Interposing Tactics


This article builds on an historical operational problem first set by Liddell Hart in the interwar years. In this article, we will look at a new variation of this problem called net-fighter vs. net-fighter. As well, we introduce the concept of interposing tactics. The analysis will also contextualize interposing and 3D tactics.


In 1934, Liddell Hart posed an operational problem with an analogy. He gave a classical example of combat drawing a comparison between the pairing of two types of ancient Roman gladiators.1 This was the contest between the Retiarius (or net-fighter in Latin), which was a Roman gladiator who fought with equipment styled as that of a fisherman (with a net and a trident spear). His opponent in this example was the more heavily armed and armored Secutor, who fought at close quarters with sword and shield. In this particular contest, the net-fighter made up for his lack of armor by using his speed and agility to (a) avoid his opponent’s attacks and (b) wait for the opportunity to strike. He first would try to throw the net over his rival; if this succeeded, he then attacked with his trident while his adversary was entangled.
      Liddell Hart’s thesis about combat can be condensed to state that historically opposing forces tend to be either fast moving and striking (and composed of semi-independent units operating like nets across an area of operations) or they operate in much larger concentrated defensive groupings. This example drawn from Liddell Hart provides us a new operational proposition: what would happen if the contest was to be changed to net-fighter vs. net-fighter? This article will examine the net-fighter vs. net-fighter operational concept, looking at the following:

  • developing an analysis called interposing tactics ,
  • revisiting the classical Jomini geometric approach to operational art, expressed in his Art of War,2 and
  • relating this to the emergent 3D tactics theory to extrapolate the implications of interposing tactics for thinking about 3D tactics.

Net-fighter vs. Net-fighter

The typical operational scenario painted today in Afghanistan, according to evidence provided by Scott and Agoglia, is that the Coalition is “currently fighting a largely rural insurgency, where insurgent groups are gaining succour and freedom of movement from rural Afghans.”3 How, from an operational perspective, do we characterize this scenario? To help explain, each of these forces are presented below as black and green in figure 1. The idea presented illustrates the following set of characteristics.

  • There are two opposing forces.
  • The green force represents the Coalition, which typically operates in force protection groups and moves through an environment (the tactical and operational area), where the adversary (the black force) is figuratively spread equally over the landscape in small individual groups.
  • Black forces are insufficiently consolidated to present enough target for the green force to deliver effective firepower to destroy this enemy.
  • Black forces are able to swarm aggressively in hit-and-run tactics, which forces the green force into a defensive posture and slows maneuver.
  • As black forces are equally spread, whereever the green force focuses effort it will encounter the same tactical play, thus forcing green into a stalemate.

Figure 1: Demonstrating green (defensive) force moving through a tactical and operational area dominated by black forces deployed equally over the landscape.

Interposing Tactics Figure 1
Drawing again from the Liddell Hart analogy, the black force is spread figuratively like the Retiarius fishing net over the landscape while the green force plays the role of the Secutor in this fight. This reflects the operational problem described by Scott and Agoglia, where Coalition forces typically
“conduct large scale operations as the norm; concentrate military forces in large bases for protection; and, when they do patrol, sally forth from Forward Operating Bases for a quick-order patrol.”4
      The environment in which the Coalition forces operate has an equally spread opposition force (black in figure 1) that could conceivably be a single individual, hostile local population, or sympathetic locals willing to pass information and report on the whereabouts of the green force. This includes the undisclosed placement of explosive devices or other threat types. The fundamental issue is that the green force is faced with a myriad of potential threats including the ever-present prospect of contact with hostile black forces. What tactical/operational alternatives are there for green to counter these threats effectively and allow green to gain an advantage/dominance with black? The answer is use of interposing tactics.

