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Posted on Jun 17, 2011 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 061 – Anatomy of the Operations Order

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign—but simply lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute it in your own way. Submit to me, however, as early as you can, your plan of operations.—

General of the Army Ulysses S. Grant to General William Sherman 4 Apr 1865



In our initial article in the series, we focused on providing you an overview on the Operations Order. Within the overview, we gave you a historical discussion of the Operation Order, addressed some good uses of Operations Orders, some not so good uses, highlighted the types of combat orders and closed with the characteristics of a good Operations Order. With this understanding, we can now delve into the dissection of the Operations Order.


In our article this month, we will begin dissecting the five paragraphs of the Operations Order. We will look at each paragraph and discuss its purpose and provide recommendations on what should be covered. Because our discussion goes into pretty substantial depth, we will look at the first two paragraphs this month and address the last three the following month.

Doctrinally, there are several templates that can be utilized to craft the Operations Order. Obviously, the unit level will determine some of the specifics that should be covered. However, with that said, there are some basic areas that are relevant to any size unit

In our article, we will discuss what we believe should be addressed in the Operations Order. We will focus primarily at the Battalion and Company level. Again, this is our opinion on what the Operations Order should look like. It is rooted in doctrine and modified based on our experience.


PURPOSE—Paragraph 1 sometimes gets glossed over, because everyone focuses on the next two paragraphs. However, that is a serious mistake. Paragraph 1 provides the situational awareness that puts everything else in perspective. Throughout the series, we have stressed the importance of understanding yourself, the terrain, and the enemy. It is paragraph 1 which details the commander and his staff’s analysis of this understanding. It can then be shared with the subordinate units. This enables the subordinate units to gain the view of their higher headquarters. Of course, the subordinate commander’s understanding of the situation should not and cannot be the same as is his higher commander. The variables are clearly different. If the two views are exactly the same we have some issues.

CONTENTS OF PARAGRAPH 1—As addressed above, paragraph 1 keys on the understanding of the friendly unit, the terrain, and the enemy unit. Consequently, you should structure your paragraph 1 addressing each of these areas. With that in mind, here are some recommendations in what should be included in this important paragraph.

1.A. ENEMY FORCES. In this sub-paragraph, you are sharing with your subordinates your analysis on the enemy. The problem is some subordinates do not take the analysis to their level. Sure, this is a great beginning, but subordinates must take this and then utilize it to gain an enemy understanding at their level. At higher levels of command, you will find this analysis in a separate intelligence annex. In fact, some intelligence annexes can be enormous. At the lower levels, you can craft a useful enemy analysis within paragraph 1. Remember, that analysis must answer the so what. It must tell subordinates what these means to them. A great way to articulate this analysis at the lower levels is to utilize the SALUTE format. Below we will highlight some of the key questions you should address in each category.


  • What is the current strength of the opponent you expect to face?
  • What is the anticipated strength of your foe?
  • What is the size of his air support/ artillery support?
  • Does his current or anticipated strength place you at an advantage or disadvantage?
  • How do you capitalize or mitigate his strength?
  • What are the size forces that can reinforce your opponent


  • What actions has your enemy been engaged in?
  • What is his most probable course of action?
  • What is his most dangerous course of action to you?
  • What are his other viable courses of action?
  • What are the indicators to his courses of action?


  • Where is the enemy presently located?
  • Where do you anticipate his location? Try to template locations at least two levels down. If you are fighting a battalion, template platoons. Fighting a company, template individual vehicles.
  • Where are the locations to key pieces of equipment? These could include his counter battery radars, chemical equipment, smoke emplacing equipment, breaching equipment, etc.


  • What type unit/units are you up against? (armor, mechanized infantry, airborne infantry, straight infantry etc.
  • What are his strengths? Weaknesses?
  • How can you avoid his strengths?
  • How do you exploit his weaknesses?
  • What are the unit’s tendencies?
  • Have you fought your enemy before?
  • What is his morale?
  • What do you know about his leadership?


