The Changing Nature of the Facets of Mission Command

Prof. Dan McCauley
Posted: 06/19/2013

With mission command serving as the Joint command philosophy that underpins globally integrated operations, it is vital that leaders, staffs, and organizations at the operational and strategic levels understand its fundamental concepts and how it must be adapted to the different processes and demands of the higher echelons of decision making.

Until recently, the nature of limited communications kept operational and strategic leaders from participating in the day-to-day operations of fielded forces.

Senior leaders were forced to remain at their specific level of war and were limited to doing those things in their immediate span of control. Each echelon was required to develop their own understanding for their level of war and issued guidance or direction through clear commander’s intent to subordinate organizations.

Today, as we know, technology has enabled commanders, leaders, staffs, and other interested parties to insert themselves into the tactical environment, thereby essentially distorting the levels of war and responsibilities, creating a false or unnecessary demand for information, and enabling commanders to modify poorly thought-out intent or creating it "on the fly."

Today commanders and leaders insert themselves in places they should not be because they can — not because they need to. This insertion undermines the very concept of trust between leaders and subordinates and, perhaps more important, keeps everyone from doing the job that they should be doing.

The authors of Joint Publication 1-0, Command and Control, recognized this modern phenomena by writing that, "Advances in information systems and communications may enhance the situational awareness (SA) and understanding of tactical CDRs, subordinate JFCS, CCDRs, and even the national leadership.

"These technological advances increase the potential for superiors, once focused solely on strategic and operational decision making, to assert themselves at the tactical level. While this will be their prerogative, decentralized execution remains a basic C2 tenet of joint operations."

It is my contention that mission command as written in U.S. Army doctrine is certainly appropriate at the component level and ideal for unified land operations. Mission command at the operational and strategic levels of war can be appropriate, but requires contextual modification through an increased understanding of its facets to account for the different responsibilities, stakeholders, and tempo of "operations."

Tactical, Operational and Strategic Operating Environments

The three levels of war — tactical, operational, and strategic — generally align with traditionally recognized levels of leadership. At the tactical level, encompassing direct leadership, leaders are on the frontline and in direct contact with one’s own personnel, the enemy, competitors, belligerents, and other various actors.

Leaders at this level are immersed in the environment, understand the complexities of problems, and are responsible for the execution of operations. Complexity and uncertainty at the tactical level are typically the result of unpredictable human behavior. In addition, the tactical environment is made more complex by the dynamic variables at the operational and strategic levels that directly and indirectly affect the tactical level.

The Army’s overarching framework for exercising mission command is the operations process. Design, MDMP, and troop leading procedures are examples of planning methodologies outlined in Army Doctrine Publication 5-0 that are a part of the operations process.

Within these processes, time is measured in weeks, hours, days, and, sometimes, minutes or even seconds. The other Services operate in much the same manner and, as such, the speed of decision making is critical in this environment. Mission command at the operational and strategic levels, however, must be reframed to address the changing environmental and organizational contexts.

At the operational level, leaders generally execute indirect leadership as their span of control encompasses multiple levels of subordinates. As such, it is difficult to see and judge immediate results.

These leaders typically have a far greater range of responsibilities spanning multiple organizations and their focus is on the near to mid-term. At this level, bureaucracies begin to deal with the complexities associated with other bureaucracies, larger stakeholder groups, and inputs from tactical units as well as higher echelons.

The operations processes for the operational level are components of the Joint Strategic Planning System (JSPS), Adaptive Planning and Execution (APEX) System, formerly known as JOPES, National Strategic Council System, and the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution System (PPBES). The speed of decision-making at this level is generally measured in days, weeks, months, or even years.

At the operational level, uncertainty and complexity change as understanding becomes more abstract as leaders serve as interpreters of the results of tactical actions as they pertain to the strategic level for policy and strategy validation, modification, or development.

Likewise, uncertainty and complexity also becomes less abstract as the operational level is also the translator of policy and strategy into tactical direction.

