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Strategy and Tactics: What's the Difference?

Updated on January 22, 2013

There existing some confusion about the difference between tactics and strategy, I will attempt a clarifying explanation, including some instructive examples.

There are four levels of strategy and tactics: Grand Strategy, Strategy, Grand Tactics and Tactics. Let's begin with grand strategy, the largest scale, and work our way down to tactics, the smallest scale.

Grand Strategy

Grand strategy deals with the largest ideas involved in planning. The overall goals are determined, and the basic plan is laid to reach those goals. Grand strategy generally involves long-term plans covering numerous objectives over vast distances. It is the long-term plan of essential actions required to achieve major objectives. Grand strategy is employed more often in fiction than in real life.

Example: The General of the Army of the Terran Alliance of Planets steps to the podium and addresses his senior staff. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Prime Minister has issued his orders. We are to strengthen our border and expand our available resources by expansion into Alpha Centauri space. We are ordered to capture the following systems..."

Strategy

Strategy breaks the overall objective into parts and determines how best to achieve each part of the main objective. Each part is assigned a place within the overall objective. It is a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. Strategy is generally the highest level of planning used in real life.

Example: Major General Cragg gathers his senior staff around the star map of the local sector and explains the situation. "Listen up, people. All 5 designated planets must be attacked simultaneously to prevent timely reinforcement by the enemy. What units do we have available, including air support, for each assault?"

Grand Tactics

Grand tactics takes each part of the main objective and analyzes it closely to determine the best course of action for accomplishing the mission. It is a method of managing the movement of forces to their area of tactical responsibility. This level of planning is best assigned to local battlefield commanders.

Example: Colonel Drukker addresses his commanders in the briefing room aboard the landing craft. "The 24th Heavy Brigade will split for the assault on Tregway City. 1st Battalion will approach from the north, 2nd Battalion from the east. At the same time, the 32nd Light Armored Battalion will make a lightning strike from the south, targeting the city's power generators. Air support will loiter over the landing zone for at least 3 hours."

Tactics

Tactics are the moment by moment decisions of battlefield commanders, using terrain, cover, unit strengths, enemy mistakes, etc. It is the techniques for using weapons and military units in combination to engage and defeat an enemy in battle. A skilled tactician can often turn a potential defeat into a victory.

Example: The radio crackles to life, and the Captain's voice can be heard through the battlefield interference. "Lt. Brooks, take your rifle platoon north 150 meters; cover that barracks until the artillery can be redirected. Cpt. Pullings, maneuver your tank squad in support of Lt. Brooks. Watch his right flank for that light armor we spotted earlier."

I trust that my efforts have served to clarify tactics and strategy. All persons and events described herein are not intended to reflect reality. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

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