Tactics 101 100 – 100 Articles (and counting!)
100 Articles (and counting!)
“In war we reassemble a man endeavoring to seek an enemy in the dark, and the principles which govern our action will be similar to those which he would naturally adopt. The man stretches out one arm in order to grope for his enemy (Discover). On touching his adversary he feels his way to the latter’s throat (Reconnoiter). As soon as he has reached it, he seizes him by the collar or throat so that his antagonist cannot wriggle away or strike back at him effectively (Fix). Then with his other fist he strikes his enemy, who is unable to avoid the blow, a decisive knock-out blow (Decisive Attack). Before the enemy can recover, he follows up his advantage by taking steps to render him finally powerless (Exploit).”
TACTICS 101 – The Beginning
It was a late February 2006 afternoon when I wrote Col (Ret) Jerry Morelock an e-mail inquiring about doing some book reviews for ACG. I had been a devout follower of the magazine. I had also explored the web-site many times and found it highly informative and entertaining. I hoped that they were looking for some reviewers for the web-site.
My e-mail to COL Morelock wasn’t exactly a cold call. I had worked with him many years prior in the hallowed grounds of Bell Hall, the home of the Army’s Command and General Staff College. At the time, he was leading the College’s Combat Studies Institute. I was a Senior Captain working on the College Staff waiting to attend school the next year. I mentioned to him that I was back at the College and was now part of the Faculty in the Tactics Department.
Later that day, he replied back. He said they were looking for reviewers, but he also said he may have another opportunity. He asked if I would be interested in writing a monthly article for the website tied to tactics. If so, he would pursue it further with his Boss, Mr. Eric Weider. I told him I would be excited to be associated with ACG. I also said I had a long-time friend and fellow Infantryman (John Sutherland) that I would like to pull in with me.
The next day, COL Morelock wrote back and said Mr. Weider thought it was a great idea. We worked out the details and a series was born. We decided to do a trial run for a year and see how it went. It went pretty well and the rest is should we say – History (a truly appropriate term)!
To continue any endeavor for over eight years, you must have outstanding people in your corner. We have clearly had our share and we would like to thank them. First, to our readers, thanks for clicking on our articles over the years. Obviously, without dedicated followers the series would have gone away long ago. Second, many thanks to Mr. Eric Weider for his leadership and belief in the series. We would also like to thank him for his support of many great causes and to the Armed Forces. Third, a huge thanks to COL Jerry Morelock for his foresight in creating the series, his friendship, and generally just taking care of us. Fourth, thanks to A J Summersgill and Brian King for their assistance in the early years of the series. They taught us a great deal and transformed our words and slides to articles that worked on the web. Finally, a great deal of thanks to Gerald Swick, the tremendous Senior Digital Media Editor for the Weider History Group. Since taking the position he has been invaluable to us with recommendations and editing and streamlining the process to transform our words and pictures to an article worthy of viewing on the web.
Nuggets from the Past
After 100 articles, we hope you have benefited in at least a small way. There have been many points we have stressed throughout the series. Let’s highlight a few which we believe are critical in achieving success on the battlefield. These include:
Point 1 — The foundations for success begin by a complete understanding of yourself, the enemy, and the terrain/weather. This understanding is extremely challenging because the variables are continually changing.
Point 2 — A plan begins by determining your decisive point. This provides you with a focus for the selection of objectives, the allocation of combat power, and the assignment of mission purposes and tasks. As a reminder, a decisive point is a geographic place, specific key event, or enabling system that allows Commanders to gain a marked advantage over an enemy and greatly influence the outcome of a battle. To put it another way, it is what you believe is the key to accomplishing your stated mission as determined by your mission analysis.
Point 3 — Purpose and task are mutually supporting and irrevocably intertwined, but there is a distinct leader in this relationship. It is the why or purpose. Understanding the purpose (or answering the ‘why’) is critical in enabling initiative on the battlefield.
Point 4 — The main effort is the unit that we assign to accomplish the purpose and task at the decisive point. This is the unit we envision winning the battle for us. We will assign supporting efforts that will shape the battlefield in order to help the main effort succeed. Remember to keep in mind: 1) Do not have any wasted efforts on the battlefield. Resources are too precious! 2) You (The Commander) will normally position yourself with the main effort. 3) The battlefield is always changing and consequently, your main effort and supporting efforts could change. You (The Commander) must see this and make the change. That is the art of command.
Point 5 — Combat multipliers rarely win a battle or engagement, but they certainly can lose one. Each system must be employed in a mutually reinforcing and complimentary manner in order to enhance the scheme of maneuver. The Commander cannot afford to give short shrift to any of these systems. Commanders at any level must be experts on the employment of every combat multiplier. If you are not, you better become so. You can be sure your counterpart on the other side knows how to utilize his combat multipliers!
