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Posted on Jul 17, 2012 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 074 – Security Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland



“Even in friendly territory, a fortified camp should be set-up; a general should never have to say, I DID NOT EXPECT IT.”

The Emperor Maurice

During the last two months, we have focused our efforts on the mix of heavy and light forces. As history has shown, a commander who can deftly combine the strengths of heavy and light forces has a significant advantage over his opponent. Of course, combining these forces takes a talented commander. In our past two articles, we provided you some ways on how you could combine these forces effectively. In doing this, we first looked at how you integrate a smaller light force with a larger heavy force (heavy/light). Then in our past article, we turned the tables and dissected how you integrate a smaller heavy force with a larger light force (light/heavy). We hope these articles shed some light on how these operations were effective in history and how you can utilize this mix on your future battlefields.


Beginning this month, we will dedicate a group of articles dissecting security operations. We will begin by looking at them as a whole and then we will start to get into the weeds. In our overall discussion, we will address the definition of security, the types of security operations, the fundamentals of security operations, and things you must consider when conducting security operations. With the preliminaries complete, we will then focus on three of the key types of security operations – Screen, Guard, and Cover in future articles. Let’s Move Out!

What are security operations? These are operations in which a unit conducts to provide them early (and accurate) warning of the enemy’s operations. The objective of security operations is to provide you with reaction time, maneuver space, and protection to the force. These operations can be conducted anywhere in relation to the unit’s main body – front, rear, and flanks.

After our discussion several months ago on reconnaissance operations; some may wonder what the difference between reconnaissance and security operations is. The key difference lies in the focus and emphasis. In security operations, the emphasis is on the friendly force. You are conducting the operation so nothing negative occurs to the friendly force. In recon operations, the focus or emphasis is on the enemy or on the terrain.


There are five basic types of security operations. These are screen, guard, cover, area security, and local security. Within this group, you can basically break them up into two groups. The first involves screen, guard, and cover which are generally the three that come to mind when discussing security operations. The other group is composed of area security and local security. These are almost always part of every unit’s overall posture. Below we will provide a brief discussion on each type. We will get into far more detail on each (especially screen, guard and cover) as we continue.

Screen – Screen operations are probably the most known of the ‘Big 3.’ The purpose of the screen is to position forces so they may provide early and accurate warning to the main body. In relation to guard and cover, a screen will consume less combat power. Because of this, you do not want your forces to get decisively engaged with enemy forces. You want them to simply do their mission, providing early and accurate warning.

Guard – In a guard mission, the force is upping the ante on a screen. In a guard, forces continue to provide early and accurate early warning to the main body. However, these forces are also asked to protect the main force and buy them time. They achieve this by preventing the enemy from observing the main body and not allowing them to fire direct fire weapons at the main body. To do this, the guard force may have to conduct reconnaissance, conduct offensive operations, form a defense, or conduct a delay. During a guard, the guard force will conduct their operations within the range of the main body’s indirect fire weapons.

Cover – In a cover mission, the force is upping the ante on a guard. In a cover, forces provide early and accurate early warning and protect the force. They will conduct recon, offensive operations, defend, and delay. The main difference in a cover is that the covering force can operate beyond the range of the main body’s indirect fire weapons. A unit conducting a cover will possess everything they require to operate independently. Obviously, this is a very robust force and a force that is well-trained.

Area Security – In area security, the unit positions forces to protect a certain critical area. This could be an installation, command post, logistical node, a portion of a supply route, etc….

Local Security – Most of us have heard the term, “Put out Local Security.” Whatever the size of the unit or the situation on the ground; putting out local security is a must. In basic terms, local security is placing security elements (better known as Soldiers) in areas near the unit so the unit doesn’t get surprised.


The fundamentals of security operations are nothing profound. In fact, in most cases they are things we have addressed in other discussions in the series. Yet, as mundane as they appear, it is vital for any unit that they are adhered to. Let’s touch on each of them below.

Provide early and accurate warning – This is one of the overriding fundamentals of security operations. You want to place your assets far enough forward so they can provide this early warning. However, you must balance this with putting them in no man’s land where you can’t assist them in a timely manner if they get in trouble. A unit with the means can mix technological assets with conventional means to achieve this.

Provide reaction time and maneuver space – This is one of the more challenging of the fundamentals to achieve. The key in this fundamental is being able to locate your security forces as far away from the main body as tactically possible. This should translate into more reaction time and maneuver space. This is aided when you can provide this force as much combat power as feasible.

