Militia Warfighting

The primary mission of the United States Militia is to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution by armed force when peaceful means alone cannot. How the Militia proposes to accomplish this mission is the product of our understanding of the nature and the theory of war and must be the guiding force behind our preparation for war.

The Challenge

The challenge is to identify and adopt a concept of warfighting consistent with our understanding of the nature and theory of war and the realities of the modern battlefield. What exactly does this require? It requires a concept of warfighting that will function effectively in an uncertain, chaotic, and fluid environment--in fact, one that will exploit these conditions to advantage. It requires a concept that, recognizing the time-competitive rhythm of war, generates and exploits superior tempo and velocity. It requires a concept that is consistently effective across the full spectrum of conflict, because we cannot attempt to change our basic doctrine from situation to situation and expect to be proficient. It requires a concept which recognizes and exploits the fleeting opportunities which naturally occur in war.

It requires a concept which takes into account the moral as well as the physical forces of war, because we have already concluded that moral forces form the greater part of war. It requires a concept with which we can succeed against a physically superior foe. And it requires a concept with which we can win against a stronger foe on our home soil, with minimal casualties and limited external support.

Maneuver Warfare

The Militia's concept for winning under these conditions is a warfighting doctrine based on rapid, flexible, and opportunistic maneuver. But in order to fully appreciate what we mean by maneuver we need to clarify the term. The traditional understanding of maneuver is a spatial one; that is, we maneuver in space to gain a positional advantage.[4] However, in order to maximize the usefulness of maneuver, we must consider maneuver in time as well; that is, we generate a faster operational tempo than the enemy to gain a temporal advantage. It is through maneuver in both dimensions that an inferior force can achieve decisive superiority at the necessary time and place.

Maneuver warfare is a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion through a series of rapid, violent, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which he cannot cope.

From this definition we see that the aim in maneuver warfare is to render the enemy incapable of resisting by shattering his moral and physical cohesion--his ability to fight as an effective, coordinated whole--rather than to destroy him physically through incremental attrition, which is generally more costly and time-consuming. Ideally, the components of his physical strength that remain are irrelevant because we have paralyzed his ability to use them effectively. Even if an outmaneuvered enemy continues to fight as individuals or small units, we can destroy the remnants with relative ease because we have eliminated his ability to fight effectively as a force.

This is not to imply that firepower is unimportant. On the contrary, the suppressive effects of firepower are essential to our ability to maneuver. Nor do we means to imply that we will pass up the opportunity to physically destroy the enemy. We will concentrate fires and forces at decisive points to destroy enemy elements when the opportunity presents itself and when it fits our larger purposes. But the aim is not an unfocused application of firepower for the purpose of incrementally reducing the enemy's physical strength. Rather, it is the selective application of firepower in support of maneuver to contribute to the enemy's shock and moral disruption. The greatest value of firepower is not physical destruction--the cumulative effects of which are felt only slowly--but the moral dislocation it causes.

If the aim of maneuver warfare is to shatter the enemy's cohesion, the immediate object toward that end is to create a situation in which he cannot function. By our actions, we seek to pose menacing dilemmas in which events happen unexpectedly and faster than the enemy can keep up with them. The enemy must be made to see his situation not only as deteriorating, but deteriorating at an ever-increasing rate. The ultimate goal is panic and paralysis, an enemy who has lost the ability to resist.

Inherent in maneuver warfare is the need for speed to seize the initiative, dictate the terms of combat, and keep the enemy off balance, thereby increasing his friction. Through the use of greater tempo and velocity, we seek to establish a pace that the enemy cannot maintain so that with each action his reactions are increasingly late--until eventually he is overcome by events.

Also inherent is the need for violence, not so much as a source of physical attrition but as a source of moral dislocation. Toward this end, we concentrate strength against critical enemy vulnerabilities, striking quickly and boldly where, when, and how it will cause the greatest damage to our enemy's ability to fight. Once gained or found, any advantage must be pressed relentlessly and unhesitatingly. We must be ruthlessly opportunistic, actively seeking out signs of weakness, against which we will direct all available combat power. And when the decisive opportunity arrives, we must exploit it fully and aggressively, committing every ounce of combat power we can muster and pushing ourselves to the limits of exhaustion.

The final weapon in our arsenal is surprise, the combat value of which we have already recognized. By studying our enemy we will attempt to appreciate his perceptions. Through deception we will try to shape his expectations. Then we will dislocate them by striking at an unexpected time and place. In order to appear unpredictable, we must avoid set rules and patterns, which inhibit imagination and initiative. In order to appear ambiguous and threatening, we should operate on axes that offer several courses of action, keeping the enemy unclear as to which we will choose.

