The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Doctrine versus Technology

In the video above, virtually none of the technology, or even the tactics techniques and procedures used to attack Iwo Jima were available seven years earlier when the Marines issued their 1938 manual on landing operations.

In the interwar years the Germans and the U.S. Marine Corps developed concepts for operations (doctrine) before they developed the enabling technology. Ultimately, the doctrine would not have been successful without the technologies that were added later. However, without the initial doctrine the technologies may not have ever been developed, or may have been utilized in a different way. Is this the right way to transform? Should doctrine always precede technology? Are there situations where technology should precede doctrine? Which comes first in the U.S. military today?


January 9, 2014 - Posted by | H200, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. It seems that today, technology drives doctrine rather than military doctrine driving the development of new technology and capabilities. Some of this may be driven from the contracting and procurement process that the defense industry and DoD are accustomed to. While I am sure there are many opposed to my view and likely a plethora of example that could disprove my thesis, the long duration required to testing and validate new systems before implementation means that military doctrine will take longer to implement technology and will typically be well behind the curve.

    The USMC was in a crisis and took the lead for Amphibious Warfare because they knew it would solidify their role as a premiere armed service, they believed they could do well with it and also saw that the Navy and Army were not opposed to someone other than them developing the TTPs for amphibious assault and landing operations. Through study and analysis the USMC was able to develop TTPs and identify the minimum capabilities and technology required to successfully conduct operations and I am sure knew that if they created the doctrine, technology would catch-up.

    The Navy UCAS (X-47B) program seems to be a example of how technology drives doctrine because of hurdles in the procurement and development process. The dangers of this system are inherent in a process that requires long term contracting bid and development that starts with military listed minimum capability requirements; requirements which by the time technology is developed are no longer on the leading edge of technology and require redesign or modification to keep with threats. In the case of UCAS, there have been open source allegations that the Navy may have scaled back program requirements, which were doctrinally sound, to drive down cost and hastened program development. Even in grass roots advances, such as in IED protection, technology and inventions of many ingenious Soldiers on the ground led to doctrine rather than doctrine leading the effort. Further still, the military’s stance on social media can be seen as an example of this, with the military only recently issuing realistic guidance for social media use and still not fully embracing social media as a tool, even though we are far beyond mass media and social media’s infancy state. This is similar to mass implementation of computer systems and technology which have been proven in the private sector but haven’t made it into doctrine let alone translated into operational military use.

    Leaders have to be able to take the risk to create doctrine which will work once technology catches up rather than holding off on implementing technology into doctrine only after a long testing and certification process. In the current system, which includes important checks and balances to protect budget and safety, there is little taste for this or even ability to operate this way.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | January 12, 2014

  2. Sir,
    I think Matt is mostly right in his above hypothesis, our procurement process has become so bloated and rife with ‘oversight’ than, barring a true national emergency, we are forcing ourselves to operate this way. Another aspect that I think has to be taken into consideration is the sheer pace of technology these days. We are now in a technological age, and it is nearly impossible for individuals within the technology sector themselves to stay relevant, much less a large bureaucratic organization such as the military. This was simply not the case in the interwar years. There were certainly advances, but they were not at the same pace they are now.
    I believe doctrine should come before technology, and I think the best militaries in the world will be the ones who find a way to do that (otherwise, they’ll simply be in a continual game of ‘catch up’). It is imperative that our military be able to think about ‘the next fight’ without worrying about whether or not the technology exists yet. As it stands, our current model seems to be entirely focused on putting the technology first, then going through the painstakingly slow process to actually get it in the hands of our Soldiers, and then attempting to play ‘catch up’ with the doctrine in order to adapt to the new technology (which, by this time, is now irrelevant or grossly out-dated by newer technology).

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | January 21, 2014

  3. I agree as well that Technology today has come before Doctrine. There is a rapid pace at which technology has imploaded and I believe that the best Armies will always play ” catch-up” because it appears to be easier to achieve vast developments and or aquisitions. It may take years to incorporate Doctrine into the services (getting them to buy-in or even interpret the changes), therefore the Armies begin playing “catch up”….new technologies emerge and a reoccuring cycle begins.

    Comment by Tawan Harris 17B | January 23, 2014

  4. Sir,
    I do not believe that doctrine should ALWAYS come before technology. I think that doctrine writers and Senior Leaders should be flexible enough to accept new technology and incorporate it into doctrine when appropriate, or reject it when it is not.
    I suppose the best solution would be if the doctrine was “vague” enough to accept changes in technology as they are introduced into the service without causing the doctrine to become irrelevant.
    Having had the distinct pleasure of participating in the creation of ATP 3-20.15 Tank Platoon (re-write of FM 3-20.15), I recalled the topics of discussion prior to writing this post. A majority of the comments and topics that were discussed across the three writing sessions that i participated in over a year and a half revolved around developing a more user friendly, clear and concise manual that every Armor Crewman can benefit from. We did discuss technology, but the discussion did not hinge on the future of new technology. Not once did we worry about what happens if the Abrams is replaced by a newer, better, main battle tank. Current capabilities and limitations (many of which are based on technology) were reviewed, however, we focused the doctrine on the best employment of the tank platoon.
    I suppose what i am trying to say is that it should not matter whether doctrine or technology comes first. As already mentioned by peers earlier in this blog, the Army process for adopting and employing new technology is both costly and time consuming. If we wait on one for the other, then we will forever be chasing our tails and getting nowhere.

    Comment by Matt McCarty - 17A | January 24, 2014

  5. Sir,

    Doctrine and technology compliments each other on the battlefield. One is nothing without the other. With this in mind, it does not matter which comes first. What really matters is you must have doctrine as well as technology to effectively meet the end state. In most cases, resources and priorities determine whether doctrine or technology comes first or at all. The bottom line is requirements drive what and where leaders allocate resources. You do not develop doctrine or spend money on technology unless you have a purpose. The reason could be immediate or visualized years in advance.

    Comment by Charles Johnson SG17A | February 4, 2014

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