Orient on the force or facility to be secured – Security forces must always understand that their mission is tied directly to the security of the main body or a location. Thus, these forces must have a continuous understanding of how their actions and location on the ground impact their ability to conduct security.

Perform continuous reconnaissance – We addressed this fundamental pretty extensively in our recon series. To reiterate, recon and security is 24 hour a day business. Anything less, puts a unit at a huge disadvantage. You cannot make up this time no matter how good the unit is.

Maintain enemy contact – Again, another fundamental that has found its way in various operations. Once you have gained enemy contact (remember, this does not have to be physical, it can be visual); you must ensure you maintain it. Maintaining enemy contact can mean several things. First, you may originally have gained contact physically, but because of the situation you switch it to visual means. This could mean aerial assets such as a drone. Second, the unit originally making contact can be switched out by another unit to ensure no break in coverage.

Considerations When Planning a Security Mission
As we highlighted earlier, we will address screen, guard, and cover separately in significant detail later. However, there are many planning considerations which relate to each of them. Let’s discuss these below.

What are you securing? It all begins with what you determine must be secured. The Commander will determine what he deems is critical in the security arena. In determining this, he this will set the table for the rest of your security planning.

What type of security operations is required? There are many things that will dictate the type of security operations you will conduct. Of course, the upcoming mission of the unit will obviously influence the type of security operations the unit will conduct. The terrain you are operating in will impact what types of security operations are feasible and which ones could be a significant challenge to conduct. The enemy always has a vote and their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses will come into play. Finally, the capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and experience will play a part in determining the optimal security operation.

What are the specifics on the security area? Terrain management is vital on the battlefield. This is certainly true in security operations. As stated in our fundamentals section, providing maneuver space is usually imperative. Consequently, you want to mold the security area so that it provides this maneuver space. In analyzing the security area, you ultimately want to determine the depth, width, and orientation of the security area. These should be driven by the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) you have conducted. This should provide you things such as enemy avenues of approach, enemy recon capabilities, etc…. These will assist in formulating the security area.

What are the constraints of the mission? During planning, guidance should be given by the commander on security operations. Within this guidance, the commander many place some constraints on the security mission. These constraints could include things such as engagement criteria, withdrawal criteria, etc…. Constraints will clearly shape the type of security you will conduct.

Where will you place your initial observation posts? As we stated earlier, recon and security is 24 hour business. In order to not lose any initiative, a key action is to place Observation Posts (OPs) on the battlefield as soon as possible. These observation posts will set the conditions for a unit to conduct the three principle types of security operations. There is truly an art and science to emplacing OPs. We will discuss this art and science in a future article.

What types of observation posts will you utilize? You have options in the type of observation post you can emplace. The two basic types of OPs are mounted and dismounted. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, the tactical situation and terrain will dictate the type of OP. In many cases, a unit will utilize a mix of OPs to achieve the required results. Let’s go into a little more detail on each type.

Mounted OP – As the name suggests, a mounted OP is one in which observation is conducted via a vehicle platform. This type of OP has several strengths. First, the vehicle is usually equipped with some ‘high speed’ optics aiding in observation. Second, if needed, most vehicles will possess some potent weapon systems on board. Thus, if engagement of the enemy is needed; a mounted OP should be more lethal than a dismounted OP. Finally, again, if needed, a mounted OP can ‘hightail it out of the AO’ (not a doctrinal term!) much quicker than a dismounted OP. Of course, mounted OPs do have some weaknesses. The key one being that it is difficult to hide mounted OPs from the enemy (a true art). Consequently, when steathiness is at a premium, a mounted OP is not the optimal method.

Dismounted OP – The strengths and weaknesses of utilizing dismounted OPs are a polar opposite from mounted OPs. The strength of dismounted OPs is clearly their stealthiness. Soldiers experienced in dismounted OP operations can be nearly impossible to detect by their opponents. In fact, there are numerous examples in warfare where dismounted OPs were hidden for days in the midst of an enemy position. Since a dismounted OP is virtually Soldier dependent (whatever the Soldier can carry or do physically) it has several challenges. First, the optics available to the individual Soldier just can’t compare to those vehicles may possess. This of course influences the quality of observation. Second, Soldiers on a dismounted OP simply cannot carry the firepower a vehicle will have. Finally, if the situation becomes precarious; the ability of a dismounted OP to displace can be highly difficult and time-consuming.

