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Posted on Jul 14, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101:028 – Commander’s Guidance

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

What should guidance contain?
There is no cookie-cutter solution to what a commander should include in his guidance – and that is a good thing! Remember, it is called commander’s guidance, so every commander should (must!) emphasize to his staff what he believes is necessary to develop a quality plan and to allocate resources and assets to support the plan.

Army doctrine is very broad when it addresses what commander’s guidance should contain. It prescribes that guidance will vary depending on the situation and the echelon of command. We would also suggest it will vary depending on the personality of the commander, the experience and competence of the specific staff members, and the relationship between the commander and his staff.

So what should guidance contain? The latest Army doctrine lists a group of topics that should be addressed as a minimum by the commander. It is a good start point for a commander to formulate his guidance. Let’s cover these areas.


•    The commander should describe what he believes will be the decisive operation of the mission.  This drives many things including task organization changes, allocating resources, etc..

•    The commander should tell his staff what he considers the decisive point of the mission.  As discussed earlier in the series, the decisive point is critical to developing viable courses of action.

•    The commander should discuss with his staff would he presently believes are his potential key decisions.  This in turn will enable the commander to define his initial Commander’s Critical Information Requirements (CCIR) to the staff.  If you remember, it is this information, once obtained, that enables a commander to make key decisions during the fight.  This CCIR will most certainly change during an operation.  However, the quicker the commander can let his staff know what his initial ones are, the quicker they can get out resources to answer them.

•    The commander should lay out friendly courses of action he wants the staff to develop further in the planning process. These courses of action are a start point.  Of course, planning time is a big factor in this area.  If planning time is minimal, the commander will be much more directive and may even only give the staff one course of action he wants developed.  If there is more available planning time, the commander will be less directive and will provide the staff more courses of action to develop.  When addressing these courses of action, he may discuss main and supporting efforts, task organization, the use of a reserve, etc.. Obviously, this area is one of the most critical for the commander to provide.

•    The commander should also provide the staff with what enemy courses of action he wants them to pursue in planning.  During the mission analysis brief the S2 (Intelligence Officer), provided the commander with what he thought were the enemy’s courses of action.  The commander now takes those and gives the staff what he wants developed.  These may be the enemy’s most likely, most dangerous, or any other variation.  Again, planning time will dictate the number and detail the staff will develop.

•    After describing friendly and enemy courses of action, the commander should provide surveillance and reconnaissance guidance.  The early initiation of surveillance and recon assets is critical in gaining an edge over your opponent.  The commander must provide this early guidance to ensure these assets are located where the commander wants them to be.  Gathering information in areas that are not critical to the plan is a serious waste of those vital assets.  

•    The commander should provide his staff with his guidance as it pertains to security.  This is a fairly broad subject area.  It could include operational security, unit security, computer security, communications security, etc..

•    As planning begins in earnest, the commander should inform his staff where he is willing to assume risk.  Remember the battlefield is large and resources are finite, so there will be risk somewhere.  Risk could fall under various areas.  These could include flank or rear security, NBC protection levels, maneuver techniques, resourcing of units, size of reserve, economy of force areas, etc..  Defining this risk enables the staff to further define courses of action.

•    If the commander plans to utilize any form of deception, he must discuss this with his staff early.  In order for deception to have any chance to work it must be planned and prepared early.  In providing deception guidance, the commander should at the minimum detail the objective of the deception effort and the specific target of the deception.

•    It is vital for the commander to provide guidance and priorities for the Warfighting Functions (Battlefield Operating Systems).   As we all know, there is no successful maneuver without effective combat support and combat service support operations.  The sooner the commander can provide guidance in these areas – the better.  Let’s discuss the areas the commander could address in each of the Battlefield Operating Systems.  

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