Interposing Tactics

Interposition or interjection within a tactical situation describes the action or activity that interrupts a particular process. In the game of chess, for example, an interposing move would be one in which a player moves a piece between his or her king and the opponent’s piece which has placed the king in check.
      The chess example demonstrates that a key feature of interposing tactics is the deployment of forces to block and cover friendly from hostile. An extension of this idea would involve opposing forces dispelling or scattering much more freely within an operational area to achieve the effect of blocking and covering all friendlies from hostiles. This raises issues regarding tactical subdivision and operational force in the interposing tactics model. These issues will be addressed in the next two sections.

Tactical Subdivision

Liddell Hart’s thesis on the nature of tactical subdivision in combat was that determination of capacity for tactical subdivision was capability for separate maneuver, offense, and resistance.5 In Liddell Hart’s time, the smallest grouping capable of tactical subdivision was the infantry platoon, which he called the combat unit. However, the problem in contemporary warfare is that a new revolution is occurring. This revolution involves the rise of single individual fighters and unmanned or independently operating weaponry.
      The revolution toward individualization provides us with a key proposition about interposing tactics, namely that we can conceptualize an operational paradigm where opposing forces are interposed over each other’s zone of operation. In other words, we have net-fighter vs. net-fighter, each relying on single weapons, fighters, or other force elements to block and cover friendly from hostile forces. In summary, the revolution can be described as having tactical and operational aspects in which force elements are dissolved to the point of individualism. This process of dissolving has continued even beyond the individual to the level of individual weapons, which have been granted autonomy. These individual force elements (a single fighter or roadside mine) are interposed throughout the opposing forces’ own zone of control.

Operational Force

The argument presented in this article is that a new form of operational art can be identified (net-fighter vs. net-fighter). As well, this operational concept is set upon a new tactical notion called interposing tactics. This results in a dual operational and tactical revolution with the following key components: (a) a continuing process of dissolving of force elements beyond the individual to almost pure autonomy and (b) the interposing of each antagonist’s force elements. In this, we are seeing a new form of granular conflict where the essence of operational/tactical supremacy is achieved through coordination of multifactor and multidimensional attacks and defense between individual force elements which interpose throughout each other. In effect, both antagonists seek to occupy the same space at the same time. This new concept of operations needs to be understood in terms of a much broader notion of what actually constitutes a force element in the operational scenario painted so far.
      The notion of opposing forces needs to be given much wider and liberal interpretation than is typical. For example, beyond the typical combat forces normally associated with operations, we need to add active elements found in political, humanitarian, logistical, civil, and economic systems. Therefore, the net-fighter vs. net-fighter example involves combat forces operating alongside humanitarian efforts, local schooling, and community infrastructure, and so forth. In effect, both net-fighters are actually attempting to setup in the same space (and at the same time) alternative “societies,” each seeking local exclusion of the other.

A Model of Interposing Tactics

Bauer and Sullivan, writing of the characteristics of the chaotic wars, note that these wars

  • end the distinction between military and civilian, front and rear; and
  • are complex human environments, confronting a dispersed adversary who is lost in the population and is often mixed in with friendly forces.6

Interposing tactics underpin the concept of a chaotic battle, representing a new form of granular conflict. This is where tactical and operational supremacy is achieved through coordination of multifactor and multidimensional actions between individual force elements that interpose throughout each other.
Figure 2 demonstrates an example of two opposing forces using interposing tactics. The two opposing forces, represented as green and black balls, are cast like fishing nets over each other, and both antagonists seek to occupy the same space at the same time. These are the respective forces of the two competing net-fighters. In this particular scenario, each net-fighter seeks to throw his net of force elements over the other in an attempt to achieve suppression of opposing force.

Figure 2: Demonstrating the green and black balls interposing each other, within a tactical and operational area.

