The US Department of Defence’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Termsi defines doctrine as “fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.
” The US Marine Corps’ capstone doctrine publication, Warfightingii, describes doctrine as “a teaching of the fundamental beliefs of the Marine Corps on the subject of war, from its nature and theory to its preparation and conduct.” It continues that doctrine “establishes a particular way of thinking about war and a way of fighting. It also provides a philosophy for leading Marines in combat, a mandate for professionalism, and a common language. In short, it establishes the way we practice our profession. In this manner, doctrine provides the basis for harmonious actions and mutual understanding.” The document also cautions that no “degree of technological development or scientific calculation will diminish the human dimension in war. Any doctrine which attempts to reduce warfare to ratios of forces, weapons, and equipment neglects the impact of the human will on the conduct of war and is therefore inherently flawed.”
By way of example, a military built for manoeuvre warfare will thus look different in terms of equipment, organisation, and mindset from one crafted for attrition warfare. The German Army of 1940 therefore emphasised the use of auftragtakik, the tank and armoured formations. Their French opponents placed an emphasis on fortification and local counter-attack. As a consequence, the Germans concentrated their armour, ensured these formations had aggressive and bold leaders with excellent air support and command-and-control (C2) means. The French, by contrast, had more tanks, of better quality, but dispersed these in “penny packets”, frittering away their advantageiii.
The late British military theorist and wargamer Paddy Griffith observed “doctrine” may be expressed as “the ideas and expectations with which soldiers are trained to enter battle and then fight through it, and it should not be underestimated as an element in battleiv. If troops have poor doctrine and training, even their best weapons will be defeated, but with sound doctrine even badly equipped soldiers may achieve great overall results.”
To remain authoritative, doctrine must be constantly updated – yet remain free of political interference, including the dead hand of self-censorship, political correctness and especially wishful thinking. Prolific military writer and retired US Army lieutenant colonel Ralph Peters cites his country’s post-2006 FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency manual as one such attempt at “dishonest doctrine.” In an article of that name in the December 2007 Armed Forces Journalv, he writes that “although the finalised document did, ultimately, allow that deadly force might sometimes be required, it preached — beware doctrine that preaches — understanding, engagement and chat. It was a politically correct document for a politically correct age.” Whether the current FM 3-24 is indeed a “politically correct document for a politically correct age” falls outside the scope of this argument.”
Obviously, though, failure to update doctrine results in forces armed or equipped to fight the proverbial “last war”. Indeed, in 1940 France was finally ready to deal with the Germany of 1914. Doctrine “must [therefore] evolve in accordance with political and technical changevi.” But it must also stay true to the nature of war and the experience of the ages. Peters, of course, has a view on this. “The most troubling aspect of international security for the United States is not the killing power of our immediate enemies, which remains modest in historical terms, but our increasingly effete view of warfare,” he wrote in the Spring 2009 edition of The Journal of International Security Affairs. Lamenting Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars,vii he adds: “The greatest advantage our opponents enjoy is an uncompromising strength of will, their readiness to ‘pay any price and bear any burden’ to hurt and humble us. As our enemies’ view of what is permissible in war expands apocalyptically, our self-limiting definitions of allowable targets and acceptable casualties—hostile, civilian and our own—continue to narrow fatefully. Our enemies cannot defeat us in direct confrontations, but we appear determined to defeat ourselves. … Sadly, our enemies do not share our scruples. … Of all the enemies we face today and may face tomorrow, the most dangerous is our own wishful thinking.”
One group notoriously susceptible to wishful thinking and fashionable theory is the air power enthusiasts. “The Royal Air Force (RAF) entered [WW2] committed to demonstrating that the air-dropped bomb was a weapon of unique capabilities,” Max Hastings wrote in his Bomber Commandviii. “Political, social and professional pressure on the infant service drove the airmen to adopt a messianic approach, and it is precisely for this reason that some historians have argued that the RAF should never have become an independent service in 1918. The airmen, desperately jealous of their freedom, became obsessed with their need for an independent function. Only a strategic bomber offensive seemed able to provide this,” Hastings concludes. Britain invested immensely in strategic bombing, by some estimates up to one third of its total war effort. Yet the air dropped bomb was no more potent than any other explosive object.