  • What is his timeline for operations?
  • If he is defending, when will his defense be ready?
  • If he is attacking, when will begin the attack?
    • Within his timeline, are there windows of opportunity you can exploit?


  • What types of weapons systems does he possess? Strengths? Weaknesses? How do you exploit these? How do you mitigate these?
  • How is his logistical support? Is he weak in any logistical area?
  • Do you or your opponent possess stand-off range on any weapon systems?
  • Is the enemy equipped for the weather conditions (clothing)?
  • Does he possess sufficient barrier materials (mines, wire, pickets etc.)?
  • Does he have enough assets to dig in his vehicles if he is defending?

In addition to the discussion of the enemy, you should also include any civilian considerations as appropriate to each section. As we have addressed throughout the series, civilians on the battlefield can significantly impact any mission. Failure to consider their impact will have huge future implications.

1.B. TERRAIN AND WEATHER. In analyzing terrain and weather, you must look at its impact on both sides. Obviously, terrain and weather will provide advantages and disadvantages to each side. In addressing terrain, the best way to display your analysis is utilizing the acronym OAKOC. We have discussed this approach several times in the series and it is a tried and true method. Let’s look at each component and some of the questions you should address in this section.



  • What are the existing natural obstacles within the area of operations and their impact on operations?
  • What are the emplaced (manmade) obstacles within the area of operations and their impact on operations?
  • How can or will these obstacles influence maneuver and the flow of forces?
  • What do these obstacles do to you or your opponent’s range of options?

Avenues of Approach—

  • What are the mounted avenues for you and your foe?
  • What are the dismounted avenues for you and your opponent?
  • What are the air avenues (fixed and rotary) for you and your enemy?
  • Do these avenues provide distinct options for either of you?

Key Terrain—

  • Is there key terrain during the operation that if possessed by either side gives them a marked advantage over the other side?
  • Is there decisive terrain during the operation that if possessed by either side will ultimately decide the outcome of the battle?

Observations and Fields of Fire—

  • Where can the enemy detect you?
  • Where can you detect him?
  • Where are the intervisability lines on the terrain in the area of operations?
  • Where can you or the enemy physically engage each other with weapon systems?
  • Where are the potential engagement areas and kills sacks in the area of operations?
  • Where is the defensible terrain in the area of operations?

Cover and Concealment—

  • Where are the areas that you or your opponent can evade fire?
  • Where are the areas that you or your enemy can evade visual detection?


You can’t just spout out statistics and numbers in the Operations Order. You have to go the next step. You must analyze the data and explain what it means to you and your opponent. You must also ensure you address the weather and light for the duration of the operation. Don’t discuss weather and light for the next 24 hours, when you anticipate the operation lasting 48 hours. If this is done, you will be leaving your subordinates in the dark (sort to speak!). Below we will highlight the areas you should address in these areas. Remember, always answer the so what. (For Example — If there is significant wind speed during the operation, what does that mean to you and your foe).

  • *Weather
  • Temperatures (high/lows)
  • Humidity
  • Wind speed/direction
  • Precipitation
  • *Light
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset
  • Moonrise
  • Moonset
  • % Illumination
  • BMNT
  • EENT

Below are links of articles we wrote earlier which discuss in detail analyzing the enemy and terrain/weather:

Tactics 101: 012. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (Pt. 1)

Tactics 101: 013. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (Pt. 2)

1. C. FRIENDLY FORCES. It is critical you understand what the friendly forces around you are doing. Obviously, what happens with these friendly units will have a huge impact (good or bad) on your operations. You must ensure your subordinates have an understanding of the operations around them. Just as importantly, you want to ensure your subordinates understand how their mission fits into the overall picture. To assist in this understanding, there are several things you can include in this section. They include:

  • Your higher headquarters mission and concise concept of operation. It is recommended you go two levels up. Thus, if you are a company you should address the battalion and brigade you are assigned to.
  • The missions of the adjacent units to you. These are the ones to your front, rear, left, and right.
  • The missions of any other units that could have a key impact on your mission.
  • Any special support you may receive from units outside your organization. This could include close air support, rotary wing support, fire support, etc.
  • Any key attachments or detachments from your normal organization. If there is an important addition—highlight it. If there is an important deletion—highlight it.