Interposing Tactics Figure 2

Jomini Geometric Analysis

The central Jomini thesis is that victory in war derives from best use of geometric lines of operation. In particular, the classical Jomini paradigm is that operational success is achieved, through one opponent maintaining actual control of their zone of operation, in particular maximum protection of their operating base. The winning side effectively co-opts the other’s zone, which ultimately leads to encirclement of the opposition. And finally, defeat is achieved with final detachment of the losing opponent from its own base of operations.
      However, the notion derived from the proceeding discussion is that we can conceptualize an operational paradigm where individual force elements from the opposing sides are interposed over each other’s zones of operation. The net-fighter vs. net-fighter scenario challenges the tradition Jomini approach to operational art. The fundamental nature of this challenge can be understood in terms of 3D tactics. The 3D tactics approach questions much of the enduring conventional operational thinking, derived historically from Jomini. Applicability of 3D tactics to the net-fighter vs. net-fighter problem is the notion that operational space is completely fluid.7 Again, this proposition could apply to a situation where two forces actively occupy the same tactical and operational space at the same time as a normal mode of operation.
      The core tactical issues of how interposing forces fight each other can also be understood in 3D tactics methodology. Some of the key characteristics which appear to apply to interposing tactics are, for example,

  • random or chaotic interdiction;
  • successful identification of an opponent’s approaches along lines of least resistance (where a terrorist force could effectively be ambushed at its own game); and
  • a concept of operations based on non-deterministic randomized or dynamic defense.8

These core concepts explicate the type of tactical and operational play that could be said to be similar to the net-fighter vs. net-fighter scenario. The next section will present a brief review of the current formulation of 3D tactics. This review will seek to demonstrate the applicability of 3D tactics to interposing tactics.

Relationship of Interposing and 3D Tactics

Bauer and Sullivan identify the following U.S. Army definition of 3D tactics from 1999: “The urban environment is multi-dimensional. It includes the ground, underground and the third dimension (each building can hide enemies).”9 3D tactics is defined as tactics in the third dimension, which is the space above and below ground level in land and urban operations.10 3D tactics has its origins in contemporary thinking about security in urban civil environments.11 Flaherty relates the 3D tactics concept to the notion of a three-dimensional cube which conceptually overlays urban space.12 The original aim behind 3D tactics was to

  • incorporate conventional understanding of the third dimension in land combat (as the airspace above terrain) and the urban environment,
  • incorporate the three-dimensional solid forms of typical central business district (CBD) buildings and spaces formed between buildings, and
  • conform with the 300 m2 effective range of most weapons.

      The early antecedent of 3D tactics can be found in U.S. Army thinking circa 1997, where it was argued that in the future

“the Army must … [shift] … upward from its traditional two-dimensional spatial orientation of land forces into the vertical or third dimension. In particular, the deep-strike operational maneuver function must be able to occupy the third dimension from just above the surface through the exosphere into space. Future land combat units will exploit terrain by maneuvering for tactical advantage within the folds and undulations of the earth’s surface without suffering the restrictions imposed on mobility by contact with the ground.”13

The 3D tactics notion has also arisen out of the view that “traditional security and defence operations need to adopt a much more spherical or multidimensional conception.”14 The relationship between interposing and 3D tactics is the common identification of typical tactical issues that would face isolated force elements, such as having to

  • operate situational analysis accommodating continuous actions and15
  • understand unpredictable attacks involving deception, which are frequently staged so that multiple vectors converge simultaneously.16

Operating in a 3D environment, each isolated force element (similar to the net-fighter vs. net-fighter problem) would need to achieve such a level of protective security.
      The 3D tactics model in more recent developments have looked at notions of multiagent modeling and analysis of group behaviors, as well as highly complex patterns of movement (or stationary location) of many active agents within a 3D environment.17 This approach was developed to solve the counterterrorism problem presented by the 2007 Haymarket attack scenario.18 However, we can now postulate that this form of analysis may be just as applicable to the net-fighter vs. net-fighter operational concept.
      Finally, another core finding in the literature is the proposition that a 3D tactical player will enjoy clear asymmetric advantages as it is able to turn the decision cycle faster reliant on erratic behavior.19 This again would apply to the net-fighter vs. net-fighter scenario, in which many individuals interposing would produce a totally chaotic battlefield. The advantage would be that, as each individual force element is able to operate in a chaotic environment, this would effectively nullify any asymmetric advantage an opposing force element might have.


