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Military refers to an organized body primarily tasked with preparing for and conducting war.


A military is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare. Militaries tend to be authorized and maintained by a sovereign state and are recognized by distinct military uniforms. A military's main task tends to be defined as the defense of the state and its interests against external armed threats and as an arm of a sovereign nation's foreign outreach. For example, in the post-Cold War period, military intervention was found to still be a central feature of foreign policy. This was exemplified by military interventions in Kuwait, the Persian Gulf War, and the U.S. invasion of Panama to secure U.S. citizens and interests in the Panama canal.

Military organization
Example of the organization of the Royal Danish Army during 1940.

A modern military has become a complex organization, often made up of branches that are more commonly referred to. For example, in the United States, the military is composed of six branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force. In these branches, there are three general categories of military people: active duty, who are full-time soldiers and sailors; reserve and guard forces, who usually work a civilian job and work for the military part-time, unless called on for full-time military duty; and veterans and retirees, who are past members of the military. The branches of the U.S. military are each controlled by the president of the United States, known as the commander in chief, although more practical control goes to the Department of Defense (DoD), which has control over each branch, except the Coast Guard, which is officially under the Department of Homeland Security.

Although the branches of any military have common goals, they are organized in their own ways, with unique rules, requirements, and functions. This starts with their training programs, with each branch having an intense period of training to ensure enlisted personnel can meet the physical, mental, and emotional requirements of the branch. Understanding the responsibilities and tasks a given branch undertakes can influence an individual's choice of which branch to enlist, and each has its given approach to achieving common goals.

Example of the overall command structure of the United States military.

Different militaries across the world will have different command structures and compositions, although the U.S. military is a good example as many other world militaries either copy the United States model in command structure or have a simplified model, often dependent on the nation's defense spending and perceived defense needs. Militaries tend to enforce strict age limits but are younger than the civilian population, with different branches having different demographic makeups. Depending on the size of the military, they tend to operate as sub-economies in the larger national economy. Further, working in the military tends to be drastically different than civilian life, in which people live on base and do not leave work to go home as civilians tend to, but remain in a constant state of working. When deployed, this is even more the case.

Military units

In every military, the larger military is broken into smaller units, and each unit has a prescribed size and a specific combat or support role within the larger organization. Depending on the military, these unit sizes and roles will change; confusingly, militaries may share the same term for units but have different compositions and roles between countries despite a shared name. The earliest such military unit, arguably, was the ancient Greek phalanx, and later the legion of the Romans. Previous to these organizations, militaries tended to be conscripted groups of farmers and citizens of a city-state, which would fight in skirmishes or as a group sometimes referred to as a horde. The phalanx worked to organize individuals into an effective fighting block, which was later imitated and improved upon by the Roman legions. These organizations came around as some of the first national professional fighting forces were also established.

Examples of historical units and sizes.

As professional militaries re-emerged in Europe during the end of the Middle Ages, the basic units of a military emerged, including the company, battalion, brigade, and division. Armies, navies, and air forces are further organized into progressively smaller units commanded by officers of progressively lower ranks, and each branch of the military organizes itself based on its needs. The units of the army tend to be the prototypical units, as most professional militaries began with their land forces and used similar terms for their naval forces.

Military units

Unit type

Army corps

An army corps, also knowns as a corps, is made of two to seven divisions and various support units, often including 50,000 to 300,000 troops and is commanded by a lieutenant general. The army corps is the largest regular army formation, although, during wartime, two or more corps can be combined to form a field army which is commanded by a general, and multiple field armies can be combined to form an army group.


Two or more companies make a battalion, which has 400 to 1,200 soldiers and is commanded by a lieutenant colonel. The battalion is the smallest unit ot have a staff of officers, such as those in charge or personnel, operations, intelligence, and logistics to assis the battalion commander.


Several battalions form a brigade, which has 2,000 to 8,000 troops and is commanded by a brigadier general or a colonel. The term regiment is sometimes used to signify a brigade, although in some militaries the regiment can be used to represent the battalion. Generally, a brigade is the smallest unit to integrate different types of combat and support units into a functional organization. A combat brigade can, for example, include infantry, armor, artillery, and reconnaissance units.


A company is composed of two or more platoons, with 100 to 250 soldiers and is commanded by a captain or a maor. The function of administration is introduced at the company level, which includes a headquarters platoon administered by a sergeant and containing supply, maintenance, and other sections. This means the company is the smallest body of troops that functions as a complete administrative and tactical unit.


Two or more brigades, along with specialized battalions, compose a division, which will often include 7,000 to 22,000 troops and is commanded by a major general. A division contains the arms and services needed for independent conduct of military operations.

Examples of modern military unit size and structures.
Naval units

Naval units follow more flexible organization guidelines. Generally, and dependent on the given military, several ships of the same type are organized into a squadron. Several squadrons compose a flotilla, and several flotillas form a fleet. However, in the case of operations, many navies organize vessels into task units, which are composed of three to five ships, task or battle groups of four to ten ships, task forces of two to five task or battle groups, and fleets that comprise several task forces.

Air force units

The air force has another type of specific organization, which depends again on the specific military and any underlying philosophical approaches. However, the basic fighting unit in most air forces is the squadron, which consists of several aircraft of the same type, such as fighters, and usually the same model. Three to six flying squadrons and their support squadrons make up a wing, which is an intermediate unit between the squadron and the air group and often composed of two to four squadrons. Several wings can be combined to form an air division.

Structural challenges

The organization or structure of a military has to enforce the effectiveness of a military unit, rather than create further problems and barriers toward accomplishing an objective. However, the unit has to be able to deal with the realities of preparing forces and individuals to kill and face death. Despite the theoretical literature on organizational efficiency, effectiveness for military structure remains an ill-defined concept. However, for some, effectiveness should focus on factors such as unit cohesion, group solidarity, small-unit leadership, and camaraderie.

Example of small squad units which tend to be favored for their adaptability to local and immediate conditions.

Further, any structure should be able to have a capacity to adapt and evolve, based on international developments and based on the interaction between political and military bodies. Part of this ability to adapt can be changing military structures to new technologies, new force application philosophies, new terrain challenges, and new rules of engagement. These changes can increase the effectiveness of some units of military organizations and reduce the effectiveness of others.

Military recruitment
Example of a World War I military recruiting advertisement.

Several strategies are used by different sovereign nations to staff and fill out the ranks of their militaries. Strategies for this can also depend on whether the given nation is during peacetime or if the nation is at war with another nation or believes it may be at war with a nation at some point soon. For example, a nation may employ a voluntary service that includes conscription or a draft during times of war to bolster the numbers of the military. And some countries that experience perennial threats of war or invasion may maintain mandatory service to have a fully staffed military at all times and have a large reserve of previously trained individuals at call in times of open war. Many nations have several methods of recruitment. For example, the United States uses multiple systems in tandem, relying on voluntary enlistment but also having a de jure conscription service to fall back on in times of need.

Primary methods of recruitment

Type of recruitment


Conscription or a draft is considered a variation on mandatory service in which everyone in a given demographic group (often males aged 18 to 35) must register as eligible for military service. However, in a conscription or draft method of recruitment, the possibility that this demographic will be called or pressed into active duty (referred to as being "drafted" or "conscripted") occurs during times of war, rather than in times of peace.

De Jure compulsory service

The least demanding form of compulsory service, de jure compulsory service is where mandatory military service technically exists according to the law but is rarely actually enforced. For example, the United States requires all able-bodied males aged 18-25 to register with the selective service, meaning they could be drafted into military service if and when needed. However, so many voluntary recruits enlist that the draft has not been used since 1973 during the Vietnam War. Similarly, in China males aged 18-22 must register for 24-month compulsory service but enough volunteers exist that no draft of compulsory registrants has taken place.