At the strategic level, the leaders’ span of control encompasses the entire defense enterprise. Organizational vision, force structure, resource allocation, and strategic communication form the core of responsibilities. At the strategic level, uncertainty and complexity are manifested in even more abstract ways than at the operational level.

Global conditions, international organizations, and a broad range of actors internal and external to the nation make up the operating environment. Much like the operational level, but focused on different aspects, strategic processes encompass APEX, JSPS, the National Security Council System, and PPBES. Although some decision making needs are immediate, the majority are measured in days, weeks, months, years, and even decades.

Unified Land Operations

Unified land operations are based upon the idea that Army units seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to gain a position of relative advantage over the enemy. Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.

Throughout operations, unexpected opportunities and threats rapidly present themselves and require responsibility and decision making at the point of action.

Unified lands operations rely upon the traditional positional advantage relative to an objective. As an operational concept, globally integrated operations moves beyond a strategy of position and reflects the concepts and capabilities resident in the 21stCentury Information Age, relying upon a strategy of movement.

Globally Integrated Operations

Globally integrated operations promote a way to project decisive force to meet the demands of the global security environment while enhancing awareness and decision-making at all echelons. In this operating concept, Joint Force elements, allies, and partners from around the world combine quickly with one another to integrate capabilities and expertise "across domains, echelons, geographic boundaries, and organizational affiliations."

As described in the CCJO, the concept of globally integrated operations facilitates Joint Force operations through cross-functional teams in smaller-sized units that can form, perform, deform, and reform as the mission requires. The many combinations of missions and localities require adaptable and timely military responses leveraging allies and partners, prepositioned U.S. forces and resources, and expeditionary basing.

The Facets of Mission Command

Mission command requires commanders at all levels to understand the tactical, operational, and strategic environments and associated problems, "envision the end state, and visualize the nature and design of the operation."

The ability to frame and reframe complex, ill-structured problems within the context of the operating environment is critical for all military commanders. To understand the nature of the environment at all levels, key facets of mission command require further clarification and explanation.

The facets identified here — assumptions, conditions, and the design components of the operational environment, defining the problem, and developing the operational approach — are integral in the development of shared understanding across and through echelons of the defense enterprise. These five facets form the basis of shared understanding and only then can the commander’s intent be understood and trust developed.

Assumptions

Arguably, assumptions are the most important component in developing an understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic environments. The importance of assumptions in developing shared understanding and facilitating organizational decision-making "lies in their ability to sustain certain selective views of reality."

Assumptions are typically "taken for granted" and fundamentally influence the development of environmental understanding and the subsequent formation and implementation of strategies and plans in several ways.

First, assumptions determine the information collection efforts that go in to strategy or plan development. Second, assumptions have a highly speculative component based upon past outcomes of activities and the interpretation of information is crucial in any attempt to deal with future uncertainties. Thus, assumptions shape the understanding of the environment, the problem formulation process, the generation of solution alternatives, and the choice of final solutions.

Our understanding of assumptions, however, is generally relegated to those associated with the cause and effect of past activities. These are known as causal assumptions and describe how different parts of the world work and under what specific conditions. Causal assumptions are usually stated in predictive terms and help one to understand how change can occur.

Assumptions, however, are far more complex than relatively simple cause and effect outcomes. Assumptions are our beliefs of the world — they give meaning and purpose and frame how one thinks and acts. Paradigmatic and prescriptive assumptions form much deeper and unexamined components of understanding resident within the operational and strategic levels.

Paradigmatic assumptions are structuring mechanisms used to order the world into fundamental categories and are often seen as objectively valid perceptions of reality. Rarely examined critically, paradigmatic assumptions refer to the perceptions of the social world, the nature of accumulated knowledge and how it became known, and what society has deemed important and valuable.

Prescriptive assumptions are what we think should happen in a specific situation. Grounded in paradigmatic assumption, prescriptive assumptions surface as one thinks about how someone should behave, what a good process should look like, and what obligations people have to each other.

Most of us are familiar with the joint doctrine definition of assumptions as "a supposition on the current situation or a presupposition on the future course of events, either or both assumed to be true in the absence of positive proof, necessary to enable the commander in the process of planning to complete an estimate of the situation and make a decision on the course of action."

