On Tactics: An Interview with B.A. Friedman


On Tactics

In Episode 10 of the Professional Military Education podcast, they talk to B.A. Friedman, author of On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle. This is a great book, I read last year, that will get give cops a better understanding of the tactical tenants so important to understand if we are to be effective in dealing with conflict and crisis. All too often tactics in policing are taught as skill sets or techniques with little consideration given to the tried and true tenants or the WHY we do what we do.

The conversation focuses on tactics and its relationship to strategy. Mr. Friedman discusses what he calls the three tactical tenets- physical, mental, and moral. He discusses how he developed his theory of tactics, and how that theory can be applied by military thinkers.

Giving Training Context

Mr. Friedman claims that this is the book that he wished he had as a junior Marine. He says, “It was a way to simplify what I had learned over the course of my career… to create some context that I could have used when I was younger and just starting out.”

Additionally, he saw that there needed to be a better “structure” to tactical thinking that mimicked the scholarship around strategic thinking.

Strategy is the use of victory on the battlefield to achieve victory in war. On the other hand, accomplishing a specific mission and winning battles is the key to tactics.

Physical Tenet

Mr. Friedman describes “maneuver” as a physical tenet. This means gaining a positional advantage over an enemy. Maneuver has not only a physical component, but also a mental and cognitive component too. The Marine Corps developed the principles of maneuver as one of the smaller services. The Marine Corps prioritized maneuver over mass and firepower as one of the keys to tactical success.

One of the physical tenets is also firepower. This part of the interview is about “combined arms”, which is putting the enemy in a “no-win” situation. For example, an enemy in a fighting hole tries to lift his head. If he does so then he will be shot with direct fire weapons. However, if he stays in his hole, the enemy will be suppressed with artillery and mortars. Consequently, the combined arms principle is based on trying to synchronize all aspects of weaponry to bring total force to bear on the enemy.

Mental Tenet

With the mental tenet, Mr. Friedman tries to explain how to “attack the enemy’s mind.” As a result, he explores the dynamics of surprise, deception, shock, and confusion. Furthermore, he studied theorists such as JFC Fuller and John Boyd. From his studies, Mr. Friedman recognized that no matter what happens physically on the battlefield, “there is a mental effect” on both the enemy and friendly sides. Physical actions create changes in mental states.

Mr. Friedman asserts that recognizing the battlefield is mental as well as physical gives us “more weapons.” It opens up a range of advantages. Ambushes are a good example of using surprise to gain both a physical and mental advantage over the enemy. At one point, Mr. Friedman claims that surprise can create the equivalent of a 2000 to 1 numerical advantage. Surprise is a way of corrupting the enemy’s decision making cycle.
Mr. Friedman does an excellent job breaking down the nuances between shock and confusion. He uses his broad knowledge of history and warfare to make impressive observations about shock and confusion as well as surprise and deception.


Mr. Friedman describes a cohesive unit as a “moral” unit. Furthermore, he says issues like morale, trust, leadership, and patriotism can provide the underpinnings of moral cohesion. Additionally, Marines and Soldiers want to feel like they are fighting for the right cause. Thus, morals must be tailored to a just cause. Mr. Friedman talks about laws of war and rules of engagement as part of the process to create the framework for moral cohesion. Ethics, morality, and rules of engagement are practical fields of martial study in order to protect our own moral cohesion. Finally, leaders are responsible for all aspects of their troops welfare to include their moral well being.

Be sure to follow Mr. Friedman on Twitter @BA_Friedman

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On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle