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Posted on Sep 18, 2012 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101 076 – The ‘Guard’ Mission in Security Ops

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland


“No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

In our last article, we dissected the first of the big “3” security operations – the screen. In our discussion, we addressed several areas as they related to the screen. These included: 1) Providing you a definition of the screen. 2) Laying out the characteristics of the screen. 3) Addressing the key concepts of the screen. 4) Describing how a unit typically conducts a screen focusing on its’ 5 phases. 5) Presenting the types of screen operations. 6) Finally, we provided you a visual of and the definitions of the control measures you would typically utilize in a screen. We hope the one thing you will remember regarding the screen is that it is a very challenging operation to conduct. It is one that takes quality planning and preparation to set the conditions for execution success. Those who think you can throw a screen mission together without this planning and preparation will suffer the consequences.


Our article this month will key on the second of the big “3” security operations – the guard. Our agenda will be reminiscent of the prior month. We will look at these areas: 1) The definition of the guard. 2) How a guard differs from a screen. 3) The critical tasks of a guard operation. 4) Organizing to conduct the guard. 5) The types of guard missions. and 6) The control measures normally utilized in a guard mission. Let’s Move Out!

Definition – A guard force protects the main body by either fighting to gain time or by attacking, defending, and/or delaying the enemy to prevent him from observing the main body and potentially engaging it with direct fires. Additionally, it can be the key component in providing the main body with the freedom of maneuver it desperately requires to achieve success. Throughout a guard mission, the force will observe the enemy and report its’ actions to higher headquarters. A guard can be conducted in support of a stationary force or a moving force. It can be utilized in an offensive or defensive mission.

How does a Guard differ from a Screen?
The guard is clearly a step up from the screen in most regards. These step-ups include the following:

  • It possesses far more combat power than a screen. Consequently, it is equipped with enough firepower so it can fix, repel and even defeat the lead elements of an enemy force so it can’t engage the main body with direct fires.
  • A guard force will usually be positioned on a narrower front than that of a screen force. Thus, in a guard force, vehicles will have less dispersion than in a screen. This enables the guard force to concentrate combat power if it is required to fix, repel, or defeat the enemy.
  • Because of the mission of the guard force, it will engage the enemy with both its own direct fires and generally the main body’s indirect fires. Remember, as with the screen force, a guard force will operate within range of the main body’s indirect fires. As we discussed last month, a screen force does not want to engage the enemy with direct fires unless absolutely necessary. A guard force is equipped and prepared to conduct this direct fire engagement.

Critical Tasks
A unit conducting a guard may need to execute a number of various tasks in order to be successful. These include:

  • Destroying the security forces of the enemy. A guard force should be capable of destroying or certainly defeating the advance guard (we will address what an advance guard is further in this article) of the enemy. It should easily be able to destroy any screen forces of an enemy.
  • An imperative of any security operation is to gain and maintain contact with your opponent. It is no different in a guard. In fact, a guard will possess far more assets than a screen force to gain and maintain this contact.
  • Keep continuous eyes on the avenues of approach into the main body. The enemy can conduct an attack on your forces at anytime. So whether you are attacking or in a defensive posture, the force must be vigilant on keeping surveillance on the enemy approaches into the main body. If your intelligence determines that enemy forces could be significant, then a guard force may be utilized.
  • If forced to displace, the guard force must understand that the enemy will be right on their heels. This will normally be recon and security units. Consequently, the guard force must be prepared to disrupt and delay any enemy forces maneuvering behind them. As we have discussed many times in this series, a delay is a challenging operation. The guard force must be trained to meet this challenge.
  • There may be situations where it is the main body of the enemy and not its’ recon and security that are on their heels. If that is the case, the guard force must be ready to conduct a delay on these forces.
  • This is obviously a no-brainer, but if enemy security forces are able to get past the guard force, they must ensure this is reported to the main body.
  • Guard forces, no matter where they are operating must maintain contact with main body forces. This is especially critical when guard forces are positioned on the flanks.