“The RAF`s misfortune was that it had believed its own publicity. For twenty years it luxuriated in the conviction ‘We are, ergo we are capable of a strategic bombing offensive.” Between the fall of France in June 1940 and the invasion of Europe in June 1944, Bomber Command was the only branch of any British service that could take the war to the Germans. Hastings argues this is where a horrible irony arose: During the first part of this period the RAF faced the bleak reality that the end, winning the war through the strategic bombing of Germany; was well beyond the capacity of its means: its bomber aircraft and bomber aircrew. When from 1943 onwards the introduction of airborne radar and Pathfinders changed this equation, the bomber barons – and they were not called this for no reason, being fiercely protective of their personal fiefdoms and convinced through faulty bomb-damage assessments from sycophantic staff that Germany`s collapse was imminent, would not let go from the notion that they were on the cusp of single-handedly winning the war. How effective bombing had become – and how unable it was to end the war was illustrated by the destruction of Darmstadt on the night of September 11/12, 1944. “The airmen`s great error, in which they have persisted to this day, was their refusal to admit that they overstated their case,” Hastings avers.
Writer Tom Clancy noted a resurgence of airpower enthusiasm in the early 1990s. Writing a biography of Gulf War I (1990-1) air commander Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, Clancy notes: “The doctrinaire advocates of airpower believe, as an article of faith that destroying the ‘controlling centres’ of an enemy nation will render the enemy impotent and helpless, no matter how powerful his forces in the field,” he writes in Every Man a Tigerix. “The doctrinaire advocates of land power conceive of air only as flexible longer-range artillery, really useful only against those same enemy forces in the field. The reality does not so much lie in between as it varies with the demands of the situation. … There is a further debate among airpower intelligentsia about whether the attack should be aimed at destroying an enemy’s means (his military forces and the various facilities that allow him to make war) or his will (his determination to resist). The extremists on both sides hold that if you do one, then you don`t need to do the other. Both are wrong,” Clancy adds. “Attacking an enemy’s will can pay big dividends, but it is hard to know exactly how to do it. Bombing cities into dust sometimes works, as does targeting his military capabilities, but both are costly and have many drawbacks; so the theorists can debate in their ivory towers until they run out of words. In Desert Storm, coalition air forces attempted to destroy the will of Iraq by bombing leadership targets in Baghdad, but these attacks failed miserably to degrade Iraq`s determination to resist. Why? Because coalition air commanders did not know what constituted the sources and strength of Saddam’s (Hussein) will.”
Political interference through policy prescripts can be a further force for good or evil, creating, altering or deleting requirements to satisfy bureaucratic and other whims. Policy is defined as a “definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, or an “action or procedure conforming to, or considered with reference to, prudence or expediency.x” In the case of then-Captain Guderian, his opportunity arose because of empire building. General Erich von Tschischwitz in 1922 requested a General Staff-trained officer to “help him consider the possible application of motor transport to a combat role. … The transport of food and ammunition was an important activity, but hardly glamorous.xi … Germany still faced her usual problem of having potential enemies on widely separated fronts. It was possible tat she might become involved in a war with France and Poland or with France and Czechoslovakia. In the 1920s the size of the German Army was fixed by the Treaty of Versailles at a mere 100 000 men. It could not hope to gain a decisive victory in any such conflict. But by making the best use of its limited strength it might stave off decisive defeat… One way of doing this might be to employ a mobile operational reserve which could strike a hard blow on one front and then move rapidly to mount a counter-attack on the other. Motor transport would confer greater flexibility on such a reserve than railways ever could. Having carefully studied the concept of motorised combat troops, Guderian came to the conclusion that it was not merely valid but vital for the future of the army. Infantry mounted in trucks, however, would not be sufficient in themselves. They would need to be combined in fully motorised formations with the traditional supporting arms – artillery and engineers – and also with tanks.”
The tank also demonstrates the effect of doctrine on the employment of technology. Many believe the “best anti-tank weapon is another tank” based on the relative efficiency of kinetic energy weapons (cannon) over their chemical (hollow charge) peers. This is not a new view. The South African official history of Operation Crusader in the Western Desert in November 1941 notes that in the “Middle East there was a school of popular thought which regarded the armoured units as ‘an army within an army’, an elite as exclusive as the French knights at Crécy, which should do battle with none but its peers, needing assistance from no other arm, and absolved in its turn from the necessity of intervening in the petty troubles of the PBI [poor bloody infantry].”xii It continues: “The German anti-tank batteries moved in close cooperation with their armour, and were difficult to pick out when operating on the ground. The British tank men, moreover, were accustomed to seeing their tanks manoeuvre unsupported and expected the ‘other man’ to do the same. Whenever they saw 50mm shot, the blamed the panzers [the Pzkw III carried a 50mm gun at the time], assuming that hostile anti-tank guns would be as carefully segregated as their own. But the German tactical experts were insistent on the aggressive role of anti-tank gun, and pushed them forward to prepare the way for tanks, though they used them no less to cover the flank of their armoured regiments in battle. When the British began to work round to a flank the opposing anti-tank guns invariably came into action on the defensive.”xiii
Another South African example of the impact on policy on equipment and (macro) organisation is the decision by Cabinet in early 2003 to withdraw the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) from the nation’s borderline, were they had been deployed in 1987 to engage insurgents and a related decision to phase out the South African Army’s rear-area capability. The rationale for the border decision was that the function of border patrol – especially after the end of the now-ruling African National Congress’ cross-border insurgency in 1990 – was more properly a police function. There may also have been an element of empire building and budget-grab on the part of the police and a willingness on the part of the military to relinquish the duty to free personnel for peacekeeping missions.
