Academic journal article Military Review

Should We Rethink How We Do OPORDs?

Academic journal article Military Review

Should We Rethink How We Do OPORDs?

Article excerpt

THE U.S. ARMY has used a structured order format and process for more than 80 years. The 1924 version of the Field Service Regulation prescribed "formatted orders, with annexes, maps, and tables." (1) Staff procedures have evolved since then, but the basic structure of the operation order (OPORD) has remained essentially the same--five paragraphs or sections that describe the situation, mission, execution, service support, and command and signal. The basic process for creating, sharing, and using OPORDs has also remained essentially the same and is "time-consuming and effortful." It needs to be revised. (2)

OPORDs begin when a higher echelon communicates its OPORD to a lower echelon. The lower echelon commander and staff review the OPORD and conduct a mission analysis. The lower level commander provides guidance to the staff, and the staff enters into the military decisionmaking process. Typically, the staff presents the commander with multiple courses of action (COAs), the commander chooses one COA and expresses his intent, the staff creates an OPORD and passes it to the next lower echelon, and the process is repeated until all Soldiers have been told what is expected of them. OPORDs are also passed back up for an iterative sweep through the echelons and final approval.

OPORDs can sometimes be hundreds of pages long. However, clear, concise communication, especially of the commander's intent, is a critical aspect of military planning, replanning, and operations. The effort devoted to training in writing and interpreting OPORDs in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, at the U.S. Military Academy, and throughout the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command school system indicates how important this is. (3) Having recently evaluated OPORDs and conducted empirical studies of how OPORDs are understood, we propose a change to the existing OPORD format and a new procedure for creating OPORDs, to amplify adaptive decisionmaking at all echelons and improve planning for joint and coalition operations.

Conceptual Analyses of OPORDs

U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 5-0, Army Planning and Orders Production, includes detailed specifications of the structure of OPORDs. A "good" OPORD is characterized by the following:

* Military reasoning and operations effectiveness. The OPORD should avoid ambiguous directives and make all assumptions explicit.

* The plan. The OPORD should balance centralization and decentralization.

* Communication effectiveness. The OPORD should be simple, brief, clear, and unambiguous. (4)

The Concept Map (Cmap) in figure 1 expresses what an OPORD should be like, but we have found that this does not match reality. We examined in detail 10 representative OPORDs, which included orders used in combat from company level through echelons above corps, and orders used during training, command and control (C2) research, and battle command experiments. The sample OPORDs did not adhere to FM guidelines concerning ease of communication. Statements were ambiguous, acronyms were used even when they were not necessary, and sentences included multiple relative clauses. The commander's intent was spread throughout the document like peanut butter.


At any level, the intent statement must support the next higher commander's intent and come after the heading for paragraph 3, Operations, and before paragraph 3a, Concept of Operations. Paragraph 1b of the OPORD or operation plan (OPLAN) contains the statements of the next two higher echelon commanders to ensure the staff and supporting commanders understand the intent two echelons up. At the battalion level and higher, the order is also written to decrease the chances of misunderstanding? While decreasing such chances is a sound goal, it is not always achieved. Apart from the statements' locations in designated subparagraphs, the OPORDs were not consistent in presenting the intended level of the intent statements (brigade, battalion, unit). …

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