Before writing about a military certain things should be clear in the mind of the writer. Military branches and units are often as complex as Nations. Militaries have histories, mottoes and traditions.
Like everything Militaries evolve and are heavily influenced by the society they protect or in some cases, manage. A great many different factors can affect how a military evolves and these affect how it is organized.
Dictators and other oppressive societies frequently insure their military receives the best housing, weapons and equipment. They try very hard to keep the officers, if not the enlisted happy because the military is what keeps them in power. A military has to have weapons to defend the state and weapons don’t determine who is right and wrong, despite the existence of pacifism, they do determine who writes the history books.
Democratic militaries are heavily influenced by their society. When few of its citizens understand what war is about then the military will often be under strength and continuously in danger of cutbacks. If a society (the citizens, not the media) has recently been traumatized by a war on the home territory then the military will be strong and dedicated.
Below is a questionnaire for designing a military. It is by no means complete and everything does not need to be answered to give a military organization life. However, it is often the little details that can make Science Fiction real to the readers.
MISSION: What is the military unit or organization’s primary mission? (Clerks won’t be assigned to combat patrols and the Army won’t be tasked with patrolling the ocean trade routes). Does it have a secondary (or peacetime) mission? (in some countries military units act as police, in the US the Constitution forbids that).
HOW DOES IT MAKE WAR?: Are tactics based on attrition warfare, Maneuver Warfare or Revolutionary Warfare. This would have a powerful effect on how the units are organized, trained and equipped.
WHAT ARE THE TRADITIONS and HISTORY: Some military organizations are big on this, like the United States Marine Corp and French Foreign Legion, others aren’t like the US Army. All militaries do have their history buffs but not all teach it to every member. Many people Marines and non-Marines can identify the Marine Corps motto “Semper Fi”. It is rare to find a person who knows the Army motto.
MOTTO: What is the unit’s motto (not the military branch’s)? What does it mean?
SONG: Does the unit have a song (official or unofficial?).
WHAT KIND OF SOCIETY DOES THE MILITARY BELONG TO: This can affect a great many things. Dictatorships often prefer to have stupid troops that will follow orders regardless. ‘Stupid’ troops may, in actuality, be very intelligent but conditioned to follow orders explicitly. Democracies often have intelligent, capable troops. Of course there are always exceptions.
DOES THE SOCIETY SUPPORT OR HINDER THE MILITARY: How does the homeland think of the military. Are they viewed as war mongers, valiant defenders, oppressors or just normal people working a job.
WHAT KIND OF RECRUITS DOES THE MILITARY GET: Do most of the recruits come from rural areas, big cities, ghettos, the upper crust of society or the lower crust of society. Of course all militaries usually recruit from all walks of life but sometimes certain units will end up with a larger number of one type of recruit than another. For instance in my Marine Corps combat unit a large majority of the Marines were white, about twenty four out of thirty, Army units would usually have a much higher proportion of blacks. This doesn’t necessarily reflect abilities or racism but probably more the views and perceptions of the recruits.
The kind of recruit can have a major influence in training and treatment of recruits. Soviet recruits were from a hardier background, military service was mandatory, and training would sometimes involve physical abuse so Soviet soldiers were usually pretty rugged. The US Military would like to recruit bright, intelligent warriors but society is not generally very rugged and tough. To lure quality volunteers, the military cannot be too brutal and so the troops are not what they could be except in some elite units.
WHAT IS BOOT CAMP LIKE: Boot camp is the core of all militaries. To one extent or another Basic Training is designed to ‘brainwash’ recruits and teach them how to be good Marines, soldiers, sailors, or airmen. It must indoctrinate them into the military society and it must be able to take people from all walks of life and help them adjust to Military Life. Sometimes boot camp is easy going and laid back (like the Air Force) and sometimes it is harsh, brutal and demanding (like the Marines or French Foreign Legion). Basic Training shapes a new service member in many ways.
In the Marines there is often friendly rivalry between those Marines that went to Parris Island and San Diego. When Marines meet, that is frequently one of the first questions they ask each other. In the Army it is usually more of a question on where the soldier served, if at all.
Powerful friendships are forged as young recruits grow to be mature adults. Boot camp gives all service men and women a common background.
BUDGET: The National Budget and how it is spent often has a great impact on a military. Is the military able to afford the latest and greatest weapons? Is training high quality because of high quality facilities? Do the troops have to spend their own money to keep their unit operational?
