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Rethinking Doctrine: An Opportunity to bring Doctrine delivery into the Digital Age

Rethinking Doctrine: An Opportunity to bring Doctrine delivery into the Digital Age

"Our subordinates are from the digital and “sharing economy” generation where disruptive technologies and practices routinely replace traditional services. When our subordinates comfortably use the largest transport company in the world which has no cars and the largest accommodation provider which has no property we need to do more to harness the agility embodied in our workforce and their comfort with technology and change."  - Commander Forces Command, Major General McLachlan, 2017

As the proportion of members of Army who belong to the internet generation grows, so too do expectations that Army will adopt the technologies and practices of the digital age.

Wikipedia, the internet’s largest and most utilized general reference site, offers a vision for how Army doctrine could be stored, accessed and updated to meet the rising expectations of digital natives. In an increasingly fast-paced and complex operating environment, doctrine must adapt quickly, and incorporate increasingly specialised areas of expertise across Army.

A “wiki” platform for Army would revolutionise the utility of doctrine. Under a wiki system, documents could be segmented into small components that are easily searched, and located. Information would become reachable, interlinked, and more easily updated. At the same time, a doctrine wiki could increase access to doctrine, and encourage soldiers to be more engaged with its development.

Currently, Army doctrine is spread across three hundred pamphlets of between 80 and over 400 pages in length. These pamphlets are printed by individuals for a handful of uses, but otherwise usually sit on office shelves in green folders until they are archived. Each individual pamphlet is an “orphan”—digital speak for a document that is not linked to others within the information ecosystem.

A wiki could change the game. Currently, information can only be found if the searcher has a pamphlet name and a page number. Otherwise, they need to search through often hundreds of pages in a document. With a wiki, a URL would become the key to retrieving information. Hyperlinks would be embedded in documents to give users the opportunity to interact with the doctrine, allowing modern soldiers the versatility to read and search doctrine. This is mandated ‘user friendly’ requirements for modern soldiers already navigating civilian information storehouses like Wikipedia—but distinguished by aggregating dozens of wiki pages together as per an individual doctrine handbook.

For doctrine to be effective and trusted by soldiers, it must be authoritative. Complete faith in the truth, rigour of development and contemporary relevance of doctrine is paramount for the soldier who musts know with confidence that she is safely out of the doctrinal range of an enemy fighter’s AK47s. If there is no confidence in doctrine—colloquially ‘military bibles’—battlefield performance can suffer. Fortunately, each segment on a doctrine wiki could provide authority and doctrine review information.

Scattered throughout doctrine are key pieces of information that are mentioned multiple times, such as the effective range of the F88 Austeyr. This creates administrative challenges for updating doctrine. A segment system could tag individual components as 'master' sources which provide a single home of information that can be drawn from across doctrine. If this master source is amended, it would synchronously reflect this change across other components listing this information. This ensures readers hold confidence in doctrine. For many soldiers, evidence of being 'out-of-touch' makes them deeply uncomfortable. If doctrine holds inconsistencies or fails to demonstrate an efficient upgrade cycle, Major General MacLachlan’s soldiers will pay it little heed.

While not specifically doctrine, the Standard Infantry Battalion (SIB) Handbook lacks a solid doctrinal connection. The SIB Handbook translates doctrine to user-specific applications and draws from many pamphlets to achieve this. With a doctrine wiki, the need for the SIB Handbook would not disappear. The SIB Handbook could become a pre-selected set of segments from across all doctrine. This would better establish procedures updating and managing the material, since it would be managed by Army Knowledge Group as stewards of the document. Soldiers would continue to play a prominent role by contributing to doctrine development through submitting recommendations to the wiki.

There are two options before Army; one leads towards an opportunity for technological innovation and the other towards technological obsolescence. Society is witnessing the advent of a ‘sharing economy’ that is able to leverage engagement from a wide audience to improve an organisation’s body of knowledge. Army is no different. By leveraging a modern platform for doctrine we can leverage the comfort with technology and change of our subordinates and ensure Army’s agile doctrine cycle can outpace our adversaries.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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