The Elements of Commander's Intent

Article 3 min
Examine the basic structure of commander's intent and how it fits into a mission.

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 Get the Mission Accomplished?

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, commander’s can expect that members should know their jobs better, do their jobs better and work with each other better.

Growing Capability

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 are essential tools 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 Commanders Intent Memorandum below to see examples of each element.

Click a target to reveal more in-depth information.

The Elements of Commander's Intent

A sheet of paper with a fake memo on it

Memo Text

MEMORANDUM FOR ALL SQUADRON MEMBERS SUBJECT: COMMANDER’S INTENT

FROM: LIEUTENANT COLONEL JANE DOE, XYZ CADET SQUADRON COMMANDER

I am humbled to be selected by Colonel Stow as the XYZ Cadet Squadron commander. Many of us were here when the squadron was launched, and now we’ve worked and grown together. I want to take a moment to outline my commander’s intent for you as we move forward together:

Our mission is simple, to grow the best cadets in the XYZ Wing.

To do this, we will use all the tools at our disposal: leadership education (for cadets and for senior members), character development, aerospace education and emergency services training. We will help our cadets learn about and internalize CAP’s Core Values by modeling them at every meeting, at every opportunity. We will work as one team with one goal: making our cadets the best they can be.

Our squadron will be a respected organization in the wing and in the community; more important, our cadets will be leaders. Their parents will be glad they “lent” them to us and the cadets themselves will grow into outstanding young leaders.

You are the best members in XYZ Wing. Together we can, and will, succeed.

JANE DOE, Lieutenant Colonel, CAP Commander, XYZ Cadet Squadron

CC: All members

Shield with star icon

Mission

Why are we here?

After the standard protocols and introductions are met, the commander states their vision for the mission. Using broad terms, they define their intent.

Sample:
Our mission is simple, to grow the best cadets in the XYZ Wing.

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Tools

How will we do it?

The commander's intent is broad in nature, so you shouldn't expect a bulleted list of instructions. It is up to the staff and squadron to use the resources at their disposal to fulfill the commander's intent.

Sample:
To do this, we will use all the tools at our disposal: leadership education (for cadets and for senior members), character development, aerospace education and emergency services training. We will help our cadets learn about and internalize CAP’s Core Values by modeling them at every meeting, at every opportunity.

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End State

How will we define success?

Still in broad terms, everyone should know what a successful mission looks like. Planning small, specific objectives to reach the end state is up to the staff and squadron.

Sample:
We will have a squadron even more successful and vibrant than before. Our squadron will be a respected organization in the wing and in the community; more important, our cadets will be leaders. Their parents will be glad they “lent” them to us. And the cadets themselves will grow into outstanding young men and women who will in turn lead us.

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