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Thinking about the Infantry Attack

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jhk87

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jhk87 said:
I am  - I began by looking through some TAMs and then referenced the PAM (1996 version - it's all I have in PDF at the moment). My fault; will give myself 15 mins mark time. Also looked through course notes which were very big on control measures.

The German offensives began with no appreciable political or operational aim and the lack of higher co-ordination made it very difficult to really find a purpose for them. In the end, they burnt out their most aggressive troops in the matter of a couple of months.

Are you saying that Mission Command is over-rated or that it is not practiced?  I don't see the linkage between mission command and higher assets.

I'm not saying that Mission Command is a bad idea, I'm saying that it has to be one idea among many to make for effective operations. Once a term begins getting bandied about the army, it quickly has its context lost in the rush to attach the buzzword to everything. Rather than training out "strategic" corporals to "think like generals," I would argue that we ought to make sure the role of the corporal is consistent with modern doctrine and then train our corporals to be good corporals, just like we should should train our subalterns to be good subalterns, and generals generals.

See? My argument has been synergised!

Mission-type orders are nothing new, nor are they the be-all, end-all. I would make the argument that while initiative is vital, having assets that the bn and coy level is also key. As of now' they're lacking - mobility and indirect fire can only really be gained through the bde level and the removal of the AA Pl at bn level means that all Pl comds have to rely on the availiablity of tanks, which we nearly scrapped. Mission-type orders ultimately create opportunities for exploitation, but, if these opportunities have no means of being reinforced, then there's virtually no point. Without dets of 81mm, AA or pioneers, how can the OC really influence the battle without getting his fingers the pl attacks?
 

TangoTwoBravo

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Mission-orders are indeed fairly new to our Army. We adopted them with the zeal of the converted, but I am not sure if mission-command is universal.

I agree that there is more than one way to do things. The German doctrine from which manouevre warfare sprang recognized directive control (mission-type orders) and detailed control. Under directive control you have a mission with intent along with the tasks for subordinates.  You don't tell the subordinates how to do their tasks, and you even give them the freedom to abandon their tasks during the battle if by doing so they achieve the mission and intent.  Under detailed control, however, you assign tasks (and perhaps tell them how to do their task) and expect subordinates to execute them.  You prepare and rehearse until everybody knows their part and success rests on the battle unfolding as you have prepared.

Both can work. I prefer directive control, but I believe that our military culture actually prefers detailed control. 

I don't think that mission-orders create opportunties for exploitation. Instead, they allow subordinates to recognize and exploit opportunities without relying on communications with their superior. I've seen this work at very low levels (within a Troop).

I agree that infantry battalions should have their old combat support companies back, but I don't see the linkage to directive vs detailed control. A commander who uses directive control will do so whether his only attachment is a 2Lt with a empty jerry-can or a tank squadron, an artillery battery and the marching band attached. A commander who employs detailed control, on the other hand, will simply enjoy having more assets to control.
 
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jhk87

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We can find directives of intent as early as the Second World War - I'll agree with you that it's largely a matter of culture. We have PAMs from 1996 preaching the need for mission command, I would think that 14 years is well enough time to have doctrine recognised.

Current doctrine sees a need for both detailed and mission-type orders, depending on the situation. I see what you're getting at wrt creation vs exploitation - it's largely a matter of scale. A platoon commander has, basically, 1 section in reserve (if not depth) and can therefore only exploit so much. What a Pl-level breakout can do, however, is disrupt the enemy enough for the OC to exploit that gap with his reserve or additional assets, or, for that matter, to create a lane for the depth coy to move through. Higher assets are vital to making these small gaps into bigger ones  - if the tanks are too busy protecting flanks (something that an the 8 anti-armour dets in the CS Coy would be able to achieve), how can they be used to build on the rather minor gap created by a successful pl attack?

Having concentrated fire and mobility assets further down the chain allows for a faster reaction to small but important gains which are enabled by mission-type orders, or, in toher words, letting people who are actually there make decisions. Without this support, having loosely directed sub-units going all over the place is inviting disaster.
 

