Tactics 101

How it all fits together.

"Everything in Strategy is simple, but that does not mean it is easy." – Clausewitz


Strategy and Tactics used to be considered separate entities, with Tactics used to manage the battles, and Strategy used to manage the entire conflict. In today’s fast paced world, Diplomacy (Grand Strategy), Strategy and Tactics (Operational Strategy) are blurred together into different levels of the same pyramid.

Grand Strategy

Grand Strategy, usually known as Diplomacy, is beyond the scope of most wargames, as it is run by the civilian control of the military forces. It determines the scope of the problem and the viable methods to resolve the problem. The scope can be simply described as, "What do we want our opponent to do?" The methods used to solve the problem can be Diplomatic (negotiation), Economic (sanctions) or Combative (military action).


Strategy analyzes what resources and tools exist in your inventory, and the best placement and use of those resources to achieve the short-term goals (Tactics) necessary to move toward completion of the goals stated by the diplomatic level.

There are four legs to the chair of Strategy: Training, Logistics, C3I and Unity of Command. Everything all military forces can and are able to do draw upon these four resources.

Training: An old military saying goes, "the more you sweat in peacetime, the less you’ll bleed in wartime." A private-sector business axiom says, "if you think training is expensive, try ignorance." Training lets commanders know what the troops can, and more importantly, cannot do. There is no bigger waste of men and materials than to send troops out to try and perform jobs they are not trained to do when you have other options. You do not send regular infantry out to perform surgical rear echelon strikes, and you do not send Special Forces out into set piece battles like they are regular infantry.

Logistics: In ancient times, armies traveled on their stomachs. Today, the modern soldier, sailor and airman would be unable to effectively fight without the resources provided by the logistical supply train. Logistics is more than just bombs, bullets, food and fuel. There is a very involved infrastructure that must get these items from the factories to the front line fighters. I was in Guam during Desert Shield and Storm, and during the buildup, every day all day Air Force cargo aircraft delivered supplies from stateside which were convoyed down to the Naval Base where they were loaded on ships and delivered to the Persian Gulf. We also had two RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) Logistics ships constantly moored in the middle of the harbor until the buildup. Each ship had the vehicles, artillery and ammunition that would keep a Marine Battalion fighting for 90 days. Deliver the troops by aircraft from anywhere in the world and drive the ship to the nearest port and all of a sudden you have a #10 can of Whup-Ass ready to get opened on anybody, any time.

Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence: C3I is the way of knowing what Patton said, "Any Commander should know the positions and dispositions of all units two levels below him." To violate this rule is to overload your commanders with too much information and "losing the picture." In other words, a Corps level commander should know where his Divisions and Brigades are. A Brigade commander has to know where his Battalions and Companies are, and so on.

Control and communications is essential because it delivers tactical data up and orders down in the chain of command quickly. This allows for a rapid response to enemy action. If you can "get inside" the enemy’s decision curve (make tactical and strategic decisions faster than they do) then you can control the battlefield. You can move troops quicker than they can and be able to exploit weaknesses in the enemy lines.

Intelligence: This can take many forms. Knowing strength and location of enemy units, supply caches and lines of resupply are all forms of intelligence. Knowing what he will do by being able to intercept transmissions is worth its weight in blood. We won the Pacific and the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII because we were able to read their messages almost as fast as the enemy did. Intercepted communications directly led to our victory at Midway.

Unity of Command: This leg has only come about in the last few years and is an extension of the integration of C3I and Logistics into strategic planning.

In WWII, each service had clear areas of operation. The Navy would conduct battles and deliver supplies over water, then used Marines as shock troops to take the beachheads. Once the battle moved inland, the Army took over.

Today, every military unit has unique strengths and weaknesses. Home Depot has 27 different types of hammers, each for a different type of job because you don’t use a 5-pound sledgehammer to drive finishing nails. You determine the needs of a mission, then get the right unit, regardless of service, to do the job.

When you have a job that needs to be done, you pick the units that are best trained to do that job and let them do it. The debacle at Desert One (Operation Eagle Claw, the Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980) was a classic case of how not to use Unity of Command.

The catastrophe at Desert One was caused directly by the Diplomatic level being unable to hand the rescue job to one group. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were all involved in the operation. Forced to work together, unfamiliar with each other’s training, incompatible equipment, different methods and terminology, failure was assured.

