Academic journal article Military Review

Commander's Intent and Concept of Operations

Academic journal article Military Review

Commander's Intent and Concept of Operations

Article excerpt

IN 1990, RETIRED Lt. Gen. (then Col.) L.D. Holder wrote an article for Military Review titled "Concept of the Operation--See Ops Overlay." In the article, Holder voiced his concerns that the Army was drifting away from the standard field order and that leader focus had shifted away from what was required to win a combined arms fight. Holder argued that an over reliance on a rigid, methodical planning process and the relatively new doctrinal addition of commander's intent had left many orders without an appropriate concept of operations paragraph and subsequently left subordinates without a clear understanding of the operation. In essence, leaders were losing the balance between the "art" and the "science" of writing effective mission orders.

Over the past decade of persistent conflict, many Army leaders have again distanced themselves from the "art" of effective orders production. Officers have learned to create expert multi-paged concept of operations (CONOPs) in electronic media as a tool to provide situational awareness to higher echelons and to assist in the allocation of resources. These CONOP slides rarely convey the actual concept of the operation and usually consist of poorly drawn intent symbols on satellite imagery and a task and purpose for each element. While the slides have some utility, they never were intended to be used as a briefing tool for company commanders and platoon leaders. Using these products, instead of doctrinally complete mission orders, could lead to a disjointed understanding of the concept of operations in a combined arms fight. The undesired effect of this process has created a generation of officers unfamiliar with the doctrinally correct way to write effective mission orders.

Multiple changes to doctrine over the last decade have contributed to a lack of understanding. Although current doctrine clearly defines the contents of the concept of operation paragraph, many leaders are guilty of relying on knowledge acquired during the Captain's Career Course or the Command and General Staff College (CGSC). Depending on how long ago the leader attended these courses, his or her doctrinal knowledge may be outdated. This article defines what current doctrine requires for production of effective mission orders, while focusing on what Holder argued in 1990 was the most important part of the order: the commander's intent and the concept of operation.

To address this growing concern, we have to start with a common understanding of how our Army fights. Unified land operations are executed through decisive action by means of the Army's core competencies and guided by mission command. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-0 defines unified land operations as the ability to--

"seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to gain and maintain a position of relative advantage in sustained land operations through simultaneous offensive, defensive, and stability operations in order to prevent or deter conflict, prevail in war, and create the conditions for favorable conflict resolution." (1)

Unified land operations are executed through decisive action.

Decisive Action

Decisive action is the "continuous, simultaneous combination of offensive, defensive, and stability or defense support of civil authorities tasks." (2) When conducting operations outside of the United States and its territories, the Army simultaneously combines three elements--offense, defense, and stability. Within the United States and its territories, decisive action combines the elements of defense support of civil authorities and, as required, offense and defense to support homeland security. Decisive action is conducted by means of the Army's core competencies. (3)

Army's Core Competencies

The Army has two core competencies: combined arms maneuver and wide area security. Combined arms maneuver is "the application of the elements of combat power in unified action to defeat enemy ground forces; to seize, occupy, and defend land areas; and to achieve physical, temporal, and psychological advantages over the enemy to seize and exploit the initiative. …

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