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Posted on Apr 26, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 015 – The Basics of the Offense

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

“In short, I think like Frederick, one should always be the first to attack.”

“Make war offensively; it is the sole means to become a great captain and to fathom the secrets of the art.”

Beginning this month, we will start a series of articles on the offense.  This month we will key on some basics just so we are all talking the same language.  We will follow this discussion in the upcoming months with more specifics and some key ‘nuggets’ to assist you on your battlefield. 

For some of you, this article may seem fairly rudimentary.  However, as my old high school basketball coach always told me, “It is necessary to review the fundamentals.  It is the basics that usually are the difference between winning and losing.”  So with that in mind, let’s review the basics.  After all, this is ‘Tactics 101.’  



These are operations conducted to seize or retain the initiative on the battlefield and use this initiative to defeat your enemy.  The offensive is the key operation to destroy the enemies will to fight.  Offensive operations are characterized as containing the following four key elements:

1) Surprise – Attacking your enemy at a time, place or manner he is not expecting.  Are you going to surprise your enemy during every offensive operation?  Probably not!  If he has any capabilities what so ever, he should have some anticipation of an impending attack.  However, based on the resources you have you can gain that small window over him by doing the unexpected.

2) Concentration – This is massing the capabilities you possess in some synchronized manner.  Mass can come from focusing maneuver forces in a particular area, using your fires to attack a weakness, and simply combining your assets to achieve a common purpose.

3) Tempo – This is the speed in which you are conducting operations.  Do you have to conduct an offensive operation at breakneck speed?  No!  The results of this are probably a loss of command and control and synchronization.  In other words – chaos.  The skilled commander will very his tempo to disrupt his opponent mentally and physically.  Controlling tempo is very difficult and the commander who has obtained this art is a special one.  We will go into more detail in later articles how to utilize tempo.

4) Audacity – What we are really talking about is truly taking it to the enemy.  You are utilizing your capabilities to the fullest.  In sports terms, you are playing to win and not playing to lose.  If a commander is hesitant at all in his planning or in making decisions on the battlefield, he is likely playing not to lose. 


There are numerous reasons to conduct offensive operations besides simply wanting to kick some butt.  These include: First, it affords a commander the opportunity to take the initiative away from his opponent or continue to keep the initiative.  Second, it enables a force to seize key terrain which is needed for future operations.  Third, it can allow a force to seize resources that he or his opponent desire.  Perhaps, this is a logistical base, a transportation hub, etc….  Fourth, you may conduct an offensive operation to gain contact with your enemy (typically a movement to contact).  Finally, you may utilize an offensive operation to disrupt your enemy’s ability to conduct an attack against you.


Although, we inevitably associate offensive operations with the attack, there are actually four types of offensive operations.  Besides the attack, they are movement to contact, exploitation, and pursuit. Although each is distinctive in itself, they truly flow with one another.  In the scope of larger unit offensive operations, extending for many days, it is entirely possible a unit could conduct each operation in some sequence.  We will focus on each of these operations in great detail in the next articles.  Until then, here’s a summary of each operation. 
Movement to Contact – This is an operation executed to develop the situation further (perhaps, with anticipation to conduct an attack later) and establish or regain contact with your enemy (this contact could be broken after conducting other types of operations).  Since your knowledge of your opponent is minimal, you want to organize your force so you make contact with the smallest force possible.  Once a force does make contact, a commander has a big decision to make.  Based on his understanding of himself, the enemy, and the terrain he can conduct a hasty attack, he can develop a hasty defense, he may elect to bypass the forces he has made contact with (thus, continuing maneuver), he can execute a delay (an extremely difficult mission), or he can decide to withdraw.  Obviously, a commander must organize his forces and formation in a movement to contact so they can execute this variety of missions.  We will discuss the movement to contact in far greater detail in a future article.

Attack – We are all pretty familiar with the purpose of the attack – to destroy or defeat our opponent or seize and secure terrain, or both.  However, you may not be aware that doctrinally there are eight different types of an attack.  These are:

  • Hasty – These generally occur during a movement to contact or as a result of a defensive operation.  A commander must weigh the risk of conducting the attack (since intelligence is usually sketchy) with the potential to seize the initiative.  It takes well-trained units to conduct a hasty attack since there is little planning and no preparation (rehearsals) prior to the attack.
  • Deliberate – These are well-planned, likely well-rehearsed attacks against a defense that has had significant time for preparation.  Before the attack there is usually some form of reconnaissance fight as each side attempts to gather intelligence on one another.  Deliberate attacks normally are characterized by high volumes of indirect fires and fixed wing air attacks to assist in facilitating ground maneuver.
  • Raid – This is a form of a deliberate attack that has a specific objective and concludes with the attacker withdrawing back into friendly territory.  For a raid to be successful it must have extremely detailed, real time intelligence.  Raids may be conducted to capture key enemy personnel, liberate friendlies that were taken prisoner, destroy a key target, or obtain critical information.  As history has shown these are extremely high risk attacks that can pay huge dividends or have tragic consequences.
  • Feints – This is a type of attack executed to deceive the enemy as to your true intentions.  In a feint, you hope that your maneuver will draw enemy combat power to the forces utilized in the feint.  This could mean forcing the enemy to move his reserve towards the feint unit, making him use resources against the feint that would be used elsewhere, or make the enemy reveal his plan prematurely.  A commander must sell the feint to his opponent.  Thus, he must use enough combat power and be convincing in his maneuver to sell the feint.  Because of this, a feint almost always means some form of contact between the feint force and the enemy.
  • Demonstration – This form of attack is similar to the feint except you avoid any contact with the enemy.  Without this contact, it is much more difficult to deceive the enemy.  In a demonstration, you make use smoke, indirect fires, electronic warfare, and radio communication to sell the maneuver.
  • Counterattack – This is an attack generated from defensive positions.  In the defense, a commander will draw the enemy into a certain area and then will maneuver his counterattack force to hit the enemy in his flank.  Obviously, the timing on this type of attack is critical.  If it is executed too early or too late, the chances for success are minimal at best.
  • Spoiling Attack – Like the counterattack, a spoiling attack begins from defensive positions.  However, a spoiling attack is executed against the enemy before he begins his attack.  The goal of the spoiling attack is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to conduct their future attack against you.  In order to do this, the targets for a spoiling attack are normally command and control systems, reconnaissance assets, key fire support platforms, or logistical areas.  

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