The central argument presented in this article is that we can conceptualize a new operational paradigm in which opposing forces are interposed over each other’s zones of operation. In short, we have net-fighter vs. net-fighter opposing each other and both operating interposing tactics. In doing so, we are now seeing a new form of granular conflict, where the essence of tactical supremacy is achieved through coordination of multifactor, and multidimensional attacks and defense by individual force elements interposed against each other. The revolution, however, will continue the process of dissolving force elements beyond the individual level to a new level of autonomous actions, which will lead to totally chaotic battles. The winner will be the force composed of individuals who are better at operating in this environment.

Dr. Chris Flaherty is a leading commentator on security, defense, and counterterrorism research, its application, and project management. Chris has established an international career in vulnerability and resilience analysis. He has pioneered concepts such as 3D tactics, fragmentation, and weaponization of buildings. Chris has developed a counterterrorism building vulnerability analysis for mass gathering commercial, industrial, and shopping areas. As well, he gives critical infrastructure protection policy advice. His contact email is chris dot flaherty at greymans dot com.

  1. LIddell Hart, BH (1934) The Ghost of Napoleon (Yale University, New Haven): 98. []
  2. Jomini, Baron de (1862) The Art of War. New York: G.P. Putnam (trans. Capt. G.H. Mendell and Lieut. W.P. Craighill [USA]. []
  3. Scott, T, Agoglia, J. (2008) “Getting the Basics Right: A Discussion on Tactical Actions for Strategic Impact in Afghanistan.” URL: [Accessed: 21st July, 2009]: 6. []
  4. Ibid.: 2-3. []
  5. Liddell Hart, BH (1919) “The ‘Ten Commandments’ of the Combat Unit, Suggestions on its Theory and Training,” Journal of the Royal United Service Institution. (LXIV): 288, 292-293. []
  6. Bauer, A. Sullivan, J.P. (eds.) (2008) Terrorism Early Warning: 10 Years of Achievement Fighting Terrorism and Crime. Published by the Los Angeles County Sheriff?s Department, Los Angeles, California, October 2008: 12. []
  7. Sullivan, J.P. and Elkus, A. (2009) “Postcard from Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege.” URL: [Accessed: 21st July, 2009]. []
  8. Flaherty, C. (2009a) “2D Verses 3D Tactical Supremacy in Urban Operations.” Journal of Information Warfare, 8(2): 13-2. []
  9. Bauer, op. cit., p. 13. []
  10. Flaherty, C. (2009b) “A New Approach to Mass Space.” Red Team Journal. URL: [Accessed: 21st July, 2009]. []
  11. Flaherty, C. (2008) “3D Tactics and Information Deception.” Journal of Information Warfare, 7(2): 49-58. []
  12. Flaherty, C. Green, A.R. (2008) “3D Tactics, Interdiction and Multiagent Modelling.” International Crime Science Conference, University College London, Centre for Security and Crime Science, 17/18 July, 2008. Proceedings on CD-ROM format. As well, as Flaherty, C. (2007) “Mass Space Vulnerabilities Analysis in 3-D Tactics,” International Crime Science Conference. University College London, Centre for Security and Crime Science. Proceedings on CD-ROM format. []
  13. Knowledge and Speed: Annual Report for the Army After Next Project to the Chief of Staff of the Army. (1997) The Army After Next Project Deputy Chief of Staff for Doctrine Headquarters, Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia (July, 1997): 18, 20. []
  14. Flaherty, 2009b. []
  15. This discussed in Flaherty, CJ (2006) “3D Tactics: An Advanced Warfare Concept in CIP.” Balducelli, C. and Bologna, S. (eds.) Proceedings–CNIP’06 Workshop on Complex Network & Infrastructure Protection (Rome 28-29 March, 2006). ENEA – Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment: p. 118-126; As well, see Flaherty, C. (2007) “3D Tactics: An Advanced Warfare Concept in Critical Infrastructure Protection,” International Journal of Emergency Management, 4(1): 33-44. []
  16. Flaherty, 2009b. []
  17. Flaherty and Green, 2008; This analysis was followed on in Green, A. Piper, I. Keep, D. Flaherty, C. (2009) “Simulations in 3D Tactics, Interdiction and Multi-Agent Modelling.” SimTecT 2009 Simulation Conference: Simulation – Concepts, Capability and Technology (Adelaide). Proceedings on CD-ROM format. []
  18. Flaherty, ibid. (2007a); Flaherty and Green, ibid. (2008); Green et. al., 2009. []
  19. Flaherty, 2009a. []