TangoTwoBravo

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jhk87 said:
We can find directives of intent as early as the Second World War - I'll agree with you that it's largely a matter of culture. We have PAMs from 1996 preaching the need for mission command, I would think that 14 years is well enough time to have doctrine recognised.

Current doctrine sees a need for both detailed and mission-type orders, depending on the situation. I see what you're getting at wrt creation vs exploitation - it's largely a matter of scale. A platoon commander has, basically, 1 section in reserve (if not depth) and can therefore only exploit so much. What a Pl-level breakout can do, however, is disrupt the enemy enough for the OC to exploit that gap with his reserve or additional assets, or, for that matter, to create a lane for the depth coy to move through. Higher assets are vital to making these small gaps into bigger ones  - if the tanks are too busy protecting flanks (something that an the 8 anti-armour dets in the CS Coy would be able to achieve), how can they be used to build on the rather minor gap created by a successful pl attack?

Having concentrated fire and mobility assets further down the chain allows for a faster reaction to small but important gains which are enabled by mission-type orders, or, in toher words, letting people who are actually there make decisions. Without this support, having loosely directed sub-units going all over the place is inviting disaster.

We still liked nice deliberate shows as taught by Monty.  Regarding today, manuals only go so far.

Spreading your assets out can also lead to disaster.  Dispersion/concentration is a separate issue from mission command.  You say that having "concentrated fire and mobility assets further down the chain" allows for faster reaction, but it is hard to be both (concentrated and attached out further down the chain) unless you are uncontrained with resources.

Mission command does not need an "exploitation" and pursuit. It can be used for all tasks, even ones where you don't fire a shot. A recce troop leader who gives a good mission and intent can have a patrol commander who abandons his task without permission to achieve the Troop's mission/intent. 

I agree that the infantry battalions should have their combat support platoons back, including anti-armour.  Having integral combat support can, perhaps, enable each tactical grouping to have some combat support while concentrating the tanks/engineers/artillery on the main effort. I just don't see a linkage to mission command. A set-piece deliberate attack using detailed control can result in a breach in the enemy defences that needs to be exploited.

p.s. Going back over this I think that we are in violent agreement here.  As a tanker I would very much like the infantry to have anti-armour, so that tanks can be concentrated without leaving infantry without tanks helpless.  The same can be said for mortars/artillery and pioneers/engineers. Going with this, are there things that platoons/companies need integral that they do not have now?
 

Haligonian

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Going back to the issue of technology and micromanagement by higher. If I seem somewhat vague during this post I apologize but I don't want to breach OPSEC. Here in Afghanistan battle space comds ie. the infantry coy comds have been given an excellent tool in the "balloon."  There is one at almost every major FOB, they can be tasked almost instantly to provide real time imagery. It is like being able to watch the companies patrols constantly as if watching tv. These have been used to provide ground forces with detailed reports on pattern of life and walk them right on to an objective. However, numerous times during the tour it has also been used as a tool of micromangement. This has resulted in frustration within the companies NCO's and junior officers and precious air space on the companies means being eaten up.  During the post operational report the issue was identified and it was decided that it was likely an issue of training and experience.  This asset was not available nor was it simulated during training resulting in CP staff becoming slightly heavy handed in its employment. I wish I could say I was optimistic about the future of technology like this, however, I believe it is likely that future sect comds and pl comds will be subject to a great deal of control from the CP due to the fact that they can, and (this has already began) it will become the responsibility of the CP to be glued to the video feed and report anything they believe to be operationally relevant (and what is relevant and what is not will vary from person to person). This technology can also result in information overload very quickly.  A sect comd on the ground attempting to control his sect, attached pers (ANA, ANP, ANCOP), and report to higher will become overwhelmed very quickly if every smallest detail is reported to him constantly. CP's will have to be very disciplined in their reporting of information if they are to prevent this.

