Military doctrine

Military doctrine is the concise expression of how military forces contribute to campaigns, major operations, battles, and engagements. It is a guide to action, not hard and fast rules. Doctrine provides a common frame of reference across the military. It helps standardize operations, facilitating readiness by establishing common ways of accomplishing military tasks. Doctrine links theory, history, experimentation, and practice. Its objective is to foster initiative and creative thinking. Doctrine provides the military an authoritative body of statements on how military forces conduct operations and provides a common lexicon for use by military planners and leaders.

Defining doctrine

A U.S. Air Force Air University staff study in 1948 defined military doctrine functionally as “those concepts, principles, polices, tactics, techniques, practices, and procedures which are essential to efficiency in organizing, training, equipping, and employing its tactical and service units.”

Gary Sheffield, of the Defence Studies Department of King's College London/JSCSC quoted J F C Fuller's 1923 definition of doctrine as the 'central idea of an army.'

The Soviet Dictionary of Basic Military Terms defined military doctrine as "a state's officially accepted system of scientifically founded views on the nature of modern wars and the use of the armed forces in them. . . . Military doctrine has two aspects: social-political and military-technical. The social-political side "encompasses all questions concerning methodology, economic, and social bases, the political goals of war. It is the defining and the more stable side." The other side, the military-technical, must accord with the political goals. It includes the "creation of military structure, technical equipping of the armed forces, their training, definition of forms and means of conducting operations and war as a whole.

Relationship between doctrine and strategy

Doctrine is not strategy. The official definition of strategy by the United States Department of Defense is: "Strategy is a prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve national or multinational objectives.

Instead, doctrine seeks to provide a common conceptual framework for a military service:

  • what the service perceives itself to be ("Who are we?")
  • what its mission is ("What do we do?")
  • how the mission is to be carried out ("How do we do that?")
  • how the mission has been carried out in history ("How did we do that in the past?")
  • other questions.

In the same way, doctrine is neither operations nor tactics. It serves as a conceptual framework uniting all three levels of warfare.

Doctrine reflects the judgments of professional military officers, and to a lesser but important extent civilian leaders, about what is and is not military possible and necessary.

Factors to consider include:

  • military technology
  • national geography
  • the capabilities of adversaries
  • the capability of one's own organization

Military doctrine of France

World War I

Following the defeat of the French Army in the Franco-Prussian War, the French military, as part of its movements to increase professionalism, emphasized officer training at the École de Guerre. Ferdinand Foch, as an instructor, argued against the concept of a commander moving units without informing subordinates of his intentions. In doing so, a common doctrine served as a point of training.

We have then, a doctrine. All the brains have been limbered up and regard all questions from an identical point of view. The fundamental idea of the problem being known, each one will solve the problem in his own fashion, and these thousand fashions, we may very well be sure, will act to direct all their efforts to a common objective.”

Military doctrine of the United States


The United States Constitution invests Congress with the powers to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States and to raise and support armies. Title 10 of the United States Code states what Congress expects the Army, in conjunction with the other Services, to accomplish. This includes: Preserve the peace and security and provide for the defense of the United States, its territories and possessions, and any areas it occupies; Support national policies; Implement national objective; Overcome any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.

Key concepts

Most modern US doctrine is based around the full spectrum operations. Full spectrum operations combine offensive, defensive, and stability or civil support operations simultaneously as part of an interdependent joint or combined force to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. They employ synchronized action--lethal and nonlethal--proportional to the mission and informed by a thorough understanding of all dimensions of the operational environment.

Offensive operations defeat and destroy enemy forces, and seize terrain, resources, and population centers. They impose the commander's will on the enemy. Defensive operations defeat an enemy attack, gain time, economize forces, and develop conditions favorable for offensive or stability operations. Stability operations encompass various military missions, tasks, and activities conducted abroad to maintain or reestablish a safe and secure environment, provide essential governmental services, emergency infrastructure reconstruction, and humanitarian relief. Civil support operations are support tasks and missions to homeland civil authorities for domestic emergencies, and for designated law enforcement and other activities. This includes operations dealing with the consequences of natural or manmade disasters, accidents, and incidents within the homeland.

United States Department of Defense

The Department of Defense publishes Joint Publications which state all-services doctrine. The current basic doctrinal publication is Joint Publication 3-0, "Doctrine for Joint Operations.

United States Air Force

Headquarters, United States Air Force, publishes current USAF doctrine. The lead agency for developing Air Force doctrine is Headquarters, Air Force Doctrine Center; the Air Staff International Standardization Office works on multinational standardization, such as NATO Standardization Agreements (STANAGs), and agreements between the American, British, Canadian, and Australian Armies and Navies (ABCA) that affect the Air Force. Currently the basic Air Force doctrinal documents are the 10-series of Air Force publications.

United States Army

The United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is responsible for developing Army doctrine. TRADOC was developed early in the 1970s as a response to the American Army's difficulties in the Vietnam War, and is one of the reforms that improved Army professionalism. Currently the capstone Army doctrinal document is Field Manual 3, "Operations". It is nicknamed the "Smart Book" as in: Read your "Smart Book".

