Mission Command Is Swarm Intelligence

The Long March
Wikimedia/Zainichi Gaikokujin

Mission Command is essentially Swarm Intelligence. On the surface, this might appear to be a new way to look at Mission Command, but it’s not. We have made the idea of Mission Command so confusing that it’s hard to discern exactly what it is and the vast majority struggle to make a clear distinction between Mission Command and Command and Control.

Mission Command is emergent behavior in a decentralized environment (and self-organized), where subordinate commanders interact with one another in their environment allowing the collective intelligence of a group to emerge. Are you confused by this definition? I will admit, this is a definition of Swarm Intelligence, but this is what we seek in Mission Command.

Mission Command is rules-based decision-making (think If-And-Then algorithms) and should be the complete opposite of the traditional (and rigid) Command and Control structure. It should allow us the ability to be agile and adaptive leaders, which is nearly impossible in our contemporary military environment where we have layers of management establishing how actions are approved and monitored. Our current acquisition system is an example of this rigid and layered system limiting innovation when it’s needed.

Mission Command should take the power traditionally reserved at the top and spread it across the force, empowering Soldiers. Our current hierarchy limits flexibility, separates people, limits communication, creates a power vacuum, and reduces innovation. It is positional/power leadership at its best. Mission Command should strive to be the complete opposite in order to accelerate decision-making, enhance the collective intelligence of the group, empower Soldiers to exploit opportunities, and integrate sustainable and long-term thinking. Yet, the most important piece is the flow of information as Mission Command is communication-driven.

If we look back throughout history, Mission Command has been used successfully. In fact, it traces its roots back to Prussian Generals through the use of mission-type tactics (Auftragstaktik). However, I argue it traces its roots even further as Genghis Khan used what we today would call swarming tactics allowing his hordes to attack using faster communication and decision-making. Mongol forces were able to locate, converge, attack, and disperse faster than any other military. This is no different than the rules-based decision-making of social insects (such as an ant colony) or a flock of birds.

It’s actually quite straightforward how Swarm Intelligence works. For example, ants search for food by: 1) Each ant randomly searches for food; 2) If an ant finds something, and it’s food, then the ant signals to others; 3) If the ant does not find anything, and another ant has found something, Then the ant will go to the other ant; 4) If they haven’t found anything, and there are no other signals, Then they head off in random directions to keep searching.

Since we are not ants, I suggest we turn our attention to another theory similar to Swarm Intelligence. If we are honest, we currently attempt to squeeze Mission Command in with Command and Control. We ask leaders to perform decentralized execution after first conducting centralized planning, which is a clear contradiction. But where does centralized planning stop and decentralized execution begin?

I suggest we look to Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop for our solution. The OODA Loop is a high-speed decision making and feedback process distilled into four stages (or four simple rules): Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Think of the Mongol example from earlier. The OODA Loop is similar to swarming, where a subordinate commander strives to Observe (Locate), Orient (Converge), Decide (Attack), and Act (Disperse or Learn) faster than the enemy. This approach does not rely on massing forces, and most importantly, it does not rely on Unity of Command.

For this to happen, I argue we first need to change the definition of Mission Command and make it simple. My suggestion is to use Boyd’s OODA Loop (rules-based decision-making) and allow planning and execution to become decentralized. Lastly, do not confuse “simple” with “simplistic” as Mission Command and Boyd’s OODA Loop are both complex frameworks.

Major Jamie Schwandt is a U.S. Army Red Team Member and Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has served in various roles, such as an S3, Commander, and on the Army Staff. He is also an adjunct professor, a published author, and has a doctorate from Kansas State University.

(Air Force photo / Tech Sgt. Oneika Banks)

Kirtland Air Force Base isn't much different from the world beyond its gates when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, a base clinical psychologist says.

Maj. Benjamin Carter told the Journal the most frequent diagnosis on the base is an anxiety disorder.

"It's not a surprise, but I anticipate about anytime in the population in America, about 20% of the population has some form of diagnosable anxiety disorder, and it's no different in the military," he said.

Leading the way among the anxiety disorders, he said, were post-traumatic stress disorder "or something like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder."

Read More
(National Archives / Marine Corps Photo / WO Obie Newcomb, Jr., November 1943)

The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese.

The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.

Read More
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff. Sgt. Daniel Snider)

Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight a plan by the Air Force to start retiring some of the nation's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — a major operation at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — as part of a plan to drop some older, legacy weapon systems to help pay for new programs.

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both vowed to fight the move to retire 44 of the oldest A-10s starting this year.

During a press briefing last week, Air Force officials unveiled plans to start mothballing several older platforms, including retiring some A-10s even as it refits others with new wings.

Read More

MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un was filmed riding through the snow on a white stallion last year, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on 12 purebred horses from Russia, according to Russian customs data.

Accompanied by senior North Korean figures, Kim took two well-publicized rides on the snowy slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain in October and December.

State media heralded the jaunts as important displays of strength in the face of international pressure and the photos of Kim astride a galloping white steed were seen around the world.

North Korea has a long history of buying pricey horses from Russia and customs data first reported by Seoul-based NK News suggests that North Korea may have bolstered its herd in October.

Read More
Screenshot of a propaganda video featuring former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A high-profile local Taliban figure who announced and justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, Pakistan's interior minister confirmed a few days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.

Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.

The Pakistani military, which had kept Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but, asked by reporters about the report, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: "That is correct, that is correct."

Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that "you will hear good news" in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down Ehsan.

Read More