Tactics: Applying Methods to Madness

The tactical dimension of dealing with conflict and violence is built on the foundation of strategic and operational elements. (We’ll talk about the lost operational art next week) The tactical dimension is the when and the where of the situation, the  time and place. It also includes who, who is the adversary what are his strengths and weaknesses and who are the people to execute and focus on the endgame via a strategy, lets say for the sake of this short article to “prevent or resolve conflict.” Is this situation to be handled by a single officer, multiple officers or a tactical unit? Whatever the case it effects the tactical concepts you will utilize in resolving a specific incident. 

Tactics are learned in a linear way as a series of specific things to do in a step by step way to resolve a particular problem. In the complex world of crisis, conflict and violence this how to method is inefficient in the type of nonlinear, rapidly changing circumstances we respond to. In the maneuver warfare handbook, William Lind defines tactics in a more useful way: “Tactics is a process of combining two elements, techniques and education, through three mental filters or reference points—mission-type orders, the focus of effort or Schwerpunkt, and the search for adversarial surfaces and gaps (strength and weaknesses) with the object of producing a unique approach for the specific adversary, time and place.”

This definition is much more applicable to the fast paced, complex and uncertain and non-linear environments and climates we face in the protection professions. You must always keep in mind both the friendly and adversarial situation and the environment you are in. It could be the street, a business, a car stop, a university or campus a home etc. Wherever it is you must understand how this effects the tactics you will use.

What to do?

Tactics is not just doing something, instead it is the mental game of interaction and isolation, Interaction with your environment and the individual(s) involved on both sides, friendly and adversarial. It’s not only what methods and tactics you choose to use, but is also why you chose the particular method. Tactics are used to impact the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict. The intent to slow down your adversaries Boyd Cycle  so you gain an advantageous position that effects the outcome in a positive way. Tactics can effect the mental, moral and physical realms of conflict and must be applied with all three dimensions taken into consideration. In Boyd's words; “Observe-Orient-decide-act more inconspicuously, more quickly, and with more irregularity as basis to keep or gain initiative…to repeatedly and unexpectedly penetrate vulnerabilities and weaknesses…. .tie-up, divert, or drain-away adversary attention (and strength) elsewhere.” To do this you must take unique approaches to specific situations and circumstances.

Tactics are both an art and science for solving and winning crisis situations. Winning without fighting being the primary objective of tactics. Tactics include; positioning, communication (friendly and adversarial), negotiation, recognizing the signs and signals of danger (recognizing patterns of behavior and reading body language). The ability to adapt or understanding when to move forward, backward or to stay in place. It is also knowing how to move so you are at less of a risk. Tactics could be a dynamic entry or a slow and deliberate entry, be it a team, or individual or the most prevalent tactical unit, the responding officer and his back-up.

Do you know how to move tactically in either of these types of units or is it hit or miss based on habit and luck? Do you understand and utilize cover and concealment in an effort to gain the advantage. Do you take the time to communicate as a tactic of gaining control or voluntary compliance through interaction with the person(s). If you engage a person and realize it was a mistake do you have the mental ability and strength of character to adapt and disengage to a position of advantage? Do you understand that yesterdays tactics used successfully may not work today with a different person, time and place? Do you develop and master these methods so if you do need to use them, they come natural to you in a crisis situation? If it is a dynamic spontaneous situation such as an active shooter or similar type incident, do you know how to work as a cohesive unit and can you move, shoot, rescue and evacuate victims in an effective manner? Do you understand the tactical methods that may apply based on who your adversary is; say a angry student (Columbine, Virginia tech) verses a terrorist organization (Beslan) or do you apply a 4 man diamond formation for both? Have you thought about it?

Exercises and Critiques: Methods for developing the art and science of "tactics"

In the aftermath of an incident I consider it a tactic to conduct a decision making critique or after action review in an effort to pull out the lessons learned and make our responses even better. How about decision making exercises as a tactic to help develop the mental dimension of decision making in conflict under pressure? In spite of the differences in environments we protection professionals may work in, i.e. the cop on the street, (state, local, federal, university or campus), the security officer on a post (Federal building, Mall, housing development, school, Hotel etc) decisions and actions create changing conditions and we must apply the appropriate methods and tactics in an attempt to  create the change we are looking for and then adapt. Decision making exercises and critiques will help you develop these necessary skills to a level of mastery you can rely on in dealing with conflict and violence. 

My point in this short rant on tactics is that the art and science of tactics is more, much, much more than getting somewhere quickly and knocking a door down and coming out with one in custody, although that can be part of it, part of it when all else fails and as a last resort when violence is escalating and imminent. Instead think of tactics as the methods and schemes you use to gain the advantage, a real advantage in setting up the adversary and getting inside his mind so that he cannot cope with your methods and voluntarily complies.

Remember tactics are used to meet your overall strategy of preventing or resolving conflict and violence. If all levels of an organization share a comprehension of the overall intent and mission and what the focus of effort is, then all can be trusted to carry out the mission through applicable tactical concepts adapted to the situation with success is truly understand the art and science of tactics. As Mushashi stated in the Book of Five Rings; “To assess the intelligence and strategy of each individual opponent, to know the opponents strong and weak tactics, to use the knowledge and virtue of the art of war of find out how to overcome all others, is called mastery of this science.”

In the end understanding the art and science of tactics and applying tactics (methods, techniques and schemes), should be part of every individual who protects and serves knowledge and ability to apply a winning strategy through use of tactics.

Stay Oriented!

Fred