Col John Boyd's Patterns of Conflict Expanded to Policing Part 3: Disrupting an Adversary Using Soft and Hard Tactics | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

In Part 3 of this series, Boyd continues the discussion on Sun Tzu and The Art of War theme. He also discusses how we must learn to actually think like our adversary which helps us recognize patterns of behavior that may show weakness, we can exploit. You hear Boyd talk about Cheng and Chi, the direct and indirect approaches of early commanders; Alexander, Hannibal, Belisarius, Genghis Khan and, Tamerlane and how they employed Cheng/ch’i maneuver schemes to expose adversary vulnerabilities and weaknesses (cheng) for exploitation and decisive stroke (via ch’i). Boyd uses the battles of Marathon, Leuctra, Arbela, and Cannae emphasize an unequal distribution of forces as basis for local superiority and decisive leverage to collapse adversary resistance.

Tactical theme in these historical snapshots illustrates the affect the performance of reconnaissance, gathering information and then screening it assessing strengths to be avoided and weaknesses to be exploited. The winners of these battles used the unorthodox swirling hit-and-run actions to unmask enemy dispositions and activities (their intentions), while at the same time clouding and distorting their own dispositions and activities. This created confusion and disorder throughout the enemy operations. As Boyd States they became unglued!

The losers of these historical battles were ready and prepared for a orthodox force on force attrition based clash, where they would attempt to overmatch adversarial strengths. Adherents to the attrition or force on force methods are understandably zealous in demanding increased weapons and equipment. When they lack overall strength, they have two shortcomings, they can easily lead to conflicts of attrition or force and they leave little room for error.

Using unorthodox methods attempts to apply strength to adversarial weaknesses on the other hand is especially advantageous in offsetting technological or firepower advantages. This requires adaptability and ingenuity, both critical factors. This works by employing dissimilar tactics, techniques, technologies or other capabilities in an effort to surprise an adversary and place him in a tactical dilemma.

Tactical dilemmas creates a choice between two or more disagreeable alternatives. The goal of every adversarial operation is to place an adversary in a position where voluntary compliance is likely, but resistance is futile. Dilemmas can be created with space and or time.

Sid Heal states in policing there are five common ways to create tactical dilemmas using space. Crossfire, exposes an adversary to fire whether he stays or moves. The use of chemical agents makes space uninhabitable. Deception which creates confusion and hence misleading assumptions. The use of combined arms or more than one weapons system where the shortcomings of one are offset by another. Depriving the value of space is used and dependent on how the adversary is using the space. The goal is to deprive an adversary of using the space through concealment and observation, lighting, smoke or ruses.

Three common ways for using time to create tactical dilemmas are surprise striking at an unexpected place or time or in an unanticipated manner. Physiological diversions that overwhelm an adversaries ability to adapt to his environment. A flash-bang is probably the most common but tactical maneuver can also create this affect, as well, as influence an adversaries ability to resist.

Most police operations against an adversary, use one of three tactical options, the hammer and anvil, the envelopment and the pincer. A simple understanding of why these work provides great insight into the selection and adaptation to specific situations. If you notice from Col. Boyd’s briefing and more specifically from his slides of Patterns of Conflict specifically slides 17-23, illustrate the historical snapshots of the battles he discussed in this segment of the briefing, you will see that these modern day police tactics are based on this same theme. When properly applied these tactics work by overwhelming an adversaries ability to effectively resist. How do they apply to policing, Charles “Sid” Heal in Field Command explains:

The Hammer and Anvil is one of the oldest tactical maneuvers which originated in Hellenistic Greece in 300 BC. In law enforcement operations the hammer and anvil is commonly used against barricaded. It uses a stationary force in place (The Anvil) and a mobile force (The Hammer) moving toward it with adversary(s) caught between. In police operations, the perimeter containment is the anvil and the entry team is the hammer. Sometimes terrain features or other barriers can be used as the anvil.

The advantage of the hammer and anvil is that it is simple to employ but because overwhelming force is the primary factor, a disadvantage is that it requires substantial amount of personnel and or firepower.

“While there is no way of saying for sure, the hammer and anvil tactic was almost certainly derived from the hunts of early man. Using terrain features, like cliffs, swamps, rivers and lakes, as an anvil, a group of hunters could kill even gigantic animals. As tactics and weapons improved, the terrain used for the anvil was augmented and even replaced by other hunters.”

The hammer and anvil tactic works by using a stationary element to fix an adversary in place and prevent escape while a mobile element maneuvers to force the adversary from hiding or a protected position. This creates a dilemma since the adversary can’t flee because of the stationary element and can’t stay because of the moving element.

