Mission planning, METT-TC - Field Leadership - United Task Force (UNITAF) Arma 3

P1-84 Mission planning, METT-TC

UNITAF / Arma 3 / Field Leadership Procedures

Version 1 / 23min read / Updated Tue 25 Feb 2020 / 534 views

All in-game leadership is ultimately focused at working towards mission accomplishment. Regardless of what the particular mission may be, there are certain common steps taken to go from the slot-selection screen of Arma, all the way into the actual mission itself, with the end goal being a solid plan that has been briefed to all players and leaders. This section will cover everything involved in the process, from picking slots to planning and ultimately executing the plan. All players should be familiar with the steps involved, and leaders (or aspiring leaders) should pay extra attention to all that is involved.


The Mission Designer as the 'Higher Headquarters' or "Crossroads"

It is generally understood that the person who developed the mission is acting as the 'Higher Headquarters' during the pre-mission setup phase, or even during the mission in the case of Zeus - be that Company Command at lower playercounts, or Battalion Command at higher playercounts.

What this means is that if the mission commander - be they a Company Commander or Platoon Commander - or other leadership elements have a question that is not covered in the written operations order, the mission designer can act as the higher headquarters and give an answer appropriate to what the 'real' higher HQ would be able to say in such a situation. This is helpful for anything that the leadership needs to know that may have been overlooked or unintentionally unclear in the briefing.


The Briefing Screen

After picking your role, the next pre-mission step is the briefing stage. During this, all players will have access to the in-game map, the briefing, notes, gear loadouts, and will be able to place map markers and text to assist in mission planning.

The mission briefing is designed to give all of the information needed to create a proper plan that can be carried out by the platoon. It is the responsibility of all squad leaders, fireteam leaders, special element leaders, and the mission commander to be familiar with the details of the briefing. Knowing the briefing benefits everyone, as it allows for everyone to be familiar with the 'big picture' of what they are expected to be accomplishing within the mission and helps to unify the entire unit. All players are highly encouraged to read it as well.


SMEAC - The 5 Paragraph Operations Order

Mission briefings generally follow the "Five paragraph order" format - also known as "SMEAC" - condensed to fit in the framework of Arma. In this, information is presented in a standardized fashion, allowing for any player to easily find out what he needs to know about the mission with minimum fuss.

SMEAC breaks down as follows. Bear in mind that it is up to the mission designer to decide what elements are important to be presented in the briefing - the "Keep it simple" rule is employed when writing the actual briefing, while this information is used to help guide that process.



  • What is the premise of the mission? Why is your unit where it is, and what's happening around it? What is the "big picture"?
  • What kind of forces does your unit have?
  • What kind of forces (if any) are supporting you or attached to your unit? This includes close air support, artillery, armor, or any other combined-arms assets.
  • What kind of forces and support does the enemy have?
  • What is the enemy expected to do?



  • What is your unit tasked with doing? Who else (if anyone) is involved in the mission?
  • When and where does the mission take place? What is the time allowed?
  • Why has the mission been given to your unit?
  • What is the desired end-state? Basically - what is/are your collective goal(s)?



  • Commander's Intent
  • How will the mission be conducted? Scheme of Maneuver, tasks, etc. How will the unit get to the end state?



  • Is ammo resupply available?
  • Are medevac assets available, such as medical helicopters or ambulance HMMWVs?
  • Are there any special rules for dealing with Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs)?
  • Is fire support available? Artillery, naval gunfire, et cetera?
  • Is close air support available?



  • Are there any special rules or considerations that must be made for communications? For example - special radio rules or loadouts, smoke or flare colors and meanings, etc. If there are no special rules, this is simply listed as "SOP", for "Standard Operating Procedure".



Video: Troop Leading Procedures - this video contains procedures and examples of how to perform 8 step troop leading procedures in accordance with U.S. Army FM 5-0, The Operations Process.



Sample Operations Order

The following is an operations order (OPORD) for a large-scale combined-arms mission. Note that complexity is not necessary to convey the main points of the mission. Keeping a briefing simple, while conveying the important parts, will result in more people reading it and getting more from it than from a similar but overly-complex briefing. Writing a novel in your OPORD is definitely to be avoided. If you want to include background information, put it in a separate section that is optional reading, and ensure that any important information from it is conveyed succinctly in the OPORD.



