Effective militaries are those that not only can project power in various places simultaneously but who do so effectively. As technology and innovation continue to advance and yield new weapon systems, modern militaries should not forget the importance of investing in the style and potential of their soldiers, marines, airmen/airwomen, and sailors’ leadership.
Archaic leadership styles, such as Top-Down command, are quickly becoming obsolete with vast amounts of data to analyze from current global conflicts. Cohesive forces that trust their subordinates to accomplish tasks within their Commander’s intent are more agile and don’t stall when facing adversity. There is a stark contrast between the Russian and the new Ukrainian leadership style. Their battlefield losses and strategic objectives and accomplishments speak for themselves. Armies that continue the path of Top-Down leadership will face the same adversities if they do not adapt and begin investing in a Mission Command approach to leadership.
The Chilean military, one of the most advanced and well-regarded forces in the Western Hemisphere, is heavily investing in their noncommissioned officers (NCOs) as part of their modernization process. Through their NCO modernization efforts, they plan on achieving higher troop cohesion to reach higher levels of Mission Command.
This article will explain how Chile realized that including NCOs in their officer training would benefit unit cohesion and why now; it will dive into Chile’s pilot program and its preliminary results, and it will conclude by highlighting some of the benefits of emulating Chile’s vision.
A national modernization forged by Special Forces
As the Chilean Army undergoes a modernization process to transcend from a territorial-based organization to a ready deployable operational institution capable of projecting power beyond its borders, they have focused on personnel training integration as one of its primary catalyst for change. Focusing on personnel integration is not accidental but a delivered effort grounded on Special Forces (SF) doctrine and a national vision.
General Javier Iturriaga, General Ricardo Martínez, and General Humberto Oviedo Arriagada, the recent commander in chief (CJEs) of the Chilean Army, share an SF background and have methodically shaped the current Chilean training and doctrine to emulate their SF-proven tactics. But proven tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) are tools that can easily fall apart without the cohesion of unit culture, trust, and engaged leaders. Therefore, the recent CJEs have directed the Chilean division of school and doctrine (DIVEDUC) to take the necessary steps to further integrate NCOs and commissioned officers across all internal branches, a key component of their SF doctrine and mission command.
“Think that trust, synergy, and cohesion are key elements to mission success in the SF line of work. The CJEs provided the what, and DIVEDUC provided the how. We will continue to refine the process to improve as an institution.”
Additionally, this directive reflects the human dimension of the Chilean Army’s 2015-2026 development plan captured on their released AZIMUTH force document.[i] The implementation is designed to be completed in three phases (Phase 1, 2015-2018 rationalization, functionality, and completion of capacities; Phase 2, 2019-2022 Completion and capabilities incrementation; and Phase 3, 2023-2026 Increments and consolidation of capabilities) which are aligned with the service periods of CJEs.[ii] This gradual methodology, tied to top leadership’s service years, ensures that modernization plans continue their course without significant deviations.
Thus, one of the Chilean Army’s modernization goals is to create integrated teams with a solid primary group foundation, a sociology term that is present in DIVEDUC’s rationale and that we will cover on the “why should other nations emulate Chile.”
As we zoom out to the national macro level, we can observe similar patterns across the other major Chilean services. The Chilean Navy, the Chilean Air Force, and the Chilean Marines have similar integration goals captured on their respective modernization goals and service magazines. For example, the Chilean Air Force War Academy is taking notice of the valuable benefits of training integration reflected in their November 2020 communiqué.[iii]
“The troops will receive additional training opportunities to obtain an advanced comprehension of command architecture and joint control… This concept will also identify lessons learned that will be distributed across joint warfighters.”[iv]
As noted, the Chilean Army’s personnel training integration is not a branch-specific effort but a national modernization guided by similar integration goals based on their five mission pillars (Defense, National emergency and civil protection, international cooperation, national development, and contribution to state actions, and security interests within their respective domains).[v]
In all, the Army’s integration efforts are mirrored, to different degrees, across the other Chilean services and, thus, becoming a national integration effort. This catalyst for change will not only build a more cohesive Chilean Armed Forces but could increase effective international cooperation with NATO countries, as higher NCO development and integration is part of our shared doctrine. For example, the number one priority of the commander of United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), General Laura J. Richardson, is to Strengthen Partnerships, while Officer/NCO integration and development is the second pillar of this priority.[vi]
As Chile continues to modernize and integrate NCOs in its training pipeline, other neighboring countries should follow suit and share lessons learned to achieve additional hemispheric joint defense. To counter the security threats the hemisphere faces, we must build an interoperable and synergic team; strengthening our partnership, and NCO involvement is critical to face our common challenges.
