In the present day, mission command may be regarded as a highly significant military concept, and its full-scale implementation in the army of the United States will be immeasurably beneficial. In general, mission command is a specific type of military command that combines centralized intent and commanders’ control with necessary execution subsidiarity within defined constraints. It supports mutual trust, initiative, and the freedom of action from subordinates in the current environment. In general, the concept of mission command implies the subordinate leaders’ independent decision-making and activities within a framework of their own missions to achieve the appropriate results. It may be regarded as the response to the military forces’ requirement to synchronize operations with circumstances and create a system based on mutual trust and understanding between commanders and subordinates. The practical application of mission command by military organizations is highly beneficial both in training and on the battlefield. The purpose of this paper is to define and describe the concept of mission command and evaluate the opportunity of its use in practice as a senior non-commissioned officer.
History of Mission Command
The concept of Auftragstaktik derived from the Prussian-pioneered doctrine of mission-type tactics is defined as the precursor of mission command. In the last several decades, the military forces of practically every western country have studied and imitated it to some extent. Being “the product of specific Prussian and German historical circumstances and conditions,” Auftragstaktik describes the fundamental aspects of a unique military culture characterized by the German army’s dominant operational and tactical performance during World War II (Wright, 2015, p. 21). Its term encompasses the in-depth assumptions and beliefs of the German army concerning the nature of war, desired character traits for effective leadership, training methods, control and command system, professional military education, and senior-subordinate relationships.
The possession and redevelopment of the doctrine made Germany a highly effective force at the beginning of the 20th century. The traditional concern that implied strict discipline and blind adherence to orders was replaced by mutual trust, leadership by example, and the significance of personal relationships. In addition, Auftragstaktik legitimized commanders’ dissent, independent judgment and decision-making, and the opportunity to adjust their missions as circumstances require (Czeglédi, 2018). The decentralized command concept “was based on the assumption of professional competence of the entire officer corps, reinforced by a professional certification process through formal schooling” (Wright, 2015, p. 37). Moreover, the freedom of initiative and action afforded by Auftragstaktik created the conceptual framework for a combined forces approach to achieve a total victory through the operational maneuver.
In the tIn initial stage, the implementation of mission command in the army of the United States was substantively challenging due to its historical focus on control over command and centralized and detailed planning (Stephenson, 2016). Moreover, mission command should be regarded as an organizational culture that requires changes in all levels of the military system instead of a simple process. Nevertheless, the basic elements of mission command were adopted by the U.S. and NATO commanders in the 1970s and 1980s alongside the formation of the Airland Battle Doctrine (Wright, 2015). In recent years, the concept of mission command started to attract particular attention, and in 2012, specific doctrinal publications dedicated to the adoption of its fundamental principles were released (Wright, 2015). The Individualtiative became an essential ingredient for superiority on the battlefield.
Application of Mission Command by a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer
Non-commissioned officers are traditionally defined as the main support of military services. In general, they are the most visible and competent leaders responsible for the execution of the majority of organizational missions and training military personnel. Within organizations, senior non-commissioned officers connect enlisted personnel with commissioned officers. Their guidance and advice are frequently considered highly significant not only for junior officers but officers of senior ranks as well. That is why competent senior non-commissioned officers understand and apply new concepts in order to improve their performance and the general state of the U.S. army.
As has been mentioned above, mission command may be defined as an organizational culture with a specific model that represents its normative dimensions. This model helps leaders, especially senior non-commissioned officers, to visualize the complex phenomenon of mission command in order to apply it practically. As a matter of fact, the most consequential layer of any organizational culture contains its underlying assumptions (Wright, 2015). As a well-defined culture, mission command includes three major types of assumptions – assumptions concerning the nature of war, assumptions referred to the concept of command and commanders’ role, and assumptions about fellowship and subordinates’ role (Wright, 2015). The understanding of these assumptions allows senior non-commissioned officers to build an appropriate relationship with military unit superiors and subordinates on the basis of respect and mutual trust.
Assumptions about the character and nature of war originated from the concept of imponderables and decisive action elaborated by Carl von, Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist and general (Wright, 2015). According to mission command, war is regarded initially as a human endeavor. Despite the fact that victory is the fundamental goal of warfare that requires a specific algorithm of actions, uncertainty is substantively inherent in war. In addition, decisive action is highly essential and required to exploit all fleeting strategic opportunities. Assumptions about commanders’ roles and the nature and character of command identify the unique position of military leaders. According to them, commanders should perceive their responsibility to subordinates on the battlefield and assume all potential risks willingly. They should exercise independent judgment and value organizational learning as well. In turn, assumptions concerning subordinate leaders emphasize their opportunity to act responsibly according to circumstances, though within a certain framework of their commanders’ intentions.
