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Posted on Nov 16, 2011 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 066 – The Matrix Operations Order

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


"Keep it Simple Stupid.”

Kelly Johnson

"One of the history’s greatest aircraft engineers and aeronautical innovators."


In our last article, we completed our discussion on the rehearsal. During our two articles, we keyed on the planning, preparation, and execution of the rehearsal. In particular, last month we spent the majority of the article focusing on the script used to run the rehearsal. A good rehearsal can truly set the conditions for mission accomplishment. It gets the entire unit on the same sheet of music and it can diagnose and fix issues before execution. If a rehearsal is not done to standard it can set the conditions for defeat. As we stated in the article, if you do not want to spend the time and energy in executing a good rehearsal; then don’t do it. Unfortunately, you can be sure if you are facing a quality opponent that they are conducting a quality rehearsal.



A few months ago, we discussed the Operations Order. In our discussion, we referenced the matrix format as a way of visualizing the information and analysis of your plan. This matrix format could be used vice the standard paragraph format traditionally used. In our article this month, we will focus on the matrix format. We will begin by discussing the basics of the format. Once the preliminaries are complete, we will utilize the preponderance of the article to provide you a template of the matrix format.

What is a Matrix Order?

A matrix operations order is a fill in the blank, by the number, idiot proof form of Operations Order. We say idiot proof but, we have to qualify that by saying, only an expert can use one properly. In other words, if you don’t know what you’re doing; a matrix order simply lets you screw it up in shorthand.

Within the matrix order, you are striving to articulate your plan into a product that is simple to read and understand. It encompasses all the key information and analysis of the written operations order, but hopefully packaged more efficiently.

Will the matrix order format work for all units and missions – no. There are some types of units and complex missions that are just not suited to the format. However, at the lower levels (especially battalion and below) they can be highly effective.

History of the Matrix Order

Obviously, a matrix order is a valuable tool when the tempo picks up. They came into their own at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California in late 1980s/1990s. Commanders from Brigade level on down to company found themselves faced with back to back missions. While they could get through the Military Decision Making Process, it was difficult to actually write an order. Enter the matrix order; a prepared format for fill-in the blank planning and communications. It was great when used properly. Of course, like all swords, there are two edges…

The Good about a Matrix Order

There is much to like about the matrix order. First, they can save valuable preparation time. A well–constructed matrix order executed by a good commander and/with his staff will normally be completed quicker than the development of your standard operations order. Second, a matrix order can be a great aid in achieving clarity for subordinates. Third, many parts of the matrix order can be utilized during the fight as an execution tool. This is especially true for the pages such as the concept of operation and tasks to maneuver units (which you will see later in the article). Finally, it can be very useful in jogging the memory of an otherwise exhausted commander who has been mentally and physically engaged for long hours.

The Bad about a Matrix Order

Of course, with the good can potentially come some bad. First, in some cases, it can lead to the goal of the commander and staff being the completion of the matrix and not preparing a sound plan. Clearly, you can become fixated in the matrix. Second, and related to the above, it can make commanders and subordinate leaders lazy, inattentive, and can make them feel exempt from genuine detailed planning. Third, if the matrix is not supported by a good oral briefing of the order by the commander and staff; many details can be lost. In looking at these, you can see they can all be overcome by a good commander and staff.

*** Always remember – Tools are useful, but dangerous. They are supposed to augment thinking and analysis, not replace it! ***

Types of Matrix Orders

Matrix orders come in an unlimited number of formats. The size, shape, and style correlate to the leadership and communication style of the commander who uses it. The best ones are home made by the commander and his subordinate leaders. In other words, it’s a group project that everyone buys into, understands, and agrees upon.

Our Rules when Utilizing the Matrix Order

As we addressed above, there is much flexibility in the creation of the matrix order. However, that is not to say it is all freelance and a venue to just let the creativity flow. There must be some rules in the developing the matrix to assist in it being a beneficial tool for all. If simple rules are not in place; the product will more than likely turn into something not intended. These rules include:

  • First, you must address each of the five paragraphs in the matrix. Thus, there must be discussion on the situation, mission, execution, service support, and command and signal.
  • Second, you must highlight each of the subparagraphs of the five paragraphs. These subparagraphs contain critical information that subordinates must know to achieve their mission.
  • Third, the matrix order should address each of the paragraphs in order. That order as you know is 1) Situation 2) Mission 3) Execution 4) Service Support 5) Command and Signal.
  • Fourth, the matrix must be accompanied with the operational graphics of the mission. As with the written operations order, the matrix order and graphics must complement each other and be synchronized with one another.
  • Finally, the matrix cannot be ‘pre-filled in’. Since each mission is unique, so shall the matrix order.