Call in The Cavalry

Organizing for the Guard
In tactics anything is possible, but many things just aren’t feasible. Consequently, when we talk about what size unit could generate a force to execute a guard, the most feasible is an armored or mechanized division. These divisions are equipped with the perfect unit, organization and mindset to execute the guard – the cavalry. More specifically, within the cavalry it is the squadron (normally part of a cavalry regiment).

An Excellent Blend of Air and Ground Assets

The cavalry squadron is an excellent blend of ground and air assets that can accomplish the critical tasks we highlighted above. A typical cav squadron will have three troops (companies) assigned to it. Each of these troops will be a blend of tanks and fighting vehicles. They are trained to protect, observe, and report. They are additionally trained to defend, attack, and delay. The cav squadron also is equipped with air troops. These troops will have some type of observation helicopters assigned to it. In combination, it is a perfect blend.

Some units may not be fortunate enough to have a cavalry unit assigned to it. If not, this is not to say they cannot conduct a guard. They must simply be a bit more creative in organization. In manning the guard, they should utilize the cav squadron as its’ template. With that template, the right size unit would be an armored or mechanized battalion task force. The task force should have at least three companies assigned to it. These companies would then each be task organized with a blend of tanks and fighting vehicles. The air portion of the mix may be a little more challenging to create. If this challenge is unfeasible, the unit will just go with the ground assets.

Three Types of Guard – Advance, Flank and Rear

Types of Guard Missions
There are three types of guard operations a force can execute. These are advance, flank, and rear. Obviously, the mission and tactical situation will determine if the guard is required and if so, what type. Below we will discuss each type.

Advance Guard
Let’s highlight the key aspects of an advance guard:

  • Positioned forward of the main body and any screen forces
  • Ensure the momentum of any main body offensive operation
  • Protect the main body from surprise whether it is maneuvering or stationary
  • Facilitate maneuver of the main body by removing obstacles, repairing roads/bridges in the axis of advance
  • Can be utilized in an offensive or defensive context
  • If the main body is conducting an offensive mission; the advance guard will almost always be offensive in nature
  • If the main body is conducting a defensive mission; the advance guard will almost always be defensive in nature

Infantry Fighting Vehicles – A Key Component of the Advance Guard

Defensive Advance Guard
When conducting an advance guard in support of a defensive operation, it is all about protecting the force. This protection will be in several areas. These include protection from enemy surveillance (enabling the enemy to acquire intelligence on the main body defensive preparation), protection from surprise enemy offensive operations, protection from enemy indirect fires, and protection from enemy direct fires.

When conducting the defensive advance guard, the force will set-up into a defensive posture. The extent of the preparation efforts are tied directly to the tactical situation and the intent of the commander. Preparation efforts could range from a very hasty defense (almost mirroring a screen) to a very deliberate defense with obstacles and extensive preparation.

In many cases, the defensive advance guard will have to conduct a delay of enemy forces. This can be one of the most difficult missions any unit can conduct. There are several reasons for that. First, the odds are likely that they will have to conduct this delay against the enemy’s recon and security units. These are usually well-trained forces that will be difficult for a guard force to delay against. Second, the guard force will have to conduct a rearward passage of lines through a well-prepared defense. This must be well-planned and coordinated. If not, the guard force could find themselves caught between the friendly defense and the rapidly advancing enemy. Third, conducting a defensive advance guard is a physically and mentally demanding operation. Asking them to now conduct a delay adds to their physical and mental exhaustion.

Offensive Advance Guard

Offensive Advance Guard
When conducting an advance guard in support of an offensive operation, it is all about freedom of maneuver. Consequently, the advance guard will execute tasks that achieve this purpose. Critical in their operation is to provide surveillance of the enemy, provide early warning to the main body of enemy actions, breach obstacles and clear maneuver routes, and if required to fix, defeat, or destroy enemy recon and security assets.

