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Posted on Oct 15, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 031 – The Engagement Area

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

In simple terms, it is a place on the ground where a commander wants to contain or destroy his attacking enemy. In order to accomplish this, the commander must utilize the full complement of assets and resources he possesses or can obtain. These include direct fire weapons, indirect fire systems, emplaced obstacles, electronic warfare, etc….

Without a well-planned and properly prepared and rehearsed engagement area, it is extremely difficult for a defender to achieve his mission against a quality enemy. It is the engagement area which provides focus and assists a unit in massing its’ effects against its’ foe. A unit which does not designate and prepare engagement areas is highly likely to mismanage resources and not use its’ assets to their full capability.


1. The Preparatory Work. As in any endeavor, you must set the conditions in order to be successful. In building an engagement area, that preparatory work is for the commander and his staff to understand themselves, the enemy, and the terrain. In other words, they must conduct a thorough mission analysis. The outputs of this analysis should include answering the following questions:

The Enemy:

  • What do you believe is their mission (task and purpose)?
  • What size unit can you expect to attack into your area of operations?
  • What types of equipment will the enemy possess? Especially important is what types of quantities of breaching assets does he possess?
  • What are their strengths?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are their tactics, techniques, and procedures?
  • Friendly:
  • What is the mission (task and purpose) you gave been given by your higher headquarters?
  • What do you believe are your strengths and weaknesses in executing this mission?
  • What do you believe the enemy perceives are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are you short any assets or resources that may hinder your ability to prepare a defense?

The Terrain:

  • What is key terrain?
  • Is there decisive terrain?
  • What are the avenues of approach for the attacker?
  • Does the area of operations contain any natural obstacles that will influence enemy maneuver or can be utilized to deter enemy maneuver?
  • What areas appear best as defensible terrain?

2. Leader’s Reconnaissance. Armed with the above, the commander with key staff members and all available subordinate leaders should complete a leader’s recon of the defensive area of operations. After all, nothing takes the place of actual boots on the ground! A timely leader’s recon is critical! Every minute you delay in conducting the recon translates into lost time in preparation of the defense. It is not time that can be made up.

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  1. mr sutherland please drop me aline. been waiting for some time now.

  2. This is serious work. Why is it made so difficult to follow it? As far as I can tell…one must tediously seek articles in this series by paging through all the stuff in the college page by page?

    Surely there must be a better way?

    Mike In Phoenix

    • Mike, on the ACG home page type “Tactics 101” in the search box; be sure you enclose Tactics 101 in quotation marks. That will bring up links to each article in the series.

      • TY, GDS,

        Will do…have the folks at AG considered adding the wikibook function? Might be outstanding.