Mandatory service

In mandatory service, all males, and depending on the country females, of a certain age must serve their country for a minimum amount of time, generally for 1 to 3 years. Typically this type of service is employed by militaries of great need, under perceived constant threat, or with autocratic leaders. Often countries with mandatory service have a history of mandatory service and offers a country a wider pool of potential reserve troops based on the training offered to these individuals.

Selective compulsory service

In many conscription systems, the selection of recruits is random or lottery driven. However, in a selective compulsory system, candidates are deliberately chosen and called into service if they meet a particular area of need, such as mechanics, pilots, or medical personnel.

Voluntary enlistment

Voluntary enlistment is where citizens choose the military as their employer and serve the country as their job or career. This type of recruitment is often regarded as the most preferable and socially responsible method of maintaining a military force, not only because the individual chooses to serve, but often because the military tends to offer more benefits to those who serve in voluntary enlistment recruitment.

Professional versus conscripted armies
Example of a 1916 selective service conscription poster.

Conscription is probably the earliest form of military recruitment, with early militaries often composed of local farmers and citizens of a city-state organized to protect their homes and lives. Since the rise of professional militaries, such as the legions of the Roman army, and the success of professional militaries, there have been questions about the effectiveness of conscripted armies versus professional armies. The professional army emerged as individuals were paid for their training and deployment in a military and gave rise to the career as a soldier. In the modern context, a professional military can be considered a volunteer force, as those individuals have chosen to make the military their career; whereas the conscripted army is paid for their service, and their service can be considered a career but refers to being forced into service, which can change their commitment to engaging in warfare operations.

Russian perspective

The Russian army has maintained its practice of conscription to fill out its troop numbers, a practice that has been used since the establishment of the USSR and especially during the Second World War. Reforms have been made to reduce the stress of conscription, but Russia maintains a military of around 1 million active-duty military personnel, of which approximately 260,000 are conscripts. Even in Russia's elite commando (spetsnaz) units, conscripts remain about a quarter of the force strength.

Conscript armies tend to lack the long-service, professional noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps considered a bedrock of modern Western militaries. Instead, junior officers and warrant officers fill most roles NCOs perform in voluntary militaries. An NCO is a military officer who has yet to earn a rank or commission but holds leadership positions in their units while ranking lower than commissioned officers. These tend to be individuals who enlist at the lowest rank and are promoted or selected by higher-ranking officers based on their unique strengths or weaknesses, while not having completed an officer training course.


Since World War Two, the USSR and Russia have mostly done without NCOs in practice, if not name. However, examples have shown capable conscript privates, which have been in charge while an officer (sergeant or lieutenant) has been the subordinate. In the U.S. military, this is an NCO, who has shown the ability to be a small-unit leader and may receive some additional training, but NCOs allow units to react more quickly to dynamic combat environments and offer militaries a chance to engage in a doctrine of initiative and decentralized command.

Example of a Russian conscript with black eyes from the dedovshchina practice.

Another difficulty the Russian conscript system has faced has been hazing; emerging in the Soviet Red Army, dedovshchina has been a systematic form of hazing. This originated in the gulags and describes a rigid seniority-based caste system that dominates the Russian conscript's life, and one in which senior soldiers subjugate, rob, and brutalize junior draftees while officers look away. Hazing destroys military performance, cohesion, and retention, with only about 1 percent of draftees reenlisting. Despite expectations that the fall of the Soviet Union may have halted the dedovshchina practice, it has intensified. One report from 2002 alleged senior soldiers sold their juniors into prostitution, while the Russian Ministry of Defense's data listed suicide (reportedly largely a result of hazing) as the cause of 40 percent of all military fatalities in 2006.

Conscription reforms

Since early 2000s, with many reports of the abuses endured under Russia's conscription system and the hangover of dedovshchina, would lead to reforms that worked to halve the conscription system and inject more money into the Russian military. Results suggested that these reforms lessened the breadth and severity of dedovshchina, but in 2015, President Putin decreed that military losses during peacetime should remain secret.

Further, Russia worked to create a proper NCO system, to imitate what some consider a key to the Western military model's success. As part of this, by 2010, 180,000 officers were cut to free up space for NCOs, but without an effective system in place, 70,000 officers were recommissioned the following year. Following this, the Russian military established a dedicated NCO academy, which produces 2,000 graduates annually.

Despite these reforms and attempts to reform, in 2018, one Russian news site claimed more than 1,100 Russian service members were convicted of abuses of power, and 372 were charged with violence towards their comrades. Anecdotal accounts further detailed the stubborn persistence of hazing. And in October 2019, a twenty-year-old conscript gunned down eight of his fellow soldiers in Russia's far east, saying he had no choice after they made his life "hell."

Volunteer versus conscription in Russia

While some of these aspects, such as dedovshchina, are specific to Russia, the conscription system has been widely hated in Russia, and many regions with conscription face similar challenges. Toward the fall of the Soviet Union, many paid for deferments and outright bribed recruitment officers to keep them out of uniform. However, since then, and with some reforms, Russia showed greater embracing of conscription and pride in the Russian military, with one poll in 2017 finding that 58 percent of Russians support the preservation of conscription. Although President Putin in 2019 suggested he would end compulsory service.

Except, during the conflict with Ukraine, conscription returned, with many reports suggesting that Russian conscripts were not given the necessary training, equipment, and supplies for service. Fears of Russia's military past returned, including worry over the lack of concern for wounded and casualties so long as a given objective is achieved.

Finnish perspective
Finnish conscripts, who seem to have fewer concerns around conscription.

In contrast to the Russian perspective on conscription, Finland embraces a concept of "total defense" and has had universal male conscription for its entire history. Unlike in Russia, which uses a blended conscription system, the Finnish system has seen Finland have by far the highest "will to fight" in Europe, with 74 percent of Finns in 2015 saying they would take up arms to defend their country. This is in comparison to other countries in western Europe where conscription has largely been scrapped and fewer than a third saying they would fight for their country. In the United States, the will to fight is under 50 percent, and the propensity of young men to serve sits around 18 percent. This suggests that the Finnish system of universal male conscription comes with some national pride, encouraging citizens to fight for their country, meanwhile creating a pool of capable reserves.

Types of service

In any military, there are multiple ways of serving. Service members will be assigned jobs based on abilities, test scores, and service needs, with many of those jobs having civilian equivalents with training that can translate to a civilian career. Further, depending on the military, most services have a corresponding reserve component. And some services have a national guard component.

Types of service

Type of service

Enlisted vs. officer

In military branches, and as shown above depending on the type of military, service members are divided into two categories: enlisted or officer. Enlisted members are employed in almost every type of military career and make up almost 81 percent of all active-duty military workforce in the United States, including NCOs. Officers are generally employed in management roles or highly specialized fields that require more training. Commissioned officers account for approximately 20 percent of all active-duty service members. Training ot be an officer versus enlisting as a recruit differs, with officers training to hone management and planning skills while enlisted recruits focus on a particular trained specialty.

Full time—active duty

Active duty means service members' jobs are full-time, whether they are deployed overseas or domestically. These service members receive a regular paycheck and full benefits including healthcare, a housing allowance, and 30 days of paid vacation per year.

National guard

The National Guards depend on the nation on their construction, but in the United States the national guards are community-based and report the governor of their respective state unless called to protect U.S. domestic interests in times of conflict or natural disasters. The national guards can also be deployed internationally alongside full-time service members when necessary. Members of the national guard are required to train one weekend per month and perform two weeks of field exercises per year.


Reserve service members receive the same training as their active-duty peers but do so close to home until they are needed to deploy. Although some reservists serve full time, most usually hold a regular full-time civilian job and typically train one weekend per month, plus two weeks of field exercises each year. Reserve service members are paid for the time they spend training or deployed and receive many of the same benefits as active-duty personnel.

