Complex challenge of mission command on the move

Command and control, battle command, mission command – no matter what term you use - the challenge is to gain information, use that information to make informed decisions, transmit those decisions across the force and monitor execution of those decisions as the mission unfolds - adjusting as necessary. Mission command is about decision-making. It is a requirement at every echelon, from squad to theater Army. It sounds simple. It is not.

The United States Army defines mission command in ADP 6-0 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.” Mission command includes both the art of command and science of control. Successful mission command depends not only on well-educated and experienced leaders with a true feel for the mission (the art), but also on reliable communications networks, devices and applications (the science).

Why Mission Command on the Move?

There is a universal truth known to all commanders regardless of echelon – to command effectively you must be able to communicate. In ancient times, when battlefield distances were short and orders uncomplicated, visual signals were used to communicate the desires of the commander. As battlefield distances grew and orders became more complicated, visual signals were augmented by couriers. As enhanced mobility and weapons technology further increased battlefield distances, improved radio technology met tactical commanders’ communications needs.

Modern information technologies not only amplify the distance over which a commander can exercise his authority, but with innovations – such as video teleconferencing, streaming video and collaborative sharing of digital products – they also change the tone and texture of the information that is shared. Contemporary digital products are more complex than ever and have more potentially useful information embedded within them.

Commander mobility is an essential element of mission command in both combined arms maneuver and wide-area security missions. The commander must exercise mission command continually, and from whatever location he chooses, while gathering raw and synthesized information, applying his personal perspective to the battlefield situation and making decisions untethered to a less-than-mobile command post.

Mission Command - What Was

Commanders have recognized the value of their personal mobility for centuries. Commanders see the need to move to a position on the field of operations from which they can see with their own eyes critical events as they unfold, lending their own experience and intuition to the meaning of such events and looking for unexpected threats and opportunities.

The advent of 21st Century digital communications has made maintaining mobility more complicated. As information technology has advanced, the amount of information available to commanders and staffs has increased. Thirst for information has increased the size of command posts, the size of the staffs that make use of the information and the physical demands on the communications networks that guarantee uninterrupted access. Frequently, mobility is sacrificed for assured communications, yet the essentiality of mobility remains.

Faced with this dilemma and the possibility of combat operations in Iraq, a talented group of signaleers, contractors, staff officers and leaders, with help from the Army Staff, set about to restore some degree of mobility to the command with the creation of an assault command post for the Army’s V Corps.

Resurrecting a cancelled command-post vehicle program (Command and Control Vehicle, or C2V) from the days of the Army’s Advanced Warfighting Experiments (AWEs), and adding a combination of FM and long-range satellite communications and associated antennae, gave the command post reliable voice communications. The installation of Inmarsat antennae and auto-erect satellite locating antennae enhanced the platform’s digital backbone on the move and at the short halt.

This combination enabled the use, on the move and at the short halt, of command and control applications such as FBCB2, C2PC, JDOCS, email, streaming video and video teleconferencing. While not perfect by any measure, this combination of platform mobility, power generation, a reliable network and applications gave us a window into the potential of mission command on the move. The year was 2003.

Mission Command - What Is

It is hard to imagine successful operations in Iraq, Afghanistan (and elsewhere) without the networked communications, unprecedented access to information and multi-faceted collaboration on which our military and civilian leaders have come to depend.

The Army made a commitment early in the decade to transition its antiquated analog and manpower-intensive multiple subscriber network to the currently fielded joint network nodes (JNN) and advanced the vision of a broader warrior information network know as WIN-T, of which JNN capability is but the first increment. This capability is a necessary, but not a sufficient, step toward what our military needs, expects and deserves.

The first increment of the warrior information network provides reliable networked communications, significant bandwidth and satellite-based beyond line-of-sight voice, video and data communication down to battalion level. Yet it is limited to fixed sites (at the long halt) and (significantly) it does not extend to or below the company level.

While this capability has proven essential in counterinsurgency operations where command posts can afford to be relatively static, it is only a first step in a journey toward a truly ubiquitous battlefield network that meets mission command needs across the entire spectrum of conflict. Importantly, the small unit and individual soldier remain on the far side of the digital divide.

The advancement of the Army’s WIN-T vision continues with the soon-to-be-fielded WIN-T Increment 2. This next increment begins to restore mobility to the battlefield and it is a more inclusive, more mobile and more accessible network. Perhaps its most significant contribution will be to extend satellite communications to the company level.

Fielding of this increment will not be easy. As with anything significant, units that receive this capability will have to understand its potential and stretch themselves to achieve it. Units will be called upon to develop innovative training that ensures the capability is routinely exercised. Commanders will need to claim true network ownership if the network is to deliver its full potential.

Mission Command - What Can Be

Further advancements in WIN-T (Increment 3 and beyond) are already under development and promise to provide soldiers and leaders across the entire formation full mobility, reliable connection to the intelligence information that they need and demand, seamless connection to other parts of the formation with which they can collaborate, and connection to the environment in which they operate.

Units across the entire force will be able to anticipate threats as they evolve and develop tactical solutions before direct contact with the enemy. There will be significant operational and tactical advantage drawn from the ability to collaborate, understand, decide and act (near-analogous to the old, but still valid, USAF OODA loop construct) more quickly and more decisively than any adversary.The same will be true for operations conducted during stability operations and in support of civil authorities . Unit commanders will have an unprecedented view of their environment so they can anticipate and act on opportunities, exercising their initiative to save lives and mitigate destruction caused by natural and man-made disasters.

Although significant, these capabilities are no panacea. The fog of war will still be with us, but it might be a little less dense.

The vision of a warrior information network and all that it implies is achievable. But it will not be easy. It will take:

· Full commitment on the part of industry

· Clear statement of requirements on the part of the Army

· Enlightened and persistent program management on the part of the Army acquisition community

· Clearly designated and empowered leadership of the effort

· Sustained dialogue among soldiers and developers to enhance what works and shed what does not

· Sustained resource commitment on the part of the Defense Department.

Then, and only then, will the mission command journey that was started in the mid-1990s arrive at its ultimate destination.

GEN William “Scott” Wallace retired from active duty on 1 January, 2009, after nearly 40 years of active service that spanned five decades. Since his retirement General Wallace has served as an independent consultant operating out of his home in Huntsville, Ala. He also serves on the Boards of Directors of CACI International and Oshkosh. Wallace was born in Chicago, Illinois on 31 December, 1946, and was commissioned as an Armor officer from the United States Military Academy in 1969. Wallace holds Masters Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School in Operations Research, Salve Regina University in International Relations, and from the Naval War College in National Security Affairs. He is married and has two grown children both of whom are raising families of their own. His past military assignments include command of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and command of the US V Corps, which led the coalition attack to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. 

About the Author

William "Scott" Wallace is the former commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Defense Systems Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.