What is the endstate for the security mission? Security missions as part of a relatively short-term tactical operation (a defense or an attack) are normally not open-ended. Consequently, it is wise for the commander to specify an end-state to the mission. Endstates should be either time-driven or event-driven. A time-driven is obviously tied directly to a time period. For example, a commander may want a screen forward of his main body for six hours. Thus, the endstate for that mission is six hours. Certainly, this time could fluctuate based on what is taking place on the ground; but for now the mission is complete in six hours. Event-driven endstates correlate to an event occurring on the ground. For example, the commander may require a force to conduct a guard operation as the main body prepares a defense. Once the defense is set and the enemy begins to conduct their attack; the commander may order the guard force to complete their mission and fall back to the rear of the main body.

Will you need to augment your security forces? One of the key considerations in security planning is determining how to augment your security forces to achieve their mission. Some units are organized, equipped and trained to conduct security operations (in particular, cavalry units). However, many units assigned a security mission do not possess these characteristics. With that the case, you must determine what is required for the mission and what the unit currently has. The higher headquarters must then decide how it will make up this ‘delta’. This augmentation could be in the form of combat forces, but is usually more combat support and combat service support related. These resources could be things such as engineer assets, types of radars, chemical recon and decontamination assets, and logistical support. Augmentation can occur in any of the types of security operations – screen, guard, or cover.

What intelligence support is required? When we discuss security operations; one of the first things that should come to mind is intelligence support. Obviously, intelligence is critical in all areas of warfighting. However, nowhere is it more essential to assisting in mission accomplishment than in security operations. Once again, the two principle variables are the type of security mission to be conducted and the capabilities the unit assigned the mission possesses. The intelligence support that may be required can come in numerous forms. This could include radars and sensors, high level assets from the theater or national level, and aviation assets which are specially developed to acquire intelligence. Normally, the key thing these assets buy for the unit conducting the security mission is time. Because of these asset’s unique capabilities; they can track enemy maneuver from great distances. This assists the security unit in acquiring the time and space the main body requires.

What indirect fire support is required? The extent of indirect fire support for a unit conducting a security mission is based principally on the specific type of the security mission. Each of three main security missions (screen, guard, and cover) will have different indirect fire support needs. Indirect fires are particularly important for a screen force. Normally, these forces are fairly light on combat force. Thus, if they get into trouble; indirect fire is the preferred option in enabling them to break contact. Within a guard operation, forces are still within friendly indirect fire range. Consequently, they require indirect fire support from their higher headquarters. This fire support can be a little more challenging because fighting between guard forces and the enemy is usually more intense than in a screen. In a cover mission, the force is almost always robust. Within this lethality are organic indirect fire support assets, so they can operate outside the main body’s indirect fire range. To summarize this consideration, the commander must place his assets in supportable locations in a screen or guard operation. In a cover, he must ensure the force is internally equipped with the indirect fire assets they may need.

How will you integrate any aviation support (if available) with the ground forces? One of the best ways to increase your ability to accomplish your security mission is to integrate aviation support with your ground forces. This integration is a challenge based on the complexities of utilizing air. One of the biggest challenges is that aviation can’t truly occupy ground. In security operations, the ability to occupy terrain in key locations is a huge advantage. With that said, aviation can be extremely valuable in security operations. The following are some ways aviation can support the ground effort:

  • Can be utilized forward of the ground units to extend the depth and width of your security.
  • Can be used to plug gaps between security units if needed.
  • Can be utilized to keep a link between the main body and the security unit.
  • Because of its’ capabilities can provide early warning in areas ground assets may not be able to physically get to.
  • Depending on the aircraft (preferably attack aviation) can be utilized to aid ground units in breaking contact if the tactical situation warrants.
  • Can recon areas which ground units may soon occupy.

Will engineer support be needed? Depending on the type of security operation, engineer support can be a huge multiplier. In security operations, mobility is clearly one of the keys to success. Engineers can be instrumental in assisting in gaining and maintaining the mobility advantage over your opponent. Engineers can aide in mobility in a number of ways in security. These include:

  • Creating maneuver routes where they currently do not exist.
  • Breaching obstacles/minefields if required.
  • Developing survivability positions (vehicle or soldier) if needed.
  • Emplacing obstacles/minefields to assist in creating maneuver space or buying time.

How will you logistically support the operation? Logistically supporting units conducting security operations can be a huge challenge. For some units, who are equipped and organized to conduct these type of operations this is not as significant. However, for units not as fortunate it is a different story. There are several critical actions that should take place (no matter what type of security operation) to aid in supporting the security unit. These include:

  • Logistical planning starts as soon as there is a warning order for the mission.
  • For the organization conducting the security mission, someone must be responsible for logistics. Normally, this is pretty cut and dried. However, in other cases, the unit may be a hodge-podge of smaller units and the rose may be a little more difficult to pin.
  • Once the above person is identified, they must immediately establish link-up with the higher headquarters logistical POC. This communications must be established quickly.
  • There are many variables that will affect the degree of log support needed. This includes the type of security mission, the distance from the security unit to the main body, log capabilities of all units, etc….

How will you medically support the operation? Medical support for a unit executing a security operation is even more challenging than supporting them logistically. The challenges in medical support are pretty straight-forward. The over-riding factor is time. Nowhere is time more critical than in medical evacuation. The environment surrounding security operations greatly affects the ability to evacuate casualties in a timely matter. This environment includes: 1) The distance separating the security unit with the main medical facilities. 2) The terrain in which the security unit is operating can be difficult to maneuver medical evacuation vehicles. 3) In a security mission, it is critical that you strive to remain undetected from your opponent. This is complicated when you are attempting to evacuate casualties out of the area of operations.

How will you command and control the operation? As in any operation, a commander must position himself where he can best command and control his unit. The commander must conduct some quality analysis in determining his location. This is because once in position, it can difficult to move to another location without giving away your location to the enemy. Units must be disciplined in their reporting procedures while conducting a security operation. Undisciplined procedures will quickly give away your positions to a savvy (and even a not so savvy) enemy.

Are there any special requirements in the operation? A commander should always dictate any special requirements he has for the unit conducting the security operation. In some cases, these special requirements can be considered constraints on the unit. These special requirements can be things such as engagement criteria, disengagement criteria, bypass criteria, reporting instructions, indirect fire restrictions, dealing with civilians on the battlefield, observing certain locations on the battlefield, and various restrictions based on the rules of engagement.

Are there any enemy considerations that must be addressed? Just as in any mission, you must conduct quality Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) to set the conditions for success. In regards to a security mission, there are some things that clearly stand-out as things you want to know about your foe. These include:

  • Strength and capabilities of all enemy recon elements that are or may be operating in the security mission area of operations.
  • Strength and capabilities of enemy security elements that are or may be operating in the security mission area of operations.
  • Known locations or templated locations of any enemy forces that may have been bypassed in past operations.
  • Routes you believe the enemy will utilize for reconnaissance or infiltration.
  • The capabilities the enemy has in conducting infiltration.
  • The capabilities the enemy possesses in conducting an aerial insertion.
  • Locations you believe the enemy could utilize to position observation posts or indirect fire observers.
  • The enemy’s capabilities in surveillance assets. This could include various radars and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
  • Determining what field artillery assets the enemy possesses that can range the anticipated locations of the security unit.

How will you conduct coordination in the security area? One of the most challenging and critical aspects of a security mission is conducting the necessary coordination between and among units. This coordination can take many forms. These include:

  • A security mission can involve operating in inhospitable terrain and may cause a unit to operate in depths and widths they are not accustomed to. These factors can result in causing gaps in the unit’s coverage. Consequently, coordination must be conducted to ensure these potential gaps are covered within the unit. These gaps can be mitigated if the unit possesses technology such as radars and other surveillance assets.
  • Many times there is a significant distance between the security unit and the main body. Coordination must be conducted to ensure the main body knows exactly where the security unit is operating and what they are doing.
  • Once a unit is given a security mission, it may be required to pass through other units to get to its’ specified location. This will require coordination between all units to conduct this passage of lines.
  • Vice versa, once the unit has completed its’ mission, it will generally maneuver back to and through the main body. Coordination must take place between units to ensure this rearward passage of lines is conducted without a hitch.
  • One of the key pieces of coordination that must be done is between the security unit and units from other commands. This coordination must take place so units know who may be operating on their flanks, forward of their location, or to their rear. A lack of this awareness can lead to disastrous consequences.

Needless to say, security is an imperative. You may have the greatest plan in the world, but if your security is a sieve; you will never get to execute this plan. In this article, we wanted to provide you a solid background on security operations. We included the types of security operations, the fundamentals of security operations, and concluded with a group of considerations you should reflect on during the planning of any security operation. This background will set the conditions for our following articles.

We have covered the basics of security operations. Now it is time to dissect the first major type of security mission – the screen. Our discussion next month will address all facets of the screen – planning, preparation, and execution. At first glance, it may appear that executing a screen is a pretty elementary operation. However, as you will discover there is far more to a screen than meets the eye. See you next month!