The British Army undertook a strategic review of it’s command structure in the 1980’s, which was driven by the need to think differently about how NATO forces would counter the numerically superior Soviet forces across the Rhine. Various war-game and strategic analysis illustrated the problem: NATO forces were too few and spread too thinly, to credibly stop the Red Army from breaking through deep into European heartlands. Although this presented a bleak picture, the various analysis techniques also interested the rapidly developing technical supremacy of the Allied forces.
Hitting a moving target
The concept of manoeuvre warfare began to become a popular strategy for countering the Soviet advantage. Throughout history, armies have been able to pit their strengths against the enemies weaknesses. This principle of warfare has been enshrined in successful books such as Sun Tzu “The Art of War”. In order to gain strategic advantage on the battlefield, your forces must be able to out manoeuvre their opposition, in order to occupy a position of advantage, hence the name manoeuvre warfare.
Benefits of manoeuvre warfare
The benefits of manoeuvre warfare are far reaching. Not only can you pit your strengths against the enemies weaknesses, but it is also possible to engage large elements of your opponents capability. Moving quickly, with speed and tempo will force your enemy into a reaction and if you can maintain your tempo, that reaction will be insufficient, and by the time they've moved to counter your threat, you'll probably have achieved your mission and will have moved onto the next task.
Shock and ore
This repeated tempo has the combined effect of overwhelming your opponents information, decision and command structures, which eventually leads to a state of organisational paralysis. This approach has the significant advantage of allowing smaller, more agile forces the ability to defeat much larger forces with comparatively little additional loss.
Driving military strategic thinking by cost reduction
Although the philosophy of manoeuvre warfare was first accepted during the 1980s, amongst the maelstrom of cutbacks and defence rationalisation, history has turned full circle and the spectrum of cuts once again faces the defence community. However, the military context has very much changed, but can manoeuvre warfare still be appropriate for the current operating environment?