Small Wars Journal

Setting an Expeditionary Posture Through Mission Command

Wed, 04/25/2012 - 12:55pm

In a recent Army Magazine article, Wayne Grigsby, Jeff Witsken and I discussed the importance of the integration of a mission command Network into our forces and their operations.  This begins by understanding that the Network is the technology used to connect and enhance human networks to achieve a desired objective according to a plan and/or strategy – in other words, the Network is people enabled by technology with a shared purpose.

As war is an inherently human endeavor, imbued with all the confusion and complexity these actions entail, we cannot allow an overly technical focus to pervade how we conduct mission command – let alone how we provide leadership to our units in the field.  As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently stated in his Mission Command White Paper, “Technology cannot replace the human ability to create and make intuitive judgment.”  However he also recognized that to “gain and maintain advantageous tempo [over our enemies], our leaders must be able to see, understand and rapidly exploit opportunities in both time and space” while also contributing to “the common operating assessment of context, 'co-creating it’ as operations progress and situations change.”

The mission command Network enables the commander to simultaneously gather information from above, below and laterally to create a shared understanding amongst the organization, while also providing the infrastructure to quickly disseminate the intent that is so critical in mission command.  With these two pieces of information, units at every level are able to quickly plan and execute operations to achieve the commander’s intent – no matter their distribution on the battlefield.

To fully utilize the Network’s capability, however, the commander must integrate it as any other weapon system.  Its elements must be designed for greatest effect and be employed in space and time as any other element of combat power.  Steps to achieve this include managing bandwidth as a class of supply and setting the conditions for the successful employment of the Network in the physical domains, in cyberspace, and in the electromagnetic spectrum.  In the future – in fact, in many operations today – the effective use of the Network is as powerful a determinant of unit performance as the ability to fire ballistic weapons systems or maneuver forces.

Getting this capability, both technologically and culturally, into the hands of our soldiers and their units is imperative.  For a decade we have provided the decentralized authority needed in complex operations and used various technological solutions to enable them.  We must now reinvest the knowledge and skills developed in combat to advance, share and inculcate our operations in our day to day lives.  We must not only educate our leaders to build trust and conduct mission command, as the CJCS’ white paper rightly advocates, but also make it a daily habit – a part of each unit’s daily operations.  The technological solutions that allow our soldiers to communicate and share information instantly on the battlefield must be in every unit’s headquarters and command posts.  They must use that technology every day; not only to build the technical skills required in modern technology, but to develop the systems, processes, and command style necessitated by this type of command and control.

What this paradigm shift – enabled by ever-improving technology – truly provides is the ability to be more expeditionary; physically, intellectually, and structurally.  Physically, our forces will be on the ground quickly and able to sustain themselves through communications to higher, lower and laterally.  Intellectually, our soldiers and leaders will be educated in mission command and trained with the necessary tools (used daily at home station) to not skip a beat, no matter their location.  Additionally, when our units are globally networked, from home station to forward positions to combat command posts, it increases their understanding of the operating environment, reducing their learning curve at the outset.  Structurally, when the institution is materially and psychologically prepared for a forward-positioned and expeditionary force, and our soldiers and leaders have already been provided their equipment and are using it in daily operations, there is a decreased need for refitting and retraining our units.  They have been conducting the same tasks at home station they would be employing in the field.

As the Army increases its capabilities and capacity to support the Joint Force 2020 we must develop a globally-networked force that is not only tapped into when deployed to a combat zone.  Future conflicts will not be characterized by the current ability to occupy developed infrastructure and processes seen in places like Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.  We will be required to enter previously undeveloped theaters and bring our capabilities with us.  This requires units that have not only been provided and trained on a set of equipment tied to the Network, but have integrated it into their daily activities.  It is as much a matter of mind set as technical capability.

In the end, this challenge must be laid at the feet of every Army leader.  The Army as an institution must develop and field viable technological solutions, but each of us as leaders must take them and provide purpose and understanding within each of our organizations.  We must influence our organization’s culture – and the inherent bureaucratic fear of revolutionary technological change – to ensure we not only have a global mission command Network, but that we use it daily to link our outstanding network of people to achieve the needs of our Army, and the Nation.