Recruitment process
Example of a recruitment screening process for the U.S. Army.

For voluntary military, or the voluntary arms of a military, the recruitment process begins by generating interest in individuals to enlist. This can be the biggest challenge facing a military—generating enough interest in the key demographic to recruit a large enough group of privates and generating enough interest to fill out the officer corps. The challenge is further intensified when considering the military wants to attract and recruit "qualified" individuals with the skills and mindsets to allow them to succeed in the military. Further, veterans can be a large driver of recruitment, as individuals may know a veteran, and a veteran can often best express how the military can positively change their life.

This leads often to two types of conclusions: (1) the military will work to generate enough interest through programs such as post-service education programs, veterans benefits, or other benefits that can provide potential recruits further incentive for joining the military; or (2) a nation will pursue a policy of conscription to make up for the shortfall in recruitment. While conscription achieves the short-term goal of hitting recruitment targets, it can damage interest in joining the military for future generations and harm the retention of current military personnel. Low recruitment can affect enlistee counts, unit readiness, morale, and (in the opinion of some) a nation's security.

Initial screening

When an individual chooses to enlist in the military, there is a screening process—the first step in the recruitment process. Screening includes questions about an applicant's age, citizenship, education, involvement with the law, use of drugs, and medical and physical conditions that could preclude enlistment. Some recruitment processes will include a short aptitude screening test taken at the recruiting process to ensure they are able to enlist and serve. Around 10 to 20 percent of applicants do not move past this initial screening.

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery

Used by the United States military, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is the first formal step in the process of applying to enlist in the military. Other militaries have similar written aptitude testing, but how difficult or how it is applied depends on the region. In the context of the ASVAB, the battery of tests is used by the DoD to determine enlistment eligibility and qualifications for military occupations. It consists of ten tests, four of which comprise the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT): Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge, Word Knowledge, and Paragraph Comprehension. The AFQT is used as a general measure of trainability and a predictor of on-the-job performance. Overall, the ASVAB takes around an hour and a half to complete and provides recruiters with an early indication of where an applicant could fit in the overall force picture.

Physical examination
Historical example of a military recruit going through their physical exam.

Most militaries will follow the aptitude testing with a physical examination. Often a recruiter will already discuss an applicant's physical eligibility and the requirements for meeting the military standards beforehand. The physical tends to include a regular medical exam, short physical training, measurements of a recruit's height and weight, hearing and vision examinations, urine and blood tests, drug and alcohol tests, muscle group and joint maneuvers, and some specialized testing, such as body fat percentage or overweight applicants, tests related to unusual medical history, and pregnancy tests for women.

Meet with a counselor

Once the first two phases of recruitment are passed, the recruit will meet with an enlistment counselor to determine the right specialty for the individual. A few factors can contribute to the career selection, including the recruit's ASVAB score, the physical requirements of a given position, the needs of the military, the job availability, and the recruit's preference. The service enlistment counselor will also go over the enlistment agreement with the recruit, which they work to ensure the recruit understands fully, including the level of commitment they are making to the military.

Oath of enlistment

Most military services then complete the recruitment process with an oath of enlistment, which tends to include a vow to defend the country of origin and obey the uniform code of military justice.

Basic training

Once a recruit has taken their oath of enlistment, they will report to basic training, also known as boot camp. How soon after their oath this occurs will depend on the type of enlistment; for example, if a recruit enlists in a delayed entry program, they commit to basic training at a time in the future, generally within one year, which is often done for high school students who enlist before they graduate. Otherwise, when a recruit reports to basic training depends on their job assignment and branch.

Example of recruits going through basic training.

Once there, boot camp in most militaries is six to thirteen weeks of intense military training that, depending on the service branch, is conducted at one of several military training centers throughout a given country. While all boot camps or basic training programs will differ depending on the military and the branch of the military, or the expected outcomes, they tend to all work to immerse recruits in an intense course of military training that work to develop each recruit into a mature, highly disciplined, and capable service member. This includes teaching recruits how to care for themselves, function as a member of a team, and achieve success together.

Instructors work to prepare recruits to meet the challenges of a soldier, from the dangers of a battlefield to the rigors of life in a given branch, such as life at sea. And to give soldiers the tools to perform tasks with efficiency, courage, and confidence to succeed despite adversity. Further, training includes first aid, water survival skills, marksmanship, tactics, and other topics related to the given branch.

Scale of recruiting

The scale of recruiting, or the amount of active duty men and women in a given military depends on the country in question, its overall population, and its defense spending. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is the nation's largest employer, employing 1.2 million men and women on active duty, with a further 672,000 civilian support employees. Further, the services meet a higher standard of employment than many civilian employers, with successful applicants often leaving employment with the services for a chance at a career in civilian life. This is partially based on the need for successful military service members to demonstrate the physical and mental capabilities to master complex military systems and operations while also meeting moral standards, age limits, and citizenship requirements.

Military service obligation

A military service obligation refers to the required service, both active duty and reserve commitments, that an individual must serve upon accepting an appointment with a military service branch. For example, the active duty service obligation is a specific period of active duty an officer must serve before becoming eligible for voluntary separation or retirement. Different militaries and different branches have different service obligations. For example, some military service obligations can be between six to eight years for officers, while graduates of an officer training scholarship program can have a four-year military service obligation.

Tour of duty
U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, where the idea of the tour of duty was popularized.

A separate but related concept is the "tour of duty." During a period of combat, a tour of duty is the time enlisted soldiers leave base and experience combat and is considered a rotation method that ensures a military does not overstretch their human resources on active service. During a military tour of duty, a soldier works twenty-four-hour days, seven days a week, meaning the soldier is constantly engaged in a combat scenario. The exception is their leave period, often a few weeks, depending on the combat and the service branch. Once the tour of duty is completed, a soldier is generally ineligible for another tour for a period of time, sometimes as long as twelve months. Soldiers deployed on a tour of duty can receive medals for being deployed for long periods of time.

Military science

Military science is the theory, method, and practice of producing military capability in a manner consistent with a policy of national defense. In this context, military science works to identify the strategic, political, economic, psychological, social, operational, technological, and tactical elements necessary to sustain the advantage of a military force and to increase the chance of favorable outcomes during peace or war.

Example of military scientists at work during WW2.

Military science as a theory leads to military scientists, which inhabit roles such as theorists, researchers, experimental scientists, applied scientists, designers, engineers, test technicians, and related military personnel. Those military personnel are charged with obtaining weapons, equipment, and training to achieve specific strategic goals. Military science has been used to establish enemy capability as part of technical intelligence and has been a general term used to refer to all matters of military theory and technology application for the military.

Military scientists engage in research to solve specific problems, which can include developing new weapon systems, new protective gear, pharmaceutical and medical treatments, methods to combat corrosion and microbial contamination, systems to help preserve food supplies for soldiers in remote locations, and portable energy sources for soldiers and vehicles. Military scientists can be deployed for fieldwork, which can involve working and living in hostile and primitive conditions, which requires the military scientist to endure physical hardship and interact with people of other cultures and requires an ability to make intelligent decisions under stress.

Defense contractors

In the modern military context, many of the roles of military science, in terms of the development of weapon systems, portable energy sources, new protective gear, pharmaceuticals, medical treatments, and new combat systems, have been offloaded to defense contractors. Most defense contractors are private companies, with some individual contractors hired through a defense agency. In the United States, this tends to be the Department of Defense (DoD). The defense department gives a contract to the defense contractor, which includes the expectations for a project, the desired outcomes and capabilities, and a timeline for which the company is expected to produce results.

Historically, defense contractors have been used as long as militaries have been fielded. For example, during the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army relied heavily on contractors, as the new Army was ill-equipped, untrained, and inexperienced. Contractors provided the army with food, clothing, horses, wagons, weapons, scouting services, and other goods and services necessary for the Army.