Frequently in the Marines, when a Battalion ran out of money, it would be forced to stay in Garrison and since the troops couldn’t remain idle, there were plenty of inspections. Inspections would keep the troops busy and saved the unit money. Many would argue the merits but ask any NCO or enlisted person and they would tell you how it does not contribute to combat readiness like field training.
Special Operations Units often have good budgets and can afford the training and equipment needed to be elite, but this is not always the case.
Currently the US is more interested in spending money on high tech toys than troops and many fine individuals are becoming disillusioned with military service. New hotels are built for officers while the troops live in ancient barracks is not good for morale. Fighter pilots who must spend long hours flying a boring, monotonous patrol instead of training lose their combat readiness and career interest.
Training takes money, missions take money and when missions are a priority then training is frequently found lacking. A great nation may spend a lot of money on ‘defense’ but that doesn’t mean the troops are well trained, well led and well equipped.
RANK STRUCTURE: How is the military ranks structure organized from Private to High General? How do officers, Staff NCO’s, NCO’s and enlisted all relate to each other? Are Officers ‘God’ figures, are they ‘Father’ figures, tyrants ect, to the lower ranks. Is honesty and candor expected or is everyone supposed to be a yes man/woman? Are Privates able to tactfully voice their opinions to seniors or are they expected to shut up and follow orders without comment? What does it take to be an officer? Family background (like nobility), training, or money?
LOGISTICS BASE: How does the military rely on logistics? Where does logistical support reside? For example the Marines have well equipped supply ships, the Army relies more on the Air Force to fly their logistics around. It might be noted here that because ships can carry heavier equipment than planes the Marine Corps is often able to provide a heavier force more quickly to distant areas. The Army can usually respond faster with a lighter force. The Navy relies on ships, of course, to supply their fleets and the Air Force relies on the Army to secure areas for their Airbases.
A space fleet would most likely use starships as a logistics base but the type of ship should be considered. Is the ship a massive warehouse or a smaller courier or maybe it has a nano-machine factory. Are a unit’s starships capable of carrying armored and aircraft units or are they just infantry transports. Does the ship use shuttles to land supplies or does the ship itself land in a secured area? What about medical logistics, mail, food supplies, armories, fuel, replacements and so on? Are military transports large or small?
SUPPORTING ARMS: What kind of supporting arms does the military have? Do they rely on missiles and fighter craft (like the Navy) or artillery and mortars. Does the military have its own air force or must it rely on another branch (like the army in most cases)? Does it have cruise missile capability? Nuclear warhead capability? Orbital bombardment capability? How available is the supporting arms? For instance every infantry regiment in the Marines could have it’s own artillery battalion.
ARMOR: Is the military heavily mechanized? Does it have large numbers of tanks and/or armored personnel carriers or is a lighter force. This factor is usually influenced by the perceived threat of the enemy. The US Army in Europe was heavily mechanized because the Soviets were, the 82nd Airborne was not heavily mechanized because they were airdropped. Parachutes don’t help heavy tanks very much.
MORALE: What is the morale of the military? This can be effected by a great many things and can greatly effect combat effectiveness. The Iraqi Republican Guard for instance usually has a high morale because they are the military ‘favorite’ and receive the best. For these reason’s they are Iraq’s best. Regular troops are often conscripts and more interested in going home than fighting. If the morale is high the unit will fight more effectively and aggressively, if morale is low it will prefer defensive battles and be more likely to surrender if they are threatened with destruction.
UNIT STRENGTH LEVELS: This can have a powerful effect on military units. Tactical doctrine usually assumes that a unit is at full strength or close to it. When a unit is under strength it is often forced to operate outside of doctrine and adapt. For instance, if a Platoon Leader is trained how to deploy three squads in battle for maximum effectiveness and security and then he has to make do with only two, then all his training has to be modified.
The Soviets in Afghanistan and Chenchenya had this problem on occasion. Units thrown together for an operation were frequently disorganized and this severely hampered combat operations because a lot of strangers were working with each other and trying to fit into an unfamiliar battle plan.
HOW DOES THE MILITARY INTERACT WITH SOCIETY? This is often influenced by how the people view the military and the military’s missions. For instance if the people feel oppressed they will shun the military and prefer to avoid contact. Troops will frequently be kept on base to avoid incidents with locals and this can have a damaging effect on the troops morale. Or troops may be used like police and might take out their anger and frustration on the people thereby increasing hostility.
In Brazil, troops are often used in a civic role to help promote patriotism in distant areas. Brazilian troops are very patriotic and try to do things to gain local support, like building churches or schools. In some cases armies have been used to help harvest crops.