In all of these, again go the next step and analyze how they will or could impact your ability to achieve your mission. Below you will find a link of an earlier article we crafted focusing on understanding yourself, the enemy, and terrain/weather.

Tactics 101: 002. The Importance of Mission Analysis in Planning


PURPOSE—The mission drives everything and it is paragraph 2 which displays the unit’s mission. In planning, the staff comes up with a recommended mission statement. However, it is the commander, who ultimately approves it. It is the commander’s mission statement! Unfortunately, the commander and his staff tend to fall into some traps when developing their mission statement. Perhaps, they will be too vague with their mission statement. Perhaps, they will be too verbose with it and create something that is long and difficult to comprehend. Perhaps, they will use non-doctrinal language which ensures it will be misunderstood. Finally, and regrettably, they may conduct a poor mission analysis and they, themselves, will not fully understand their mission. This is not the optimal way to achieve success.

CONTENTS OF PARAGRAPH 2—Let’s discuss the components of the mission statement. The mission statement should answer five questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Who?—This is fairly clear: the who is you. There should be little confusion here. What can be confusing is what units belong to you. This potential confusion can be clarified in two areas. First, an Operations Order should contain a task organization with it. This is generally an annex to the Operations Order. Their purpose is to depict the subordinate units the higher headquarters has to utilize in the mission and the command and control relationships that exist during the mission. We will discuss task organizations in greater detail in a future article. Second, if you feel you must emphasize some parts of the task organization you can address them the friendly forces portion of paragraph 1.

What?—The what portion of the mission statement is two-fold. First, it should delineate the operation you will conduct. That should be fairly straightforward. It will likely be to attack or to defend. There are other variants, but the vast majority of operations are either to attack or defend. The second piece of the what is the tactical task which the unit has determined it will execute. As a refresher, the tactical task represents the commander’s estimation of the minimum effects required to accomplish the unit’s purpose. (If you want further information on the tactical task please see Tactics 101: 005. The Tactical Task) When you put these together, the what should read something like attacks to defeat, defends to block, attacks to fix, defends to secure, etc.

When? Obviously, an important part of the mission statement is posting the time when the mission while occur. Time can take several forms in the statement.

  • If the precise time is not known, the mission statement can begin with the words on order. As we discussed earlier in the series, an on order mission is a mission that will be executed – the exact time is just not known. Thus, the commander will give the order to his subordinates to execute. This occurs when the conditions are set or if the situation on the battlefield dictates it.
  • If the unit is conducting a defense, time is generally caveated with the letters NLT or No Later Than. This tells the subordinate units that they should be ready to defend by the No Later Than time. Consequently, if the mission statement reads NLT 151300APR, then the subordinate unit should be ready to defend no later than 1300 on 15 Apr
  • If the unit is conducting an offense, time may be caveated with the letters NET or No Earlier Than. This tells the subordinate units that they should be ready to attack by the No Earlier Than time. Consequently, if the mission statement reads NET 151300APR, then the subordinate units should be prepared to attack no earlier than 1300 on 15 Apr.

Where?—What do they say in the real estate world (maybe they don’t say it anymore)—location, location, location. In the mission statement, you must address location as well. This location pertains to where the what is going to take place. The where can be depicted several ways. These include:

  • Designating an objective for an attack. This could be an enemy or terrain oriented objective. Always put the center mass grid coordinates for the objective in parenthesis. This provides further clarity for the subordinates.
  • If a unit has a defend mission you want to provide the grid coordinates for the defense. The best way to do this is to depict the grid coordinates for the four corners of the defense. Again, you are adding further clarity.

