Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine’

Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence – The Discrepancy Between COIN Doctrine and Ground Operations

5 July, 2008

RAND have released the latest in a series of occasional papers addressing counterinsurgency theory and practice. Entitled Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence — The U.S. Military and Counterinsurgency Doctrine, 1960-1970 and 2003-2006, and written by Austin Long, the paper challenges the notion that the development of improved COIN doctrine necessarily translates into an equivalent improvement in the conduct of COIN operations on the ground.

Long compares the conduct of contemporary COIN operations by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq following the release of FM 3-24 with the conduct of COIN operations in Vietnam, and argues that in both cases organisational inertia has inhibited the force adaptation required to actually implement new doctrine on the ground.


The publication of a new counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine manual in late 2006 was widely heralded as an indication that the U.S. military was finally coming to understand the problems it has recently faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this interpretation assumes a tight linkage between doctrine as written and operations as actually conducted. By comparing modern counterinsurgency doctrine and operations to those of 1960s, this paper tests and ultimately disproves this proposition.

An examination of COIN doctrine and operations in the 1960s reveals that operations seldom matched written doctrine. Instead of winning hearts and minds, improving civil-military relations, conducting small-unit operations, and gathering intelligence, most Vietnam War commanders and units attempted to defeat the insurgency through large-scale operations and overwhelming firepower.

Modern U.S. COIN operations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate a similar preference for high-intensity warfare and a similar inability to adapt technologically and mentally to the requirements of COIN.

To help explain the discrepancy between written doctrine and actual operations, this paper posits that ingrained organizational concepts and beliefs have a much greater influence on operations than written doctrine. While embedded beliefs can help organizations as they conduct their preferred missions, they can be detrimental in other contexts.

Mental and material preparation for high-intensity warfare has made the U.S. military poorly suited to COIN. Altering these beliefs will require more than just new doctrine and some additional professional education: The services must reorient themselves mentally as well as physically.

Read the paper here.

Tomorrow’s Army, Today’s Challenges

14 June, 2008

On Thursday, General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, gave a speech at the latest RUSI Future Land Warfare Conference, a transcript of which is available here [PDF].

Among his prescriptions for the future of the British Army is the following:

So let me focus on our key conclusions – which is that the Army of tomorrow must retain the capability to fight MCO and Stability Ops, both simultaneously and sequentially. We have reached the point now where the most likely operations are amongst the most demanding. Our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly demonstrated that even with integrated technology and systems, the mass and footprint given by numbers are an essential element of the future Army – in other words we cannot get any smaller and I would argue strongly that we need to be bigger and to fully integrate our Regular and Territorial manpower focussed on most likely tasks.

Although we must maintain our ability to be expeditionary, the Army is moving away from the short lived doctrine that all campaigns can be short in duration. “Go First, Go Fast, Go Home” had a very short shelf life as a policy aspiration. We must have an increasing capacity to endure, which implies not only greater mass of people, but enough depth in joint enablers to allow wider concurrency together with greater endurance. In order to do this, I need a structure that is capable of the wide range of tasks in great numbers, which means that we will not be going down the path of a two tier specialised Army. We might need 30,000 for an MCO operation, but equally Stabilisation might require even more in certain stages. And I think it is also important to consider the inescapable fact that some Stabilisation Operations could be greatly shortened if large numbers are deployed. I have taken a lesson of the past 5 years of conflict that if you have an economy of force operation it will take far longer to reach your endstate – it is therefore a false economy.

In his speech, Dannatt essentially develops the ideas he originally set out in last year’s conference, in which he spoke on the evolving nature of contemporary conflict, and the doctrine and force structure the British Army must adopt if it is to meet the challenges it faces. Entitled “Tomorrow’s Army; Today’s Challenges”, a full transcript of that speech is available here, and is well worth reading in full. Below is an edited version breaking down his key points.


On the contemporary environment and the origins of the current transnational threat:

“I note, but don’t share, Francis Fukuyama’s view that the end of the 20th Century marked the triumph of the West and that capitalism, liberalism and democracy had emerged victors of that century’s protracted ideological conflicts. If he felt that the crumbling of Soviet Communism marked the “end of history”, I suggest he had forgotten to look back over his shoulder, where he might have noticed a Crescent-shaped shadow – a shadow coming into focus when the Cold War still had a decade or so to run, and perhaps some two decades before that other apparently defining event – 9/11.

…. while there was no defining event in 1979 like the Twin Towers or the Berlin Wall, it was a year when many powerful forces began moving – the plates adjoining the fault lines became active….