The United States' reliance on defense contractors has increased since the turn of the twenty-first century, with the DoD spending around $140 billion in 2001 to $370 billion in 2019. Since the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, contracted soldiers—mercenaries—were used in place of U.S. soldiers, in what some critics saw as a new level of concentration of military power in the hands of private companies.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of contractors in these conflicts to handle warzone logistics—including running fuel convoys, staffing food lines, and training and equipping Afghanistan security forces—was criticized both in the collapse of those security forces after the departure of U.S. forces and other failures of these contractors to meet the demands and expectations of the U.S. military, while costing more than soldiers in those roles would have cost, despite the claims of then-Vice President Dick Cheney that private contractors would cost less than a full deployment of the military and would allow for a trimmer and more cost-effective military. According to critics, the results of these engagements, and the increased costs, suggest the increased use of defense contractors did not work.

Examples of companies working as contractors in the defense industry

Military capability

The focus of military capability, known as capability-based planning (CBP), is a defense planning paradigm that works to generate a force development plan through directed actions and the allocation of resources to create armed forces that can achieve strategic objectives assigned to the defense sector. Another way to describe CBP's purpose is to design an appropriate force. Defined by the Australian Defense Science and Technology Organization: force design is the exercise of conceiving and producing a plan for defense capabilities in order to achieve the desired defense posture; defense posture describes the national military capability and orientation in relation to other nations. The assumption behind CBP is that armed forces need capabilities to achieve objectives, and nations that use CBP to develop armed forces do not have a singular definition of capability.

Different national definitions of military capability


Australian Department of Defence

The Australian Deparment of Defence defines CBP as the capacity or ability to acheive an operational effect. An operational effect may be defined or described in terms of the nature of the effect and of how, when, where, and for how long it is produced.

Canadian Ministry of National Defence

The Canadian Ministry of National Defence defines CBP as a particular ability that contributes to the production of a desire effect in a given environment within a specified time and the sustainment of the effect for a design period.

Colombian Ministry of National Defense

The Colombian Ministry of Defense defines military capability as the ability to perform a task, under a specified set of standards and conditions (such as time, environment, distance, etc.) through a combination of components of capability (doctrine, organization, material and equipment, personnel, and infrastructure).

United Kingdom Ministry of Defence

The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence has defined CBP as the enduring ability to generate a desired operation outcome or effect, which is relative to the threat, physical environment, and contributions of coalition partners.

United States Joint Chiefs of Staff

The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff have defined CBP as the ability to complete a task or execute a course of action under specified conditions and level of performance.

Each of the above definitions shares three common elements. First, each definition includes the idea of wherewithal, such as the means to complete a task or produce an effect. Second, each definition sees capability as the ability or means to overcome temporal and physical constraints or other hindrances that could make accomplishing a task or producing an effect more difficult. And the third definition refers to a performance standard, which is often defined based on the given objective. In order to achieve this definition, there are necessary components that produce the capability that is integrated within a defense sector. Some of these components have been found in the DOTMLPF model, which has been defined as:

  • Doctrine: Military doctrine is based on experience and expertise and provides fundamental principles that guide the employment of military forces into coordinated action toward a common objective; doctrine works to describe what tasks need to be done, to what degree they should be done, and how to do them.
  • Organization: Organization works to consider how armed forces arrange their resources to accomplish tasks and produce effects, with organization being the functional and spatial structure of force elements, such as personnel, facilities, maeeeériel, and equipment, and how they are provided to force elements and how these resources interact to achieve a level of capability.
  • Training: Training works to prepare personnel and force elements to execute their assigned tasks in accordance with doctrine.
  • Matériel: Matériel refers to the equipment and supplies necessary to equip, operate, maintain, and support military activities with its application for operational, support, or administrative purposes.
  • Leadership and education: Education is the articulation of approved learning objectives and curriculum and the policies, procedures, and standards associated with it; formal learning prepares military leaders to develop and command their forces.
  • Personnel: Personnel refers to the military and civilian individuals that a force element requires to accomplish tasks and produce effects.
  • Facilities: Facilities include any hangars, runways, maintenance bays, supply or repair depots, barracks, training ranges, shipyards, and other such facilities needed to produce and sustain military capability.
Existing capability models

These definitions and components of CBP lead to existing capability models which can broadly be classified into five categories. These categories depend on the viewpoint or planning level, and therefore the application of the capability models and structures in different organizations and their CBP processes.

Military capability models


Capability as a weapons system or a platform

Capability as a physical system. This is a more classical capability view, which is often used by system operators and developers or to assess military operations, to assess a threat evaluation, or in weapons allocation. However, based on previous capability model definitions, the weapons system or platform is better viewed as a building block to implement the capability rather than the capability itself.

Capability as an effect or a function to execute tasks

Capability is an ability or capacity to carry out a set of tasks, where tasks are defined as an action or an activity specifically assigned to an individual or organization or a discrete event or action that enables a mission or function to be accomplished by an individual or an organization. This model works to focus on using CBP and related approaches to avoid a potential bias to a particular capability solution and develop solutions suitable for a wide range of operations in diffferent geographical locations, and to stop a given force from relying too much on a single capability to solve all problems.

Capability as fighting power through military units

Capability is considered a military unit; that is, a force element, which produces the military power to achieve desired operational effects, with the real-world fighting power of a military unit consisting of a way to fight and the ability to induce people to fight against a defined enemy, and means the resources to fight.

Capability as systems

Capability is a conceptual system, defined as a set of component and their interdependencies, and is used in planning, building, and management of real-world capability solutions, such as military troops. This model considers various components, inlcuding personnel, information, and some functionalities required to produce the capability instead of just focusing on platforms and other technical capabilities. Capability as systems as a model covers doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and policy.

Military capability as an instrument of foreign policy

Capability is considered a government's political tool in its internationl relations. In the doctrine of the U.S. Armed Forces, military capability is described as one of the instruments of national power. NATO considers this capability model as an instrument of alliance strategy. The national power and the alliance strategy consist of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (DIME) instruments.

Military intelligence

Military intelligence includes the collection and use of information on other countries (both adversaries and allies), military forces, plans, and operations. To achieve this, there are a variety of collection methods, which can work to help civilian policymakers and military leaders to understand political and military trends around the world, the sources of potential regional conflict, and emerging threats to the global security environment. Further, military intelligence can offer recommendations to military individuals on how best to employ those information-gathering techniques and technologies. In the military, this intelligence is generally collected and delivered by military intelligence officers. In times of conflict, this intelligence is used to help coordinate military forces, assess risks, and neutralize intelligence threats.

Example of military intelligence units in an operating base.

The collection of intelligence is done by a range of agencies and groups that are a part of the larger military and can be outside the military and work with the military. For example, in the United States, military intelligence is collected by some agencies outside of the Department of Defense (DoD) such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Directorate of Operations, and the Directorate of Science and Technology (with the latter two supporting the CIA). Within the DoD, intelligence is collected by the following:

  • National Security Agency (NSA)
  • Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
  • The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)
  • The Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO)
  • Central Imagery Office (CIO)
  • Army Intelligence
  • Navy Intelligence
  • Air Force Intelligence
  • Marine Corps Intelligence
  • Space Force Intelligence
  • Coast Guard Intelligence
  • Department of Homeland Security
Levels of intelligence

Intelligence is considered to be collected at two levels, strategic and tactical. Strategic intelligence is information necessary to formulate policy and military plans at the international and national policy levels. While tactical intelligence is intended to respond to the needs of military commanders in the field and is used to plan for and conduct combat operations. Essentially, the strategic and tactical levels of intelligence differ largely in scope, but both levels of intelligence attempt to respond to and satisfy the needs of an operational leader.

