Friday, November 9, 2012


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.


  1. The AirSea battle office publically declares the limitations of its purpose—a limited objective concept focused solely on gaining and maintaining access. On the face of it, that means it simply about getting to the fight and having the freedom to apply military power towards the objective. There is an underlying assumption, however, that the act of gaining access itself gets us 90% of the way towards accomplishing campaign objectives. Gaining access is not only a necessary precursor, but the decisive phase of joint operations. AirSea Battle advocates deny this is their belief, but I have found these statements are undermined by the heavy claim on DoD resources. Resourcing access at the expense of being able to complete the job once access is achieved is a strategic choice. At the end of the AirSea Battle rainbow is an idea that ultimate success can also be achieved via standoff means--strikes from the sea, air, space and cyber. Reluctantly, AirSea Battle advocates admit that ground forces may have to be involved, but only in small supporting doses, or under an umbrella of ISR and strike superiority as to make the land operation either an easy conventional victory, (a messy irregular affair is to be avoided). AirSea Battle itself is not the problem, but the strategic choices and assumptions that are associated with it are dangerous.

    The Army’s effort, as described by Gen Odierno, appears to simply be to figure out the future role of landpower in conflict. This is a very prudent and worthwhile effort. It is a very different effort than the AirSea Battle effort, however. AirSea Battle is about a campaign phase, gaining access, while “strategic landpower,” is about just that: landpower across all phases of joint campaigns. Of course these are the statements of record so far. How these efforts continue may be another matter.

    I’ll admit that I am not exactly sure where the Army is going with the idea of the psychological aspect of warfare and “human domain.” Unless he knows something I don’t from the current Army initiative, I believe that Dr. Metz may be reading more into the effort than is really there. I don’t think that it the case that the Army and SOF have more sophisticated ideas than the Navy and Air Force along these lines. If AirSea Battle is more technological, it is due to the fact that the the Air Force and Navy are shaped by their equipment to a much larger degree than land forces. While the human element is critical, ultimately the Navy has to fight from ships and the Air Force from aircraft. They man the equipment while ground forces equip the man. That is not right or wrong in an absolute sense, but merely the character of warfare in their respective domains. This does not mean that their strategic ideas are less “psychological”.
    I would assert that in strategic terms, the AirSea Battle is much more dependent on psychological success in a campaign, than a “landpower” approach. Landpower is associated with the idea that you cannot really exercise control without an actual occupying presence: boots on the ground. AirSea Battle supports the notion that an adversary can be compelled via our ability to simply gain access and credibly threaten or apply standoff strikes. It is landpower, J.C. Wylie’s “man on the scene with a gun” in the most personal sense, that ultimately influences a situation through physical means.

    Whither the Marine Corps? It should be to both. We walk in all camps (designed to operate from the sea; considered by many a ground force; half the USMC is aviation), we can achieve positive results working with all parties. Marines tout ourselves as joint by design--when joint is defined as cross-domain capability. Consider the power of cross-pollinating what is developed in AirSea Battle with that of Strategic Landpower. Innovation is rarely the development of new ideas from whole cloth, but combining old ideas in new ways. We can be innovating force, should we choose to be.

  2. The technical exchange envisioned by the ASB mafia carries with it a comfort level with the Cold War 'systems approach' to is the American Way of War. This happens to be catnip to the military industrial it a huge consitutency. The idea of the arms race resonates with our technical services and most of the defense establishment.

    Still, the continuity of conflict is found in its humanity. As a contest of human wills, this will always be present...even as the modes of conflict change. Does warfare become more complex as social/informational/technological dynamics change? Yes....but it remains the human domain that matters. Certainly 'technology as deterrent' has a role, so the two remain intertwined.

    For my money, however, we need to update the old mantra about tactics/logistics. Marines would be well-served to remeber, "Amateurs study weapons, professionals study people."

  3. "It is the hard heart that kills." /// Somehow the rules of engagement allow for so few Lawyers policing up the charred, rat-eaten body parts. As Londoners say: "Terribly strange, that."