The Wavell Room
Concepts and Doctrine People and Leadership

Radio Silence – A Lesson in Mission Command

While practising radio silence on a recent exercise I realised just how reliant I had become on technology. It had made me lazy and more controlling than I would like to admit.

In Eastern Europe 2014 a column of Mechanised and Air Mobile forces from the Ukrainian Army was struck by a devastating rocket bombardment lasting only 3 minutes. The result was over 100 casualties and many vehicles destroyed.  It initially seemed as if the column had been targeted with Electronic Warfare (EW) assets; a sensor that detects radio transmissions and sends the location back to the rocket battery for targeting.  This is a worrying prospect for any military commander; that enemy artillery could home in on a radio transmission. This development leads us to adapt and overcome.  An easy way to combat enemy EW capabilities would be to impose radio silence; an exercise often talked about, but rarely actually done.  Up to now in my career I had never exercised radio silence and I found the concept of not being able to communicate with my subordinates during a task uncomfortable. So, on a recent exercise we gave the enemy forces EW and an artillery capability, forcing us to impose radio silence.  What I learned was much more than how to combat EW and the technicalities of imposing radio silence, but a lesson in leadership, mission command and empowerment.

The first mission, anti-armour ambush, I briefed as I usually would with a clear intent and key timings, but also imposed radio silence. Overall the action went well and the task was performed to the same standard as it would be using radios throughout. However, the ambush was sprung on a lone enemy vehicle moving along the track.  The team understood the intent: destroy enemy armour, and acted. However, a larger column came through later untouched. With radios, I would have said: ‘hold fire,’ on the lone vehicle. More detail in my brief covering all eventualities would have prevented this. Here I discovered that radios had made me lazy in my briefing because I knew I could control it well during the action.

So, for the next exercise I made sure I considered all eventualities and briefed the commanders applying more timings and constraints where necessary. When can you break radio silence? What should you do if you lose comms? What should you do if you get cut off? And if all else fails, destroy all enemy tanks and meet back at the rendezvous No Later Than 0230hrs.  This time I witnessed several changes in the unit. I saw junior commanders making decisions, good decisions, without any direction from me. One of the teams missed their pick up and rather than speak on the radio trying to rearrange it they carried out their task on foot successfully. Other teams encountered difficulties during the mission but they knew the intent and end state and were able to complete their tasks without further direction for 36hrs of radio silence.

Overall it was a liberating exercise. It showed me that my subordinates are incredibly intelligent, capable soldiers who, when empowered, given a clear intent and detailed set of constraints can be released on task and will carry it out to a high standard without further direction. All I needed to do was trust them. It was also a relief for them not hearing me over the radio always asking for an update. Radio silence is the ultimate exercise in mission command and is tactically relevant. Try asking yourself: Am I enquiring because I need to or because I can?

The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to

British Army

Will has 6 years of hands on infantry leadership experience

Related posts

British Airborne Forces in the Contemporary Operating Environment


The Tactical Impact of Strategic Decisions; Accommodation


Train Like a Predator, Not Like Prey


Leave a Reply

4 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
The BullPeter R-BlackburnDan ColeA2_MatelotBobJo Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

An interesting article, I am not sure whether to be annoyed that you didn’t trust your junior commanders in the first place or admire your honesty. Either way I guess we are all guilty of the same or similar faults, worse still this also transcends to everyday work. The connectivity we currently enjoy in our everyday life from emails to mobiles and the ability to keep an eye on what our ‘team’ are doing through multiple means / what’s app. Maybe we should not only practice Mission Command through imposing Radio Silence on exercise, maybe we should be on Mobile… Read more »

The Bull
The Bull

Thank you Luke and David (The cyber effect: it’s here to stay), both your comments on how we better organise and integrate our disparate cyber capabilities within defence, and broader – within government – as well as the opportunities that this new domain bring, are fascinating for those of us who operate at the tactical level. You both identify that there is a perception that we are behind the power curve in the UK and that there is some cynicism about this area at the tactical level. I am not sure about how we should reorganise this capability to increase… Read more »

Peter R-Blackburn
Peter R-Blackburn

EW can only detect flesh and bone when this is using radio, eyes and ears plus the best computer ever used(the human brain) will always out-wit the very best techs available to the bad boys, or aggressors, add this to the surprise of sudden and deadly fire-power..really is the only way in this world of possible conflict ,..IMO

Dan Cole
Dan Cole

Good article with some interesting sentiments. Mission command and communication are inseparable. Your Main Effort, timings and intent are all provided to ensure that junior commanders have the ability to achieve the aim with limited follow-on direction. We do not practice this in reality and imposing radio silence would seem to be a great way to test it. I echo BobJo’s comment too. Perhaps we could impose a radio silence on the number of emails that we send to each other within a camp. One of the great benefits of working in close proximity is that we can meet and… Read more »

%d bloggers like this: