Attack or Defense? (1)

August 10, 2005

The proverb “attack is the best form of defense” is often correct, and the science of Games Theory helps explain why. It applies when your enemy is less numerous than the the number of potential targets you offer. In which case, it’s cheaper for you to spend your limited resources eliminating the enemy rather than defending every vulnerability.

In practice, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, so you can’t assume that your offensive strategy will work 100%. Hence its prudent to mix your attack with a level of defense that covers the risk that your attack will fail.

But there are plenty of cases where defense is better than attack. In the WW2 Battle of Britain, it was less expensive for the Brit Spitfires and Hurricanes to destroy German planes & pilots while they were attacking the UK than to send expensive and vulnerable RAF bombers to hit them in their bases in France – Brits had the defensive advantage of radar and the world’s first integrated battle management system. However later on in the war, Brit offensive equipment improved & its fighters, bombers and fighter-bombers owned the skies over their advancing armies in France, Holland and Germany.

Another case where defense works better is when the defender can co-ordinate his response. Some math known as Lanchester’s Equations shows that concentrated fire is much more effective than individual sniping – and such fire is often easier to deploy in defense.

Finally, you need rather better information about the enemy to attack them than you do to defend against them. Attackers present themselves to you to be potentially killed, whereas defenders don’t until you close with them on their home turf.

Later posts will analyze the following conflicts.

1. The Republican battle to pack that Supreme Court with conservatives (and the Democratic attempt to do the reverse).

2. The US Ballistic Missile Defense system.

3. The Sunni/al Queda offensive in Iraq.

And anything else that comes to mind.