In theory, an organization embraces certain beliefs, values, and norms due to their promotion and support by underlying assumptions. Regarding the culture of mission command, its assumptions create three major categories of beliefs – beliefs about warfare, command, and followership (Wright, 2015). While some beliefs are observable and promoted by doctrine, others may be internalized and embedded individually by organizations. There are the following beliefs concerning welfare:
- Humans play the most significant role in warfare; they are more essential in comparison with weaponry and technology;
- Every situation on the battlefield is unique, and there is no universal algorithm of actions;
- Organizations are responsible for rapid learning, adaptation, and the implementation of innovative techniques in the dynamic environment.
Beliefs about command refer to appropriate actions and necessary characteristics of military leaders that include:
- Tolerance to subordinates’ failures and mistakes in their orders’ execution. Omission and inaction are considered to be worse than errors;
- The ability to adapt to circumstances without trying to control the situation;
- The ability to make time-sensitive and independent decisions even when received information is incomplete or imperfect.
Beliefs about followership describe the rights and duties of subordinates on the battlefield and during training. There are the following major aspects:
- Subordinates are responsible for the initiative and all potential risks as well, however, responsibility should be connected with the intentions of commanders;
- They are required to act independently in order to gain an advantage over an enemy in rapidly developing situations;
- Professional education, leadership development processes, and rigorous training are essential for subordinates in all military organizations to ensure understanding of doctrine instructions and tactics;
- Subordinate leaders may abandon or modify assigned tasks when appropriate if they still meet the commander’s intent.
Similar to any well-aligned organizational culture, mission command possesses specific representative artifacts as well. They include universally accepted and understood doctrine, professional military education, adaptive training methods, leader development programs, social architecture that defines the relationships between commanders and subordinates, professional credentialing, and substantially high delegation levels (Wright, 2015). In addition, innovative technologies that aim to support rapid decision-making, systems of rewards and punishment, and particular ceremonies and rituals that underline the significance of individual initiative refer to mission command as well.
From a personal perspective, the implementation of the main principles of mission command in the senior non-commissioned officer’s practice contributes to its effectiveness. First of all, the responsibilities of senior army leaders that occupy with the military personnel professional education and the execution of organizational missions are reflected in the concept of mission command. A senior non-commissioned officer may apply mission command to build a strong relationship between seniors in rank and their subordinates on the principles of mutual trust and respect. The adaptation of belief that people are the most essential elements of the army and their accurate decisions and actions are essential may provide the success of the whole operation and lead to a victory. In addition, due to mission command, senior non-commissioned officers may provide highly efficient training to military personnel if they teach subordinates to be initiative and responsible for personal decisions.
Mission command is defined as a specific type of military command that combines centralized control with execution subsidiarity within defined constraints. It is derived from the concept of Auftragstaktik that was effectively applied by the German Army during the 20th century. As a well-defined culture, mission command includes three major types of assumptions – assumptions concerning the nature of war, assumptions referred to the concept of command and commanders’ role, and assumptions about fellowship and subordinates’ role. Mission command emphasizes the significance of organizational learning, professional education, mutual trust, and the subordinates’ initiative in decision making. According to the concept’s assumptions, commanders should perceive their responsibility to subordinates on the battlefield and assume all potential risks willingly. In turn, subordinates should act responsibly according to circumstances, though within a certain framework of their commanders’ intentions.
Non-commissioned officers are traditionally defined as the main support of military services. They are responsible for training military personnel, the execution of organizational missions, and the connection between commandeers and subordinate leaders. That is why competent senior non-commissioned officers understand and apply new concepts in order to improve their performance and the general state of the U.S. army. The implementation of the main principles of mission command in the senior non-commissioned officer’s practice contributes to its effectiveness. The focus on mutual trust, individual initiative, and people’s significance results inappropriate training of military personnel and the army’s success on the battlefield.
- Czeglédi, M. (2018). Moltke’s legacy (The origin of mission command). Military Science Review, 11(4), 217-226.
- Stephenson, H. (2016). Mission command-able? Assessing the compatibility of organizational change and military culture in the U.S. army. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 17(1), 104-143.
- Wright, J. W. (2015). The challenges of adopting a culture of mission command in the US army. United States Army Command and General Staff College.