Typically focused on causal and prescriptive assumptions, this definition is certainly necessary and useful for planning purposes. The genuine value of assumptions, however, lies in understanding the prescriptive and paradigmatic assumptions. It is through an understanding of assumptions at these levels that true shared understanding occurs from which the commander’s intent can be clearly and inherently understood.

Everything in the operating environment will have associated assumptions — actors, trends, tendencies, and other factors. Every deliberate action taken is an assumption about how the environment will react to what occurs.

Virtually all deliberate actions are based upon expectations that serve as unspoken assumptions that shape behavior and provide structure for daily life. Assumptions suggest probable courses of events and direct attention to certain aspects or features of an event.

In the context of mission command, paradigmatic, prescriptive, and causal assumptions assist in the understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic environments. These assumptions change, however, as the environment changes from the tactical to the strategic and from one culture to another.

It is therefore necessary for commanders at different echelons to develop their own understanding of the causal, prescriptive, and paradigmatic assumptions within the environment they and their staffs are operating.

Conditions

Defined by JP 3-0, conditions aredefined as"those variables within the operational environment or situation in which a unit, system, or individual is expected to operate and may affect performance."

The characteristics of conditions vary and can take many forms. "Conditions may be tangible or intangible, military or nonmilitary, or physical or psychological. They also may describe or relate to perceptions, levels of comprehension, cohesion among groups, or relationships between organizations or individuals."

Many environmental factors comprise the physical domains of air, land, sea, space, and cyber, such as terrain, topography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, and friendly, adversary, neutral, and other organizations or entities.

These environmental factors change as a local environment transitions to a regional environment that transitions to a national environment and so on. An understanding of conditions is predicated upon an understanding of one perspective relative to the current organizational context.

As the desired future state of the environment must be clearly defined, success hinges on accurately recognizing and describing conditions. Emergent conditions form the basis for decisions on tasks that ensure operations progress consistently toward the objectives that represent the desired state.

An integral part of understanding, conditions depends a great deal upon the assumptions made. Both conditions and assumptions form the contextual framework. "Context is the set of circumstances or events (the interrelated conditions) that forms the environment within which something exists or occurs."

Through forecasting, trend analysis, and scenario development, publications such as the Joint Operating Environment 2010 attempt to describe future conditions within which U.S. forces will have to operate. The JOE looks at trends such as demographics, globalization, energy, food, water, pandemics among other conditions and their effect on the operating environment.

Conditions, along with assumptions, provide the descriptive limits of the tactical, operational, and strategic environments. Commanders and leaders at each echelon have a unique framework of conditions and assumptions that defines their specific responsibilities and span of control.

Mission command demands that each leader or organization clearly understands its environment — be it tactical, operational, or strategic — and how all three nest together. The strategic environment is described by the operational and tactical environments. The operational and tactical environments define the strategic environment. Each environment limits or delimits the whole or the parts. Mission command demands leaders understand the multidimensional nature of the environments, and the specific assumptions and conditions resident at their specific echelon and position.

Conclusion

Solutions that have worked successfully on one specific set of problems are often applied to other problems without first understanding the nature of the requirements.

The requirements necessary at the operational and strategic levels to implement globally integrated operations using mission command are different from those problems experienced by tactical commanders in the field. The missions, processes, and products at the operational and strategic levels operate in days, weeks, and years whereas the tactical level operates in days, minutes, and seconds.

With that in mind, technology requirements must be driven by the missions, processes, roles, and responsibilities resident at each echelon. More important, senior leaders — even those with command authorities — must refrain from the allure of technology and the subsequent tendency to over-control and over-centralize decision-making because technology enables them to do so.

Technology must enable the warfighter to make intuitive decisions in a dynamic security environment and not serve as a micromanagement tool for senior leaders unwilling to demonstrate trust in their subordinates.

Successfully implementing globally integrated operations begins with understanding the facets of mission command.