With regards to employment of mission command in the army today, I am torn and perhaps it's because my understanding of mission command is not strong enough (time for another read through of Manoeuver Warfare Handbook). Control measures here are often used.  There main purpose is for positional awareness IOT prevent fratricide and to hasten the employment of CAS and CCA. Is this contradictory of mission command? I don't think so. It is an attempt to bring the battlefield, which is inherently chaotic, under some kind of control. BUT they do put restrictions on subordinate's actions. When I am tasked by my coy comd to clear a village I'll break it down into numbered compounds, and allocate them to sects, with particular coordinating instructions to prevent fratricide, but I won't tell them how to clear the particular compound.  During coy level ops, my coy comd gives me a lane which entails numerous villages. He doesn't tell me in what order I should clear the villages, however, he does dictate to me my avenue of approach and the boundaries of the lane itself. Are these examples of mission command?  I believe so. Ultimately during pl level ops I have to deconflict the actions of sects IOT ensure they achieve mine and highers intent and ensure they do so without hurting eachother. Just as my coy comd must ensure that his pl's actions are deconflicted. To do this some level of control must be applied. Mission Command and Mission Orders work best I suspect when delivered to the highest comd on the ground, as he is the person who truly has the freedom of action to come up with the best way to tackle a problem.  For example, the CO tasks my coy comd to Clear obj X. It is an independant coy obj, by this I mean that there are no flanking coys to be worried about and it will be the OC's plan with little to no planning guidance from the CO other than his intent and mission (like most clearance operations in Afghanistan). Once the OC decides he's going to take Obj X by a right flanking, I'm pretty much locked in. There is of course room for me to exercise initiative within this manoueuver but not nearly as much as the coy comd had, and this continues down the line until sect comds are left with little room for initiative. Once your boss is on the ground with you and other call signs your initiative is slightly constrained.  Always has been, always will be... I think.  :)

 

vonGarvin

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Mission Command does not mean "total freedom".  instead, remember that there are indeed freedoms, but there are also constraints.  Let us not forget that your superior has a task, and you are part of it.  In his plan, he is leaving the details to you, but in the end, you still have to achieve "x" by time "y" in order to "z". 


As for the balloons/eyes in the skies, etc...I'm not a fan of them.  Why trust subordinates when you can micromanage them???

(Yes, I'm being sarcastic)
 

Haligonian

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Roger Technoviking.  So is the predominant view that mission command is something your either practicing or your not, or is it seen more as a continuum where there are varying degrees of its practice, with complete control on one end, and little to no direction on the other?

I'm inclined to see it more as a continuum based of the inclinations of the comd and the capabilities of his subordinates.
 

GnyHwy

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As for the balloons/eyes in the skies, etc...I'm not a fan of them.  Why trust subordinates when you can micromanage them???

Why wouldn't you take advice and direction from Someone who may have been in your position before?

Balloons are better than kites?  Oui?
 

KevinB

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GnyHwy said:
Why wouldn't you take advice and direction from Someone who may have been in your position before?

Balloons are better than kites?  Oui?

The problem is two fold (and more) one they can get sucked int tunnel vision concentrating on a portion of the battle and neglecting the larger picture, and also seeing the ground is not the same as being on the ground. 
  While sitting somewhere will digital imagery is nice, it does not give you the actual feedback of what the soldiers on the ground see, and while can can see somethings they cannot, it also does not display the actual terrain and what can and cannot be seen from there.
 
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jhk87

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There is also the problem that if we constantly rely on someone who's been there before, we can fall into the trap of forming patterns and hence becoming vulnerable.

Before anyone loses their mind,  of course, I take the advice of those who have been before very seriously, but new information and freedom of action ensures that nothing becomes fossilised in our doctrine or our habits.
 

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jhk87 said:
There is also the problem that if we constantly rely on someone who's been there before, we can fall into the trap of forming patterns and hence becoming vulnerable.

Before anyone loses their mind,  of course, I take the advice of those who have been before very seriously, but new information and freedom of action ensures that nothing becomes fossilised in our doctrine or our habits.

