Operational Art

Gaining advantage on the battle field: Building a credible deception

By Beau Hodge November 20, 2020

“A military operation has no standard form – it goes by way of deception”[1]


Just do deception! What is your deception plan? That’s a great course of action, I now want you to consider integrating deception. Frustratingly, we have all heard these statements and questions on career courses or on a staff. This pays lip service to the importance of deception and often shows peoples' lack of understanding of the doctrinal concepts and resources required to create a credible deception. The importance of deception is acknowledged in Australian Doctrine. Deception is considered a force multiplier when utilised correctly.[2] It is worth expending time in the staff planning process to enhance a commander’s plan and chances for success on the battle field. Deception is not a well understood concept however. People erroneously try and apply it at the wrong level of command, do not plan it well and do not understand how to measure its effectiveness in a plan. Staff and commanders can improve their understanding of deception to harness its power in support of their plans in five ways:

  1. Understand the doctrine resources to create a viable deception.
  2. Use a clear and simple objective from the outset to ensure a credible and effective deception.
  3. Build layers of credibility to sell the deception.
  4. Appropriately allocate resources to the deception.
  5. Effectively communicate and control the plan to enable the deception.

Finally, an alternative conceptual framework will be discussed for junior commanders who arguably do not have the resources to effectively achieve true deception.

Understand the doctrine resources to create a viable deception

Understand what deception is and is not. Deception by definition is measures designed to mislead the enemy by manipulation, distortion or falsification of evidence to induce a reaction prejudicial to the enemy’s own interests.[3] Two resources create an excellent adjunct to the LWD 5-1-4 Military Appreciation Process (MAP) with respect to deception. Firstly, LWP-G 3-2-2 Deception, can be found at doctrine online. Whilst LWD 5-1-4 highlights where deception guidance and planning should be utilised in the MAP, LWP-G 3-2-2 goes into the detail of how to plan deception as an integral part of the MAP, not a separate “bolt-on” effort. LWP-G 0-5-2 Staff Officers Aide-Memoire also contains an excellent table (Table 9-1) which describes in detail, methods to achieve different forms of deception.[4] These resources exist and provide the understanding required to support the planning and execution of a credible deception, even if finding and integrating the key parts of these doctrines may be clunky, particularly for a junior staff officer.

Use a clear and simple objective from the outset to ensure a credible and effective deception

A clear and simple deception objective will ensure that the commander’s intent is met. It is the most important piece of guidance given to produce a coherent and simple deception. It is delivered at the start of a planning process by the commander as part of his guidance following his preliminary analysis.[5] It can be expressed as a separate purpose, method and endstate. At such early stages of planning it may be better to simply state the objective a commander wishes to achieve through deception to not overly constrain available methods prior to centre of gravity analysis and course of action development. An example of a simple objective may be: deceive the enemy as to the axis of the brigade main effort. In this instance the purpose of the deception would be to shape the enemy’s course of action to erroneously orientate his defence, or deploy forces onto the wrong axis, allowing the friendly commander to achieve surprise by attacking the enemy from an unexpected direction. Staff can use this clear statement to maintain focus throughout planning to ensure that if they commit resources or concoct differing methods for achieving the objective, it remains clear and not forgotten.

Methods of achieving the deception should be layered to support the objective

It is easy to focus on methods and capabilities as a standalone way of deceiving the enemy. Dummy headquarters or “deception nodes” are currently in vogue, but if not deployed toward a clear objective, layered within a plan to sell the objective, they do not form a deception. At best a dummy headquarters deployed in an area, if not part of an orchestrated deception with a clear objective, is just a physical security measure to increase the survivability of the headquarters it is mimicking.

The deception must be sold through the layering of effects that support the objective. Taking the example of the objective given above and the ever popular dummy headquarters, how is the layering achieved to form a credible deception? It is best to frame the layering of the effects within the battlespace operating systems (BOS) to ensure we logically think through all options available to strengthen the deception.

