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Mission command and the Army design methodology: implications for Military Intelligence professionals.



As a result of the past decade of conflict, there have been a number of changes to both Army and Joint doctrine in the approach to planning and executing operations. Perhaps the greatest doctrinal shift in the past few years has been the emphasis on two related concepts: mission command and the Army design methodology. This shift is a response to a number of factors, including the emergence of hybrid threats, the emphasis on unified action full spectrum operations in simultaneous offensive, defensive, and stability or defense support of civil authorities, and the impact of the information environment. This article will discuss these two concepts and the implications for Military Intelligence (MI) professionals. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-0, Operations, provides the context for these changes:
  Army forces operate as part of a larger national effort characterized
  as unified action. Army leaders must integrate their actions and
  operations within this larger framework, collaborating with entities
  outside their direct control ... Effective unified action requires
  Army leaders who can understand, influence, and cooperate with
  unified action partners. The Army depends on its joint partners for
  capabilities that do not reside within the Army, and it cannot
  operate effectively without their support. Likewise, government
  agencies outside the Department of Defense possess knowledge,
  skills, and capabilities necessary for success. The active
  cooperation of partners often allows Army leaders to capitalize
  on organizational strengths while offsetting weaknesses. Only by
  creating a shared understanding and purpose through collaboration
  with all elements of the friendly force--a key element of mission
  command--can Army leaders integrate their actions within unified
  action and synchronize their own operations. (1)

Mission Command

Mission command is the first response to the requirement to "create a shared understanding and purpose" to integrate "actions within unified action" to synchronize operations. This represents a shift away from "battle command" to mission command. This is more than merely a change in terminology, and represents a change in the approach to the art and science of command. Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-0 provides the following definition:
  Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by the
  commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative
  within the commander's intent to empower agile and adaptive
  leaders in the conduct of unified land operations. Exercised by
  Army commanders, it blends the art of command and the science of
  control while integrating the warfighting functions to conduct
  the tasks of decisive action. (2)

Although mission command is commander-led, the concepts and principles apply to all leaders--at all levels. Mission command requires an environment characterized by mutual trust and the encouragement of collaboration and dialogue at all echelons--a necessary approach to achieve success in today's operational environment:
  Mission command emphasizes the critical contributions of leaders
  at every echelon. It establishes a mindset among Army leaders that
  the best understanding comes from a synthesis of information and
  an understanding from all echelons and unified action
  partners--bottom-up input is as important as top-down guidance.
  Mission command emphasizes the importance of creating shared
  understanding and purpose. It highlights how commanders--through
  disciplined initiative within the Commander's intent--transition
  among offensive, defensive, and stability or defense support of
  civil authorities tasks and vary the level of control to account
  for changes in an operational environment. (3)


Mission command is not only a function performed by commanders, but is also described as a "warfighting function" (replacing the command and control warfighting function.) It is, therefore, both a philosophy of command as well as a warfighting function. Commanders the central figure in mission command--have three different tasks:

* Drive the operations process through activities of understanding, visualizing, describing, directing, leading, and assessing operations.

* Develop teams, both within their own organizations and with joint, interagency, and multinational partners.

* Inform and influence audiences, inside and outside their organizations. (4)

All three of these tasks in mission command are interrelated; the commander must "drive the operations process" by using the methodology of "understanding, visualizing, describing, directing, leading, and assessing operations." During this process, commanders must develop teams within organizations, as well as strengthening existing relationships with unified action partners. Providing consistent messages to diverse audiences is required for effective planning and executing of operations. Staffs assist commanders with "understanding situations, making and implementing decisions, controlling operations, and assessing progress" as well as keeping "units and organizations outside the headquarters informed throughout the conduct of operations." (5)

ADRP 5-0, The Operations Process, provides a schematic that describes how commanders drive the operations process in mission command. Note that the actions are focused on the task of "understanding, visualizing, describing, directing, leading, and assessing operations." An overview of this process is displayed in the figure below. (6)

ADRP 6-0 provides the following description of mission command:
  Commanders understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead, and
  assess throughout operations. Commanders continuously develop,
  test, and update their understanding throughout the conduct of
  operations. They actively collaborate with other commanders, the
  staff, and unified action partners, to create a shared
  understanding. As commanders begin to develop an understanding of
  the operational environment, they start visualizing the
  operation's end state and potential solutions to solve problems.
  After commanders visualize an operation, they describe it to their
  staffs and subordinates. This description facilitates shared
  understanding of the situation, mission, and intent. Based on this
  understanding, commanders make decisions and direct action
  throughout the operations process. Commanders use the operations
  process to lead Soldiers and forces by providing direction and
  guidance. Commanders assess operations continuously to better
  understand current conditions and determine how operations are
  progressing. Commanders incorporate the assessments of the staff,
  subordinate commanders, and unified action partners into their
  personal assessment of the situation. Based on their assessment,
  commanders modify plans and orders to better accomplish the
  mission. If their assessment reveals a significant variance from
  their original commander's visualization, commanders reframe the
  problem and develop a new operational approach. (7)

There are some themes that are emphasized in mission command that relate directly to Army design methodology: the central role of the commander; understanding the operational environment; visualizing the end state and operational approach; describing the visualization for a shared understanding; collaboration and dialogue; and framing and reframing. Let's now look at Army design methodology as the second concept.