Let’s get to the main effort of this article – an example of a matrix order. Below we will provide a template of a matrix order. It is geared at the Battalion level. Our example will be divided into three parts. First, we will illustrate the page of the matrix. Second, we will provide some discussion on the particular page/paragraph or subparagraph. Finally, we will address any topics within the page that may need clarification or more detail. To assist you with a more complete understanding of five paragraph operations order; please feel free to maneuver back to the previous articles we conducted on the operations order. These were:


On this page, we are going to lay out the task organization of the forces assigned to our unit for the mission. We will do this by laying them out according to their function. We use the Battlefield Operating Systems (BOS) to delineate function and list them down the right side of the chart. Where you see unit that is the specific unit. Thus, if we were a battalion task force; these would be company size elements assigned to the battalion. The blank spaces are where we will fill in then assigned units to the company. We can do this graphically or by using proper unit names such as 1/31 IN. Most matrix order users prefer to use the same symbols we use on a concept sketch or the operational symbols we use on an overlay. This makes it easy to tell what each unit brings to the table at a glance.


  • Order # — Each order developed is assigned a number for delineation. Example: 11-05.
  • DTG – The date/time group when the order was published. Example: 21OCT1000
  • As of – This is when the task organization is effective. This will normally be after the order was published. This allows units time to coordinate and travel to locations.
  • Remember this can tailored to the unit and mission. Thus, you may have other type units such as civil affairs, psychological operations etc… that could be placed in the BOS column.
  • MP – Military Police CSS – Combat Service Support


This is where we give our shorthand description of our appreciation and assessment of the terrain and weather. (Review your Tactics 101 articles on this topic and for a more detailed description.) The weather effects are listed at the top. We discuss the effects of the weather on visibility, mobility, and survivability relative to the mission. Deductions are where the commander makes his observations as to the way he will exploit the effects; mitigating vulnerabilities and exploitation of opportunities. The last column is TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures). This is where the commander translates his deductions into actual battle drills and concrete methods.


  • Remember it is terrain and weather analysis. Analysis being emphasized!
  • Within weather discussion, you may want to add some weather facts for the operation. These could include moonrise, percent illumination, sunset, precipitation chances, wind speeds, temperature etc….
  • When analyzing terrain, as always use OAKOC.


This is the beginning of the discussion of the enemy. We open with the facts: their disposition and composition—how they are deployed (offensive or defensive) and what they are composed of (light, heavy, or something else). Below this opening statement, we see a chart that allows the commander to lay out the enemy’s strength based on how much ‘stuff’ he has, by type. The key here is to lay out what they are supposed to have, ‘by the book’, as compared to what they actually have according to what we can see. The compare and contrast indicates the degree of reinforcement and/or attrition the enemy is facing. This hints to his morale and degree of support from his superiors.


  • This page opens with the facts. This sets the conditions for the following page which will be the analysis.
  • Depending on the type of enemy you are facing; this can be a challenge to determine doctrinal strength. Obviously, the more unconventional the unit; the more challenging.
  • Situational strength, of course, will continually be changing. That is why IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield) never stops.


The enemy situation is continued here with a discussion of capabilities in order to answer the question, ‘what can/will he do with what he’s got’? The commander lays out the critical assets and what they have been up to lately. This highlights indications as to enemy intent. At the bottom of this page, the commander presents the enemy’s most probable course action and his most dangerous course of action. Remember, this is not a detailed write up, its shorthand. For this to work, the commander must give a very descriptive verbal order. This is the case no matter what format is used.


  • Instead of using the enemy’s BOS in the left column, you can utilize specific units that you will face.
  • As a reminder, the key in this is analysis and what it means at your level.


