The View From Olympus 27: TTPs

An Army officer recently called me from the Fatherland with an important question: from a maneuver warfare (3GW) perspective, what are the differences between tactics, techniques, and procedures?

The U.S. military lumps all three together as “TTPs”. That is unfortunate, because tactics are not only different from techniques and procedures, they are opposite in nature. Combining opposites not only leads to confusion, in this case it has caused tactics to be subsumed by techniques, which from a maneuver warfare perspective is disastrous.

It is easiest to lay out the differences among the three by starting at the other end of the list, with procedures. A procedure is something done by recipe or formula that does not make contact with the enemy. An example is the procedure for clearing a jam in a certain type of machine gun. Once established, that procedure is valid for as long as that model of machine gun remains in service. It does not matter if the enemy figures it out, because he cannot take advantage of the knowledge. The procedure is focused entirely inward, on our machine gun. The enemy is irrelevant (beyond the fact that the gun usually jams at the worst moment in a firefight, as they all seem to do).

Techniques are like procedures in that they are done by recipe or formula. How to set up an L-shaped ambush, how to emplace a minefield, how to move through an enemy-held building or neighborhood, are all techniques. Troops (usually small units) learn them by rote and get good at them by repetition. However, unlike procedures, techniques do make contact with the enemy. Because the enemy learns (something all sides tend to overlook), he eventually figures your techniques out and comes up with ways to negate them or even turn them against you. That means techniques, unlike procedures, have relatively short shelf-lives.

Therefore, it is not enough to be good at techniques (though that is important). You also have to be good at inventing new techniques. Here the TTP spectrum begins to shift from science to art. This is also a point at which Second Generation militaries, with their inward-focused culture, tend to fail. They have little room for initiative or innovation, or for creative individuals. Often, they continue using techniques the enemy figured out long ago, which contributes to their defeat.

Tactics is the art of selecting the right techniques for a given situation, “right” meaning techniques that bring a decisive result at the lowest possible cost in causalities and time (those two can be in tension, although more often speed reduces casualties). Tactics is an art, and must never be done by recipe or formula. Every situation is unique and the commander must see it as such (what I call “the Zen of tactics”, which requires strong mental discipline). He must be able to think militarily, to look at a particular situation and quickly decide what to do. Regrettably, to my knowledge this is not taught in any American military school or college, with the exception of the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officers School.

Why? Because the Second Generation U.S. military has reduced tactics to techniques, hence “TTPs”. At this point, U.S. Ground forces essentially have no tactics. They just wander around until they bump into an enemy, then call for supporting arms. We are formulaic and predictable, which plays no small role in our continuing defeats.

Aggregating dissimilar things as if they shared a common nature is a serious error in logic. It is also a serious error in tactics. Modern, Third Generation tactics were fully developed by the German Army by 1918. If anyone knows the arguments as to why and how we benefit from being almost 100 years out of date, I would like to hear them.