The past decade of war has eroded the decision-making confidence of young leaders, Army general says
Are the current conflicts in the Middle East teaching the next generation of US military leaders the wrong lessons? Future warfare requires flat hierarchies and mission-oriented tactics, rather than strict obedience to specific tactics provided “up the ladder.” The former commander of US Army Training and Doctrine Command has told soldiers, “I want you smart enough to realize the plan I gave you will not work…then I want you smart enough to come up with a plan that will work, even if you can’t talk to me. In today’s environment, with near-peer adversaries, they’re going to jam us, they’re going to spoof our C2 (command and control) systems. You might think your C2 system is working, but the icons are not showing the true grids. They’re showing what the enemy wants you to see. So, how do you work that problem? You do it with mission command.”
This mission command has become the Army’s leading command style since around the 1980s. This doctrine is based on the German military idea of Auftragstaktik, which stresses adjustments to tactics based around the mission, rather than on adherence to tactics from the outset (essential in most large-scale battles since the Napoleonic era). This doctrine has six principles: build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, provide a clear commander’s intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk. The problem, however, is that the US role in the Middle East conflicts may be eroding the ability of leader’s to practice these concepts. “I think it’s a function of us trying to extricate ourselves from direct leadership in these long wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, where we want our partners to do more.” Operations in the Middle East have come with massive paperwork and permission channels for small operations at the unit level. The future battlefield against peer-level opponents, however, requires leaders who do not operate on this paradigm. These ongoing conflicts, therefore, may be teaching the next generation of military leaders the wrong lessons.