This is where the commander describes the units all around him. He also provides his mission and intent. The purpose of this page is to give the ‘big picture’ and to nest the unit with those around it. This sets the stage for the rest of the order. At this point, we have an understanding of ourselves, the enemy, and terrain/weather. It’s time to get down to the details.


  • A lot of important information here. Remember, your unit needs to know the mission and intent of not only your higher headquarters, but your higher’s higher. This enables you to understand how your mission ties into the big picture.


This where you turn when asked, ‘where’s the beef’? This is where the commander begins to present his plan. As with the others, it’s self explanatory… At the top, you lay out your concept paragraph IAW your prior Tactics 101 readings. This gives the unit as a whole, the narrative of the battle and how you plan for it to unfold. Under scheme of maneuver, the matrix lays out the purpose and task of each unit by critical events and/or enemy actions or phases. This is the script and these are the prompts. As you can see, the subunits are shown in the same way you show them on a concept sketch with a box containing their armor and infantry attachments. You can go as far as you want here by including engineers, ADA and any other critical CS and CSS support.


  • As per doctrine, a colored square represents a mechanized infantry unit. A colored in triangle represents an armored unit. If, in our example the unit crafting the order is a battalion task force; then the first unit addressed is a company which is composed of two mechanized infantry platoons and an armor platoon.
  • The third unit addressed is our main effort. The two ‘hilltops’ above it indicate it is the main effort.
  • Res on the last unit represents that this unit (comprised of two armor platoons) is the reserve.
  • Instead of using the symbols, you may decide to simply list the unit. For example, C- Company, 1-111 Infantry.


The commander describes how indirect fires will support his maneuver plan on this page. He discusses the purpose of fires (what effect they are supposed to generate), the priority of fires (who gets what and when), and allocation (what special munitions are dedicated to who and when). This technique is used to task the field artillery and the mortars and should address any additional indirect fire assets. At the bottom of the page, the commander can describe any special or additional instructions. This is where you might impose restrictions (when not to fire or what munitions not to use) or you might set aside munitions and effects for yourself such as the initiation of final protective fires or the use of a scatterable minefield at a critical time and place.


  • Obviously, indirect fires require coordination and exactness/precision. This is laid out in the target overlay, target list worksheet, and fire support execution matrix. These important products will be provided as additions to the matrix order.


We do here for the engineer effort (mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability) what we did for fires above. When we talk mobility we are discussing breaching efforts that allow friendly forces to move. When we talk counter-mobility, we are talking about engineer efforts to hinder the enemy’s ability to move. When we talk survivability we are discussing efforts made to enhance protection such as digging trenches and foxholes. The same asset can do all three missions. For example; a bull dozer can provide mobility by filling in an enemy tank ditch, it can provide counter-mobility by digging a friendly tank ditch, and it can provide survivability by digging an individual tank fighting position. This is why we give a priority of commitment to define what assets should focus on which tasks. Engineer work is intense, time consuming, and critical to success. For that reason, we plan engineer tasks the same way we target fire tasks thus, we have locations and times for everything we hope to get done. You’ll need your engineer’s help to get this page right. When filled out correctly, this becomes the engineer’s script for the detailed execution of their mission.


  • As with fires above, the details of the engineer plan will be addressed in supporting documents. These products are engineer specific and will be crafted with that in mind.


This page offers a one-stop shop/summary of all the tasks assigned to our sub-units. A subordinate unit should be able to look at this page and determine what purposes and tasks they must achieve. You’ll see, in blue, a shorthand way to do this…place the purpose on top and the task below.


  • There is much flexibility on the left hand column. You can use the same symbology that we utilized in the above concept of operation slide. We may just list the unit as we suggested earlier.
  • To the right of the unit, define the specific purposes and tasks you want the unit to achieve. Remember if the purpose and task is the same for two or more units it should be reflected in the coordinating instructions section.


Just as earlier page, this page offers a one-stop shop/summary, only geared for the tasks assigned to our combat support and combat service support sub-units. Again, utilize purpose and task in this discussion.


  • Because of the uniqueness of the combat support and combat service support units, it is best to simply list the unit in the left hand column vice using symbology.


