TACTICS: COMMAND STRUCTURE
What is the smallest unit of your army? Who commands these units? What’s the quality of these commanders? How much initiative are they allowed? How much initiative are they capable of? Dronn was pretty much gluthon meat after the Earthlings blew up his command craft. His subordinates couldn’t even carry out simple commands like, “Don’t fire the main weapon! The Earthlings know it’s our weak point!”
And it is not just Dronn. Looking at past invasions, I didn’t see any units capable of operating as small squads. Everything was always centrally located and controlled. All communications were routed through one enormous base, and a handful of commanders made all the decisions, right down to the smallest detail.
It proved a poor decision every time. The Earthlings only had to take out one installation for the whole damn invasion force to grind to a halt.
Command structure is pretty basic stuff. It’s one of the most fundamental concepts in a professional military. It was only in late antiquity that armies were commanded by a single autocratic ruler. In the history of warfare, it soon became apparent that a corps of professional officers was necessary to command an army more complex than a few hundred. Even modern dictatorships need a professional corps. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons total dictatorships have such a lousy track record in modern warfare; they deliberately discourage officers from becoming too competent so they don’t pose a serious threat to the autocrat running the show. Most of you are dictators, and most of you do have a lousy track record when it comes to warfare, and this was before you were routed on Earth. And the reason is you all discourage your professional officer corps from becoming too competent.
Most of you don’t have any chains of command. You have masters, and you have slaves with guns. That’s not an army. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. If you knew anything about military professionals, you’d know they weren’t a real threat. There are a handful of autocrats in the galaxy who have lasted quite a long time because they trust their officers to lead their armies.
First thing you learn as a soldier, whether you’re a lowly recruit in basic training or a wannabe officer in the academy, is that there’s always somebody that you have to salute. If you’re any good, people will salute you, but there’s always going to be somebody above you until you get to be supreme leader. Or me. I never salute anyone, but hell, most of my clients know what they’re getting ahead of time.
Individual troops answer to a corporal or sergeant who answers to an officer, and so on up the line. But the beauty of it is, there’s always somebody in control, always somebody responsible for a unit, a general leading a brigade, a captain leading a company, a corporal leading a squad, or the senior man in a fire team. That means, even if the big headquarters gets blown up, the army is not totally leaderless. The army can still fight, and it will, because that’s what they’ve been trained to do. Or that’s what they should have been trained to do.
I talked about initiative when it comes to troop selection. Here’s where it pays off. If just one guy is making the decisions, the army is inflexible. It can’t react to fast changing situations. The supreme leader can only issue so many orders in a day. He can only read so many reports. It’s impossible for him to be making decisions on every individual firefight in a campaign that spans an entire damn planet!
The supreme commander should be focused on the big picture. Believe me, there’s enough happening at the top levels that he won’t have time for anything else. The supreme headquarters sets the objectives, but the armies have to be able to manage themselves. And in those armies, the individual units have to handle themselves. Let the guys actually in the firefight take care of things.
As such, the supreme HQ is always, always in a secure area. Most of the time that’s going to mean in orbit or on the planet’s moon or maybe further out. Someplace where the commanders can observe and receive reports in complete safety.
But having a safe HQ is just the first step. From that distance, you can’t make day-to-day decisions concerning your forces. Believe me, that’s a good thing.
The Munificent Drog of Carras Four was one of the worst examples of a dictator it was ever my displeasure to meet. He kept everything under his control. I mean, down to the smallest detail. So what happened was pretty predictable. The Scarmans launched an attack right when he was asleep and he wasn’t available to release several reserve armor units to contain the beachhead. The beachhead expanded, and pretty soon the Scarmans had a huge numerical superiority. Old Drog wouldn’t see sense. He insisted his armies would not retreat, and forbade even minor tactical withdrawals. So what happened? His forces were crushed or surrounded and cut off. Shockingly, his own men tried to kill him. Too bad they failed.
Having a strong, professional chain of command is vital for success. It’s the mark of a strong, competent force.
Now that we established the principle of a chain of command, how do you execute it? At the squad level, it’s easy. You have the NCOs or experienced troopers handle the responsibility. When you get to larger units, you need an actual headquarters unit. From the theater command down to army group, army, division, regiment, battalion, each will have a dedicated headquarters unit. Sometimes individual companies or platoons will have headquarters units. These can be nothing more than a communications operator attached to the company or platoon leader. At the division, regiment, and battalion levels you need Headquarters or Command and Control Units. You may even need multiple CNC units. One acts as the main CNC that will be stationed back from the frontlines, and have most of the formation’s long-range artillery support under its command. The second CNC will be toward the front, though still far enough back that it can observe the conditions and progress of the battle. The final CNC might be a reserve command in the rear area in charge of training replacements, repairs to equipment and vehicles, soldiers on leave. The third CNC could also be a forward command in the field if the front covers a lot of area.
The main CNC will have secure communications with the next level in the chain of command and secure communications with their subordinate units. They’ll have troops to act as runners just in case communications go down. Maps and battle plans are kept here so the commander can monitor and keep track of the situation. The commander will have the supporting elements for his formation either under his direct control, or will be in constant communication with them. Obviously, if this unit is destroyed, captured, or compromised it’s a big freaking problem for the formation. Which is why some armies have three of them in every large unit. If one is captured or destroyed, the assistant commanders can take over and the entire formation isn’t utterly wiped out with one lucky strike.
Most wireless communications devices use low-level radiation or energy to transmit signals. This is very effective, but the problem is the humans are capable of listening in if they discover the right frequency. During the first invasions of Earth, there wasn’t much danger of communications being decoded. The Earthlings had never before encountered extraterrestrial languages. But after numerous failed invasions, they’ve learned quite a bit. Most of us speak a version of Galactic Common. By now, the Earth has heard enough that they pose a real eavesdropping threat. There are ways to communicate that can’t be intercepted, such as between two entangled electrons. But that’s a complex set up, and it would be cost prohibitive to have more than one such apparatus, which should be dedicated to home world communications. There are ESPers and telepaths, but Earth has their own telepaths, and has started using them; another reason to rethink any future invasion plans you may have.
You’re going to have to accept that your communicators can be intercepted by the humans. That’s why you have to practice communications safety. The signals should be scrambled, but the messages should also be encoded. And keep a steady stream of dummy broadcasts going. It becomes a lot harder to pick out the one important message in a sea of fakes.
That’s what command and control is really all about; communications. It’s about making sure that the orders from up top are delivered quickly and efficiently to the rest of the army. But the most vital thing to remember, and here’s where you make your biggest mistake, is that communication flows the other way. Information from the battlefield has to make its way back to you, the commander. Your squad leaders, NCOs, and officers are all feeding you vital information because the battle is constantly changing. If your unit leaders are any good at all, they will be adapting with it. Sooner or later, you the commander will have to adapt, because no plan is perfect. That’s where most people mess up.
In too many cases, your communications only flow in one direction. You never listen to the guys in the field, probably because they tell you things you don’t want to hear. You tell the troops to attack, and they attack even if the situation dictates otherwise. And you wonder why things go down the crapper the second your communications are cut off. If your troops weren’t already mindless drones, all your nonsensical orders and micromanaging sucked them dry of whatever initiative they might have possessed.
Command and control is about a lot more than blind obedience. It’s about making sure things run smoothly when you’re not there to look over everyone’s shoulder. It’s about making sure that you as commander know the real situation at all times, even if that situation isn’t pleasant. Finally, it’s about being a professional and allowing those under you to be professionals. Give them space so they do their jobs. If you do, it will make your job go a whole lot smoother.