Origin of the phrase Command and Control

Robert Gudmestad's picture


A colleague of mine is working on a project in environmental history and came across the phrase “command and control” in resource management to describe a rather authoritarian management style. I told him I think the phrase has military origins but cannot pin down any sources to that effect. Could someone point the direction to the origin or early use of the phrase?


Robert Gudmestad

Associate Professor

Colorado State University



Categories: Query

Not sure if anyone has replied but the term Command and Control, often referred to as simply C2 in the military, can be found in U.S. Army Field Manuals  (FM 3-0).  FM 3-0 states command and control is; the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commanding officer over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission.

This is the official Dept of Def definition; The exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission. Command and control functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling forces and operations in the accomplishment of the mission.

The 1988 NATO definition: Command and control is the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated [individual] over assigned [resources] in the accomplishment of a [common goal].

US Army Study on Command and Control; http://www.history.army.mil/books/Vietnam/Comm-Control/

Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication; http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/mcdp6/ch1.htm

Brent Atkinson

Military Historian, Dept of Defense

I have no citations for this, but the way I've always explained the two terms and their relationship is:  Command is the process of assigning missions to subordinates that will accomplish the mission of the parent force.  Control is the the assignment of limits, allocation of assets and monitoring of progress necessary to ensure parent force mission accomplishment.  An operations order (in ground force terminology) will contain both command (mission) and control (control measures) elements.  The process sometimes known as battle tracking is part of the control function (monitoring).

In an historical sense, I know that Command and Control (acronated(!) C2) was well entrenched in the military-contractor vernacular in the late 1970's when I first entered that arcane world.  In fact, C2 spawned C3 (Command, Control and Communications), C3I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence) and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) and several other variants that I've, thankfully, forgotten.

 All,  C2.  First heard the term in 1983,  a year after getting my commission in the Navy.   Here is what it meant to me then and means to me now.

Then--command and control, my understanding was focused on the means of the control, primarily communications.  Thus, more often any C2 discussion was really a C3 discussion (command, control, and communications).   Most folks, me inclusive, when they thought about C3 or C2 were focused on the means, not the individual or collective making the decision to control various units in various ways via various communications paths to achieve certain ends.   We talked about "C3 systems"--meaning voice, data and other communications paths, mostly with a view as to how to monitor or interrupt or even intrude on them.

Today- command is the origin, it is where the decisions are made toward the ends to be achieved by the action.   Using the ends ways and means model of strategy (Arthur Lykke), C3 is really about ways and means, not ends.  But the command piece is the entry point that takes one to an individual or collective making the decision. Today the command portion is further complicated by smart machines, but people are still writing the algorithms and programming these things.  Bottom line, we spend all this time on networks and C2 "architectures," but very little on the person making the "command" decision that roles through the other two 'c's toward achieving actions that are supposed to achieve particular ends.   

Example, C3 for an air defense system.   There are procedures and people in place who control radars, sensors, and weapons.  They get a contact (a target or a track in the lexicon we used), but someone must act on that.  They use pre-existing doctrine, combined with parameters for the way the system is designed, their own experience, and finally judgment to make a decision--shoot that track down, or 'cover' (monitor) that track with a weapons (or an aircraft, which brings another decision maker into the loop), or tag it as friendly and push it to the edge of the decision chain.  This all happens using various communications paths and control mechanisms. See what I am saying?  All too often c2/C3 discussions are focusing not the person making the decisions, the people designing the system to be employed by the system, the people designing the system and writing the doctrine and why they do it, and just focus on the externals--the gadgets if you will--of the control and communications and what they control and communicate, NOT WHO is doing the commanding. Understanding the ‘who’ is the most important element, followed by understanding the doctrinal context that the WHO resides within as he/they make decisions to employ military force and capability.

r, John (Kuehn),  Platte City, MO