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Posted on Nov 29, 2010 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 055 – Military Deception

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

All warfare is based upon deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe that we are away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”


Sun Tzu


How are you going to deceive the enemy? We can not count how many times we have heard this question during the planning process for a mission. Clearly, there are many who are deeply enamored with military deception. For some, it is the ultimate benchmark in measuring the quality of a commander.


Now we are not here to say that military deception is not a good thing. Certainly, there are numerous examples in history where a well-crafted, properly prepared, and skillfully executed deception operation was the key factor in achieving victory. However, we are here to say that deception does not have to be part of every mission. There are simply times when the enemy or friendly situation or the terrain and weather are not conducive to deception operations. There is no written rule in tactics and warfighting that you must attempt to deceive your enemy in every mission or operation.

With that said, when deception is feasible and can contribute to mission accomplishment; then a commander must be able to plan, prepare, and execute. That is the purpose of our upcoming articles. We will go into detail on the planning, preparation, and execution of military deception operations. Because of the complexity of the subject, we will devote a mini-series to it.

Our goal in this series is not to make you experts on military deception. In fact, there are very few individuals in history who could be classified as true authorities in the area. What we do hope to attain is provide you with enough knowledge and confidence on military deception so that you can utilize it on your battlefield. Again, that is if the opportunity is there for you.


In our initial article in the series, we will focus on the basics. We will provide you a basic background on military deception so we can get into the ‘how-tos’ in future articles. The specific areas we will address this month are: 1) History of military deception. 2) The definition of military deception. 3) The functions of military deception. 4) The principles of military deception. 5) The components of military deception. 6) When does military deception work? and 7) When does military deception fail? We have much to discuss, so let’s begin.


The use of military deception has been around as military operations themselves. Let’s highlight a few of the more famous and successful of these efforts.


Perhaps, one of the more well-known instances of deception occurred during the Trojan War. In this case, the Greeks built a large wooden horse and positioned it outside the Trojan gates. Inside the horse, the Greeks had placed 30 of their best soldiers. The Greeks then sold the Trojans that they had sailed away and left the horse. The Trojans opened the gates and dragged the horse into the city. That night the soldiers sneaked out of the horse and opened the Trojan gates. Their fellow soldiers, who the Trojans thought had sailed away were waiting outside the gates. Once the gate opened, they moved into the city of Troy and destroyed it. The war was over.

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