Lt-Col Ola Palmquist [1] wrote an interesting article on how an officers programme could appear if it favoured mission tactics. As a follow on, I though it might be interesting to see how mission tactics fits in with a course on manoeuvre warfare, as mission tactics means nothing without understanding manoeuvre warfare theory, in another country. For this I have picked the US and though I would give an overview of the US Marine Corps’ course on manoeuvre warfare, including mission command.

The US Marine Corps’ course s largely rooted in the teaching of Col. John Boyd, USAF. Col. Boyd is well know for his Observe Orientate Decide Act (OODA) loop, which he developed after studying air combat during the Korean War. But after the Korean War, he conducted a number of lecture on warfare and war fighting theory. However, other contributors to the modern theory of manoeuvrer warfare, such as Lind, Poole, and Liddell-Hart, are not neglected nor is Sun Tzu.

The course is divided into a number of modules based around theoretical concepts such as :

  • Main Effort. What is the main effort and what is the supporting effort? How does a commander switch one to the other?
  • Commander’s Intent.  This is an important concept for executing mission tactics and for decentralised control where commanders concentrate on getting results.
  • Killing and Physical Distance. This part of the course focuses more on the psychological part of tactics and making judgments
  • Surfaces and Gaps. This is another module that looks at making military judgments and focuses on identifying where the enemy is strongest and where there are weaknesses.
  • Recce Pull. This module is closely related to surface and gaps as well as main effort. It concentrates on how reconnaissance information effects the main effort.
  • Shaping. This module looks at the use of intelligence and how it can be used to aid a commander in developing plans and continuances.
  • Strategy. Strategy is something that should be studied and understood at all levels as strategy works its way down to all levels of command.
  • Deception. This modules looks at how deception by the enemy can effect intelligence.

The introduction begins with a study of “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” [8] and an analysis of Task Force Smith. “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” is about a platoon size action set during the Boar War and is basically about lessons learnt by the British Army from that war. The book runs through a number of scenarios to solve the problems relating to the defence of a ford called Duffer’s Drift (“Duffer”, by the way, is an old colloquial terms form “idiot”). In each scenario lessons are learnt and applied in the next scenario. By the sixth scenario, a workable solution is arrived at. This is a good example of case based reasoning. Task force Smith was the first American unit to engage with North Korean forces during the Korean War. The engagement did not go well for the Americans and the analysis looks at the reason why (in short, because the task force was not task focused).

Other books used in the course include the US Marian Corps Doctrinal Publications, such as :

  • MCDP 1 warfighting [2]
  • MCDP 1-2 Campaigning [3]
  • MCDP 1-3 Tactics [4]
  • MCDP 2 Intelligence [5]
  • MCDP 5 planning [6]
  • MDCP 6 Command and Control. [7]

A number of other books are suggested for reading this includes:

  • Armor Attacks: An Interactive Exercise in Small-Unit Tactics and Leadership by John F. Antal
  • The Battle For Hunger Hill: 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment at the Joint Readiness Training Center by Daniel P. Bolger
  • Dragons At War: 2-34 Infantry in the Mojave by Daniel P. Bolger
  • Infantry Combat: The Rifle Platoon: An Interactive Exercise in Small-Unit Tactics and Leadership by John F. Antal
  • Mastering Tactics: A Tactical Decision Games Workbook by Maj. John F. Schmitt

The Tactical Decision Games [9] [10] are also used during the course. These are paper exercises that present a tactical scenario and the student is expected to give an order within a given time limit. The orders and solutions to the problems presented in the TDG are then discussed.

The author is Dr, BEng(hons) PhD EurIng


[1] “Hur ser en officersutbildning som gynnar uppdragstaktik ut?” Lt-Col Ola Palmquist.

[2] “MCDP 1 warfighting”.

[3] “MCDP 1-2 Campaigning”.

[4] “MCDP 1-3 Tactics”.

[5] “MCDP 2 Intelligence”.

[6] “MCDP 5 planning”.

[7] “MDCP 6 Command and Control”.

[8]  “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift”.’s%20Drift.pdf

[9] “Tactical Decision Games”.

[10] “TDG Collection”.

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