Sources of intelligence

An intelligence analyst needs to know the source of information they collect and analyze, especially when they pass that intelligence on. Depending on the nature of the problem, some sources can be considered of great value and, therefore, of a higher quality; while other sources, although contributing to the production of intelligence, are better to be considered supportive rather than critical in nature. And there are certain major sources of intelligence, such as acoustic, imagery, signal, radiation, foreign matériel, and human.

Sources of intelligence



Acoustics intelligence is derived from analyzing acoustic waves that radiate either intentionally or unintentionally. In naval intelligence, acoustic intelligence can be important, as underwater acoustic waves from surface ships and submarines can be detected y sonar arrays, which are accurate and a major source of information for the positioning and heading of adversarial ships and, especially, submarines.

Foreign matériel

Foreign matériel intelligence is an analysis of foreign weapon systems that can provide invaluable information necessary to develop systems able to counter and defeat it. And intelligence derived from foreign matériel is of great value in assessing enemy capabilities. But this is a difficult form of intelligence to collect as the foreign matériel has to be collected, and when the weapon systems scale from something as simple as personal arms or protection, to larger scale matériel, such as fighter jets or naval ships, the collection of which can prove difficult, especially if intended to be done in secret.


Human intelligence, often called HUMINT, is provided by people rather than by technical means. Often this type of intelligence is provided by spies and covert agents. Spies are often a prime source of information about the nation's political leaders, strategies, and political decisions. These agents can also provide scientific and technical information and documents when placed in the correct areas, such as a covert agent placed in an adversary's intelligence agency, as was done by the U.S., British, and Soviet Union during the Cold War, offering all sides information about their adversaries technical and strategic capabilities, and their counterintelligence capabilities and efforts.


Imagery intelligence is information gleaned from analyzing all types of images, such as photographs, infrared imagery, and ultraviolet imagery. The examination of any time of imagery, called imagery interpretation, works to locate, recognize, identify, and describe objects, activities, and terrain that appear on the image. The images included in this type of intelligence are collected by satellites, high-altitude aircraft, and by people on the ground. And it can provide intelligence in a large number of intelligence categories, such as order of battle, military operations, scientific and technical developments, and economics.


Radiation intelligence is a source of intelligence concerning the unintentional emissions of energy from electronic systems (while ELINT is based on intentional radiations from the same system) and does not ocncern energy enamating from nuclear detonations or radioactive sources. Inadequate shielding of electronic systems, or following incorrect procedures, can result in inadvertent energy emissions that when analyzed can reveal a great deal about a system's purpose or capabilities.

Types of intelligence

Intelligence production often involves an assessment of conflicting pieces of incomplete information, the attempt to determine correct items, followed by processing and assembly of these accurate items into a complete, understandable intelligence document that meets the needs of an operational leader. The resulting product of this system is called an intelligence appraisal or intelligence assessment and will often contain incorrect information. To make this product readable and understandable, analysts divide intelligence into types. All types of intelligence are valuable, but in any given situation, some types of intelligence are greater than others, some may be more accurate than others, and some may provide a more complete view of the situation. The division of intelligence into types can help analysts and commanders arrive at a better or more complete understanding of the information. These types of intelligence can be intelligence on armed forces, biographical information, cartographic information, economic information, energy information, counterintelligence, geographic, medical, sociological, and transportation and telecommunication information.


Counterintelligence operations are another important part of military intelligence. These operations work to deny adversarial intelligence gathering operations to safeguard a nation's and military's force strength, deployment, or technological capabilities. To do this, counterintelligence operatives work to detect, identify, assess, exploit, counter, and neutralize information-gathering efforts by foreign entities. Further, counterintelligence operatives can work to defeat attempts to harm a military or nation through subversive activities, such as sabotage and espionage.

Other than protective measures, counterintelligence operatives can engage in information-gathering activities related to foreign intelligence service activities, intelligence related to national security crimes, and analysis of foreign intelligence and insider threats. These operatives may also engage in intelligence proliferation engagements, in which the operative can provide foreign intelligence analysts with counterfeit intelligence to confuse or otherwise misdirect adversarial intelligence-gathering operations.

Military logistics
Example of a logistics operation for a large military force.

Military logistics, formally a part of military science, involves the activities of armed forces units in roles that support combat units. These roles can, and do, include transport, supply, signal communication, medical aid, and more. Further, logistics personnel work to maintain the material they transport and supply, while helping to support an ongoing deployment or respond to emerging threats. A military's ability to perform these functions relates directly to the military's ability to exercise its power. Successful execution of logistics operations provides a military with strategic flexibility and offers the military the potential for a decisive position of advantage. Logistics has been thought of as the bridge between military operations and a nation's economy.

Commercial versus military logistics

Logistics as a practice largely emerged from the military's need to make provisions of arms, ammunition, and rations as they moved forward from bases. Since then, logistics practices have been widely adopted in areas such as manufacturing, production, and business management. Logistics between businesses and the military tend to have separate but related information. In business, logistics is typically defined as a business planning framework for the management of material, service, information, and capital flows; it includes increasingly complex information, communication, and control systems. Whereas, in the military, logistics is defined as the science of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of forces in military operations. The military definition deals with aspects including the following:

  • The design and development, acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition of material
  • Movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel
  • Acquisition of construction, maintenance, operation, and disposition of facilities
  • Acquisition of furnishing services
  • Medical and health service support
Fundamentals of military logistics

Logistics comes from the Greek logistikos, which means "skilled in calculating," which crept into military usage in the eighteenth century when the French military used logistics with a variety of meanings, including "strategy" and "philosophy of war." This would lead to the French military thinker and writer Antoine-Henri Jomini (1779-1869) defining logistics in his Summary of the Art of War published in 1838. Jomini, in this work, defined logistics as the practical art of moving armies, which meant the whole range of functions involved in moving and sustaining military forces. This includes planning, administration, supply, billeting and encampments, bridge and road building, and even reconnaissance and intelligence insofar as they were related to maneuvering off the battlefield.

Jomini was apparently unconcerned with the precise boundaries of logistics than with the staff coordinating these activities. The word, Jomini would say, was derived from the title of the French marechal (major general) de logis or the Prussian counterpart, the Quartiermeister, who both had been responsible for the administrative arrangements for marches, encampments, and troop quarters, which would become functions of military logistics.

Components of logistics

The components of logistics tend to be distinguished into four basic elements or functions: supply, transportation, facilities, and services. All of these activities involve the provision of needed commodities or assistance to enable militaries to live, move, communicate, and fight.


Supply is the function of providing matériel to military forces, a process that embraces all stages in the provision and servicing of military matériel. This can extend beyond the act of acquisition of matériel by the military and include the design and development, manufacture, purchase and procurement, storage, distribution, maintenance, repair, salvage, and disposal of that matériel. This process can be, and has been, divided into four phases:

  1. The design, development, and production process
  2. The administrative process, by which military agencies acquire finished items
  3. The distribution and service processes of military matériel while in service
  4. The planning and administrative process of balancing supply and demand in the military

Military supply has the basic aim of providing military forces with the supplies and equipment needed to live, move, communicate, and fight. In all categories, items such as clothing, vehicles, and weapons are used and therefore need to be replaced when lost, destroyed, or worn out; while materials such as food, fuel, and ammunition are expended and consumed and must be continuously or periodically resupplied.


Armies have long depended on the transportation of goods to follow an army in order to maintain the ability of a military to wage war. Before steam propulsion, military relied on the muscles of men and animals and on wind to haul and carry the goods, food, and large retinue of individuals to support a military throughout their campaign. Often the method of transportation that tends to be most mobile and easiest to hide is by water, while large baggage trains of animal and human labor would slow an army down and also make a lot of noise. After the mid-nineteenth century, with better roads and railroads being developed, militaries were able to be more mobile as the transportation was able to get goods to them much faster. Motor vehicles and more road building also increased the mobility of militaries. Although, as far as transportation goes, the airplane has truly freed military movement, removing bondage from the earth and removing the need for clear transportation lines, as even surrounded militaries can be supplied by air.