For those who remember the First Gulf War, you may also remember that all of a sudden many military institutions started to focus on it and the tactics used there as the model for the future.  I just went  ::) .  The First Gulf War was comparable to a large modern army lined up on one side of a parade square against a smaller less equiped army and then going at it.  Next Stop!  Afghanistan.  Not exactly the wide open desert of Kuwait and Iraq.  All those Gulf War scenarios had to be revisited and either adapted to new terrain and enemies or completely thrown out.

We, all the Cbt Arms, teach Tactics.  We teach the BASICS, not what the current or next war are using.....Just the BASICS.  Lessons learned from current, past and new technology being developed can be discussed, but in the end we will teach only the BASICS.  It is the guys in the Field who will take those BASIC lessons, combined Lessons Learned and with study of history, etc., and then adapt them to suit their needs.  Not every enemy will be the same.  Not all Ground will be the same.  Not all your equipment, nor all your support will be the same.  What worked today, may not work tonight.  As long as we have a good grounding in the BASICS, we will be able to adapt to changing situations.
 

a_majoor

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Just an interesting find here; H.G. Wells forecast Stormtrooper tactics (and by inference directive control) in the 1903 story "The Land Ironclads". This was written in 1903 and published in "Strand Magazine", so it is unclear what, if any, influence the story had on military developments in the future (the Land Ironclads also forecast the AFV, although in a technically impractical form).

"What would you do if you were the enemy?" said the war correspondent, suddenly.
        "If I had men like I've got now?"
        "Yes."
        "Take these trenches."
        "How?"
        "Oh-dodges! Crawl out half-way at night before moonrise and get into touch with the chaps we send out. Blaze at 'em if they tried to shift, and so bag some of 'em in the daylight. Learn that patch of ground by heart, lie all day in squatty holes, and come on nearer next night. There's a bit over there, lumpy ground, where they could get across to rushing distance-easy. In a night or so.. It would be a mere game for our fellows; it's what they're made for. . . .Guns? Shrapnel and stuff wouldn't stop good men who meant business."

Many people have pointed out there is a large "cultural" element involved. We can say we are for directive control, but I have been involved in the publishing and dissemination of exercise orders and instructions that literally fill a CD, as well as communications and information feeds that theoretically provide instant SA across the battlespace (and are used to reach down from great heights), both rather incompatible with directive control.

The problem is actually familiar. In economics it is called the "Local Knowledge" problem, and basically states the people on the ground have undifferentiated "local"  knowledge of the situation and their preferred outcomes which is difficult to quickly summarize, transmit to centralized outside or higher authorities and be acted upon in a timely manner. Non military solutions include the market economy and flocking/schooling behaviour by birds or fish.

How to translate this into military solutions is an interesting problem. Flocking and schooling is a complex behaviour which is triggered by some very basic rules, so by analogy we could "swarm" the enemy by giving each section commander a set of "responses" to various conditions (always maintain a space between distance "x" and distance "y" from the other section, for example). The evolving trend of placing more and more powerful weapons in the hands of platoons, sections and individual soldiers would tend to support this trend, since there would be much less need to call on higher levels for assets to deal with hard or difficult targets. In theory, most of what the higher levels of command would be involved in would be related to operational issues (placing the flock of soldiers where the enemy is) and logistics (supporting the flock in the field).

 
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jhk87

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The problem is that we have been stripping away assets from lower levels of command - beginning with the pioneer platoons, then going into the AT platoons and even the mortar platoons. The replacement (as opposed to its supplement) of the highly mobile 60mm with the CASW - heavier, with a longer logistical tail - combined with a reliance on air and arty assets controlled at a higher level, seriuously impedes the platoon commander's ability to support section actions.
 

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Thucydides said:
The evolving trend of placing more and more powerful weapons in the hands of platoons, sections and individual soldiers would tend to support this trend, since there would be much less need to call on higher levels for assets to deal with hard or difficult targets. In theory, most of what the higher levels of command would be involved in would be related to operational issues (placing the flock of soldiers where the enemy is) and logistics (supporting the flock in the field).

The problem is not just one of capability.  It seems to me it is also one of responsibility - or in the words of the accountants - risk management.

