Anglophone military literature places much emphasis on surprise, and rightly so: Surprise is a huge lethality multiplier in combat. Air, sea and land.
There was even a time when the concept of surprise was interesting enough to distinguish between moral surprise and material surprise.
The classic counter to surprise is security; basically defensive reconnaissance by satellite forces (pickets or small teams moving in parallel to the protected force).

It is -as so often - possible to look at the same subject through a different lens, though. And a different lens may be very useful on this subject.

There's a German word - Gefechtsbereitschaft - for readiness for battle.

This is similarly far-ranging as "surprise". A force deployed in the field and moving forward can be expected to have maximum battle readiness against foes in front. Less of its potential strength is available for sudden contact on either flank. Even less is available for a sudden contact in the rear.
The same force - not deployed, but marching on a road or two - may have had a very low readiness for battle an hour earlier. And yet another hour earlier it was probably in bivouac, with some vehicles undergoing immobilizing repairs and much of the personnel at sleep. The readiness for battle at that time was marginal.

And that's the normal: Marginal readiness for battle. No force can maintain a high readiness at all times. A high readiness for battle is the exception, and "surprise" is about getting in contact with the enemy when the enemy is not ready for battle, while your forces are.

Gefechtsbereitschaft / readiness for battle provides a different lens, a different perspective on the issue because it looks at the own forces.

Now look at the standard recipe of security: Assuming your security effort is at a substantial distance (say, varying from 2-20 km), you're likely not able to maintain it without diverting a huge share of your forces to it. The circumference of a circle grows quickly with an increasing radius, after all. A thin security effort won't have much delaying effect.
Modern mechanised forces could push through such a distance within minutes if their leader suspects a great opportunity to surprise you.

It's in this light not a good idea to trust "security" much, or to look at the problem dominantly through the attacker's lens ("surprise"). Instead, your forces need at the very least the readiness to elude the enemy, as readying for meeting him in battle would be even more demanding - often demanding too much.

This in turn requires a lot of training. The breaking of camp within minutes into one of several possible directions (and in satisfactory order) takes much practice. You need to do it again and again, and you need to have the troops truly settled (maintaining and sleeping), so you cannot simply run ten such exercise alarms on a single day.

Now what do you think may be a rather neglected skill in an age in which large scale military manoeuvres involve computer screens more than actual units camping in the fields (and outside of permanent military training areas)?



  1. I am only aware of this being a regular part of the training program for special purpose units. Reconnaissance units practice shifting a "bumped" bivvy site. The Finnish Sissi troops I spoke to routinely train this way and say it is not uncommon for the infantry in general to be able to do this - upon alarm, the entire thing breaks down and shifts locations - not necessarily preselected with routes to them recce'd, either. Combat means (crew-served weapons) get set back up at the end of the movement, mortars in particular.

    1. What's simple for platoon sis tough for battalions ...

    2. Ja, genau. And if you just let it happen in the easiest way possible (each platoon or company reacting independently) you've scattered to the nine winds and will need to be very good indeed to make things happen from there.

      I can see something like this - that is to say, the rapid breaking of camp and displacement - working within the framework of your "moving squares" concept.

    3. Speaking in that concept, the small units surrounding the 'squares' would have a delay mission when the red square's movement becomes threatening to a blue battlegroup.
      I also assumed a ceteris paribus greater agility of small units over units and formations, so they could break camp and evade without much early warning.

      I have a book which details the evacuation of a battalion bivouac on ten pages. It's not trivial, especially if the units need to be able to do it after every break, in 3+ possible directions.
      Things get easier with great dispersion, but that's not exactly helping in regard to security for non-combat small units.

    4. And with great dispersion it doesn't help massing effects, either: so now the CSS guys are exposed and your combat power (probably literally) faded into the forest. Company battlegroups or individual platoons can't really move their effect around the battlefield like a battery of 155mm guns can.

      Though with the assumed greater agility of small units, if they were to flow about the attacking force, exploiting low force densities by taking advantage of available space, they could recombine (assuming good-to-superlative comms and mobility) and counterattack. This is effectively what successful guerrillas do anyways in the face of security force sweeps; nothing new there.

  2. Actually, the circumference grows linearly with radius. Thus making the number of pickets per unit area go down as the radius goes up.

    1. This wasn't about increasing the area, though - nobody makes use of the increase in area. The only benefit is the increase in radius, and thus early warning time.

    2. I guess that to some people a slope of 2*pi is steep.

      Surely the increase of area is relevant as well, as a bigger area provides more oportunities to hide.

      In any case we should probably expect increased use of autonmous detectors as a means of providing early warning with less personell. Or maybe we will go back to the roving army style of warefare, where it's obvious where you are, but only very modest damage can be done to you unless an equally obvious threat oposes you.

    3. Imagine woodland, line of sight 50 m, so a picket of 3 men may guard roughly 100 m of the perimeter.

      Now imagine a company in bivouac. Battalion HQ orders a security depth of 100 m, while the bivouac has 100 m diameter. Circumference is 300 m * 2 * Pi. Roughly 60 men will now guard the perimeter - possibly the majority of the company's able men.

      Now imagine Bn HQ gets intel about a company having been overrun by running, not crawling, attackers and orders a depth of security of 300 m.

      Nobody would care about bivouac area or area enclosed by the perimeter now. The security effort would require too many men, period.