“So I suggest that what began a decade before the Wall came down, eventually led to the end of the stability of the old bi-polar World, and sowed the seeds of Global Terrorism – essentially an asymmetric response to a single Superpower by the militarily dispossessed and the historically humiliated – and which was dramatically illustrated by the airliner attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

On the need for continuing adaptation within the British Army, in the context of meeting the critical ongoing challenges presented by Afghanistan and Iraq:

“But it all takes time to turn the tanker as in the Army’s case we move from being Continentally-based facing a single threat, to becoming a genuinely Expeditionary Army, increasingly home-based but widely committed on operations – and the world is not standing still.

“As General Pete Schoomaker observed while he was still Chief of the US Army, it is difficult enough to change an Army, let alone to do so when you are trying to fight and win at least two wars.

“And, of course, it is the two major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are both key drivers of change and the all-consuming focus of the British Army at present.

“And it is success today in these two theatres – however you define success – that, as far as I am concerned, is both the top and bottom line because if we fail in either campaign, then I submit that in the face of that strident Islamist shadow, then tomorrow will be a very uncertain place.

On the nature of contemporary conflict in a globalised operational space, and the evolving role of the ‘home front’:

“As I have already commented, the end of the Cold War has not brought the ‘New World Order’ that many anticipated. Instead the range and variety of threats and challenges to our security have multiplied. The Army is being used for different purposes, further afield than we might have expected a few years ago, and in very demanding operational circumstances. We live in an economically and socially globalized society and the threats and challenges to our security are also global and have sympathizers in many societies and countries, including at home.

“These threats cannot be defeated by conventional means alone, as they are principally a conflict of values and ideas – a battle for hearts and minds – now on a global scale. And these threats do not just face us abroad, but increasingly we have identified that we need to understand our own home front. It is not only a matter of society feeding us with the soldiers of the future, but also it provides us with the basic consent for us to conduct military operations.

“The public will not continue to support the use of force in their name, unless the Army is trusted and respected, and this may be increasingly difficult to gain. The British Army is currently held in high esteem by our nation, but this is fragile and under no circumstances must we take this for granted. It will only be maintained through sustained and effective communication with the public at large and through our continued adherence to our core values and standards.

“It is therefore vital that we, as an Army, know what we stand for – thus our core values and of selfless commitment, courage, discipline, integrity, loyalty and respect for others are increasingly important as the foundation on which success will be built. And our standards of behaviour must be above reproach. And here is the crux of the question – if we are engaged in a wider battle of ideas, how do we maintain our firm moral bearing within the Army, when our wider society’s own moral compass may be spinning?

On shaping Army doctrine and training around an understanding of the enemy, and the on need for doctrinal development to be an iterative and adaptive process in the context of a long war:

“But it is also vital that we understand our opponents, their environment and their culture. In the same way that we studied the Soviets intensely for half a century, we must apply the same intellectual rigour to today’s challenges. However, in my view, our Manoeuvrist doctrine is well suited to respond to these challenges, for it encourages lateral thought and the ability to defeat multi-faceted and asymmetric threats, underpinned by our war-fighting ethos.

“I am determined that we should maximize our people’s potential through a greater understanding of the Manoeuvrist Approach and Mission Command, recognizing also the importance of a Comprehensive Approach within the framework of coherent campaign plans. I would hope that there is nobody in the room who is not completely familiar with the tenets of the Comprehensive Approach, and yet we still struggle to implement a truly unified purpose and methodology to tackle operations. We are operating in an era in which campaigns are likely to require non-kinetic effects more often than kinetic.

“The enduring problem will be that when the security situation is fragile, military forces will still be required to adopt the flexibility of approach to step across a number of lines of operation to fill gaps and provide additional capability – the trick is going to be how we best educate our people for this very demanding task. We are developing an understanding of each other and slowly we are educating and training each other – but it is slow, probably too slow.

“Furthermore, we need to recognize that we are probably engaged in a wider conflict that may last for a generation and I think this has yet to be recognized widely. The heady appeal of “go first, go fast, go home” has to be balanced with a willingness and a structure “to go strong, and go long”. In these circumstances, I think the nature of the Military Covenant, the relationship between the Organisation and the Individual, between the Army and the soldier, is critical. Although the nature of service is inherently unequal and soldiers often have to put in more than they receive, at the very least British Soldiers should always expect the Nation, the Army and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals and to sustain and reward them and their families with appropriate conditions of service.


“Furthermore, a key Issue identified by our recent work is how to prepare our people to deal with the complexity of operations now and in the future. We often try to template our operations – warfighting operations linking to COIN or perhaps the Contemporary Operating Environment of the “three, now four Block War” model, but our recent experience has told us that templates only go so far. The enduring, transitional and extremely complex nature of modern operations demands an iterative refreshment of doctrine and our capability requirements. More fundamentally, we need to develop the methods by which we can train and educate our soldiers – at all ranks – to help them manage this complexity. This requirement to be adaptable, agile and dynamic will continue to introduce tension into our force structure and equipment capability debates.