  • Covergent tactics defended with converging tactics. I say defence but not in the normal sense but a constant synergistic offense and defence responding accordingly within the environment… As a cop I find this net-fighter verses net-fighter concept alot like crime, criminals and cops and crime fighting. As you argure it takes interaction and engagement within the environment and its people to fight these forces. Force protection only methods allow easy surveilence by an adversary and hence an easier ability to exploit opportunities. Police see success when they actually engage and interact with their environment with the criminals and the community as do the most successful badguys.

    This is a very interesting piece of work viable in numerous environments. Riskier-and much less control, so more training and mutual trust needed to pull off sucessfully. With right leadership and personnel very doable. “Chaos and complexity” fought with “chaos and complexity” and the strange attractor being ultimately less conflict and violence!!!

    Just my thoughts while sipping on my first cup of coffee this morning. I like the article and the ideas. Thanks for posting


  • Fred, thank you for these comments. I am hoping to use this approach more in civil security & policing, and your observations relating this to crime and policing situations is very relevant.
    As well, describing this approach as an example of “convergent” tactics provides a useful analogy.

  • I got some info on my site on these ideas applied to law enforcement and security, for some reason i can not seem to link the artciles here so if interested Chris or anyone else, you can reach me via email and i will be happpy to share my 2 cents on this importnat topic.

  • Interesting article, thanks Chris.

    A question: where does net-fighter v net-fighter and interposing tactics lead to? Does it amount to playing the enemy at his own game? At best, the conclusion would seem to be a stalemate after a prolonged attritional fight.

    Another question is whether western forces, as currently constituted, and indeed police forces, have the mindset and wherewithal (sufficient numbers, intelligence, willingness to engage in close and autonomous combat) to operate in this fashion.

    The value of interposing tactics may be to use some elements (net-fighters) to screen, distract and draw away enemy fighters, while concentrating force to achieve particular objectives at minimal cost.

  • Pete I do not want to speak for Chris, but my thoughts would be all you mention could be utilized with Iterposing Tactics. If you take conflict at its whole, all its gives and takes on both sides then the intereaction throws an adversary off balance. If i am understanding this correctly this keeps them behind the curve OODA LOOP wise, which is where we want them.

    It is riskier and you will need superior situational awarenss, not just technology wise but individuals on the ground, fine tuned and honed when it comes to awarenss and hence the abilyty to stay on the initiative driven side of the Boyd Cycle. Then just maybe we have them playing our game?

    I will say this the artcile has had me thinking all day as it relates to law enforcement. Most of the criminal element are opportunistic and wait for the cops to be out of site. Marked police cars and well lighted staions with patrol cars all parked there help give the sign that the coast is clear to operate. The same would hold true in a force protection mode I would think. the adversary can see the overwhelming force, where its held up and then go where they believe its safe to operate.

    I am thinking out loud here…Basically using these convergent and interposing tactics we are in multiple strategic locations, monitoring routes of travel, smuggling and surveillance routes, other operations etc of the adversary. We are disrupting their normal operations, they screw up, they get discouraged and eventuall we learn more, then pull them off the street or whatever it takes to apprehend or stop them.

    Its not about attrition in my view its about manuever. But when force on force becomes neccessary and we are postioned right we may have the advantge to swarm and seize the moment using whatever force is warrrnated or neccessary.

