore phase. If
maneuver warfare is to be successfully applied to amphibious
operations, the Navy must take the effort to overcome an
entrenched habit of thinking solely in tactical terms of the
sea and ground operations, and visualize the amphibious
operation in its entirety at the operational level of war.
With the apparent success of the OTH program, it would
seem that the Navy has accomplished its goal of ensuring that
the ship-to-shore movement can be accomplished effectively in
the face of high-tech weapons. The problem with feeling
satisfied with this success is the new technological assets
are going to be employed within an attrition mindset that
differs little from the Navy's approach to WW II amphibious
operations of seeing a division between the so-called ship-
to-shore movement and the operations ashore. The reason this
mindset has changed so little is that the technical and
procedural aspects of getting from ship-to-shore are so
significant, the Navy has focused primarily on this aspect of
the amphibious operation. Consequently, the Navy continues
its trend of seeing the landing as an end in itself rather
than just one of the many means to an end--getting ashore so
we can accomplish the mission of the Initiating Directive.
ATTRITION WARFARE. The Navy's mindset is a carry over from
the very successful amphibious Pacific campaigns of WW II. At
the tactical level, these campaigns were successfully
accomplished using an attrition style of war.
Warfare by attrition seeks victory through the
cumulative destruction of the enemy's material
assets by superior firepower and technology...
Results are generally proportionate to efforts;
greater expenditures net greater results-that is
greater attrition. The greatest necessity for
success is numerical superiority. Victory does
not depend so much on military competence as on
sheer superiority of numbers in men and
What continues to make warfare by attrition "appear" as an
attractive style for conducting OTH operations is that it
favors the side with the greater technological advances and it
can be a simple and effective way to control a very complex
operation. With the emphasis on technology and the efficient
application of massed, accurate fires, movement tends to be
ponderous and tempo relatively unimportant.2 If practiced
enough an attrition approach is a methodical, almost scien-
tific approach to war. Consequently, there has been little
initiative to changing from a doctrine that rewards technolog-
ical advances and offers a simple approach to commanding in an
environment that tends to be "inherently disorderly, uncer-
tain, dynamic, and dominated by friction."3
The reason the CATF and CLF have successfully operated at
the tactical level in attrition warfare is because we enjoyed
numerical superiority and an overwhelming superiority of
firepower that we could concentrate against an isolated enemy.
The CATF's tactical approach has been from a logistical stand-
point and from a fire-on-target standpoint, but has been
stagnant regarding any new tactical approaches to amphibious
operations. In attrition warfare, the CATF's focus has been
primarily to ensure victory by providing enough ships to load
a greater number of Marines and material than the enemy can
muster within the AOA. At the tactical level, this has
required that the CATF concentrate primarily on ensuring that
the ship-to-shore movement is conducted in such a manner to
allow superior number of forces and material to land so the
CLF then can tactically search out the enemy and wear him down
until he is destroyed or surrenders.
The problem with this attrition style approach is that
even given WW II vintage threat, it is very costly in terms of
casualties. "Success through attrition demands the willing-
ness and ability also to withstand attrition because warfare
by attrition is costly."4 The "traditional" way of conduct-
ing an amphibious landing has been to achieve a relatively
short distance of 1500-2000 yards for the ship-to-shore
movement. With the development of modern weapon technology
and its impact potential to create even greater casualty rates
has raised serious questions concerning the rationale of
launching a frontal assault landing against the projected
threat assessment. Additionally, once ashore if the Marine
Corps was to use an attrition style again it probably would
not have the numerical superiority to accomplish the mission
especially if the enemy is not stranded on an island and is
able to reinforce or even withdraw temporarily. The Navy and
Marine Corps have both recognized that the traditional frontal
assault is not a viable tactic for conducting an amphibious
landing. However, they have used radically different
approaches in responding to the significant questions raised
by conducting the "traditional" amphibious landing.
The Navy has responded to the growing challenge of the
enemy's increased weapons range and lethality against an
amphibious task force by concentrating on technological
advances within an attrition style of warfare. It has spear-
headed an enormous "technological" investment of $50 billion
Navy and Marine Corps dollars to develop the capability of OTH
assaults. Experts at Quantico working on the "MAGTF Master
Plan for the year 2000" project that the attainment of a full
over-the-horizon amphibious assault capability, the capability
to land a MAGTF on a hostile shore from 25 nautical miles or
more at night and in adverse weather, will soon be a
reality.5 Of significance importance is that the Navy has
not seriously considered employing their OTH assets by any
other doctrine than the traditional method. The solution
requires far more than the mere application of technology.6
The Marine Corps has recognized that the technological
answer is insufficient to solving the problems to winning an
attrition style war against modern threat weapons and
potential foes having a numerical and material superiority.
