Believe it or not, during operations in the field, Army men don’t just run around willy-nilly doing whatever they want. They all actually are working according to a plan. It may be a good plan, or a bad one, but it is a plan nonetheless.
After 237 years, the Army has come up with a few ways of organizing the chaos of battle. Orders are one of the primary methods of doing that.
When a civilian hears the word “orders” they tend to think of an NCO telling a Private to drop and give him 20 or take out the trash or something. In an administrative sense, to “come down on orders” means to be transferred to another posting. But in organizing and controlling operations in theater, “field orders” are the commanders method of control. Cribbing from other armies, using its institutional knowledge, and a smidgen of common sense, the Army has set up a template for orders to ensure that units have the information needed, no important information is left out, and that errors in communication are minimized. These templates, these field orders, control the lives of soldiers.
There are three primary types of field orders:
- Warning order
- Operations Order
- Fragmentary Order
Let’s take a brief look at each one.
—————————————————————————————————The Warning Order
The Warning Order (WARNO) is just that- a warning to subordinate units that an operation is forthcoming, and preparations must be made. A brief description of the current tactical situation is given. Then the mission to be ordered is announced. For instance, 3/8 CAV attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 NLT 031545Z NOV 12 to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV. Any special preparations the unit needs to make should be listed, and the time and place where the actual operations order will be issued is given.
The Operations Order
The Operations Order is the meat and potatoes of planning in the Army. It’s the way a leader tells subordinates what is is he wants them to do. From a squad leader planning a patrol, to Eisenhower invading France, every operation in the Army is planned using the Operations Order or OPORD. To make sure leaders hit all the high points, a standard template of the OPORD has evolved, a 5-paragraph format that the lowliest Private and the 4-star General both understand.
- Command and Control
Let’s take a slightly more in-depth look at the OPORD
Paragraph 1, Situation gives an overview of what the current tactical situation is.
First off is Task Organization. For any given mission, most units will have teams or units attached or detached. Task Organization spells out just who will be attached or detached.
Next up is Enemy Situation. Who is the enemy? What is their strength? What operations do they have planned? What are they trying to accomplish?
Next is Friendly Forces- What is the mission of the next higher headquarters? For instance, 3/8 CAV, a part of the 3rd BCT of the 1st CAV Division, needs to know what brigade is up to. What is brigade trying to accomplish? An overview of the situation of the other units of the brigade also follows (and if the units alongside are from another brigade or division, you need to know what they’re up to also, if only to avoid running into them).Lastly, what units are providing fire support? Is it just the organic mortars in the battalion, or is the Direct Support Artillery battalion available? Or are there even more artillery units available? How about close air support? We’re not talking yet about the specifics of what they’ll provide, just which players are in the game.
The mission paragraph of an OPORD is the 5W’s. The who, what, when, where, and why of the order. Remember this sentence above?
3/8 CAV attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 NLT 031545Z NOV 12 to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV
Let’s break that down into English for the civilians and folks like URR that struggle with jargon.
Who? 3/8 CAV -The 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
What? attacks along Axis Anvil to destroy enemy reinforced mech infantry co. vic. Hill 781 – The phrasing “to destroy” tells the unit that there objective isn’t Hill 781. By saying “to destroy” that says the key element is the enemy force, not the terrain. Had the order said “to seize Hill 781” that would mean the objective was to gain terrain. Here, our unit needs to key off the enemy force, rather than the terrain.
Where? Along Axis Anvil.**
When? NLT 031545Z NOV 12 . “No Later Than 3:45pm (Greenwich Mean Time) on the 3rd of November, 2012. Other units are on a timeline as well. 3/8 CAV has to launch its attack on time.
