One of the serious problems with current military thought is that far too many concepts are being accepted with little rigorous examination to validate the ideas. For example, "littoral" was accepted with no discussion - instead, discussion leaped straight to implementation. Most recently, the third offset strategy has been christened with no rigorous analysis, simply a statement of faith that it will work.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS) and attempt to analyze it.
Whatever the concept of Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS) means to proponents today, it seems that it differs from the intent of the original concept both in theory and practice. Let’s take a closer look at OMFTS.
The original document, authored by Gen. Krulak in 1996, is focused on a better method of conducting littoral warfare (1). It is vital to understand that the document defines “littoral” as meaning both the water and the land as opposed to our use of littoral today which has come to mean the shallow waters near land. OMFTS sees the land and water as one and the same – areas that are interchangeably used to conduct maneuvers aimed at a single operational objective. This is a point of semantics, in a sense, but a key one to keep in mind when evaluating OMFTS.
The next key point to understand is that OMFTS is conceived as a means of forcible entry. It is a method to conduct opposed landings and it is assumed that the landings will be opposed. Too many people today believe that OMFTS is a magical means of conducting unopposed landings by going ashore where there is no enemy and the enemy has no reach. OMFTS makes clear that nothing could be further from the truth.
“The heart of Operational Maneuver from the Sea is the maneuver of naval forces at the operational level, a bold bid for victory that aims at exploiting a significant enemy weakness in order to deal a decisive blow. Mere movement, which may lead to indecisive results or even be counterproductive, does not qualify as operational maneuver. That is to say, operational maneuver should be directed against an enemy center of gravity—something that is essential to the enemy's ability to effectively continue the struggle.”
Thus, we see that OMFTS is directed at a significant enemy strength, a center of gravity. By definition, that point will be heavily defended. As the document states, merely landing forces at some far distant point just because it was safe to do so does not constitute OMFTS. OMFTS must strike a significant target. Of course, if forces can be landed away from enemy response and then move to the desired objective, that would be perfectly acceptable. The problem with that is that by landing so far away the logistics tail will become enormous and vulnerable. Further, the force will still have to fight its way to the significant objective in the face of steadily increasing enemy resistance and having given away any element of surprise by landing so far away.
Having set the stage for a description of OMFTS, the document then describes the single biggest assumption which provides the foundation for the entire concept: OMFTS will succeed because the need for the traditional build up of a supply dump ashore will be bypassed. This is not only the key to the concept but also its biggest weakness.
“For most of the 20th century, the usefulness of sea-based logistics was limited by the voracious appetite of modern landing forces for such items as fuel, large caliber ammunition, and aviation ordnance. As a result, the options available to landing forces were greatly reduced by the need to establish, protect, and make use of supply dumps. Concerted efforts were delayed and opportunities for decisive action missed while the necessary supplies accumulated on shore.
In the near future, improvements in the precision of long-range weapons, greater reliance on sea-based fire support, and, quite possibly, a decrease in the fuel requirements of military land vehicles promise to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the need to establish supply facilities ashore. As a result, the logistics tail of landing forces will be smaller, ship-to-shore movement will take less time, and what were previously known as "subsequent operations ashore" will be able to start without the traditional "build up phase." In other words, landing forces will move directly from their ships to their objectives, whether those objectives are located on the shoreline or far inland.
The significant reduction of logistics infrastructure ashore will also facilitate the rapid re-embarkation of the landing force”
This is clearly the key to OMFTS – the ability to operate without shore based supply dumps. The needed supplies are envisioned as flowing directly from the supply ships to the troops.
Of course, this is tantamount to stating that in the future we’ll eliminate the traffic congestion in cities by moving the commuters directly from their homes to their destinations without needing to use cars and roads. The concept is good, the technology is non-existent.
How do we get the supplies directly from the ships to the troops? The document offers no solution other than foreseeing an, apparently, hugely reduced requirement for supplies due to precision weapons, sea based fire support, and a decrease in fuel requirements of land vehicles. This is both optimistic, bordering on fantasy, and ignorant.
The optimistic aspect is clear. Not only have today’s land vehicles not reduced their need for fuel, the need has increased as vehicles have become larger and heavier.
The ignorant (I use the word in its clinical, not emotional, sense) aspect is that munitions make up only a small portion of the needed supplies. Any reduction in the number of munitions due to precision guidance is swamped by the need for food, water, fuel, parts, etc. The “dump” requirements aren’t going to be eliminated or even significantly reduced just because we need a few less munitions. Also, the vast bulk of munitions is probably unguided bullets, bombs, and rockets. The number of precision guided weapons employed by troops on the ground is limited. While an argument can be made that aircraft have reduced their munitions requirement due to guided weapons, the same does not hold for ground troops.
Sea based fire support is another aspect that has proven problematic. The Navy’s doctrine is to stand 50+ miles offshore – well beyond the range of any naval gun. Further, the explosive effects of 5” guns are minimal even if the Navy were willing to stand inshore. Finally, the number of 5” guns in the fleet is woefully inadequate for the task of fire support. Consider the number of naval guns used in a WWII amphibious assault. A single Fletcher class destroyer had almost as many guns as an entire modern amphibious assault force would have!
The net result of this ambitious concept is that the enemy will be stunned into inactivity.
“When combined with a command and control system oriented towards rapid decision-making at all levels of command, the additional speed and flexibility offered by these new techniques translates into a high tempo of operations. Vulnerabilities can be exploited before they are reduced, opportunities seized before they vanish, and traps sprung before they are discovered. In short, we will be able to act so quickly that the enemy will not be able to react effectively until it is too late.”
Again, this is an example of the type of one-sided thinking that pervades military thought today. Everything we do will work flawlessly and nothing the enemy does will have any effect on us. With that assumption, every concept sounds good!
One final shortcoming in this concept is that it ignores the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities of the enemy. The assumption in the concept is that we will have complete freedom of maneuver throughout the littoral waters. Admittedly, this is a document geared towards land combat and the author can be forgiven, to a slight degree, for leaving the naval and A2/AD issues to the Navy. However, the author recognizes that the land and sea issues are linked as a fundamental pillar of OMFTS and yet fails to address it.
Today, OMFTS has morphed into some kind of aviation assault concept accepted as utterly valid by its proponents without any critical examination – examination which reveals foundational flaws!
OMFTS has some aspects that are worth further contemplation but the foundations of the concept are flawed. The reduction in logistical supply necessary to realize the concept is unattainable, bordering on fantasy. The ability to instantaneously transport those supplies that are needed directly into the laps of the ground troops is glossed over. The shortcomings created by assuming away ground based fire support are hand wavingly reduced to a Navy issue that is not recognized for the problem it is. The lack of acknowledgement of the enemy’s capabilities is stunning.
As a preliminary concept, all of these flaws are acceptable. The concept can be exercised and shortcomings solved – or the concept can be found to be unrealistic and dropped. The problem is that OMFTS has been seized by proponents as proven gospel despite the lack of any rigorous examination.
The real danger from this is that implementation of the concept leads to an assault force that is woefully inadequate for the task if the concept proves flawed in practice. Implementation will hamstring our proven (though currently badly lacking) assault capability for the promise of a fantasy operation.
(1)“Operational Maneuver From The Sea”, General Charles Krulak, Commandant of the Marine Corps,