Recon Company was ambushed by enemy recon teams in the north. They dismounted and destroyed the immediate threats but now only have a few minutes to get into cover and hold out until reinforced by Hammer and Tango companies.

    • Armored Battalion:
      • 1x Recon Company (dismounted with air lift capabilities).
      • 2x M1A2 Company ("Hammer" and "Tango") with attached M88 and M6 vehicles.
    • Air wing:
      • 2x CH-47, callsign 'Big Bird'
      • 1x AV8B2, callsign 'Pavement'
      • 1x A10, callsign 'Hawg'
      • 2x AH64, callsign 'Ugly'
    • Additional friendly forces are en route from the south but no ETA is known at this time.
    • Russian Mechanized and helibourne infantry, armor, aircraft. There are more enemy recon teams scattered around which will need clearing out before they can bring in reinforcements.



  • Defend Celle 2 from determined push from Russian forces.



  • Bn Commander's Intent
    • Air should provide aerial recon of the AO in addition to tasking.
  • Movement Plan
    • Recon company should use the Big Birds to redeploy around the AO. All aircraft should avoid going in the marked region to reduce exposure to enemy AA fire.
    • Air should stay grounded until Tank Companies are ready to move.
  • Fire Support Plan
    • Battalion has 3x MLRS at Celle airbase (which can be rearmed).
    • 2x AH64D
    • 1x Harrier
    • 1x A-10C
  • Tasks
    • Ensure all enemy anti-tank assets are disabled or destroyed.



  • Support:
    • Wheeled vehicles:
      • Can have their wheels repaired by action.
    • Armored vehicles:
      • Can have their tracks repaired to orange status by action.
      • Any hull/engine damage can not be repaired.
      • Can have tracks and gun/turret repaired fully by M88s.
    • Aircraft:
      • Can quickly repair/refuel once landed at the airbase inside the blue circle by action.
      • Can be partially repaired/refueled by action outside of the airbase or by the M88, enough to get back to base at least.
  • Resupply:
    • Recon infantry can resupply from the (broken) Warriors at their starting position.



  • In accordance with SOP



Making the Plan

Timeframe available for planning

One of the biggest differences in planning for a game like Arma 3, as compared to doing the same in reality, is the timeframe typically given for the planning process. In reality, hours, days, or even weeks can be spent drafting up missions, with entire staffs being devoted to the processes involved. We believe that a plan should generally take no more than 20 minutes from start to finish. This means that once you are in-game, the entire process from "reading the briefing" to "getting the 'ready' from every element leader" should typically happen in under 20 minutes. Depending on the complexity of the mission, the type of mission, the leader(s) involved, and a variety of other factors, this can often be much shorter, and occasionally a bit longer for particularly complex missions.

The breakdown of such a time period is typically as follows, though it can often go much faster depending on the complexity of the mission:

  1. Read briefing (2 minutes)
  2. Conduct map recon & make initial plan (6 minutes)
  3. Issue orders (5 minutes)
  4. Questions & comments (2 minutes)
  5. Leaders brief subordinates (5-8 minutes)
  6. Step off and begin the mission

As you can see, a leader is expected to be able to make a good plan in a fairly compressed timeframe. The proficiency required to make good plans in short timeframes comes from a variety of factors - one of them being a good understanding of the planning process as well as how to give good verbal orders. We'll cover that next and go from there onto various other leadership aspects.


Planning Considerations - METT-TC

When it comes to actually making the plan, one must consider a great many things in order to ensure that the best course of action is taken, with the highest probability of accomplishing the designated mission with the fewest casualties. The military has summarized these considerations into what they call "METT-TC", and it's something that any leader should become familiar with.

METT-TC consists of the following elements - Mission, Enemy, Terrain & Weather, Troops Available, Time, and Civilians. Be familiar with METT-TC will help to guide your mental planning process and remind you of all the key things you should be considering in each plan. As time goes on and experience is gained, these will largely become second-nature. While any military acronym such as that is intimidating at first glance, this one in particular is of great value and is worth learning, remembering, and using.

Keep in mind that METT-TC is used constantly, at all levels of the battle, whether one is conscious of it or not. You could sum it up as "the tactical situation" for our purposes - it is everything that you think about when moving around the battlefield, whether under fire or not.

METT-TC is used at the higher level while creating the 5-paragraph order cited above, and once you as a commander received that operations order, you use the same METT-TC process to help develop your own plan of action based off of what you know from the OPORD.

