Ideally, in a regular military unit, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Its strength is greater than the combined effects of all its individual weapons systems. Its strength lies in its ability to concentrate those effects and combine them with the effects of its neighboring units.
The more agilely it can concentrate and combine those effects, the more lethal the unit is. That agility requires that the unit's constituent sub-units be able to work independently without the need for time-delaying micro-management and in concert with each other toward the common goal of fulfilling the parent unit's mission.
In order to do this, each sub-unit needs to understand the parent unit's mission, what part the sub-unit plays in fulfilling that mission, and what tasks the other sub-units are expected to perform. Given this knowledge and general guidance, each sub-unit can react to changes of the situation on the ground without the need for specific orders. Each sub-unit commander must know how he and his fellows fit into the big picture.
The five paragraph operations order, or OPORD, is designed to convey this general guidance and at the same time to provide detailed enough information for all the sub-units to accomplish the mission while allowing them to remain flexible and to act in concert with each other. The format of an OPORD prepared by a division commander's staff for his brigade commanders is the same format a platoon leader uses when preparing an OPORD for his squad leaders.
The format requires that the unit commander issuing the OPORD restate his parent unit's mission along with the tasks to be performed by neighboring units in the section describing the situation of the friendly forces. The unit commander then states the task he is to play in that mission as his unit's mission. He then describes his intent on how that mission is to be accomplished and assigns the tasks to be performed by his subordinates. This process is repeated by the subordinate commanders on down the chain of command. Thus, at each level of command, troops should know what is going on at least one level above them, with their sister units next to them, and one level below them.
The OPORD's format also allows for meaningful changes to task assignments to be quickly issued during the execution of a mission. A fragmentary order, or FRAGO, can be issued as an update to the OPORD without the need to re-brief all of the OPORD's original information. An example might be when, in response to changed situations, the point of main effort is shifted from one sub-unit's sector to another's, a FRAGO may need only note that shift and order a change of the priorities of indirect fires and other support.
Looking at an OPORD without ever having seen one before, it seems a bit more complicated than that. But, an OPORD must contain enough information for all sub-units to perform their tasks. That will typically include a great deal of information on resupply points, medical extraction points, indirect fire support plans, movement orders, et cetera. A good deal of this information will be in jargon, some of it acronyms, barely decipherable to the uninitiated. However, if you understand the OPORD's template, you can quickly extract its essential guidance.
The OPORD contains five paragraphs: Situation, Mission, Execution, Service and Support, and Command and Signal.
The Situation paragraph contains three sub-paragraphs; enemy, friendly, attachments and detachments. The enemy situation sub-paragraph should list information on enemy disposition, composition, strength, capabilities, and most probable course of action. It should also mention weather and environmental factors and conditions. The friendly situation sub-paragraph should include the mission statements of higher headquarters, and the essential tasks of adjacent and supporting units, such as sister units of higher headquarters and non-organic units providing fire support The attachments and detachments sub-paragraph should list all units attached and any units detached.
This should be a clear and concise statement of the tasks to be accomplished by the unit. It is the commander's restatement of his task in fulfilling the parent unit's mission. The mission statement should be readily understood and should contain the who, what where, when, how, and why of the operation.
This paragraph has five sub-paragraphs; the commander's intent, concept of the operation, tasks to combat units, tasks to combat support units, and co-ordinating instructions. The commander's intent should define the purpose of the operation and the desired end state with respect to the relationship between the force, the enemy, and the terrain. The concept of the operation should address the placement and disposition of the sub-ordinate units, indirect fire plan including priorities of and limits on indirect fires, obstacle plan, ongoing gathering of intelligence, and use of electronic warfare. Tasks to combat units: this is where each combat sub-unit's part in accomplishing the mission is described. Tasks to combat support units: this is where each combat support sub-unit's part in accomplishing the mission is described. Guidance on how the sub-units co-ordinate their efforts is included in the co-ordinating instructions sub-paragraph.
Service and Support
This paragraph describes arrangements for resupply, logistics, transportation, evacuation, or other combat service support matters.
Command and Signal
This paragraph should describe the intended location of the commander and the succession of command should he become unable to continue to exercise command. This paragraph should also describe any signal instructions such as which set of frequencies and call signs (SOI) is to be in effect for the operation.
Okay fine. How does this help me play Steel Beasts?
The Steel Beasts mission editor contains a blank OPORD template in the briefing screen. Although most user written scenarios do not use this template for the briefing, some of the better scenarios do. 3Star's The Bridges at Meragen is such a scenario. Chances are that if a scenario designer took the time to write a complete OPORD as a briefing, he has at some point been trained on how to do it correctly. Paragraph II will contain a clear and concise statement of the mission. Paragraph III will contain instructions for all the sub-units in play, and Paragraph I will contain a description of enemy and neighboring units. Knowing where to find this information and what it means in the context of the OPORD will allow the player to understand how the scenario designer conceptualized the scenario and thus will allow the player to get the most out of playing it. And besides, things like military date-time groups look cool and add to immersion.