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Posted on Aug 25, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101: 029 – The Defense

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

In general, there exist some overarching principles that apply to all forms of the defense. These principles if adhered to will certainly assist a unit in achieving their objectives while executing the defensive operation. Let’s touch on each of these.

Preparation — One of the key potential advantages of the defense is the time available a unit has for preparation. In our experience, some commanders/units use this time in preparation to its’ full extent. There are others, unfortunately who do little in preparation and suffer the consequences later. As expected, most fall somewhere in between. There are numerous actions/activities a unit should/can do during preparation. The critical thing to remember in preparation is that it is never complete. Good units will continue preparation until it is simply no longer feasible. Below are some of actions/activities a unit can/should execute in preparation:

  • Before starting preparation everyone must understand the mission and the commander’s intent.
  • Establish priorities of work in preparing the defense. You must have a game plan in your preparation.
  • Establish priorities for your assets utilized in preparing the defense (bulldozers, plows, etc.).
  • Conduct rehearsals (the more realistic and complete the better).
  • Develop engagement areas (where you want to kill the enemy).
  • Improve existing terrain to favor the defense (emplace obstacles).
  • Prepare your reserve and any counterattack forces.
  • Ensure logistics are pushed forward.
  • Constant leadership to ensure adequate preparation is taking place.

Security – A unit must plan and execute sound security operations throughout the conduct of a defense. Well-planned and executed security operations are often the difference between winning and losing on the battlefield. Security operations should deceive your foe as to your locations, strengths, and weaknesses. They should be planned to deter or defeat enemy reconnaissance operations. Well-executed security operations should provide the unit sufficient early warning. Thus, enabling them to execute their plan or contingencies they have developed. Security operations can include a myriad of actions such as force protection measures and information operation activities. Unfortunately, as in most areas involved in combat operations, the requirements will always exceed the assets available. The good commanders have the innate ability to place their assets at the right place at the right time.

Massing Effects – The defense is all about massing your elements of combat power at the right place and the right time (decisive point). The commander who piece meals his combat power and does mass his effects is soon to become a defeated commander. Massing effects is all about give and take. In order to mass in one area you must assume risk in other areas. We will discuss this topic in far greater detail in a future article.

Disruption – A commander in the defense can’t allow his opponent to conduct his attack as he planned and prepared. The commander must conduct various actions that disrupt the synchronization and tempo of his opponent’s attack. These actions include: 1) Defeat or deter the opponent’s reconnaissance forces. 2) break up his formations (mainly through the use of field artillery, air and obstacles). 3) Isolate units or assets that may be critical to his plan. 4) Neutralize his use of field artillery. 5) Find his reserve and make it unusable. 6) Conduct actions that mentally slow down the enemy’s decision cycle (OODA Loop). 7) Hinder communication/coordination between his maneuver and his combat support/service support elements.

Flexibility – The commander who does not plan for the unexpected is setting up his unit for failure. As we have heard numerous times, “the enemy has a vote.” Consequently, a commander must develop flexibility in his plan. Flexibility enables him to react to the unexpected. More importantly, flexibility enables him to take advantage of those precious windows of opportunity that occur on the battlefield. Flexibility can come from a variety of areas. This can include ability to shift the unit’s main effort when required, developing alternate and supplementary battle positions, planning and preparing counterattacks, maintaining a reserve, and being prepared to transition to the offensive when the opportunity presents itself.

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