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Posted on Jul 12, 2011 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 062 – Anatomy of the Operations Order, Part 2

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland



Of course a commander must know in what way to give verbal orders to his subordinates. No two will be the same; each will require different treatment. Some will react differently from the others; some will be happy with a general directive whilst others will like more detail. Eventually a mutual confidence on the subject will grow up between the commander and his subordinates; once this has been achieved there will never be any more difficulties or misunderstandings.

Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein



In our last article, we dissected 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 latest article will key on the remaining three paragraphs of the Operations Order – Execution, Sustainment, and Command and Signal. We will get into significant detail in each paragraph. This will include discussing the importance of the paragraph, the objectives of the paragraph, and what should be included in the paragraph. Obviously, the execution paragraph gets all the attention, but sustainment and command and signal are certainly crucial to the success. We will delve into each paragraph and highlight its’ purpose and specific areas which should and can be addressed in the paragraph.


PURPOSE — This is the bread and butter of the OPORD. The mission statement answered the who, what, when, where, and why. It is in the execution paragraph in which the how is answered. It should answer the how concisely, ensuring everything understands their role in the mission. It should provide a picture on how you will synchronize your assets to achieve your mission. Within this discussion, you will provide specific guidance to your subordinates on the critical tasks they must achieve. As always, when assigning a task you must also tell them the purpose (why) of accomplishing the task. Because of the depth of this paragraph, it will likely be the longest paragraph within the OPORD.

>With that said, you must be careful not to be too directive with your subordinates in the paragraph. A paragraph 3 cannot dictate every single action of every unit in excruciating detail. These types of paragraph 3’s take away all initiate from subordinates. They also almost force units to fight the plan and not how the battle is unfolding.

CONTENTS OF PARAGRAPH 3 – It is important that paragraph 3 is organized effectively. A hodge-podge of information does little except confuse subordinates. We believe the all important paragraph should contain several things. First, it should be led off with the Commander’s perspective on the mission. Second, it should provide an overall view of how the mission is expected to be executed. Third, it should explain how your battlefield operating systems will be utilized in the missions. Fourth, it should define the purposes and tasks of your subordinate units. Finally, it should highlight any key instructions that apply to all or part of your subordinate units. Let’s go into a little more detail in each.

3.A. Commander’s Perspective. The OPORD is signed by the Commander, so there should be somewhere in this document where he offers his thoughts on the mission. Most times at the battalion level and higher; an OPORD has an impersonal and sterile feel to it. That is because it is crafted and put-together by a group of staff officers. No matter what size of the unit, there should be a place where the Commander talks to his Soldiers. This is a perfect spot! In terms of what he discusses, we believe it should contain two elements. These are his intent and what he considers his decisive point for the mission. We have discussed each of these in much detail. Please use these links for far greater detail.

Tactics 101: 027. Commander’s Intent » Armchair General

Tactics 101: 003. The Decisive Point » Armchair General

3.B. Concept of Operation.

In this paragraph, you describe to your subordinates in concise language how the unit will achieve its’ mission. This explains the mission from start to mission accomplishment. Do not get into a long diatribe in this section. Also stick to the base plan. Do not address all the what-ifs that could occur. Whatever you determined as your course of action for the mission during planning should be roughly your concept. With all that, one to two paragraphs should be sufficient in crafting a useable concept of operation. Too little here generates more questions than answers. Too much here tends to confuse subordinates. Obviously, there is an art to writing the concept! We will provide some examples of the concept of operation in our next article.

3.C. Battlefield Operating Systems

A successful commander understands the capabilities and limitations of the Battlefield Operating Systems (BOS) he has at his disposable. With this knowledge, he synchronizes them to make the most of each. Clearly, the sum is greater than its’ parts. In this section of paragraph three, you want to address how each BOS contributes to the mission. Within this discussion, you can also clarify any specific instructions you have in regards to that BOS. These could include: priorities of support, restrictions that are in place, key interaction with some of the other BOS, etc…. Let’s highlight each of the BOS below:

– Maneuver

– Fire Support

– Intelligence

– Mobility/Counter-mobility/Survivability

– Air Defense

– Combat Service Support

– Command and Control

Maneuver – In this sub-paragraph, you are explaining to your subordinates your scheme of maneuver during the operation. It should be concise and should cover from start to finish your base plan. As you can expect, the focus of the sub-paragraph should be on how you will execute at the decisive point. Do not address all the what-ifs and variations of the basic plan. This only confuses your subordinates. Ensure you address who your main effort is and supporting efforts. You must talk in doctrinal language and utilize purposes and tasks. Also ensure you are synchronized with your maneuver graphics. Not good to address locations (objectives etc…) in the maneuver sub-paragraph that are not shown on the graphics. To assist in conciseness, do not address areas that you will cover in tasks to subordinate units or coordinating instructions (later in this paragraph).

