Command and control in tactical environments

The lack of command and control we saw in Mumbai is a classic example what can happen without a clear mission with objectives to achieve.

Automatic weapons, armored vests, 148,000 rounds of ammunition, small squad military tactics and a plot to assault and kill Americans. What foreign terrorist organization could have this type of resolve to harm Americans? This terrorist cell is currently in Federal court in downtown Detroit facing charges of plotting to kill Michigan Law enforcement officers and their not a foreign terrorist organization. This group is from Michigan and they call themselves the “Hutaree” which they claim, means Christian warriors.

The plan was to murder a local police officer in an ambush. Then at the officers funeral they were to attack the police procession in a military style assault. This small force was well equipped with explosives, sniper ghillie suites, ballistic helmets, and night vision. They planned on devastating the police with an ambush that included improvised explosive devices, small squad battle tactics with a well trained militia.

We can only speculate what would have occurred as the funeral procession proceeded into the Hutaree ambush. This type of assault isn’t an active shooter response that a diamond formation or MACTAC-style response will resolve. This assault is similar to the Mumbai attack which will require a coordinated tactical response from a dominating force. 

Hutaree was preparing for what they believed would be an apocalyptic battle with forces of the Antichrist, whom they believed would be supported and defended by local law enforcement. The following statements were introduced into a Federal trial this week, “we are willing to go to war” and “welcome to the revolution”.

Imagine your SWAT team responding to such an attack with an enemy equal to an al Qaeda force. Does your team have the capabilities to respond to a force with this type of training, equipment, and motivation? The most important factor in responding to this type of assault is “command and control” of the responding tactical forces. The lack of command and control we saw in Mumbai is a classic example what can happen without a clear mission with objectives to achieve.

When this occurs, friendly forces will most likely suffer greater losses.

Mission Command
I have used the military model of “mission command” for command and control within my Special Response Team since its inception. What I have found is the team has a greater capability to function in the chaos of combat on its own. They can respond to tactical challenges as they arise on the battlefield without compromising the tactical advantage of time, speed, surprise, and violence of action or shock. 

Successful mission command rests on the following elements: the tactical commander’s intent, subordinates initiative, and tactical operation orders. Under mission command, tactical commanders provide team leaders with a mission, their commander’s objectives, initiatives, concept of the task, and resources adequate to accomplish the mission. The tactical commander empowers team leaders such as the Entry Team Leaders, Assistant Entry Team Leaders, Sniper Team Leaders and Crisis Negotiator Team Leaders to make decisions within the commander’s intent and objectives.

I commonly leave details of execution to the team leaders and require them to use initiative and judgment to accomplish the mission. I expect these team leaders to identify and act on unforeseen circumstances, whether opportunities or threats, while conducting their tactical operations. Seizing, retaining, and exploiting the operational initiative requires team leaders to exercise individual initiative and they have the authority to do so.

Training team leaders under mission command develops disciplined initiative and skilled judgment. It also gives tactical commanders the confidence to delegate them the necessary authority during operations. Mission command enables tactical commanders to use the unprecedented agility and flexibility of the modular force to take advantage of the chaos of war. It allows SWAT teams to rapidly adapt to changes in the situation and exercise initiative within the tactical commander’s intent to accomplish the mission.

Operational Concept
In this style of command seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative with speed, shock, surprise, depth, simultaneity, and endurance are key.

Initiative: in its operational sense, is setting or dictating the terms of action throughout an operation. The side with the initiative determines the nature, tempo, and sequence of actions. Initiative is decisive if retained and exploited. In any operation, a tactical force has the initiative when it is controlling the situation rather than reacting to circumstances. The counterpart to operational initiative is individual initiative, the willingness to act in the absence of orders or when existing orders no longer fit the situation.

Speed: the ability of tactical squads to act rapidly. Rapid maneuver dislocates the enemy force and exposes its elements before they are prepared or positioned. Rapid action preempts threats to security. It reduces suffering and loss of life among noncombatants or victims by restoring order. At the strategic level, speed gives tactical forces their expeditionary quality and allows tactical forces to keep the initiative. It contributes to their ability to achieve shock and surprise.

