Design, Mission Command and the Network: Enabling Organizational Adaptation


Since the end of the Cold War, the military has had a simmering discussion regarding the military potential of the “Information Age,” emerging technology and innovation and the nature of the future operational environment (FOE). More than two decades later, despite what some may think, civilization is still in the infant stages of the Information Age. Although much great intellectual effort has been and continues to be invested in forecasting and building a strategic and operational approach to the challenges ahead, the potentials remain vast and unknown for how the Army will fight in the decades ahead, as well as the hybrid nature of the challenges and threats our nation will face. The question looming over the United States Army centers on its ability to adapt to this great unknown.

In an effort to evolve and adapt with the FOE, the Army has adopted an overarching concept, forged in the fires of a decade in combat, to help leaders better understand the strategic, operational and tactical environment and problems they will face in the FOE, as well as a fundamental philosophy undergirding how they fight. The concept and philosophy are the Army Design Methodology and Mission Command, respectively. Army Design Methodology and Mission Command share two imperative principles—creating shared understanding and providing clear commander’s intent. A major impetus behind design theory and Mission Command, however, is an FOE that is described as being fraught with emerging systems that are multidimensional, offering interdependent problems and challenges that possess qualities of subtle, counterintuitive and layered causality. As it has been described so many times, the FOE is complex, nonlinear and chaotic, requiring continual reassessment and adaptation.

Army Design Methodology, a continuous process led by the commander, enables the ability to take data, information and knowledge about a given environment and penetrate the interdependent complexities of strategic, operational and tactical variables inherent in unfamiliar problems to better create and construct a conceptual framework, common understanding and operational approach to the challenges to be confronted, as well as the commander’s overall intent in achieving a desired endstate.

Directly related to Army Design Methodology is the philosophy of Mission Command. Mission Command works under the premise of creating a shared understanding of the 2 operational environment while empowering and enabling disciplined initiative to be taken by agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations and decisive action. Mission Command requires disciplined, well-trained units led by vigilant leaders imbued with creativity and an unfailing intellectual curiosity and desire to learn.

As the Army endeavors to peer into the “deep future” of conflict, it must be prepared to engage across multiple domains simultaneously. Of particular importance for the future is the cyber domain, commonly referred to as “cyberspace,” and the network of networks that is its virtual matrix. This is cause for debate and disagreement as the military works to doctrinally define and figure out what all this means. For instance, the military is challenged in defining exactly what “the network” actually is. Is it a synonym for cyberspace? Is it a separate and unique domain? Or are networks cyber versions of ecosystems that exist within cyberspace? Do networks enable the development and deployment of cyber weapons or can they be used as weapons themselves?

For the present, the network is the system of telecommunications links, technologies and capabilities that facilitate command, control, communications, information sharing, data analysis, collaborative effort, situational awareness, synchronization and integration across the force. The network provides an enabling capability that, as technology continues to develop, can and will be fundamental to truly operationalizing the full potential of Army Design Methodology and Mission Command. The linkage between Army Design Methodology, Mission Command and the network is necessary for a greater end, however—achieving organizational adaptation and continuous strategic, operational and tactical advantage.

The challenge to the Army is to understand the capabilities and limitations of this trinity in the present and how to fully realize its potential to enable continuous organizational adaptation and advantage over adversaries in an FOE that the defense establishment cannot yet entirely and accurately understand, visualize, describe and forecast. Before attempting to understand the potential synergy behind a marriage of Army Design Methodology, Mission Command and the network, however, it is imperative to understand some of the history and evolution of ideas that underpin each of these concepts.