Why? to ensure passage of 3BCT/1CAV– The who, what, where, and when only tell a commander what he must do. The why tells the commander what he must accomplish. There’s a little reading behind the lines involved here. While the commander of 3/8 CAV has been assigned the mission of destroying an enemy mech infantry company, the whole point is, the brigade commander is trying to pass the rest of the formation through an area. If 3/8 CAV destroys the company, but there is still an enemy unit or other reason that the brigade can’t pass, that tells the 3/8 commander his work isn’t done. If 3/8 CAV seizes Hill 781, but there’s no enemy company, the work isn’t done. The mission is to destroy that company. Conversely, if he can’t destroy the company, but can suppress it enough to allow passage of the brigade, well, that’s good enough. 3/8 CAV wasn’t assigned the mission of destroying the enemy company just to be bloody minded. The whole point is to allow the brigade to pass.
Paragraph 3, Execution, is the “how” of the order. The first part of paragraph three is the Commander’s Intent. The CI is unscripted, but is basically the end-state the commander desires, and explains the whole point of the operation and his vision for how the mission will be accomplished.
a. Concept of operations.
This is where the order actually describes how the mission will be conducted. The concept is detailed through each of seven providers of combat power.
The direct fires and movements of a units organic and attached assets have to be synchronized in time and space. This subparagraph is often lavishly detailed via maps and graphics, to help visualize how the operation will unfold.
Planning for indirect organic and supporting mortar, artillery and air support fires is a key element for any operation. Planning includes preplanned missions, prioritizing which subordinate units will get support, and listing the priority of unplanned targets. There are almost always more potential targets than tubes to support a mission, so prioritizing helps ensure the most critical targets are hit, and support isn’t wasted on non-essential targets. URR will get around to writing in depth on the planning process one day. At my level, it was generally quite simple. At the battalion and above echelons, it becomes quite complex.
(3) Reconnaissance and Surveillance
Virtually every debacle on the battlefield the Army has ever suffered has been a result of poor reconnaissance/surveillance, and its partner intelligence. There’s an old German saying: “Time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted.” In fact, while R&S is detailed in the actual order, usually, almost as soon as the Warning Order has been received, the Scout Platoon is put to work. The battalion may augment that effort with additional platoons from the maneuver companies, or with support from the Brigade Combat Team’s cavalry squadron, or UAV support. The most obvious goal of any R&S plan is to locate the enemy forces. But that’s only a portion of the job. R&S also has to determine if the maps of the area are accurate. Are the roads trafficable by the unit’s vehicles? Are bridges still standing? Will they hold the weight of the unit vehicles? Are there any roads washed out? Has the enemy emplaced obstacles or minefields? The R&S effort is the reality check that the Operations Order relies on to ensure the plan is based on the real world.
Intelligence is a two way street. Higher echelons will provide information and support (such as communications intercept teams) to our notional battalion. But our unit commander and higher echelons also use combat to generate intelligence. In addition to detailing what support the unit will receive, this sub-paragraph details the specific information units need to gather.
Engineer support is always critically short. There are always more tasks than engineers. By prioritizing which mobility, counter-mobility and force protection measures are critical, the limited engineer support can be prioritized to best support the mission. For instance, in our notional attack, engineer support would likely be focused on breaching any minefields or anti-tank ditches encountered.
(6) Air Defense
Obviously, in the two wars of the 21st century, our troops haven’t had to focus much on AD. But if we didn’t have air superiority, this sub-paragraph would describe passive measures, such as camouflage, and active measures, such as Stinger missile teams, to limit the ability of enemy airpower to inhibit our own operations.
(7) Information Operations
To be honest, we never had to deal with information operations in my day.
b. Tasks to maneuver units.
While the concept of operations described the overall scheme of maneuver, this tasking gives specific tasks to each of the subordinate companies and any independent maneuver platoons. For instance, Company A may be tasked to seize a hilltop short of the objective, and attack by direct fire, while Companies B and C are tasked to conduct the actual assault on Hill 781.
c. Tasks to combat support units.
(1) Intelligence (2) Engineer (3) Fire Support (4) Air Defense (5) Signal (6) NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) (7) Provost Marshal (8) PSYOP (9) Civil military.
Similarly, specific jobs for each of these areas are detailed. Some will be routine, and addressed by the unit’s Standard Operating Procedure, but other taskings, particularly in engineering and fire support will be detailed every time.
d. Coordinating instructions.