The dummy headquarters falls under the Command, Control and Communications BOS. To increase the credibility of deceiving the enemy as to which axis our main effort is on we could deploy the dummy headquarters on the primary axis, hoping the enemy may identify it as a dummy. We may deploy the dummy headquarters on the secondary axis hoping that the enemy can either not discriminate between axes based on headquarters or believe the true headquarters is on the secondary axis. We may even configure the dummy headquarters as a unit headquarters and deploy it on the secondary axis, giving the appearance of more units moving along the secondary axis – selling it as the main effort. BOS specialists can support a staff to develop these layers around a central task such as a feint, demonstration, ruse or dummy to provide layers of credibility. A dummy headquarters to help sell a main effort (C2), a feint on the same axis as the dummy headquarters (Manoeuvre), the positioning of air defence and the reconnaissance of dummy AA and FUP (GBAD & ISR).

Appropriately allocate resources to the deception to build layers of credibility

Resourcing a deception is critical. Utilising deception is not cost effective and requires the investment of time and resources to achieve an advantage. During World War Two, General Montgomery in command of the British Eighth Army, launched a deception, code named Operation Bertram. The purpose of Bertram was to feign attack in the south, whilst actually attacking the enemy line in the north.[6] 2,275 allied soldiers disguised 5000 tons of stores to be utilised in the north whilst displaying 8,000 tons of stores in the south.[7] Moreover, he positioned some 4500 dummy vehicles and camouflaged 700 tanks and 360 guns as trucks[8].

Deceptions must be resourced in each facet of the plan. It is not good enough to half-heartedly try and sell a deception. If the deception is not taken seriously - given enough time to be developed, appropriate resources to appear credible, time for the enemy to perceive it and then executed with vigour – what resources you did allocate are a waste of time.

Effectively communicating deception and monitoring it post H hour

A commander may wish to share his deception wholly with his subordinates or compartmentalise it for operational security. Either way, it is important that the efficacy of the deception is maintained as the commanders plan cascades through the levels of command. The deception must not be watered down or completely disregarded due to a misunderstanding of the intent.

If the deception is shared with subordinate commanders, it should be communicated in orders as part of the commander’s intent. To then ensure that the plan is not corrupted or watered down the control measures built by the staff should ensure the intent is met by subordinate units. Following the theme of deceiving the enemy as to which axis our main effort is on, control measures may constrain the main effort to movement by night and camouflage in LUPs by day in an attempt to shield them from detection. Units on the secondary axis may be required to move by day or attack by day to draw enemy recon and shield movement on the primary axis. The main effort may not be allowed to advance past a specific report line until the commander can confirm whether the deception has reorientated the enemy onto the secondary axis. Supporting assets such as artillery may be placed centrally if possible to support both axis and not flag a main effort.

Key indicators and warnings should be derived early in planning to ensure that assets can be appropriately allocated as part of the reconnaissance and surveillance effort to measure whether the deception is working. This goes without saying for any plan, but is important for closing the loop on whether the deception is effective.

A conceptual framework for junior commanders – an alternative to deception

Given the level of planning and resources required to achieve deception, not to mention the levels at which deception is carried out according to our own doctrine[9] it may be frustrating to be expected to “do deception” as a junior commander. That does not mean junior commanders do not have a responsibility to support their commander’s deception or display cunning on the battle field. But it is difficult to be expected to plan a deception with limited time and resources. So how can junior commanders approach this problem?

Conceptually anyone who is trying to deceive the enemy is trying to gain an advantage over the enemy by misleading them. The advantage usually achieves a degree of surprise and breaks down the enemy’s cohesion. He is surprised by your timing of attack, direction of attack, or the force you attacked with because you misled him through deception. Deception is effective but costly. So achieving the surprise and break down in cohesion may be achieved other ways by junior commanders – dilemma, shock action and battle cunning.

Dilemma, shock action and battle cunning

Dilemma, shock action and battle cunning are three other options for framing how one might try and gain an advantage over the enemy, particularly for a junior commander with less time and assets. To provide the enemy with a dilemma commanders first need to analyse the enemy objectives and then organise his forces to present the enemy with a problem that challenges his design for battle. A dilemma is a situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful that must be dealt with or overcome.[10] If resources permit, a commander would ideally present more than one dilemma so that the enemy’s capacity to respond is overwhelmed, leaving him capable of only dealing with one dilemma and exploiting where success is found. In the offence, this may be achieved through inserting cut-off forces to dislocate an enemy position or attacking from multiple angles to overwhelm enemy concentration. In defensive actions it may be achieved by launching a local counter attack force whilst the enemy is engaged with the defensive position.