Military logistics are also required to provide military facilities. These are distinct from fortifications and only became a part of the logistics sphere of activity after the transformation of warfare in the industrial era. In that period, the transformation saw traditional functions of providing nightly lodgings or winter quarters for soldiers become relatively insignificant as an infrastructure of fixed and temporary installations became a part of the military establishments of the major powers. In the modern context, militaries own and operate factories, arsenals, laboratories, power plants, railroads, shipyards, airports, warehouses, supermarkets, office buildings, hotels, hospitals, homes for the aged, schools, colleges, and other types of structures. This transformation changed militaries into some of the world's largest landowners.


Military logistics services may be defined as activities designed to enable personnel or matériel to perform more effectively. Realistically, there is not a clear distinction between logistic and non-logistic services, but a blurry one has grown out of the traditional identification of logistics with non-combat, rear-area activities. Thus, intelligence and communications personnel and combat engineers in the U.S. Army have long been labeled as "combat support" units, and therefore are distinct from "service support" functions of supply, transportation, hospitalization and evacuation, military justice and discipline, custody of prisoners of war, civil affairs, personnel administration, and non-tactical construction. Personnel administration may be the oldest and most institutionalized of service support offered by the military logistics infrastructure.

Unique characteristics of naval logistics
Supplies are loaded onto a naval vessel.

Naval logistics have always had unique characteristics when compared to over-land logistics. The ability of ships, especially large warships, to carry a large capacity of goods has made the ship a key logistic support unit, especially before steam power increased the capability of covering long distances over land. For centuries, the most critical item of supply for ships has been water, which is difficult to carry in sufficient quantities and to keep potable for longer voyages. Another important factor for naval logistics is food, which has been easier to solve than water, especially as refrigeration, sealed containers, and sterilization have been introduced.

The shift to steam from the sailing ship signaled a shift back to self-contained propulsion—as ships had when they were oar-driven—which gave sailors and navies a gain in control and an improvement in logistics for long-haul shipping. However, this introduced another new difficulty in that the ships had to carry their fuel supply for the steam power, which resulted in the development of networks of refueling stations. The change to oil before the breakout of World War I saw another change in naval logistics and further changed the calculus of naval logistics.

Power versus movement

In all cases of military logistics, the potential effectiveness of a military force derives from its ability to fight, its overall mobility, and its overall range of movements. All of these depend on a commander's objective and strategy, but all require the necessary logistics. For example, the ability of a military force to fight requires, in the modern context, the necessary matériel to meet the fighting needs; a more mobile military further requires the necessary equipment to enable the force to move quickly, and the overall range of movements can require the logistics support to be able to move quickly while carrying enough resources to allow the military force to travel farther. To achieve this, three methods have been used in combination to provide support for forces in the field: self-containment, local supply, and supply from bases.

Example of a baggage train for self-contained logistics.

Self-containment is the idea of complete independence from external sources of supply. This approach to supplying a military force has always been alluring yet rarely fully realized. Self-containment in weapons, equipment, missiles, and ammunition tended to be common before the expansion of firepower and resupply requirements which began in the nineteenth century. But military forces cannot operate without frequent resupply of food and forage or fuel. Self-containment tends to be the least economical of supply methods, as either the accompanying transport is too slow to allow the military to move as quickly as it needs; while fast-moving, self-contained military forces tend to leave trails of abandoned vehicles and dead animals. The basic trade-off with self-containment is between speed gained by avoiding delays and detours of foraging, and the speed lost with a baggage train.

Local supply
Example of Marines learning to butcher animals for foraging in the field.

Until the twentieth century, military forces tended to live off the country and from captured enemy stores. In a fertile region, an army could provision themselves at a low cost in transport without sacrificing fighting power or range, and local supply could even permit a high degree of mobility. However, when pinned down, or in winter, deserts, or mountains, an army can either starve out an area or not find enough supply and eventually lose fighting will. However, mechanized armies can operate in winter and desert areas as long as they have fuel, which has changed a lot of the considerations of local supply, especially as fuel can be foraged along the way, and increasing both self-containment and local supply.

Supply from bases
Example of a staged resupply from a base to a forward operating unit during WW2.

A further approach to military supply and logistics has been supply from base, which is a periodic supply strategy that replaces the military's resources from a base or other access points. Obtaining supplies from a base can be difficult, as the supply route is vulnerable to attack and the army is shackled to the base. This lacks flexibility and moves slowly, and the transportation costs of maintaining a flow of supply over substantial distances are heavy and beyond a point, prohibitive. American Civil War general William T. Sherman would fix the limit an army could be from a base at 100 miles, or about a five-day march. However, the development of airplanes, airdrops, and faster vehicles, along with more flexible supply chain logistic approaches, have further increased the capability to supply armies.

Military victory

Victory as a concept is problematic in general, but it becomes more problematic once placed in the context of modern war and armed conflict. First, defining victory is difficult, as different lenses can be used to look at whether an operation is a victory, including tactical, strategic, and grand-strategic levels of war. Or it can be based on the way in which the status quo is affected. Further, a clear understanding of what victory entails is necessary, and any lack of understanding can further impede what constitutes victory. This could include an understanding of a clear and unambiguous definition of the desired end-state or the goals of an operation and how to measure those once achieved.

Throughout history, there have been numerous examples where a battlefield victory eventually loses the war. Further, armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have illustrated that strategic success cannot be achieved by military force alone, and victory requires not only a defeat of opponents' military capabilities but also a resolution of the deeper problems of the conflict. The character of the war is also important, and the character of war since the Cold War has largely changed, due to changing technologies and a re-emergence of a variety of non-state actors often constituting the authority of the state. Moreover, perceptions of winning and losing have begun to diverge from the reality on the ground, which asks the question of how victory should be evaluated in changing contexts.

Victory is often a misunderstood concept, and the lack of understanding impacts the ability of policymakers to use force effectively for political ends and complicates the discussion around the use of force. Other than unconditional surrender, force can be used for various purposes, such as peace operations, pre-emption, state-building, counterinsurgencies, and counterterrorism. In any of these cases, defining the purpose of armed conflict and what a "victory" looks like tends to be defined by political rather than tactical aims achieved.

Characteristics of victory

Often victory in war is thought of as three-tiered: tactical, operational, and strategic. Winning tactically is fairly straightforward and almost exclusively military-based, and therefore it is best understood and assessed using reasonably quantifiable criteria. Other comparative measures of a conflict, such as casualty ratios, ground taken or lost, and prisoners captured, all count toward what can be considered an operational victory. While a strategic victory tends to be a more complicated issue. Yet these victories at three different levels beg the question of which is most important. Colonel Harry Summers, speaking after the Vietnam War, commented that the United States had won all the battles, but those victories were irrelevant. Rather, tactical and operational success sets the stage for a strategic victory.

According to researchers Colin Gray and William Martel, victory occurs on multiple sliding scales, and victory and defeat, although polar opposites, do not represent a true binary. Rather, there exist thousands of points along the scale that delineate degrees of success. Further, winning may or not be decisive in settling the underlying political issues, which exist again across a range of degrees, meaning even a great battlefield victory may not decide anything either militarily in terms of the campaign or politically in terms of the war.

It has also been postulated that winning is simply achieving an outcome that is least preferred compared to alternatives, more than an outcome a commander or political may like. Achieving a preferred outcome is often considered a success and tends to be the basic element of conflict termination, in which, theoretically, a military fights to achieve a favorable state of affairs or outcome. However, war and fighting do not equate victory, as a desirable political or military condition can be postulated that is better than losing and yet less than victory. Victory and conflict termination are technically two distinct concepts, which are sometimes antagonistic, and conflicts can be terminated without a winner. Conversely, it is also possible to continue a way unnecessarily in hopes of achieving victory or avoiding defeat. Winning a war implies a state of peace that does not necessarily imply victory.