The difference between METT-TC and SMEAC is that METT-TC is how the situation is perceived to be at a given time (typically the present, or the time when the operation will be conducted). It is not a plan in and of itself, but rather the elements that are required to be interpreted and used to craft a successful plan. SMEAC is the plan that comes about because of that, and is based on METT-TC factors as they existed (or were predicted) at a given time during the planning process.

Once the battle is underway, you (and your subordinates) frequently reevaluate the METT-TC considerations as they change, issuing new orders as appropriate to guide your forces towards success, exploit enemy weaknesses, and generally conduct the battle to its conclusion.

Bear in mind that you should be looking at METT-TC from the enemy's perspective as well, to help give you insight into what the enemy might do with the situation as you believe they see it. Being able to "visualize yourself in the enemy's position" can be a powerful tool to use when planning for your own unit's actions.

In Arma 3 terms, the elements of METT-TC break down as follows:



As in the "5 paragraph order" described above, this deals with what your unit is tasked with accomplishing. The type of mission will determine many aspects of how you craft your plan.

The mission considerations include:

  • What do you need to do?
  • Why do you need to do it?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it being done?
  • When is it being done?



Next up we cover the enemy. Understandably, the enemy is a tremendously significant aspect of how you plan a mission. You must consider every tactically relevant aspect of them, such as:

  • Composition. Force composition is simply what the enemy is made of. Are they strictly infantry, or do they have mechanized support as well? Are there APCs, tanks, or even aircraft?
  • Capabilities. What kind of threat does the enemy pose with their organic and non-organic assets? Anti-aircraft and anti-tank capabilities? Artillery support? Air support?
  • Number. How many of "them" are there? A few infantry pose one type of threat, whereas a few "special forces" troops pose a different type, and a few tanks or armored personnel carriers likewise present an entirely different type of threat.
  • Location. Where are they positioned, if known? If not known, where do you suspect they might be, based on the full METT-TC?
  • Posture. Defensive? Patrolling? Alert? Attacking? Etc

When put together, these form a partial "threat assessment" for the mission.


Terrain & Weather - "OCOKA"

Terrain and weather comes next. The military mnemonic used to remember the factors used in evaluating terrain is "OCOKA". Like METT-TC, it is another good mnemonic to learn. Also, like METT-TC, you will find yourself using this almost subconsciously with a bit of experience.

OCOKA stands for:

  • Observation & Fields of Fire
  • Cover & Concealment
  • Obstacles
  • Key or Decisive Terrain
  • Avenues of Approach.

Basically, these are all of the factors that dictate the suitability of any given piece of terrain, or a given terrain area. These are the elements that describe the difference between a flat, open desert, and a dense, concealing forest. Terrain heavily dictates planning, and thus being familiar with how to judge it becomes important. OCOKA helps you remember all of the elements that will matter in such a judgment.

Let's take a look at what this all means in Arma terms, from the perspective of our forces.


Observation & Fields of Fire

This is the aspect of terrain that determines the effectiveness of friendly fire coming from it, as well as the ability to observe the battlefield. When judging terrain for these aspects, you will want to pay mind of:

  • Areas in which weapon systems could be employed effectively. The suitability of any given piece of terrain for usage as a support-by-fire position, or to emplace crew-served weapons, etc.
  • Areas where the battlefield can be best observed. A position may not be suitable for the emplacement of a squad of troops, but if it has a great field of observation, being able to get a forward observer, forward air controller, or recon unit onto it can pay off with timely, accurate, and valuable observation of the battlefield.
  • Danger areas or likely combat areas. Even if nothing about the enemy is known for certain, a "map recon" can reveal a wealth of information about where the dangerous locations are, where ambushes or enemy forces might be positioned, and more. Being able to identify where friendly forces will be most vulnerable during their movement helps you to proactively account for that with overwatch and other support methods, instead of having to be reactive when the enemy attacks you in a fashion that could have been predicted from the terrain before the battle even started.
  • Defensible terrain. Defensible terrain can be a great asset for you if you can maneuver your forces onto it. On the other hand, if it looks defensible to you, there is a good chance that the enemy will think the same thing and will either put his own forces on said terrain for the same reasons, or will have a contingency plan in the event that you attempt to utilize the terrain.


