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MI: must study tactics.


If the Intelligence Warfighting Function (IWfF) fails to properly visualize, describe, and predict enemy tactics in time and space, it will become irrelevant to the operational force. To this end, future Combined Arms Maneuver (CAM) success will be directly linked to the Military Intelligence (MI) professional's ability to apply the art and science of tactics. This article describes why the study of tactics is critical for visualization, predicting enemy action, winning in the future operational environment (OE) and improving education.

Tactics is critical to visualization because organization is a key component of military operations. Army doctrine defines tactics as, "the employment and ordered arrangement of forces in relation to each other." (1) CAM requires functional organization to allow the commander to exercise mission command. Tactics is the mechanism by which the commander applies combat power to accomplish the mission. (2) Therefore, to visualize and describe tactics in time and space is a fundamental skill for a military leader. This method of visualization is the process by which the commander receives information and provides orders. The MI professional must also visualize and describe the enemy as part of a functional system for the commander. Failure to illustrate an enemy system frustrates the commander because enemy activity appears isolated or random, when it is not.

Providing a Complete Picture

Activity originates from somewhere and occurs for a specific tactical purpose. Even when portrayed in the form of a pattern analysis, grouping significant activity is not always helpful. In Afghanistan, overlays often showed improvised explosive device (IED) detonations for a given area of operations (AO). The takeaway was that IED activity occurred in the area but few details were provided apart from the kill zone. This frustrated commanders because it failed to provide the complete enemy picture needed for an informed decision regarding potential friendly action. A common excuse offered was the need for more intelligence, but this is the precise reason for studying tactics, it enables prediction of enemy action without observing the entire enemy system.

As part of a brigade S2 section in Afghanistan, we eventually developed products that showed a complete enemy concept of operations which linked lines of communication to support zones, battle zones, and disruption zones across Regional Command South. The support zones were based on activity associated with movement of lethal capacity into the AO and linked to associated villages, often areas with no significant activity observed. The battle zones were based on activity associated with enemy attacks to seize terrain or execute decisive engagements. The disruption zones were based on activity associated with suicide vest or vehicle borne IED activity, irregular tactics, and typically observed near combat outposts and government controlled areas. The zones were flexible and continuously updated. Overall activity was consistent and specific events usually occurred in specific zones. Graphically depicting this framework allowed the commander to visualize how boundaries were exploited, when activity in a zone shifted, and where best to apply combat power at a time and place of the commander's choosing.

This approach added science and geometry to enemy analysis. Friendly operations began to focus on enemy support zones, which disrupted enemy operations in other zones. The depiction of detailed tactics inside an operational framework of connected zones significantly improved the commander's visualization and aided decision making.

Predicting Enemy Action

The art and science of tactics is also critical to predicting enemy action. The science of tactics is "the capabilities, techniques and procedures that can be measured or codified." (3) The science of tactics is a challenge for MI Professionals because it requires knowledge of procedural and physical constraints, typically gained through operational experience. For example, if an enemy is expected to conduct a breach against a tactical obstacle, what is the first step in a breach? The answer is to suppress, but that requires procedural knowledge. If asked where will the enemy breach? This is a physical constraint best determined by terrain analysis. The MI professional cannot state "when the enemy initiates the breach that will indicate the breach site," but this is the reactive nature of waiting on intelligence to form a prediction. The science of tactics affords a template which illustrates functional organization and the sequence of a standard tactical mission. The template is used to identify all options available to the enemy and ultimately choose which of the available options the enemy will select. Therefore, tactical operations and performance based drills must be executed or purposely observed by the MI professional to develop sufficient experience. Operational experience allows for the art of tactics, which is "the creative and flexible means of accomplishing a mission." (4)

Predicting enemy action incorporates the art of tactics by accounting for the variables of the mission at hand; however, the science of tactics is the key to visualizing the operational framework, sequence, and timing. A noticeable trend is that MI branch detail officers do not struggle as much with tactics and can often sketch battle drills, formations, and even a concept of operation without a reference document. This trend illustrates the value of firsthand tactical experience when trying to think like an enemy commander. Therefore, the MI professional must study and apply CAM tactics to gain proficiency and think like an enemy commander. This type of operational experience is essential to predicting enemy action without waiting for perfect information.

