Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 1 – Section VI – Tactical Decisionmaking

Section vI — Tactical Decisionmaking


1-132.  Tactical decisionmaking is one of the primary ways leaders influence subordinates to accomplish their mission. It is a process of the leader collecting information, employing a decisionmaking process, and giving an order to subordinates (Figure 1-12). The information leaders use to make decisions comes from the higher headquarters, the environment, and the common operating picture (COP). The processes used at the Infantry platoon and squad levels are troop-leading procedures (TLP) during planning and preparation, and actions on contact during execution. The combat order is the method of giving subordinates orders. Throughout this process of decisionmaking, leaders continuously assess the situation and their decisions using the risk management and after-action review (AAR) processes.

Figure 1-12. Tactical decisionmaking process.

1-133.  Decisionmaking involves not only knowing how to make decisions, but knowing if to decide, when to decide, and what to decide. Understanding that once implemented, some commitments are irretrievable, leaders anticipate and understand the activities and consequences that follow their decisions.

supporting concepts

1-134.  U.S. Army leaders use two decision making methods: visualize, describe, direct; and assess, decide, direct. Visualize, describe, and direct assists leaders in battlefield decisionmaking during planning and preparation. This method provides the underlying logic behind the TLP decisionmaking. The assess, decide, and direct method assists leaders in battlefield decisionmaking during operations. It provides the logic underlying the action-on-contact decisionmaking process.

Visualize, Describe, Direct

1-135.  The activities of visualize, describe, and direct are—

– Visualize the operation.

– Describe the visualization to subordinates.

– Direct subordinates with orders that make the visualization a reality.


1-136.  Effective battlefield leadership requires the leader to see through the fog and friction of military action and clearly articulate the mission. Visualizing the battlefield is a conceptual skill that requires the leader to imagine how to accomplish his mission based on the information he receives. Visualization requires critical reasoning and creative thought. Critical reasoning assists the leader in analyzing and understanding the situation. Creative thought enables the leader to merge his understanding of the unique situation with established tactics, techniques, procedures, and unit SOPs to produce a tailored solution to his tactical problem.

1-137.  During operations one of the leader’s primary responsibilities is to develop battlefield visualization. Four simple questions assist the leader in understanding the mission:

– Where do we want to be?

– Where are we now?

– How do we get from here to there?

– What will prevent us from getting there?

1-138.  The leader’s battlefield visualization is the basis for making sound decisions before, during, and after operations. However, it is important for the leader to know how much freedom of action he has in designing his visualization. If the platoon or squad is conducting independent operations, it is likely that he has the freedom to fully develop his visualization. If the leader’s mission involves conducting platoon actions within the context of a larger unit’s operations, the leader has less freedom to develop his visualization. Either way, the leader is always responsible for understanding the next higher leader’s visualization.


1-139.  Once leaders imagine the future and the means needed to achieve it, they influence their subordinates by describing their visualization. Their communication, in common doctrinal terms, concepts, and symbols, helps everyone understand what must be done and how each element contributes to the effort.

1-140.  Leaders who communicate effectively—

– Display good oral, written, and listening skills.

– Persuade others.

– Express thoughts and ideas clearly to individuals and groups.


1-141.  Leaders issue orders to direct subordinates. Examples include combat orders and fire commands. Orders can be oral or written.

Assess, Decide, Direct

1-142.  Leaders assess by monitoring the situation through reports from subordinates and personal observation. The information they receive is then evaluated against how the operation or action was visualized. Leaders make many decisions during execution. Some are planned. Others are unforeseen; so leaders prepare for both. They use combat orders and procedural and positive controls to direct subordinates during execution.

1-143.  Even when things are progressing satisfactorily, certain critical ongoing tasks must be accomplished. At the platoon and squad level these include—

– Focus on the decisive action.

– Ensure security.

– Monitor and adjust control measures.

– Perform battle tracking (control fires and control movement).

– Monitor sustaining actions.


1-144.  Troop-leading procedures (TLP) provide leaders a framework for decisionmaking during the plan and prepare phases of an operation. This eight-step procedure applies the logic of visualize, describe, and direct to the plan and prepare functions of the operations process. Steps in the TLP include:

– Receive the mission.

– Issue a warning order (WARNO).

– Make a tentative plan.

– Initiate movement.

– Conduct reconnaissance.

– Complete the plan.

– Issue the order.

– Supervise and assess.

1-145.  For a complete discussion on making a tentative plan, see Chapter 6.

Receive the Mission

1-146.  Leaders receive their missions in several ways—ideally through a series of warning orders (WARNOs), operation orders (OPORD)s, and briefings from their leader/commander. However, the tempo of operations often precludes this ideal sequence, particularly at the lower levels. This means that leaders may often receive only a WARNO or a fragmentary order (FRAGO), but the process is the same.