Point 6 — The determination of a reserve and its ultimate commitment are two of the most critical decisions a commander makes. There are too many variables on the battlefield to go into a fight without a reserve. If a commander desires flexibility and the ability to influence the battlefield, then a reserve is a must. If he decides against one, then he is taking a gamble not a risk!
Point 7 — If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the importance of a picture (clear, implicit graphics) cannot be understated.
Point 8 — Every profession has their own professional language. This language enables other professionals to communicate effectively with each other. When we combine a common language with graphics understood by everyone we have a powerful combination. It is when we deviate from either that problems arise.
Point 9 — Decisions on the battlefield must be timely and relevant. Decisions must be both if they are to allow you to gain and maintain the initiative. A Commander has many tools at his disposal to assist in his decision-making process.
Point 10 — One of these tools is the Decision Support Template (DST). A DST is a powerful decision-making tool. If it is well-thought out during planning; it can be the difference between winning and losing. A Commander who goes into battle without a DST is not setting the conditions for success. You must go into a fight with everything you have available to you.
Point 11 — When conducting offensive operations:
- The ability to synchronize all your resources at the right time and right place (normally the decisive point) is critical.
- You do not have to physically destroy every vehicle in an attack to accomplish your mission. The true art of tactics is to beat your opponent mentally and conserve your valuable resources.
- Understand the strengths of your opponent’s defense and avoid them.
- Understand your opponent’s weaknesses in their defense and exploit them.
- Understand your strengths during an attack and exploit them.
- Identify your main effort and weight it to accomplish your decisive point. Remember, this main effort can change during your operation.
- Your supporting efforts must have a purpose and task that assists the main effort in accomplishing its purpose and task.
- You must have a reserve to exploit success or assist you if things are not going as well as anticipated.
- Reconnaissance is vital. In any type of offensive operation, you strive to understand the terrain and the enemy as quickly as possible. The only way to achieve this is through a thoroughly planned and diligently executed recon plan.
- Develop a flexible plan that allows you to exercise options. Once you lose options, you become very predictable and very beatable.
Point 12 — In the conduct of the defense, the planning and preparation of an engagement area (EA) is critical to achieving your purpose and task. The keys to success in building an engagement area are:
- Build the EA inside out. Start with where you want to achieve success and move out from there.
- Make the most out of all leaders’ recons. This means involving the right people, having a clear purpose as to what you want to achieve during the recon, and not wasting critical time.
- Well–placed obstacles + effective direct fire + effective indirect fire = success.
- As in all tactics, critical in planning and executing an engagement area is the understanding of the enemy, yourself and the terrain. This sets the conditions for success.
- The designation of Target Reference Points and ensuring everyone understands their purpose is key in the success of an engagement area.
- The engagement area rehearsal is a necessity not a luxury. Not conducting one is a risk that should not be taken.
- Ensure your obstacles are where you want them. They are in most cases resource intensive to construct. Changing obstacles in midstream is a recipe for disaster.
- Subject-matter experts (engineers, fire support officers, etc…) must ensure they tell their Commander when something can’t be achieved. For instance, the obstacle plan the commander desires is too ambitious for the current preparation time. The engineer must ensure the commander understands this and tells him what can be accomplished.
- Knowing your limitations is as important as knowing your capabilities.
- As always, the enemy has a vote. However, effective use of terrain in engagement area planning can dramatically restrict the number of candidates (options) he can vote upon.
Point 13 — A Commander at any level must articulate to his staff/Soldiers what he wants his obstacles to achieve. This in turn should be completely synchronized with the unit’s direct and indirect fire plans. Obstacles cannot be emplaced without a specific intent. This is a complete waste of resources and emplacing obstacles is certainly resource intensive.
Point 14 — Breaching operations and river crossing operations are not ends in themselves. They are merely an intermediate action that must be accomplished in order for you to achieve your ultimate objective and mission. If you focus all your energy and resources on the breach or river crossing, you will have nothing left when it matters most.
Point 15 — Fight in urban terrain when you have to or when it’s to your benefit to do so. However, do not do it if your troops are not trained, organized, equipped, and rehearsed. This is truly a recipe for failure!
Point 16 — Commander’s intent is a powerful tool when communicated effectively and understood by subordinates. It enables those subordinates to exercise initiative and take advantage of opportunities on the battlefield (as long as they assist in achieving mission accomplishment). It should not be long or contain flowery language that matters little on the battlefield. When the fog of war settles on the battlefield (as it ultimately will), it is a concise, meaningful intent that Soldiers will remember.
Point 17 — Commander’s guidance is a powerful tool if utilized properly. It will set the conditions to develop a plan which the commander is comfortable fighting with. It gives a staff its’ left and right limits and greatly diminishes the amount of wasted time by the staff. Early guidance sets the wheels in motion for the movement of key assets and resources. A Commander who does not provide effective guidance has made it even tougher for his unit to accomplish its’ mission.
