Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dead Germans did not perfect war (Or: balancing command and initiative is okay)

For some reason we're talking again about the U.S. Army, mission orders, and initiative. It's fun to beat on an organization as large as the Army and throw around fun German words (and the fun names of the men who coined those words), but enough is enough.

1. The Army uses a mix of mission-type orders and execution-type orders. MAJ Neil Smith is spot on here that the technologies of the battlefield at the moment are too complex to use purely Auftragstaktik. The coordination of airspace and fires is a hard, hard thing to do and needs to be dictated to an extent. But for the most part the way this works is that a subordinate command that is on the ground will say what they want to do and in the interest of securing and legitimizing the allocation of assets, turns around and orders the subordinate to do what the subordinate unit told the higher unit they were going to do in the first place. When the technologies that command and control our equipment improve, I'm sure we'll see more movement towards mission-type orders in this regard as well. Until then, can we please stop deluding ourselves that dead Germans performed the command of arms in its purest form?

Also, please understand that the actual tactical command of troops on the ground is commanded at the lowest level possible, with that guy on the ground armed with his commander's intent. Execution-type orders are, in my experience, given to deconflict complex operations or asset allocation. And for administrative orders - because that's how admin in a large bureaucracies work. (Sorry Crispin, this is a funny story about Burger King, but it says absolutely nothing about how the U.S. Army orders its forces to combat - it just means our boys apparently can't figure out how to order fast food.)

2. The Army's leadership lacks initiative like the Navy lacks ships. You'll see this nonsense in the comments sections of some of the bigger blogs out there - on Ricks' in the current case that has me riled at the moment. Are bad decisions made? Yup. Are some leaders micro-mangers? Of course there are some. The Army truly is a cross-section of the nation - why would you expect colonels and generals to be perfect when you don't expect that of executives in the business world. The military sure has its own problems, but considering it's made up humans, I think it does fairly well for itself. But to say that this Army, that has done pretty damned well through 10 years of tough wars, lacks initiative is absurd. Period.

So yeah, I'm probably tilting a bit at windmills here. I'm just tired of the broad brushes used to paint impressions of such a large organization as the U.S. Army.


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