1-147.  After receiving an order, leaders are normally required to give a confirmation briefing to their higher commander.  This is done to clarify their understanding of the commander’s mission, intent, and concept of the operation, as well as their role within the operation. The leader obtains clarification on any portions of the higher headquarters’ plan as required.

1-148.  Upon receiving the mission, leaders perform an initial assessment of the situation (mission, enemy, terrain, troops-time, civil [METT-TC] analysis), focusing on the mission, the unit’s role in the larger operation, and allocating time for planning and preparing. The two most important products from this initial assessment should be at least a partial restated mission, and a timeline. Leaders issue their initial WARNO on this first assessment and time allocation.

1-149.   Based on their knowledge, leaders estimate the time available to plan and prepare for the mission.  They issue a tentative timeline that is as detailed as possible. In the process they allocate roughly one-third of available planning and preparation time to themselves, allowing their subordinates the remaining two-thirds. During fast-paced operations, planning and preparation time might be extremely limited. Knowing this in advance enables leaders to emplace SOPs to assist them in these situations.

Issue a Warning Order

1-150.  Leaders issue the initial WARNO as quickly as possible to give subordinates maximum time to plan and prepare. They do not wait for additional information. The WARNO, following the five-paragraph field order format, contains as much detail as available. At a minimum, subordinates need to know critical times like the earliest time of movement, and when they must be ready to conduct operations. Leaders do not delay in issuing the initial WARNO. As more information becomes available, leaders can—and should—issue additional WARNOs.  At a minimum the WARNO normally includes:

– Mission or nature of the operation.

– Time and place for issuing the OPORD.

– Units or elements participating in the operation.

– Specific tasks not addressed by unit SOP.

– Timeline for the operation.

– Rehearsal guidance.

Make A Tentative Plan

1-151.  Once he has issued the initial WARNO, the leader continues to develop a tentative plan. Making a tentative plan follows the basic decisionmaking method of visualize, describe, direct, and the Army standard planning process. This step combines steps 2 through 6 of the military decisionmaking process: mission analysis, COA development, COA analysis, COA comparison, and COA selection. At the Infantry platoon level, these steps are often performed mentally. The platoon leader and squad leaders may include their principal subordinates—especially during COA development, analysis, and comparison.

1-152.  To frame the tentative plan, Army leaders perform mission analysis. This mission analysis follows the METT-TC format, continuing the initial assessment performed in TLP step 1. This step is covered in detail in Chapter 6.

Initiate Movement

1-153.  Movement of the unit may occur simultaneously with the TLPs. Leaders initiate any movement necessary to continue mission preparation or position the unit for execution. They do this as soon as they have enough information to do so, or when the unit is required to move to position itself for the upcoming mission. Movements may be to an assembly area, a battle position, a new AO, or an attack position. They may include movement of reconnaissance elements, guides, or quartering parties. Infantry leaders can initiate movement based on their tentative plan and issue the order to subordinates in the new location.

Conduct Reconnaissance

1-154.  Whenever time and circumstances allow, leaders personally conduct reconnaissance of critical mission aspects. No amount of planning can substitute for firsthand assessment of the situation. Unfortunately, many factors can keep leaders from performing a personal reconnaissance. However, there are several means available to the leader to develop and confirm his visualization. They include: internal reconnaissance and surveillance elements, unmanned sensors, the higher unit’s intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) elements, adjacent units, map reconnaissance, imagery, and intelligence products. One of the most difficult aspects of conducting reconnaissance is the process of identifying what the leader needs to know (the information requirements [IR]).

Complete the Plan

1-155.  During this step, leaders incorporate the result of reconnaissance into their selected course of action (COA) to complete the plan and order. This includes preparing overlays, refining the indirect fire target list, coordinating sustainment and C2 requirements, and updating the tentative plan as a result of the reconnaissance. At the platoon and squad levels, this step normally involves only confirming or updating information contained in the tentative plan. If time allows, leaders make final coordination with adjacent units and higher headquarters before issuing the order.

Issue the Order

1-156.  Infantry platoon and squad leaders normally issue verbal combat orders supplemented by graphics and other control measures. The order follows the standard five-paragraph field order format. Infantry leaders use many different techniques to convey their orders (see Chapter 6). Typically, platoon and squad leaders do not issue a commander’s intent. They reiterate the intent of their company and battalion commanders.

1-157.  The ideal location for issuing the order is a point in the AO with a view of the objective and other aspects of the terrain. The leader may perform reconnaissance, complete the order, and then summon subordinates to a specified location to receive it. At times, security or other constraints make it infeasible to issue the order on the terrain. In such cases, leaders use a sand table, detailed sketch, maps, aerial photos and images, and other products to depict the AO and situation.

