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Posted on Apr 18, 2006 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 003. The Decisive Point

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

Let’s do a little practice! Here’s the scenario (click all pictures for larger versions):


You are Commander of 3-15 Infantry (a Mechanized Heavy Task Force). You are part of a Brigade that includes 1-7 Infantry and 4-2 Infantry (also Mechanized Heavy Task Forces). Your Brigade’s overall mission is to defeat enemy forces in designated objectives in order to facilitate the maneuver of 2 BDE (behind you) to their objective (OBJ 2 BDE). Your task is to seize OBJ 3-15 in order to open a high speed maneuver route for 2 BDE. Before crossing their line of departure, 2 BDE will decide to either follow your Task Force or 4-2 Infantry (depending who has the greatest success). The mission of 1-7 Infantry is to seize OBJ 1-7 in order to protect your west flank. Following is a quick mission analysis (obviously not as detailed as needed) to give you a little more knowledge of the situation.



You are the BDE Main Effort (you have priority of support)
You possess 2 Bradley Companies and 1 M1 Tank Company
You have dismounted infantry (80 Soldiers)
You have 3 mine plows (one per tank platoon)
You have smoke available


This is the desert which means high visibility. Consequently, your initial mechanized movement will be detected.
The hills in your area of operations can be crossed by tanks at the tip of the ridges.
The rough terrain favors infantry penetration.
During the day the weather is hot. This will affect the use of smoke and the physical capabilities of the dismounted infantry.


The enemy is tank heavy (principally T72s) that are inferior to your M1s.
He will utilize a combat outpost (3 BMPs) positioned forward of his main defensive belt for security.
You do not expect much dismounted infantry.
His forces are dispersed and mutually supporting.
He has not had much time to dig-in positions or obstacles.
He will tie his defense into existing terrain.

Take some time to further analyze the mission and then determine a decisive point that will enable you to seize OBJ 3-15. Remember, decide what is that key piece of terrain, or that enemy unit, or that time or event that is the key to enabling you to seize OBJ 3-15. We will give you some potential decisive points later. DON’T CHEAT AND SCROLL DOWN!

All right, now that you have done your homework – here are some potential decisive points. (No right answer!) In the first example, the Commander believed that the key to seizing OBJ 3-15 is controlling the hilltop overlooking where the enemy main defensive belt is located. Controlling that hilltop allows him to envelop the enemy from the east and not make a frontal attack.


Our second Commander believes that the key to seizing OBJ 3-15 is the destruction of the enemy’s combat outpost north of the enemy main defensive belt. The Commander feels that the destruction of this unit will take away his forward security and enable him to envelop the enemy from the west.


Our final Commander believes the key to seizing OBJ 3-15 is conducting a simultaneous attack from both flanks. He feels that timing is critical and that each flank should be attacked simultaneously. Based on his experience, he believes that if there is a gap between the attacks, he will not be successful in seizing the objective. This Commander is truly time –oriented.


Each Commander after determining his decisive point now has that systematic path to begin course of action development. The decisive point allows him to focus his planning.

Hopefully, this article has showed you how important the decisive point is in planning. If you have not utilized this technique before, it is truly an acquired art. If you are struggling with the concept, drop us a line in the forum. We are here to help (you may have heard this before, but we mean it)!

Next time, we will discuss how to develop your course of action after determining your decisive point. Our discussion will focus on main and supporting efforts and the concepts of task and purpose.

RICK BAILLERGEON is a retired U.S. Army Infantry Officer. His assignments included serving as a member of the Opposing Force and as an Observer/ Controller at the National Training Center, an assignment as a Brigade Operations Planner, two company commands (including an infantry company during Desert Shield/Desert Storm), and serving two tours as a battalion executive officer and one tour as a brigade deputy commander in infantry units. He has taught tactics at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College for six years. During his tenure, he has received many awards including being twice named Instructor of the Year. He is currently an associate professor at the College and is serving as Chief of Faculty Development in the Center for Army Tactics (as well as teaching). Mr. Baillergeon has published numerous articles in the area of tactics and dozens of military history book reviews. He additionally completed a master’s thesis on the performance of Field Marshal William Slim during the World War II Burma Campaign.

JOHN SUTHERLAND is a retired U.S. Army Infantry Officer. His past assignments include: OPFOR at the National Training Center, assistant battalion operations officer, company commander during Operation Desert Shield / Desert Storm, assistant Brigade Operations Officer, chief of plans and exercises and deputy operations officer in Korea, land component planner in Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and Coalition Forces Headquarters (CFH / CENTCOM) during Operation Enduring Freedom / Iraqi Freedom, and Chief of Studies and Analysis for the Joint Center for Operational Analysis, Joint Forces Command (JCOA, JFCOM). He has taught tactics at the U.S. Army Infantry Center at Fort Benning and at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Mr. Sutherland is a published author and is currently working as a government employee at the Joint Center for Operational Analysis in Suffolk, Virginia.

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  1. Are there any hard and fast rules about determining decisive points?

    How does one determine decisive points when they are given little information on the enemy?

    Given a very casual situation (such as an outdoor paintball match with rank amateurs) would you concentrate more on the terrain oriented decisive points, enemy oriented decisive points?

  2. Corps level is tactical but bordering the operational level.
    Are DP´s valid? …Or should we use GOG concept?

    Can you show us any historical case study about DP/COG in Corps level?

  3. are thear eny key rules that:
    decisive point has to destroy,seiz or achieve by- decisive operation or shaping operations? or both?

  4. Any chance the images can be reuploaded?


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