The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H209: 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?

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January 30, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

5 Comments »

  1. Is this the right way to transform? It would be innacurate to give a broad yes or no answer across all facets of the military. In reflection the two posed orders of transformation are: doctrine preceding technology and technology preceding doctrine. When looking across traditional military formations comprised of significant battle systems that take years of development and inordinate degrees of funding – F35, Ford Class Aircraft carriers, or the “Big Five” fielded during Cold War times – developing doctrine first seems like a more fiscally sound approach. Much like the German’s during the interwar years, nations can develop “thoughtware” so long as it is grounded with realistic limitations forecasting no further out than ~20 years. Beyond this span, too much uncertainty exists for forecasting future technology developments in support of such major weapons systems and their impacts on warfighting.

    However, as we see the military take increasing strides in cyber and information warfare it seems that certain instances lean towards technology being developed prior to doctrine. The pace of tech advancements made at comparatively minimal cost makes the speed of actualized tech capabilities extremely rapid with delivery methods that leverage existing civil and military infrastructure. A force management lifecycle of doctrine before tech will not work in these areas of military capabilities given the speed of tech advancement.

    So as we look at current US military development I would say it is a mix of both approaches depending on the preponderance of cost and the speed of innovation. The prioritization of this approach must evolve from national strategy that assesses what a future battlecape may look like in the next 20-50 years as we employ a hybrid of options for various effects.

    Comment by Tony Andrews | January 31, 2017

  2. The U.S. military approaches change from a capabilities standpoint. Capabilities-Based Assessment (CBA) aims to determine the capabilities required to meet an emerging threat and then develop the technology (or other DOTMLF) solution to acquire it. This seems to suggest that capability comes first and technology is developed to support the required capability.

    However, this does not preclude technology emerging first and the U.S. integrating existing technology to improve a capability. Private sector companies often hold advantages over government contractors when developing technology.

    I believe the U.S. military’s approach to innovation (i.e. putting a premium of identifying capabilities and then researching technology solutions) is the best way to innovate. As the globe’s premiere hub for private sector innovation, the U.S. military enjoys the advantages of both methods- which contributes to the U.S. military’s perceived qualitative edge over other militaries.

    Comment by Scott Harr | January 31, 2017

  3. I think it is quite revolutionary that the USMC developed a set of doctrine that did not have technology to perform it. By doing so, it could be said that technology had to develop so that the doctrinal procedures could be completed. In a way, the USMC developed a “wish list” for certain technologies that they believed would be most effective at accomplishing their missions. Being the amphibious force, the USMC had to think creatively in order to develop their doctrine, which, in turn, forced technology to catch up.

    I also find it interesting that over 75 years later, the USMC still uses many similar procedures of their 1938 amphibious doctrine. Modifications have been made based upon the lessons learned during WWII and since, but it is largely unchanged. Technology has increased in ways that has further allowed proof of the established doctrine and has also allowed the USMC to modify the procedures they use to make opposed beach landings. However, I have witnessed today’s USMC attempt to use technology in a way to make their doctrine work, which I believe to be a dangerous precedent. The proliferation of systems that can be used to deny technology these days can be disastrous when the USMC has adjusted their procedures in order to account for them. In this respect, it wold be wise to have a set of doctrinal procedures that could be modified based on available technology but not reliant upon it. Any Marines want to weigh in?

    Comment by Justin Reddick | January 31, 2017

  4. I am of the belief that “form follows function”. Based on that i believe doctrine needs to proceed technology. Based on current war and the perception of future war doctrine can be written. Once that is written that forms the basis of the next generation of technology. This can be written broadly to encompass what the current technology allows but also leave room for future technology to insert itself. I believe doctrine must come first to allow those who develop technology to creatively fill the gaps between current technology and future technology.

    In today’s military i believe technology proceeds doctrine. We develop new concepts (like next gen fighter aircraft) and follow with doctrine once it has been flown and “fully developed”. Doctrine should continuously be refined but the basis of concepts must exist to help focus technology development.

    Comment by Jeffery Hoover | January 31, 2017

  5. The Germans and the U.S. military developed the doctrine of the Marine before they actually developed the enabling technology. From my perspective, this Is this the right way to transform. Air forces developed with an opposite way which delayed their development for a long time. I think the doctrine Should precede technology but not always because there are some new technologies that make a revolution in the military development. These kinds of technology, once it exists, the doctrine should search in how to apply it to be useful and how to make it increase the chances of the victory. In the U.S. military today I think the technology come first because now there are very rapid developments and there are some discoveries and inventions that could make a huge change in the military doctrine.

    Comment by mohamed ibrahim | February 10, 2017


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