Categories: networks - mission command


Move Forward

Sat, 04/28/2012 - 11:17am

In reply to by Vitesse et Puissance

Vitesse said:

<i>“If in fact we see modernization programs that just throw hardware and software at what is in fact a doctrinal, procedural and organizational problem - especially in environments where the rules of engagement put our men and women in harms way, in no-win situations where Mother-May-I is a bad practice, the solution to Mission Command in Complex Operations could very well be a simplification of the apparatus by which operations are planned, coordinated and executed.”</i>

Agree and disagree. As you know, FCS had emphasized the network, larger and higher ranking staffs, and battle command software that was going to automate many planning and MDMP functions. Given today’s realizations concerning 1) cyber warfare, 2) FCS’s off-base plan for larger staffs and LTC BCT S-2s with S-3 like authority, and 3) computers cannot substitute for human judgment, a tilt toward mission command makes sense.

Every Soldier becomes a sensor as part of commander/S-3 tasked operations only if that combat information can get to and from the platoon and squad level. Maybe these new systems thwart cyber attempts, bypass staff control (while keeping them aware), and show trust in subordinates to make judgments based on information passed to lower levels rather than waiting on elaborate stateside intelligence analysis. I don’t know.

As for Mother-May-I, many times "Mother" is the one who can access scarce airpower and aerial imagery be it Joint or Army. Mother communications and coordination were essential to save forces at COP Margah and other battles in “Outlaw Platoon,” and COPs at Wanat and Keating. "Mother" failed forces at Ganjgal, in the Urozgan Predator, and Kunduz tanker-bombing incidents. With enemies realizing that hugging civilians, friendly forces, and urban areas is the sole means to avoid mother-ordered artillery and airpower, won’t we face more rather than less future restraint in the “American way of war?”

If Iranian missiles hug cities, Chinese amphibious and airborne forces are already on Taiwan, or Russians are already intermixed with civilians in Ukraine, mother-commanded close combat will play a major role or the enemy will never be defeated. JTACs and forward observers must be on the ground with mother’s forces having access to more precise and limited-explosive munitions. Recall that early in OEF the CIA and SOF were bombing the Taliban at Tora Bora, a prison near Mazur-e Sharif, and other open areas…not in urban areas.

Mission command assures that ground forces can better access human intelligence reports, imagery, and SIGINT at lower echelons. It and the network provide greater awareness of friendly and enemy force locations based on Blue Force Tracker Increment 2 icons and communications on the move. Forces so enabled will employ fire and maneuver and danger close munitions near both friendly forces and civilians to a greater affect, not effect.

<i> “It is not actually replacing the ineptness and inefficiencies of Charlie Dare's command style with the Pattonesque hip-shooting drive of Tex Goodspeed.”

I confess to ignorance of both Charlie Dare and Tex Goodspeed after googling both and finding nothing that seemed relevant. In any event, Tom Rick’s blog at had this quote this week that calls into question whether Patton subscribed more to true mission command or rather more of a SOP and drill-based philosophy.

<i>“The successful use of such [small, mobile, self-contained] units will depend on giving great initiative to all leaders in actual command of men.</i>

<i>...Under such circumstances the solution of the command problem would seem to rest in using the method called by the British: "The Nelsonian Method," or by our Navy, the method of "Indoctrinated initiative. This system is based on the belief that the: "Best is the enemy of the Good." That a simple mediocre solution applied instantly is better than a perfect one which is late or complicated.</i>

<i>Among leaders of whatever rank there are three types: 10 percent Genius; 80 percent Average; and 10 percent Fools. The average group is the critical element in battle. It is better to give such men several simple alternative solution which, by repeated practice, they can independently apply than it is to attempt to think for them via the ever fallible means of signal communications."</i>

There is little doubt that drills and knowledge of actions on contact and unit SOPs is a major factor in mission command. Subordinates who demonstrate they can perform immediately need access to information to make the course of action decisions that are part of actions on contact. They need combat information BEFORE contact so they are better positioned to thwart or avoid it. Mission command technology provides that kind of information access and ability for squads to pass and receive information to and from “mother.”

Robert Jones had a good comment, but one that often is exaggerated.

