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Interposing Tactics

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. (LIddell Hart 1934, 98) 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, (Jomini 1862), 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 succor and freedom of movement from rural Afghans.” (Trent and Agoglia 2008) 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.

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

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." (Scott and Agoglia 2008)       

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. ((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.)) 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. ((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.))

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.

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

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. ((Sullivan, J.P. and Elkus, A. (2009) "Postcard from Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege." URL: http://www.smallwarsjournal.com [Accessed: 21st July, 2009].)) 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. ((Flaherty, C. (2009a) "2D Verses 3D Tactical Supremacy in Urban Operations." Journal of Information Warfare, 8(2): 13-2.))

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).” ((Bauer, op. cit., p. 13.)) 3D tactics is defined as tactics in the third dimension, which is the space above and below ground level in land and urban operations. ((Flaherty, C. (2009b) "A New Approach to Mass Space." Red Team Journal. URL: http://redteamjournal.com/2009/07/a-new-approach-to-mass-space/ [Accessed: 21st July, 2009].)) 3D tactics has its origins in contemporary thinking about security in urban civil environments. ((Flaherty, C. (2008) "3D Tactics and Information Deception." Journal of Information Warfare, 7(2): 49-58.)) Flaherty relates the 3D tactics concept to the notion of a three-dimensional cube which conceptually overlays urban space. ((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.)) 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.” ((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.))

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." ((Flaherty, 2009b.)) 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 and ((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.))

  • understand unpredictable attacks involving deception, which are frequently staged so that multiple vectors converge simultaneously. ((Flaherty, 2009b.))

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. ((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.)) This approach was developed to solve the counterterrorism problem presented by the 2007 Haymarket attack scenario. ((Flaherty, ibid. (2007a); Flaherty and Green, ibid. (2008); Green et. al., 2009.)) 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. ((Flaherty, 2009a.)) 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.


Jomini, Baron de. The Art of War. 1962. Translated by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Liddell Hart, B. H. The Ghost of Napoleon. New Haven: Yale University. 1934. 98.

Trent, Scott and John Agoglia. 2008. "Getting the Basics Right: A Discussion on Tactical Actions for Strategic Impact in Afghanistan." Accessed July 21, 2009. https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/getting-the-basics-right-in-afghanistan.

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.

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