Below are some areas that should be addressed (if applicable) within the discussion:


Passage of Lines (If executed)

The Axis or Routes for Initial Maneuver (Getting out of the Assembly Area)

Maneuver Formations that you will utilize

Maneuver Techniques that you will utilize

Actions on Contact

Actions on any Obstacles (Breaching, River Crossing etc…)

Actions on the Objective

Consolidation and Reorganization Actions


Security Operations

Passage of Lines of any Forward Forces through the Main Defense

Battle Handover

Defense of Initial Battle Positions

Defense of any Successive Positions

Counterattack or Maneuver Operations within the Defense

Consolidation and Reorganization Actions.


Fire Support – Within this sub-paragraph, you are detailing how indirect fires will support your maneuver. When we talk indirect fires, this includes a wide range of assets. Depending on the unit, a Commander may have field artillery, close air support, naval gunfire, mortars, etc…. As in many of these subparagraph discussions, the size of the unit will dictate the amount of detail in this section. At the higher levels, much of the discussion will be placed in an annex to the base Operations Order. At the lower levels, company and below this sub-paragraph is it. Thus, let’s address specifics for the lower levels. Areas that you will cover can include:

  • Basic scheme for fires – This is what you want fires to achieve for you.
  • The purpose of fires.
  • The key tasks of fires.
  • The relationship between fires and maneuver.
  • Define who has priority of fires during the mission. This priority can change during the mission. Ensure you highlight the conditions when it does change. This priority should be for field artillery assets and mortar assets.
  • The allocation of priority targets.
  • Restrictive indirect fire control measures during this mission. This outlines things you can do with indirect fires.
  • Key fire support coordination measures.
  • Any command and support relationships that need further clarification.
  • Allocation of close air support (if available).
  • Allocation of smoke.

Intelligence – There are two key areas that are generally covered in this sub-paragraph are reconnaissance and surveillance. You will address the basic plans for these two areas and how they will contribute to achieving your mission. Among the specifics you may cover are:

  • Your recon priorities.
  • Your surveillance priorities.
  • The use of your internal assets.
  • The use of external assets.
  • How recon and surveillance tie to the maneuver plan.
  • Where assets will be operating in the area of operations.
  • Discussion on battle damage assessment.
  • Counterintelligence operations.
  • Discussion of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) use.
  • The use of electronic warfare can be addressed here.

Mobility/Counter-mobility/Survivability – The type of operation (offense versus defense) will certainly dictate the emphasis in each of these categories. In an offensive operation, the emphasis will generally be in mobility – allowing freedom of maneuver. In a defensive operation, the key will be counter-mobility (limiting the enemy’s freedom of maneuver) and survivability (degrading the enemy’s ability to use effective indirect and direct fires on you). Areas that may be discussed are:

  • The purpose of mobility assets.
  • The priority of mobility (what units have priority).
  • The purpose of counter-mobility assets.
  • The priority of counter-mobility (what units have priority).
  • The purpose of survivability assets.
  • The priority of survivability (what units have priority)
  • The overall priority of engineer support.
  • Who has authority to emplace obstacles?
  • How the engineer effort ties to the maneuver plan.

Additionally, you may include any discussion of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) issues in this sub-paragraph. This may be things such as decontamination sites and protection measures.

Air Defense – This is a BOS that is sometimes neglected in discussion. However, history is filled with examples where enemy aircraft were the difference in victory. With that in mind, it is highly recommended you spend sufficient time in this BOS. Areas you should concentrate on include:

  • Overall purpose of air defense. What is it that you want your air defense to accomplish?
  • The air defense assets available internally and externally.
  • Priority of air defense assets.
  • How the air defense plan ties to the maneuver plan.
  • Air defense status and warning status can be addressed here, but is normally placed in the coordinating instructions section (coming later).

Combat Service Support — Most of your discussion on combat service support will be found in Paragraph 4 – Sustainment. Consequently, you will likely want to leave this BOS out of this sub-paragraph.

Command and Control — Most of your discussion on command and control will be found in Paragraph 5 – Command and Signal. Consequently, you will likely want to leave this BOS out of this sub-paragraph.