The envelopment, like the hammer and anvil, has been around for at least two millennia and was used successfully as far back as the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C. when Hannibal used it to nearly destroy the Roman Army, as Boyd discusses. Unlike hammer and anvil tactics, envelopments do not rely on overwhelming force but rather seek to apply strength against weakness. Again I refer to Sid Heals Field Command and his explanation on how the envelopment works:

“It works by attempting to fix an adversary’s attention on one area while the main force exploits a weakness in another. It avoids the “front,” which is usually more heavily guarded, and strikes from one of the flanks. Thus, envelopments are more easily understood as flanking maneuvers. Law enforcement frequently uses this method when serving search and arrest warrants and resistance is expected. One of the most common adaptations is to give a “knock and notice” at the main entrance and when a suspect refuses to comply the entry team (main force) forces entry at a rear door or window while the suspect’s attention is focused on the front. The advantage of an envelopment is that it requires fewer personnel than the hammer and anvil but because of the high degree of necessary coordination it requires more extensive and detailed planning.”

The pincer, movement is a variation of an envelopment but instead of a single maneuver element it has two. It works by employing two moving forces closing toward each other with the adversary caught between them; hence it is sometimes referred to as a “double envelopment.” Like the other two tactics, pincers have been used since antiquity and are described in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War dating back to 500 B.C. Sid Heal explains its application to policing:

“Law enforcement frequently uses this tactic during foot pursuits when the rapid and unpredictable movements of a suspect make establishing a blocking force impractical, and so diminishes the value of using a hammer and anvil or envelopment. The advantage of a pincer movement is that it is quick to set up and so provides an effective response but pincers have several disadvantages. First, they are difficult to coordinate because keeping track of everyone is nearly impossible. Second, broken terrain makes it difficult to ensure that all avenues of escape are covered because there is no containment. Third, shifting gun-target lines create potential friendly fire problems.”

Swarming Tactics, is yet another method, not mentioned above, but no less important to understand and to be able to employ in police operations. Swarming is engaging an adversary from all directions simultaneously is another option in our efforts to disrupt and adversaries O-O-D-A Loop. The technique is nothing new. Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan used the techniques to outwit and outpace larger and more highly trained adversaries. Its a popular method amongst SWAT teams. Street level cops have used the method in rescuing downed or officers in trouble incidents and in the wake of ongoing deadly actions (active shooting) where time is a huge factor in stopping a threat and saving lives.

Swarming an adversary is evolving into a police option, because our adversaries are adapting new tactics and methods in an effort to disrupt our emergency response system. Adversaries we encounter have a say in the outcome of engagements, a fact we often forget when we respond and deal with calls and crises at the street cop’s level, so tactics that Boyd is describing in this segment that create confusion and disorder in our adversaries add great value to our efforts to engage and stop a threat.

Adversaries of the future will use elusiveness by mobility or concealment, and systems disruption through targeting multiple locations to test our emergency response systems. Superior situational awareness through planning and use of technology is already part of their methodology and stand-off capability. Blending in or utilizing surprise in an attempt to establish and maintain the tempo of conflict will be part of this as well.

We are already seeing disruption techniques taking place with gangs, organized crime, drug cartels and even the untrained are attempting this. Remember Columbine and the 17- and 18-year-old students who set up a secondary location with an improvised explosive device to disrupt the response system. There are also conventional criminals using unconventional methods. An example we have all seen, is the armed robber using hoax or real explosive devices in one location as they rob a bank or business in another location. Mumbai, India, is a powerful example of this at work. A 10-man terrorist team split up, spread out and swarmed over this city killing hundreds and wounding more, while keeping the city of Mumbai at bay for more than 60 hours as those tasked with dealing with the crisis were confused and hesitant in how to respond to such an attack.

There’s a growing power of small units, groups, and individuals who are able to connect and act conjointly by adopting networked forms of organization with related doctrines and strategies and technologies. These cases speak to the rise of “swarming” as a mode of conflict. In the future, we shall have to learn to fight nimbly against an array of armed adversaries who will likely do all they can to avoid facing us head-on in battle (Arquilla & Ronfeldt).

How can we in policing combat and defeat dispersed and maneuvering adversaries with a swarming type of response? Will Swarming Tactics work for the first responders, the street cops responding to ongoing deadly action where minutes, if not seconds, weigh heavily on the death and injured count?

Swarming tactics we converge from multiple directions at the same time. Instead of responding and massing at side 1 of a location under attack and entering as a group, or team of officers and move to contact to stop the threat. Swarming may require the first responder enter solo, or in small teams if from a larger jurisdictions who have the manpower. A back-up officer responds to side 2, and enters. Then the next responder enters on side 3 and the fourth responder enters on side 4 (not necessarily in that order). In other words, we respond and engage the threat by dispersing and then converging on the threat, cutting off the shooter(s) mobility and his access to more victims until we stop the threat. Another variation of this option is to mass on side 1 (or any of the other sides), enter, disperse and converge on the threat.