Philosophy of Command

It is essential that our philosophy of command support the way we fight. First and foremost, in order to generate the tempo of operations we desire and to best cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat, command must be decentralized. That is, local commanders must make decisions on their own initiative, based on their understanding of the strategic situation, rather than passing information up a chain of command and waiting for a decision to be passed down. Further, a competent local commander who is at the point of decision will naturally have a better appreciation for the true situation than a senior some distance removed. Individual initiative and responsibility are of paramount importance. The principal means by which we implement decentralized control is through the use of mission tactics, which we will discuss in detail later.

Second, since we have concluded that war is a human enterprise and no amount of technology can reduce the human dimension, our philosophy of command must be based on human characteristics rather than on equipment or procedures. Communications equipment and command procedures can enhance our ability to command, but they must not be used to replace the human element of command. Our philosophy must not only accommodate but must exploit human traits such as boldness, initiative, personality, strength of will, and imagination.

Our philosophy of command must also exploit the human ability to communicate implicitly. We believe that implicit communication--to communicate through mutual understanding, using a minimum of key, well-understood phrases or even anticipating each other's thoughts--is a faster, more effective way to communicate than through the use of detailed, explicit instructions. We develop this ability through familiarity and trust, which are based on a shared philosophy and shared experience.

This concept has several practical implications. First, we should establish long-term working relationships to develop the necessary familiarity and trust. Second, key people--"actuals"--should talk directly to one another when possible, rather than through communicators or messengers. Third, we should communicate orally when possible, because we communicate also in how we talk; our inflections and tone of voice. And fourth, we should communicate in person when possible, because we communicate also through our gestures and bearing.

A commander should command from well forward. This allows him to see and sense firsthand the ebb and flow of combat, to gain an intuitive appreciation for the situation which he cannot obtain from reports. It allows him to exert his personal influence at decisive points during the action. It also allows him to locate himself closer to the events that will influence the situation so that he can observe them directly and circumvent the delays and inaccuracies that result from passing information up a chain of command.

Finally, we recognize the importance of personal leadership. Only by his physical presence--by demonstrating the willingness to share danger and privation--can the commander fully gain the trust and confidence of his local leadership.

As part of our philosophy of command we must recognize that war is inherently disorderly, uncertain, dynamic, and dominated by friction. Moreover, maneuver warfare, with its emphasis on speed and initiative, is by nature a particularly disorderly style of war. The conditions ripe for exploitation are normally also very disorderly. For commanders to try to gain certainty as a basis for actions, maintain positive control of events at all times, or shape events to fit their plans is to deny the very nature of war. We must therefore be prepared to cope--even better, to thrive--in an environment of chaos, uncertainty, constant change, and friction. If we can come to terms with those conditions and thereby limit their debilitating effects, we can use them as a weapon against a foe who does not cope as well.

In practical terms this means that we must not strive for certainty before we act for in so doing we will surrender the initiative and pass up opportunities. We must not try to maintain positive control over local leaders since this will necessarily slow our tempo and inhibit initiative. We must not attempt to impose precise order to the events of combat since this leads to a formulistic approach to war. And we must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances and exploit opportunities as they arise, rather than adhering insistently to predetermined plans.

Next, our philosophy requires competent leadership at all levels. A centralized system theoretically needs only one competent person, the central commander, since his is the sole authority. But a decentralized system requires leaders at all levels to demonstrate sound and timely judgment. As a result, initiative becomes an essential condition of competence among commanders.

Our philosophy also requires familiarity among comrades because only through a shared understanding can we develop the implicit communication necessary for unity of effort. And, perhaps most important, our philosophy demands confidence among leaders.

Shaping the Battle

Since our goal is not just the cumulative attrition of enemy strength, it follows that we must have some scheme for how we expect to achieve victory. That is, before anything else, we must conceive our vision of how we intend to win.

The first requirement is to establish our intent; what we want to accomplish and how. Without a clearly identified intent, the necessary unity of effort is inconceivable. We must identify that critical enemy vulnerability which we believe will lead most directly to accomplishing our intent. Having done this, we can then determine the steps necessary to achieve our intent. That is, we must shape the battle to our advantage in terms of both time and space. Similarly, we must try to see ourselves through our enemy's eyes in order to identify our own vulnerabilities which he may attack and to anticipate how he will try to shape the battle so we can counteract him. Ideally, when the moment of engagement arrives, the issue has already been resolved: through our orchestration of the events leading up to the encounter, we have so shaped the conditions of war that the result is a matter of course. We have shaped the action decisively to our advantage.