As such, they have adopted a maneuver warfare doctrine that
offers the most viable alternative to attrition concepts. The
Commandant, General A. M. Gray stated that "realizing that
many of our potential enemies could bring superior numbers of
men and good equipment to bear against us, it would be
foolhardy to think about engaging them in firepower attrition
duels. Historically maneuver warfare has been the means by
which smaller but more intelligently led forces have achieved
MANEUVER WARFARE. The Marine Corps has adopted maneuver as a
concept with which they hope to succeed against a numerically
superior enemy, because they can no longer presume a numerical
advantage.8 Maneuver Warfare is a style of warfare that
attempts to circumvent a problem and attack if from a position
of advantage rather than meet it straight on. The goal is the
application of strength against selected enemy weakness.
"Maneuver relies on speed and surprise, for without either, we
cannot concentrate strength against enemy weakness."9
Tempo is itself a weapon. While attrition oper-
ates principally in the physical realm of war,
the results of maneuver are both physical and
moral. The object of maneuver is not so much to
destroy physically as it is to shatter the
enemy's cohesion, organization, command, and
psychological balance. Successful maneuver
depends on the ability to identify and exploit
enemy weakness, not simply on the expenditure of
The salient differences between maneuver warfare and
attrition warfare is that the aim of "maneuver warfare is to
render the enemy incapable of resisting by shattering his
moral and physical cohesion-his ability to fight as an effec-
tive, coordinated whole-rather than to destroy him physically
through incremental attrition, which is generally more costly
and time consuming."11 Also, maneuver warfare is a doctrine
that presents the opportunity to the Amphibious Task Force to
win quickly, with minimal casualties against a physically
The major event that challenges the Navy's entrenched
tactical approach to conducting an OTH amphibious assault is
not the new concept of beginning the ship-to-shore movement
from over the horizon, but rather it is the Marine Corps shift
from attrition warfare to maneuver warfare. Unlike the Navy,
the Marine Corps has recognized that technology alone is insuf-
ficient to solve the problems associated with the capabilities
and lethalities of new weapons in the modern battlefield. As
such, they have adopted maneuver warfare which is a completely
different style than the Marine Corps' previous style of
CATF'S RESPONSIBILITY. At first glance, the Navy might dis-
miss the entire challenge to integrate a new land combat
doctrine with their current style of warfare as ridiculous.
Why should the Navy get excited if the Marine Corps employs a
maneuver or attrition style in securing their amphibious task
force and landing force objectives? Call it whatever you
want, how could a style of combat within the confines of a
force beachhead really be that different from each other?
The Navy should be very concerned about how the Marine
Corps intends to fight because the Navy CATF is being held
responsible for the entire operation. The joint doctrine for
amphibious operations is very clear in defining the task of
the Navy amphibious task force commander, who upon commence-
ment of operations, assumes responsibility for the entire
force and for the operation. Furthermore, the CATF exercises
authority over, or assumes responsibility for, the operations
of the landing force units. Even though CATF will transfer
control over various functions to the CLF, the CATF remains
ultimately responsible for the accomplishment of the landing
Joint doctrine has dictated that it is the CATF's respon-
sibility to ensure he employs the most effective style of
warfare to ensure he accomplishes his mission. The Navy takes
this responsibility seriously. As with any new change that
might affect the amphibious operation, the Navy will examine
the Marine Corps maneuver warfare and its implication to OTH
operations. The challenge will be for the Navy to see
maneuver warfare as a style that requires something more than
the current approach.