Chile’s Pilot program, inside their education
As world militaries analyze the unfolding fight in Ukraine, most are rethinking the effectiveness of their current Military Power analysis systems. By all parameters, the Ukrainian effort to resist the Russian invasion, regardless of NATO support, should have ended in 1-4 weeks max, concluding with the “inevitable” Russian victory.[vii] Military Power, solely analyzed from a material resources perspective, cannot predict actual battle outcomes.
At the moment of this writing, the war is in its ninth month, the Ukrainians are conducting major counter-offensives to regain their territory, and the Russian military is on retreat, despite vowing to protect the newly illegally annexed provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson.
But if the traditional ceteris paribus of weapons/platforms, force structure, unit readiness, and sustainability hold true, how is Ukraine (number 22), with considerable external support, fighting off the alleged second most powerful Army in the world?[viii]
This is because assessing military power without taking force employment and the ability of militaries to conduct Mission Command is a significant error.
One of the primary functions of the Chilean Training and Doctrine (DIVEDUC) is to analyze and implement the lessons learned from past and current conflicts to train the Chilean military.
Although the Chilean military has not fought in an international conflict since the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), their constant analysis of global conflicts and their modernization efforts have given them the reputation of one of the most capable militaries in the world.
Their latest implementation comprises the inclusion of 400 NCOs in the War College (ACAGUE) and other officer development training missions. This pioneering effort has yielded positive results as graduating officers better understand the essential NCO roles and responsibilities and how to implement them to achieve mission command effectively. Simultaneously, the Chilean NCO corps, who once had a distant understanding of how the officer corps creates and establishes operational directives, is now involved in the planning by assisting officers with their respective expertise.
When interviewing Lieutenant Colonel Cristian Lauriani, the director of ACAGUE’s educational division, the mission objective of this training shift was apparent; the Chilean military wants to achieve greater cohesion between their officers and NCO corps to execute actual mission command.
Proper mission command goes beyond orders and requires an environment of freedom and trust between leaders that fosters disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders.
The new Chilean training vision and structure is the antithesis of the historical “top-down” command style prevalent in many other armies. Top-down command, a hierarchical management style, inhibits trust and freedom, eroding initiative by subordinates. Moreover, information tends to flow slowly in one direction. Without accurate input from ground officers and NCOs, the battalion and above staff’s estimates, given to the ground force commander, are inaccurate and often irrelevant.
In stark contrast with the Chilean new command direction efforts, the current Russian military fighting in Ukraine forbids junior officers and NCOs from taking adaptive initiative resulting in calamitous breakdowns when general officers are killed on the front line. For example, the 40-mile stalled convoy hampered by fuel and food shortages on its way to Kyiv or the Russian inability to effectively coordinate fires and maneuver across the battlefield. Poor command structure and inability to trust subordinates have resulted in the confirmed death of 14 generals and between 60,000-80,000 Russian soldiers since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24.[ix]
Top-Down leadership’s poor results erode internal trust and affect Russian civil-military relations as the Executive Branch is allegedly involved in the war effort at the colonel/brigadier general level.[x] While the effects of the current erosion of trust are evident, analysts have yet to assess how these losses will entirely shape future Russian doctrine.