    You do have have to have the willingness to be up close and personal and allow the frontlines to take initiative and make decisions on the fly in my view. Fail to do this and you cannot operate this way because you decision making will be too damn slow. Your point there is well taken.

    This will take consistant training by taking advantage of every lesson learned. So we constantly learning-unlearning and re-learning so we get better at gathering and developing actionable information. Again in my view REAL TIME superior situational awarenss is key.

    Definately intersting i am enjoying the back and forth. Look forward to more insight.


  • “Suppose we were (as we might be) an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished through long stems to the head. We might be a vapour, blowing where we listed.” ~T.E. Lawrence

  • Chris,
    Thanks for the interesting post. I don’t have ready access to your older works on 3 D Warfare in the “Journal of Information Warfare,” however, I did review the previous piece on RTJ, “A New Approach to Mass Space.” Also, unlike Fred, I’m coming at this from the other end of the spectrum, higher intensity combat operations moving down the spectrum towards civil security and policing. I only list these caveats to give you a context for my comments. I may have missed key concepts that undermine parts of my argument.
    Distributed Operations has been a concept of ongoing discussion for a few years now, especially in the US Marine Corps. The problem you describe, as it relates to Afghanistan and other irregular conflicts, is not new, but I believe, as you point out, that we haven’t thought through all the necessary dynamics (just to clarify, I have not been to Afghanistan yet and my time in Iraq was at a theater-level HQs).
    Some points I would officer for consideration:

    -I had a problem in discerning the exact scale and time you are addressing. You identify the individual dots to be as small as individual people and weapons, then referenced Liddell Hart’s assertion of platoons. I think that the sense of scale is directly tied to the sense of time. Are we talking about really small unit tactics that cover the course of a few hours to a day, or are we talking something more substantial, such as looking at the insurgency in an area over the course of weeks and months (if not years)? The assumption made in this regard has significant impact on the resulting analysis of operations. If we are looking at how two forces would struggle to achieve immediate objectives within a short time frame, then the idea of individuals is apt. However, if we are looking at longer term “campaign”, even over the same terrain, how we look at and group, the individual pieces would be different.

    -A basic assumption in looking at distributed forces is the assessed capability and resiliency of each individual element. Can we assume that each element, if detected and engaged by an opposing element, would result in some sort of draw? If two friendly elements are able to “mass” on a single enemy element, do the odds of successful engagement rise by some factor? The survivability issue is critical, I think, to determine how elements coordinate with each other, and act against their opposition. If there is gain to geographic massing, either in terms of capability, or survivability (and this could be different against different threats), that would reflect in the calculus of action.

    -Another issue that impacts on element size and survival is that of detection threshold. Arguably, the reason why insurgents work in smaller groups is because it’s harder to detect them in the first place. The advantage of “swarm” is to maneuver a large capability/force in such a way that it does not provide the traditional signature of a large force. One reason why counterinsurgents also work in smaller units is that they have a better chance of detecting the equally small adversary elements. For me, this points to the fact that a great part of the strength of the dispersed force lies in its avoidance of detection. Whoever can be more successful at the detection competition, will then be potentially able to isolate the enemy elements and mass effectively against them. Moving in a larger concentration obviates some of the detection worry through the security provided by the mass itself. For many reasons not related to pure combat power considerations, Counter-insurgents, or Security forces have to be visible. Thus, they are already at a disadvantage in the detection game.

    -As you point out, our concept of terrain must change. I’d offer that the population (concentration vs. dispersed, etc.) makes another factor in considering traditional geography. Freedom of movement for the insurgent can be based on a combination of terrain factors (physically concealed routes, etc.) and population factors (moving with normal traffic, crowds, etc.). Terrain analysis is critical to this type of approach, because it will dictate how dispersed elements can get. Also, there is always some sort of key terrain (and it can be of a social or political nature) that drives concentration. If this is looking at a longer term campaign, then the Jominian approach of physical lines of operation may still have bearing. Over the longer term, both forces must receive logistics support from somewhere to continue operating. The idea of self-supporting free-range access around the battlespace only applies in a short term sense. Threatening, or cutting off a force form its base, whether it be dispersed or not, will still have a significant impact. It could be argued that a dispersed force actually complicates the logistics issue.

