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Beyond Auftragstaktik: The Case Against Hyper-Decentralized Command

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Journal Article - Open Access

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U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth United States

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The U.S. Armys mission command doctrine has sparked considerable discussion and criticism among Service professionals. Most agree that mission command is the right approach for commanding and controlling Army formations. However, some argue that the Armys de facto implementation of mission command fails to live up to its intellectual predecessor, Auftragstaktik,1 a Prusso-German command philosophythat emphasizes decentralization, commanders intent, and low-level initiative. 2 These critics maintain that the Army must decentralize command as much as possible in order to realize the Auftragstaktik ideal. This article sets out to show that the argument for hyper decentralized command is flawed and that the concept itself is dangerous. The case for hyper-decentralization relies on a misinterpretation of Auftragstaktik, which underappreciates the role of planning and coordinating in Prusso-German warfighting. Moreover, decentralizing as much as possible is no guarantee of command effectiveness and is often harmful. This is not to say, however, that the current approach iseffective. Army doctrine advises commanders to balance centralization and decentralization. This static approach fails to account for the dynamic nature of operational context. It also frequently results in overly centralized control because many Army commanders lack trust in subordinates, are uncomfortable with uncertainty, and are risk-averse. Ultimately, mission command must enable forces to win by bridging the gap between doctrine and operational context. It must resolve the inherent tension between centralization and decentralization. Mission command must allow forces to mass combat power on decisive points while remaining adaptable to emergent opportunities and threats. Perhaps most important, it must enable the commander to operate in diverse, dynamic, and violently entropic operational contexts. An iterative approach to mission command is necessary to satisfy these requirements.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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