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Final Verdict: Has it been Successful? What can we Learn?



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Final Verdict: Has it been Successful? What can we Learn?


The story of the adoption of mission command demonstrate that good intentions and the dedication of significant resources to the adoption of a foreign practice may not be sufficient in order to overcome what one the organizational researcher Alan Wilkins defined as imperfect imitability. This phenomenon denotes the difficulty of identifying the contributing factors to the success of the organization being emulated, or the tacit infrastructure that supports it. Whereas much of the literature on military innovation and adaptation has been devoted to dimensions such as top-down/bottom-up innovation or the impact of external/internal groups on the organization,179 there has been little discussion of emulating a ‘best practice’.180 In contrast, the discussion of this practice in the corporate world has been sufficiently extensive to warrant the coining of the term 'benchmarking', the systematic comparison of successful organizational practices and the adoption of the best of them.181

According to Alan Wilkins organizations usually attempt to effect cultural change through one of the following: a piecemeal imitation of a successful organization; importation of a new culture or fostering of a revolution. In the first option, a particularly worthy idea or practice is adopted along with the skills, habits, institutional memory, and individual commitment of another organization. Wilkins warns, however, that the execution of that concept requires adaptation through trial and error and cannot be rushed by applying quick fixes or blind imitation.182 Indeed, in most cases, such a process entails a transformation of the organization’s basic cultural assumptions.

Mission command has both procedural and cultural dimensions. The former are relatively easy to emulate, as armies often adopted foreign tactics. In contrast, the latter stem from national character and organizational traditions and are therefore more difficult to transfer. Efforts to adapt the necessary cultural dimensions often result in the creation of the cognitive and praxis gaps. Hence, the adoption of mission command really calls for Wilkins’ third approach. A crisis must occur shaking the faith in the methods of the ‘old guard’ followed by the introduction of new ideas and practices by new leaders. Success must then be attributed by the organization to the new methods. This condition was met to varying degrees in the US Army case during the reforms of the 1980s. Finally, the change is institutionalized through a revised reward system including selection, promotion, etc. If the process is not completed, as was often the case with mission command, people tend to learn ‘how to resist the new ways while appearing to support them'. In order to overcome these difficulties, the organization should not limit its focus to embedding the new culture. Rather it should seek inspiration, instruction and the enduring principles from its own history, ‘promote hybrids' and find the 'current success examples within the organization'.183 Thus creating a natural link between mission command and their particular culture of command.

In the final analysis, Mission command is a complex, elusive and multi-factorial phenomenon, not easily quantified, measured or institutionalized. Therefore, any conclusions regarding its implementation must be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the evidence does suggest that the US Army has been so far unable to institutionalize mission command fully. On the positive side, the evidence also suggests that while this system of command has not fully taken root, it has been a driver for significant developments in the realms of doctrinal development, officer training and education, and actual battlefield performance. Moreover, despite the changes in the nature of operations that hinder mission command, it will maintain its allure as it promises to enhance operational effectiveness. Additionally, the emphasis mission command lays on maximizing the potential of every individual to the fullest is congruent with modern western values.

These points were illustrated by a directive issued by General James Mattis commander of the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). In a memo dated 14 August 2008, he declared that doctrines such as Effects Based Operations (EBO), Operational Net Assessment (ONA) and System of Systems Analysis (SoSA), which essentially contradict mission command, have failed to deliver ‘their advertised benefits’.184 Consequently, he called for a return to ‘to time honored principles such as mission type orders’.185 Mattis recognized the enduring nature of mission command and conceded that the search for new and exciting concepts over the past two decades may have hindered its proper adoption by the United States army. A more recent acknowledgment of the centrality of mission command is the latest version of the Army's Capstone Concept which mentions mission command 15 times in different contexts.186

These official documents serve as an acknowledgment that the journey toward the realization of mission command has not been completed. Nevertheless, the promise of mission command will continue to galvanize the US Army, as well as other western military organizations, into adopting and adapting mission command for the foreseeable future.


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1 Of the various translations offered for the term Auftragstaktik, Mission Command is the most common, and the one used in American field manuals (FMs).

2 For example: Richard Lock-Pullen, US Army Innovation and American Strategic Culture After Vietnam (Oxford: Rutledge, 2006); Rodler F. Morris et al., Initial Impressions Report: Changing the Army (Fort Leavenworth: Centre for Army Lessons Learned, 1996). Concerning the British see: Sangho Lee, Deterrence and the Defence of Central Europe: The British Role from the Early 1980s to the End of the Gulf War, PhD Dissertation (London: King's College, 1994).

3 Antullio J. Echevarria II, After Clausewitz: German Military Thinkers before the Great War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 38.

4 Trevor N. Dupuy, A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff 1807-1945 (New Jersey: Prentice, 1977), 268, 307.

5 Joint Warfare Publication (JWP) 0-01 British Defence Doctrine (2001), 3 -5.

6 Department of the Army, Field Manual 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, Counterinsurgency (Washington DC, 2006), 1-26, 7-4; Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) Land Operations, Army Code 71819 (2005), 115.

7 Jim Storr, 'A Command Philosophy for the Information Age', in: David Potts (ed.) The Big Issue: Command and Combat in the Information Age (Washington DC: Command and Control Research Program, 2003), 77 - 94.


8 Daniel Hughes, ‘Auftragstaktik’, in: Trevor N. Dupuy (Ed.) International Military Defence Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 A-B (London: Macmillan, 1993), 332.

9 On the adoption of modern day corporate practices by the US Army see: Francis Fukuyama and Abram N. Shulsky, The Virtual Corporation and Army Organization (California: RAND, 1997).

10 Walter von Lossow, Mission-Type versus Order-Type Tactics’, Military Review 57:6 (June, 1977).

11 Hughes, ‘Auftragstaktik’, 332.

12 Werner Widder, ‘Auftragstaktik and Innere Führung: Trademarks of German Leadership’, Military Review 82:5 (September-October), 4.

13 Hughes, ‘Auftragstaktik’,, 332.

14 David Schmidtchen, ‘Developing Creativity and Innovation through the Practice of Mission Command’, Australian Defence Force Journal 146 (January-February, 2001), 7 – 11 and Ad L. W. Vogelaar and Eric-Hans Kramer, ‘Mission Command in Dutch Peace Support Missions’, Armed Forces & Society 30:3 (spring, 2004), 409 – 431.

15 Antulio J. Echevarria, ‘Auftragstaktik: In Its Proper Perspective’, Military Review 66:10 (October, 1986), 50 - 56.

16 David E. Johnson, Commanding War: The Western Origins of American Military Hierarchy (California: RAND, 2004), 157-158.


17 Benjamin Amidror, 'Forward', in: Bruce Catton, The American Civil War, trans. Shimshon Inbal (Ma'arachot: Tel-Aviv, 1979), 12. [Heb]

18 Ibid., 14, 18 - 19.

19 Johnson, Commanding War, 161.

20 Stephen E. Ambrose, Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975), 106.

21 Ronald Barr, 'High Command in the United States: The Emergence of a Modern System 1898 - 1920', in: G. D. Sheffield (ed.) Leadership and Command: The Anglo-American Experience since 1861 (London: Brassey's, 2002), 57.

22 J. D. Hittle, The Military Staff: Its Origin and Development (Westport: Greenwood, 1975), 196 - 204.

23 Barr, 65.

24 Ibid., 72.

25 Martin van Creveld, The Training of Officers (New York: Free Press, 1990), 61.

26 Ibid., 62 - 63, 66.

27 Hittle, 210. (G -1 Administrative; G-2 Intelligence; G-3 Operations; G-4 Supply; G-5 Training).

28 Martin van Creveld, Fighting Power: German and US Army Performance 1939-1945 (London: Arms and Armour, 1983), 51.


29 Johnson, Commanding War, 186.,5

30 Richard A. Gabriel and Paul L. Savage, Crises in Command: Mismanagement in the Army (New York: Hill and Wang, 1979), 18.

31 Creveld, Fighting, 31 - 33.

32 Ibid., 40.

33 Ibid., 38.

34 Ibid., 63, 73; Donald Vandergriff, The Path to Victory: America's Army and the Revolution of Human Affairs (California: Presidio, 2002), 56 - 63.

35 Creveld, Fighting, 127 - 146.

36 Edward N. Luttwak and S. L. Canby, Mindset: National Styles in Warfare and the Operational Level of Planning, Conduct and Analysis (Washington DC: Pentagon Reports, 1980), 4 - 5.

37 Creveld, Fighting, 168.

38 Max Hastings, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 (Macmillan: London, 2005), 32 - 33.

39 Martin Blumenson, ‘General George S. Patton', in: Michael Carver (ed.) The War Lords (Boston: Little Brown & Co, 1976), 383 - 384.

40 Hastings, Armageddon, 587.

41 Creveld, Fighting, 37; Idem, Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 214 - 215.


42 Gabriel and Savage, 17 - 22; Vandergriff, 95 - 105.

43 Ibid. ,18-19.

44 Michael Goodspeed, When Reason Fails: Portraits of Armies at War: America, Britain and Israel and the Future (Westport: Praeger, 2002), 15 - 16.

45 Martin van Creveld, Command in War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), 238 - 251.

46 Ibid., 256.

47 Ibid., 259.

48 John English and Bruce I. Gudmundsson, On Infantry (Westport: Praeger, 1994), 156 - 160.

49 Gabriel and Savage, 18, 176 - 177.

50 Martin van Creveld, Moshe Dayan (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2004), 119.

51 Roger Beaumout, ‘Perspectives on Command and Control’, in: Jon L. Boyes and S. Andride (eds.) Principles of Command and Control (Washington DC: AFCEA International Press, 1987), 4.

52 Gabriel and Savage, 33.

53 The phrase was introduced by: Russell Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1973).

54 Max Boot, 'The New American Way of War', Foreign Affairs 82:4 (July-August, 2003), 41 - 58.


55 Martin van Creveld, Kenneth S. Brower and Steven L. Canby, Air Power and Maneuver Warfare (Alabama: Air University Press, 1994), 8.

56 Colin S. Gray, The American Way of War, in Anthony D. McIvor (ed.) Rethinking The Principles of War, (Annapolis Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2005), p. 27.

57 Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5 Operations (Washington DC, 1982), 2-1, 2-3, 2-7.

58 Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 292.

59 Richard Lock-Pullan, 'How to Rethink War: Conceptual Innovation and AirLand Battle Doctrine', Journal of Strategic Studies 28:4 (August, 2005), 680.

60 Ibid., 681.

61 Conrad C. Crane, Avoiding Vietnam: The US Army's Response to Defeat in Southeast Asia (Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2002).

62 Saul Bronfeld, ‘Fighting Outnumbered: The Impact of the Yom Kippur War on the U. S. Army’, Journal of Military History 71:2 (April, 2007), 471.

63 Bronfeld, 472; Naveh, 254; Suzanne Christine Nielsen, Preparing for War: the Dynamics of Peacetime Military Reform, PhD Dissertation (Boston: Harvard University, 2003), 250.

64 Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5 Operations (Washington DC, 1976), 5-13 - 5-14.

65 Nielsen, 284 - 285.



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