(1) Time or condition when a plan or order becomes effective
(2) CCIR (Commander’s Critical Information Requirements)
(3) Risk reduction control measures
(4) Rules of engagement
(5) Environmental considerations
(6) Force protection
Much of this will be under the unit SOP, but for successful operations, the devil is often in the details.
Sustainment is the term to cover all the logistical and administrative needs to keep the force in the field. Some are obvious issues, like getting fuel, food and ammo to the force. Others are less immediately obvious, like how to recover vehicles that are damaged or broken down. At the battalion level, much of this is standard operating procedure. But at higher echelons, where operations tend to be planned for a longer period of time, the plan has to be crafted in somewhat greater detail. For instance, a theater commander will have to concern himself with things like providing laundry and shower services, as well as replacement uniforms. Even providing support for payroll services has to be addressed. Troops may not have a lot of options for spending money, but they still want to be paid.
a. Support concept.
b. Materiel and services.
c. Medical evacuation and hospitalization.
e. Civil military.
5. COMMAND AND CONTROL (formerly Command and Signal)
Command is an art. Much as a painter can be taught to a certain level of competence, so to with command. But superlative command takes an innate, native ability. Fortunately, in most instances, the average level of competence is sufficient. Control is a science. It is the set of tools a commander uses to effectively conduct command.
Where will the commander be during the operation? Where will the other key leaders be? If there are casualties in the command group, what is the line of succession?
A large part of this section comes from the Signal Operating Instructions, which lists the frequencies to be used by each unit. A heavy battalion has several radio networks. The command net, the admin/logistics net, and the intel net. Further, the battalion also communicates with higher headquarters on their nets. Each subordinate company has its own radio net, as well as each platoon. This doesn’t even address the data networks that all units use now. Other control measures can also be used, such as pyrotechnic smoke and flares. Graphical control measures on the map are also, by used.
The Five Paragraph Operations order is “scaleable.” The basic format is used from the rifle squad to the highest echelons. Obviously, the higher you go, the more detailed the order. At platoon and squad level, the order is often given verbally (though every evaluator in the Army wants to see EVERY soldier write down, at a minimum, the mission statement and commanders intent).
The order is also something of a matroyshka doll. From our notional battalion operations order, each company commander will extract his mission and specific tasks, and write his own operations order for his company. His platoon leaders will then take that order, and write their own. In theory, so would each squad leader, but as a practical matter, platoon and squad orders tend to be repeats of the company order.
One great example of this series of orders coming from on high down to the lowest level is the invasion of Normandy. Every level of command, from the Allied Expeditionary Headquarters down to individual squads had their own, specific orders, with the lower orders all acting like a series of bricks to build the structure of the entire allied operation.
Since each subordinate needs to craft his own order, the rule of thumb is that a leader should use one third of the available time to craft his order, leaving two thirds of the time for his subordinate echelons to craft theirs, and prepare for the operation. Sadly, this is often honored more in the breach. But good staffs know to get as much information as possible to lower echelons as soon as possible to let them prepare as much as possible.
The final order format is the FRAGO, or Fragmentary Order. When a change of mission occurs, or the situation on the ground changes, and the time doesn’t allow for the full order planning process, a fragmentary order is issued. It has no set format, though commanders are encouraged to use as much of the Operations Order format as feasible. It may be verbal or it may be written. At a minimum, it should contain the 5 W’s of the mission statement, and if at all possible, a commander’s intent.
*as opposed to other possible missions such as defend, or occupy, or conduct a movement to contact
**”Axis Anvil” is an example of a “graphical control measure.” Units are given areas marked by boundaries, within which they can move. To control the movement of units, routes, axes, objectives and other arbitrary lines are drawn on the map. These measures are then given arbitrary code names. Axis Anvil might be the general flow of a valley, for instance. “Route Cinnamon” would be a specific road or pathway. They’re “graphical” in that in the age of paper maps, they were drawn on the map with grease pencils. Today, they’re computer graphics overlaid on a computer map.