"Musing on Naval Maneuver Warfare"

By Somes, Timothy E. | Naval War College Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

"Musing on Naval Maneuver Warfare"


Somes, Timothy E., Naval War College Review


"IF MANEUVER WARFARE IS NOTHING MORE THAN FIGHTING intelligently, then its antithesis is `stupid warfare,"' is a well conceived, attention-grabbing introduction to Wayne Hughes's important Naval War College Review article "Naval Maneuver Warfare" (Summer 1997, pp. 25-49). This essay continues Hughes's effort to stimulate serious discussion of the art of naval warfare, an initiative he started with the publication of Fleet Tactics a decade ago. His concept of"power warfare" as "the true antithesis of maneuver warfare" demands careful reflection. Whether one completely agrees or not with all of Hughes's concepts and analysis, how much more valuable and rewarding it is to read this article than the superficial, public relations-oriented documents that too often pass for serious thinking on naval warfare these days.

The strengths of Hughes's article, in my view, are several. First it is important simply because it appeared. There is so little these days which constitutes a serious discussion of the art form of naval warfare. With the Naval War College Review as one of the few outlets for such ideas, it is a significant event to read a piece so rich with ideas and insights. Some of us at the Naval War College think that "naval" warfare is not an obsolete art, but rather merits some facsimile of the intellectual thought it was once given by those whose ghosts haunt these Newport halls. Hughes's ideas will help in this endeavor, stimulating, I hope, other pieces of comparable content and quality.

A more specific strength is his analysis of the concept of naval maneuver warfare. I find much to commend in his idea that "naval maneuver warfare is associated with delivering goods and services safely," reaffirming that what happens at sea is inexorably linked to the events ashore. Hughes's extensive array of historic examples well illustrates the complex nature of this concept. He reminds us that maneuver warfare is not the same as bloodless warfare, certainly a useful caution in this era when limiting casualties may be one of the first directives a commander receives.

Hughes points out that maneuver warfare frequently includes the element of confounding the enemy's ability to react successfully, in many cases creating what Jan Breemer calls the condition of "permanent surprise." With the recent passing of Colonel John Boyd, I am reminded of how much current military thinking has been influenced by Boyd's "OODA [observe, orient, decide, and act] loop" concept, with its stress on achieving enemy paralysis and collapse by "maneuver(ing one's] adversary beyond his moral-mental-physical capacity to adapt or endure." But Boyd's ideas derived primarily from studies of air and land warfare. Hughes is examining naval warfare. Are there such differences among the domains that extrapolating from one to another is inappropriate? Hughes's article seems to suggest that he thinks so. I am not so sure. Clearly this is an important issue for naval officers, one which merits continuing reflection, examination, and debate.

At its most successful, maneuver can create quite remarkable results at all levels of warfare. Hughes refers to one of the classic examples of this, the Inchon invasion. This case clearly illustrates why the contemplation of maneuver so appeals to many operational commanders, and why it is so rewarding when brilliantly executed. Of equal importance in this time of relative peace when conservatism in all things military creeps through the culture, Hughes reminds us with this case that the nature of maneuver warfare requires a significant degree of audacity, where high reward and high risk go hand in glove.

On first blush I find tantalizing Hughes's idea of "power warfare" as the true antithesis of maneuver warfare. The history of the sea is certainly replete with examples illustrating his idea that "power warfare achieves success by exhibiting the capacity to destroy the enemy's forces and their support faster than he can destroy ours. …

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