Army Design Methodology

The Army design methodology is defined by ADP 5-0 as "a methodology for applying critical and creative thinking to understand, visualize, and describe unfamiliar problems and approaches to solving them." (8) Army Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (ATTP) 5-0.1 states that "design permeates the operations process" to "assist commanders and staff with the conceptual aspects of command." (9) ADRP 5-0 provides a description of the activities of the Army design methodology:
  Army design methodology entails framing an operational environment,
  framing a problem, and developing an operational approach to solve
  the problem. Army design methodology results in an improved
  understanding of the operational environment, a problem statement,
  initial commander's intent, and an operational approach that serves
  as the link between conceptual and detailed planning. Based on
  their understanding and learning gained during Army design
  methodology, commanders issue planning guidance, to include an
  operational approach, to guide more detailed planning using the
  MDMP. (10)

The Army design methodology is the second response to the requirement to "create a shared understanding and purpose" to integrate "actions within unified action" to synchronize operations and develop "a methodology that expands beyond the military decisionmaking process" that focuses on "understanding the operational environment" and understanding "the problem to be solved." Army design methodology is primarily conceptual, whereas the military decisionmaking process (MDMP) is detail oriented:
  Planning is the art and science of understanding a situation,
  envisioning desired future conditions, and laying out effective
  ways of bringing that future about. Planning consists of two
  separate but interrelated components: a conceptual component and a
  detailed component. Successful planning requires the integration
  of both these components. Army leaders employ three methodologies
  for planning: the Army design methodology, the military
  decisionmaking process, and troop leading procedures. Commanders
  determine how much of each methodology to use based on the scope
  of the problem, their familiarity with it, and the time
  available. (11)

Army design methodology, as the conceptual component of planning, is a methodology to help commanders think through handling problems, and to engage the staff, subordinates, and higher level commanders using collaboration and dialogue to enable a commander's understanding and visualization of a situation. It is defined in ADRP 3-0, using much of the conceptual language of mission command of understanding, visualizing, and describing. Formal planning processes, such as MDMP or the Joint Operation Planning Process, provide a complementary and iterative methodology to provide specificity to planning.
  The Army design methodology is a methodology for applying critical
  and creative thinking to understand, visualize, and describe
  unfamiliar problems and approaches to solving them. The Army design
  methodology is particularly useful as an aid to conceptual thinking
  about unfamiliar problems. To produce executable plans, commanders
  integrate it with the detailed planning typically associated with
  the military decisionmaking process. Commanders who use the Army
  design methodology may gain a greater understanding of their
  operational environments and the problems and visualize an
  appropriate operational approach. With this greater understanding,
  commanders can provide a clear commander's intent and concept of
  operations-both required by mission command. Such clarity enables
  subordinate units and commanders to take initiative. The Army
  design methodology is iterative and collaborative. As the
  operations process unfolds, the commander, staff, subordinates, and
  other partners continue to learn and collaborate to improve their
  shared understanding. An improved understanding may lead to
  modifications to their operational approach or an entirely new
  approach altogether. (12)

Army design methodology focuses on three basic questions that must be answered to produce an actionable design concept that can guide detailed planning:

* What is the context in which design will be applied? (Framing the operational environment.)

* What problem is the design intended to solve? (Framing the problem.)

* What broad, general approach will solve the problem? (Developing operational approaches.) (13)

The first two questions relate directly to framing--framing the operational environment and framing the problem. Framing provides the "focus" for planning--to decide exactly what will be analyzed, and by necessity, what may not be analyzed. Just as a 'timeframe' looks at just a certain span of time, framing is like a camera lens that only shows a certain view--there is more around the frame, but the focus is only within the frame. When you don't limit your planning frame, you have too much information to analyze; when you overly limit and focus the frame, there is the danger of missing important details. Too much information can result in 'paralysis by analysis' whereas too little information can lead planners to solve the wrong problem because they can't see the real issue at hand. For this reason, it is essential to constantly review framing and to be willing to reframe as needed--including framing the operational environment and framing the problem. ADRP 5-0 gives the following description of framing:
  Framing is the act of building mental models to help individuals
  understand situations and respond to events. Framing involves
  selecting, organizing, interpreting, and making sense of an
  operational environment and a problem by establishing context. How
  individuals or groups frame a problem will influence potential
  solutions ... The Army design methodology involves deliberately
  framing an operational environment and problem through dialogue and
  critical and creative thinking by a group. The group considers the
  perspective and world views of others to understand the situation
  fully. This contextual understanding of an operational environment
  serves as a frame of reference for developing solutions to solve
  problems. Framing facilitates constructing hypotheses, or modeling,
  that focuses on the part of an operational environment or problem
  under consideration. (14)


Commanders and staff use different approaches when framing the operational environment and framing the problem. For framing the operational environment, the operational variables (political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time, or PMESII-PT) are used; for framing the problem, the mission variables (mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations, or METT-TC) start to come into play.

