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Posted on Aug 25, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101: 029 – The Defense

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


There are many reasons for a unit to conduct a defense. Let’s review some of the more common ones.

  • Defeat an Attacking Enemy – Certainly, the first thing that comes to mind is your opponent is attacking and you currently do not possess that capability. Thus, your unit will likely conduct defensive operations. The goal is to defeat your enemy and quickly create the opportunity for you to seize the initiative through the offense. Critical in this is being able to transition to the offense when that opportunity arises. This is easier said than done! We will talk about this later!
  • Deter an Attacking Enemy – You may develop a defense to deter your opponent into not attacking. In this case, you are trying to defeat him mentally and not physically. Through a combination of your preparation and perhaps some deception; you convince the enemy that attempting to attack you will be too costly an operation. With this the case, you benefit by conserving assets and not suffering casualties. These are benefits that will enable you to better transition into the offense.
  • Gain Valuable Time – There will exist periods when time is needed to prepare for a future offensive operation. If this the case, a unit will likely take up defensive positions in order to prepare for this operation. The goal of the defense is to slow or stop an enemy attack while continuously preparing to conduct an offensive operation.
  • Economy of Force – During planning, a commander may find that a small element under his command can control an area or piece of terrain enabling the rest of the unit to conduct another operation (normally of an offensive nature). Thus, the commander will utilize this smaller unit in a defensive posture.
  • Retain Key Terrain – As we discussed earlier in the series, in an operation there may be terrain that is considered key or even decisive for either (or both) sides in accomplishing a mission. Thus, a unit may develop a defense to ensure that piece of terrain stays in their hands and not that of the enemy.
  • Protect the Civilian Populace – Throughout the series, we have stressed the impact civilians can (and do) have on the battlefield. Because of the potential impact civilians can have not only militarily, but politically, there will be times when they may require protection. In order to provide this protection, units may prepare defensive operations to achieve this.
  • Protect Key Assets – Similar to protecting key terrain is the protection of a key asset. A key asset could be anything. The determination of key is certainly in the mind of either side. Perhaps, it is a military asset, economic asset, or cultural asset. If it is critical that it does not fall into the enemy’s hands, then it should be defended.
  • Develop Intelligence – There will be times when a unit’s knowledge of their enemy may be limited or may become limited. If that is the case, the unit can develop a defense in order to initiate recon operations to gain and maintain contact with their opponent. In this case, the defense is used as a base to begin these operations.

[continued on next page]


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