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Posted on Nov 1, 2006 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 009. The Reserve

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


Below we have listed some considerations that may assist you in utilizing your reserve.


* Give your reserve 2-3 be –prepared missions to plan and prep for. A good technique is one should be focused on reinforcing or exploiting success and the other to prevent failure or delay culmination. The worst thing you can do is to designate a reserve and not anticipate how you may use them.

* Be cautious on designating an air element (attack aviation) as your reserve. The weather and maintenance issues can severely limit their use. If you have an air element as a reserve, you may consider a ground force as a reserve as well. If the weather is not an issue then you can commit the ground element to another specified mission.


* When a reserve is committed, it almost always becomes the main effort. This is because it is focused at the decisive moment of the battle and is likely to make the difference in winning or losing. Since it is now the main effort it should receive the priority of resources it needs to accomplish the mission.

* Once the reserve is committed, the commander should seek to designate a new reserve. This is difficult during the heat of the battle, but once again you must plan to exploit future success or prevent failure. Once the reserve is determined, it is now an uncommitted force.

* A reserve must possess mobility that is equal or greater than the enemy’s most dangerous threat on the ground. If it does not it will not be responsive or be very successful when committed.

* If there is no feasible way of forming a reserve with your current mission and combat power, you may be able to utilize your forward security forces once they fall back or you pass through them. Obviously, this is not optimal because they have already conducted a draining mission, but it is an option.

* Ensure that your reserve has a complement of combat multipliers to assist it. Particularly important is engineer assets to assist in mobility.


* Within the offense, the normal uses of the reserve are to exploit success (rapidly), supporting the main effort by defeating or blocking enemy counterattack forces, and to continue the attack if the main effort stalls or slows.

* The positioning of the reserve during an offensive operation is a delicate matter. You do not want to locate it too forward in your formation because it then becomes more vulnerable to indirect and direct fire. However, if you position it too far back you risk losing the responsiveness that is critical in the commitment of the reserve. The key is obviously balancing these two factors.

* The priority of positioning a reserve should go to first exploiting success and assisting the main effort and then defeating or blocking counterattack forces.

* If the reserve is committed during an attack there must be good coordination and communication between all units to facilitate its maneuver. Maneuvering your reserve on the flank could lead to fratricide within the unit.


* Within the defense, the two main uses of the reserve are to conduct counterattacks to culminate an enemy attack and seize the initiative or to block or contain enemy forces that have penetrated your defense to prevent failure (the thumb in the dike approach). Additional uses may be to react to threats in your rear area, extend the flanks of your defense to prevent an envelopment, relieve a unit in your dense that has culminated or to provide security if you must conduct a retrograde operation (withdrawal, delay, or retirement).

* In the defense you would like to utilize your reserve to grab the momentum and then quickly transition to the offense.

* Ensure the reserve knows the locations of all obstacles that have been emplaced. As you can imagine it is not a good thing when the reserve is committed and it runs into friendly obstacles.

* Just as in the offense, the positioning of the reserve is critical in the defense. Again, they must be located where they will be responsive. In mechanized operations, it is crucial they have access to mobility routes to get where they need to go.

* You must keep the location of your reserve from your enemy. If they find it, they will go after it with their resources. This can be done by maximizing covered and concealed positions, using extended dispersion between vehicles, and repositioning it frequently.

* Within the defensive framework, you may give the reserve a battle position to prepare (good for deceiving the enemy as to its mission) or you may locate them in an assembly area.

* It is critical that the reserve rehearses its’ be-prepared missions. This enables you to determine who long it will take it to reach the areas you anticipate using them. Always rehearse the worst case scenario – protective gear (chemical suits/masks), night conditions etc…

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