Academic journal article Military Review

Blending Maneuver and Attrition

Academic journal article Military Review

Blending Maneuver and Attrition

Article excerpt

There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard There care not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen.

-Sun Tzu, THe Art of War

FOR THE BETTER PART of two decades there has been a growing debate concerning the relative merits of maneuver or attrition as a style of warfare. Enthusiasts on either side df the debate seem to be calling for, indeed precipitating in, a divorce of the two-despite the fact that a pure example of either style of warfare is rare. Maneuver and attrition are inseparable forms of warfare. While one form may dominate a phase of a campaign, the purposeful use of both Characterizes all successful modern operations. It is not an argument about the preeminence of one form of warfare over another; strategic and operational aims dictate the appropriate choices of design. No campaign should be two separate struggles-maneuver and attrition must be blended into a harmoniously effective, integrated whole.1

Maneuver Warfare

In the earliest recorded manuscript on the theory of war, Sun Tzu described an indirect approach to warfare, which emphasized maneuver to secure victory through positional advantage over his enemies. Less well read, and almost completely overlooked where maneuver is concerned, is the work of Antoine Henri Jomini. Two of his four fundamental principles of war were, "throw by strategic movements the mass of an army, successively, upon the decisive points of a theater of war, and also upon the communications of the enemy as much as possible. . [and] maneuver to engage fractions of the hostile army with the bulk of one's forces." Central to Jomini's theory was control over three sides of the zone of operations, which he generally saw as a rectangle. Controlling the zone of operations through maneuver would force an opponent to fight at great disadvantage, face capitulation or abandon the zone altogether. Perhaps more widely known are B.H. Liddell Hart's writings after World War I, in which he described the indirect approach and its true aim of strategic advantages.2

Hart once described maneuver as much like a torrent of water: "If we watch a torrent bearing down on each successive bank . . . in its path . . . it first beats against the obstacle, feeling and testing it at all points. Eventually, it finds a small crack at some point. Through this crack pour the first driblets of water . . . The pent up water on each side is drawn towards the breach, wearing away the earth on each side . . . widening the gap."3 This description has often been portrayed as the use of the "surfaces and gaps" method and is often quoted to describe maneuver in its application. Hart's key idea is gaining a positional advantage so strong that it would ensure a positive decision.

Maneuver warfare, as a style or method of conducting war, focuses on defeating the enemy while minimizing battle to that necessary for achieving established aims. Avoiding main sources of strength (surfaces) in favor of attacking enemy weaknesses (gaps) or apparent vulnerabilities, maneuver warfare seeks instead to place the opponent at great disadvantage in time and space. Maneuver concentrates combat power to gain positional advantage relative to the enemy center(s) of gravity and to shatter enemy morale and cohesion, By using surprise, shock and momentum, maneuver seeks to impose the attacker's will on the opponent. This sustained moral threat to the enemy aims more at his psychological state of mind than the mass of his forces. Ideally, a precipitous withdrawal leads to the most favorable moment for a maneuver style of war-- when the opponent quits the field. Maneuver war concentrates less on enemy intentions and more on those actions desired of him.4

Maneuver warfare in application. Sun Tzu described the maneuver concept in simple ideas: "The Army's disposition of force avoids the substantial and strikes the vacuous. …

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