I get asked quite often how tactics for Fourth Generation Warfare (“4GW”) differ from “traditional” tactics, and how to decide on which tactics apply in “4GW.” Most of the time, it seems that the petitioner is actually seeking some Yoda-like pearls of wisdom that will allow them to forgo professional education in the art and science of arms, clearing up all of their misconceptions of conflict, and answering questions they didn’t even know to ask. It’s really not that simple though.
Without getting embroiled in the discussion of the intellectual and historical ignorance—not to mention the cultural arrogance—of the term “4GW” itself, which I feel I did a more than creditable job of smashing in Volume One of The Reluctant Partisan, the simplest answer that anyone can offer to the original question is, “it depends”.
Every mentor I ever had in the military made it a mission to point out that we have to “think strategic, plan operational, and fight tactical.” What does that mean to the layman though? At its most fundamental level, it means that choosing tactics must be driven by the strategy you select to confront whatever fight you are facing.
Within the context of a grid-down collapse, confronted with the threat of rampaging cannibalistic San Franciscans, our overall goal is to protect our communities and tribes. In doing so, we may select between two basic strategies:
1) Kill everyone who is, or might become, a cannibalistic San Franciscan, which would obviously mean our community was obviously no longer at risk from attack from the nefarious, once we achieved our goal of killing them all; or
2) Simply focus on keeping cannibalistic San Franciscans far enough away from our community and tribe that they are never a threat to us directly.
These are, of course, not the only possible strategies but they are two opposite approaches that offer us a contrasting view of potential strategies and the tactical options that ultimately result from them.
Once we have determined what our basic strategy for protecting ourselves and our communities from cannibalistic San Franciscans will be, we can see that the chosen strategy will, of necessity, drive our choices of operations.
In the first case, what operations would be necessary to achieve our strategy? We would need to conduct active patrolling obviously, to get to where the CSF were. We would need to conduct both raids and ambushes, as well as deliberate attacks. Fundamentally, our operations would be offensive, since it is an offensive strategy.
In the second, more defensive case, while we would still need to be offensive at some level, our overall strategy is defensive. We would still need to conduct and master patrols, for security patrolling. We could probably largely forgo raids and deliberate attacks, instead focusing on more defensive applications of hasty ambushes, and defense operations in general.
What About Tactics Though?
Raiding may be a tactic, but a raid is an operation. Ambuscade may be a tactic, but an ambush is an operation. Patrolling is a tactic, but a patrol is an operation. Even the use of IED to destroy armored vehicles may be a tactic, but the emplacement of an IED is an operation. We’re using our strategy to determine what operations we need to plan. In turn, these drive our tactics, and may even be our tactics.
At the most fundamental level, tactics revolve around fire-and-movement. Whether it is the two-man buddy team, a four-man rifle team, or a nine to twelve man rifle squad, all the way up to platoons and companies, all tactics revolve around fire-and-maneuver. The specific application of fire-and-maneuver will be dictated by the operational plan as well as the assets available to the tactical unit.
A rifle team may be limited to their individual, organic weapons—their rifles. A platoon-sized element however, may have mortars attached, or may have close-air support and artillery fires on call. For the reluctant partisan force, regardless of operational environment, we can safely presume that most will be limited to whatever organic weapons are available to the organization. This will generally mean individual small-arms in the form of rifles, shotguns, and pistols, but it may also mean the use of improvised munitions.
Further, the specific application of the fire portion of fire-and-maneuver may involve actually shooting at the enemy with suppressive fire—to keep him more interested in not getting shot than he is in shooting at your people. It may also—with equal validity—involve simply being prepared to provide suppressive fire, in the event that the maneuver element needs that protection, while not actually firing a shot at all. An example of this would be using an overwatch security element to protect a team placing an improvised munitions weapon under cover of darkness.
Ultimately however, all tactics boil down to fire-and-maneuver. Without that fundamental level of skill, no tactics work, period. Without knowing what your overall strategy is, and thus having the ability to determine what your resulting operations will be, there is no way to determine how you will specifically apply fire-and-maneuver, or any other element of tactical expertise.
So, when you start thinking about how you are going to utilize “tactics,” stop, back up, and start considering what your strategy will be, within the context of the conflict you believe you will be facing.