Coordinating instructions are those tasks common to two or more sub-units within the organization. Remember not to put SOP tasks here—if it’s already understood that a unit is to do a task in accordance with the standard operating procedures then it need not be re-stated. That’s why you have an SOP.

The box at the bottom is dedicated to the Commander’s Decision Points and the associated PIR and FFIR to answer them. There must be somewhere in any order in which this is clearly articulated to subordinates. Make it stand out! Don’t hide it somewhere; it is too important!



This is the commanders concept of support to include logistics, re-supply, medical evacuation, and class I (beans), III (fuel), V(bullets), IX (repair parts). In order to succeed, the commander plans, prioritizes and protects his supply routes and his alternate supply routes. This is also where you clarify where all the logistics command and control headquarters and critical nodes are located on the battlefield. There is much to discuss here, but many times it is overlooked! Do so at your own peril!


  • Much flexibility in the creation of this page. Let’s review this page below.
  • Within concept of support, you will discuss how logistics will contribute to your success.
  • One of the keys to success in the logistics world is knowing where logistical nodes are located. Within the organization of combat trains section; these locations are posted. Abbreviations used are: UMCP – Unit Maintenance Collection Point LRP – Logistics Resupply Point CCP – Casualty Collection Point BAS – Battalion Aid Station
  • Within supply there is space provided to address any information you want to share with subordinates in regards to that class of supply. For example, in Class I we may highlight the ration cycle.
  • Within Transportation, list the MSR (Main Supply Route), the ASR (Alternate Supply Route) and the Dirty MSR (utilized if vehicles have been contaminated).
  • In Log CPs, highlight the locations for the unit’s main logistical command posts.
  • Finally, we have provided boxes for discussion on other logistical specific areas. For example, in maintenance you would address the priorities of maintenance support. This could be specific units or types of vehicles.


The command and signal page tells the subordinates where the commander is and will be and who will succeed him if he falls. It tells everyone where the command posts are and will be throughout the mission. It also highlights the critical codewords, when they will be used, and why. As always, there’s room for ‘additional’ instructions.


  • Within succession of command, list the chain of command for the specific mission.
  • In command locations, lay out the primary and alternate locations for the main command post, the tactical command post, the rear command post, and the higher headquarter’s command post.
  • Within CMD GRP, define where the key leaders for the unit will be located during the mission. This should include the Commander, Executive Officer, the Operations Officer, and Command Sergeants Major.
  • SOI – Signal Operating Instructions. This is the book that has all the call signs and frequencies.

Other add ons…

The structure and outline of a matrix order is open to revision and enhancement based on the commander’s skill and his subordinate’s familiarity with him. You might add a series of concept sketches—both friendly and enemy. You might add an execution matrix which includes a concept sketch and a purpose and task matrix on a single page. You can add, subtract, and redesign any page. The only pre-requisite for a matrix order to be successful is that it can be intuitively understood at a glance. To be useful, it should also be easy to fill out.


Matrix orders are powerful tools in the hands of experienced leaders who know how to plan and communicate mission orders. He uses the tool to; help manage time, as a memory jogger, to discipline the military decision making process (MDMP), and to condense and present complex orders. When used properly, they augment tempo. When mis-used, they cause confusion and leave critical gaps in operational plans.


During our series, we have mentioned several times, the tools called the Decision Support Matrix (DSM) and the Decision Support Template (DST). These tools are some of the most beneficial that we can develop. They are not only a must during the planning process, but will be an invaluable tool during execution. In our discussion next month, we will show how to create one and then how to utilize the DST/DSM. As in any products we develop in tactics, a good DST/DSM just doesn’t happen. There is certainly a mix of art and science in creating a useful tool. We will key on both of these aspects next month.

1 Comment

  1. This article is somewhat incorrect. Most of the products illustrated here are actually used during MDMP–to outline a COA. What you show here is a “form” version of the OPORD.

    Matrix orders are short. Usually one or two pages max. To be successful there are two additional requirements: (1) leaders and units who trained together and developed solid SOPs and battle drills beforehand; (2) The map overlay with meaningful graphical control measures.

    Finally, the emphasis was placed on the rehearsal vice taking all 1/3 of your time writing a text version of the OPORD.


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