This will be a difficult challenge for CATF because of the
attrition style of warfare being successful during WW II, the
CATF has come to accept that most of his duties are completed
when he can tactically deliver the assault troops to the high
water mark. Then a tactical break occurs and it is the CLF's
responsibility to take tactical control of these units and
accomplish the landing force objectives. So not to argue with
success, the Navy has accepted this separation of Amphibious
operations and has concentrated primarily on the ship-to-shore
Since the Navy has traditionally seen the ship-to-shore
movement as an end unto itself, the CATF believes if somehow
the Navy can develope a tactical scheme that will resolve the
technical constraints of landing a force from 12 miles, that
the Navy would be making an even greater tactical contribution
to the amphibious landing if they could achieve a landing from
50 miles. Surprisingly from a maneuver warfare approach,
whether or not we come from 12 or 50 miles is not the issue
for the Marines so much as is how they come ashore and what
they do after they are ashore. What is most important for the
Navy to become aware of is the landing force is employing a
maneuver warfare style which requires that the scheme of
maneuver ashore always drives the ship-to-shore movement.
The problem is that the Navy is unaware of the signifi-
cance of the Marine Corps maneuver warfare doctrine, and this
fact is demonstrated by the Navy's continued focus primarily
on its efforts on the ship-to-shore movement. If the entire
amphibious assault operation was strictly an effort to land
the largest force possible in a frontal assault to wear down
the enemy, the Navy's current efforts would be valid.
OPERATIONAL LEVEL OF WAR. Because maneuver warfare places a
higher premium on the operational level of war, the CATF is
also faced with the challenge of operating simultaneously at
the tactical and operational levels of war.
Maneuver warfare relates directly to amphibious
warfare at both the tactical and the operational
level. At the tactical level, it offers the
landing point amphibious assault as an alter-
native to current doctrine. At the operational
level, maneuver warfare opens a vista on the
amphibious campaign, which may be more important
under modern conditions than the amphibious
Edward Luttwak explains that lack of awareness of the
operational level lies within the American military tradition
where there has not been an emphasis on that level whereby one
"seeks to attain the goals set by theater strategy through
suitable combinations of tactics."13 The difficulty the
Navy encounters is that "the absence of the term referring to
the operational level reflects an inadvertence towards the
whole conception of war associated with it. .. It is not merely
that officers do not speak the word but rather that they do
not think or practice war in operational terms, or do so only
in vague or ephemeral ways."14
The tactical approach to commanding a maneuver warfare OTH
landing is no longer effective because at the operational
level there is no longer a distinction between land and sea
movement because the ship-to-shore and land movement are
blended together. Edward Luttwak was one of the first mili-
tary thinkers to make the critical connection between maneuver
and operational art. He comments that the tactics and salient
principles of war are all interrelated when one is commanding
a maneuver style of warfare. "It is because of this inter-
relationship that the decisive level of warfare in the
relational-maneuver manner is the operational," that being the
lowest level at which the "key principles of war and tactics
can be brought together within an integrated scheme of
While the Marine Corps has come to accept that maneuver
warfare as also applicable at the tactical level, the impor-
tance of Luttwak's contribution is that when using maneuver
warfare one must acknowledge the importance of the operational
level. The CATF and CLF must recognize that the level one can
effectively control a maneuver amphibious assault is at the
operational level. The Navy has not recognized this problem
as exemplified by the Navy's continued emphasis on training
which has not been an integrated one, but has concentrated
primarily on the tactics applicable to its own area of con-
cern. The basic tactics of maneuver warfare, although vitally
important will be only of marginal utility if not applied with
a thorough understanding of the concept of the operational
It is at the operational level the CATF and CLF must
transcend to in order to visualize and integrate the efforts
of all the tactical phases to achieve victory. Unlike the
operation level of attrition which consists only of stringing
together tactical victories, maneuver warfare operational
level is based on the selective application of strength versus
weakness, which puts emphasis on when, where, how to accept or
refuse battle--the essence of operational level.
Concentrating on the whole amphibious action, a CATF and
CLF skilled in the operational art will be concerned with
tactical events only if they impact on there ability to
achieve there objectives.17 What may appear to be uncoordi-
nated movements of dispersed units at the tactical level will
make complete sense at the operational level if the units are
following the CATF and CLF's intent.
An OTH amphibious landing is an operational scheme
designed to exploit the potential speed of the LCAC, VM-22,
and assault helicopters against front wide linear
defenses.18 While tactical maneuver will be accomplished
during each phase of the operation, it is at the operational
level of maneuver that the OTH landing will be won of loss.
