What is METT-TC Part 1: Introduction

By Michael McMartin

At this point, you have likely seen or heard the term METT-TC (pronounced met-tee-cee). Most people understand that it is a mnemonic/acronym used by the military, but aren’t sure what it stands for, why it exists, or when to use it. This article is a brief introduction and primer on METT-TC and why it is something that you may want to take a closer look at. 

In a military context, METT-TC is utilized during the planning phase of an operation. More specifically, it is among the first steps taken when planning begins. METT-TC describes the current situation and the mission variables that are at play. Of course, since those variables are constantly changing, METT-TC should be revisited and revised as necessary.

METT-TC represents mission variables and stands for Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, Time, and Civil Considerations. There are slight variations in various doctrinal publications that discuss METT-TC between the US Army and the US Marine Corps, but the overall idea is shared between both fighting organizations and has been adopted by NATO as well. 

My military background was with the Marine Corps, so it is likely that some of the terms that follow are specific to the Marine Corps. I have reviewed a fair amount of US Army doctrine and feel confident in saying that both the USMC and US Army are essentially teaching the same thing. The order in which some of the “T”s are used may be different than what you have seen, or some acronyms may be unfamiliar if your background is with the US Army or another branch, but the mission variables discussed below are still covered regardless of the order in which they are presented or the acronyms I have used within each variable. For example, the Marine Corps uses the acronym BAMCIS to detail the 6 Troop Leading Steps whereas the Army has 8 Troop Leading Procedures. Both accomplish the same thing, and both encompass a METT-TC analysis. 

The origin of METT-TC is largely attributed to the United States Military, but it is unknown how exactly it came into existence and has yet to be attributed to any single author. First references to the acronyms METT and METT-T (no C yet) were published in Military Review, the US Army’s professional journal, in the early 1980s. Those early articles referenced and detailed the acronym but never attempted to explain the origin. Those articles refer to it as more or less common knowledge which means that it was likely adopted in various military circles before the 1980s. 

By 2001, the US Army added “C” to the end of METT-T to account for full-spectrum operations, namely operations in built up areas or urban environments. Most of you, especially if you reside in an urban area, already think about “C” (Civil Considerations) when you factor in the best time to leave your residence to run errands or start a road trip. If the route goes through a city where rush hour is a concern or you plan to drive across the city just after the Taylor Swift concert ends, you are probably taking that into account with either your route selection or your time of departure.

This is one small example of how you can apply the METT-TC framework to virtually anything that you are planning to do. It is not only useful in combat or in a military context. 

Below is a brief breakdown of each variable—there will be much more to say about each as we delve further into this topic over the coming weeks and months: 

Mission (METT-TC)

The components you are seeking to answer when it comes to the mission are who, what, where, when, and why. In a military context you are identifying the task assigned to you, answering who is going on the mission, what are they going to do (this is not a detailed scheme of maneuver, that would be a tactical task), where they are going, and when do they need to go or accomplish the task by. Finally, you need to know the why, which stems from the Commander’s Intent. It is important to know what the desired end state is expected to look like because that allows you, the small unit leader, to take the initiative when needed. In the military, you are taught to take into account the mission statements of the next two higher levels so that you can ensure your mission fits within theirs. 

Enemy (METT-TC)

You are looking to identify the composition, disposition, and strengths which are fleshed out using the acronym SALUTE, as well as the capabilities and limitations of the enemy where the acronym DRAW-D comes into play. SALUTE stands for Size, Activity, Location, Unit/Uniform, Time, and Equipment. DRAW-D stands for Defend, Reinforce, Attack, Withdraw, and Delay.

Terrain and Weather (METT-TC)

You want to analyze how various aspects of the terrain and weather will impact both friendly and enemy forces. The military loves its acronyms, so once again there is another useful one to assist in your analysis—KOCOA-W is the acronym I prefer to use. KOCOA-W stands for Key Terrain, Observation and Fields of Fire, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles, Avenues of Approach, and Weather.

Troops and Support Available (METT-TC)

This is an analysis of what capabilities you currently have that are organic to those going out on the mission and what other assets you may have access to that can support your mission. HAS/A is a useful acronym here which stands for Higher, Adjacent, Supporting, Attachments and Detachments.

Time Available, Space, and Logistics (METT-TC)

One of the biggest factors to consider is simply how much time you have available which will dictate where you need to set your priorities when planning. Once you identify how much time you have, it is common to reverse plan and also utilize what is called the one-thirds, two-thirds rule where you utilize one-third of the time available to plan and supervise directly and allot two-thirds of the available time to your troops to conduct rehearsals and prepare for the mission. Space is your orientation to the area of operations (AO) and the control measures that are either already put in place or that need to be put in place to ensure any adjacent or friendly units in the area are de-conflicted with your mission. Logistics is determining the required resources needed to accomplish the mission. 

Civil Considerations (METT-TC)

This is an analysis of human factors that may have an impact on the mission. A large protest, construction that takes a highway down to one lane, or something as simple as a school zone that gets bogged down every weekday from 3 to 4PM are just a few examples of human factors that need to be accounted for. No surprise, but we can introduce yet another useful acronym here: ASCOPE which stands for Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organizations, People, and Events.

Taking the time to go through each of these variables and filling them out to the best of your ability or doing the research/reconnaissance required to answer any unknowns is essential. As mentioned previously, any of these variables can change at any given moment and it is up to the planner to update their METT-TC analysis accordingly. 

According to ADP 5-0 The Operations Process, planning is the art and science of understanding a situation, envisioning a desired future, and determining effective ways to bring that future about. METT-TC is the first step in understanding the situation and is a major component of the planning process that I suggest everyone takes the time to learn the ins and outs of so that they have the ability to use it. 

In the next T&E newsletter, we will break down the components of METT-TC further and walk through some examples both in a military context and a civilian context. In the meantime, feel free to submit any questions or comments to [email protected] and we’ll be sure to follow up with you.