Cover & Concealment

The cover and concealment afforded by terrain can be both natural (trees, bushes, broken ground) and man-made (houses, walls, ditches). As learned in the basic rifleman section, cover provides protection from enemy fire, whereas concealment simply prevents observation but has no protective aspects aside from that.

When judging terrain, keep a keen awareness of the fact that elevation differences act as a major source of cover and concealment. Large numbers of troops can move in a protected fashion thanks to the concealing nature of features like valleys, dips in terrain, or by masking themselves with hills and such. When fighting from the military crest of a hill, the ground itself becomes one large piece of cover based on the location of the enemy relative to it.

You can expect the enemy to gravitate towards locations that provide good cover and concealment from your observation and fires. Likewise, when moving, you should attempt to conduct movement in a fashion that maximizes your cover and concealment from them, as well secure fighting positions that give you good cover and concealment relative to the expected enemy threat. Naturally, all of the other factors described must be considered as well.



Obstacles in Arma can take several forms. Terrain itself can be an obstacle - hills that are too steep to traverse by foot or vehicle, for instance, or bodies of water that cannot be forded with the given equipment. Man-made obstacles will also make appearances - the most common are sandbags, concertina wire, and mines. Bridges fit the bill as well, and in urban areas you can expect to see civilian vehicles used to construct hasty roadblocks and attempt to impede, channelize, or otherwise redirect vehicle movement.

Obstacles are intended to prevent you from successfully moving through an area, forcing you in another pre-chosen direction that benefits the enemy, slowing you down to make you vulnerable, or simply delay you.

In some adversarial missions, a defending team will have a number of obstacles and defensive positions that can be placed to help shape the battlefield to their advantage. Crafty and skilled employment of such obstacles can cause significant headaches for the attacking team to try to surmount.


Key or Decisive Terrain

Key or decisive terrain is any terrain that gives some kind of significant advantage to any who control it. This can come in a variety of forms - dominating hills, buildings, an area overlooking a significant bridge or road, etc.

Being able to identify key or decisive terrain allows for a leader to plan how to best deny it to the enemy, or negate the effects of the enemy potentially controlling it as best as possible.

Key terrain often ends up as objectives in a mission.


Avenues of Approach

This is about what it sounds like - routes that can be used to navigate the terrain, in relation to objectives, key terrain, and anything else of significance. It is most typically in relation to the main objective of the mission.

Note that the easiest avenue of approach is not always the best. Coming in from an unexpected or unlikely direction can give your forces a level of tactical surprise that can prove decisive in a fight. On the other hand, there will occasionally be situations in which you are restricted to only one real viable avenue of approach due to a variety of influencing terrain factors. In that situation, one must remember that the only time it matters when the enemy knows what direction you're coming from is when they're able to actually do something about it to stop you. Your job in that situation thus becomes one of leveraging every possible advantage to ensure that they cannot stop you, no matter how obvious your attack avenue is forced to be.



Weather ultimately means visibility in Arma. There are several things that influence visibility, including:

  • Time of day
  • Moon phase (if night)
  • Cloud cover
  • Rain
  • Fog

Weather can change over the course of a mission, too - just because it starts off with a clear sky does not mean that it will stay that way. Likewise, if it is near dusk or dawn, visibility conditions can change dramatically over the duration of a mission as it gets darker or brighter due to the setting or rising of the sun. Note too that moonsets and moonrises at night can play a role, particularly on clear skies with full moons.

That's the end of the OCOKA/Weather considerations. Additional information about OCOKA as it applies specifically to attacking and defending follows later in the "Tactics" section. For now, let's continue on with the rest of METT-TC.


Troops & Support Available

This includes all assets available in the mission. Not only are your own troops included, but any special attachments are detailed, as are vehicles that may be supporting you, and artillery or air assets that might be available for addition on-call support. In short, this details everything you have at your disposal to get the mission done, whatever the mission may be.


Time Available

While you will often be free to spend a reasonably unlimited amount of time to accomplish your mission, there will also be occasions when time is a factor and certain tasks must be carried out in specific time constraints. For instance, a night infiltration mission may need to be concluded before sunrise, a patrol may need to be done before sunset, or an ambush may need to be conducted before an enemy convoy has reached a specific town.

Knowing the amount of time available in the mission helps a leader to plan out how rapidly the different phases of the mission must be carried out, which can have a significant impact on the tactics employed.