The decision to disestablish the rear-area capability involved more than disbanding the 183 counterinsurgency light-infantry “commando” battalions. In the years to 1990 these had increasingly policed protests in the country’ black townships, although its doctrinal tasks included protecting national keypoints such as factories, dams and power stations; as well as countering insurgents or guerrillas, and in the case of general war, enemy special forces. There was also a suggestion in the 1960s that in case of enemy occupation, these units would themselves turn to partisan warfare in the mould of their grandfathers during the South African Warxiv. This was not an unusual task and there are indications the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation organised several paramilitary resistance groups with a similar mandate after 1948. In Italy, this reportedly happened under the codename Operation Gladioxv. Also closed as surplus to requirement was the regular 12 SA Infantry Battalion that housed the Army’s equestrian, dog and motorcycle “centres-of-excellence” as well as about 40 territorial brigade headquarters known as “groups”. These had under command a signals troop, a light workshop, quartermaster stores and other infrastructure to support deployed commandos and regular units in the area of jurisdiction. In the border areas, this included support troops deployed on the frontier. The destruction of the rear-area capability and the phasing out of the border function happened concurrently, with the last commandos closed in early 2008. The last platoon was meant to withdraw by March 2009, but that month the decision to withdraw from the borders was reversed. But by then, the groups and the supporting infrastructure were gone. New equipment and infrastructure is now being installed for the new border security undertaking, Operation Corona.
A further policy complication for Corona as well as peacekeeping is the National Treasury stricture that departments of state can only structure and equip for their primary task. Secondary and collateral functions must be performed with whatever primary equipment and organisation is expedient – although not always appropriate. Indeed, it can amount to a false economy.
i Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Joint Publication 1-02, May 9, 2005.
ii US Marine Corps, MCDP 1, Warfighting, HQ USMC, Dept of the Navy, Washington DC, June 1997, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/service_pubs/mcdp1.pdf, accessed February 3, 2011.
iiiFor an excellent discussion on this, read: W Heinemann, The Development of German Armoured Forces 1918-1940, in JP Harris and FH Toase’s Armoured Warfare, BT Batsford Ltd, London, 1990.
iv Paddy Griffith, The Ultimate Weaponry, Blitz Editions, London, 1991, p15.
v Ralph Peters, Dishonest Doctrine, in the Armed Forces Journal, December 2007, http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/12/3144330, accessed February 5, 2010. For a discussion on his thesis, click through to the Small Wars Council at http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=4473.
vi Paul Harris, Editor’s Introduction in Major General Heinz Guderian, Achtung – Panzer!, Arms and Armour Press, London, 1992, p9.
vii Ralph Peters, Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars, in The Journal of International Security Affairs, Spring 2009, Washington DC, http://www.securityaffairs.org/issues/2009/16/peters.php, accessed February 5, 2010.
viii Max Hastings, Bomber Command, Pan Grand Strategy Series, Pan, 1999 (First published by Michael Joseph, 1979).
ix Tom Clancy with Chuck Horner, Every Man a Tiger, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 2000.
xi Paul Harris, Editor’s Introduction in Major General Heinz Guderian, Achtung – Panzer!, Arms and Armour Press, London, 1992, p9.
xii JAI Agar-Hamilton and LCF Turner, The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941, Cape Town, Oxford University Press, 1957, p34.
xiii JAI Agar-Hamilton and LCF Turner, The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941, Cape Town, Oxford University Press, 1957, p47.
xiv Neil Orpen, Total Defence, The role of the commandos in the armed forces of South Africa, Nasionale Boekhandel, Cape Town, 1967.