The commander’s intent is a broad description and definition of what a successful mission will look like in its end state. It is the single unifying focus for all subordinate elements, so it must be understood by the echelons below the commander. Commander’s intent helps communicate the vision clearly. It describes what success looks like to all members.
Success doesn’t just mean the overall success of a project. It's clear what “victory” looks like. The victor stands at the top of the hill and the vanquished walk away. Here, success entails a lot of minor successes too that come together. Think of it as the picture on the jigsaw puzzle box.
Commanders visualize their puzzle box, commander's intent, planning guidance (including an operational approach), commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) and essential elements of friendly information (EEFI). Commanders develop their intent by using the following components:
- Expanded Purpose (not the same “why” as shown in the mission statement, but the greater purpose of the operation and its relation to the entire force).
- Key Tasks – the activities the force must perform to achieve the desired end state.
- Desired end state – desired future conditions of the friendly force in relationship to desired conditions of the enemy, terrain and civil considerations.
What Does “Right” Look Like?
The conditions that represent the end state of a mission are broad in nature and represent the conditions that must be set in terms of personnel, resources and other civil and military forces in relation to the unit.
Here's an example of an operational commander's intent from the Armed Forces of the Philippines:
My intent is to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines in HA/DR operations in the affected areas of the Central Philippines. We will provide all available assistance to alleviate human suffering and restore normalcy.
In this example, the ask is broad: "to alleviate human suffering and restore normalcy." To do so, the Commander has made it clear that the expectation is for all units to work together and provide "all available assistance."
How Does this Help Accomplish the Mission?
Commander’s intent helps to ensure members know their mission and the vision of how the mission is to be executed. They will know how much risk is tolerable and how much leeway they have.
In return, commanders can expect that members should know their jobs better, do their jobs better and work with each other better.
The key to meeting commander’s intent is a trained, confident and engaged staff and unit. All members must understand the plan and their role to ensure the commander’s intent is accomplished. But commanders and members alike also need the freedom and confidence to be flexible as the situation changes, taking care to ensure that the changes still fit the overall mission and vision.
Here are some concepts and ideas to grow capability for commander’s intent:
- Simulation and after-action reviews
- Small projects
- Past history and current events
Pulling It All Together
Commander’s intent is an essential tool to express the concept of the mission and the vision to all service members clearly and concisely. It keeps everyone focused and together.
Explore the peacetime sample of a Commander's Intent Memorandum below to see examples of each element.
Click a target to reveal more in-depth information.
The Elements of Commander's Intent