Civilian Considerations

While many battlefields will be free of civilian presence, it is not uncommon to have to account for civilians in urban engagements. Civilians can be very tricky to deal with - it behooves friendly forces to not harm them, but at the same time, there is always the possibility of insurgents working within their midst. Some civilians may be acting as lookouts for such insurgents as well. It is important to carefully detail rules of engagement when moving into an area where civilians may be present. You want to ensure that players know exactly when they can engage, and when they need to hold fire. A player should never be put in a position where he feels that he is under threat from a hostile civilian yet is unable to take action due to overly restrictive ROEs.



Construct the Plan

After reviewing the operation order and considering METT-TC factors, the Mission Commander has two options. The first is to craft his plan by himself; the second is to ask for input from his squad and special element leaders. Typically a commander will at least ask for input from the special element leaders, as they are proficient at their roles and will have a good perspective on how they can best be employed in the mission.

After receiving feedback (if requested), the commander will begin to work up the plan. The mission assigned, of course, determines much of this. A defensive mission will require the commander to deal with a different set of concerns than an offensive one, and his planning will reflect that.

In general, he will detail the movement routes that the elements will use via marking up the map, establish what squads or elements will be dictating the pace of movement, decide on the rules of engagement, usage of vehicle assets and how they will be distributed amongst the squads, designate recon elements as required, determine rally points or staging areas, as well as any changes to standard operating procedure - such as a non-typical method to use when a given battle situation happens. Generally, standard operating procedure (SOP) are expected to be known by all leaders, and will not be briefed unless considered to be of particular importance to the given mission. For example, a mission which lists artillery as a threat to the platoon may have the PltCo take some extra time to discuss the battle drill they will use to react to the artillery if it engages them.

Depending on the mission type, he will also dictate defensive positions, sectors of responsibility, base-of-fire positions, usage of fire support assets, designate special units to support other units or attach to them, and so on and so forth.


How Far to Plan Ahead

The commander must decide on how far ahead he'll do detailed planning. Since plans have a tendency to "not go according to plan" once bullets start flying, it can be helpful to only plan specifically for the first major part of the mission, then give general guidance for the rest of it. This allows the commander to consider updated METT-TC concerns once the first section of the mission has been successfully completed, and issue new orders based upon what actually happened, versus what the planned outcome was. Allowing for flexibility at the lower level tends to result in more "adapting to the situation" and prevents units from carrying out a plan that may not be the best course of action based on the actual vs expected tactical situation.


Key Decision Points

Generally, the commander will attempt to identify key decision points in the mission, and plan his orders around them. For instance - if his unit is attacking, he may decide that a key decision point exists when the unit secures the initial objective. At that point, he knows that he has to direct the positioning of the subordinate units in anticipation of a counter-attack, or to "mop up" any stragglers left on the objective area.

When describing a key decision point in a briefing, the Mission Commander will give the most likely courses of action as options for the subordinate leaders to be aware of - in the above example, these options would be:

  1. Get the subordinate units into defensive positions in anticipation of an imminent counter-attack, maintaining security in the event that some hostiles remain in the objective area, and using a single element to clear while the rest of the troops defend
  2. Conduct a detailed 'mop up' of any stragglers that may be left in the objective area with all available forces before going defensive.

Giving them as options allows the junior leaders to consider what they will need to do in either eventuality and prepare for it.


Commander's Intent

A "Commander's Intent" is a helpful guideline to give the unit direction during the mission, even in the absence of orders. The idea behind the "Commander's Intent" is that all levels of the unit should be familiar with what the "big picture" of the mission is, and what the desired end state is.

Knowing the "Commander's Intent" gives tactical flexibility to all players, and especially leaders, in the platoon. It allows for tactical decisions to be made even when it is impossible or impractical to get direct orders from the mission command element. This can play a major part in radio-lite missions where communications are severely restricted (by design) and all leaders have to exercise more small-unit initiative and leadership. It also protects against loss of leadership - if a senior leader becomes a casualty or loses comms, the junior leaders still know what they are supposed to be doing and why, and they'll be able to quickly adapt and continue on.


UNITAF Standard Operating Proceedure (SOP) is adapted from two primary source materials - in addition to our own experience and past learnings:
US Army Techniques Publication, Infantry Platoon and Squad (ATP 3-21.8) ->view online
Dyslexi's Tactics, Techniques, & Procedures for Arma 3 (TTP3) -> view online

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