<i>“It does seem that the very technology touted here as the core of a future concept of Mission Command is the very culprit that is working to destroy our historic approach to leadership and mission command. Damn hard for that E-4 acting squad leader, or event that board selected LTC battalion commander, to exercise any true command when leaders far senior can watch, assess, direct or countermand their every order or move.”</i>

In “Outlaw Platoon” a division commander talked to the platoon leader once but did not micromanage him. That platoon leader mentioned having rare contact with his battalion commander, yet he and the company commander were obviously behind the scenes calling in fires and airpower. It was human intelligence that gave COP Margah’s superiors time to coordinate airpower to save a 25-man platoon minus from 200 Taliban and foreign fighters.

Also in that book, several times maneuver and firepower came close to fratricide because both lower and higher echelons were not fully clear where present and arriving coalition (mainly ANA) forces were located. Obviously, tools that provide greater locational situational awareness, imagery, and combat information at all levels can only improve mission command.

It is only when staffs do not understand what is happening that you end up with Ganjgal where fires were too little and too late in the wrong location, or OH-58Ds shot Hazara vans in Oruzgan based on erroneous stateside analyst/pilot Predator information.

Vitesse et Puissance

Fri, 04/27/2012 - 2:02pm

Ah, there's no problem like an old problem. I hate to keep bringing this up, but one might well go up on Amazon and procure a copy of "Alternative to Armageddon; The peace potential of lightning war" to understand just how long the US Army had been processing the problem of digitized command and control. What is new - at a conceptual level - in JV2020, in Net-Centric Operations, indeed, the whole package? Shifting our sights from the 1970s to the 1990s, what about Frederic Brown's "The U.S. Army in Transition II: Landpower in the Information Age" - an AUSA publication that was at least abreast of its time ? Do we always have to enter this conversation at the sophomore level, as if there was nothing but technology driving the train, as if the discovery of the cellphone and the iPad were, in Charlie Dare's terms, "combat multipliers bringing synergy to the battlespace". Oh, for Pete's sake.

One does see the term "complex operations" arise in this piece. Now, there is something to work with. What does JV2020 promise with respect to the tempo of complex operations ? Are we fighting by minutes - or is it more like fighting by days, months, years, or decades ? How, in fact, do we synchronize military planning with the almost seventeenth century pace of diplomatic and development ? And what about a "common" and "relevant" operational picture ? Do we in fact have the tools of the trade in hand, and do we in fact have the ability to share the data they create in the consistent, seamless, reliable and secure fashion that JV2020 promised (or at least, promised to promise)?

Both White, Yale, and Manteuffel as well as Brown emphasized the qualities of leadership as well as the processes of command in their now-decades-old works. Many comments on this board describe the sociological reaction to increased visibility of Operational Environment - as well as the prospect of a more old-fashioned centralization of command responsibility. I'm reminded of Mike Malone's dictum that the commander is not he who does the most (including making the most decisions) but he who knows the most. What is the benefit of keeping the boss uninformed - or delaying access to information so that the decisions coming from the top are often too late ? What makes us think that Mission Command has anything to do with anarchy or selective non-compliance ? But there are real challenges to our hierarchically structured chains of command and staff support. US Army headquarters staffs were notoriously bloated in Vietnam. There was never any real attempt to lean them out through the end of the Cold War. If in fact we see modernization programs that just throw hardware and software at what is in fact a doctrinal, procedural and organizational problem - especially in environments where the rules of engagement put our men and women in harms way, in no-win situations where Mother-May-I is a bad practice, the solution to Mission Command in Complex Operations could very well be a simplification of the apparatus by which operations are planned, coordinated and executed. I am not convinced at all that the Army has faced this issue foresquare, at the level where faces and places are allocated and resourced.

So the answer is not actually graduating from "iron collars" to "gold collars", as General Brown had it, turning our officers and NCOs into Renaissance Men. Our warriors are far too bound by human frailty for that approach. It is not actually replacing the ineptness and inefficiencies of Charlie Dare's command style with the Pattonesque hip-shooting drive of Tex Goodspeed. We've all lived under both kinds, observed their ways, and seen the deficiencies of both. And it is not a naive faith in the latest gizmo to hit the commercial market, at the expense of a long-term strategy that integrates the Future Force in a way that enables better, cheaper and faster performance. We do need to take advantage of all the gifts that science and technology have on offer. But as we seek to master these gifts, it will behoove us to maintain a sense of pragmatism as to their capabilities and limits - to say nothing of a sense of history that tells us when we've been here before.