    -I’m a little confused on the term “net-fighter.” Is it in terms of the forces being physically spread, as in a net, or does it imply a networked force, that is enabled by superior communications and information systems? This is important, because I believe that the command and control (C2) philosophy and capability are fundamental underpinnings of the capability to operate dispersed. I see two options here, an explicit approach and an implicit approach. An explicit approach relies on the ability to quickly communicate and share information. An implicit approach relies more on common understanding, shared assumptions about how to operate and why to operate—action is less based on explicit direction. Obviously, a real world force would probably feature a combination of the two. However, the philosophical starting point is important. I see the difference as being between the Network-centric Warfare (NCW) approach and the maneuver Warfare (MW) approach (MW as espoused on US Marine Corps doctrine, primarily MCDP 1 “Warfighting” and MCDP 6 “Command and Control”). The NCW approach, as I have seen it, relies on using the explicit means (comm., information systems, etc.) as the foundation. Implicit means can be developed during operations, however they are not central to the capability. MW, on the other hand, builds on a foundation of implicit means—mutual trust and common understanding. Explicit means just further enhance the already developed relationships. There are various ways to develop implicit understanding. Most commonly, we think of highly trained cohesive forces with great individual initiative. However, there is the alternate of a force that follows, unwaveringly, a few simple rules of behavior as individuals that result in large-scale coherent operations.

    -The bottom-line to the above discourse is that the C2 philosophy, and its dependencies and methods for driving action, will have a critical impact on how dispersed forces react to one another. A force relaying on networks is vulnerable to disruption of those networks. A force reliant on implicit means may make fundamentally bad assumptions about the situation, etc. In the end, somehow, C2 needs to be factored into the theory.

    -Finally, there’a lot of good stuff out there on dispersed operations. One recent document I’d point you to is “Distributed Manoeuvre: 21st Century Offensive Tactics” from the Australian Land Warfare Studies Centre” (

    Once again, thanks for a thought-provoking piece.
    Semper Fi,
    Phil Ridderhof USMC

  • Fred, Phil, Peter,
    Looking at some of the issues canvassed, so far:
    1) I think that in one form or another, two forces fighting distributed into individuals interposed is more likely for extended periods in major urban centres. One point I have raised in others forums and articles is that I do not think we focus enough on phenomenon where the opposing forces operate off the same logistic and sustainment base – for example in the city, both forces rely on the same power, distribution and transportation systems; yet reading analysis of contemporary terrorism and urban insurgency still seems to operate within the classical paradigm of there being two opposing forces each with their own base – which I do not think should be treated as a constant.
    2) Much the same question I believe applies to C2 – as I think that in many respects opposing forces tend to rely on the same IT infrastructure globally.
    3) Not enough emphasis is placed on alternative Influence based systems/processes for direction. I sketched out a very similar argument in: Flaherty, C.J. (September/October 2003) The Role of Command and Influence in Australian Multidimensional Manoeuvre Theory, Defence Force Journal. (162): 31-38 (which has been rewritten in the forthcoming – Flaherty, C. (January 2012) Command, Influence and Information in 3D Tactics. Journal of Information Warfare. (9)1). And I am in the process of writing a new version of Interposing Tactics and IO (for the next European ICIW 2010) which will start to flesh out the C2 vrs Influence issues, as to – how do individuals, groups , or organisations actually organise, resource and communicate in a chaotic operation/battle (not using C2).
    4) I do see individualised forces/ interposing as an aspect of overall operations architecture; however, I think the process of devolution/distribution, as an ongoing future process which will take us beyond the individual, to components of systems/weapons combining and de-combining for an attack, and ultimately nano-level interposing warfare.
    5) I think as well, the classical concept of ‘us vrs the network’ has to be fundamentally reassessed, at the same time we need to get to grips with the idea of ‘asymmetric vrs asymmetric’. In that, opposing forces will continue to react against each other by adopting tactics and operations which are based on deliberately irrational or erratic behaviour as a means to keep each other off-balance; and then will (when the tempo of operations gives the greatest advantage), counter-point to overwhelm the opponent.
    Just a few thoughts.

