This post originally appeared @ CCLKOW on 1/05/15.


CCLKOW is a weekly conversation on military affairs jointly hosted by the Center for Company-Level Leaders (CCL) at the US Military Academy at West Point and the Kings of War (KOW), a blog of the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. This week’s post was provided by Gary M. Klein, an Army Officer. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the US Army or the Department of Defense. Read the post and join the discussion on Twitter #CCLKOW.

Officers in the United States Army frequently hear references to the art and science of tactics, command, and, more broadly, our profession. These terms are used by seasoned company-grade and field-grade officers, but more junior officers often struggle to fully understand and apply these concepts within their own sphere of influence. This shortcoming is significant in the Army’s efforts to develop mission command-based organizations because the art of command is pivotal for encouraging agile and adaptive leaders to exercise disciplined initiative. This week’s CCLKOW seeks a greater understanding of the art of tactics and command by examining US doctrine and reflecting on personal experiences.

The United States Army’s professional military education for junior officers and non-commissioned officers is largely focused on teaching the science of tactics and control. This emphasis is warranted, because these foundational tactics, techniques, and procedures facilitate a shared understanding and enable new leaders to integrate quickly into their units. However, the Army must balance this emphasis with developing junior leaders’ ability to operate within the art of our profession as well. Knowing this, commanders should emphasize art-based discussions and experience in their professional development efforts. These discussions will foster agile leadership and creative decision making within the sphere of our junior officers.

Before we reflect upon our experiences, how does doctrine define the art and science of our profession? US doctrine uses the distinction of art and science to frame two separate topics — tactics and command and control — the second being the precursor to the modern term and concept of mission command. ADRP 3–90, Offense and Defense, is the primary source discussing the “art of tactics” and “science of tactics.”

Art of Tactics — This consists of three interrelated aspects: the creative and flexible array of means to accomplish assigned missions, decision making under conditions of uncertainty when faced with a thinking and adaptive enemy, and understanding the effects of combat on Soldiers.[i]

Science of Tactics — Encompasses the understanding of those military aspects of tactics — capabilities, techniques and procedures — that can be measured and codified.[ii]

ADP 6–0, Mission Command, is the source for the “art of command” and “science of control.”

Art of Command — The creative and skillful exercise of authority through timely decision making and leadership.[iii]

Science of Control — The systems and procedures used to improve the commander’s understanding and support accomplishing missions.[iv]

There are two other significant doctrinal publications that touch upon the art of our profession as well: ADRP 1–0, The Army Profession, and ADP 1–01, Doctrine Primer. The Army Profession states that “in such a professional culture, the art of the Army professional is to exercise discretionary judgments that often carry with them moral implications or consequences,”[v] while Doctrine Primer says that, “creatively applying different combinations of these doctrinal tools — adapted to the specific circumstances — is the true art of tactics and foundation of operational success.”[vi] Doctrine Primer speaks specifically to the fact that situations are usually circumstantial and rarely invite textbook solutions or purely scientific decisions.

When trying to understand the art of our profession, it is useful to consider an analogy of an ill-defined problem that has no singularly right answer. Given this situation, leaders must acknowledge uncertainty or assumptions, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a series of courses of action, and make a decision using their own judgment. If we assume this analogy, leaders apply the art of tactics and command on an almost daily basis in both garrison and war.

In war, Clausewitz conceptualized uncertain situations with his famous “fog of war,” but these circumstances are found in garrison as well. The variables are different, often in the form of constraints and uncertain results, but the art of command and creative thinking are equally applicable. When leaders foster a garrison-based training environment that demands and stimulates creative thinking, we provide fertile ground for developing the art of tactics and command.

What are your thoughts on the art of tactics and command?

1. What are some of the considerations or variables that you’ve had to balance when applying the art of command?

2. Besides tactics and command decisions, what are other key examples of art in our profession?

3. What exercises have you implemented to enable your subordinates to practice the art of command?

[i] Department of the Army, ADRP 1–02, Terms and Military Symbols, (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 2013), p.1–4.

[ii] Ibid, p.1–51.

[iii] Ibid, p.1–4.

[iv] Ibid, p.1–51.

[v] Department of the Army, ADRP 1, The Army Profession, (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, June 2013), p.3–2.

[vi] Department of the Army, ADP 1–01, Doctrine Primer, (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 2014), p.1–4.

The Military Apprentice

Thoughts of a Soldier Scholar

    Gary Klein

    Written by

    Army Professional, Amateur Triathlete, Member of MilitaryWritersGuild.org, avid University of Michigan fan, and reader.

    The Military Apprentice

    Thoughts of a Soldier Scholar

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