When conducting an advance guard, the force will almost always conduct a movement to conduct. This allows them to develop the situation for the main body. Because they are executing a movement to contact, the guard force may wind up conducting a variety of missions including a hasty attack or preparing a hasty defense.

Based on the size of the unit, the advance guard may actually follow a covering force (we will discuss the cover in our next article). When this occurs, the level of coordination and communication obviously increases dramatically.

The tasks of a unit conducting an offensive advance guard are significant. Certainly, you must give this mission to a well-trained unit. The best situation is for the higher headquarters to assign this to a cavalry unit as we discussed earlier. If a cav unit is not available, the higher headquarters must assign it to one of their better subordinate units. No matter the unit, they may be required to conduct the following:

  • Breach obstacles to ensure freedom of maneuver for the main body.
  • Conduct a passage of lines with a covering force if the covering force is required to fall back.
  • Clear any axis of advance that the main body may require.
  • If a covering force is utilized, the guard force may need to destroy any enemy forces the covering force has bypassed.
  • When contact is made with the enemy, the guard force may conduct offensive operations, conduct a defense, or execute a delay based on the situation.

The Flank Guard

A commander will want a flank guard when he has an exposed flank with his unit or he is concerned significantly about one of his flanks. This flank guard could occur in an offensive or defensive mission. Like most security operations it has three key tasks. First, protect the force from enemy ground observation. Second, protect the main body from enemy direct fire. Third, protect the main body from a surprise attack from the flank. A flank guard could be of two varieties — moving or stationary. Let’s address each below:

Moving Flank Guard

A moving flank guard is certainly a test for any unit to execute. There are two big challenges for the guard unit in conducting the moving flank guard. First, they must gauge their maneuver to ensure it is coordinated with the main body. If they maneuver too fast; they are little value to the main body. If they maneuver too slowly; they are little value to the main body. Second, they must be located at a distance sufficiently apart from the main body so that they can provide early warning and ensure the enemy can not engage the main body with direct fires. If they are located too close to the main body, they are obviously not providing early warning. In fact, it may not be any warning at all.

In executing maneuver, the guard force has the same basic techniques available to it as a screen force.

First, they can maneuver by alternate bounds by units in the guard force. Thus, they are playing a game of leap frog with the stakes being far higher.

Second, they can bound by successive bounds. Here the unit will execute a series of maneuver and set during the main body’s maneuver.

Finally, based on the main body’s maneuver, the guard force may simply conduct a continuous maneuver throughout the mission. Below you will find a table addressing each of the methods available:





Successive Bounds

Enemy contact likely; Main body slow; Bound by troops in succession or simultaneously

Most secure


Alternate Bounds

Enemy contact likely; Main body slow; Troops bound from rear to front

Secure; faster than successive


Continuous Marching

Enemy contact not likely; Main body fast; Troops remain in march column on route; Air screen on flank


Least secure

 Whatever technique is utilized, the moving flank guard force must achieve the following:

  • Maintain eyes, at all times, of any enemy avenues that could threaten the flank of the main body.
  • Conduct reconnaissance of area between guard force and main body if the situation dictates it.
  • Ensure enemy recon does not maneuver through the guard force into locations where they could direct indirect forces into the main body. This means they must destroy or repel enemy recon forces.
  • Ensure enemy security forces (this could be guard or covering forces) or main body forces do not get into positions from the flank where they can fire direct fire into the main body. This means they must fix, repel, or defeat these forces.
  • Keep in contact with the lead elements of the main body. This is the only way to coordinate the maneuver of the guard force and the main body.

