Academic journal article Military Review

Surrendering the Initiative? C2 on the Digitized Battlefield

Academic journal article Military Review

Surrendering the Initiative? C2 on the Digitized Battlefield

Article excerpt

The advantage which a commander thinks he can attain through continued personal intervention is largely illusory. By engaging in it he assumes a task that really belongs to others, whose effectiveness he thus destroys. He also multiplies his own tasks to a point where he can no longer fulfill the whole of them.

--Helmuth von Moltke (1)

LEADERS ON the battlefield have always made and will continue to make decisions in the midst of great uncertainty, and they will continue to monitor the execution of those decisions. In a recent Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) publication, Leonard Wong notes that future leaders must demonstrate the competence of adaptability or the capability of being independent and creative as they plan operations based on commander's intent or as they alter plans as conditions change. (2) This concept is not new to tactical operations; the Germans called it "auftragstaktik."

In The Battle for Hunger Hill, U.S. Army Colonel Daniel P. Bolger refers to the concept as "situational command." (3) Today, the Army doctrinally addresses this "disciplined initiative within the commander's intent" as "mission command," or "directive" control. (4) However, to reduce uncertainty and disperse the fog of war, the Army is racing to achieve information-dominance through battlefield digitization to allow higher level commanders to monitor the actions of command elements several echelons down the chain of command. Battlefield digitization is ushering in detailed control, fraught with indecision; centralized execution; and stifled battlefield initiative.

Directive v. Detailed Command and Control

Directive control emphasizes mission-type orders and empowers subordinate leaders to exercise initiative during a battle. To exploit opportunities and subordinates' initiative, the commander should explain his mission and intent, then allow subordinates the freedom to figure out how to accomplish the mission. (5) Directive control subsumes the concepts of individual initiative, independent decisionmaking, and allowing thinking leaders to reach tactical decisions on their own. (6) Higher commanders must allow subordinates to develop their own methods and use their own expertise, their intimate knowledge of their soldiers and equipment, and their greater familiarity with their own area of operations. The only constraint is that they must act within the commander's intent to ensure unity of effort. (7)

The alternate form of command and control (C2) is characterized by detailed orders, which emerged as doctrine in the former Soviet Union before and during World War II. However, mission-type orders were never feasible given the political nature of the Soviet military. In fact, the Red Army never favored the use of imaginative, aggressive, young leaders. Instead, it relied on control by detailed orders. Subordinate leaders had little room to decide their own courses of action and were expected not to innovate, but to carry out their commander's specific orders relentlessly. Today, this practice is generally viewed as ineffective. (8)

Military Philosophers on C2

Detailed control is stigmatized as ineffective because of the battlefield's uncertainty, friction, and fog of war, the last being advanced by military philosophers such as Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, Swiss General Henri de Jomini, and China's Sun Tzu. Clausewitz said, "Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult [where the difficulties combine and accumulate to produce] inconceivable friction." (9) Clausewitz also said that the "difficulty of accurate recognition constitutes one of the most serious sources of friction in war" because of unexpected events or circumstances or, at least, circumstances that appear to be different than expected. (10) And, "Since all information and assumptions are open to doubt, and with chance at work everywhere, the commander continually finds that things are not as he expected. …

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