Monday, June 25, 2012

MANEUVER WARFARE: The Key to "Generation Kill"

Among both the characters and the commentators involved in “Generation Kill” -- and I realize there was a lot of blurring between the two categories -- “Maneuver Warfare” kept coming up as a subject and as the overall paradigm of what was happening.  It’s not new and it appears to be beloved to people like Rumsfeld whose ideas about warfare come through reading rather than field experience.
The idea has sub-concepts that have names and are associated with individuals.  But the style here has the disadvantage, as the series shows, of confusing both sides of the adversarial situation, when it is only supposed to confuse the enemy.  Maybe the main decision makers had good reasons for switching things around all the time, but they didn’t always convince the guys on the ground who just felt yanked this way and that with no sense.
Another weakness was the dependence on good intelligence, both actual raw information and an understanding of how the adversary grasped its own position and what decisions that might cause them to make.  The Americans had no real insight into Iraqis -- couldn't even supply interpreters for the language.  It was not the case that the Iraqis were clever adversaries, but that they had no plan, no grasp, no effective response -- which may be the hardest thing of all to interpret and play off it.  How do you confuse an enemy who is already totally confused?
Maybe a key observation was the comment that the Iraqi soldiers never aimed at a specific point -- they just let fly with a lot of bullets because, they said, whether they hit something was not in their control.  It was up to Allah to decide whether it hit the enemy.  The Marines, by contrast, were careful about aiming, had fine electronic sights and night vision scopes, and shot in short bursts that saved ammo.  The scene of the two Marine snipers, lying linked physically by the arm and leg of the observer  over the shooter to sync breathing, splitting the tasks of aim versus compensation for wind, distance, and so on, is a defiance of Allah-control or lack of.
But the biggest problem that the movie showed was arguably that the seeming arbitrariness of always changing and moving on and doubling back and pushing through confused the Marines’ side, besides building resentment.  There was no time for compassion.  There was no time for sleep either, which might have allowed a little psychic processing.  Even a Marine who had been captured had to be left, and that was a VERY serious blow to morale.  So this Maneuver Strategy demands obedience, focus, and callousness.  (Maybe ruthlessness is a better word.)  It eats respect, pride, and morale.  Especially when there isn’t enough to eat physically.  
(I'm stealing the technical stuff below off Wikipedia, so don't know whom to recredit.)  War theorist Martin VanCreveld identifies six main elements of maneuver warfare:

Tempo: Tempo as illustrated by  John Boyd's OODA loop, which is simply the stimulus/response theory slightly expanded.  First, Observation: the collection of data by means of the senses;, then Orientation: the analysis and synthesis of data to form one's current mental perspective,  Third, Decision: the determination of a course of action based on one's current mental perspective, and finally  Action: the physical playing-out of decisions.
The movie would seem to be pretty much a depiction of the last, the action, but it succeeds best when it helps us see, interpret and decide along with the characters.   The real meat of the series is being taught in the officer briefings, which many will just blur through. 
“Of course, while this [OODA] is taking place, the situation may be changing. It is sometimes necessary to cancel a planned action in order to meet the changes.

Schwerpunkt (focal point): The center of effort, or striking the enemy at the right place at the right time. According to vanCreveld, ideally, a spot that is both vital and weakly defended.
So this would be the “spearpoint” that the men kept talking about, but they thought it was about them being sharp and forceful, when actually it was the target that had  “a center of gravity or point of maximum effort, where a decisive action could be achieved. . . By local success at the Schwerpunkt, a small force achieved a breakthrough and gained advantages by fighting in the enemy's rear.”  The guys on the ground in scattered positions could not know where that focal point was.  Probably the top command found it tricky to locate, maybe requiring a little fooling around to see what reaction they got.  How do you say “g-spot of battle” in German?

Surprise: based on deception.
This is a hunter’s tactic.  Wearing camo, hunkering down, scanning to find points of interception, seeming to pass by. 

Combined arms
This means sending out different kinds of force, like humvees and helicopters and getting them to help each other.  The weak spot was the same as at 9/11 -- the com systems didn’t talk between the kinds of units and they were dependent on batteries that weren’t delivered dependably.  The constant danger is inadvertent friendly fire.

“Flexibility: A  military must be well rounded, self contained and redundant.”

Decentralized command: Rapid changing situations may out pace communications. Lower levels must understand overall intent.  
See above.

There was a plot point at which a lesser officer was able to stymie a higher one by quoting this dictum:  that the local officer who was eyeballing the situation had to be the ultimate decision-maker.  So there is always a tension between the Big Guy who has the plan in his head and the Little Guy whose neck is on the line.  If they don’t understand each other, trust each other, or even like each other, there’s trouble.
So if I’ve got this right, Maneuver Warfare is the next thing to guerrilla warfare, which is to use small, flexible, independent units of soldiers to come in unexpectedly, do as much damage as possible but then get out before there’s retaliation and strike again at the least expected point.  It’s the collie dart-and-slash versus pit bull clamp-on-hang-on.  (War of Attrition.)
War becomes an ends versus means problem.  Maybe that's it's essence.  The Iraq war had two problems when it came to ends:  the original public justification for initiating the attack was either mistaken or a plain lie.  There were NO weapons of mass destruction.  So then the motive of simply wanting to capture the source of oil certainly looked like the only motive, and that was not an aims justification that could balance the means of slaughter and destruction on the scale that was considered necessary.  America took damage in many ways that were not material, including spiritual damage to the men and broken credibility among its own citizens.
Maneuver Warfare, plus overwhelming technical advantages and highly trained Marines, saved American lives (no soldiers were lost among the men we watched) but killed many, many innocent women, children, old people, etc. etc. in gruesome ways.  Not that it is any better to kill men.  The guilt and gut reaction of the men to what they saw took them by surprise.  One conventional chaplain was nowhere near effective enough.    
There probably is no Schwerpunkt for post-violence anymore than there is a g-spot for rape.  We had better watch for what comes from behind us now

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