Making Mission Command Work in the Real World

The evolution of mission command over the last two decades has occurred as US and coalition partners have taken on an increasing array of challenges and operations. How the US military and its allies adapt to the circumstances of a given contingency, as well as institutionalize mission command ideas, will affect how it performs in the future, said Kathleen Conley at a June 25 Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies presentation in Arlington, Va. Conley, a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses, cited a white paper by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey as an attempt to push the conversation on mission command forward. A concept known as “command and control agility” needs to be better understood and embraced across the military, including the ability to successfully respond to changed circumstances in a mission by either centralizing or decentralizing decision making informed by a commander’s intent, she said. Conley cited real world examples from the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Haiti earthquake relief operation in January 2010, where commanders had to change approaches and C2 processes. She admitted, however, the US military is only now starting to ask hard questions about how it recognizes agility and, more importantly, how it empowers individuals to act on it in dynamic environments. (Conley article in the January issue of Joint Forces Quarterly)