3.D. Tasks to Subordinate Units

In this section you want to ensure each of your subordinate units understands their role in the mission. To achieve this, you should define the purpose and overall essential task for each subordinate unit. Additionally, you will list other key tasks along with their purposes they must execute in support of the mission. A good way to break up this section is to address your combat units first, combat support units second, and your combat service support units third. To ensure you cover all of subordinate units use the task organization as a guide. For example, in a battalion operations order you would discuss your subordinate companies and attachments (field artillery battery, engineer company or platoon, air defense section, etc…). You will also specifically discuss your reserve in this section. If a task applies to two different subordinates; this should be covered in the next section – Coordinating Instructions.

3.E. Coordinating Instructions. This section lists the details of coordination and control applicable to two or more subordinate units within the organization. This is an important section since many of these can have a significant impact on mission accomplishment. There is a myriad of areas that can be covered here. The type of mission will dictate many that you want to include. Here is the proverbial laundry list of potential areas:

1. Order of movement, formations, and movement techniques. (Place here if it is not addressed in concept of operation).

2. Key checkpoints used in the mission.

3. Actions at any halts (short/long).

4. Departure and reentry of friendly lines.

5. Rally points and actions at rally points (specify either IRP (initial rally point), ORP, PB (patrol base), or RRP (re-entry rally point) and include grid coordinates and/or terrain references).

6. Actions at danger areas (other than unit SOPs).

7. Actions on enemy contact (other than unit SOPs).

8. Reorganization and consolidation instructions (other than unit SOPs).

9. Fire distribution measures

10. Fire control measures: cover what you want them to shoot at in order (i.e. crew served weapons then radio operators, then leaders), sectors of fire to include TRPs (target reference points), visual/sound signals.

11. Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) levels. This details the type of NBC protection garments you will wear.

12. Troop safety and operational exposure guidance.

13. Time schedules (rehearsals, backbriefs, inspections, movement). Give who must be there, when, where, and what you’ll rehearse (actions on the objective are the priority!)

14. Commander’s Critical Information Requirements. This will include: Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR), Friendly Force Information Requirements (FFIR), and Essential Elements of Friendly Information (EEFI).

15. Debriefing requirements.

16. Reports. When do you want to receive the various reports you need during a mission? (These reports deal with a wide range of areas)

17. Rules of Engagement (ROE). Many times, this will be its’ own annex.

18. What to do with captured enemy equipment.

19. Method of handling enemy prisoners of war and designation of enemy prisoner of war collection point.

20. Handling of civilians on the battlefield.

21. Commander’s Decision Points during the mission.

22. Time or condition when the order becomes effective.

23. Fratricide measures.

24. Environmental considerations.

25. Air Defense Weapons Control Status.

26. Air Defense Warning Status.

Obviously, this is a significant list. The key is what is mission critical information that applies to two or more of your subordinate units.


PURPOSE – It is the most neglected paragraph of the OPORD. After all, why does a warrior need to bother with logistics? However, as we know through history, a warrior must be concerned (very concerned) about logistics. The key to making an effective paragraph 4 is writing it for the warrior and placing information in it that is valuable for them. A paragraph 4 written with the logistician in mind will not be read. More detailed information for the logistician can be placed in an attached annex to the base OPORD.

CONTENTS OF PARAGRAPH 4 – As we discussed above, paragraph 4 must contain information pertinent to the combat arms commander on the ground. At the lower levels, the best way to capitalize that info is through the acronym – 135MM. This stands for the following:

1-Class One (Food and Water)

3-Class Three (Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants — POL)

5-Class Five (Ammunition)


M- Medical

Let’s go into a little more detail on each.

Class 1 – As you have all heard, an Army runs on its’ stomach. Thus, this is a pretty significant section. In your discussion, you should address items such as:

  • The ration cycle for the upcoming days.
  • >Ration pick-up cycle if appropriate.
  • Water pick-up cycle if appropriate
  • Locations for pick-ups.
  • Any special considerations for using host nation water.

Class 3 – POL has an effect on any unit, not just an armor or mechanized force. As we know, a shortage of POL can stop a force more effectively than the enemy it is facing.

Class 5- Ammunition

  • Ammunition restrictions.
  • Ammunition shortages.
  • Where are the ammunition resupply points located?
  • Priorities of resupply (which units have priority).

Maintenance – Maintenance is not something to think about after the mission is over. Good units will conduct maintenance continually. In order to do this, you must implement a plan that is executed from the start of the mission to mission accomplishment (and of course, well beyond). Remember that maintenance is not just for vehicles (weapons, equipment etc…). Areas that should be understood by subordinates are:

  • Which repair parts are in short supply?
  • Which units have priority of maintenance support – normally they have the key purposes and tasks for the mission?
  • Which vehicles have priority of maintenance support?
  • Where are the maintenance collection points located for the mission?
  • Where are your maintenance organizations located during the mission?
  • How do you mark damaged vehicles?

