• 02 October, 2022
Foreign Affairs. Geopolitics. National Security.

Deep Defense – A Timeless Tactical Doctrine

Saurav Bandopadhyay
Tue, 20 Sep 2022   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’ – Sun Tzu.

As we are closely stepping foot into the silver jubilee timeline of the 21st century, the role of changing dynamics in every part of our lives has been apparent. One such major shift involves the role of fighting wars (formally known as warfare) which has witnessed its own evolution ranging right from conventional tactics to the asymmetrical engagements. Out of this collection, one lesser heard terminology is called Deep Defense or more likely what its largely known as ‘Defense In-Depth’ (DID).

Deep Defense defines a military strategy that focuses on delaying rather than preventing the advancement of an attacker, buying time and causing additional casualties by yielding space. Rather than defeating an attacker with a single, strong defensive line, defense in-depth relies on the tendency of an attack to lose momentum over time or as it covers a larger area. A defender can thus yield lightly defended territory in an effort to stress an attacker’s logistics or spread out a numerically superior attacking force. Once an attacker has lost momentum or is forced to spread out to pacify a large area, defensive counter-attacks can be mounted on the attacker’s weak points, with the goal being to cause attrition which drives the attacker back to its original starting position.

From this we can concur that its basic principles directs to minimize the amount of casualties faced via defending while maximizing the casualties suffered by the enemy during an attack. Going into the details, this process involves an elastic defense that would give up land to the enemy in exchange for retaining a defensive line. This line also explains it being known as ‘Elastic Defense’ where more strongly fortified defensive lines could be broken if given enough pressure, an elastic defense would have multiple lines of less fortified defenses each protecting the other, weakening the enemy over time rather than plainly holding back any attempt while advancing.

Speaking about its origination, the DID initially set its footmarks during the age of illustrious Roman Republics notably in the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. As time progressed, this tactic was incorporated in many historical conflicts like the American War of Independence where the American forces were able to absorb the shocks of British charge subsequently resulting in several casualties which broke their cohesion. The Pacific War saw some major instances of the same inflicting heavy casualties on the US forces by the Japanese soldiers.

However the major significance of this tactical display came during World War I and II respectively. During the first world war, the German Army first adopted this strategy in 1917 calling for the creation of three defensive zones namely the ‘Outpost’ zone, the ‘Battle’ zone, and the ‘Rearward’ zone. By creation of multiple trench lines the German troops would use their reserves that had been saved from a concentrated defensive line and launch prompt counterattacks so that the defensive line would ‘bounce’ back to its original point. This resulted in successful retention of their grounds with minimum casualties. Subsequently such styles of formations were improvised by other forces most notably the Japanese Army during the Second World War when their commanders realized that any attempt to simply stop American advances on islands at the beachhead would be foolish and a waste of resources as it would be impossible. What instead should be done is create many different defensive positions, each protecting the other and attempt to “bleed” the enemy until they cannot continue to expend troops and material.

Notably, these defensive positions were often well hidden and maintained sound fire discipline so as only to use up ammunition when many enemy casualties could be ensured. This made it exceedingly difficult for Allied troops to dislodge Japanese positions with artillery or air strikes as they largely only became visible while firing. One of the most successful modern examples of DID would be one during the Battle of Kursk. During the battle, the Red Army (USSR) deliberately drew the Germans into an attritional battle in multiple, well-prepared defensive lines, before launching massive counter-attacks on either side of the 9th Army in the north and the 4th Panzer Army in the south. The initial German offensive never fully penetrated the Red Army lines.

By contrast, the subsequent Red Army counter-offensive pushed the front line hundreds of miles westwards. Furthermore the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had also shown glimpses of putting such tactics into use during the Cold War era. The Fulda Gap represented the shortest route (through the cities of either Fulda or Giessen) from the border between East Germany and West Germany to the Rhine River. Throughout the Cold War, the NATO and Warsaw Pact military forces remained heavily concentrated in the area. So one can observe the importance of DID through the lens of multiple examples highlighted above.

