In mission-type tactics the military commander gives their subordinate leaders a clearly defined goal (the mission) and the forces needed to accomplish that goal with a time within which the goal must be reached. The subordinate leaders then implement the order independently. The subordinate leader is given, to a large extent, the planning initiative and a freedom in execution which allows flexibility in execution. Mission-type tactics free higher leadership from tactical details. Thus, strictly speaking the German word is something of a misnomer. It is not a tactic per se (and certainly not limited to the tacticals). It is more of a method of leadership. Thus, the proper German designation is Führen durch Auftrag, literally leading by task as opposed to Führen durch Befehl, i.e. leading by orders. Direct orders are an exception in the German armed forces, while "tasks" are the standard instrument of leadership from high command down to squad level.
For the success of the mission-type tactics it is especially important that the subordinate leaders understand the intent of the orders and are given proper guidance and that they are trained so they can act independently. The success of the doctrine rests upon the receiver of orders understanding the intent of the issuer of the orders and acting to achieve their goal even if their actions violated other guidance or orders they had received. Mission type tactics assume the possibility of violating other previously expressed limitations as a step to achieving a mission and is a concept most easily sustained in a decentralised culture. That culture is often one associated today with elite units and not a whole army.
Excellence in this case is derived in part from the tradition of Scharnhorst, Carl von Clausewitz and Helmuth von Moltke and was based upon the premise that hard-and-fast rules had no place in the environment of war, which was the realm of human emotion, friction, chance and uncertainty. Moltke is considered one of the principal advocates of independent thinking and acting among his subordinates:
“Diverse are the situations under which an officer has to act on the basis of his own view of the situation. It would be wrong if he had to wait for orders at times when no orders can be given. But most productive are his actions when he acts within the framework of his senior commander’s intent.”
Under the Auftragstaktik system the selection of combat formations, as well as their route and rate of advance, was based upon a unit's mission, the circumstances of the terrain and the enemy's disposition, something Napoleon was renowned for doing. Building a high level of trust, competency and understanding is important to the operation of such a doctrine. The freedoms this might imply have challenged many armies' views of military discipline, including the Prussian army's.
Interestingly there are cases cited where in combat the operational orders were a copy of orders that had been issued for an earlier operation or training exercise. It is claimed that almost the only thing that was changed were the names of locations and units. This strongly suggests that long experience of operations had allowed senior commanders to be quite abstract in their orders issued without great fear of being misunderstood, it also suggests that sequences of moves on quite a large scale were already familiar to the forces involved which probably made their execution better.
The paradox of war in the Information Age is one of managing massive amounts of information and resisting the temptation to overcontrol it. The competitive advantage is nullified when you try to run decisions up and down the chain of command. All platoons and tank crews have real-time information on what is going on around them, the location of the enemy, and the nature and targeting of the enemy's weapons system. Once the commander's intent is understood, decisions must be devolved to the lowest possible level to allow these front line soldiers to exploit the opportunities that develop. —General Gordon Sullivan, quoted in 'Delivering Results' by David Ulrich
A key aspect of Mission-type tactics is forward control. In order to understand what is happening at the point of action and to be able to take decisions quickly the operational commander needs to be able to observe results. The decision to deviate from original plans in pursuit of the mission must be made here for 'Friction' to be overcome and momentum to be sustained. The impact of the application of personal influence was thought to be critical and only possible because of the bench-strength provided by General Staff officers managing in the formations' rear. This aspect is also responsible for the high casualty rate amongst commanders even in successful operations (5% of all dead). Guderian ensured that all German tanks had radio receivers in order to make his command effective.
The domination of the battlefield combined with the difficulty of discerning the pattern of the attacker's assault which uses integrated command of combined arms teams means that conventional force strategies are rendered ineffective as the "Front seemed to disappear".
Bench Strength: Developing the Depth and Versatility of Your Organization's Leadership Talent.(Brief article)(Book review)
Sep 01, 2006; Bench Strength: Developing the Depth and Versatility of Your Organization's Leadership Talent by Robert Barner. The American...