TECUMSEH COURT, UNDISCLOSED LOCATION
The author of WAR 101 answers your questions. This week: The Principles of War.
Dear Tecumseh Court:
You wrote recently that if you were procuring equipment for the Ukrainian military, tanks would “be much lower on my wish list than Javelin stockpiles, combat pickup trucks, and a raid package of Switchblade drones and ATVs.” Why?
Quinsy G. SHOEMAKER
Tecumseh Court replies:
Dear Mr. SHOEMAKER,
As always in war, operational design mixes art and science. But it does so in a specific way, using principles we can define and explain.
Let’s expand the concepts presented in WAR 101 by introducing the Principles of War and the US military acronym MOOSEMUSS. Keep in mind that the principles may come into conflict: Sometimes, emphasizing one means sacrificing another. Other NATO militaries use different acronyms to define the Principles of War, but MOOSEMUSS will do for our purposes:
- Mass: The combination of size, power, and concentrated effect. Mass denotes amount, strength, and capacity.
- Objective: A clearly defined goal which combat power can attain. An objective might be controlling a physical location (a hill, city, bridge), or achieving an end (destroying tanks, exploding fuel depots, killing generals).
- Offensive: The ability to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Offensives can be accomplished from a defensive position; the term refers to initiative rather than force disposition.
- Security: Preventing the enemy from acquiring an unexpected advantage. Security refers to attributes of equipment (i.e., armor or camouflage) and to measures taken to preserve combat power.
- Economy of Force: Using the minimum amount of combat power for supporting efforts. Practically speaking, it’s how we keep the main thing the main thing.
- Maneuver: The flexibility to apply combat power and maximize freedom of action. Maneuver is usually spatial. You can also think of it as mobility, but it can also be technical, temporal, or psychological.
- Unity of Command: The singular vision of a leader. In WAR 101 terms, this can be understood as clarity of intent.
- Surprise: Striking where and when the enemy is unprepared. As with Maneuver, this can be spatial, technical, temporal, or psychological.
- Simplicity: Clear and uncomplicated equipment, plans, and orders that make execution as easy as possible. The more Simplicity, the less friction.
Now, using these concepts, let’s compare tanks to a raid package of Switchblade drones and ATVs. Javelins and combat pickup trucks don’t need justification. I expect no reader doubts the utility of Javelins, and combat pickups are useful for logistics as well as operations.
Tanks: Formidable in size and firepower, heavily armed (and armored) tanks function as mobile light artillery on a battlefield. NATO tanks, including the US M1-Abrams, generally have superior size, speed, and firepower to the Russian T-72s and other variants.
Raid Package: Switchblade drones, or kamikaze drones, are single-shot commodities. A raid team would require dozens, if not hundreds, of Switchblade drones to match the firepower tanks can bring into a battle. ATVs have advantages, but mass isn’t one of them.
Tanks: Tanks can control terrain and destroy. These objectives are significant, but limited to ground warfare. To employ tanks effectively requires combined arms coordination and air assets. Tanks are powerful, but they can’t go into battle alone.
Raid Package: Switchblade drones can provide aerial reconnaissance, which is highly valuable on the modern battlefield, plus immediate strike capability. ATVs can control terrain long enough to employ Switchblades, but they can’t control terrain as decisively as tanks do.
Tanks: Many variables determine how well tanks can “seize, retain, and exploit initiative,” especially the ground itself. Tanks can and do get stuck in the mud, and warm weather increases risk of tank wheels slipping from their tread. While tanks have speed and mass, they need to be part of a coordinated attack, using air and artillery assets, to effectively exploit initiative. And as we’ve often mentioned, they can’t outrun their supply train.
Raid Package: Switchblade drones and ATVs represent offensive attack capabilities that increase initiative. Together they enable initiative on their own, independent of any other elements. While this is a very offensive combination for creating initiative, a Raid Package doesn’t have enough mass to hold offensive initiative long enough to sustain an exploitation. But it’s terrific for immediate attrition.
Tanks: NATO tanks, with modifications, have been upgraded to include armor packages, so they don’t suffer the same design flaw as Russian tanks—the flaws the Javelin has exploited. But tanks are loud and difficult to camouflage. You can see and hear them coming miles away.
Raid Package: Not much armor on an ATV, and antiaircraft fire can take out drones. But ATVs are fast, nimble, and can be concealed where terrain (such as forests) allows. And on a noisy battlefield, drones aren’t always easy to see and hear.
🥋 ECONOMY OF FORCE
Tanks: Where to start? Tanks are massive gas guzzlers: The M1 Abrams averages 0.6 miles/gallon. Heavy tank ammunition requires regular resupply. So does the air and artillery they need to be employed effectively. There are tremendous secondary requirements when you use tanks.
Raid Package: While ATVs aren’t self-sustaining on a battlefield, they don’t require a supply train so complex that it’s difficult to transport them to or from an insertion point. You just need a single tractor-trailer. Switchblade drones, likewise, are self-contained and have no secondary supply requirements.