  • Interesting article… I enter this conversation a bit late, but thought I would add some thoughts. It would seem one premise of this article is that the granularity, level of detail, or fidelity of a simulation is a key factor in its ability to render an answer or estimate to a question being asked. Clearly the need for interposing tactics and red-blue forces disbursed amongst each other require a level of detail that allows these entities to exist in the same or neighboring space.

    The early cellular automata (finite state machine) “life” simulation is one example that has been extended to more complex situations such as populations of fox and rabbit. Simulations are used to show how these populations lead to feast, famine, extinction, and perhaps steady state. It would seem this is analogous to opposing forces are interposed over each other’s zones of operation.

    Fox versus rabbit outcomes are likely stochastic based upon observations or speculation. Interactions are not 3D or even simulated in situ—they are rolls of the dice. One could do this with any red-blue interaction, and if sufficiently described by observation or theory, would be enough to answer a number of high level questions. It seems adding additional fidelity is necessary in the interactions you propose because the questions being asked do not have a base of observation sufficient to reduce the question to a stochastic calculation or table look-up. Complexity of interaction in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) along with technology insertion are significant enough that you need to model more detail. Considering 3D is important because you’re operating in a 3D terrain and the complexity of interaction exists in these dimensions.

    Depending on how you model it, there are other dimensions we could consider. Communications via radio might be another dimension. Environment variables such as day/night, clear/smoky, knowledge, culture, training, relationships, etc., might be important. All these can be collapsed into a 3D environment in which we are believed to exist even thought they might be more efficiently modeled in a higher-dimensional space. Given 3D space, the fourth dimension of time in simulation is usually left to concept of time-stepped or discreet event.

    Given that discussion, your article calls for more 3D concepts in tactics. What exactly is needed in simulation (existing and novel) to solve such problems?

    I’m not sure exactly how the thoughts of “a totally chaotic battlefield” fit in. I would think that red-blue TTPs and technology would add some level of order to the problem that would dominate the outcome of interactions. Perhaps “totally chaotic” represents the unknown elements that come into play before an even when intelligence about impending attacks or other events is scarce?

    We’ve been working a number of these problems in existing theaters with the Umbra-based Dante tool for concepts of interposing tactics that model behavior of individuals, equipment, weapons, RF communication, terrain, buildings, etc. We’ve had somewhat emergent results in issues of friendly fire, coordination of convoy operation, team operations in urban environments, etc.

    I think that a tactical question at hand is how we solve these types of problems or investigate them further in research. Will they be solved via closed-form equations and calculations? Will they be solved through time-stepped simulation? I tend to have bias here toward simulation because of the complexity of the domain and immaturity of our calculus for such problems. I think how we will approach the problem for solution is currently as important as the problem itself. Without a number of tools to evaluate various hypotheses and evaluate real situations, we won’t make much progress.

  • Has anyone given thought to the “open source warfare” concepts of John Robb backed up by the recent “Ecology of Humnan Warfare” Nature article as an explanation of insurgent battlefield activities vs. say a US force that is still thinking and acting in 2D?

  • Rich, I am big fan of John Robbs concepts and I have been reading the particular aspects in the article above you mention. I say it must be considered. Open source warfare seems to be working for our adversaries!

    The mathmatics of war is a facinating study and if it can help predict violence on the battlefield it will be a big brak through. Still trying to grasp this study and the determinate effect on conflcit and violence.

    Very interesting!


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