Doctrine - slavish obedience, or crucial to a military?

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by Yeoman_dai, Jun 13, 2010.

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  1. So, I don't usually do this but I was sitting in on a Senior Rates course the other day and the course officer made an interesting point that the Army was big on doctrine, and the Navy was not.

    Now, i'm not sure how true this is, but thats beside the point, and anyway the story is crucial in padding out this post. The crux of the question i'm pondering is just how much Doctrine hinders, or advances modern military operations - Navy, Army, US Army, German Air Force - whomever they may be.

    If you read Gen Rupert Smith, or Col X Hammes, or whoever the latest 4th Generation/COIN espousing general is this week then you are bound to (if you are a solider, apparently) write up a doctrine to deal with this threat. This is what happened in the Cold War of course, and then suddenly the threat changes.

    Does that not leave you completely wrong footed? It certainly left us wrong footed, and what strikes me as ironic is that we seem to be drawn into the same trap once more, with an Army full of MRAP's and COIN training and equipment, just in time for a Naval war over resources in the Pacific (for example) to flare up, or a war on the Korean peninsula, where i'd suggest MBT's and fast air will be very useful indeed...

    What i'm suggesting, really, is that doctrine is actually a bit of a false hope. It is a suggestion, a GUIDE rather than a bible, but in a modern military that I would suggest is filled with REGULATORS rather than RATCATCHERS (a very very brief description of the differences being here, it tends to get used as a bible, which is where we fall down again and again. I'd argue that a slavish obedience to doctrine hinders advancement (as does tradition, but then that is a different post) and also gets in the way of operational effectiveness and indeed having the right 'tools for the job'

    This leads on to many different questions however. What 'tools' should we use? Who should use these weapons of war whatever they may be? And surely a framework is needed to base all this off? Well yes, it is but a framework of SOP's is not an entire form and way of working. Surely the British Military, which prides on punching above its weight, should be able to adapt swiftly? is that not what we have staff's for? I would ALSO argue hat looking at the current force structures, in NO WAY do they mirror the manouverist doctrine we adhere to, no matter what the shiny powerpoints say.

    So I ask to ARRSE - how far should we constrain ourselves with rules of how to fight any given war? Then, how far are we CURRENTLY constrained?

    edited for MONG spelling
  2. I'd suggest that it has more to do with mindset than methodology. For decades, basic British Army command training has emphasised that doctrine is a handrail and not a straight-jacket, yet as soon as you leave the school you're back into the atmosphere of restriction and rigid control. I just don't think we're that good at letting go the reins until situations like the World Wars when we find ourselves with an Army manned by enthusiastic amateurs rather than career-minded professionals.
  3. Good point, but where does that straight jacket come from? Squadron OC? CO level? higher?
  4. Indeed, but I wouldnt stop there. I would offer that doctrine is not 'what is taught' at all, rather in truth it is 'that which is believed'.

    Implicit in the OP's title and gambit is neglect of the fact that doctrine is more than a mere collection of publications and texts that are open to 'obedience ..or otherwise', rather doctrine is a belief system that underpins everything that we do, our history, our drills, our culture. This comprehensive approach to the study of doctrine is informed by all stakeholders, be they senior officers, civil servants, non-commissioned or commissioned field officers, private soldiers, members of the public, our allies and, importantly, our adversaries. Guided by principles and operating standards, the British Army's strength, indeed its greatness, comes from our ability to act both with and in spite of apparent dogma.
  5. Apart from a note on history - you have hit several nails bang on the flat bit.

    The history thing is that we didn't actually have any formal Doctrine, until right at the end of the Cold War: Brit Military Doctrine was first issued in 1989, the same year that I attended Staff College, and the Berlin Wall fell: leaving an entire family of DS utterly perplexed as to what to teach in the last term of the course, because all of the comforting norms of a near half-century had just fallen away.

    My take on it would be that:
    (a) We have never really put into practice our new doctrine, ergo
    (b) Theory and practice are a odds with each other,

    I'd say also, that there is a weakness in the Army's ability to distinguish between Battle Drills and Military Doctrine. The former tells you how to do stuff, the latter should help you to think about What Stuff You Need To Do.