Evolution to CAM

The historical application of tactics is vital to winning in the future OE. To this end, current enemy tactics can be compared to the tactics of World War I. The German 'Elastic Defense' was a defense in depth which exemplified the attrition strategy of trench warfare. (5) This style of warfare resulted in horrific casualties and stalemate along the western front from 1914-1917. (6) The lessons of World War I gave rise to CAM. From 1927 to 1932, General George Marshall as the Infantry School Assistant Commandant led major reforms by changing from mass static formations to small units using maneuver tactics. (7) Marshall also doubled the amount of tactics instruction and moved lectures into field settings to reinforce practical application. (8) Marshall's effort paralleled German CAM reforms, designed to restore offensive maneuver to warfare. (9) CAM defeats static defenses by bypass of resistance and deep penetration. (10) Objectives focus on disrupting the enemy rear where artillery and combined arms battalions target enemy command and control. (11) The concept maximizes precision fires coordinated with armor and aircraft leading or accompanying assault infantry. (12)

The U.S. Army is designed for CAM but not for attrition warfare. As a result, the enemy has logically adopted tactics designed to neutralize maneuver tactics and employ an attrition strategy via the defense in depth. This tactic has been observed by Taliban in Zhari-Panjway in southern Afghanistan, by Islamic State in Fallujah in western Iraq, Hamas in southern Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The defense in depth incorporates complex terrain, operational (human) shielding to counter precision fires, obstacles and defensive fires. Defense in depth is designed to absorb penetration, wear down the attacking force, and then counter attack to retake lost ground. (13) Combined Arms Battalions are the ideal force to attack the defense in depth; however, the frontal attack is not the ideal tactic.

By using an operational framework the MI professional identifies enemy tactical zones, provides options for maneuver, and recommends high value targets. CAM organization, tactics, and objectives are as valid today as a hundred years ago. Success requires effective intelligence built on knowledge of tactics and operational framework. This allows identification of enemy support zones and avoids frontal attack into enemy disruption zones. The MI professional must enable the commander to visualize the OE and execute mission command.

Studying Tactics

The study of tactics must be part self-development, part organizational, and part institutional education. The most important education method is self study. Mastery takes years to build; the key is consistent self development, as skills will diminish if not exercised. Tactical competency is the requirement for the MI junior Soldier or junior officer. They must be familiar with the mission variables, terms and military symbols, and tactical concepts such as echelons and tasks. Tactical proficiency is the requirement for MI mid-grade noncommissioned officers and officers. They must demonstrate tactical competency as well as comprehend the operational variables, operational framework and combined arms maneuver. This is critical to visualizing enemy action and describing it to the commander with the required amount of detail. There is no single school, unit or doctrinal reference that can provide all the answers. Only personal application and correct repetition will enable proficiency. This is an individual pursuit that ultimately should lead to mastery.

Mastery is the requirement for MI senior leaders and is formed over many years, many repetitions in varied formations and OEs. Mastery cannot be instantly acquired, it is a lifelong process. MI senior leader must pursue mastery in order to properly develop the vast talent found in the IWfF.

The primary MI references are ATP 2.01-3 Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield/Battlespace and FM 3-55 Information Collection, as they are the standard by which the operational force judges the IWfF. ADRP 3-0 Unified Land Operations, ADRP 3-90 Offense and Defense, and FM 3-90-1 Offense and Defense Volume 1 provide a superb foundation for the art and science of tactics. Another venue for education is found at the unit level. MI leaders should conduct formal professional development and address tactics both in theory and in performance based tasks. All ranks must be involved in the study of tactics, as predicting enemy action is a fundamental skill. Finally, institutional education is helpful but overall just a small component when viewed in the context of a military career. The MI professional must embrace routine opportunities to explore tactics and the most important education method is self study.