To successfully execute at the operational level, the CATF
and CLF must at all times have a clear understanding of their
strategic objectives and ensure that the tactical results they
envision accomplishing attain the military objectives they
have received or selected. The key to success is that once
the CATF and CLF have determined how they will operate at the
operational level this will allow them to coordinate each
tactical phase from an operational view. This concept is
extremely significant to maneuver warfare because from a
tactical view the thin columns rapidly penetrating the enemy's
linear front by LCAC, or a unit that has penetrated deep by
air behind enemy lines by VM-22 would appear very weak and
highly vulnerable to attacks on their flanks. But from an
operational view, the CATF and CLF would see these mobile
columns of penetration were very strong "because their whole
orientation and their method of warfare gave them a great
advantage in tempo and reaction time."19
The process of operation at the operational level begins
well before the landing force achieves its initial break-
through during the landing of the forces. The CATF and CLF
must begin visualizing the operation from the receipt of the
initiating directive. During the planning cycle the CATF and
CLF are responsible for numerous decisions. One of the most
important decisions is the formulation of the concept of oper-
ations ashore by the CLF with the concurrence of CATF prior to
promulgation of the concept. If the CATF has no idea of the
concepts of maneuver warfare than it is more than likely he
will not be able to operate at the operational level of war.
The art of logistics at the operational level is an area
where the CATF and CLF are seriously deficient. These
commanders have enormous experience at the tactical level of
logistics which involves "concentrating on fueling, arming,
and maintaining troops and machines."20 Although important
at the tactical level, it is at the operational level where
logistics governs what can and, perhaps even more importantly
what cannot be accomplished.21
The CATF and CLF must base their concept of operations on
the logistics immediately available upon arrival in the AOA,
and be prepared to have adequate support arrive in such a
fashion as to support intermediate and follow on goals. While
the amphibious landing plan could well be a phase of a much
larger campaign plan, the CATF must ensure he can support
follow on strategic objectives. With using an attrition style
of warfare individual phases of the landing could only be
executed when the necessary logistical means become available.
However, with a maneuver warfare style, the phases between ob-
jectives becomes less distinct as the entire operation becomes
more fluid. Consequently, the CATF must be prepared to
support the relative speed and success of maneuver warfare.
As the Navy begins to focus on OTH amphibious landings, it
should take the effort to enlarge its view of amphibious war-
fare to include not only the sea operations but the subsequent
ground operations as well. Bright tacticians can solve the
anticipated problems they will encounter, but at the CATF/CLF
level, limiting their vision of the battlefield to the tactics
they plan to execute is grossly inadequate. The next step for
the Navy/Marine amphibious team is to translate the concepts
of ship-to-shore tactics and maneuver warfare ground tactics
into a flexible amphibious warfare capability. We must strive
for the operational level of war which is much more than the
sum of the tactical parts. It is an art of exploiting
tactical advantages to achieve campaign success. The Navy's
responsibility is to ensure that OTH amphibious assaults
should be viewed as a fluid mobile war in its entirety, not an
operation that shifts to position warfare or slow ponderous
maneuvers once ashore.
1"Warfighting," FMFM 1 U.S. Marine Corps, March 1989,
2Ibid, p. 28.
3Ibid, p. 64.
4Ibid, p. 28.
5As of 20 March 1989, Published copy not released.
6Moore, Capt. Richard, USMC, "Blitzkrieg from the Sea,"
Naval War College Review, Nov-Dec 1983, p. 38.
7Gray, MajGen. A. M., "Maneuver Warfare," Advance sheet for
Command and Staff College, Nov 88, p. AS-C-9.
8FMFM 1, p. 58.
9Ibid, p. 29.
10Ibid, p. 29.
11Ibid, p. 37.
12Lind, William S., "Misconceptions of Maneuver Warfare,"
Marine Corps Gazette, Jan 1988, p. 16.
13Luttwak, Edward N., "The Operational Level of War," Inter-
national Security, Winter 1980/81, p. 61.
14Ibid, p. 61.
15Ibid, p. 73.
16Moore, p. 40.
l7Ibid, p. 40.
l8See Edward N. Luttwak, "The Operational Level of War,"
International Security, Winter 1980/81, p. 61-79. Here
Luttwak explains the operational level of the Blitzkrieg.
His analysis applies directly to the operational level of
Amphibious Maneuver Warfare.
19Luttwak, p. 68.
20Newell, LtCol. Clayton R., USA, "Logistical Art,"
Parameters, March 1989, p. 33.
21Ibid, p. 21.
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