    If you consider only the former (which inevitably engraves in stone the procedures of the most recent conflict) then you are constrained. To do the latter you have to learn to distil the essence out of collective experience - O and mebbe some outside learning, viz Kilcullen educating the Petraeus gang, in order to provide yourself with a framework that is more flexible and to greater extent future-proof.

    This kind of thinking is pretty much alien to the type of blokes who get on in the Brit army, so it doesn't happen often, and when it does, it tends not to take root.

    This is mostly because (as the failure to change a single aspect of Brit Army training in the wake of the 'introduction' of Mission Command should tell you) Brit Army officers ('Regulators', for the most part) tend to think in terms of amendments to tangible things like SOPs and procedures, and not about the implications of intangibles, like the command culture of the Army, and are likely to resent suggestions like the possibility that some hallowed traditions might actually be an impediment to improvement. I'm not sure that 'Ratcatchers' have any clearer view of the theoretical principles underlying their chosen courses of action - so it seems to me that there is a third type of personality (for which I don't have catchy label) that needs to be included in the mix (Petraeus/Kilcullen might be a good place to look for further understanding): this is a personality type that can read between the lines of what a Ratcatcher might do creatively/instinctively, develop into a framework, and make that accessible - through training, education, and example - to a wider audience of Regulators.

    Outside the Army, big commercial organisations have long since learned that organisational culture is the single most important thing affecting performance; that it is exceedingly difficult to define (esp. from the inside), and; even more difficult to change, with any certainty of a predictable successful outcome.

    Our Army has consistently failed even to inquire into the challenge of transformation, and has wasted millions of pounds on technology, in the foolish expectation that it alone holds the answers.

    Only now, as we prepare to evacuate AFG and knock lumps off our Establishment, is the C-in-C beginning to ask how to turn the Army into an organisation that gains its edge in the same way as the 'asymmetric operators' do - through the imagination and innovative adaptability of its people*.

    I hope my cynicism is understandable, but - unless IRAQ/AFG have made a bigger collective impact on the Army's collective psyche than did 2 World Wars, then most of the CoC is still occupied by 'Regulators' - who do not much suffer from imagination, and tend to regard innovation and the desire to adapt, as threats to a natural status quo - and therefore to be stamped on, hard.

    In short - we are as constrained as a culture of 'Regulation' makes us.

    If you want to significantly change that, you have to change the people who get selected to be promoted.

    And doing that means reaching right down into Battalion-sized units, to make sure that COs no longer favour 'Regulators', but are looking also for the imaginative, creative types with the wit required for truly adaptive thinking.
    *In noting this, be aware that – rather than being an original idea – the Brits are (as ever) trying to copy what the Americans have already done. Rather ironic, I think it speaks volumes . . . .
  6. Stonker - some very good and clear thinking there. I would like to throw in an observation, perhaps a bit trite, but I feel relevant nevertheless. Doctrine is out of date the moment it is published. We have TD notes etc to bridge the gap but they rarely seem to be formally taught.

    Thus we have a new COIN doctrine (Actually I believe a very good and relevant piece of thinking) but it is already starting to look slightly lite. Looking at developments over the pond it is clear that we don't have the resources to continually update our thinking and procedures and disseminate all this in the timely fashion required.

    As alluded to, sometimes I think that we should just fight wars as if we were the Hybrid threat - sadly no politico would (quite rightly) back us but I suspect that we would see some good results but also some very rapid development in our own thinking.
  7. 1, Correct.

    2. Why not RMAS - logically, that is where the officer's doctrinal grounding should start?

    3. If you think what the Army is doing comes close to Mission Command as practised by Germany in WW2, or by the IDF on occasion since, then you do indeed need to do some re-assessment (I'm sounding like a cracked record to some on here, but) Jim Storr's RUSI analysis of how much slower and more cumbersome was the exercise of command in GW2 compared to GW1 (which was fought only months after we formally announced the intended adoption of Mission Command) gives the lie to that notion.

    There are many fundamental changes to training yet to be made, before we can honestly say we have really embarked on the path we claim to have set out on 21 years ago.
  8. The Krauts evaluated their defensive practices on the Western Front in 1916, re-wrote their manual, and implemented the new doctrine in time for their strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg line, in under 6 months, by employing a small team led by a full Colonel (Bauer?), and without the benefit of the Interweb.