Supervise and Assess

1-158.  This final step of the TLP is crucial. Normally unit SOPs state individual responsibilities and the sequence of preparation activities. After issuing the OPORD, the platoon leader and his subordinate leaders must ensure the required activities and tasks are completed in a timely manner prior to mission execution. It is imperative that both officers and NCOs check everything that is important for successful mission accomplishment. The process should include:

– Ensuring the second in command of each element is prepared to execute in their leader’s absence.

– Listening to subordinate operation orders.

– Checking load plans to ensure Soldiers are carrying only what is necessary for the mission and or what was specified in the OPORD.

– Checking the status and serviceability of weapons.

– Checking on maintenance activities of subordinate units.

– Ensuring local security is maintained.

– Conducting rehearsals.

1-159.  Platoons and squads use five types of rehearsals:

(1)     Confirmation brief.

(2)     Backbrief.

(3)     Combined arms rehearsal.

(4)     Support rehearsal.

(5)     Battle drill or SOP rehearsal.


1-160.  Actions on contact involve a series of combat actions, often conducted simultaneously, taken upon contact with the enemy to develop the situation (FM 1-02). Leaders use the actions-on-contact process as a decisionmaking technique when in contact with the enemy. This process should not be confused with battle drills such as Battle Drill “React to Contact.” Battle drills are the actions of individual Soldiers and small units when they come into contact with the enemy.  Action on contact is a leader tool for making decisions while their units are in contact. The process assists the leader in decisionmaking concurrent with fighting his unit and assessing the situation.

1-161.  The logic of assess, decide, and direct underlies the actions-on-contact decisionmaking process. As the leader evaluates and develops the situation, he assesses what is currently happening and its relation to what should be happening. The following four steps must be taken in the actions on contact process.

Step 1 – Deploy and Report

1-162.  This step begins with enemy contact. Figure 1-13 details the forms of contact. This contact may be expected or unexpected. During this step, subordinates fight through the contact with the appropriate battle drill. While this is occurring, leadership has the following primary tasks:

– Fix the enemy.

– Isolate the enemy.

– Separate the enemy forces from each other by achieving fire superiority.

– Report to higher.

– Begin “fighting” for information—actively pursue and gather it.


Figure 1-13. Enemy contact decisionmaking model.

1-163.  During the TLP, leaders develop a vision of how their operation will unfold. Part of this process involves the leader anticipating where he expects the unit to make contact. This enables him to think through possible decisions in advance. If the leader expects contact, he will have already deployed his unit by transitioning from tactical movement to maneuver. Ideally, the overwatching element will make visual contact first. Because the unit is deployed, it will likely be able to establish contact on its own terms. If the contact occurs as expected, the leader goes through the procedure making decisions as anticipated and minor adjustments as required.

1-164.  Regardless of how thorough the leader’s visualization, there will always be cases in which the unit makes unexpected contact with the enemy. In this case, it is essential that the unit and its leader take actions to quickly and decisively take back the initiative.

Step 2 – Evaluate and Develop the Situation

1-165.  This step begins with the leader evaluating and developing the situation. The leader quickly gathers the information he needs to make a decision on his course of action. He does this through either personal reconnaissance or reports from subordinates. At a minimum, the leader needs to confirm the friendly situation and determine the enemy situation using the SALUTE format (size, activity, location, unit, time, and equipment), and enemy capabilities (defend, reinforce, attack, withdraw, and delay). During this analysis, the leader should look for an enemy vulnerability to exploit.

1-166.  As part of developing the situation, the leader seeks a position of advantage to maneuver his force. During this process, the leader considers the following:

– Mutually supporting enemy positions.

– Obstacles.

– The size of the enemy force engaging the unit. (Enemy strength is indicated by the number of enemy automatic weapons, the presence of any vehicles, and the employment of indirect fires.)

– A vulnerable flank to the position.

– A covered and concealed route to the flank of the position.

1-167.  If after his initial evaluation the leader still lacks information, he may attempt one or all of the following to get the information he needs:

– Reposition a subordinate(s) or a subordinate unit.

– Reconnaissance by fire.

– Request information from adjacent units or from the controlling headquarters.

Step 3 – Choose a COA

1-168.  After developing the situation, the leader determines what action his unit must take to successfully conclude the engagement. The leader then determines if the chosen task is consistent with the original COA. If it still applies, he continues the mission. If it is not consistent, he issues a FRAGO modifying the original COA. If the leader is unsure, he continues to develop the situation and seeks guidance from higher. In general, the following options are open to the leader:

– Achieve fire superiority by assault/attack (including standard Infantry battle drills).

– Support by fire for another unit.

– Break contact.

– Defend.

– Bypass enemy position.

1-169.  The order of COAs listed above is relative to the effectiveness of fire and strength of the enemy position. If the enemy is an inferior force, the unit in contact should be able to achieve fire superiority and still have enough elements to conduct movement to attack the enemy force. If the entire unit is needed to gain and maintain fire superiority, the next feasible COA is to establish a support by fire so another element can conduct movement to attack the enemy. If the unit cannot achieve fire superiority, or there is no other element to conduct an assault, the unit breaks contact. If the unit is decisively engaged and cannot break contact, it establishes a defense until assistance from another unit arrives. In some instances, based on METT-TC, the unit may bypass the enemy position.

Step 4 – Execute the COA

1-170.  Following his decision, the leader gives the order. When describing his visualization, he uses doctrinal terms and concepts and the five-paragraph field order format. The leader only needs to state those directions and orders that have changed from the original order and emphasizes other items he deems essential.

1-171.  During this step, the leader must direct the engagement. There are three key things that the leader needs to control: movement; fires; and unit purpose. These controls may be standard procedures or hands-on positive controls.

risk management

1-172.  Risk management is the process leaders use to assess and control risk. There are two types of risk associated with any combat action: tactical hazards that result from the presence of the enemy; and accidental hazards that result from the conduct of operations. All combat incurs both risks. The objective is to minimize them to acceptable levels. The following four considerations will help the leader identify risk to the unit and the mission (see Chapter 4):

– Define the enemy action.

– Identify friendly combat power shortfall.

– Identify available combat multipliers, if any, to mitigate risk.

– Consider the risks: acceptable or unacceptable?

after-action reviews

1-173.   An after-action review (AAR) is an assessment conducted after an event or major activity that allows participants to learn what and why something happened, and most importantly, how the unit can  improve through change. This professional discussion enables units and their leaders to understand why things happened during the progression of an operation, and to learn from that experience. This learning is what enables units and their leaders to adapt to their operational environment. The AAR does not have to be performed at the end of the activity. Rather, it can be performed after each identifiable event (or whenever feasible) as a live learning process.

1-174.  The AAR is a professional discussion that includes the participants and focuses directly on the tasks and goals. While it is not a critique,  the AAR has several advantages over a critique:

– It does not judge success or failure.

– It attempts to discover why things happened.

– It focuses directly on the tasks and goals that were to be accomplished.

– It encourages participants to raise important lessons in the discussion.

– More Soldiers participate so more of the project or activity can be recalled and more lessons can be learned and shared.

1-175.  Leaders are responsible for training their units and making their units adapt. The AAR is one of the primary tools used to accomplish this. It does this by providing feedback, which should be direct and on the spot. Each time an incorrect performance is observed, it should be immediately corrected so it does not interfere with future tasks. During major events or activities, it is not always easy to notice incorrect performances. An AAR should be planned at the end of each activity or event.  In doing so, feedback can be provided, lessons can be learned, and ideas and suggestions can be generated to ensure the next project or activity will be an improved one.

1-176.  An AAR may be formal or informal. Both follow the same format and involve the exchange of observations and ideas. Formal AARs are usually more structured and require planning. Informal AARs can be conducted anywhere and anytime to provide quick learning lessons. The AAR format follows:

– Gather all the participants.

– Go through introductions and rules.

– Review events leading to the activity (what was supposed to happen).

– Give a brief statement of the specific activity.

– Summarize key events. Encourage participation.

– Have junior leaders restate portions of their part of the activity.

1-177.  The art of an AAR is in obtaining mutual trust so people will speak freely. Problem solving should be practical and Soldiers should not be preoccupied with status, territory, or second guessing “what the leader will think.” There is a fine line between keeping the meeting from falling into chaos where little is accomplished, to people treating each other in a formal and polite manner that masks issues (especially with the leader).

1-178.  The AAR facilitator should—

– Remain unbiased throughout the review.

– Ask open-ended questions to draw out comments from all.

– Do not allow personal attacks.

– Focus on learning and continuous improvement.

– Strive to allow others to offer solutions rather than offering them yourself.

– Find solutions and recommendations to make the unit better.

1-179.  To avoid turning an AAR into a critique or lecture—

– Ask why certain actions were taken.

– Ask how Soldiers reacted to certain situations.

– Ask when actions were initiated.

– Ask leading and thought-provoking questions.

– Exchange “war stories” (lessons learned).

– Ask Soldiers to provide their own point of view on what happened.

– Relate events to subsequent results.

– Explore alternative courses of actions that might have been more effective.

– Handle complaints positively.

– When the discussion turns to errors made, emphasize the positive and point out the difficulties of making tough decisions.

– Summarize.

– Allow junior leaders to discuss the events with their Soldiers in private.

– Follow up on needed actions.

Leave a Reply


Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Other Military Sites