To shape the battle, we must project our thoughts forward in time and space. This does not mean that we establish a detailed timetable of events. We have already concluded that war is inherently disorderly, and we cannot expect to shape its terms with any sort of precision. We must not become slaves to a plan. Rather, we attempt to shape the general conditions of war; we try to achieve a certain measure of ordered disorder. Examples include canalizing enemy movement in a desired direction, blocking or delaying enemy reinforcements so that we can fight a piecemealed enemy rather than a concentrated one, shaping enemy expectations through deception so that we can exploit those expectations or attacking a specific enemy capability to allow us to maximize a capability of our own--such as launching a campaign to destroy his air defenses so that we can maximize the use of our own aviation. We should also try to shape events in such a way that allows us several options so that by the time the moment of encounter arrives we have not restricted ourselves to only one course of action.

The further ahead we think, the less our actual influence becomes. Therefore, the further ahead we consider, the less precision we should attempt to impose. Looking ahead thus becomes less a matter of influence and more a matter of interest. As events approach and our ability to influence them grows, we have already developed an appreciation for the situation and how we want to shape it.

Also, the higher our echelon of command, the greater is our sphere of influence and the further ahead in time and space we must seek to impose our will. Central commanders developing and pursuing military strategy look ahead weeks, months, or more, and their areas of influence and interest will encompass entire theaters. Local commanders fighting the battles and engagements at hand are concerned with the coming hours, even minutes, and the immediate field of battle. But regardless of the spheres of influence and interest, it is essential to have some vision of the final result we want and how we intend to shape the action in time and space to achieve it.

Decision Making

Decision making is essential to the conduct of war since all actions are the result of decisions--or of nondecisions. If we fail to make a decision out of lack of will, we have willingly surrendered the initiative to our foe. If we consciously postpone taking action for some reason, that is a decision. Thus, as a basic for action, any decision is generally better than no decision.

Since war is a conflict between opposing wills, we cannot make decisions in a vacuum. We must make decisions in light of the enemy's anticipated reactions and counteractions, recognizing that while we are trying to impose our will on our enemy, he is trying to do the same to us.

Whoever can make and implement his decisions consistently faster gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage. Decision making thus becomes a time-competitive process, and timeliness of decisions becomes essential to generating tempo. Timely decisions demand rapid thinking, with consideration limited to essential factors. We should spare no effort to accelerate our decision-making ability.

A military decision is not merely a mathematical computation. Decision making requires both the intuitive skill to recognize and analyze the essence of a given problem and the creative ability to devise a practical solution. This ability is the produce of experience, education, intelligence, boldness, perception, and character.

We should base our decisions on awareness rather than on mechanical habit. That is, we act on a keen appreciation for the essential factors that make each situation unique instead of from conditioned response.

We must have the moral courage to make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty--and accept full responsibility for those decisions--when the natural inclination would be to postpone the decision pending more complete information. To delay action in an emergency because of incomplete information shows a lack of moral courage. We do not want to make rash decisions, but we must not squander opportunities while trying to gain more information.

We must have the moral courage to make bold decisions and accept the necessary degree of risk when the natural inclination is to choose a less ambitious tack, for "in audacity and obstinacy will be found safety."

Finally, since all decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty and since every situation is unique, there is no perfect solution to any battlefield problem. Therefore, we should not agonize over one. The essence of the problem is to select a promising course of action with an acceptable degree of risk, and to do it more quickly than our foe. In this respect, "a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."

Mission Tactics

Having described the object and means of maneuver warfare and its philosophy of command, we will next discuss how we put maneuver warfare into practice. First is through the use of mission tactics. Mission tactics are just as the name implies: the tactic of assigning a local mission without specifying how the mission must be accomplished. We leave the manner of accomplishing the mission to the local leader, thereby allowing him the freedom--and establishing the duty--to take whatever steps he deems necessary based on the situation. The central leader prescribes the method of execution only to the degree that is essential for coordination. It is this freedom for initiative that permits the high tempo of operations that we desire. Uninhibited by restrictions from above, the subordinate can adapt his actions to the changing situation. He informs his commander what he has done, but he does not wait for permission.

It is obvious that we cannot allow decentralized initiative without some means of providing unity, or focus, to the various efforts. To do so would be to dissipate our strength. We seek unity, not through imposed control, but through harmonious initiative and lateral coordination.

Commander's Intent

We achieve this harmonious initiative in large part through the use of the commander's intent. There are two parts to a mission: the task to be accomplished and the reason, or intent. The task describes the action to be taken while the intent describes the desired result of the action. Of the two, the intent is predominant. While a situation may change, making the task obsolete, the intent is more permanent and continues to guide our actions. Understanding our commander's intent allows us to exercise initiative in harmony with the commander's desires.