Stationary Flank Guard

In a stationary flank guard, the first key task is for the guard unit to get into a quality position so that they can achieve their tasks. Normally, the guard unit will depart their initial locations and conduct a zone recon until they get into initial positions on the flank guard. This zone recon serves a number of purposes. Besides clearing the zone, it allows them to get a good feel of the terrain that they are operating in. Once the guard unit gets into these initial positions, the guard force has two options in how they will operate. The first is that they can conduct a defense. This defense will probably not have the depth you may like because the force is likely to be a little more dispersed. The other option is for the guard force to conduct a delay. What option do you use? As always, it depends on the terrain, the enemy situation, and the friendly situation. Whatever the option, the stationary flank guard force must achieve the following:

  • Maintain eyes, at all times, of any enemy avenues of approach which could threaten the flank of the main body.
  • Ensure enemy recon does not maneuver through guard force into locations where they could direct indirect forces into the main body. This means they must destroy or repel enemy recon forces.
  • Ensure enemy security forces (this could guard or covering forces) or main body forces do not get into positions from the flank where they can fire direct fire into the main body. This means they must fix, repel, or defeat these forces.

Of all the types of guard missions this is the most overlooked. In the rear guard, as the name suggests, the guard unit protects the rear of the main body. This area is likely to be occupied by logistical units, combat support units, and command and control nodes. A commander will normally assign a rear guard in two circumstances.

First, is when the main body is maneuvering at a significant rate and has distanced itself from the rear area. This could come when the unit is conducting a pursuit or exploitation. In this case, the commander may decide that he wants these rear area units to stay in their current positions. However, because he is concerned about their security, especially being attacked by enemy remnants that may have been bypassed he wants a security force with them. This is a great mission for a rear guard. In the above graphic, you see that the rear guard has developed a series of battle positions in which to fight from and protect the rear units.

Second, is when the unit is executing a form of retrograde (maneuvering away from the enemy). Consequently, the rear area units may need security in their maneuver. Of the two ways in which a rear guard is normally utilized, this is clearly the most difficult to execute. Not only must the rear guard force contend with all the elements usually associated with a delay, but they must also focus on protecting the rear area units. These are units not typically versed at delay actions; consequently this could get a little dicey (not a doctrinal term!). This will take a quality unit to achieve success.

Control Measures
Just like a screen, there is group of control measures which assist a unit in conducting a guard. These are predicated on the type of guard you are conducting. A stationary guard will likely utilize predominately defensive control measures. The control measures for a moving guard will resemble those used for a movement to contact. Additionally, depending on the situation there will be measures added which will facilitate other operations such as a passage of lines, delay, etc… Below we will depict these control measures graphically and follow that with a discussion on each particular control measure.

Above you will find some basic control measures to facilitate an offensive advance guard mission. As we discussed earlier, a force conducting an offensive advance guard will normally execute a movement to contact. So as you see in the graphics, control measures are developed to facilitate a movement and contact. These control measures must assist in providing flexibility to the unit. Critical in providing this flexibility is the use of checkpoints and phaselines (which you see in abundance). Additionally: 1) Boundaries are established for each troop’s maneuver. 2) Coordination points are established on the boundaries of units to assist in coordination and communication. 3) Aviation control measures are placed on the graphics. These include the future operating area of the aviation unit and their refueling/log area (FARP 1). 4) Locations for field artillery units are included along PL JEFF. These units are not internal to the guard unit, but you must carve out ground for them in order for them to support you.

A well-executed guard operation can truly set the conditions for a successful offensive or defensive operation. Its’ ability to protect the force in a variety of ways has an immeasurable effect. As this article has highlighted, a guard can take many forms. It, in itself, can be offensive or defensive in nature. It can be conducted to the front, flanks, or rear of the main body. It may be stationary or moving. Whatever the case, it takes a highly skilled and trained unit to execute a guard.

Our next article will focus on the last of the major security operations – the cover. Units conducting a cover possess significant combat power and are a force in themselves. We will look at how a covering force can be utilized in both the offense and the defense. We will also discuss how the cover ties into our previous security operations – the screen and guard. See you next month!