Shock: the application of violence of such magnitude that your adversary is stunned and helpless to reverse the situation. Shock entails the use of an “overwhelming dominating force” at the decisive time and place.

Surprise: involves the delivery of a powerful blow at a time and place for which your adversary is unprepared. When combined with shock, it reduces friendly casualties and ends opposition swiftly.

Depth: the ability to operate across the entire area of tactical operations. It includes the ability to act in the information environment of the tactical operation as well as the support elements. 

Simultaneity: a function of time, confronts opponents with multiple actions occurring at once, disrupting their cognitive function as they process through the OODA loop. Multiple actions overload adversaries’ control systems and this provide a tactical advantage to the tactical forces. 

Endurance: the ability to survive and persevere over time. Swift tactical response may be desirable; however a swift response is the exception for most call outs. To succeed, tactical forces must prepare to conduct operations for protracted periods.

Command and Control Development
The concept of mission command requires good policy, team structure, strong leadership and training.

Policy: tactical teams must operate under department policy which is the foundation for clear function and operations. These policies must be provided to each individual officer and they must be held accountable when they act outside of these policies. Overlooking a minor offense may bring you a larger problem in the future if left uncorrected. Act upon any recognized deficiencies your tactical officers demonstrate. Addressing your officer’s deficiencies should be done in a positive manner, as your goal is to improve the officer’s capabilities. Officers from your team will appreciate this approach since it is fair and keeps everybody safer.

Team Structure: it is very important to provide a foundation of structure to your team. This includes a clear chain of command. Teams should be designated into multiple squads. Many teams operate as one squad and I have seen this system fail more often than not when responding to terrorist attacks in large scale training exercises. The reason is a single tactical commander won’t be able to deliver the same level of planning and execution as a team with a deep command structure. My tactical team for example has multiple layers of command in the structure of our team. It was designed to mirror the Army Platoon system.

Here’s how our 23-officer team is structured:

Executive Commander: administrative function.
Team Commander: responsible for all tactical planning, training and team functions.
Entry Team Leaders: there are two team leaders and two assistant team leaders, one team leader for each squad, two squads of ten officers. Each Entry Team has an Assistant Team Leader whom may be the Team Leader on any tactical operation. Responsible for tactical execution of their assigned squads.
Sniper Team Leader (1) and Assistant Sniper Team Leader (1). Responsible for tactical execution of their six officer sniper/observer teams.  
Crisis Negotiator Team Leader (1) and Assistant Crisis Negotiator (1). Responsible for negotiations operations of their eight-officer team.

Strong Leadership: some individuals appear to be “born leaders” while other individuals can be developed into leaders, but a solid foundation of “character” is essential in any successful leader. Some qualities in an individual’s makeup, particularly those concerning his integrity and ethical foundation are absolutely essential in the potential leader, and which cannot be added through schooling or experience. Good judgment, and common sense, is an absolute requirement for successful combat leadership. The ability to perform well in formal training, while not a negative characteristic, is a less important factor for a combat leader. In particular, the leader must have a well-developed and practiced ability in making decisions under pressure.

“Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it.”
— General Omar Bradley

Training: develop your team leaders and officers by allowing them to do their jobs. When a subordinate is free to do his job, he perceives this as trust and confidence from his commanders and takes more pride in his job, himself, and the team’s goals and objectives. Delegation of tactical authority, training development and implementation and the proper use of personnel develops future leaders. This should be the goal of every commander.

“I would caution you always to remember that an essential qualification of a good leader is the ability to recognize, select, and train junior leaders.”
— General Omar Bradley

When confronted with a tactical crisis such as the one the Hutaree planned on Michigan’s law enforcement officers you must be prepared. We train in many different tactics, we have many different tools that provide numerous options that give us a tactical advantage. We train hard, but all of that won’t make a difference if you don’t have “command and control” of your team and the tactical crisis you are confronted with. The experience I gained in the Army and the lessons I have learned over the years as a SWAT commander taught me one thing, the United States Military knows how to fight an enemy. Consider doing what I did and apply the military’s mission command to your team and watch them all grow as leaders.

Stay safe.

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