Definitions:

  • TOC/CP – Tactical Operations Center/Command Post; command post for a unit or operation. The TOC/CP manages operations for the commander while he is leading the unit from the front or is otherwise engaged.
  • Jump TOC/TAC – smaller forward command post to allow the TOC to displace without interfering in operations.
  • Rear TOC/RTOC – smaller rear command post to allow the TOC to displace without interfering in operations; also acts as a backup to the TOC and TAC if they are lost during operations. The RTOC generally coordinates logistics and admin functions for the unit during normal operations.
  • EOC – Emergency Operations Center; An EOC is a central command and control facility responsible for carrying out the principles of emergency preparedness and emergency management, or disaster management functions at a strategic level during an emergency, and ensuring the continuity of operation of a company, political subdivision or other organization. An EOC is responsible for strategic direction and operational decisions and does not normally directly control field assets, instead leaving tactical decisions to lower commands.1
  • Commander – The ranking officer in command of a unit or element. In the Incident Command System, the Incident Commander is the person in charge of the response to an emergency. This title may pass between persons based on shifts or levels of command.

Command and the Tactical Operations Center

One of the greatest strengths of the American military, and subsequently the American Public Safety systems, is our use of the Tactical Operations Center to manage whatever operations we are conducting at the moment. TOCs have evolved from small Command Post (CP) with a handful of people collecting and collating information to turn it into intelligence, manage logistics, and plan and control the operation at hand, to vast Taj Mahals with computer workstations, plasma screens and Wi-Fi requiring multiple generators, large tents and its logistical support. NORAD is a TOC, one of the most famous in the world, and fancy as all get out, but at heart, it’s still a TOC. The Looking Glass aircraft the US Air Force maintains are a Jump TOC/TAC. My goal through this series of articles is to give you the basics of setting up and managing a TOC for your operations. I will be using some definitions and references from published and online materials throughout this and will attribute those appropriately. Like Glenn Beck says, always look at source material and do your own research. If you come away from this with more questions than answers, you’re on the right track.

My experience with TOCs began during the Cold War as the NCOIC of a TOC for an Armored Cavalry Troop on the East German border and has since expanded into the National Incident Management System and Incident Command Posts. The biggest differences are a matter of scale. I will admit my bias now as I was trained under the Mission Command system and that is what I’ve used throughout my career in the military and the fire service.

Mission Command

Mission command, also referred to as mission-type tactics, is a style of military command, derived from the Prussian-pioneered mission-type tactics doctrine, which combines centralized intent with decentralized execution subsidiarity and promotes freedom and speed of action, and initiative, within defined constraints. Subordinates, understanding the commander’s intentions, their own missions and the context of those missions, are told what effect they are to achieve and the reason why it needs to be achieved. They then decide within their delegated freedom of action how best to achieve their missions. Orders focus on providing intent, control measures, and objectives, allowing for greater freedom of action by subordinate commanders. Mission command is closely related to civilian management concept of workplace empowerment and its use in business has been explored by writers such as Bungay (2011) and Tozer (1995, 2012). It is advocated, but not always used, by the militaries of the United States, Canada, Netherlands, Australia and the United Kingdom. Mission command is compatible with modern military net-centric concepts, and less centralized approaches to command and control (C2) in general. 2

Translated, that means the boss tells the managers what the end goal is, when it needs to be done by, and limitations the managers have live within. The managers then direct the supervisors to lead their guys within those limitations and get the job done with their own initiative, especially since they know the end goal. If they can’t get clarifications from the boss, they can still keep going and help out the other teams.

Mission Command was refined into a high art by the German Wehrmacht during WWII, then the US Army stole the system for itself by the end of the war and continued on till the end of the Cold War and Desert Storm. Key to using the Mission Command System is a. Training, all the way down to the lowest level, and b. Trusting your subordinates while not allowing a zero-tolerance culture. Subordinates must be able to make mistakes and learn from them. With so many moving parts, it isn’t always possible to have things work like a ballet production with perfect timing. The advent of technology like Blue-Force Tracker, satellite and drone real time surveillance, satellite communications (especially when fighting non-peer opponents like in Iraq and Afghanistan) have led to very tight control and extreme overwatch by command posts on field operations. When a COL or Brigadier General is directing the movements of squads and platoons via watching them on a screen relayed from a drone overhead, you’ve lost Mission Command. And with the zero-tolerance the military has developed since Tailhook in the 90s, Commanders are unwilling to let subordinates off the leash lest they make a mistake and that impedes the Commander’s career progression. Bottom line is you MUST have trust in your subordinates to meet their objectives and complete the mission.

The mission of the TOC is to plan, coordinate and support the execution of the mission at hand based on the Commander’s Intent.

Commander’s Intent

Commander’s Intent is an intent describing military focused operations and it is a publicly stated description of the end state as it related to forces (entities, people) and terrain, the purpose of the operation, and key tasks to accomplish. It is developed by a small group, e.g., staff and a commander. Commander’s Intent (CSI) plays a central role in military decision making and planning. CSI acts as a basis for staffs and subordinates to develop their own plans and orders to transform thought into action, while maintaining the overall intention of their commander. The Commander’s Intent links the mission and the concept of operations. It describes the end state and key tasks that, along with the mission, are the basis for subordinates’ initiative. Commanders may also use the Commander’s Intent to explain a broader purpose beyond that of the mission statement. The mission and the Commander’s Intent must be understood two echelons down.3

The Commander’s Intent will provide:

  • The mission – why are we doing this task/operation
  • The end state – what it needs to look like when completed
  • The sequence – in what order are we doing things and moving parts around
  • The initial state – the situation that is causing us to conduct this mission
  • Key decisions – Yes/No or Go/No-go decision points that will affect the outcome
  • Antigoals – undesired outcomes, e.g., letting the OPFOR capture the bridge intact allowing a crossing
  • Constraints – METT-T, OCOKA, policies, political/legal considerations, etc.

And it will be part of the Operations Order when briefed, but this effectively lays out the OPORD. A little confusing, but it will make sense later.

The Operations Order

The Operations Order provides the framework of how we are going to accomplish our mission. In broad terms, the OPORD used by the Army is used by the rest of the service branches and is used by NIMS with some language changes. An OPORD has five main points:

  • Situation
  • Mission
  • Execution
  • Service and Support
  • Command and Signal

To break these down a little further, it includes:

Operations Order Format4

  1. Task Organization – of the elements involved
  2. Situation
    • Enemy Forces
    • Friendly Forces
    • Attachments/Detachments
  3. Execution
    • Commander’s Intent (Here it is)
    • Concept of the Operation
      • Maneuver
      • Fires
    • Tasks to Maneuver Units
    • Tasks to Combat Support Units
    • Coordinating Instructions
  4. Service and Support
    • General
    • Material and Services
    • Medical Support and Evacuation
    • Personnel
    • Miscellaneous
  5. Command and Signal
    • Command
    • Signal

So, I’m going to discuss two important but conflicting points that have failed many aspiring officers and NCOs going through professional education:

  1. An operations order needs to be as detailed as it needs to be to conduct your mission effectively and efficiently. It needs to spell out at least the five main paragraphs and go into sub-paragraphs as needed.
  2. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t overcomplicate it if you don’t have to.

I’ve seen OPORDs that ran into hundreds of pages long for a battalion operation. Once you start adding in sub-paragraphs, expounding on coordinating details, supporting fires, etc. Add in Air Annexes, logistics annexes, emergency procedures, communications plan, weather forecasts… Sometimes it can become a self-licking ice cream cone.

Next week, we’ll talk about how the TOC works to organize this show from a circus into a ballet.

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