Academic journal article Military Review

The Evolution of Mission Command in U.S. Army Doctrine, 1905 to the Present

Academic journal article Military Review

The Evolution of Mission Command in U.S. Army Doctrine, 1905 to the Present

Article excerpt

IN LATE 2009, the then commander of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), General Martin Dempsey, directed the Army to redesignate what had been the "command and control warfighting function" to the "mission command warfighting function." This capped a long evolution of the concept of mission command within the U.S. Army. To understand this evolution, we must understand what mission command is.

Current doctrine sees mission command as both a philosophy and a warfighting function. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-0, Mission Command, explains the philosophy of mission command as "the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander's intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations."1

Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-0, Unified Land Operations, describes the mission command warfighting function as "the related tasks and systems that develop and integrate those activities enabling a commander to balance the art of command and the science of control in order to integrate the other warfighting functions."2

Important mission command principles found in ADP 6-0 include mission orders-"directives that emphasize to subordinates the results to be attained, not how they are to achieve them."3

Two other essential principles found to help us understand mission command are disciplined initiative and commander's intent, as described below:

Disciplined initiative is action in the absence of orders, when existing orders no longer fit the situation, or when unforeseen opportunities or threats arise. . . . Commanders rely on subordinates to act, and subordinates take action to develop the situation. . . .

The commander's intent defines the limits within which subordinates may exercise initiative. It gives subordinates the confidence to apply their judgment in ambiguous and urgent situations because they know the mission's purpose, key task, and desired end state. . . . Using disciplined initiative, subordinates . . . perform the necessary coordination and take appropriate action when existing orders no longer fit the situation.4

These ideas are not new. No better example of this exists than General Grant's guidance to General Sherman in 1864:

You, I propose to move against Johnston's Army, to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their War resources. I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of Campaign, but simply to lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute in your own way. (emphasis added).5

Mission Command in Early Manuals

This article traces the evolution of mission command in doctrine primarily through the senior manuals governing combined arms operations. Until 1905, there were no true combined arms manuals, only branch manuals. (See Kretchick, U.S. Army Doctrine, for a discussion of the evolution of our senior manuals.)6

In 1905 the Army published Field Service Regulations (FSR), the first true combined arms manual approved by the War Department. This manual contained the following words that directly relate to current mission command:

An order should not trespass on the province of the subordinate. It should contain everything which is beyond the independent authority of the subordinate, but nothing more. When the transmission of orders involves a considerable period of time, during which the situation may change, detailed instructions are to be avoided. The same rule holds when orders may have to be carried out under circumstances which the originator of the order cannot completely forecast; in such cases letters of guidance is more appropriate. It should lay stress upon the object to be attained, and leave open the means to be employed.7

In another passage, it reads, "The commanders of large units to whom sections of the front and intermediate objectives have been assigned should be allowed to retain freedom of action and initiative in order to be able to take advantage of opportunities to make progress toward the enemy. …

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