Tsarren is exactly right, but her ideas could use a little explication beyond the three sentences with which she concisely expresses them. Strategy isn't tactics, although the two have some overlap that I'll discuss in a minute. Tactics is a very distinct branch of military science that deals with the actual procedure of soldiers trying to kill one another and commanders telling them how to do so most effectively. Strategy, on the other hand, deals with getting your soldiers into or out of a position in which they can advantageously use tactics.

Tactics are largely dependant on the weapon systems of the combatants. Because some weapon systems are innately superior to others, certain kinds of tactics are always useful against other kinds. On rereading that sentence, I suppose explanation is in order. Take, for example, the four dominant weapon systems of the ancient and medieval periods: heavy infantry, heavy cavalry, light infantry, and light cavalry. Now, if you go to those nodes, you'll see a detailed explanation of the tactical strengths and weaknesses of each of those weapon systems against the others. Archer Jones came up with that, not me, but he's right so I posted it up here (although it's not c&p, so don't even think that). In his book, he summarizes the tactical strengths and weaknesses of each with a diagram that I may as well reproduce here too:

Heavy Infantry--D--}Heavy Cavalry
       ^ |-        / ^
       |  \       /  |
       |   \     /   |
       |    \   /    |
       |     \ /     |
       A      A      A
       |     / \     |
       |    /   \    |
       |   /     \   |
       |  /       \  |
       | /         \ |
       ||_          \|
Light Infantry--D--}Light Cavalry

If anyone's got any tips on making that look better, I'd be happy to hear them. Deprecations of my ASCII abilities aside, though, the idea behind the diagram is that arrows mean "defeats" and the A or D tells whether the strength is mainly in attack or in defense. Thus, light cavalry has a strong advantage over heavy while attacking but a strong disadvantage when attacking light infantry. Without getting too much bogged down in the whys of it all, which are mostly explained on the weapon systems' individual nodes anyway, the take-home fact here is that each weapon system has strengths and weaknesses that can make or break a battle, depending on how it's used. Tactics, then, are the use the commander makes of each of his types of troops on the field in order to capitalize against the opponents' weakness.

Rather important to keep in mind, too, is the fact that only very hard-pressed or frankly stupid commanders use only one weapon system. A thought experiment might be useful in explaining this. Tactical interaction, as detailed in the above diagram, isn't unlike a game of rock, paper, scissors. Think, though, of having as many rocks, paper, or scissors as you can afford. Your opponent is buying up hand motions, too, though, so you've got to take that into account. If you wanted, you could buy 50 million scissors. What if your opponent's got 50 million rocks, though? Maybe he went all out for paper, but it's doubtful. So the best bet for winning is diversification of weapon systems so that if your opponent has 10 million rocks, paper, and scissors each, you can still defeat him tactically with your 10 million rocks, paper, and scissors.

Tactics isn't just a matter of army composition, either. Army composition is definitely fundamental to tactics, but it's really just a part of it. Tactics is most often applied to some clever battlefield maneuver, of which there are quite a few. I have no intention of detailing them all here or providing any exhaustive history of tactics in general (that's what Archer Jones did, and his book's 716 pages long), but a few of the most common types of maneuvers should be shown here, at least for example's sake. Flanking is one of the most common tactical maneuvers. The Spartans were the first ones to try this when they noticed that their hoplites marching in phalanx (pretty much a big rectangular block of guys) tended to move slightly right of straight ahead when they advanced on the enemy because each individual soldier tried to stay out of the way of the shield in the guy on his left's hand. They realized they could turn this to their advantage by meeting their opponents just a little skewed and then wrapping whatever part of their line overlapped around the edge of the enemy's forces. Flanking works because armies' strength (especially heavy infantry's) depends on the individuals' ability to mutually reinforce one another. That's why the Greeks fought in blocks in the first place: so that the guys in front protected one another's sides and the guys behind them protected the front guys' backs. But when flanked, the soldiers on the edge have no one to protect their sides other than themselves and so are tactically weaker than the front of the block. The flanking army is also typically able to attack the flank with numerical superiority, eliminating successive small parts of the enemy's line decisively rather than engaging in a more chancy pure frontal assault. Flanking isn't the only application of tactics out there, but they all operate on the idea that in order to win a battle you should concentrate your strength against your opponent's weakness. It really doesn't matter if it's the oblique attacks of Frederick the Great or if you just defend against a light cavalry assault with light infantry troops; the basic principle remains the same.

As Webster 1913 points out, there's also something called grand tactics. Grand tactics isn't incredibly important, which is why I'm not doing a separate writeup on it. Webster's mostly right, although grand tactics is more like the aforementioned overlap between strategy and tactics. See, armies typically set themselves up in battle formation prior to battle. This formation has a lot to do with the tactics they are going to use in the battle (it's really hard to disengage soldiers from an enemy once the battle starts, so planning beforehand is really the only way for a commander to ensure that his tactics will be followed by the army), but the formation can also affect the strategic sphere of warfare. Say, just as a for instance, that hypothetical Commander X is supposed to be capturing Fortress A. After a lot of strategic maneuvering, he meets his enemy on a battlefield half a mile away from Fortress A. He decides to deploy most of his troops and artillery relatively nearer Fortress A during the battle so as to facilitate its capture once the enemy's been dispatched. This tactical deployment also has a strategic aspect, since tactics are not the only consideration of Commander X when he goes to the battlefield. He is thus using grand tactics, as does anyone whose considerations are both tactical and strategic at the same time.

Now, I know that up to this point I've focused extensively on ancient/medieval warfare and tactics, but I certainly don't want you to get the impression that tactics died with the medieval period. Both tactics and weapon systems have evolved since then. I don't use the word evolution coincidentally, either. The process of tactical change over time has quite a bit in common with evolution. The generals that are successful don't get killed, captured or demoted, typically, so they fight more battles and other people attempt to copy their success by mimicking their tactics. By the same token, successful weapon systems and other innovations are copied quickly by everyone who can; if the innovation isn't successful it doesn't get passed on. They adapt to their environment successfully not unlike a predator might evolve sharp teeth to tear meat or some such thing. Keeping up with the Joneses is very important in all warfare, you see, since if you don't keep up with the Joneses said Joneses might come by your house one day and burn it down and steal your kids and leave you bleeding in the back yard underneath the swingset.

So y'know that Archer Jones I keep talking about in this writeup? Well, his book's called The Art of War in the Western World and it's a lot of fun to read if you're into this stuff. It's also the place from which most of the ideas in this writeup come, although I did come up with a few on my own. All facts are definitely his, though.

There's a saying that helps define the concept of tactics: "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics."

This points out the difference between saying what you will do and having the resources to actually do it. It is extremely easy to point at a situation and say what you would do. The hard thing is to organize the means to implement your plan of action.

For example, everyone points at the brilliant tactical maneuver called the "left hook" that American military forces performed during Operation Desert Storm. What almost everyone forgets is the months-long buildup (which was called Desert Shield) that put the troops there in the first place. I vividly remember driving onto Rhein-Main Air Base during the buildup phase and seeing 8 or 10 C-5 Galaxy heavy airlifters lined up on the runway. No matter when I arrived, day or night, week after week, month after month, they were there, flying in empty and flying out carrying most of the 3rd Infantry Division, 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions, and a lot of the VII Corps, among other units. The tactics of Desert Storm would never have worked without the logistics of Desert Shield.

Strategic considerations were also a significant factor. It was a major strategic error on the part of Saddam Hussein to act uppity right at a time when the American Mililtary was sitting around with a couple of heavy divisions it didn't know what to do with. Almost all of the units used in Desert Storm were scheduled to be disbanded in the wake of the drawdown following the end of the Cold War. If America hadn't had those assets free to move, it would have been much more difficult to prosecute the Gulf War.

(Then again, some think that America deliberately baited Hussein for that reason. April Glaspie (our ambassador there) had basically shrugged off Saddam's threats against Kuwait at the time, which emboldened him to attack Kuwait to gain the port access that Iraq wanted and the Kuwaitis would not provide. By attacking when he did, America had all the soon-to-be-disbanded troops from the European theater to use against him instead of having to shift assets from other missions. But that's another story...)

Also, the ability to easily navigate in open desert without landmarks is a strategic advantage, given to the Army by the existence of the Global Positioning System (GPS) . That and other force multipliers such as smart bombs allowed American troops to use tactics that were previously impossible to implement.

Strategy deals with the ability to create and address long-term goals, logistics deals with material, and tactics deals with how you use them on the scene to accomplish the strategic goals.

Tac"tics (?), n. [Gr. , pl., and (sc. , sing., fr. fit for ordering or arranging, fr. , , to put in order, to arrange: cf. F. tactique.]


The science and art of disposing military and naval forces in order for battle, and performing military and naval evolutions. It is divided into grand tactics, or the tactics of battles, and elementary tactics, or the tactics of instruction.


Hence, any system or method of procedure.


© Webster 1913.

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