John Boyd, Maneuver Warfare, and the Marine Corps' Search for Meaning

  • 2015

John Boyd, Maneuver Warfare, and the Marine Corps' Search for Meaning

Author:
Ian Brown
Abstract:

After the end of the Vietnam War, the United States Marine Corps found itself embroiled in an institutional identity crisis. It needed a way to retain its amphibious character while remaining operationally relevant. Many critics argued that in an age of precision weapons, heavily mechanized militaries and numerically superior opponents, light infantry delivered from slow-moving ships were obsolete. A handful of reformers believed that the concept of "maneuver warfare" would allow the Marine Corps to fight and win on the modern battlefield. Maneuver warfare was based on the conflict theories of John Boyd, a retired Air Force colonel. Synthesizing history, philosophy, and science, he determined that successful commanders won through a combination of tempo, unpredictability, and rapid decision-making. Boyd spread these ideas through a briefing he developed called "Patterns of Conflict." A small circle of Marines and civilians took the ideas from this brief and used it to promote maneuver warfare in the Marine Corps from the top down and bottom up. By 1989, the Corps adopted maneuver warfare doctrine, developed from Boyd's conflict theories, as its official warfighting concept. Boyd's ideas remain influential both inside the military and out today.