In 2017, the U.S. Marine Corps published “Change 1” to Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 1-0, Marine Corps Operations to capture post-9/11, evolutionary aspects of operational diversity, force capabilities and organization, and the employment of military power amid contemporary national strategy and the current security era. Change 1 to MCDP 1-0 added the following tactical tasks: corrupt, deceive, degrade, deny, and influence. These targeted additions bear remarkable linkage with the central concepts presented by a number of influential military theorists: Carl von Clausewitz’ discourse on friction, John Boyd’s process of deconstruction and creation, and Sun Tzu’s insights into opportunistic exploitation.
Friction is a direct result of accomplishing the tactical tasks added to MCDP 1-0. Clausewitz provides friction as a principle element in the nature of war and cites war as inherently unpredictable. Clausewitzian discourse and MCDP-1, Warfighting, focus primarily on the friendly-force response mechanisms to internal and external friction. As an essential element in war, friction must be expected and anticipated. Clausewitz provides the commander’s iron will as the vehicle to surmount friction, but he admits routine and constant friction can wear down the machine.
The tactical tasks added to MCDP 1-0 seek to take advantage of this degradation by influencing enemy morale, reducing target value, and attacking the enemy command-and-control apparatus. Like Clausewitz’s theories, the goal of these tasks leverages external friction to induce and, consistent with John’s Boyd’s theories, influence poor decision-making by the enemy.
John Boyd’s ideas on decision-making amid friction are represented by the tactical tasks added to MCDP 1-0. His theoretical framework describes the repetitive, competitive process by which individuals form paradigms to make decisions and act. In a military context, this is the way leaders make sense of information gained in combat and develop a sense of the environment and the adversary. An advantage is gained if the friendly-force can corrupt, alter, or debase this information and render it useless to the enemy.
The goal of deceit, information corruption, command-and-control degradation, and denial is to overwhelm the enemy’s ability to cope with the environment and inhibit its ability to construct new, conceptually sound paradigms. This goal supports disruption of the enemy’s equilibrium while reducing friendly-force friction when coupled with the ability to accurately observe, orient, decide, and act. To accomplish this objective and swing the balance of initiative towards the friendly force underscores tenets of maneuver warfare. He advocates for operational shock, harmony, initiative, and unity of action through mission command and the presentation of an adaptable, formless, and rapid force.
The new tactical tasks in MCDP 1-0 and Boyd’s advocacy for the formless force formations necessary to shatter the enemy’s cohesion, ability to cope, and capacity to quickly construct new paradigms likely drew inspiration from the teachings of Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu placed higher importance on psychological impact to the enemy system than he did physical effects. In correlation with Boyd’s stress on orientation, Sun Tzu proclaims the battle is already won if you understand your enemy and yourself. Sun Tzu’s teachings focus on manipulating the enemy and setting conditions for success through exploitation. He recognizes the value of applying targeted combat power when appropriate against key terrain and resources to deny their use to the enemy. Further, he elevates the merits of deception to create a friendly advantage. The decisive battle is not a requirement, and Sun Tzu advocates leverage against the enemy system and decision-making capacity through fluid focus on where the enemy is weak and vulnerable. Marine Corps warfighting doctrine describes conventional and asymmetric targeting of enemy critical vulnerabilities and gaps to create decisive advantage.
The targeted tactical tasks listed in “Change 1” to MCDP 1-0, Marine Corps Operations, represent timeless concepts that draw from great military thinkers, center on the nature of war, and present a framework to influence adversaries and gain operational advantage. Continued application of these concepts is a worthy enterprise as doctrinal changes occur in preparation for the next war.