Daniel H. McCauley



The Changing Nature of the Facets of Mission Command

Daniel H. McCauley

With mission command serving as the Joint command philosophy that underpins globally integrated operations, it is vital that leaders, staffs, and organizations at the operational and strategic levels understand its fundamental concepts and how it must be adapted to the different processes and demands of the higher echelons of decision making.

Until recently, the nature of limited communications kept operational and strategic leaders from participating in the day-to-day operations of fielded forces.

Senior leaders were forced to remain at their specific level of war and were limited to doing those things in their immediate span of control. Each echelon was required to develop their own understanding for their level of war and issued guidance or direction through clear commander’s intent to subordinate organizations.

Today, as we know, technology has enabled commanders, leaders, staffs, and other interested parties to insert themselves into the tactical environment, thereby essentially distorting the levels of war and responsibilities, creating a false or unnecessary demand for information, and enabling commanders to modify poorly thought-out intent or creating it "on the fly."

Today commanders and leaders insert themselves in places they should not be because they can — not because they need to. This insertion undermines the very concept of trust between leaders and subordinates and, perhaps more important, keeps everyone from doing the job that they should be doing.

The authors of Joint Publication 1-0, Command and Control, recognized this modern phenomena by writing that, "Advances in information systems and communications may enhance the situational awareness (SA) and understanding of tactical CDRs, subordinate JFCS, CCDRs, and even the national leadership.

"These technological advances increase the potential for superiors, once focused solely on strategic and operational decision making, to assert themselves at the tactical level. While this will be their prerogative, decentralized execution remains a basic C2 tenet of joint operations."

It is my contention that mission command as written in U.S. Army doctrine is certainly appropriate at the component level and ideal for unified land operations. Mission command at the operational and strategic levels of war can be appropriate, but requires contextual modification through an increased understanding of its facets to account for the different responsibilities, stakeholders, and tempo of "operations."

Tactical, Operational and Strategic Operating Environments

The three levels of war — tactical, operational, and strategic — generally align with traditionally recognized levels of leadership. At the tactical level, encompassing direct leadership, leaders are on the frontline and in direct contact with one’s own personnel, the enemy, competitors, belligerents, and other various actors.

Leaders at this level are immersed in the environment, understand the complexities of problems, and are responsible for the execution of operations. Complexity and uncertainty at the tactical level are typically the result of unpredictable human behavior. In addition, the tactical environment is made more complex by the dynamic variables at the operational and strategic levels that directly and indirectly affect the tactical level.

The Army’s overarching framework for exercising mission command is the operations process. Design, MDMP, and troop leading procedures are examples of planning methodologies outlined in Army Doctrine Publication 5-0 that are a part of the operations process.

Within these processes, time is measured in weeks, hours, days, and, sometimes, minutes or even seconds. The other Services operate in much the same manner and, as such, the speed of decision making is critical in this environment. Mission command at the operational and strategic levels, however, must be reframed to address the changing environmental and organizational contexts.

At the operational level, leaders generally execute indirect leadership as their span of control encompasses multiple levels of subordinates. As such, it is difficult to see and judge immediate results.

These leaders typically have a far greater range of responsibilities spanning multiple organizations and their focus is on the near to mid-term. At this level, bureaucracies begin to deal with the complexities associated with other bureaucracies, larger stakeholder groups, and inputs from tactical units as well as higher echelons.

The operations processes for the operational level are components of the Joint Strategic Planning System (JSPS), Adaptive Planning and Execution (APEX) System, formerly known as JOPES, National Strategic Council System, and the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution System (PPBES). The speed of decision-making at this level is generally measured in days, weeks, months, or even years.

At the operational level, uncertainty and complexity change as understanding becomes more abstract as leaders serve as interpreters of the results of tactical actions as they pertain to the strategic level for policy and strategy validation, modification, or development.

Likewise, uncertainty and complexity also becomes less abstract as the operational level is also the translator of policy and strategy into tactical direction.

At the strategic level, the leaders’ span of control encompasses the entire defense enterprise. Organizational vision, force structure, resource allocation, and strategic communication form the core of responsibilities. At the strategic level, uncertainty and complexity are manifested in even more abstract ways than at the operational level.