Developing the operational approach builds on the commander's understanding of the problem and the environment. The general sequence is that commanders first understand the conditions that make up the current situation; based on this understanding, commanders gain a greater understanding of the problem (the competitive issue with an opponent) and visualize conditions that represent the desired end state. After envisioning the conditions that make up the desired end state, commanders then conceptualize an operational approach of how to change current conditions to the desired future conditions, as shown below. (15)

The concept of 'collaboration and dialogue' is strongly emphasized in Army design methodology. Having an organization that encourages collaboration and dialogue is necessary to build a learning organization. ADRP 5-0 describes the process of collaboration and dialogue:
  Throughout the operations process, commanders encourage continuous
  collaboration and dialogue among the staff and with unified action
  partners. Collaboration and dialogue aids in developing shared
  understanding throughout the force and with unified action
  partners. Collaboration is two or more people or organizations
  working together toward common goals by sharing knowledge and
  building consensus. Dialogue is a way to collaborate that involves
  the candid exchange of ideas or opinions among participants and
  that encourages frank discussions in areas of disagreement.
  Throughout the operations process, commanders, subordinate
  commanders, staffs, and unified action partners actively
  collaborate and dialogue, sharing and questioning information,
  perceptions, and ideas to better understand situations and make

Implications for MI Professionals

Full implementation of the mission command and the Army design methodology requires a change in mindset, with attendant challenges and opportunities. There are a number of implications for MI professionals today from this shift in the approach to operations.

* Know the playbook. The descriptions of mission command and the Army design methodology are not exhaustive, but instead are a broad brush effort to explain the concepts. It is critical to understand the concepts and tools used for mission command and the Army design methodology. It isn't necessary--or desirable--to follow doctrine slavishly. It is necessary to understand the doctrine and to reflect on the enduring principles and concepts, and then to use judgment in the application of those principles and concepts based on the situation.

* Play on the team. Mission command and the Army design methodology encourage free-flowing discussions with the emphasis on collaboration and dialogue--which represents an opportunity to be an active participant throughout the operations process. They are intended to 'harvest the corporate intellect' of the entire team, including the commander, staff, superiors, and subordinates. Don't just 'stay in your lane,' but also understand that the commander is still in charge.

* Play your position. While mission command and the Army design methodology are 'team sports,' MI professionals have key roles to play. Understanding the operational environment and conducting PMESII-PT analysis are core missions, do them well.

* Build a team. The concept of collaboration and dialogue goes beyond the discussions within the staff; draw on others who have expertise for their insight. This is particularly relevant when conducting stability or civil support missions, there are many stakeholders who can assist ... engage them.

* Maintain the big picture. Framing is critical, but it has inherent weaknesses--are you looking at the right issues? Have things changed that require a reframe? Always be attuned to the bigger picture to ensure you aren't focused in the wrong area or working on the wrong problem.


Today, complex problems exist at all levels of war--and commanders and staffs at all levels have to synthesize intuition and 'informed vision and creativity,' with cognitive analytical approaches. The complementary concepts of Mission command and the Army design methodology provide the approaches needed to address these complex problems.


(1.) ADP 3-0, Unified Land Operations, 10 October 2011, paragraphs 11 and 12.

(2.) ADRP 3-0, Unifed Land Operations, 16 May 2012, paragraph 2-45.

(3.) ADRP 3-0, paragraph 2-47.

(4.) ADRP 6-0, Mission Command, 17 May 2012, paragraph 1-16.

(5.) ADRP 5-0, The Operations Process, 17 May 2012, paragraph 1-9.

(6.) ADRP 5-0, figure 1-2.

(7.) ADRP 6-0, paragraph 3-6.

(8.) ADP 5-0, The Operations Process, 17 May 2012, paragraph 29.

(9.) ATTP 5-0.1, Commander and Staff Officer Guide, 14 September 2011, paragraph 1-15.

(10.) ADRP 5-0, paragraph 2-30.

(11.) ADRP 3-0, paragraph 1-51.

(12.) ADRP 3-0, paragraph 1-53.

(13.) ADRP 5-0, paragraphs 2-30 to 2-32.

(14.) ADRP 5-0, paragraphs 2-25 to 2-26.

(15.) ADRP 5-0, figure 1-3.

(16.) ADRP 5-0, paragraph 1-43.

by Jack D. Kem, PhD

Colonel (Retired) Jack D. Kem is a Supervisory Professor in the Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He has served as a Battalion S2, G2 Plans Officer, DTOC Support Element Chief, and Battalion XO in the 82d Airborne Division; as a Brigade S2 in the 3d Infantry Division; as a Company Commander and Battalion S3 in the 3d Armored Division; and as the Battalion Commander of the 319th MI Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps. From November 2009 to November 2011 he served as the Civilian Deputy to the Commander, NATO Training Mission--Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan. Colonel (Retired) Kem graduated from MIOAC, the Army Command and General Staff College, the Air Command and Staff College, the Joint Forces Staff College, and the Army War College. He holds a BA from Western Kentucky University, an MPA from Auburn University at Montgomery, and a PhD from North Carolina State University. Readers may contact the author via email at
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Author:Kem, Jack D.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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