As depicted above, a swarming tactic is characterized by numerous maneuver elements all converging on a location or suspect from many directions. These elements can be made up of teams as in a SWAT response or multiple solo officers converging on an adversary from different directions.

In law enforcement applications they enjoy an advantage over other tactics by the rapidity with which they can bring overwhelming force to a situation. Notwithstanding, they are among the most complex and dangerous of all law enforcement tactics because of the difficulties in coordination and increased chances of fratricide. ~Charles “Sid” Heal, Field Command

Because of the difficulties in controlling the larger number of maneuver elements involved in swarming operations coupled with the rapidity of their movement and necessity for immediate action, collaboration is more critical than command and control. A Mission Command climate is necessary for operational success. Thus, each of the maneuver elements (individuals or teams) must be vested with decision making authority. This renders them semi-autonomous and enables them to seek, create and exploit opportunities based upon their individual situational awareness.

Understandably, the objective must be clearly understood (Mission and Intent) lest divergent perspectives create confusion. The necessity for high-levels of training, discipline, maturity, communication and coordination should be self-evident.

While there is no “one size, fits all” tactic suitable for every encounter, these four are the most commonly used in police situations. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and is adaptable to circumstances, be it large scale or street level operations. Situations matter! A tactician who understands how they work and why gains a considerable advantage over one who does not.

Boyd continues the discussion based on his impressions of the battles of Marathon, Leuctra, Arbela, and Cannae emphasize an unequal distribution as basis for local superiority and decisive leverage to collapse adversary resistance. On the other hand the discussion (so far) provides little insight on how these battle arrangements and follow-on maneuvers play upon moral factors such as doubt, fear, anxiety, etc.

Historical pattern Genghis Khan and the Mongols is the example Boyd uses in this segment to illustrate by exploiting superior leadership, intelligence, communications, and mobility as well as by playing upon adversary’s fears and doubts via propaganda and terror, Mongols operated inside adversary observation orientation-decision-action loops. The result was the outnumbered Mongols created impressions of terrifying strength—by seeming to come out of nowhere yet be everywhere. hence, subversive propaganda, clever stratagems, fast breaking maneuvers, and calculated terror not only created vulnerabilities and weaknesses but also played upon moral factors that drain-away resolve, produce panic, and bring about collapse.

Boyd stresses an important part of understanding the O-O-D-A Loop that is often misunderstood in policing . He states; When I am talking about O-O-D-A Loops I am not just talking about only speed, remember you have to have as many of these factors interacting at once to influence an adversary. You can go faster right over a cliff! The O-O-D-A is more refined than that. Remember if he is fast you have to be faster. If your slow you want him to be slower. You don’t have to go super fast as long as you can go faster. If an adversary is faster, slow him down. Don’t lose your perspective on this.

Undertake armed conflict when it creates an advantage. Seeking armed conflict for its own sake is dangerous.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Don’t lose perspective on just the physical skills, the fact is we can use these ideas in both large scale police operations, illustrated in this piece, we can also use these concepts, themes and ideas at the street level by individual officers or members of a shift. These fast transient maneuvers can come in the form of soft tactics (persuasion) as well as hard tactics (force). Don’t get lost in the physical realm of tactics. Yes its important but its not the only category we need to influence to be effective. In the strategic game of interaction there is always and ebb and flow where persuasion and force or their combination influence, shape and reshape conflict. The social skills, of a cop and our ability to be both tactful and tactical has much to do with getting inside an adversarial O-O-D-A Loop as the physical skills. Consider it a mass or dispersed swarm or a single or double envelopment of the mind, using words that influence conflict in a way that has an adversary reconsidering his options and coming around to our way of thinking.

Conflicts vary in origin—in and between nations, races, regions, religions, economic enterprises, labor unions, communities, clans, tribes, gangs, criminal enterprises, kinship groups, families, and individuals themselves. Conflicts show various degrees and qualities of persistence, direction, intensity, volatility, latency, scope. The root causes of conflict are as varied as their origins. And so to should be, our tactical responses.

“Good Tactics not only leave your adversary defeated…but confused!” ~General A.L. Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps

Boyd concluded that the O-O-D-A Loop is the basis for causing and adversary to come apart in any conflict. If our O-O-D-A Loop speed is quicker (morally, mentally and physically) than our adversaries, our orientation will stay more closely matched to reality, effective actions will flow, and we will be able to set up and exploit opportunities more quickly than our adversary can comprehend.

In crisis situations if we are well prepared and highly developed in these ideas we will be able to keep up our quick operating tempo and begin to chip away at our adversaries physical structures, mental processes (orientation) and their morale and will to continue on their own terms. The result will be chaos and collapse in the moral and mental categories is best as it leads voluntary compliance. If not, and a physical option is necessary then we will hopefully have an adversary unglued and his view of what’s going on distorted enough that we catch him by surprise.

Stay Oriented!


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