Mission Command: a crucial aspect of the Art of Command


On 23 January, the Army Study Center held a round table on the topic of Mission Command. The event took place in the PC Dominioni conference room of the General Secretariat for Defense, at the Francesco Baracca airport in Centocelle, Rome. Numerous representatives of the armed force were present, on duty and on leave, and the conference was broadcast to all Army bodies and commands.

These are the speakers with their respective areas of discussion: Professor Paolo Tripodi, head of department at the Lejune Leadership Institute of Quantico - US Marine Corps -, chairman, "The point of view of the US Marine Corps"; Bundeswehr colonel, Gunther Wiedekind, "The origins of the concept - Auftragtaktik"; Giordano Ciccarelli auxiliary general, "Mission Command and OODA Loop"; auxiliary general Luigi P. Scollo, "The practice of the MC in operations"; Professor Paolo Spagnoletti, professor of Business Organization at Luiss Guido Carli University, "Military organizational culture and MC"; general auxiliary Antonio Venci, "Conditions and conditionings to the MC"; Colonel Fabio Cippitelli, head of the Military Psychology and Psychiatry office of the Army General Staff, "Psychological aspects".

The topic in question is of general interest for all the Armed Forces because a correct initiative of the commanders at the lower organic levels in adherence with the aims of the action, as history teaches, in battle is always successful. On the other hand, the skills that professionals possess, compared to the leverage of the past, are adequate for a higher degree of decision-making autonomy. But there are many constraints that make this practice difficult. So, let's see in summary what emerged from the conference.

Preliminarily the concept of Mission Command has been defined, what here in the military doctrine is called 'decentralized command' (flexible if in a computerized context). In a nutshell it is a process of command and control which within the limits of the assigned 'mission' (specific tasks connected to the aims of the action) attributes initiative to subordinate commanders. This implies, however, precisely orders clearly formulated for purposes, also not binding on the "how" the action must be carried out and with specific organizational predispositions, as adequate reserves to support unexpected success, if it arises for the intelligent initiative taken on the field by a subordinate commander. And on the merit the concept of OODA Loop has been recalled (concatenation of observation, orientation, decision and action), showing how, in effect, the philosophy of the Mission Command corresponds with that, or the need to give dynamism to the maneuver to overcome the analogous OODA process of the opponent, so as to beat him over time and gradually limit him in the initiative, until he defeats him.

Then the historical data and in particular the origin of the concept were examined, recalling the Auftragstaktik: "tactics by assignment" (our translation is based on a terminological analysis that makes it appear more appropriate than the widespread "tactics of task"). As emerged in the course of the discussion, the philosophy we are talking about was born in Prussia, at the time of von Molke (Helmuth, the Elder, in the photo), who in practical sense indicated its necessity when the railway allowed the rapid deployment of large military formations over large spaces, but the connections still remained inefficient, making it difficult to branch orders. On the other hand, even then, in Prussia, the cultural level spread thanks to the public school was high compared to the European average, as well as the sense of responsibility, the result of a particularly severe education.

It then dealt with the real application of the Mission Command in the recent operations of Crisis responce operations, extracting from the experience on the field the criteria that make the practice possible, summarized in a series of golden rules: knowing how to express in the issuing of orders what is wants to achieve and what should be absolutely avoided; acquire knowledge of how the subordinate commander intends to carry out the mission and to observe its execution without intervening, as far as possible; finally in knowing how to accept any errors, committed within the given initiative.

But is it so easy to adopt the philosophy of decentralized command and at what point is the Italian Army updating the command and control processes? The answer to these questions required an articulated and in-depth approach to phenomenology. First of all, it was considered necessary to carry out an analysis of the military organizational structures extended also to the formal and informal processes that occur in them. To do this, we used the schemes developed by Edgar Shein in the context of corporate organizational culture, configuring the original paradigm of Military organizational culture. In addition to considering the military culture proper, which Scein would include in the category of 'Declared Values' (laws and regulations, doctrine, coded procedures: the knowledge and know-how of soldiers of all levels and ranks), this theorization includes Artifacts' (symbols, emblems, but also organizational structures, weapon systems, equipment: everything that derives from culture in a symbolic and instrumental key for institutional purposes); finally the 'Tacit and Shared Assumptions' (what people think, say informally, the sub-cultures that emerge as adaptive modalities and that in dysfunctional realities gain the upper hand on the declared Values ​​and can also express informal artifacts). Thus, from the analysis conducted in the key of military organizational culture some conditions emerged that could oppose the practice of the Command for assignment.

Preliminarily it was found that the practice of military operations not related to the "war scenarios" (first mission foreseen by article 89 of legislative decree no. 66 of 2010), and to the "crisis responce operation" scenarios (third mission) - therefore the missions such as "Safe Roads" and "Land of Fires", to name just two - it develops in substance in an "administrative" context. This definition is to be understood as a strictly preordained operating area and therefore defined by "deliveries", which constitute precisely an administrative act, in which the virtue of the executor lies in the punctual execution, literally, certainly not detached from the spirit of initiative, when necessary. But the spirit of initiative is a different fact from the Mission Command.

