Found at: WRSA and American Mercenary



21 APRIL 2013

Mission orders verses Operation Orders

The traditional Operation Order, OPORD, describes tactical tasks that a unit and subordinate units are to accomplish.  Maneuver tasks are prescribed, such as “attack”, “defend”, or “delay.”   The operations order includes Commander’s Intent so that if a unit is unable to accomplish the specified, implied, and essential tasks they can still work to accomplish the desired endstate.  Areas of responsibility are assigned, and command, control, and support relationships are specified.  The efforts of all subordinate units are synchronized into an effective whole.

The traditional OPORD is:
Situation, enemy, friendly
Mission, and higher HQ mission one and two levels up.
Execution; stated mission, desired endstate, concept of the operation, scheme of maneuver
Support and Logistics, classes of supply
Command and Signal, who takes charge when, how everyone communicates.

The Mission Order, describes the tasks to be completed in terms of an endstate.  “Control all movement through the XXXX Valley” or “Pacify the district and gain support for the legitimate government.  Commander’s Intent here is given, but instead of telling subordinate units how to do something by assigning tasks, only the endstates are given.  Subordinate missions are designed to harmonize with each other.  I’ve highlighted a non-doctrinal (or semi-doctrinal, this was unpublished when I was taught it from a draft copy of an ADRP)

The Mission Order is different from the traditional OPORD in a subtle way:
Situation, enemy, friendly
Mission, and higher HQ mission one and two levels up.
Execution; stated mission, desired endstate, desired endstates of subordinate missions, scheme of harmonization
Support and Logistics, classes of supply
Command and Signal, who takes charge when, how everyone communicates.

The same five paragraphs are there, but you lose the concept of the operation (which is the how everything fits together part in big picture form) and you lose the scheme of maneuver (where you describe in minute detail what subordinate units must do to accomplish the concept of the op).  Instead you gain the desired endstate (with respect to friendly, enemy, terrain, and civilian factors) and the scheme of how subordinate units will harmonize efforts (who has to talk to who and when, who needs to know and how quickly, what events trigger a notification, etc).

Mission Orders are easier to plan, and harder to execute well because they don’t have synchronization, so real time deconfliction must take place between higher and lower, and peer to peer.  If a unit decides to attack to clear an area, they have to do the logistics planning at their level to see if they can do it on their own before tapping into higher headquarters resources (in an OPORD the Higher HQ has to do that planning).  If all the units decide to attack to clear at once, and all the units go black on ammo at the same time, that is a problem.  The efforts may be harmonized (clearing the AO of enemy) but they were not deconflicted through peer to peer communications.

Units that train to work under Mission Orders are the most effective and adaptive units on the battlefield.  Special Forces units routinely practice this, adapting the plan as they go to focus on the desired endstate and only calling the boss (other than routine communications and SITREPs) to solve problems if they reach a point where they understand that they are incapable of achieving the desired endstate.  My current Brigade Commander is a huge proponent of Mission Command, the art of “flattening the organization” so that the people on the ground with the most current knowledge of the situation are empowered to make decisions working towards his stated goal.  This is huge, this can backfire horribly.

Trust is the number one requirement for Mission Command to work.  If there is no trust then instead of a Mission Order the HQ will publish an OPORD and everyone will end up synchronized.  The German Blitzkrieg is a prime example of a Mission Order in execution.  The Germans learned in WWI that to break through the lines they must advance immediately to secure gains, they cannot wait for traditional maneuver commands to give the general time to plan an advance on a gain.  They learned that when something broke, send as many as you can through it and trust them to make good decisions.  This allowed the German Army to take Paris unopposed as they simply outmaneuvered the French Army with speed, surprise, and tactical flexibility.

In the end, the difference between an OPORD and a Mission Order is the difference between, “what do you want to do?” and “what do you want to accomplish?”  That is a very important difference.



Peter said…

Good stuff, but one typo. You’ve put in “the traditional OPORD” twice – I think the second one should be the abbreviation for Mission Order (I know my own abbrev, but that’s not what US forces use).

APRIL 22, 2013 AT 5:49 AM

AM said…

Thanks Peter, made the correction.

APRIL 22, 2013 AT 4:09 PM
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