Dr. Steven Metz, military theorist with the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, wrote in this gated article about the psychological dimension of warfare and its relation to the Office of Strategic Landpower, which I wrote about here. The divide between the Army’s focus on psychological effects and the Navy/Air Force technologically focused AirSea Battle concept harkens back to the debate over Effects-Based Operations, a debate so powerfully ended by General Mattis. (link to Mattis’ guidance on EBO) The conclusion of that debate does not bode well for ASB, neither does the massive amount of fiscal investment that will be required to realize ASB given the state of Defense budgets.
The Marine Corps is already familiar with this dimension of conflict. MCDP-1 mentions the mental aspects of war in the very first sentence. It goes on to state that, “Although material factors are more easily quantified, the moral and mental forces exert a greater influence on the nature and outcome of war. This is not to lessen the importance of physical forces, for the physical forces in war can have significant impact on the others.” While most Marines are more familiar with a simplified version of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop, the physical, mental, moral formulation comes from his theories as well as many other concepts in MCDP-1.
But it goes back further than that, Ardant du Picq, a French Army officer and theorist, wrote Battle Studies (published in full in 1902). In Battle Studies, du Picq put a heavy emphasis on the psychological aspect of fighting. He wrote that, “In battle, two moral forces, even more than two material forces, are in conflict.” For du Picq, the military force that mastered the interplay of physical and psychological aspects of warfare was the ancient Roman Legions. “The great superiority of Roman tactics lay in their constant endeavor to coordinate physical and moral effect.” Clausewitz as well recognized the importance of the psychological and titled a short chapter moral factors. “Hence most of the matters dealt with in this book are composed in equal parts of physical and of moral causes and effects. One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.” So, it would seem that theorists are in agreement about the psychological aspects of war and warfare and thus the Army is on track when it comes to focusing on it.
The problem with AirSea Battle is not that it proposes technological solutions to problems. It should do that. Rather, the problem is that its solution ignores the nature of war by focusing solely on the physical means. That being said, it seems that the Army’s Office of Strategic Landpower, with its focus on the psychological dimension of warfare, is a far better fit for the Marine Corps. The combination of the Marine Corps and the Army is a potent one. The two services are the most combat experienced and tested professional military forces on the planet. If the relationship between the two is as good as the Commandant says, the burgeoning partnership in defining modern landpower will hopefully be a fruitful one.