As a young officer, I had little to no clue what our doctrine was or indeed even what ‘doctrine’ really entailed. I viewed it as one of those grey areas. I know it was taught but obviously, my mind was elsewhere at that time. Instead, I hid my ignorance by saying stupid things like “Doctrine can be really boring…”
Later on in my career, I finally understood that doctrine is merely a guide to activity and action. It sets out a way for us how to do things in certain situations but does not prescribe what we must do. I would later discover that ‘guide’ is the operative word.
However, I often found that many of my colleagues believed that our doctrine was written in stone…”Because ‘the book’ says so…” No deviation from the doctrine was allowed or, at times, even tolerated.
I had no compunction in deviating from ‘the book’ if I thought my actions and orders would save lives and result in success. I could always face the music later—and I often did. But, I fear we have become so caught up by what ‘the book’ says, that we set ourselves up for failure time and again. This strict adherence to ‘the book’ gives us a very blinkered and rigid approach to conflict and war.
Guided by ‘the book’, we consistently repeat the same mistakes until they become ‘muscle memory’—and simply the way we do things. In the process, we have become dogmatic, and predictable, thus denying ourselves agility, balance, flexibility, initiative, surprise, and speed of action/reaction when we need it most. Yet, despite the casualties, we seem determined to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.
For decades now, African armies have been using outdated Western and Eastern doctrines and this is marked by a record of very little success on the continent.
Whereas these doctrines were, at a time relevant, I fear they no longer are.
The doctrines ascribed to by many Africa armies are unaligned, and have become stagnant and in many instances, irrelevant. Of course, certain elements may retain relevance but the time has come for African armed forces to revisit their doctrines and, with a very sharp knife, cut out what is no longer applicable or relevant—and replace it with doctrine that is applicable, realistic, and relevant. We need to shake off the outdated doctrinal shackles of World War II, some of it unconnected with todays’ high tempo, technology-driven warfare that is shrouded in uncertainty. Yet, these antiquated doctrines remain in use and remain unrevised despite many important lessons having being learned. And so, we continue to fail the National Security Strategy and ultimately, the National Strategy.
When assessing the inability of many African armies to perform effectively in the field, it becomes clear that there are numerous doctrinal failures and mismatches. There is nothing wrong with the quality of manpower, as long as they are trained, equipped and well led. Despite a measure of training, victory remains elusive as tactical successes are seldom, if ever, translated into operational or strategic successes.
Currently, the doctrines in use by many African armies are not aligned with the National Security Strategy, nor with the National Military Strategy and the subsequent campaign strategies make no allowance for complex AOs, have little regard for the environmental impact on operations, incorrectly assume all troops are trained to a high level, do not make allowances for a lack of equipment, take no cognisance of the threat or enemy, and so forth.
Being fortunate to be given latitude by some African armies, I have come to realise that doctrine needs to be simplified, made relevant and realistic, and then imprinted on the minds of soldiers as soon as possible.
Simplifying doctrine and teaching it to troops at a very early stage of their training has numerous advantages. Most importantly, it teaches them how planned combat operations will unfold, and how forces are integrated into a unified units and sub-units, and how and why their actions will support the combat operations to achieve the commander’s intent, and so forth.
Understanding a simplified doctrine that is devoid of ‘management’ terms, outdated and unconnected approaches, cumbersome, and irrelevant information has, in my experience, had a marked difference in how troops approach their missions and how they fight. I have witnessed that when doctrine is explained to them, a visible understanding occurs—and it then shows in how they approach combat operations.
But, we remain self-deluded with our doctrine, believing it is written in stone and therefore not subject to adaption, discussion or change.
As long as we do what the outdated ‘book’ says, we will remain victims of our doctrine as we will become what we want the enemy to become—confused and predictive.