Today, officers that are on the way up to higher ranks are required to spend time working with the other forces so they know how things work in all of the services. They become familiar with all of the different hammers the US military has.


Tactics uses individual units to accomplish the short-term goals required by the Strategic level. I discuss the tools in the Tactical Weapons section below. Knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of your troops is the first and most important requirement of any field commander.

The Army Field Manual FM-3 Military Operations defines nine Principles of War and uses the mnemonic device MOOSEMUSS.

Mass = Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time

This is the ability to deploy sufficient forces at a concentrated point to complete the objective. In wargames, players try to keep things balanced as possible so that either player has a chance of winning the game. In real life, if an objective is defended by a division of troops, you send in three or four divisions (provided of course that you have such forces available) because you want to win with the fewest number of casualties on your side.

In both Gulf Wars, the Coalition forces presented overwhelming force against Iraq by using precision munitions. In the first Gulf War, it was about 10% precision munitions out of all of the weapons dropped; In the Second, it was 90%. Many Iraqi (and Taliban) troops died and equipment was destroyed before they knew they were under attack.

Objective = Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective

The Military equivalent of the motivational SMART goals, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited.

Offensive = Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative

The junior officers and senior NCO’s of US armed forces are trained to constantly assess the tactical situation and to act and seize tactical objectives without needing to obtain permission from “higher-ups” which means we can get “under the decision curve” of those we face in battle with rigid command structures where all of the thinking is done at the higher levels.

Surprise = Strike the enemy at a time, at a place, or in a manner for which he is unprepared

Concealment of your forces and intentions is a major psychological tool. In fact, according to Sun Tzu, "All combat is based on deception." To have your units pop up in unexpected areas or have them feint attacking a position is a sure-fire way to catch him "leaning the wrong way," or have him expose his flank / rear area to your otherwise unengaged units. A classic example is Operation Mincemeat, a British operation which ended up not only convincing the Germans to redeploy three Panzer divisions and ships to Greece to fight off an Allied invasion (it actually hit Sicily), but when actual, critical documents were discovered about D-Day and Market Garden operations, the Germans acted in an opposite manner, believing they were likewise false documents.

Economy of force = Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts

Secondary goals can be important, but they’re just icing on the cake. Allocate forces to secondary objectives when you’re sure it will not compromise achieving the primary goal.

Maneuver = Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power

The ability of the units to get where they are needed to complete mission objectives. Having a better ability to maneuver than your enemy gives you the advantage of controlling the tempo of the battle. If you can make and break contact with the enemy at will, you can push and pull him where you want him to go. To become "decisively engaged" (i.e., a toe-to-toe slugfest) destroys your ability to maneuver and you can lose the initiative.

Unity of command = For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander

Being able to draw from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines as needed means you can make sure you have the right tactical unit to accomplish the job you need completed. The added requirement is you need to train the troops and commanders from different services to be able to work with everyone else.

If you have an objective that could be best completed by the Marines, you assigned that objective to the Marines, and the Marines would use their methods and support to complete the objective. There is no productive reason to try and force an Army unit into the mix unless there is no other way to complete the objective.

This piecemeal method of unity was a large advantage for Coalition forces in the first Gulf War. In this way, each country of the Coalition was assigned their own portion of the war, in line with their capabilities.

Security = Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage

You achieve security by information. A pound of information is worth way more than a pound of bullets. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, "If you do not know yourself or your enemy (capabilities, strengths and tactics) you will never win. To know yourself and not your enemy, you will win and lose equally. But if you know your enemy and yourself, you will always win." Patton said it best at El Guettar, "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I READ YOUR BOOK!"

Military Intelligence takes many forms. Anything you need to know about your own troops, you need to know about your enemy. You need to know their tactics, how they will react, capabilities and limitations and so on. Just as important as knowing how, you need to know who will be commanding.

Simplicity = Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding

In combat, when that adrenalin kicks in, two things happen: Fine motor skills go out the window and troops experience a “perceptual narrowing” which means “If you have to think about it, you’re dead.” Having clear, simple plans and objectives makes it easier for the troops to get the job done and less chance for Murphy’s brothers, Chaos and Mayhem, to keep you from getting done what you need to get done.

The Tools of Tactics

In any modern army, there are three basic types of forces: Infantry, Armor and Artillery.