In order to maintain our focus on the enemy, we should try to express intent in terms of the enemy. The intent should answer the question: What do I want to do to the enemy? This may not be possible in all cases, but it is true in the vast majority. The intent should convey the commander's vision. It is not satisfactory for the intent to be "to defeat the enemy." To win is always our ultimate goal, so an intent like this conveys nothing.

From this discussion, it is obvious that a clear explanation and understanding of intent is absolutely essential to unity of effort. It should be a part of any mission. The burden of understanding falls on senior and subordinate alike. The central leader must make perfectly clear the result he expects, but in such a way that does not inhibit initiative. Local leaders must have a clear understanding of what their commander is thinking. Further, they should understand the intent of the commander two levels up. In other words, a platoon commander should know the intent of his battalion commander, or a battalion commander the intent of his division commander.

Focus of Effort

Another tool for providing unity is through the focus of effort. Of all the efforts going on within our command, we recognize the focus of effort as the most critical to success.

All other efforts must support it. In effect, we have decided: This is how I will achieve a decision; everything else is secondary.

We cannot take lightly the decision of where and when to focus our efforts. Since the focus of effort represents our bid for victory, we must direct it at that object which will cause the most decisive damage to the enemy and which holds the best opportunity of success. It involves a physical and moral commitment, although not an irretrievable one. It forces us to concentrate decisive combat power just as it forces us to accept risk. Thus, we focus our effort against critical enemy vulnerability, exercising strict economy elsewhere.

Normally, we designate the focus of effort by assigning one unit responsibility for accomplishing that effort. That unit becomes the representation of the focus of effort. It becomes clear to all other units in the command that they must support that unit in its efforts. Like the commander's intent, the focus of effort becomes a harmonizing force. Faced with a decision, we ask ourselves: "How can I best support the focus of effort?"

Each commander should establish a focus of effort for each mission. As the situation changes, the commander may shift the focus of effort, redirecting the weight of his combat power in the direction that offers the greatest success. In this way he exploits success; he does not reinforce failure.

Surfaces and Gaps

Put simply, surfaces are hard spots--enemy strengths--and gaps are soft spots--enemy weaknesses. We avoid enemy strength and focus our efforts against enemy weakness, since pitting strength against weakness reduces casualties and is more likely to yield decisive results. Whenever possible, we exploit existing gaps. Failing that, we create gaps.

Gaps may in fact be physical gaps in the enemy's dispositions, but they may also be any weakness in time or space: a moment in time when the enemy is overexposed and vulnerable, a seam in an air defense umbrella, an infantry unit caught unprepared in open terrain, or a boundary between two units.

Similarly, a surface may be an actual strongpoint, or it may be any enemy strength: a moment when the enemy has just replenished and consolidated his position or an integrated air defense system.

An appreciation for surfaces and gaps requires a certain amount of judgment. What is a surface in one case may be a gap in another. For example, a forest which is a surface to an armored unit because it restricts vehicle movement can be a gap to an infantry unit which can infiltrate through it. Furthermore, we can expect the enemy to disguise his dispositions in order to lure us against a surface that appears to be a gap.

Due to the fluid nature of war, gaps will rarely be permanent and will usually be fleeting. To exploit them demands flexibility and speed. We must actively seek out gaps by continuous and aggressive reconnaissance. Once we locate them, we must exploit them by funneling our forces through rapidly. For example, if our focus of effort has struck a surface but another unit has located a gap, we shift the focus of effort to the second unit and redirect our combat power in support of it. In this manner we "pull" combat power through gaps from the front rather than "pushing" it through from the rear. Commanders must rely on the initiative of subordinates to locate the gaps and must have the flexibility to respond quickly to opportunities rather than following predetermined schemes.


We have discussed the aim and characteristics of maneuver warfare. We have discussed the philosophy of command necessary to support this style of warfare. And we have discussed some of the tactics of maneuver warfare. By this time it should be clear that maneuver warfare exists not so much in the specific methods used--we eschew formulas--but in the mind of the Militiaman, In this regard, maneuver warfare applies equally to the central commander and the local leader. It applies regardless of the nature of the conflict, whether sustained operations in support of professional armed forces or guerilla attacks against the same.

Maneuver warfare is a way of thinking in and about war that should shape our every action. It is a state of mind born of a bold will, intellect, initiative, and ruthless opportunism. It is a state of mind bent on shattering the enemy morally and physically by paralyzing and confounding him, by avoiding his strength, by quickly and aggressively exploiting his vulnerabilities, and by striking him in the way that will hurt him most. In short, maneuver warfare is a philosophy for generating the greatest decisive effect against the enemy at the least possible cost to ourselves--a philosophy for "fighting smart."