Maneuver / manoeuvre - an elegant military theory framework - Part III: Definition of Maneuver / Manoeuvre


A definition serves the purpose to enable clear communication about an abstract thing or concept. A good definition also makes thought about it easier and gives it clarity.

I offer to you a re-definition of maneuver / manoeuvre for these purposes.

First, though, let's look at the definition of "maneuver" by the biggest Western military:

Maneuver is movement in conjunction with fires (ADP 3-90).
The purpose of maneuver is to gain and exploit positions of relative advantage to accomplish the mission.


It's also one of the most crappy definitions of "maneuver" I've ever seen if not the worst ever. It supposes that there was no maneuver before the invention of firearms. To sneak into the rear of a n enemy position is not "maneuver" according to the U.S. Army. That's ridiculous.

You may also note that the maneuver vs. attrition debate was 'solved' by the official American (Army) definition of maneuver in a most lazy way; maneuver was defined as moving in battle while someone non-hostile shoots. This didn't answer the debate that started in the early 80's; it sabotaged it. Americans cannot discuss maneuver vs. attrition if they stick to their official definition.

My encounters with such crappy professional insider works are the reason why I dare to voice dissent instead of being in awe of the established paradigms.

My definition for manoeuvre/maneuver:

Maneuver/manoeuvre is movement to exploit superior readiness.

Important remarks for interpretation:

  1. The movement can create or improve the superior readiness, for example by encirclement, by shock or by the morale effect of arriving reinforcements.
  2. The exploitation can happen in the near future, enabled by the movement. 

The next part of the series will look at consequences and benefits of this definition.



  1. I like your definition.

  2. One of the problems in the US Military is they believe only enemy KIA's can achieve victory. The concept of shocking the enemy or destroying his morale by getting behind him is not something they really think about. Materialist, industrial warfare has little time for spiritual considerations.

    I think this mindset is one of the key barriers to implementing Mission Command or truly adopting Maneuver Warfare.

  3. The British definition is more complex.

    Manoeuvre is the employment of forces on the battlefield through movement in combination with fire, or fire potential, to achieve a position of advantage in respect to the enemy to accomplish the mission.

    From the doctrine, I could expand "fire" to: use of weapons.

    1. I see two interpretations of that;
      1) it's about the same as the U.S.Army's
      2) it's trivial and unusable, defining every movement as manoeuvre becuase the potential that someone shoots is always given with an army in wartime.

    2. Certainly, one sentence from 218 pages of doctrine is trivial. Within the doctrine, manoeuvre is a broad tactical function distinct from other tactical functions, for example sustainment. The one sentence definition of sustainment could also be seen as trivial. Going beyond one sentence, manoeuvre is broader than every movement in wartime. In stability operations, placing or moving forces to reassure or provide security is a form of manoeuvre as much as manoeuvre in combat.

      I am interested to see where you are going with your definition of manoeuvre.

    3. Definitions should be better thought-out than that and they should resist inflation.To place forces during an occupation is simply not manoeuvre.

      A term needs to be sharply defined so it's not too many things. You CANNOT discuss tactics or operational art with a term that summarises a retreat, a spearhead movement for an encirclement and placing checkpoints during an occupation. You CAN discuss with a term that's summarising encirclement spearhead, a flanking attack and Liddell-Hart's expanding torrent, though.

    4. Shouldn't the definition then be expanded slightly? For example:

      Maneuver is movement to create or improve and then exploit superior readiness.