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Military doctrine is the concise expression of how military forces contribute to campaign, major operation, battles, and engagement.

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

NATOmarker's definition of doctrine, used unaltered by many member nations, is 'Fundamental principles by which the military forces guide their actions in support of objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgement in application' ,.

The Canadian Army states:
Military doctrine is a formal expression of military knowledge and thought, that the army accepts as being relevant at a given time, which covers the nature of conflict, the preparation of the army for conflict, and the method of engaging in conflict to achieve success... it is descriptive rather than prescriptive, requiring judgement in application.
It does not establish dogma or provide a checklist of procedures, but is rather an authoritative guide, describing how the army thinks about fighting, not how to fight.
As such it attempts to be definitive enough to guide military activity, yet versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of situations."

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 Londonmarker/JSCSCmarker 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 armedforces 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."

Development of doctrine

Great Britain

Field Service Regulations were issued by the War Office in 1909, 1917, 1923, 1930, and 1935.

Prussia and German Empire

Prussian doctrine was published as Regulations for the Instruction of the Troops in Field Service and the Exercises of the larger Units of the 17th June, 1870. The doctrine was revised in 1887 and published in English in 1893 as The Order of Field Service of the German Army, by Karl Kaltenborn und Stachau, and once again in 1908 as Felddienst Ordnung (Field Service Regulations).

United States

In the period between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War, doctrine was defined by the War Department in "Field Service Regulations." In addition, many officers wrote military manuals that were printed by private publishers, such as Hardee's Tactics, used by both Confederate and Union forces. General George B. McClellan wrote a cavalry manual, Regulations and Instructions for the Field Service of the U.S. Cavalry, in 1862.

The General Staff became responsible for writing Field Service Regulations. They were published in 1908, were revised in 1913 and again in 1914 based on experiences of European powers in the first months of the war.

As late as 1941 U.S. Army doctrine was published in Field Service Regulations - Operations. This designation was dropped and U.S. Army Field Manual 100-5 replaced it.

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."

Military strategy provides the rationale for military operations. Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial general Staff and co-chairman of the Anglo-US Combined Chiefs of StaffCommittee for most of the Second World War, described the art of military strategy as:“to derive from the [policy] aim a series of military objectives to be achieved: to assess these objectives as to the military requirements they create, and the pre-conditions which the achievement of each is likely to necessitate: to measure available and potential resources against the requirements and to chart from this process a coherent pattern of priorities and a rational course of action.”

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 militarily 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 Guerremarker. 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 Defensemarker 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 very different to 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 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.

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

For some 280 years the British Army achieved considerable success without having any formal Military Doctrine. However, during his tenure as Chief of the General Staff (1985-89) General Sir Nigel Bagnall directed that British Military Doctrine was to be prepared, and tasked Colonel (later General) Timothy Granville-Chapman (an artillery officer who had been his Military Assistant in Headquarters 1st British Corps) to prepare it. The first edition of British Military Doctrine (BMD) was published in 1988. It led to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force developing their own maritime and air-power doctrines. However, in 1996 the first edition of British Defence Doctrine (BDD) was published, drawing heavily of the BMD. The Army adopted BDD as their Military Doctrine. The third edition of BDD was published in 2008; it uses the NATO definition of doctrine.

However, the British Army had had formal publications for a long time, and these amounted to its doctrine. Field Service Regulations (FSR), on the Prussian pattern, were published in 1906 and with amendments and replacement editions lasted into the Second World War. They required each arm and service to produce their own specific publications to give effect to FSR. After the Second World War FSR were replaced by various series on manuals, again with specific training pamphlets for each arm and service. These deal with operational and tactical matters.

The current peak publication is Land Operations and immediately below it are Volumes 1 (Combined Arms Operations) and 2 (Operations in Specific Environments) of the Army Field Manual amplified by a large number of other training publications, some special to arm, some applicable to all. Collectively these constitute 'land doctrine' alongside maritime and air-power doctrine, and joint warfare publications all under the umbrella of BDD.

BDD is divided into two parts: ‘Defence Context’ and ‘Military Doctrine’.

Defence Context deals with two matters. First, the relationship between Defence policy and military strategy, and – while highlighting the utility of force – emphasizes the importance of addressing security issues through a comprehensive, rather than an exclusively military, approach. Second it expounds the Nature of and the Principles of War, the three Levels of Warfare (Strategic, Operational and Tactical) and its evolving character. The ten Principles of War are a refined and extended version of those that appeared in FSR between thee two world wars and based on the work of JFC Fuller.

The Military Doctrine states that it comprises national Joint Doctrine, Higher Level Environmental Doctrine, Tactical Doctrine, Allied Doctrine and doctrine adopted or adapted from ad hoc coalition partners. The part deals with three matters. First it describes the likely employment of the British Armed Forces in pursuit of Defence policy aims and objectives. Next itexplains the three components of fighting power (conceptual, physical and moral components) and the criticality of the operating context to its effective application. Finally it describes the British approach to the conduct of military operations - "the British way of war". This includes mission command, the manoeuvrist approach and a warfighting ethos that requires accepting risks.

The BDD is linked to a variety of unclassified policy documents such as Defence White Papers and Strategic Defence Reviews, as well as classified Strategic Planning Guidance. The current, 2008, edition of BDD is underpinned by recent developmental and conceptual publications such as ‘The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036’ and ‘The High Level Operational Conceptual Framework’, which comprises specific army, navy and air force publications.

Military doctrine of the People's Republic of China

Currently Chinese military doctrine is in a flux, but recently some PLA generals have emphasized 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-defense. What is unique about PRC'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.

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.

Military doctrine of India

India released information on a new war doctrine known as“Cold Start” and their military has conducted exercises several times sincethen based on this doctrine. “Cold Start” involves joint operations betweenIndia’s three services and integrated battle groups for offensive operations.

See also

Citations and notes

  1. AAP-6(V) NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions
  2. Canada Department of National Defence. The Conduct of Land Operations B-GL-300-001/FP-000, 1998: iv-v.
  3. Evaluation Division, Air University. “To Analyze the USAF Publications System for Producing Manuals”, staff study, 13 July 1948, quoted in Futrell, Robert Frank. Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1960. December 1989, Air University Press
  4. Gary Sheffield, 'Doctrine & Command in the British Army, A Historical Overview,' Army Doctrine Publication Land Operations, DGD&D, British Army, May 2005, p.165
  5. Moscow: Voenizdat, 1965, quoted in William Odom, 'Soviet Military Doctrine,' Foreign Affairs , Winter 1988/89
  6. A. Beleyev, "The Military-Theoretical Heritage of M. V. Frunze," Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), November 4, 1984, quoted in William Odom's article in Foreign Affairs , Winter 1988/89
  7. United States Southern Command Command Strategy 2016., accessed 1-29-2008
  8. British Defence Doctrine, Edition 3, 2008
  9. Posen, Barry. The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars. 1984, Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801494273, p. 13
  10. Commandant A. Grassez, Préceptes et Jugements du marechal Foch, (Nancy, France, Berger-Leveault, editor; 1919, translated in Futrell, Robert Frank, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1960. December 1989, Air University Press, reprinted by DIANE Publishing, ISBN 1428993193
  11. Scott and Scott, 1979, p.37,59
  12. British Defence Doctrine accessed 13 June 2006
  13. Les Etats-Unis inquiets du développement de la capacité nucléaire chinoise. In Le Monde, 25 May 2007 [1]


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

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