    Might I suggest that - rather than this being an issue of insufficient resources - the problem is more likely one of over-staffing operationally important material through an over-manned and complex peacetime chain-of-command, already thoroughly constipated with substantially less urgent work?
  9. As late as 1992, they were teaching WP tactics to the FOO course at Larkhill - because nobody had any clues about what to fill the hole in the curriculum with; so the spurious justification that our most likely enemies used WP kit and therefore tactics was used. Which given that several of us had returned from a sandy place and seen no evidence thereofand two of us had been involved in studying things Iraq v. Iran in a parallel life seemede bolocXs!
  10. My (slightly dated) experience suggests that it is to be found at all levels where (in your shorthand) 'Regulators' can bring influence to bear. Adjt, Ops Offir, CO in units, Staff Officer peers and seniors (and I mean fellow SO2s and up) in higher HQs.

    It isn't a matter of a single layer - rather a widespread attitude that says:

    (a) The Manual is The Bible - and may not be challenged, and/or

    (b) My experience tells me that [solution a] worked last time, so obviously [solution a] works, so obviously we should do [solution a] again (Comes out in speech phrased thus 'When I was in Northern Ireland we . . . ")

    Agree most of your post.

    Challenge that last bit. That is to make light of a corporate inconsistency of adaptive ability. Links to my thoughts above.

    If you are lucky enough to be in a unit/HQ with a 'maverick' or 2 at the right time and place, willing and able to effectively challenge the thought processes of those around him, it will be true. (I think Smartascarrots and I agree this was probably more commonplace in our mass citizen-soldier army of WW1, than at any time before or since)

    If - as I have seen in my own lifetime (and at least one other ARRSEr has confessed that he's been there, and didn't know it till about half a decade later) - your HQ is unwittingly in 'groupthink' agreement about inappropriate plans, it will definitely not be true.
  11. I was taking over the SO2 (Int) slot at HQ 1(BR) Corps that year, as the war in Croatia went static, and fighting in B-H was breaking out. My predecessor (we did the same ASC) insisted - despite clear evidence to the contrary - the combatants were conformant to WP doctrine.

    2 yrs later, (I remained in the HQ, in a 2nd black bag post) one of my psc successors in G2 complained during a warfighting exercise that his OPFOR (task organised by a German COS, in accordance with normal Hun practice) were 'not following the right doctrine'.

    On another occasion, during an ex to test one of our contingency plans for deployment into B-H, the Corps decided to lead the deployment with loggies, in unescorted convoys of soft-skinned trucks full of booty. So EXCON had the wagons stopped by militias, drivers abducted, and contents looted. Yet another psc Intel bloke griped that 'ops information is coming in through the wrong channels - via G4'.

    That is the quality of clarity and flexibility of thought I associate with the generation that gave us our current Generals.
    O - worth knowing also, that right up to the time we deployed into B-H in early '96, many USAF intel assessments of the B-H situation were still based on the belief that a Bosniac Corps (in actuality composed of variable numbers of inebriated irregular infantry) comprised 3 conventional divisions . . . . .
  12. Indeed that view of things Bosnian usually took 24-48 hours in country to dissipate. 24 Bde had less trouble changing it's mindset and 3 Div quickly learned to listen to their SO2 G1, who had been in Gorazde with the duke of boots...rather than the guff coming out of Rheindahlen!
  13. Anyone who slaivishly, and blindly, quotes doctrine as some sort of binding rulebook doesn't get doctrine! Doctrine is more about 'how' to think rather than 'what' to think.

    Consider the Manoeuvrist approach; or the Decision/Action cycle; or the Operational Art; or CoG Analysis. These are a very small example of key doctrinal tenets, but, as is common throughout our doctrine, not one constitutes a rigid checklist nor are they statutory - but, and this is the crucial bit, they allow us to follow a common thought process and help us to approach military planning and operations with a coherent and collective understanding.
  14. msr

    msr LE

    Is that more of a reflection of the changing nature of the land environment and (without wishing to sound flippant), the fact that the only real variables on the sea is the size and numbers of boats / ships you are likely to face?

  15. Or the number of iPods to be lost.