Small Wars Journal

mission command

Setting an Expeditionary Posture Through Mission Command

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.