The practice of these operations, with its repetitiveness - think of the static surveillance services at city sites - can only determine a mentality anchored to the execution of the tasks, where the search for success is absent through the intelligent execution of tactical tasks , in the exercise of conceptual and organizational skills, according to the most suitable concatenation of tactical activities, just as the situation requires. Consequently, to enhance creativity according to the philosophy of the Command by assignment, it is necessary to keep a fruitful operating environment active, through training Interactive (where scenarios are created in computer networks and every single component of the military unit, as in a video game, plays its role), constructive (where are the commands of organic units and the commands of pre-established task forces to execute a war game confronting the computer, which measures the performances) and live, at the Tactical Training Centers, with the friction of the military reality on the ground and the computerized evaluation of the results achieved by each individual man.

However, there are other constraints to the practice of Mission Command. If now the command and control processes, according to recent military doctrine, are configured in a way that allows and sometimes searches for the Command by assignment, the components of the organizational units, the companies, the regiments, the brigades, still need to live with intensity the 'spirit of body'. This, as known to the soldiers, is a quality strongly characterizing the military condition, based on mutual trust within the primary and secondary groups and in the identification of each component of the unit in the founding values ​​of the Army and the corps to which it belongs, taking as reference its history and the value expressed in the facts of arms. A very complex and fascinating phenomenology which strongly determines the military reality, making it also a unique phenomenon from the point of view of corporate organizational cultures. Therefore, the commanders must also know how to create this special atmosphere of cohesion and mutual trust, thus expressing the charisma of the military commander.

If the cognitive sciences offer us useful theories and schemes to outline which is the best leadership, case by case, the study of the biographies of great soldiers has emerged as a primary source of inspiration for modern commanders, of all hierarchical levels. Thus, during the conference, some emblematic passages from the recent book by Vincenzo R. Manca, "The soldier enlisted by God", referred to Gianfranco Chiti, general of the Grenadiers of Sardinia, already a warrior in war, were reported; then, after the age limit leave, Capuchin friar and now Servant of God, while the beatification process is ongoing. Tell a witness, remembering his and Chiti's first assignment to the regiment, in 1941: "Everyone was looking for him (grenadiers and civilians) for a word of comfort, sometimes even without reasons! It was the miracle of his charisma, of his innate ability to communicate (he was only twenty years old, let's add it!). I too suffered the charm. I told him that the soldiers in my department were, compared to me, over the years, and I sometimes felt a hindrance in the command action ". His answer: "Treat them with great humility, but - he added later - with justice and firmness".

A subordinate who had followed him in the war (Russian campaign): "... the classic example of the officer who is ready, we would say by nature, to face risks together with his soldiers, to give them courage, protection and help in difficulties. He was always present where the danger was greatest for his soldiers and he did not hesitate for a moment to throw himself on the hand grenades, racing over time, to return them to the enemy a moment before they exploded ".

However, there is an additional element that contributes significantly to the unity of the body spirit, indeed, it constitutes an essential condition: the combat ability that is acquired with adequate equipment, with perfect organization and continuous training. Because if the soldier perceives that his unit is ready for use in combat, he puts trust in it and locks the ranks. Vice versa, if the environment were to become "dysfunctional", showing itself to be inefficient, will he be able to entrust his life to that team of men, means and will when he has to carry out the mission? And will he have the firmness to participate in the performance of tasks with creativity, also taking on the responsibility of thinking and deciding independently? Or maybe he will look for a less exposed role? Maybe one comfort zone far from any responsibility?

Combat ability is a concept codified in national doctrine. However, during the conference, an expanded definition was presented, which is inspired by the concepts of the science of organization and, in doing so, it becomes "measurable". In essence, an algorithm has been defined, relating some 'operational functions'. For the control units these functions are: power (fires capacity), mobility (on the road with wheels and off-road with the track, but also in particular environments), protection (active and passive), controllability (which is also interconnection of digital command and control platforms), the ability to coordinate the maneuver space (LBS - m: Land battle space management), sustainability (logistics). This algorithm allows, moreover, to estimate the real capabilities of a military unit and to establish relations of forces with joint units, which is also useful for understanding the real operational capabilities of the military instrument as a whole, as a sum of the parts.

Thus, in this perspective, the military spirit becomes, in the final analysis, a derivation of the military policy, as part of the policy of a state that takes care - through budgetary appropriations - of the adequacy of its armed forces to be efficient in order to fulfill the institutional tasks.

The presentation ended with a description of the activities undertaken by the Military Psychology and Psychiatry Office of the Army General Staff which is conducting a research and awareness campaign on the subject in question, through interviews and focus groups, at national level. Specifically, some peculiar aspects of military organizational culture are examined, in relation to the philosophy of Mission Command.

Military organizational culture and Mission Command are partial aspects of a whole that connotes modern armed forces, which, although made up of professionals, almost always experts in operational activity, always need to be trained, to maintain levels of efficiency and functional amalgam to military capabilities. Ability to build with the exercise of numerous tactical activities, which form the basis of the soldier's "know-how". As a premise for the development of that culture from which the virtues of the good commander and the equally good wingman will emerge.

Gen. ca aux. Antonio Venci

Founding member of the CSE

Photo: US Army / Italian Army / National Grenadiers Association of Sardinia