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On a Regular Basis Doctrines Are Challenged by New Technologies

Speech As Delivered by Admiral Édouard Guillaud, French Chief of Staff, at the New technologies and military doctrines symposium in Singapore. June 07, 2013. Source : EMA Paris.

Technology and doctrine are two faces of the same coin and they mutually interfere: doctrine is the seed for development of new technologies and technology sets conditions for what can be done, therefore influencing doctrine.

These two domains are in constant evolution: any technological or doctrinal reluctance to change leads to failure; the winner is the one who anticipates, who puts his opponent off guard and adapts himself faster to ever changing conditions.

This is a constant challenge for defence and security leaders, whether in America, in Europe or Asia, as long as they are committed in international security and stability.

In my short brief, I will begin with generic considerations, then set a French perspective, followed by the challenges as I see them, ending with what future we have to address.

The generic considerations will be seen through three acknowledgements which are universally shared. 

The first acknowledgement is about technology. It is that military equipment is increasingly complex and hopefully increasingly efficient. Of course, this has positive and negative consequences.

The first positive consequence is that, through technology, any assessment is quicker, more accurate and safer; this relates to environment, communication and action. In Libya, for instance, thanks to tactical and satellite-based links, the combined action of our aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, ships and submarines was coordinated in real time – meaning a complete loop within a few seconds, not minutes.

The second benefit of technology is the increased efficiency of any force. This allows a reduced volume of deployed forces. In Mali, just a few thousand well-equipped and mobile soldiers were enough to reconquer the northern part of the country – of course, they had good combat support and combat service support. Another example: on 13th January 2013, four Rafale combat aircraft taking off from mainland France stroke 21 targets from a stand-off distance, with 21 hits.

But technology has its negative consequences.

The cost of military equipment is sky-rocketing, which implies downsizing of the armed forces: affordability and sustainability are at stake in the long run! And yet, quality does not always replace quantity: to seize or control a town, you still need to deploy thousands of soldiers (remember Fallujah 2004). There is a threshold between quality and quantity, which cannot be defined once and for all.

The second negative consequence is that complexity implies a difficulty in fully mastering any new equipment. In addition, fleet reduction creates new constraints on training.

The life cycle of armament programs should not be counted in years, but in dozens of years: in the 50s, the life span of a jet fighter was 15 to 25 years; the life span of the Rafale will be twice as much. Today, most of our major pieces of equipment have been designed during the Cold War, for high-intensity combat; almost none of them have actually been used to fulfill the very mission they had been designed for. This is the time when doctrine finds its full significance, to support this necessary adaptation to real life and to real use.

Doctrine is my second acknowledgement. As we know, on a regular basis, doctrines are challenged by new technologies. Missile defence versus nuclear deterrence is the perfect example of this.

Moreover, a single item can be read in different ways. This is, for instance, the case for RPAs, the use of which is also linked to legal and ethical factors. For the same reason, the cyberwar is faced to the same challenge with one more difficulty: a complete porosity between civilian and military environments.

By the end of the day, the challenge mainly lies into the multiple aspects and consequences of new technologies. This requires understanding the risks and the threats, but also shaping the answers, through a systemic analysis.

My third acknowledgement is the linkage between the two: relevant technologies and doctrines are two necessary prerequisites for military success, but they are not sufficient by themselves.

One example: in order to reach the desired military end state, the full life cycle of any ammunition must be coherent from the correct storage facility to the successful delivery on target, through the adequate launcher system correctly manned.

All this implies to have adapted combat and support capabilities, but also intelligence and command capabilities: the role of the individual is of paramount importance at all levels.

As a consequence, we need to have an efficient operational and logistic organisation and, what is even most important, we need to have enough personnel, both in terms of quantity and quality. They need to be well-recruited, well-educated and well-trained. All these aspects of a military capability need to be taken into account: with given equipment and doctrine, they make the difference.

Moreover, technology-minded does not mean technology-addict. In other words, we need to be cold-blooded towards technology. Seeing everything and knowing everything is not achievable through technology only. It is true of intelligence and systemic analysis, where only individuals can go to contact, perceive and feel. Robots, although useful, will not replace totally existing equipment; the man in the loop will always be the ultimate factor. In my personal view, this is good news!

A country’s capability approach is determined by its military culture and by the level of ambition it has for its defence.

It is our legacy that France is overseas and on all oceans. We have Defence and Co-operation agreements with many countries. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, France is both one of the major stakeholders and shareholders of international security.

Our armed forces must be able to act on various theatres, often at the same time, to carry out missions over the entire spectrum, all the way from high-intensity to peace-keeping.

Our ambition is to conduct operations sometimes autonomously, most of the time within a coalition, but always abiding by international laws. As a founding member of NATO and the European Union, France plays a leading role in both organisations. This position is key in terms of interoperability: intelligence, command, combat capabilities, support, logistics, individual and collective training.

The technical and doctrinal consequences are quite obvious and have been made clear through our latest White Paper: we have chosen a full-fledged, expeditionary military tool, and we want to master most necessary techniques and technologies to have a sustainable range of capacities and capabilities.

What are the current challenges?

Many armed forces used to have versatile capabilities leading to a “high-end” only vision of operations, to face all situations and threats with the required level of reactivity. The basic idea was “he who can do the most can do the less”. But today, this vision is barely sustainable, financially wise.

Moreover, the “versatile” items or equipment are either too powerful or powerless when faced in irregular courses as terrorism or guerrilla warfare. In asymmetrical or hybrid conflicts – which should be the dominant type of future engagements – the increasingly “transverse” nature of risks and threats require that we find “transverse” answers to them. No one can do that alone, because of the range of the needed competences, and costs.

The military assets on which to put emphasis are reactivity for command structures and intelligence gathering, agility and flexibility of forces and mastering, and control of the military effects, such as accuracy and lethality.

The idea of “exact technological requirement” has become of paramount importance; the point is to elaborate our doctrines through a seamless and constantly evolving process.

There are three domains in which I consider that progress can be made:

To better anticipate the requirements, we need to increase our efforts on prospective thinking: we need to be more open-minded to other disciplines, working in hubs that associate doctrinal centres, ops experts, armament engineers, industrialists and so on. 

To adapt more quickly, we have to reinforce our reactive adaptation processes in the industrial, doctrinal and budget fields. Shortening the lessons learned loop is also part of it.

We have to rethink the way we launch our procurement programs. The real issue is: should technologies be guaranteed nationally or shared with others? It is a major stake and a real responsibility for any country and moreover for a nuclear and space power.

To conclude, in an ever changing world, facing ever more complex situations, we have to adapt ourselves ever more faster. This implies that we know better how to use the linkage between new technologies and evolving doctrines. This is not only “best value for money” but also “best potential for money”


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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