Medical – When every minute counts, it is critical that subordinates understand all information critical to treating casualties. This includes:

  • Where are the casualty collection points located for the mission?
  • What are the triage requirements?
  • Methods of casualty evacuation available during the operation.
  • How you will handle enemy causalities?
  • What are the air MEDEVAC procedures?
  • Priorities for evacuation.
  • Methods for marking vehicles that have casualties.

Depending on the mission, there may also be other sustainment information that the commander should be aware of in addition to the above. This could include:

  • Significant or out of the ordinary sustainment issues that could impact the mission.
  • Any sustainment risks.
  • Transportation (location of supply routes –now and the future, priority of movement on these routes)
  • Class IV (Barrier Material)
  • Various services (laundry, showers, etc.).


PURPOSE – Just as the name suggests, this paragraph emphasizes critical information keying on the command and control and communication aspects of the mission. Although this is a relatively short paragraph, there is plenty of key information that must be addressed. Clearly, a misunderstanding in some of these areas can have a dramatic impact in the mission accomplishment.

CONTENTS OF PARAGRAPH 5 – The information in this paragraph is pretty straightforward. We break it into command specific and signal specific information. Below are some recommendations in each area:

5.A. Command

– Location (grid coordinates) of key command posts within the unit. This should include your main command post, your assault or forward command post (if you have them), and your logistical command post. Be sure to list the alternate location for each.

– Succession of Command Posts. This is normally a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) item. However, you should address who takes over the command and control of the battle if the main command post can’t (displacing, unable to communicate, casualties, etc…).

– Succession of Command. There must be an understood succession of command for any operation. If something happens to the commander, someone must be designated to take over. For example, Succession of Command: BN XO, BN S3, A CO CDR, B CO CDR, C CO CDR, and D CO CDR.

– Location of Key Personnel. Leaders must be positioned in critical locations during the fight so that they can make timely decisions if necessary. Normally, you will have the commander with the main effort and your S3 with a unit that has a critical purpose in mission accomplishment. Do not forget to position the unit’s Command Sergeants Major. This is a wealth of experience that sometimes gets ignored (in average organizations). For Example: CDR with A CO, S3 with B CO and CSM with C CO.

– Address any changes in your unit’s command and control SOP.

5.B. Signal

– Signal Operating Instructions is in effect. In the US Army, this used to be a little book which contained frequencies, call signs, codewords etc…. Now, everything is electronic. No matter what technology you possess, units must know these critical pieces of information. If you can’t communicate…

– Method of Communications. Depending on the mission and technology available, you dictate the type of commo you will use. It could radio, wire, messenger etc….

– Radio Listening Silence. In some missions, you may not want any communications at all until a prescribed time or event. If that is so, here is the place to put it.

– Pyrotechnics and Signals in use. For example, green smoke designates lift and shift fires. White star cluster designates withdraw from the objective.

– Codewords in use.

– Challenge and Passwords in use.

– Running Passwords in use.

– Near and Far Recognition Signals in use.


We hope we did not overwhelm you with the amount of detail we included in this article. However, these final three paragraphs in the Operations Order must be complete and understood by subordinates. Clearly, Paragraph 3 (Execution) receives all the attention, but Paragraphs 4 (Sustainment) and 5 (Command and Signal) have a huge impact on potential mission achievement. Will every Operations Order contain every area that we addressed this month – NO. The amount of detail will depend on the unit and the specific unit.


In our next article, we will provide some examples focusing on the important Paragraph 3 – Execution. We will show you an execution paragraph which will be an asset in accomplishing the unit’s mission. We will provide a paragraph which is effective at some extent, but creates more questions than answers questions. Finally, we will illustrate a paragraph which only leads to chaos.


  1. Where can I find Part 1 of this article? Is there a book version of this series?

  2. Mike, thanks a lot for the link to Part 1. The initial article on Airborne operations, number 049, is also missing. Might someone have a link for that too? Or could the AG people please update the web pages to include the links to these two missing articles?

    I’m sure there are quite a few of us who didn’t follow this series from the beginning, but are now reading through all the old articles.

      • Thanks for pointing out that a couple of Tactics 101 articles were missing from the list. We’ve fixed those and are checking to make sure no others are missing.

    • Hello JS.
      I found the link to 049. I put it in the comments section for Part 050.

      • Thanks Mike! I have already put that up myself, but the comment didn’t go through immediately, it’s been awaiting moderation over the weekend. It should be up by the time you’re reading this. Now, let’s hope they’ll fix this, and put those two missing articles into the list.


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