“Maneuver,” usually listed second after “Mass” in a list of the Principles of War, is defined in joint doctrine as placing the enemy in the most vulnerable position for the optimal application of force. Today, this 20th-century definition of maneuver must be broadened to include gaining dimensional advantage over an enemy, whether by sea, land, air, space, or cyberspace. Viewing the history of warfare through the prism of technology development and its impact on maneuver brings to light the critical nature of technology in the evolution of warfare.
From the continuous lengthening of standoff range to the introduction of the railroad for logistical resupply, historians have often heralded the successful introduction of a new technology as a turning point in military history, the point at which one side gains an advantage over the other. The stirrup ushered in the age of cavalry, dramatically changing the tempo of war and giving the advantage, at least temporarily, to the land forces that were best able to use it. The same can be said of the internal combustion engine and its application to the tank, which ushered in Blitzkrieg strategies and tactics. Is there any doubt that the successful integration of airpower over the last 100 years, from a largely observational platform with fighter escort in WWI to precision “Shock and Awe” in Operation Iraqi Freedom, has been critical to U.S. strategic dominance in maneuver warfare? The introduction of space-based capabilities in communication, surveillance, and navigation are examples of technologies that have provided significant early warning of enemy positions, movements, and intentions.
In the 21st century, technological development is increasing at unprecedented levels. Unclassified briefings at the highest levels of our national intelligence community indicate that their gravest concern is the combination of technology acceleration (Moore’s law in computing power, custom-designed DNA bacteria for the cost of a new car, etc.) and technological leveling through the instantaneous diffusion of information over the Internet and material via overnight shipping.
What becomes clear through a study of maneuver warfare is that more often than not, the most significant and abrupt changes in a combatant’s ability to “gain the dimensional advantage through movement” coincides with the successful application of a new technology. Placing an adversary in a disadvantageous posture can be accomplished in one of two ways. First, one can reposition oneself into a position that leaves the opposing military forces in a relatively weaker posture. Second, one can lure the enemy into such a position that he is left with no choice but to move into a disadvantageous position (the classic “horns of a dilemma”). Throughout history, a classic method of the former has been relentless pursuit by military technologists to lengthen standoff range, which enables a force to maintain its strike advantage while making its opponent’s force much weaker and less effective.