Like the United States Armed Forces, the Chilean military is developed from within. Senior and middle leaders are not hired from outside the organization but rise from within their respective services over their entire careers. Therefore, DIVEDUC’s development of today will affect the doctrinal success of tomorrow, as leaders are responsible for the next generations’ teaching, coaching, and mentoring.[xi]
One of the critical functions of NCOs under mission command is that they enable force employment by being responsible for the development and care of their subordinates. NCOs are the primary teachers and represent the professionalism of their service. Professional NCO instruction goes beyond ensuring that all subordinates possess the required skills to conduct daily operations. A skilled NCO corps, under mission command, develop subordinates with the disciplined initiative to accomplish the commander’s intent autonomously.
“Professional NCO Corps take care of their people so their people can take of the mission.”[xii]
DIVEDUC’s future NCOs will not only inherit the professionalism taught by the current Chilean NCO corps but will be coached and mentored under this new integration strategy. Professionally integrated Chilean NCOs will provide feedback and encouragement to ensure that subordinates have the skills, competence, and confidence required of the profession of arms.
On the other hand, symbiotically, commissioned officers will increase their trust and positive perception of the invaluable contributions a professional NCO brings under mission command.
In all, assessing military power without taking force employment and the ability of militaries to conduct Mission Command is a significant error. Thus, evaluating actual battle outcomes based on material inputs overestimates well-equipped but poorly handled armies — such as the Soviets in Afghanistan 1979 — and underestimates poorly equipped but well-handled forces — such as the North Vietnamese 1965-72.[xiii] DIVEDUC’s correct assessment of integrating NCOs inside the Officer development will increase the Army’s professionalism and modernization and serve as a catalyst for change.
The socio-cultural and readiness benefits of emulating Chile’s vision
From facing global pandemics and enduring economic collapses to elevating the importance of indigenous rights and recognition, the Western Hemisphere has faced a heightened socio-cultural transformation in the early 21st century. Traditionally archaic entities, such as the Armed Forces, are becoming transformed by the new realities emerging among the hemisphere’s 600+ million men and women of Indigenous, European, African, and Asian descent.
These various recent socio-cultural changes and new scenarios faced by the armed forces have prompted complex adaptation efforts inside these institutions. Despite the studies and investigations that are disclosed year after year on the subject of the Armed Forces and society, its knowledge continues to be very limited, particularly in Latin America.[xiv] In Chile, the social unrest events of 2019, the global COVID-19 pandemic, and their latest referendum for a new constitution have changed society and, thus, its military fabric.
As Chile, and the entire hemisphere, continue to navigate the socio-cultural changes of the 21st century, investing in personnel integration, and cohesion becomes paramount to mission success. Chile’s DIVEDUC has decided to invest in the sociology concept of Primary Groups and the proven benefits of mission command; others should follow suit.
Primary Groups refer to personal, direct, face-to-face, relatively permanent, and intimate relationships, such as those in a family, a group of close friends, or a military platoon or section.[xv] This concept has been utilized by many militaries across history, from the Athenian Hoplite to the WWI and WWII German soldiers, to modern NATO militaries.
“It’s been proven across history that soldiers rarely fight for King and Country but for their comrades. In a world where technology provides fast conflicting information at your fingertips, having primary group cohesion ensures that our soldiers focus on the mission at hand.”
As a result, DIVEDUC, following the CJE’s directive, has begun investing in Officer/NCO integration further to increase the Army’s cohesion amidst a fast-changing world. DIVEDUC understands that higher collaboration opportunities in training environments where rank is immaterial, such as the US Army’s Ranger School, have led to greater understanding and appreciation for each other’s roles.
Besides analyzing foreign military schools, DIVEDUC has dived into relevant socio-cultural studies such as Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad (Armed Forces and Society) by Chilean Army Brigadier General Jose Miguel Piuzzi Cabrera and Organizational Culture and the Military by U.S. Army Colonel Charles B. Breslin, or research published by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.
Training observations backed by socio-cultural studies across Chile and foreign militaries have led DIVEDUC to begin adding NCOs to their officer development schools. ACAGUE, whose rich history dates back to 1886, was the pioneering institution inside the Chilean Army. Positive results on their first iteration (May 2022) have led to further expansions into branch-specific developmental training exercises. Although the latest training data has not been published, positive feedback and results are expected, which could lead to additional increases.
