17.480 | Spring 2017 | Graduate

Understanding Military Operations


Course Meeting Times

Seminar: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


MIT students need the permission of the instructor.

Course Description

A proper understanding of modern military operations requires a prior understanding of both the material side of war, including especially weapon, sensor, communication, and information processing technologies, and the human or organizational side of war, including especially military doctrine, which is an institutionalized vision within military organizations that predicts how the material tools of war will be wielded on future battlefields. Military doctrine makes assumptions about the nature of future battlefields, and determines what the division of labor on those battlefields will be between different military tools. Doctrine also therefore determines the organizational hierarchy among the various branches of the military which wield those tools. Thus, one way to think of the relationship between military technology and doctrine is to think of doctrine as a filter that a military organization will use to assess the effect that future technologies or new battlefields are likely to have on its existing organizational hierarchy.

This seminar will break apart selected past, current, and future sea, air, space, and land battlefields into their constituent parts and look at the interaction in each of those warfare areas between existing military doctrine and weapons, sensors, communications, and information processing technologies. It will specifically seek to explore how technological development, whether innovative or stagnant, is influenced in each warfare area by military doctrine.


Students will be required to write one 20–30 page research paper that delves more deeply into one or several warfare areas and asks how doctrine influences the development and use of different weapon or sensor technologies. Papers will employ the case study method and topics can be based on historic, current, or future cases. It is required that the topic be approved by the Instructor. The course has no prerequisites and, with the permission of the instructor, is open to undergraduates and auditors, but is designed for graduate students with a serious interest in the Security Studies Program.


1 Introduction
2 What is Military Doctrine?
3 Armored Warfare
4 Strategic Bombing
5 Naval Warfare (World War II)
6 Naval Warfare (Cold War)
7 Air to Air
8 Defense Suppression
9 Precision Strike
10 Strategic Mobility
11 ISR Politics
12 ISR Sensors and Networks
13 Satellite Communications
14 Tactical Mobility

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017