Robert C. Jones

Fri, 04/27/2012 - 5:26am

It's hard to fault the concept of "mission command," after all, isn't this how we have always supposed to operate in the US military? Is this not the essence of American military units having a reputation of being able to carry on to achieve the purpose of an operation even when communications with higher are long lost, or when leadership has been horribly disrupted through attrition?

It does seem that the very technology touted here as the core of a future concept of Mission Command is the very culprit that is working to destroy our historic approach to leadership and mission command. Damn hard for that E-4 acting squad leader, or event that board selected LTC battalion commander, to exercise any true command when leaders far senior can watch, assess, direct or countermand their every order or move.

I am curious to see how we balance the technologically driven "mission command" of continuous senior leader oversight, with the age old tradition as touted in the movie "Master and Commander." Can one replace trust with tech? How many decisions should be made by senior leaders far removed, the "man in the op center", that would truly be better than those made by "the man in the arena"?

I do like the idea that this will put the dated construct of Geographic Combatant Commanders on the table for review. Most problems are far more global today than in eras past, and demand holistic, seamless approaches. Are globally oriented, functionally focused commands a better fit for the emerging environment? I don't know, but it is worth exploring.

Good or bad, the concept is on the table. We need to look at it with an open mind and see what it offers; but it will be in finding that balance between networked coordination and the preservation (restoration?) of decision making at the lowest possible level that we find our best success.


Thu, 04/26/2012 - 10:13am

Paradigm shift? With each evolution of technology we find oursevles in a period of a revolution in military affairs or a paradigm shift. The ubiquitous network is hardly a paradigm shift. This evolution in the tools available to a commander has been in the making since the early days of ABCS. Neither is the philosophy of Mission Command or Mission Orders all that new. Its probably time that we take a reasoned approach to advances in technology, the integration of that technology, the impact of technology for commanders and soldiers rather than looking at it like we just discovered fire.


Thu, 04/26/2012 - 10:32am

In reply to by emcptamerica

The article also presumes that our ability to communicate needs to improve. Is that really a problem?

Shouldn't any new idea or proposal or initiative start with defining the current problem?

Maybe this is why Op Design fails in the field. Too often the senior officers who most need to employ Design are incapable of organizing their headquarters to do it.


Thu, 04/26/2012 - 9:04am

This article doesn't address how networks can ensure effective functioning of a unit without turning into micromanagement. I think we gradually forget how to teach/coach/mentor because technology allows us to "reach down" and micromanage if desired without immediately obvious penalties. Long term penalities-- lack of trust, risk aversion, excessive reporting requirements tying up staffs--only show over time.
I agree that bandwidth should be managed almost like a "class of supply," and part of that is asking what reports/instructions are required and why. I think the higher a headquarters, the more likely it will turn into an information "black hole" sucking in all available information as fast as possible...and misused technology just expands the event horizon (the edge where you can't escape.)

What current problem or gap does the new Network paradigm correct? Are we emphasizing a solution to a problem that doesn't exist?

Did Mission Command, or Battle Command, or Command and Control fail or succeed over these last ten years because of the application of the Network? Or are there other factors?

What type of situational awareness or understanding does the Network provide the commander? How does the Network help the higher headquarters better support the lower headquarters?

At the tactical level of SA/SU, I'm reminded of LTC Abrams in WWII. Not only was he always out front, even scouting out independently. He also took a tank from each of his companies and gave them to his primary staff officers. Then sent a primary staff officer with each one of his company units to follow and report back to him. This wasn't an attempt to micromanage, but to gather information as speedily as possible to make decisions in support of the entire battalion.

Richard Rumelt, in his book "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy," says there are four hallmarks of bad strategy. The first of these is Fluff.

"Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments. It uses 'Sunday' words (words that are inflated and unnecessarily abstruse) and apparently esoteric concepts to create the illusion of high-level thinking. Make it simple."

This article sounds a helluva lot like fluff to me.