Point 18 — The execution of a transition is truly a challenge! However, before you can even attempt the transition; the Commander must make the decision to execute. In terms of transitioning from the defense to the offense; the key is reading the indicators your opponent has culminated or is now vulnerable to an attack. The Commander must take advantage of this window of opportunity. Vice versa, the Commander must know his unit during the offense. If an attack is no longer viable for various reasons, he must make the right decision and transition to the defense. Continuing an attack when the conditions are not there for success is perhaps, the worst decision a Commander can make. In either case, they truly test the art of command!
Point 19 — In addressing military deception, remember: 1) There is no dictum stating you must utilize military deception in every mission. 2) If your plan for military deception is not tied to assisting you in accomplishing your overall mission; it is not worth expending your valuable assets. 3) Speaking of assets, time is perhaps, the most critical. To sell a deception you must begin your execution far in advance. 4) Ensure your deception efforts are focused on decision makers. 5) Deceiving your enemy to simply do nothing can be just as fruitful as forcing him into an action.
Point 20 — Smoke can be a huge combat multiplier in the offense. However, it must be synchronized with the overall maneuver plan. If a Commander and his staff can effectively synchronize its use, he has certainly increased his potential for victory.
Point 21 — A quality rehearsal just does not happen. It takes good planning and preparation to set the conditions for execution. For every mission, strive to conduct some type of rehearsal. There are various types of rehearsals. Select one which suits your needs in terms of time available and assets available to conduct the rehearsal.
Point 22 — There are three keys in reconnaissance planning. First, you must start planning early. Second, everything revolves around your information requirements. Those include your Priority Information Requirements (PIR) and your basic information requirements which enable you to answer your PIR. Finally, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) planning never stops. Since the battlefield is continually changing so will your information requirements. Thus, your R&S plan must adapt with this.
Point 23 — Plan your raid well. You must what-if the plan to death. The idea is to foresee as many of the pitfalls as possible and plan against them. Practice really does make perfect so; rehearse—rehearse—rehearse! When executed correctly; they’ll never see you coming or going. All they’ll see is the ruins you leave behind.
Point 24 — When you are on the battlefield, the situation is not what you expected, and nothing seems to be working; you’d better be thinking about what you can do differently. Doctrine is a start point not an end state. It grows and develops as leaders in the field adapt and innovate to overcome unexpected challenges. It’s ok to break the rules especially when the alternative is defeat. Be creative and try new tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Point 25 — During combat operations, there is no such thing as an administrative road march. Whenever a unit is maneuvering from point a to point b; it must be planned, prepared, and executed tactically. There is no greater example of this than the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. You cannot take shortcuts in your planning and preparation and units must be trained on the what-ifs that can occur during a road march.
Point 26 — The ambush can have a powerful effect on the enemy. Although this effect will have the biggest impact on smaller units; it can also have a dramatic effect on larger units. The execution of an ambush seems like it is pretty cut and tried. However, it has far more pieces to it than many imagine. As always, quality planning and preparation set the conditions for execution.
Point 27 — The decision cycle (OODA Loop – Observe/Orient/Decide/Act) is continuous and is being used by both sides. Every combatant observes the situation, orients himself based on his observation, decides what to do as the two forces move in relation to one another, and takes action based on the decisions he makes.
In the introduction of the series on March 19, 2006, we wrote: The goals of TACTICS 101 are threefold. First, is to provide readers a better understanding of the art and science of tactics. Second, is to provide readers the ability to utilize this understanding in their particular environment (i.e. the game board, the computer screen, or through the pages of a book or a scene from a movie). Finally, is to provide “nuggets’’ that will be useful to not only to the relative novice tactician, but the seasoned veteran as well. For some, the learning curve may be steep. For others, the curve may not be as steep, but there will be a curve nevertheless.
We hope we have achieved our goals. It has been a challenge for us. ACG readers are unquestionably a diverse group with varying interests and experience levels. If we have crafted articles which inform and entertain our entire audience; we have achieved our overall goals.
So what do we see in the future for the series? We have several areas we want to emphasize. These include continuing our dissection of tactical units, discussing how the various battlefield operating systems (warfighting functions) can be best utilized on the battlefield, and addressing larger unit operations. Further down the line, we plan to take the articles to another level and move into TACTICS 102. We are also greatly interested in subjects you would like covered. Please let us know via replies to the article or through the forum.
We’ll get back to business next month. We will start our look at mechanized infantry. We will begin with the organization of the platoon. Upcoming articles will explore the maneuver of the platoon and the link between the mounted and dismounted elements of the platoon. Again, thank you for your support during the past eight years and 100 articles. We greatly look forward to the next 100!