The tactical level of war, and achieving a tactical victory, is the most traditional and small-scale success, usually discussed in terms of single battles, maneuvers, and engagements. The tactical level translates potential combat into success in battles and engagements through decisions and actions that create advantages compared to the adversary. Tactics deal in the details of prosecuting engagements and are sensitive to the changing environment of the battlefield. Thus, the focus on the tactical level and tactical victory is generally on concrete military objectives achieved through combat operations. However, the combat is not the end in itself; it is the means to achieve the goals set at the operational level.


The operational level is concerned with employing military forces in a theater of war or theater of operations, which are used to obtain an advantage over the enemy and attain strategic goals through design, organization, and conduct of campaigns and major operations. To achieve an operational goal, the military employs forces in a tactical operation to accomplish a common objective in a given time and space. An operational campaign consists of a series of related military, economic, and political operations to accomplish this goal. On the military level, commanders work to design, orchestrate, and coordinate operations and exploit tactical events to support overall campaign objectives. An operational campaign is dictated by the objectives, threats, and limitations imposed by geographical, economic, and cultural environments, as well as the military resources. And the operational level works to achieve the goals and objectives at the strategic level.


The strategic level focuses on defining and supporting national policies and relates to the outcome of a war or other conflict as a whole. Modern wars and conflicts tend to be won or lost at the strategic level, rather than at the operational or tactical levels. The strategic level applies to all forms of war and conflict from military activities short of war through insurgent, conventional, and nuclear warfare, and involves the strategic concept from plans for preparing all national instruments for war or conflict, practical guidance for preparing the armed forces, and leadership of the armed forces to achieve strategic objectives. Determining a U.S. national security strategy is the responsibility of the NCA, while through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the armed forces contribute to the national security strategy.

One example of strategic victory, or the lack thereof, is the United States since the Vietnam War. The U.S. has struggled to turn tactical and operational success—often overwhelming tactical and operational success—into a long-term strategic victory. This has been partially due to a change in the public's attitude in relation to the costs, utility, and morality of using armed force and the informational revolution led by the internet and social media and telecommunications, which bring battles instantly to the attention and assessment of people globally.

Maneuver warfare
Examples of common battlefield tactics considered to be part of maneuver warfare.

As much as the wider world has gone through much transformation through the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, so has warfare. As noted above, the U.S. military has failed to turn often spectacular tactical and operational victories into strategic victories. And as technology has advanced, the battlefield has become more confusing, with electronic weaponry, blurred battle lines, and amorphous enemies. This has led to military strategy evolving with a new approach to armed conflict, called maneuver warfare, which emerged in some of the above-mentioned failures and since the end of the American involvement in the Vietnam War. Maneuver warfare is developed to be adaptable to those changeable battlefields.

As a doctrine, maneuver warfare represents a state of mind, bent on shattering the enemy morally and physically by paralyzing and confounding them, avoiding their strengths, quickly and aggressively splitting their vulnerabilities, and striking them in a way that hurts them most. The aim, by this doctrine, is not to destroy the adversary's forces, as done in traditional warfare doctrines, but to render them unable to fight as an effective and coordinated whole. This could be bypassing an enemy defense position in order to capture the enemy's command-and-control center in the rear or to cut off supply lines. And, perhaps more importantly, rather than reducing or avoiding the uncertainty and disorder that inevitably shape armed conflict, maneuver warfare embraces the chaos as a key to vanquishing their adversary. Maneuver warfare attempts to take a new tactical and operational approach to warfare to better deliver a strategic victory for a commander and a political entity.

The nature of war in maneuver warfare

The doctrine of maneuver warfare approaches the battlefield on multiple levels: the physical level, which is a test of firepower, weapons technology, troop strength, and logistics; the psychological level, which involves intangibles, such as morale, leadership, and courage; and the analytical level, which challenges the ability of commanders to assess complex battlefield situations, make effective decisions, and formulate tactically superior plans.

The doctrine also acknowledges four human and environmental factors that shape military conflict. The first is friction, which is a phenomenon that makes the simple difficult and the difficult seem impossible. The most obvious source of friction is the enemy but can also be the result of the terrain, weather, or internal forces such as a lack of planning or coordination. Uncertainty is another, which is described as the atmosphere in which all actions in war take place; also known as the fog of war. Uncertainty can cloud a decision-maker's judgment and prohibit the optimal deployment of resources. Fluidity describes a battlefield situation in which each event merges with those that precede and those that follow it to create a flow and shape of the conflict but also offer opportunities and unforeseen advantages.

Example of German armor units during WW2, early practitioners of the principle of maneuver warfare.

These three factors then combine to constitute the final attribute of military conflict, the state toward which warfare gravitates—disorder. In any environment of friction, uncertainty, and fluidity, the resultant environment will be one of disorder in which plans will go awry, instructions will be unclear, information will be misinterpreted, communications will fail, and mistakes will be commonplace. Functioning, or even surviving, in such an environment becomes a major challenge, but the maneuver warfare doctrine asks its commanders and soldiers to do more than survive to prevail. And since these four factors cannot be controlled, commanders have to use them to their advantage and use disorder, friction, uncertainty, and fluidity against the enemy to sow discord and disorder through their ranks.

Movement of Coalition Forces in Operation Desert Storm, long considered a successful maneuver warfare operation.

Many of the elements and concepts grounding maneuver warfare are not new. Some appear in the writings of Sun Tzu and were practiced at the Battle of Leuctra in ancient Greek. Other, more sophisticated applications of these principles generated battlefield successes for Napoleon and U.S. Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Meanwhile, the 1937 publication by well-known German military officer Erwin Rommel disseminated the modern conceptual foundation of maneuver warfare, which would be validated later by German tactics during the Second World War. Further, the elements of maneuver would be used by the Israeli Defense Force in the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973 and for the Coalition Forces in Operation Desert Strom in 1991. It would be 1989 when the U.S. Marine Corps would adopt maneuver warfare as its doctrinal philosophy, and in later years more divisions in the U.S. military would adopt maneuver warfare in general.

Elements of maneuver warfare

Elements of maneuver warfare tend to be described as having seven concepts, which offer a useful framework for thinking about the doctrine and approach. These elements include the following:

  • Targeting critical vulnerabilities: where a practitioner of maneuver warfare analyzes a rival with the aim of discovering those fundamental weaknesses that can be exploited to the significant damage to the enemy's ability to resist
  • Boldness: in which a key to battlefield success is having the daring to pursue breakthrough results rather than incremental ones and requires shifting resources to endeavors with uncertain outcomes
  • Surprise: in which maneuver warfare doctrine seeks to strike a foe in an unexpected manner to disorient the enemy and ensure any response comes too late to be effective and allows the practitioner to degrade the quality of information available to the enemy and impair their ability to respond
  • Ambiguity: acting in a way the enemy cannot predict and therefore works to further confuse them and potentially cause the enemy to commit their resources to a number of scenarios and to weaken its strength at any given point
  • Deception: where maneuver warfare doctrine works to convince an enemy that some action will occur while the practitioner is planning a separate action, and again designed to cause the adversary to deploy their resources erroneously
  • Focus: in which a commander works to deploy forces and resources in a concentrated manner to seize key opportunities and generate a superior combat power at a particular place and time and enable a smaller force to achieve decisive local superiority
Military technology

Technology has always played a large role in military operations. It includes the knowledge to construct technology, employ it in combat, and repair and replenish the technology. Especially since the twentieth century, the technology developed by and for the military has made its way into the wider society and has made life easier or more convenient for wider society. The technology of war is often divided into five categories:

  • Offensive arms, which are used to harm an enemy
  • Defensive weapons, which ward off offensive blows and protect forces
  • Transportation technology, which is used to move soldiers and equipment
  • Communications, which help to coordinate the movements of armed forces
  • Sensors, which (as a newer technology) work to detect forces and guide weaponry

Example of new technology applied to traditional military ordnance.