LOYALTY: How loyal is the military and its units. Do coup attempts happen? Are the troops conscripts and unwilling to be there in the first place? Is morale low, making the troops resent their leaders and more willing to mutiny or desert? Are the troops well fed, well treated and loyal? Is racism a problem?
RELIGION: How does religion affect the Military? Does it stop to pray five times a day, or are only certain religions allowed to join? Do religious factions within the military clash? Do troops put more faith in their God(s) than they should? For instance, the US (and most professional militaries) spend precious time calibrating and calculating angles and trajectories for their cannon so they can hit what they want to. At least one Middle East country throws their cannon off their trucks, aims it in the general direction of the enemy and says “If Allah wills us to hit, we will hit.” Suffice to say they are not in the least accurate.
MEN AND WOMEN: How do men and women fit into the military. Are they all professionals who are treated equally? Are there separate male and female units? Are women held to the same standards men are? Are the barracks little more than whore houses? Are women allowed into combat? How does this affect combat effectiveness? How do women deal with pregnancy and ‘that time of month’ while they are in the front lines? Is the equipment a trooper is expected to carry too heavy for a woman or does powered armor make this irrelevant?
LIVING STANDARDS: What are the living standards like? Cleanly or slovenly. Living standards can have a major effect on morale. Dictators frequently insure the troops have high living standards because it keeps them loyal, although this is not always the case. Sometimes troops have very low living standards but they are kept in check by officers (who have high standards) and secret police (who are fanatics or have high standards also). Pay also has to do with living standards and the loyalty of troops. Poorly paid conscripts who live in tents are usually little more than cattle and considered cannon fodder. Elite troops that keep a dictator in power (like the Iraqi Republican Guard) are usually well paid, have a high standard of living and receive the best. After all, it is the guy with the gun that rules. Anybody who wants to argue might go ask Saddam Hussein or Adolph Hitler.
SERVICE: How do people serve in the military? Are they conscripts (required to do one or more years), are they convicts or other ‘rejects’ forced into military service, are they volunteers, is it a family tradition, or are they draftees (randomly selected conscripts).
Conscripts are usually not as motivated or dedicated as volunteers, they view it as more of a bad chore that has to be done so they can continue with their life. In a conscript military the professionals are usually of the rank NCO and up. Regular soldiers are not always taught the finer points of military operations and are usually expected to blindly follow the orders of the higher ranking NCO’s and Officers.
Family Tradition usually provides a very high caliber of trooper. Trained almost since birth someone who is following the family tradition usually has an advantage over others. One excellent example is the British Ghurka units. The Ghurka’s are some of the finest fighters in the world. Their units often have several generations in the same command and virtually everyone is following the family tradition of service to Great Britain.
How Intense is the training? There is more to training than meets the eye. Do the troops have realistic training. One realistic training episode a year is not good enough. Are the troops desensitized to violence by having blood squirt out of their targets, do they have man-like targets or are they just paper targets. In combat, the troops with the most realistic training will usually be more willing to fire. In World War 2 for instance, troops were excellent marksmen against paper targets. In battle only 15-20 percent actually fired at the enemy, others were unwilling to kill their fellow man. In World War 2 the Japanese used Chinese prisoners as targets for bayonet practice to help desensitize them. Japanese troops became known as some of the cruelest, most blood thirsty killers. Previously they had been the most chivalrous and honorable.
How Experienced is the Military: Has it been blooded by numerous wars? Are the ranks full of veterans or is everyone ‘green’. Are there only a few veterans? Veterans who have seen the horror of battle serve as a role model and heroes for those that haven’t. Frequently those Veterans know what works and what doesn’t and have learned a large number of tricks and techniques. Non-veterans may know a lot but the fact is, practice and reality is better than theory.
How violent are the troops: Do the troops come from a society oppressed by fear where life is cheap? Do they come from peaceful societies where life is treasured? A person from the bloody ghettos is more likely to ‘snuff’ a sentry than somebody who grew up in a Christian private school.
Today US society ‘enables’ its children to kill by desensitizing them at the movies, in games and in cartoons. What this equates to is that a soldier is more willing to kill and/or commit atrocities in war. This is not the only factor that effects killing and atrocities.
What is the standard tour of duty: This can have a large effect on the professionalism and capability of the military. An army full of one year enlistees is not going to be the most competent, two years is a little better. By the time a recruit has learned what he is doing and is becoming comfortable with it his tour of duty is over. There is quite a bit to learn in the military. In the Marines for instance I underwent about six months of training (Boot camp, Marine Combat Training and School of Infantry). When I got to the Fleet I thought I knew everything there was to know. I learned that I had only knew enough to keep up with the more experienced members.