Besides primary group cohesion, NCO integration also changes the current command culture, leadership style, and operating concept of the Chilean military for a mission command-focused organization. The mutual trust gained from integration will empower subordinates, amid the chaos and uncertainty of modern warfare, to lead boldly, take the initiative, and make decisions within the commander’s intent.[xvi]
Other militaries across the hemisphere should emulate Chile’s integration efforts and push toward mission command as the battlefield of the 21st-century demands troops that can exercise disciplined initiative amid uncertainty. To clarify, “the battlefield” of the 21st century does not necessarily stop at warlike scenarios. Our militaries are often called to conduct anti-narcotics operations, construct centers to fight global pandemics, or perform border security operations, to name a few. Each new scenario, each socio-cultural change, and each new mission could benefit from the cohesion, flexibility, and autonomy that mission command provides.
The mission command model is easy to understand; it’s harder to explain with words and incredibly hard to exercise in its entire concept. But just because it’s hard to execute fully, our militaries should not abandon this higher pursuit of leadership.
In conclusion, the recent changes adopted by the Chilean military, directed by their CJEs and expertly executed by DIVEDUC, will yield dividends for current and future generations. The poor proven results of Top-Down leadership are palpable across the current Russo-Ukrainian conflict. The Western Hemisphere militaries should emulate Chile’s efforts and strive toward a more dynamic concept of leadership. DIVEDUC’s approach of creating primary groups that could lead to Mission Command will positively affect their tactical, operational, and strategic levels. As Chile continues to look toward the future, we all should learn from the present and join their efforts of creating cohesive institutions that value and actively invest in their NCO corps. Only by integration, not separation, only by trust, not mistrust, and only with Mission Command, not Top-Down leadership, can we face the obstacles of the 21st century.
Chile is a step ahead. Should your military be as well?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members.
[i] Ejército, D. C. (2017). Azimuth 2026: Estrategia de desarrollo del Ejército de Chile. Estado Mayor del Ejército de Chile.
[iii] J. J. (2020). EE.UU: Entrenamiento conjunto contra drones de pequeño tamaño. ACADEMIA DE GUERRA AÉREA. https://fach.mil.cl/images/boletin_aga/boletin_45_20.pdf
[v] (2022). Áreas de Misión. Armada de Chile. https://www.armada.cl/nuestra-armada/areas-de-mision
[vi] Richardson, L. J. (2022). SOUTHCOM Commander’s Priorities. U.S. Southern Command. https://www.southcom.mil/Commanders-Priorities/
[vii] Jim Sciutto, (2022). US Concerned Kyiv could fall to Russia within days, sources familiar with intel say. https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/25/politics/kyiv-russia-ukraine-us-intelligence/index.html
[viii] (2022). GLOBAL FIREPOWER 2022. GLOBAL FIREPOWER. https://www.globalfirepower.com
[ix] STROZEWSKI, Z. (2022). Russian Losses Fueled by New Units Untrained in ‘Basic’ Weaponry: Ukraine. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/russian-losses-fueled-new-units-untrained-basic-weaponry-ukraine-1755259
[x] Sabbagh, D. (2022). Russian Losses Fueled by New Units Untrained in ‘Basic’ Weaponry: UkrainePutin involved in war ‘at level of colonel or brigadier’, say western sources. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/16/putin-involved-russia-ukraine-war-western-sources
[xi] (2013). The Noncommissioned Officer and Petty Officer- Backbone of the Armed Forces. United States Department of Defense.
[xiii] Biddle, S. (2006). Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Princeton University Press.
[xiv] Piuzzi, J. M. (2021). Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad: Efectos de los cambios socioculturales y de los nuevos escenarios en la singularidad de lo militar. Historia Chilena.
[xv] (2022). Primary group. Enciclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/primary-group
[xvi] Connor, B. (2022). Mission Command spurring Ukrainian success. What’s on the Move. https://whosonthemove.com/mission-command-spurring-ukrainian-success/