Sometimes we are left with only one option. Up the centre with lots of smoke. A fact in battle is that the enemy will always get a say or we may not have time to cunningly unravel the enemy. In these moments, more than any other, shock action through disciplined battle drills, a synchronised fire plan and good leadership executed as violently as possible is highly effective. We always train to outwit our enemy and rightly so, but a well synchronised combined arms attack executed with vigour is sometimes the only and the best option a junior commander has at his disposal. It also takes a lot of training and discipline to effectively synchronise and execute an attack of this nature – it should not be seen as the lesser option.

Battle cunning – the effective use of tactics, techniques and procedures coupled with superior field discipline of the small team – is highly effective at achieving surprise against an enemy. Many other concepts posted here have been about staff process or the wit of a commander but unlike any of those things, battle cunning requires highly disciplined small teams and relies on the leadership of junior commanders. A disciplined sub unit, platoon or section are still small enough to surprise an enemy through superior field discipline. Utilising cover and concealment to avoid detection or techniques such as infiltration and ambush which draw together patrolling, camouflage, noise discipline, waste discipline, light discipline amongst many other things.


Deception is a technique worthy of expending time and effort upon. History attests to the advantages that can be gained by a formation that can effectively deceive its enemy to gain advantage on the battle field. It cannot be assumed that deception is easy or cheap and that anyone can make up a deception. It requires a basic understanding of our doctrine, borne out of experience and research. Clear guidance from commanders and a weight of effort from staff throughout the planning process, not just enhancements during course of action development. Throughout execution a deception’s effectiveness must be monitored and like any other plan, control measures put in place to ensure the commander’s intent is met and subordinate units understand their freedom of action.

Deception is one method of gaining advantage on the battle field, but not necessarily an option at all levels of command due to the planning requirements, resources and time to execute a credible deception. Junior commanders should not necessarily be pushed towards a deception plan if it is not feasible for them to effectively do so. They do have an arsenal of other tools to create advantage for their small teams against the enemy – dilemma, shock action and battle cunning. Deception, dilemma, shock action and battle cunning are not all mutually exclusive. A commander should seek every advantage possible to win in battle but will likely not be able to achieve all of these things at once depending on their span of command, resources and the situation.


End Notes

[1] Tzu, Sun. Sun Tzu Art of War. Translated by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala Publications 2011. Pp 10.

[2] LWP-G 3-2-2 Deception, Section 1-1.

[3] LWP-G 0-5-2 Staff Officers Aide Memoire, 2018, Section 9-1.

[4] Ibid., Table 9-1.

[5] LWD 5-1-4 Military Appreciation Process, 2015, Section 4-15.

[6]Lloyd, Mark. The art of military deception. Pen and Sword, 2003. pp. 84-85.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Op. cit., Staff Officers Aide-Memoire., Table 9-1

[10]Macquarie Dictionary Online., Accessed on 02 July 2020., Accessed at: https://www.macquariedictionary.com.au/features/word/search/?search_word_type=Dictionary&word=Dilemma




Beau Hodge

Major Beau Hodge is the Operations Officer of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR). He served as the Officer Commanding Bravo Company, 1 RAR in 2019. He has previously had experience on Brigade and Battalion Staffs in both plans and current operations. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


I think this article deals very well with the tendency for deception plans to be one dimensional and designed as an afterthought rather than as an integral part of the plan. Thanks for the well written piece Beau. I would add to this however that in addition to considering BOS as a means of developing layers to a deception plan, overlaying Domains will allow further depth and credibility. The example used of a HQ location would be enhanced further by considering the "sign" it produces within each domain and thereby developing complementary means of identification rather than just the physical or visual; in turn providing a far more detailed and credible element to the overall deception. SMEs and enablers come to the fore in this type of planning and should be actively sought out to help provide this robustness with what you have available to you.

Thanks for your points Tim. I agree whole heartedly. I wanted to keep this piece concise and start a discussion, but I could write a whole other article just on methods for achieving deception. The HQ example in this day and age would need Manning, tents and importantly systems that replicate formation electro magnetic spectrum emissions or radio systems with real traffic. Spectrum management across a formation is critical to display, or not display, or drown out things that make something discernible. This needs to be layered credibly with many other methods - camouflage and concealment, control measures, the placement or absence of key capabilities. I am sure that BOS experts can speak more to their areas of expertise than me, but I am aware of many ways we can build the layers of credibility. What would you add further for the different domains?

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