However every military strategy comes with their own set of pros and cons. A well-planned DID strategy will deploy forces in mutually supportive positions and in appropriate roles. For example, poorly trained troops may be deployed in static defenses at the front line, whereas better trained and equipped troops form a mobile reserve. Successive layers of defense may use different technologies against various targets. A ‘Dragon Teeth’ like fortification might present a challenge for the tanks but can easily be circumvented by the infantry. DID may allow a defender to maximize the defensive possibilities of natural terrain and other advantages. The shortcomings of DID are that it may be unacceptable for a defender to plan to give ground to an attacker. This may be because vital military or economic resources are close to the front line or because yielding to an enemy is unacceptable for any political or cultural reason. Although today, DID has largely been abandoned as a military tactic, micro versions of the same can still be visible in the upcoming future of warfare.


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Kalidan Singh

Sep 24, 2022
Sun Tzu's observations were relevant when he was alive. 500BC. Today his book is boring, obvious, and mostly nonsensical. Every student of strategy has read that (and a bunch of others from Machiavelli, Von Clausewitz, and others). They are silly, not profound. The strategy-tactics discussion is a non-existent, pretend-dichotomy. For a simple reason: tactics mean nothing until a strategy exists (connected to reality and not hubris, with real direction of resources to clear objectives), and the military is operationally ready (in Sun Tzu's time, it meant sea worthy ships and young horses, now it means guns with ammo, soldiers with armor and radios, tanks with shells, not Mig 21s but operationally ready squads of fourth generation fighters). We are deficient strategically, although rich in hurbis. I.e., we have zero effective objectives to deter Pakistan or China. Most of our deployed resources go for a jobs programs and large number of weapons systems that are not compatible with each other. Planes from everywhere. Guns from everywhere. No ammo, no gas, no radar, no nothing. No spares. Few planes operationally ready. Kudos to the Modi government for making weapons acquisition mostly bribery free. The previous government used weapons acquisition as the chief way of money grab (see Jagjivan Ram and Jaguars). Same with operations. Our military remains poorly trained and equipped despite the hubris. All I could see on 26/11 were scared, potbellied men in uniform rappelling uselessly on random buildings shooting in the air. There is no real evidence of any damage inflicted in retaliatory strikes (all dead of night). We cannot prosecute much of a war anywhere. Our tanks have no shells, our guns have no ammo, our Maruti's fall apart on rough terrain. Our guns jam. We have sold our Brahmos and Tejas's to exactly no one (despite big talk about them). Our logistics are beyond primitive. We have no roads, no bridges, no communication, no intelligence - no nothing. We learned about incursion into Kargil from goat and sheep herders, not from an active intelligence unit. I know we are making some progress here, but try driving from Mumbai to Nashik. That road is rebuilt every year. The money has made a lot of people rich. Very rich. The price of real estate in Mumbai rivals that of Paris or Chicago. The road is substandard, there are holes that can swallow entire cars. These same contractors are building the roads in Ladakh, Doklam, and Arunachal. Our vehicles will bog down, contractors are getting rich, elected leaders are running thuggish tribes engaged in extortion. I find it disgusting to read about serious-sounding people talking big about strategy. A beggar country on the other side, facing bankruptcy, flood, and every other disaster, continues to send insurgents into India, continues to fire across the border, continues to dominate Kashmir - and we here are seeking solace in talk about operations when our soldier have no direct contact with anyone (no real radios that work). We have never deterred Pakistan (se send no insurgents there). We have never deterred China. They engage in incursions. We never do. That Abhinandan survived after his radios were jammed (something we did not anticipate, nor fix), and that he survived - means he is a great hero. And we are talking tactics? How about without strategy and operations, there are no tactics worth mentioning. Our boys are left to enter China with fists and clubs. Please. This hubris is exactly how, throughout our history, superior Indian forces were routed by invading hordes. It is because of the heroism of Indian soldiers, sailors, aviators - since 1947 - and absolutely nothing else - that has kept us free. We owe them everything. See the two brave pilots who destroyed Pakistani armor in 1965. See the great soldiers in Doklam. The brass needs to shut up and focus on supporting our soldiers. The hot air from our defense establishment is frankly disgusting.


Sep 21, 2022
Great Article. Something fresh and different.

manan desai

Sep 20, 2022
What a great piece Saurav....Need more of ur writings.....

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