United States Navy

The Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC) Doctrine Department coordinates development, publication, and maintenance of United States Navy doctrine. Currently the basic unclassified naval doctrinal documents are Naval Doctrine Publications 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. NWDC is also the United States Navy lead for NATO and multinational maritime doctrine and operational standardization.

United States Coast Guard

Headquarters, United States Coast Guard, published Coast Guard Publication 1, U.S. Coast Guard: America's Maritime Guardian, which is the source of USCG doctrine.

Military Doctrine in the former Soviet Union and Russia

The Soviet meaning of military doctrine was much different from U.S. military usage of the term. Soviet Minister of Defence Marshal Grechko defined it in 1975 as 'a system of views on the nature of war and methods of waging it, and on the preparation of the country and army for war, officially adopted in a given state and its armed forces.' In Soviet times, theorists emphasised both the political and 'military-technical' sides of military doctrine, while from the Soviet point of view, Westerners ignored the political side. However the political side of Soviet military doctrine, Western commentators Harriet F Scott and William Scott said, 'best explained Soviet moves in the international arena'.

Soviet (and contemporary Russian) doctrine emphasizes combined-arms warfare as well as operational warfare. It stresses the principle of "annihilation" of the enemy in depth (contrasted with mere defeat of the enemy leading to retirement or retreat), and sees military aviation, at least on the tactical and operational levels, as being unified with ground forces, either as organic components of large formations or as separate units tightly integrated into ground-force command structure, unlike the doctrine of the West, which emphasizes separate "air forces". It emphasizes the initiation of military hostilities at a time, date, and location of its choosing on terms of its choosing and the extensive preparation of the battlespace for operations. To this end, it uses politico-military tools such as "maskirovka", or strategic politico-military deception, to pre-emptively and deniably prepare the battlespace for the initiation of hostilities, as well as the the liberal use of special operations forces (Spetznaz), the inclusion of intelligence gathering personnel as combatants (for example, the former KGB had military ranks, where Western intelligence agencies did not), and use of politics as warfare by other means, such as through disinformation, psychological operations, and propaganda.

Former Soviet/Russian doctrine sacrifices tactical flexibility and adaptability for strategic and operational flexibility and adaptability; tactical personnel are trained as relatively inflexible executors of specific, detailed orders, while the operational-strategic level of Russian military doctrine is where most innovation takes place. Still, the Russian soldier makes up for the lack of adaptability that his orders impose upon him with his élan, discipline, decent training, and his warrior's determination to carry them out. Thus, former Soviet/Russian doctrine is therefore seen as being superior to the West on the strategic, operational, and political levels of warfare.

The West, on the contrary, is viewed as having superior doctrine on the tactical, logistical, and technical levels of warfare, emphasizing independent thinking and decisionmaking at the FEBA (forward edge of the battle area) by NCOs and junior officers within the general limitations of their orders, extensive logistical support to keep copious quantities of war supplies on hand and usable, and technical innovation both prior to the conflict to guarantee qualitative superiority over the platforms of opposing forces, as well as technical innovation within the conflict, to collect intelligence from spy and comint satellites, find movement patterns, logistics flows, and other leverage points, and to strike at these leverage points to sap and degrade the capability of a more numerous enemy to advance. In addition, Western forces will respond to Russian strategic/operational innovation by attempting to locate and terminate the command of the innovators in question using deep airstrikes.

An excellent (though fictional) depiction of the practical differences between former Soviet/Russian doctrine and application of the military art and Western versions of the same can be found in Clancy's Red Storm Rising, set in the 1980s, which illustrates a conventional (non-nuclear) war in the European theater between NATO forces and those of the Warsaw Pact. It is published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press.

The Soviet response to problems of nuclear strategy began with classified publications. However, by 1962, with the publication in the Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Sokolovsky's volume, Military Strategy, the Soviets laid out their officially endorsed thoughts on the matter, and their ideas on how to cope with nuclear conflict.

British Army doctrine

British Army doctrine is prepared under the supervision of the Chief of the General Staff. Currently the basic doctrinal document is Design for Military Operations: The British Military Doctrine, published in 1996.

Military doctrine of the People's Republic of China

Currently Chinese military doctrine is in a flux, but recently some PLA generals have emphasised that they are trying to build a force capable of attacking the enemy's structural system. This might imply that they are building up force projection capabilities in context of self-defence. What is unique about PROC's military doctrine is that it sees everything as a weapon. This reference to Revolution in Military Affairs, which states that new technologies shape the battlefield. For example, in the age of information and electronic based warfare, one laptop with a modem can force a whole army to retreat through false information. Perhaps this is an extreme example, but it is certainly one that should be taken into consideration. As another example, in the 21st century, where capitalism reigns, economic attacks on stock markets can be far more devastating in monetary terms than even a ballistic missile attack.

It must be noted that China has fewer nuclear missiles than France or the United Kingdom. The Chinese nuclear doctrine follows a strategy of minimal deterrence capability.

According to French newspaper Le Monde, the Chinese military doctrine is to maintain a nuclear force allowing it to respond to a nuclear attack. However, new evolutions show that China could allow use of its nuclear arsenal in more situations.

See also

Citations and notes


  • Scott and Scott, The Armed Forces of the USSR, Westview Press, Boulder, Co., 1979

External links

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