On developing a force structure appropriate to the contemporary environment:

“But moving more briefly to the Physical component, we must also ensure that the Army is both prepared for future operations and provided with the right equipment. It is, therefore, my intention that the physical capabilities of the Army, including the Joint Helicopter Command, deliver a comprehensive Land Manoeuvre capability to Defence. This will comprise a balanced Ground Manoeuvre capability of heavy, medium and light force elements working in partnership with an integrated Air Manoeuvre capability itself comprising an effective mix of lift, reconnaissance, attack and utility capabilities. And this overall Land Manoeuvre capability will either be supported by, or be in support of the air, maritime or SF components.

“Appropriate joint command and control, fires, intelligence and logistics will underpin our overall ability to conduct combined and joint operations across the full spectrum, synchronizing the full suite of kinetic and non-kinetic effects. Increasingly, in the context of one Army, the manpower for all of this will be drawn from genuinely integrated Regular and Reserve elements.

• From a ground manoeuvre perspective, while combined Arms brigades will remain the key building block for the conduct of the most likely operations, the ability to conduct high intensity war fighting operations at Divisional level (with three national brigades) remains the most demanding and therefore represents the ‘gold standard’.
• At the same time, air manoeuvre, enabled by the addition of AH to existing air assault and rotary wing capabilities will increasingly provide a commander with greater operational flexibility.

In conclusion:

“It is a battle of ideas, and the battleground will be unpredictable. In any event, we need to be prepared for a very wide range of tasks from warfighting contingent operations to low level combat within a complex environment, whilst critically maintaining the support of the population, the consent of the nation and maintaining our own values and reputation.

“The only way that we can prepare for the challenges of the future is to be flexible and agile, and being willing to adapt, while remaining robust in the defence of the standards that set us apart from others.”

US Army: To be or not to be… (relevant to actual contemporary wars, that is)

7 April, 2008

Officer Questions Petraeus’s Strategy –

Via the ever-useful Small Wars Journal I came across this super piece in the Wall Street Journal by Yochi Dreazen on the recent contributions of LCOL Gian Gentile to the on-going US defence reform battles. There’s a back story to this; if you’re unfamiliar with it you might want start with the Small Wars link; otherwise press on to the WSJ article which is excerpted below.

WEST POINT, N.Y. — When Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress on Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties will praise him for reducing violence in Iraq. President Bush will try to use his popularity to bolster support for the war. Some Republicans will muse about the general as a vice-presidential candidate.
[David Petraeus]

Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, a history professor here who served two tours in Iraq, begs to differ. He argues that Gen. Petraeus’s counterinsurgency tactics are getting too much credit for the improved situation in Iraq. Moreover, he argues, concentrating on such an approach is eroding the military’s ability to wage large-scale conventional wars.

“We’ve come up with this false narrative, this incorrect explanation of what is going on in Iraq,” he says. “We’ve come to see counterinsurgency as the solution to every problem and we’re losing the ability to wage any other kind of war.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, and with the greatest of respect, I think LCOL Gentile has got this completely wrong. I believe his argument rests upon a false premise and his proposals are a harbinger of the worst possible institutional outcome of the Iraq War fallout.

The false premise is the hoary-old dictum that it is easier for a war-fighter to ‘gear down’ to COIN, peacekeeping, nation-building and other similar ‘lesser included contingencies’ than it is for the COIN specialist to ‘gear up’ to high-intensity war-fighting. Indeed, it is sometimes argued that it is useless to try to have the same people in the same uniforms perform both roles. That’s rubbish. A fine illustration of this false dichotomy can be found in this prize-winning essay:

We want our nation-builders to be open, approachable, and easy to communicate with. We want nation-builders who understand and care about the locals. We want nation-builders to dialogue first and rely on force only as a last resort. . .. We want our soldiers to have none of these qualities. The US soldier should be the wrath of God, able to bring death and destruction anywhere at any time. Let the nation-builder be the good guy and the soldier the bad guy.

Gentile does not say how he feels about nation-building, whether any Americans should be doing it; clearly, however, he thinks it is not the job of the US Army at any rate, because it diminishes its ability to generate raw combat power which would be needed to fight large battles against a conventional enemy. I’d concede that point with a few caveats: A/ We aren’t fighting any wars like that right now; B/ if the major task at hand were the simple generating of raw combat power that can be done with just a handful of troops on the ground; and, C/ in the wars we actually are fighting right now nation-building has become more or less synonymous with ‘war-winning’.

