Commander’s Intent Defined

by Capt Michael L. Ettore

Several years ago the U.S. Marine Corps adopted maneuver warfare as its primary warfighting philosophy. The general concepts of this philosophy were outlined in FMFM 1 Warfighting, a publication intended to provide broad guidance on how the Marine Corps prepares for and conducts combat operations. While most of the content of FMFM 1 can legitimately be labeled as purely common sense, there are several concepts which at the time of publication were new, unfamiliar ideas.

One of these new concepts was that of commander‘s intent. While most Marines have heard of this concept, it is extremely rare to find two individuals with the same perspective as to what commander‘s intent really is. Any student of maneuver doctrine will agree that to be successful in this style of warfighting, subordinate leaders must be encouraged to use initiative during the execution of any mission. Commander‘s intent is designed to provide these leaders with the ability to deviate from a specific plan of attack if necessary, yet still accomplish the ultimate desires of their commander. This initiative is properly focused by a crystal-clear expression and understanding of the commander‘s intent.

Recently, the Marine Corps University conducted a Quarterly Curriculum Review Board which was attended by representatives of the various schools within the University system, as well as from other commands. One of the topics discussed was the concept of commander‘s intent and the need for a standard definition of the subject as well as specific guidance for its use during the conduct of Marine Corps operations worldwide. The following definition of commander‘s intent was forwarded to the President of the Marine Corps University and has subsequently been approved:

* The commander‘s intent statement will be depicted in a formal operations order in paragraph 3a (1) followed by the concept of operations in paragraph 3a (2). The higher unit commander‘s intent will be depicted in paragraph 1b.

* The commander‘s intent statement must include a statement of the end state of the battlefield as it relates to his force, the enemy force, and the terrain. Additionally, this statement may include:

– The purpose of the operations.

– The enemy’s actions and intentions.

– An identification of the enemy’s critical vulnerability or center of gravity.*

Currently, the entire Marine Corps University is adopting this definition of commander‘s intent. Once implemented, these changes will result in the substantial enhancement of the orders process and will reduce confusion as units and individuals are reassigned. Graduates of the staff noncommissioned officer academies. The Basic School. Infantry Officers Course, Amphibious Warfare School, Command and Control Systems Course. Command and Staff College, School of Advanced Warfighting, and the Marine Corps War College will have the same understanding and will utilize the same techniques.

Some important points to remember:

* Every Marine must know the commander‘s intent two levels up.

* During most infantry battalion operations order briefs, the battalion S

* Center of Gravity. The characteristic, capability, or locality from which a military force derives its freedom of action, military power, or will to fight. (FMFM2-1 Draft)

Critical Vulnerability. A weakness in an opposing military force’s assets, tactics, or strategy that can result in that force’s defeat if that weakness is exploited. (FMFM 2-1 Draft) 3 actually issues the majority of the order. It is highly encouraged that the battalion commander issue his intent statement for clarity and emphasis.

* The commander‘s intent statement is intended to be written in narrative form, not by listing elements 1 through 5. It is a statement, not a format.

* During the preparation of the vast majority of operations orders, whether formal or fragmentary, the shortage of time usually will result in the commander‘s intent statement being limited to the statement of the end state of the battlefield as it relates to friendly forces, the enemy forces, and the terrain.

* A technique used to describe the end state of the battlefield is to begin the statement with, “Final result desired is.” The following are some examples:

– Final result desired is to block the enemy north of Route 1 in order to allow the unimpeded movement of Company C to BLT Objective Alpha.

– Final result desired is to destroy the enemy radar equipment at Objective Bravo in order to prevent early detection of subsequent coalition air attacks.

* The commander‘s intent statement is not a duplication of the scheme of maneuver paragraph; not where missions or tasks are assigned to subordinate units; and not the place for useless statements such as “we will attack vigorously.” “we will utilize supporting arms to stun the enemy.” or “try not to get bogged down.”

* A short, concise commander‘s intent statement is easier to send via radio or messenger and is more easily remembered by subordinates once they come under extreme stress.

The most important thing for a young lieutenant to remember if he must suddenly assume command of a rifle company in a rapidly changing combat situation is the concept of commander‘s intent.

Finally, it is incumbent upon every leader to adopt and enforce these changes with enthusiasm. The result will be the standard interpretation and usage of this key concept throughout the Marine Corps. Additionally, it will put an end to the friction and confusion that happens all too often today.