A Solution Looking for a Problem
Illuminating Misconceptions in Maneuver-Warfare Doctrine
Warfare exists in the realm of both art and science – as a phenomenon in which sensing and intuition (in other words, art) play a complementary role to education and training (science). Just as a painter must have more than one color on his pallet, the practitioner of warfare must understand more than one form of warfare to be effective on the battlefield. However, the emphasis on maneuver warfare in current U.S. Army doctrine, at the expense of other forms of warfare, limits Armor and Cavalry leaders’ ability to be true artists in warfare by not fully educating and training them on the realities of warfare, thus negatively influencing their ability to sense and apply intuition in battle. Doctrine’s focus on maneuver warfare lies at the heart of this conundrum.
The term maneuver is regularly misapplied throughout U.S. Army doctrine, diluting the true intent of the concept, creating misconceptions about its utility and role in warfare. Furthermore, it can be argued that a mentality has emerged within the U.S. Army that places maneuver warfare at the apex of the forms of warfare, elevating it to a position of near-panacea status, which further removes the concept from individual and institutional understanding.
In essence, the U.S. Army’s interpretation of the maneuver-warfare concept has created a solution looking for a problem. With that in mind, maneuver should not be viewed as an end unto itself but instead as a component in a three-part construct that oscillates among maneuver, positional and attrition warfare as battlefield conditions dictate (Figure 1).
To be sure, positional and attrition warfare are alive and well in modern combat. The Russo-Ukrainian War’s major battles – including the Battle of Ilovaisk, the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport and the Battle of Debal’tseve – are a testament to the continued efficacy of positional and attrition warfare, as are combat operations in Syria – including the siege of Aleppo and the contentious clearance of Islamic State fighters from the city of Mosul and western Iraq.1
To support that position, this article examines maneuver-warfare theory and the U.S. Army’s interpretation thereof. Next, this article illuminates the errors in a maneuver-centric approach to warfare while using Napoleon Bonaparte’s Ulm-Austerlitz campaign to illustrate the utility of a maneuver-positional-attrition warfare dynamic. The article concludes by recommending a reframing of the method in which doctrine describes, and Armor and Cavalry leaders think about, operations and tactics to bring it more in line with the praxis of warfare.