Advantage: RAID PACKAGE
Tanks: Considering the warm weather risks and resupply issues, the maneuverability of tanks is uncertain. It’s not impossible: Tanks can indeed seize terrain quickly and forcefully. But maximizing the maneuverability of tanks requires combined arms skill.
Raid Package: Unless they’re confronting heavy firepower and deployed in wide, exposed terrain, Switchblade drones and ATVs offer great flexibility and freedom of action for battlefield commanders. Highly maneuverable.
Advantage: RAID PACKAGE
🧑🏼✈️ UNITY OF COMMAND:
Tanks: Even when they’re working with air and artillery commanders, tank commanders exercise strong unity of command. Leaders of tank platoons aren’t likely to be confused about their objective.
Raid Package: In most cases, a raid package would have a single commander and objective. Probably no issue here with unity of command either.
Tanks: There’s not a lot of surprise with tanks. They’re big and strong and loud.
Raid Package: For an ATV-Switchblade raid package, surprise is the name of the game.
Advantage: RAID PACKAGE
Tanks: Because tanks need resupply and combined arms to be effective, tanks are low on the simplicity scale.
Raid Package: ATVs and kamikaze drones aren’t rocket science, but effective raids still require planning and rehearsal. An enemy counter-ambush could be a real mess. Raids aren’t simple, either.
If we give one point per Principle of War where we assess an advantage, the Raid Package outscores Tanks 3 to 1 in our MOOSEMUSS operational value analysis, with 5 principles offering no clear advantage. This is why I’d choose the Raid Package.
Operational planners don’t actually use the template above. I made it up to illustrate how planners instinctively use the Principles of War to think through and respond to various battlefield situations. Planners might add or subtract value to each Principle of War based on the main effort and the perceived threat. For example, the Ukrainians know the Russians plan to attack them with massive firepower. Since they face the threat of Mass, they want Mass to be well-represented on their side of the battlefield, too. So, understandably, Ukraine wants tanks.
There’s nothing wrong with placing a premium on any Principle of War. When I expressed my preference weeks ago, I only realized later that I’d intuitively assigned each Principle of War the same value. That’s not always helpful. It depends on the situation. What’s important is understanding the principles in the first place. Then it’s up to commanders to decide how to apply them.
Dear Tecumseh Court:
Far and away the best outcome for everyone is a negotiated settlement, but this is precisely the outcome that you won’t countenance. Are you so sure that the American people will continue to provide the political support to keep the spigot open?
Tecumseh Court replies:
I’ve read your comments and questions, and I hope you’ll forgive me for summarizing them in the form of this question.
For the foreseeable future, a negotiated settlement isn’t a realistic prospect. Putin isn’t bluffing. His strategic objective is to continue the war until Ukraine does not exist. The only options are to accept Russia’s destruction of Ukraine or defend Ukraine’s existence.
A negotiated settlement will only become realistic when the Russians can no longer field sufficient combat power to achieve their strategic goals. Putin might eventually decide to cut his losses. But that won’t happen if those losses aren’t inflicted.
I’m not writing this column out of some Strangelove-like enthusiasm for war. I’d much rather be writing poetry, strumming guitar, or tilling a garden. Believe me, no one loves peace more than those who prepare themselves for war.
But right now, there’s no other option. The United States cannot accept Ukraine’s eradication. No one should.
“Gentlemen may cry ‘Peace, Peace!’—but there is no peace,” said Patrick Henry, in response to oppression far less intolerable than the prospect of extinction. No matter how we’ve come to this point, we’re here. This fight came to us.
Take courage, my friend. Tomorrow, we’ll rest. Today, we support a free people’s survival.
Tecumseh Court is the author of WAR 101—our blockbuster three-part introduction to “Warfighting,” the how-to manual for the US Marines. The three essays explored the war in Ukraine from a US combat veteran’s perspective. They’re the most widely read articles we’ve published at the Cosmopolitan Globalist magazine.The most widely-read article we’ve published in the newsletter, however—which we send out to entice you to read the Cosmopolitan Globalist magazine—is this essay: On Mexican State … Continue reading
In response to our readers’ obvious desire to learn more about the fundamentals of war, we’ve inaugurated a regular Q&A with Tecumseh Court, in which Tecumseh Court answers readers’ questions about war, in general, and war in Ukraine, in particular.
If you haven’t yet read them, here are the essays:
If you’d like to send a question to Tecumseh Court, please do so via the editors. Unless you request otherwise, we’ll assign to you a pseudonym chosen from the 1922 London telephone directory and edit your letters in our House Style.
|↑1||The most widely-read article we’ve published in the newsletter, however—which we send out to entice you to read the Cosmopolitan Globalist magazine—is this essay: On Mexican State Collapse. That’s by far the most widely read article we’ve published. The runner-up? Long live the Sun: The case for solar power. Our readers have diverse interests—Claire.|