Global conditions, international organizations, and a broad range of actors internal and external to the nation make up the operating environment. Much like the operational level, but focused on different aspects, strategic processes encompass APEX, JSPS, the National Security Council System, and PPBES. Although some decision making needs are immediate, the majority are measured in days, weeks, months, years, and even decades.

Unified Land Operations

Unified land operations are based upon the idea that Army units seize, retain, and exploit the initiative to gain a position of relative advantage over the enemy. Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.

Throughout operations, unexpected opportunities and threats rapidly present themselves and require responsibility and decision making at the point of action.

Unified lands operations rely upon the traditional positional advantage relative to an objective. As an operational concept, globally integrated operations moves beyond a strategy of position and reflects the concepts and capabilities resident in the 21stCentury Information Age, relying upon a strategy of movement.

Globally Integrated Operations

Globally integrated operations promote a way to project decisive force to meet the demands of the global security environment while enhancing awareness and decision-making at all echelons. In this operating concept, Joint Force elements, allies, and partners from around the world combine quickly with one another to integrate capabilities and expertise "across domains, echelons, geographic boundaries, and organizational affiliations."

As described in the CCJO, the concept of globally integrated operations facilitates Joint Force operations through cross-functional teams in smaller-sized units that can form, perform, deform, and reform as the mission requires. The many combinations of missions and localities require adaptable and timely military responses leveraging allies and partners, prepositioned U.S. forces and resources, and expeditionary basing.

The Facets of Mission Command

Mission command requires commanders at all levels to understand the tactical, operational, and strategic environments and associated problems, "envision the end state, and visualize the nature and design of the operation."

The ability to frame and reframe complex, ill-structured problems within the context of the operating environment is critical for all military commanders. To understand the nature of the environment at all levels, key facets of mission command require further clarification and explanation.

The facets identified here — assumptions, conditions, and the design components of the operational environment, defining the problem, and developing the operational approach — are integral in the development of shared understanding across and through echelons of the defense enterprise. These five facets form the basis of shared understanding and only then can the commander’s intent be understood and trust developed.

Assumptions

Arguably, assumptions are the most important component in developing an understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic environments. The importance of assumptions in developing shared understanding and facilitating organizational decision-making "lies in their ability to sustain certain selective views of reality."

Assumptions are typically "taken for granted" and fundamentally influence the development of environmental understanding and the subsequent formation and implementation of strategies and plans in several ways.

First, assumptions determine the information collection efforts that go in to strategy or plan development. Second, assumptions have a highly speculative component based upon past outcomes of activities and the interpretation of information is crucial in any attempt to deal with future uncertainties. Thus, assumptions shape the understanding of the environment, the problem formulation process, the generation of solution alternatives, and the choice of final solutions.

Our understanding of assumptions, however, is generally relegated to those associated with the cause and effect of past activities. These are known as causal assumptions and describe how different parts of the world work and under what specific conditions. Causal assumptions are usually stated in predictive terms and help one to understand how change can occur.

Assumptions, however, are far more complex than relatively simple cause and effect outcomes. Assumptions are our beliefs of the world — they give meaning and purpose and frame how one thinks and acts. Paradigmatic and prescriptive assumptions form much deeper and unexamined components of understanding resident within the operational and strategic levels.

Paradigmatic assumptions are structuring mechanisms used to order the world into fundamental categories and are often seen as objectively valid perceptions of reality. Rarely examined critically, paradigmatic assumptions refer to the perceptions of the social world, the nature of accumulated knowledge and how it became known, and what society has deemed important and valuable.

Prescriptive assumptions are what we think should happen in a specific situation. Grounded in paradigmatic assumption, prescriptive assumptions surface as one thinks about how someone should behave, what a good process should look like, and what obligations people have to each other.

Most of us are familiar with the joint doctrine definition of assumptions as "a supposition on the current situation or a presupposition on the future course of events, either or both assumed to be true in the absence of positive proof, necessary to enable the commander in the process of planning to complete an estimate of the situation and make a decision on the course of action."