It is true that it is hard to develop troops who are one part diplomat (and possess other ‘soft skills’) and one part soldier, but not impossible. It means sacrificing some combat power because there’s still only 24 hours in a day and so many days in a training schedule. But what’s lost if we do? There are always pros and cons too be weighed. Food for thought: the war in in Iraq stands as a testament to the folly of judging the likelihood of strategic success on the basis of the ability to generate raw combat power. Mistake or no (a debate for another day) it has been immensely costly in terms of treasure and blood. I don’t know if the Surge will reverse the disastrous situation enough before the political stopwatch in Washington DC clicks down to zero. Neither does anyone else; hence the massive interest in Petraeus’s testimony next week.

As will be clear by now I’m a partisan of the COIN side of this debate (a partisan of the partisans); and so I hope very much that Gentile’s views represent those of a minority. But there’s a lot at stake. It still remains to be seen whether or not the United States will draw from Iraq something like the lesson it drew from Vietnam: that its strategic and political culture and national military tradition simply ill suit it to irregular wars. Jeffrey Record has argued along these lines forcefully and convincingly, drawing the conclusion that it should therefore abstain from getting involved in them. Still, one may agree with Record’s estimation of American strategic culture while questioning the validity of a conclusion that rests on the false assumption that such wars can be avoided. ‘If this analysis is correct,’ says Record, ‘the policy choice is obvious: avoidance of direct military involvement in foreign internal wars unless vital national security interests are at stake.’

But, as Herfried Munkler writes in his book The New Wars, ‘War “smoulders on”, “spreads out”, “extends over” and so on . . . War as the subject of events will not stop at the frontiers of Europe and North America but will sooner or later move beyond them.’ In other words, fighting ‘wars amongst the people’, my preferred term, is not a sideshow or an optional extra that the Army may do or not do – this is the main event. In the words of Michael Howard, ‘The military may protest that this is not the kind of war that they joined up to fight, and taxpayers that they see little return for their money. But as I said earlier, this is the only war we are likely to get: it is also the only kind of peace.’ So, if Howard is right, the policy choice is stark: achieve a cultural change, as mammoth a task as that may be, or grow accustomed to defeat.

Right now the bulk of the land forces in just about every Western army are focused on regular, inter-state war-fighting of like against like, a task which technology is making possible to do with relatively few ground troops working in conjunction with precision fires delivered by air and naval assets; but the main threat is posed by irregular opponents, non-templatable, hybrid enemies in ‘wars amongst the people’ scenarios, the fighting of which calls for skills and mindsets that are still too often seen as a niche or separate capability. If the problem of meeting current and future threats could be solved merely by taking, holding or destroying this or that objective, then the current arrangement of forces could be continued. The problem, however, is winning ‘wars amongst the people’ and for that, the battlefield must be repopulated by soldiers whose training and mindset is inherently opposite to the ‘never put a man where you can put a bullet’ logic of the Revolution in Military Affairs and its derivative concepts. If land forces in future are going to have to fight a succession of big ‘small wars’, then the ‘big army’ is going to have to shoulder the burden of nation-building, recognize it as the core and substance of warwinning, and compose its forces accordingly. And that’s why Gentile is wrong.

For any who have read this far and wish to read on my thoughts on this issue are more fully developed in this article which appeared in Contemporary Security Policy a couple of issues back Redesigning Land Forces for Wars Amongst the People.

Innovation or Inertia?

24 March, 2008

IRG member Dr. David Ucko has an essay in the current edition of Orbis (Spring 2008, not yet online), the policy journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Entitled Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency, it provides an assessment of how well the US is adapting to the lessons learned from its recent counterinsurgency campaigns, and the extent to which necessary changes are being institutionalised.


Following its encounter with insurgent violence in Iraq, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has sought to improve the U.S. military’s ability to conduct counterinsurgency. This effort suggests a potential turning-point in the history of the U.S. military, which has traditionally devoted its attention and resources to ‘‘high-intensity’’ or ‘‘conventional’’ combat. Given this institutional culture, what are now the prospects of the U.S. military ‘learning counterinsurgency’? In many ways, the ongoing reorientation is promising and targeted, informed directly by the U.S. campaign in Iraq. At the same time, Pentagon priorities still reveal a remarkable resistance to change, and this in spite of the radically altered strategic environment of the War on Terror. Given this intransigence – and the eventual fallout from the troubled Iraq campaign – the ongoing learning of counterinsurgency might very well fail to produce the type of deep-rooted change needed to truly transform the U.S. military.

Frank Hoffman has written a review of the essay on the Small Wars Journal site, available here.

The full essay is accessible below:

Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency [PDF]