The IWfF must properly visualize and describe the enemy in time and space to maintain its relevance to the operational force and enable the U.S. to win future wars. A critical area of study for the MI professional is the art and science of tactics. Proficiency in tactics is vital to the commander's visualization, in predicting enemy action and must be included in all areas of MI professional development. There is no instant fix; the MI professional must start now and then continuously develop in order to be ready for the next challenge.


(1.) ADRP 3-90 Offense and Defense Volume 1, August 2012, 1-1.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Ibid., 1-17.

(4.) Ibid., 1-8.

(5.) Timothy T. Lupfer, Chapter 1: The Elastic Defense-in-Depth in The Dynamics of Doctrine: The Changes in German Tactical Doctrine during the First World War (Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute, July 1981), 13. Accessed at

"The Principles provided the basic tactical concepts for defense. The Principles of Field Construction provided specific regulations for construction of positions. Regulations specified techniques to apply to the new defense regulations. The defense now consisted of three successive zones: the outpost zone, the battle zone, and the rearward zone. Although the regulation did recommend tactical dimensions, it emphasized adapting the defense to the specific terrain in order to accomplish the mission."

(6.) Lupfer, 11. "Assuming his duties as first quartermaster general in August 1916, Ludendorff quickly visited the area of the Somme fighting (Rupprecht's Army Group). He was convinced that the German Army must alter its defensive tactics or it would not be able to win the war, for the Allied artillery was wearing down the German forces."

(7.) Forrest C. Pogue, General George Marshall Authorized Biography Volume 3 (New York: Viking, 1963-1987), 431.

(8.) Pogue, 432.

(9.) Jonathan M. House, Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization, (Fort Leavenworth: U.S. Army Commandand GeneralStaff College,1984),34. Accessedat "The German infiltration tactics of 1918 can be summarized under four headings: Artillery preparation; the combined arms assault or storm battalion; rejection of the linear advance in favor of bypassing enemy centers of resistance; and attacks to disorganize the enemy rear area."

(10.) Ibid., 35-36. "The essence of the German tactics was for the first echelon of assault units to bypass centers of resistance, seeking to penetrate into the enemy positions in columns or squad groups, down defiles or between outposts. Some skirmishers had to precede these dispersed columns, but skirmish lines and linear tactics were avoided. The local commander had authority to continue the advance through gaps in the enemy defenses without regard for events on his flanks. A second echelon, again equipped with light artillery and pioneers, was responsible for eliminating bypassed enemy positions. This system of decentralized "soft-spot" advances was second nature to the Germans because of their flexible defensive experience. At the battle of Caporetto in 1917, the young Erwin Rommel used such tactics to bypass forward defenses and capture an Italian infantry regiment with only a few German companies."

(11.) Ibid., 36. "The final aspect of the German infiltration tactics was the effort to disorganize the enemy rear. The artillery began by destroying communications and command centers; the infantry also attacked such centers, as well as artillery positions."

(12.) Ibid., 36-37. "Beginning on 15 July 1918, the British, French, and US launched a sustained series of attacks that combined all the Allied innovations made during the war. Infantry units used renewed mobility and firepower, plus tanks to precede them and suppress enemy strongpoints. Airpower provided limited ground-attack capability plus reconnaissance both before and during the battle. This air reconnaissance focused on antitank threats to the advancing forces. Artillery had become much more sophisticated and effective than in 1914. Most important of all, the different weapons and arms had learned to cooperate closely, at least in carefully planned set piece operations. Commanders could no longer rely on one or even two arms, but had to coordinate every available means to overcome the stalemate of the trenches."

(13.) FM 3-90-1 Offense and Defense, March 2013, 7-6 to 7-7.

MAJ James F. Lawson is the Senior Intelligence Trainer at the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE), Fort Benning, Georgia. He served as a Division LNO to the 1st UK Division during OIF 1, a combat advisor during OIF 08-09 and as a Brigade S2 with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade during OEF 12. He commanded the 406th MICO, 732nd MI BN, 500th MI Brigade and served as HQ Commandant for the 311th Signal Command. Major Lawson previously served as the G2 for the 311th Signal Command, U.S. Army Pacific. He holds a BA from Excelsior College, New York.
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Author:Lawson, James F.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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