Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Principles of War

"You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Military theoreticians have long established some fundamental principles of war, which have remained unchanged for several thousand years. These principles are incorporated into modern warfare as the art of war became the science of war. The Principles of War (1) and the adherence to it by the Army and LTTE can be analyzed as follows;

  • Objective- Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective. As Clausewitz pointed out “No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war.” Although an unconventional army, the LTTE has maintained a clear objective in mind (Eelam- a politico-military objective). The Sri Lanka Army has a new military objective under General Fonseka. It is now upto the politicians to create a political objective better than Eelam.
  • Offensive- Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Until 2005, the LTTE dominated offensive actions, which role is now being replaced by the Army.
  • Mass- Concentrate the effects of combat power at the decisive place and time. The LTTE’s Oyatha Alaikal/ Ceaseless Waves are a good example of this strategy. However, not a single Ceaseless Wave was launched recently. The Army has its own force concentrations under Task Force I and II. However, these concentrated forces are rarely deployed in mass, thus eliminating high casualty rates unlike Agnikeela and Muhamalai debacles. The modus operandi of the new Mechanized Infantry Regiment is yet unclear, but furthers the application of this principle by the SLA.
  • Economy of force- Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts. The Army’s adherence to this principle is currently being tested by the LTTE through attacks in the south. The Army is also testing the LTTE in the same area through LRRP operations.
  • Maneuver- Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power. Both sides apply this principle against each other by attempting to off balance each other by posing new problems and new dangers faster than a side can deal with them.
  • Unity of command- For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander. This is a highly politicized issue in a three forces command. Rebel forces are monolithic and have better success at assigning the right responsibilities to the right command. LTTE commanders are given objectives to achieve and the rank and file must comply, or pay with their lives. Recently, the Army has instilled a greater sense of responsibility and accountability to the command. Recent appointments, promotions, demotions and transfers were based on merit and not on seniority or political allegiance.
  • Security- Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage. The LTTE has been at the receiving end of this principle lately, with the loss of weapons ships, ‘Col. Charles’, Thamilselvan etc. The military too suffered (i.e. Anuradhapura attack), but less in terms of loses suffered in 1996-2002.
  • Surprise- Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared. This is the LTTE’s forte and it hasn’t failed them yet. The Sri Lankan military has also improved in this area through surprise attacks on Tiger leadership and assets.
  • Simplicity- Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding. Again, the rebels hold the advantage. No PowerPoint presentations required in briefing LTTE leaders or rank and file. The SLA has also recently transformed. The language of communication at all levels of the command shifted from English to ‘layman’ Sinhala. The present Commander of the Army and the Defence Secretary played a role in this and also in separating political plans from military plans.

Conventional Armies and state militaries evolve by incorporating experiences through reflection, generalization, theorization and reapplication. This is an advantage of an institutionalized Army. The disadvantage is the amount of time consumed in transforming learning into new strategies. Repetition of the same strategy without innovation can backfire. As Sun Tzu once said "Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.”

(1) US Army Field Manual, FM 3-0, Chapter 4.


hemantha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hemantha said...

Superb work Defence Analyst. Well done. And I would like to see a similar analysis about the "mind war" too. I.e. I like to hear about how the terrorist mindset works under the current situation. (Same about the “forced conscripts” and the general population live in Mulathivu and Kilinochchi).

defenceAnalyst said...


tikira said...

DW,briliant post mate. do you recon the terra would adapt a smmilar strategy like the 'ceaseless wave'in the near future?. there r rumors that they are dying hard to eliminate commander and navi comander. they are approaching through new chanels,this time they have heavily invested and also they are much confident on the new approach.

Unknown said...

What is that ice-cream bomber alert? Sorry don't have capability to play media files here.

LKDOOD said...

India trying its ’87 pranks again – JVP


LKDOOD said...


sites 'new look' looks good :)

jiffy said...

an army needs a "scalpel and hammer approach" (as someone once put it), but choosing which to apply in the given situation is the tricky bit. as we advance on vanni we mustn't rely too heavily on the "hammer". this appears to have been our mistake in the past. countless lives could be saved if the "scalpel" (read:research, pre-intelligence, small teams, LRRP, SF) is allowed to carry out its work before the large columns march in guns blazing.

LKDOOD said...

LTTE seeks UN recognition for 'Tamil sovereignty'


Jambudipa said...

The issues raised here are valid and relevant. These are applicable in the main function of the army which is defending and waging war.

However, at least 70% of activities of the military are not active combat duty. These are logistics, human resource management, documentation, engineering and training etc. These require a different set of standards and guidelines for efficient management. There are already standards out there such as ISO9000 which can be tailored for these tasks. This is perhaps one area the forces may need more efforts and making improvements.

defenceAnalyst said...

You are talking about quality management processes, or the process sciences. These are slowly being incorporated into militaries around the world. SLAF is already following these but, look at KAB and A'pura attacks.

ISO and other qualifications like TQM followed by Toyota and others are proven methods in large production-based industries. In the services domain (Domain theory), these principles aren't very well established because firstly they are not fully accepted by the users. And there's a reason for this. The Military is a service oriented domain. The service is security, which is rather an intangible outcome/output. Unlike in the production domain, quality management and process sciences have not demonstrated themselves as complete successes in the service domains. So we are looking for a success story, a TQM and a 'TOYOTA' in the military domain to justify the wholehearted adoption of these principles in the services domain. Maybe we might need to create one specially for the service domain, as some management theorists have pointed out.

Unknown said...

defencewire is not popular as defencenet

is this article try to grab more audience?

nice work

defenceAnalyst said...

Funny guy sri...but seriously, what made you say that? We are comfortable at 2500 hits a day and are in no competition. Just reporting the truth. My guess is you are new and think of yourself as a little clever devil who can pitch one against the other. With regard to the comparison, the contrast is true, that we operate at a different level.

But hold on to that thought and consider this also, WHY DO WE WRITE ANONYMOUSLY IF WE SEEK POPULARITY?...simple isn't it?

CASC said...


This is a brilliant and insightful piece of writing.

Keep up the good work !

Unknown said...


you shouldn't have asked me this question

you want an answer here you go ( I give you several)

You want your corrupted officers to be not caught by the higher officials.

You want the people to trust your article. So you say you are not public.

You want the war to continue, so you will say things like "Kilinochchi is within reach"

You will hide SLA casualities at all cost, after all you wouldn't care a thing about the infantry. If your sources are from the infantry, you will not last longer anyways. So my assumption there is right, that you do not have contact with infantry.

That is why you write anonymously.

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