The ideal tactical formation is like an amoeba.
A group of moving organisms possessing the ability to alter its shape and assimilate and adapt to changes in the environment. It should be fluid and natural like water, ever changing, self correcting, never stagnant or rigid . A single, flexible mass as opposed to a series of different formations for every new situation.
This is doable, trainable and much easier than you think. I’ve done it. It is achieved by each member of the formation possessing a thorough understanding of its operating principles, effectively communicating with each other while maintaining the integrity and objective of the formation itself.
It begins with principles.
Principles are the foundation of which all our tactics are built. If you consider that our operating tactics are like branches of a tree, then the principles are the trunk. Any prudent operator or trainer will question and challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the language, terminology and tactics may vary slightly, its all pretty much same stuff, different pile.
Principles such as John Boyd’s O.O.D.A. loop or Charles Remsberg’s Thought Process have given us a measuring stick in which to quickly evaluate our tactics for effectiveness.
Sound principles give our tactics an anchor point to ask the frank questions such as with the OODA loop; will this tactic allow us to observe, orient, decide or act better and faster than our adversary. If the answer is yes, the tactic is sound, if the answer is no, it is not. Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.
Once our tactics are decided upon, the process of training so repetitively to achieve unconscious competence begins. Any trainer will tell you that this is no small task. But all will agree the way to accomplish it is through mass repetitions. When tactical dilemmas present themselves, we can rely on our principles to guide us to tactically sound solutions quickly and hard wire those skills.
The second essential component of an effective formation is communication with our counter parts. One way to do this is the key off. The key off simply means your next tactical movement is dictated by the team member in front of or around you. This can be done verbally (announcing), non-verbally (squeezing up) or visually.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the key off is that it is a built-in corrector. If a team member makes a poor decision, and we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge this does happen, the key off acts as a control measure to correct the error and continue with the objective.
By constantly keying off our team members, we maintain a constant state of communication with each other thus maintaining the integrity of the formation and staying focused on the overall objective.
Too many formations are rigid and therein lies their faults. An inflexible branch is easily snapped. There is no question that a file formation, or any formation for that matter, may be optimal for some situations but not good for others. A 5-member tethered or diamond formation, for example, look great on a chalkboard for specific situations, but what if the situation, mission or objective changes without warning and with no time to plan. The simplest, most flexible and principally sound formation that can be learned quickly, trained effectively and applied to the most situations will give officers the greatest chance for success.
It is not practical to expect human beings with limited training, operating in life threatening situations to be able access a different formation every time the situation changes, especially when you consider the lack of training time most of us experience.
Wouldn’t learning one malleable formation be better?
The focus of our formation needs to be principally based. Each member of that formation must have a sound understanding of its governing principles to mitigate as many foreseeable issues in training as possible. When unforeseeable problems emerge in operation, those members will be equipped to apply those principles and find tactically sound solutions on the fly.
Likewise, when moving as a formation, each principally learned member of the group will be constantly evaluating the environment, weighing the tactical advantages and disadvantages of their position and move and adjust accordingly to enhance their effectiveness. Their team mates will do the same while keeping in constant contact with, keying off, their teammates.
So principally proficient operators and the key off principle, got it. Let’s bring this to life.
Training begins at a crawl by assuming a basic formation, such as a file formation and moving through an environment. The trainer will stop the formation and freeze frame before every action and ask each member what their next movement, positioning and priority should be. Ensure that they are drawing on the principles to make those decisions.
This part requires patience as the students begin to solve their own problems while internalizing the principles and adapting them to changing situations. The tempo increases faster than you think and before you know it you’ll be having to reign them in.
A formation may begin as a file, stack or column. When the formation begins moving through an environment the space may begin to open-up, as in the widening of a hallway, for example. The team may no longer feel that a straight line is the most optimal way to achieve its tactical objectives, so the second man in the formation begins to fan out of the file to gain a better vantage point on his areas of responsibility. The third man in the formation keys off his movement and may do the same.
The formation does not look like a file formation anymore but it is much more effective.
If the situation changes, such as an imminent threat to life, for example, the formation morphs into the most optimal shape given the environment to move directly to the threat without changing or altering its tactics or mind set.
Does everything need to change? Do we throw all principles out the window?
Absolutely not. This is the point we cling to our principles even closer.
All that needs to change is we must adjust our areas of responsibility and priority. In this case, we are now passing areas without clearing them so each operator has to adjust his area of responsibility and rear security has to be addressed.
Yes. It’s that simple.
This approach and mindset can be used for any situation.
Training is greatly enhanced. Once the principles are internalized, the formation doesn’t need to be drastically altered, only adapted to the changing tactical objectives. Members learn one formation as opposed to a different formation for every different situation.
Members adopt a universal approach and learn the skills and understanding to morph effectively to every situation and changing environment. The training focus becomes one of mindset, threat recognition and internalization of principles, not one of chalkboard debates.
The result is a moving, shape altering mass of tactically and principally sound organisms each communicating verbally and non-verbally with each other; making tactically sound decisions in harmony with their mission and environment.
Kind of like an amoeba.