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Introduction to Plans and Orders

Leaders must communicate their expectations and intent through clear, direct, and purposeful orders to maximize the effectiveness of an operation. High-quality communication sets the conditions for success; poor-quality communication results in the confusion and disorientation of the force. 

Clear plans and orders provide subordinates with the intent (reason) for conducting the mission, the tasks to be accomplished in their necessary order to meet the mission's end state ("what success looks like"), and the methods for coordinating between forces to ensure the maximum cooperation and effective effort by everyone involved in supporting the mission.

Plans and orders must be detailed enough to provide guidance as to how the mission will be executed but allow for subordinate forces to have enough flexibility to accomplish their objectives as the mission environment changes (evolves) during the operation. 


What is a plan?

Simply put, a plan is a designed intent to execute a future or anticipation operation. Plans provide a strategic or tactical approach to carrying out missions which can be adapted to varying scenarios. 

Plans are oftentimes pre-built to provide options which can be selected or slightly modified once an upcoming operation becomes known or imminent. For example, military commanders may have their staffs develop a series of plans to choose from which can be executed (as an order) depending on what information or conditions become known in the future. 

There are three main types of military-style plans: 

  • Operations Plan (OPLAN)

    • Provides a plan to prepare for an upcoming operation, the details of which may still be evolving

    • Becomes an Operation Order (OPORD) when the commander sets an execution time and authorizes the mission to be conducted 

  • Service Support Plan (or Sustainment Plan)

    • Provides instructions for preparing to provide administrative, logistical, and sustainment support for the forces preparing to conduct an operation

    • Becomes effective when the OPORD is authorized

  • Contingency Plan

    • Provides instructions to be executed when an anticipated situation arises

    • Comparable to a "backup plan" ("If this situation occurs, do these things...")


What is an order?

Orders are instructions from a superior to a subordinate—delivered via written, verbal, or signaled means—to convey tasks and expectations to be carried out (executed). An order differs from a plan in that it has a specific date and time as to when a mission will be conducted whereas a plan only provides guidance for preparing to execute a mission based on perceived information. Orders contain facts. Plans contain assumptions. 

Orders are often confused with commands; however, while orders contain the details of the execution concept, commands do not provide that level of instruction.

There are five main types of military-style orders:

  • Warning Order (WARNO)

    • Provides the initial communication of an upcoming mission with details for subordinate forces to begin preparing to conduct the operation

    • Is updated and redistributed as more information becomes known before the Operation Order is distributed

  • Operation Order (OPORD)

    • Provides clear instruction for the execution of a mission

    • Assembled in five paragraphs:

      • Situation

      • Mission

      • Execution

      • Service Support (Administration and Logistics Support or Sustainment)

      • Command and Signal

  • Fragmentary Order (FRAGO)

    • Provides updated information as the mission changes or new details are learned

    • Used to amend or modify the original OPORD without a complete rewrite, communicating only the critical changes to the operation

  • Service Support Order

    • Directs the administrative, logistical, and sustainment support for the forces conducting a mission

    • May be written into an OPORD or compiled separately to be distributed to a supporting unit for a larger-scale effort

  • Movement Order

    • Provides instruction for the movement of the command element in the Area of Operation (AO)

    • Typically constructed and overseen by the S4 staff office to ensure the success of logistical tasks supporting the command echelon and command post


Characteristics of Effective Plans and Orders

  • Affirmative — Write only in positive expressions of what is to be accomplished and not what is not to be accomplishes (e.g., "Personnel must bring wet weather gear" versus "Personnel should not wear shorts or t-shirts"). 

  • Authoritative — Commanders must convey their intent to their subordinates. Expectations and objectives must be clear if commanders want their subordinates to actually accomplish the mission being tasked. 

  • Brief — Write with a purpose and stick to the point of the plan or order. Statements should be short and specific. Plans and orders should not be essay-like when written. 

  • Clear and concise — Avoid using unnecessary words or broad statements which do not provide specific instruction (e.g., "Be on time for work" versus "Rally at the assembly point no later than 0800").

  • Complete — Plans and orders need a "starting point" and "finish line." The objective must make sense, and subordinates must have an easy understanding of how to "get there." 

  • Coordinated — Commanders must ensure that "all of the moving parts" make sense for the operation, particularly in the structure and interfacing between units. The maneuvering forces must interface with their support elements, and the support elements must interface with each other. The plan has to make sense. 

  • Flexible — The control of the operation must be balanced in a manner which provides adequate command and oversight while allowing subordinates the freedom to maneuver and complete tasks in a manner which works for the size and complexity of the operation

  • Simple — The easiest plan to understand is the one that isn't complicated or confusing. Do not include too many unnecessary steps. Avoid deviating from standard operating procedures unless that deviation makes sense for this particular operation. 

  • Timely — Commanders need to ensure that the mission can not only be conducted in an adequate timeframe but that planning and preparations can also be conducted. Refer back to the One-Third, Two-Thirds Rule

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