Where?—What do they say in the real estate world (maybe they don’t say it anymore)—location, location, location. In the mission statement, you must address location as well. This location pertains to where the what is going to take place. The where can be depicted several ways. These include:

  • Designating an objective for an attack. This could be an enemy or terrain oriented objective. Always put the center mass grid coordinates for the objective in parenthesis. This provides further clarity for the subordinates.
  • If a unit has a defend mission you want to provide the grid coordinates for the defense. The best way to do this is to depict the grid coordinates for the four corners of the defense. Again, you are adding further clarity.

The where of the mission is also found in the mission graphics which must accompany the order. The written order and the graphics clearly complement one another. To get the most from each, you must ensure they are synchronized with each. If the graphics and written Operations Order do not match each other, you are going to have some confusion with your subordinates. Confusion is not good!

Why (Purpose)?—It is the last part of the mission statement and probably, the most important. As we have stressed many times in the series, everyone must understand the why or purpose of the mission. This understanding leads to initiative on the ground. In one of our early articles Tactics 101: 004. Purpose we focused solely on the purpose. As a quick refresher, this is what we addressed in terms of the mission statement in that article:

Normally, the half of a mission statement that contains the purpose begins with the words “in order to” This is far from being a rule, but it does help separate, highlight, and convey purpose. We follow up “in order to” with descriptive action verbs that clarify the “why.” These include: allow, assist, cause, create, deceive, deny, divert, enable, ensure, envelop, facilitate, influence, open, prevent, protect, support, and surprise. All this is capped off with a specific situational description of the desired effect. It ends up looking something like this: “in order to facilitate the maneuver of follow-on forces or “in order to protect the flank of the Brigade main effort.”

Let’s put the above together and display a few mission statements:

TF 1-230 IN (M) attacks 010600 MAY to seize the high ground vic OBJ BALL (NK4532), in order to facilitate the assault river crossing of the Aller River by TF 2-34 IN, the BDE main effort.

TF 1-230 IN (M) defends from NK 1234 to NK5678 to NJ 1234 to NJ 5678 NLT 010600 MAY to defeat the 11th Klingon Brigade in order to prevent the bypass or envelopment of TF 1-12 IN, the BDE main effort, from the south.

3RD Brigade attacks 010600 MAY to secure a bridgehead across the Palmer River (NK1234) in order to facilitate the attack of 2d Brigade (the Division Main Effort).

A few things to remember in crafting the mission statement:

  • As we highlighted earlier, some commanders craft mission statements that are on the lengthy side. The result is a very ineffective paragraph 2. Lengthy mission statements occur when it is decided to add several on order missions to the original mission. This is compounded when be prepared missions are added as well. Let’s discuss each:
    • It is very well possible that the base mission statement will be an on order mission (remember our earlier discussion). However, many commanders add additional on order missions to the base mission statement. As you can surmise, this tends to deemphasize the base mission. We believe these follow-on missions are better suited if they are addressed in a future Operations Order or in a Fragmentary Order (FRAGO). We will discuss the FRAGO in the next article. If a commander wants to add another On Order mission to the base; there must be a critical link between the two. Otherwise, just stick with the base statement.
    • In regards to be prepared missions, there is no reason to add them in paragraph. Remember, be prepared missions may never be conducted. They have no business in paragraph 2. They muddy the waters and add complexity.

This month we looked at the first two paragraphs of the Operations Order—the situation and the mission. In discussing the situation, we emphasized that many make the mistake of disregarding the analysis in paragraph 1. This analysis sets the conditions for subordinates to conduct their own mission planning. Of course, as we stressed, they must take their higher headquarters’ analysis and take it down to their level. In regards to the mission statement, we detailed the five questions that must be addressed: who, what, when, where, and why. Within each, we highlighted the importance of each component and laid out the thought process in what should be covered. We concluded our discussion by providing some examples of good mission statements.

Our next article will focus on the remaining three paragraphs of the Operations Order—Execution, Sustainment, and Command and Signal. As we did this month, we will go into some pretty significant detail into each paragraph. Obviously, the execution paragraph gets much of the attention, but the information in the sustainment and command and signal paragraphs are extremely important. We will address each next month.