There has always been a critical relationship that has existed between the military and the technology it can employ, the tactics of its employment, and the psychological factors of technology on forces. Further, success in combat and achieving victory can be heavily influenced by the proper deployment of military technology—although overwhelming technology advantages have been shown to develop blindspots for militaries—and the ability of a military to coordinate its actions in a tactically effective manner can help overcome the strength and forces of an adversary.

Influence of technology
Example of the heavy armor of a medieval knight.

The influence of technology in the military can either be negative or positive. For example, the experience of an ancient Greek hoplite infantryman is one example of a positive influence, whose arms and armor were effective for fighting in closer formation, led to marching in step, and further augmented cohesion and made the phalanx a tactically formidable formation. The late medieval knight offers an example of the negative influence of technology, as to be able to wield the knight's sword and lance effectively he needed considerable space while the knight's closed helmet made communication difficult, and this led to knights often fighting as individuals who could and were often defeated by cohesive units of less well-equipped opponents.

Early radar systems on the English coast during WW2.

This way, warfare has progressed from primitive wars between tribal societies to warfare between societies based on the agrarian economy to warfare between industrialized societies in industrialized manners. Through the course of human history, the influence of technology on war has been a two-way street, one in which war has influenced the movements of technology. For example, the development of spears meant for military applications would have developed out of spears meant for hunting, with increasing specialization throughout history. While in other cases, technology has been developed specifically for warfare, which has then been used in wider society for greater convenience—such as the development of radar before the Second World War, used as an advance warning system, which has become largely ubiquitous in modern society.

At the same time, technology changes militaries and the way war is conducted. Technology changes warfare more than any other factor. In the basics of warfare, any military thinker or leader could be dropped into a modern context and understand the principles of the conflict and perhaps how to proceed through the conflict, as many of those principles are ancient and unchanging. However, the things they would struggle with in a modern military would be the technology of war; the airplanes, missiles, tanks, drones, satellites, computers, GPS, and a remaining panoply of military technology on the battlefield could prove baffling. And that would be to say nothing of warfare in the sea, the air, space, and the emerging battlefield of the information and communication infrastructure.

Influence on victory
The tank from WW1, which changed the way battles are fought.

There has been a lot of truth and myth about the role of technology on war, strategy, and victory. The ability for technology to overwhelm an opponent has led some military analysts to believe in a distinct advantage of technology to lead to victory. This view has been supported by notable uses of technology that were capable of ending wars. For example, during the First World War, the first tanks were developed, which were considered by some to break the German strength and offered a psychological advantage. Although others would point to the involvement of the United States in the war and the seemingly endless supply of new soldiers to the front.

The Enigma machine, used by German forces to encode messages, and cracked by Allied forces.

While in the Second World War, the use of radar, cracking of the Enigma machine, and eventual development of the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan created an advantage for Allied forces that is sometimes considered to have been overwhelming; except when looking at the eastern front, where Russia defeated the arguably technologically superior German forces through overwhelming force numbers rather than any technological capability. Previously to the nineteenth century, and in some arguable instances earlier, the regional differences experienced in military technology which had been almost cultural hallmarks through history began to disappear, as more militaries began to look the same and deploy the same, increasing for some the role of closely-held technologies expected to give a specific force an edge in the combat.

The latter example of the Second World War's eastern front, along with later examples when a technologically superior force failed to overcome an arguably technologically inferior force has led other military analysts to suggest that the role technology has played in victory has been overemphasized. Rather, other factors have had equal, and sometimes greater, impacts on the outcome, such as the human dimensions of conflict. It has been further argued that the role of technology can be undermined by the quality of its manufacturing, deployment in the field, and whether a commander's expectations of its impact are outside of its capabilities. Often, to harness the technology, a commander has to understand the technology's capabilities and limitations and apply it within a grander strategy, rather than rely on the technology as a strategy.

Military history
Movement map of the Waterloo campaign, an inciting moment for military history.

Military history is the history of conflicts and of military forces in peace and as well as during war. It emerged as a discrete, finite, and specialized study during the eighteenth century and emerged during studies of the Napoleonic wars, especially the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns. During this period, the characteristics of the discipline were established, as military history emerged as a study of the campaigns of the British army, with the discipline largely emerging in England at the time, before it began to expand in its scope and focus in the nineteenth century, when military history began to develop a serious analysis of military strength and its application.

The growth of military history as a subject from the late nineteenth century did mean academics and soldiers began studying it, although the foundations of it were shallow. Soldiers, rather than academics, also began writing official histories, especially in the First World War, and this would only change as broader definitions for official histories were adopted when writing the history of the Second World War. Largely, the two world wars also showed that approaching the study of history without taking military history into account left large portions of the history out.

Since that time, the study of military history has been undertaken by military professionals as part of the development of their skills which are considered to be applicable on the battlefield. This includes for soldiers and for military leaders, for whom learning the lessons of previous battles and campaigns, reasons for their successes and failures, and learning about various historical perspectives on military history remain important.

Further, military history can be used to give leaders and decision-makers in the military a better perspective on current issues and conflict, which can give those decision-makers a better understanding and comprehension of their adversary; the cultural, societal, and historical trends for a given adversary; and the decisions leaders have made against an adversary in the past and why those decisions have been successful or unsuccessful.

Further Resources


2- The Recruiting Process


8. Military Advertising and Recruiting | Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment |The National Academies Press


Commercial Logistics vs. Military Logistics: A Conceptual Analysis




October 9, 2019
Clarence E. "Kip" Vold published his autobiography, titled "Farmer's Son, Military Career" (Page Publishing; 2015). The author was born in 1940 to Norwegian immigrants in South Dakota and grew up on a farm. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1959 and served for 30 years. He received his BA in Economics from California State University-Chico in 1997., , , , For certain readers, "Farmer's Son, Military Career" is more than just a great piece of family history and heritage and a legacy of milit...
June 7, 2019
Clarence E. "Kip" Vold shares his wealth of experience as a farm boy, Air Force veteran, late college bloomer, and civilian in his autobiography "Farmer's Son, Military Career" (Page Publishing; 2015)., , , , The author's story reflects the powerful themes of family, patriotism, vocation, and perseverance. In his autobiography, he retraces his life growing up on a farm in South Dakota, family heritage, service in the National Guard and the Air Force, and transition to civilian life, includin...
May 22, 2019
What was supposed to be a four-year enlistment in the U.S. Air Force to just figure out what he wanted to do with his life turned out to be a 30-year career in the Air Force for Clarence E. "Kip" Vold. He narrates his experiences in his autobiography "Farmer's Son, Military Career" (Page Publishing; 2015)., , , , "When my terminal leave started, I felt that my life no longer had any purposes and that first weekend was frustrating for me," the author admitted in his book. "However, we had ma...
March 19, 2019
For people who are unsure about college or consider enlisting in the military, the book "Farmer's Son, Military Career" by Clarence E. "Kip" Vold should help them decide on the course for their future., , , , In his autobiography, the author, who is an Air Force veteran, shared the factors that influenced his military journey. Though born as a farm boy, he did not have farming in his bones and was determined to follow in the footsteps of his brother and uncles who went to college. His fathe...
Research and Markets
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DUBLIN, Feb. 15, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The "Less Lethal Ammunition Market by End User (Law Enforcement, Military, Self Defense), Product (Rubber Bullets, Bean...


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