The good news is that it takes fewer bodies to disrupt enemy forces and to conduct a credible defence often that is all that is required.  The bad news is that all that destructive power has the chance to create an unintended level of mayhem. And as we see regularly unintended mayhem, in constabulary operations, is not desirable. 

So is it appropriate to leave all that potential in the hands of a junior officer or should it be held by a more experienced hand?

The fire of a WW1 artillery brigade can be supplied by couple of gun dets and a uav.  Should that be a Brigadier's command or a Sgt-MFC?

40 troops can now deploy resources that weren't available to battalions in WW1.  In WW1 that number of troops would be handed to a lieutenant because he couldn't get into much trouble as he was learning his trade.  Now, he can destroy an entire strategic plan for the season by carelessness.

Perhaps as the power available to the platoon increases then the rank associated with the command needs to go up, from Lieutenant to Captain.  Or perhaps the unit of 40 to 50 troops under the command of a Captain gets redefined upwards as a company with battalions of 250 under Majors and reintroduce the regiment as a tactical unit of 750 to 1000.  None of this, as most readers here know, is revolutionary.  Most armies have done this in past, including the Brits and the Yanks.  In some instances - specialist forces - they are doing it today.  Many other armies have already gone down that path and made those changes.

It would impose a structure much more akin to the original 1 SSF or the CAR  with its big company/small battalion Commandos. 

A byproduct of the change to a smaller Captain's command would be a handier unit of deployment capable of managing smaller operations independently and that could be brigaded for larger operations.  And one that could be planted in the back of one of HM's Canadian Ships for a stretch of Sun and Barbeques.

A down side to all of this is there would be fewer "training slots" for young lieutenants fresh out of Gagetown.
 

Haligonian

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KevinB said:
The problem is two fold (and more) one they can get sucked int tunnel vision concentrating on a portion of the battle and neglecting the larger picture, and also seeing the ground is not the same as being on the ground. 
  While sitting somewhere will digital imagery is nice, it does not give you the actual feedback of what the soldiers on the ground see, and while can can see somethings they cannot, it also does not display the actual terrain and what can and cannot be seen from there.


With regards to tunnel vision and ISR assets I might have an anecdote that might interest this audience.  Back in October I might have found 2 of my vehicles to be hopelessly mired and requiring some very heavy equipment to get them out. Due to the level that this resource was held at it became an interst to higher ups.  During the recovery I was told over the means that both Battlegroup and TFK were monitoring the extraction. Probably wasn't the most important thing happening in the battlespace that day, just the most embarrassing.
 

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I think these are examples not of adverse technology or an increased desire to meddle but of a conflict where everybody above the rank of Major is somewhat, at most times, superfluous.
 

GnyHwy

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I think these are examples not of adverse technology or an increased desire to meddle but of a conflict where everybody above the rank of Major is somewhat, at most times, superfluous.

For anyone who hasn't read this, it is a humorous article about US Army Col that was fired for his comments about the Afghan HQ because he didn't clear them through the PAFO.

I know this off topic but, it is just in response to the quote from Infanteer above.  It's funny cause it's true. Tee hee hee.

http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/09/army-colonel-fired-for-powerpoint-rant-090210w/

 

KevinB

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FYI I know a rather senior DoS PRT personality that was told by Gen P to stop her presentation as her font's where not all the same and he found it distracting and annoying...

 

dapaterson

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KevinB said:
FYI I know a rather senior DoS PRT personality that was told by Gen P to stop her presentation as her font's where not all the same and he found it distracting and annoying...

As the short, old, wise, green man who talks funny because he has someone's hand up his ass once said "That is why you fail."


I guess the first principle of war needs to be restated:  "Selection and maintenance of the aim font"
 
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jhk87

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Infanteer said:
I think these are examples not of adverse technology or an increased desire to meddle but of a conflict where everybody above the rank of Major is somewhat, at most times, superfluous.

Interesting. I remember hearing a speaker at a conference talk about the frustration coming from trying to co-ordinate operations between so many different nations and agencies when everyone wanted their piece of the war under their belt.
 
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