Overthinking or Underthinking; The problems of doctrine, planning and execution

Plans and doctrine continue to be developed and refined through the decades and the crucible of war. Despite this, most plans do not “survive initial contact with the enemy” and there is a constant give-and-take mentality between the doctrine and planning section of the military and the operational section that actually executes the warfighting.

This is not a bad thing. What a Sergeant sees on the ground can be vastly different from what a Colonel researches at the Pentagon. There are plenty of Senior Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers that work in the planning and doctrine section of the military. These folks though, often have their experience from the last war and have to refer to what they learned in Gulf War I or the Vietnam War. The give-and-take works when there is an open channel of communication: folks on the ground doing the fighting can relay their experience up the chain so the General at the Pentagon or the Master Sergeant working in the G2 section can accurately leverage their own past experience and the new experience of that Sergeant fighting in a new war. Implementing doctrine and plans also work well when senior leaders allow subordinates some flexibility when actually conducting operations.

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This was a point of pride among some of my fellow American Soldiers.

Additionally, there needs to be an open channel of communication from the top-down and back up to the top. During the Korean War, junior leaders would report large movements of enemy forces, but senior leaders believed the North Koreans were a broken force and the Chinese would never intervene. As we can see now, the Chinese intervened and the North Koreans still possessed some fighting spirit. Thorough communication and evidence passed up the chain of command gives leaders the ability to change their plans and intent to better reflect the situation on the ground.

When plans and doctrine really succeed is when the junior troopers understand and buy into the plan that senior leaders developed. During my time in the service, leaders would harp on “knowing what is going on” so we could integrate ourselves successfully into the bigger picture. The best leaders I served under also gave their subordinates the power to make decisions on the spot. They trusted that a Staff Sergeant, or a 1st Lieutenant had enough training and knowledge (and in the case of the Staff Sergeant, experience) to make a correct on the spot decision that would also contribute to the larger fight.




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