Typically focused on causal and prescriptive assumptions, this definition is certainly necessary and useful for planning purposes. The genuine value of assumptions, however, lies in understanding the prescriptive and paradigmatic assumptions. It is through an understanding of assumptions at these levels that true shared understanding occurs from which the commander’s intent can be clearly and inherently understood.

Everything in the operating environment will have associated assumptions — actors, trends, tendencies, and other factors. Every deliberate action taken is an assumption about how the environment will react to what occurs.

Virtually all deliberate actions are based upon expectations that serve as unspoken assumptions that shape behavior and provide structure for daily life. Assumptions suggest probable courses of events and direct attention to certain aspects or features of an event.

In the context of mission command, paradigmatic, prescriptive, and causal assumptions assist in the understanding of the tactical, operational, and strategic environments. These assumptions change, however, as the environment changes from the tactical to the strategic and from one culture to another.

It is therefore necessary for commanders at different echelons to develop their own understanding of the causal, prescriptive, and paradigmatic assumptions within the environment they and their staffs are operating.

Conditions

Defined by JP 3-0, conditions aredefined as"those variables within the operational environment or situation in which a unit, system, or individual is expected to operate and may affect performance."

The characteristics of conditions vary and can take many forms. "Conditions may be tangible or intangible, military or nonmilitary, or physical or psychological. They also may describe or relate to perceptions, levels of comprehension, cohesion among groups, or relationships between organizations or individuals."

Many environmental factors comprise the physical domains of air, land, sea, space, and cyber, such as terrain, topography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, and friendly, adversary, neutral, and other organizations or entities.

These environmental factors change as a local environment transitions to a regional environment that transitions to a national environment and so on. An understanding of conditions is predicated upon an understanding of one perspective relative to the current organizational context.

As the desired future state of the environment must be clearly defined, success hinges on accurately recognizing and describing conditions. Emergent conditions form the basis for decisions on tasks that ensure operations progress consistently toward the objectives that represent the desired state.

An integral part of understanding, conditions depends a great deal upon the assumptions made. Both conditions and assumptions form the contextual framework. "Context is the set of circumstances or events (the interrelated conditions) that forms the environment within which something exists or occurs."

Through forecasting, trend analysis, and scenario development, publications such as the Joint Operating Environment 2010 attempt to describe future conditions within which U.S. forces will have to operate. The JOE looks at trends such as demographics, globalization, energy, food, water, pandemics among other conditions and their effect on the operating environment.

Conditions, along with assumptions, provide the descriptive limits of the tactical, operational, and strategic environments. Commanders and leaders at each echelon have a unique framework of conditions and assumptions that defines their specific responsibilities and span of control.

Mission command demands that each leader or organization clearly understands its environment — be it tactical, operational, or strategic — and how all three nest together. The strategic environment is described by the operational and tactical environments. The operational and tactical environments define the strategic environment. Each environment limits or delimits the whole or the parts. Mission command demands leaders understand the multidimensional nature of the environments, and the specific assumptions and conditions resident at their specific echelon and position.

Conclusion

Solutions that have worked successfully on one specific set of problems are often applied to other problems without first understanding the nature of the requirements.

The requirements necessary at the operational and strategic levels to implement globally integrated operations using mission command are different from those problems experienced by tactical commanders in the field. The missions, processes, and products at the operational and strategic levels operate in days, weeks, and years whereas the tactical level operates in days, minutes, and seconds.

With that in mind, technology requirements must be driven by the missions, processes, roles, and responsibilities resident at each echelon. More important, senior leaders — even those with command authorities — must refrain from the allure of technology and the subsequent tendency to over-control and over-centralize decision-making because technology enables them to do so.

Technology must enable the warfighter to make intuitive decisions in a dynamic security environment and not serve as a micromanagement tool for senior leaders unwilling to demonstrate trust in their subordinates.

Successfully implementing globally integrated operations begins with understanding the facets of mission command.

Prof. Dan McCauley
Posted: 06/19/2013