Infantry: From the beginning of the army, there have been infantry. These are the guys who give the blood and take the ground away from the enemy, one foot at a time. Since day one, the individual soldier has been expected to carry his own weapons everywhere. Even today, a soldier walks more than he rides anywhere.

Armor: Armor has continuously evolved ever since it was invented. From horse-drawn chariots, to elephants, to armored knights on horseback and all the way to the modern tank of today, that rumble in the ground says, "The armor is here." The one thing that hasn’t changed about armor is their job. These are the fast-moving shock units that make and exploit breakthroughs into the rear echelon of the enemy.

Artillery: The best term for this category is indirect fire units, be they archers, artillery or aircraft. These troops provide fire support to the battle. With very little defensive capability of their own their job is to stand on the outside of the battle and pour their fire onto the enemy from a distance.

Of course, there are many different types of units, especially those who blur the lines (APC’s, Airborne troops, etc.). All these extra units give you a wider variety of capabilities to perform the job at hand.

Tactical Maneuvers

This section covers the four basic kinds of attacks. Every battle, land or sea, is based upon these four types, or their variations.




This is the basic tactic used to punch a hole through the enemy lines.

Step one: standard units on the flanks engage the enemy.

Step two: the massed force (in the center in this example) advances on the critical point

Step three: breaking through the critical point, the massed force turns and attacks the enemy from the rear.


The massed force does not need to be in the middle.

The massed force does not need to split; it may remain combined.

The flank units may feign an actual engagement and then withdraw.




This maneuver uses your reserve force to open a second front on the enemy position by attacking from the flank. This has the effect of doubling your firepower and halving theirs (Your two units attack his single unit, his single unit must attack both of yours). If the enemy does not attempt to engage the flank attack, the flanking unit can strike deep into the supply lines and cut off retreat of the enemy units.

Step one: the forward unit advance to engage.

Step two: the secondary advances to attack the enemy from the side or rear.


The forward unit may not engage until the secondary force actually strikes.

The secondary unit may approach from any location

The forward unit may feign an actual engagement and then withdraw.


Double Envelopment

double envlopment

Step one: the forward unit advance to engage.

Step two: the secondary units advance to attack the enemy from the side or rear.


The forward unit may not engage until the secondary force actually strikes.

The secondary units may approach from any location

The forward units may feign an actual engagement and then withdraw



defensive offensive

More often known as the feint, this draws enemy units out of their defensive positions and strings them out because each unit will move at a different speeds and lets your main force chop the enemy force up piece meal while your flanks are attacking from the flanks or rear.

This is an example of a feigned withdrawal.

Step one: the central unit addresses enemy and withdraws.

Step two: the enemy follows the central unit losing its’ defensive advantage

Step three: secondary units advance to attack the enemy from the side or rear.


The forward unit may not engage

The secondary units may approach from any location, but approaching from the rear cuts off any retreat to their defensive position.




This maneuver looks a lot like the earlier flank attack ran backward, and that’s exactly what it is. But in this tactic you have the added bonus of drawing the enemy forces out of their defense positions and leave a bigger hole for you to use your main force to strike on their flank and rear areas.

Step one: the forward unit addresses enemy but does not engage. Secondary units openly advance on enemy from the side or rear.

Step two: the enemy turns to confront secondary unit

Step three: the central unit quickly closes on the enemy flank or rear.

Note: it is important that the central unit be able to move quickly to support the secondary units attack.


The forward unit may engage the enemy before the secondary unit makes its appearance

The secondary units may approach from any location, but the open approach is critical here to draw the enemy into turning and exposing the flank.


I highly suggest you read and study Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and the other great Generals to understand why tactics devised hundreds and thousands of years ago are still essential and effective today. These men and others made a science out of what was an art form.

You must study and understand the capabilities and limitations of your own troops before committing them to battle. You must also know yourself. To paraphrase Sun Tzu (again), "If you do not know yourself or your enemy (capabilities, strengths and tactics) you will never win. To know yourself and not your enemy, you will win and lose equally. But if you know your enemy and yourself, you will always win."

Recommend reading

This list is by no means comprehensive. These books will open your eyes and help you determine what methods fits your style of play. The links are all Amazon simply for ease. I have these books (and more) on my personal tablet.

 Author's Note: I originally wrote this back in the 90's and have totally rewritten this in 2020, which led to the separate volumes of Tactics 201 and Tactics 301.

Good luck!


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