What Today’s Army Can Learn from the Interwar Navy About Mission Command

The Long March
Floating Japanese G4M1 bomber off Tulagi, Solomon Islands, 8 Aug 1942 as seen from the destroyer USS Ellet. The bomber was shot down during an aerial torpedo attack on the Allied shipping off Tulagi.
U.S. National Archives

To create an environment where this was feasible—where officers could use individual judgment and yet cooperatively further the overall objective — the Navy sought to strengthen the ability and effectiveness of officers but to do so within a standardized framework.

The educational system of the Naval War College was a core component of the framework, and starting in 1929, the structure of the estimate of the situation was refined to further foster the initiative of subordinates; it became an American equivalent to the German practice of Auftragstaktik, or “mission command.”

The essential changes were the introduction to the estimate process of a step directly comparing opposing forces—to make it easier to assess “all factors of strength, such as material, personnel, position, disposition, composition, and, above all, morale”—and an increased emphasis on objectives—the ends, not the means—to create freedom of action for subordinates: “You are cautioned always to state the Courses of Action in terms of what is to be accomplished and not in terms of the operations to accomplish them.” Effective instructions created options for subordinates and leveraged their initiative.

The revised approach was beneficial, but it led to a substantial and problematic change in how officers assessed enemy intentions. A focus on determining the “enemy’s probable intentions” shifted attention toward the enemy’s most likely course of action and away from the most dangerous ones. This increased the likelihood that officers would assess enemy intentions in terms of the Navy’s own capabilities, leading to “mirror imaging.”

Despite this flaw, the process of generating the estimate continued to be a powerful enabling constraint. It was an analytical approach that encouraged a common approach to framing, analyzing, and solving problems. Ultimately, it resulted in its own supersession—by a new pamphlet, Sound Military Decision, which enhanced the process of estimating the situation.

Reprinted, by permission, from Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945, by Trent Hone. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, © 2018).

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

A U.S. Air Force combat controller will receive the nation's third highest award for valor this week for playing an essential role in two intense firefight missions against the Taliban in Afghanistan last year.

Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith, an airman with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing at Air Force Special Operations Command, will receive the Silver Star at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on Nov. 22, the service announced Monday.

Read More Show Less
Some dank nugs. (Flickr/Creative Commons/Dank Depot)

SARASOTA, Fla. — With data continuing to roll in that underscores the health benefits of cannabis, two Florida legislators aren't waiting for clarity in the national policy debates and are sponsoring bills designed to give medical marijuana cards to military veterans free of charge.

Read More Show Less

Former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, whom President Donald Trump recently pardoned of his 2013 murder conviction, claims he was nothing more than a pawn whom generals sacrificed for political expediency.

The infantry officer had been sentenced to 19 years in prison for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012. Two of the men were killed.

During a Monday interview on Fox & Friends, Lorance accused his superiors of betraying him.

"A service member who knows that their commanders love them will go to the gates of hell for their country and knock them down," Lorance said. "I think that's extremely important. Anybody who is not part of the senior Pentagon brass will tell you the same thing."

"I think folks that start putting stars on their collar — anybody that has got to be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion — they are no longer a soldier, they are a politician," he continued. "And so I think they lose some of their values — and they certainly lose a lot of their respect from their subordinates — when they do what they did to me, which was throw me under the bus."

Read More Show Less
Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. (Reuters photo)

Fifteen years after the U.S. military toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Army's massive two-volume study of the Iraq War closed with a sobering assessment of the campaign's outcome: With nearly 3,500 U.S. service members killed in action and trillions of dollars spent, "an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.

Thanks to roughly 700 pages of newly-publicized secret Iranian intelligence cables, we now have a good idea as to why.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press photo)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed confidence on Sunday in the U.S. military justice system's ability to hold troops to account, two days after President Donald Trump pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.

Trump also restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq.

Asked how he would reassure countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the pardons, Esper said: "We have a very effective military justice system."

"I have great faith in the military justice system," Esper told reporters during a trip to Bangkok, in his first remarks about the issue since Trump issued the pardons.

Read More Show Less