OPFOR TEWTS – Understanding the Enemy’s Mind

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Defeating the enemy’s will. That is the essence of manoeuvre warfare, that you defeat the enemy’s will to fight rather than his ability to fight. But how do you defeat a man’s mind? David A. Grossman

Tactical Exercises without Troops (TEWT) are used to teach and practice tactical theory against a specified enemy (OPFOR). TEWTs involve students examining a tactical problem, conducting an appreciation and producing a solution for the set terrain.[1] Commanders make TEWTs as realistic as possible by replicating battlefield conditions; however, most TEWTs are blue-force focused which means the enemy is treated as a secondary rather than primary entity on the battlefield.

This post advocates for the use of  reverse or ‘OPFOR TEWTs’ in order to enter the mindset of an adversary, understand their vulnerabilities, and ultimately, figure out how to defeat them.


TEWTs are conducted at almost every training establishment and unit throughout the Army. They are commonly used to achieve tactical training outcomes with resource efficiency as TEWTs preserve materiel compared to resource usage on training exercises.

TEWTs also tie into the teaching of the decision-making process – the Military Appreciation Process (MAP) – from Joint MAP to Combat Team/Battle Group level Staff MAP and down to Individual MAP. The Individual MAP Workbook and Concept of Operations (CONOPS) back brief template are used to formulate and deliver plans during TEWTs. Tactical doctrine is also the minimum level of professional knowledge for officers and non-commissioned officers.[2] 

It is here that the majority of training establishments conduct ‘blue force focused TEWTs’. This is because the blue force equipment and TTPs are current and easily available due to corporate knowledge on the equipment. In contrast, the red force information is seldom current or correct. This is due to a number of reasons including: the training adversary doctrine being outdated, and equipment and knowledge of adversary tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) being inaccurate.

Present Training Continuum

Units and advanced courses are responsible for continuing tactical training once soldiers and officers have completed their initial and basic corps training. Units and advanced courses expose individuals to advanced TEWTs and increase tactical complexity. Examples of increasing tactical difficulties include adding or omitting  blue force organisations, and also using non-conventional or hybrid adversaries in the training scenario.

It is here that the tactical training continuum can be presented in steps of training rather than just remain as ‘blue force focused TEWTs’. A first ‘step up’ (Step One) in the complexity of TEWTs is to utilise the adversary as a primary rather than a secondary entity on the battlefield.

An example of step-ups in the tactical training continuum is on the Combat Officers Advanced Course (COAC) held at Combat Command Wing (CCW). CCW employ a Red TEWT or ‘Reverse TEWT’ which sees officers conduct a TEWT as the adversary on a previously developed blue force plan. The Reverse TEWT allows the benefit of having a good understanding of the terrain and situation but now the students have to plan to defeat their own blue force course of action. This method of teaching then supports students to consider ‘what the enemy intent/plan is achieving’ regardless of side.

Training Outcomes Vs Created Perception

Common TEWT training outcomes for ‘step one’ are equally spread across a number of categories ranging from overlay construction, map symbology and the tactical plan itself. Majority of ‘step one’ courses produce a tactical problem that is deliberately familiar to the trainee and special ideas are made basic to almost steer the trainee into the right task. Where this method creates a false perception is the lack of an enemy plan developed by another human being with differing intellect.

The prevention of analytical mirroring of friendly TTPs is essential. On many exercises our training adversaries are sourced from relevant ORBATs denoted by Unit or higher Formation Headquarters. We see soldiers and officers often fulfil adversary roles using Australian TTPs. This provides a false currency of an enemy that replicates the training, equipment and capabilities that would not be inherent to a designated OPFOR. The SI of COAC at Combat Command Wing, Major Benny Gray states that fighting ourselves or having no in-depth understanding of an adversary’s TTPs prevents our soldiers and officers from adapting.[3]

The Way Forward

We cannot just rely on an intelligence assessment during TEWTs to analyse and understand the enemy. Advanced tactical training must therefore continue to involve all individuals in the planning and analysis of the adversary. The way forward includes OPFOR TEWTs, Red Teaming and the use of Quick Decision Exercises (QDEs).

OPFOR TEWTs. When we do an OPFOR TEWT, we are able to get into the mindset and fighting capabilities of an adversary. This is particularly good when trying to understand their weaknesses, vulnerabilities and bias of our own way of operating.[4] Developing an understanding of the adversary’s mindset can only benefit us when planning to defeat them. We consistently conduct training on manoeuvre warfare, targeting enemy cohesion and determining enemy centre of gravity, but this is inconsistently put into a practical sense. Learning to defeat the enemy’s will to fight or the enemy’s ability to cope should be a principle of tactical training that is as familiar as our own TTPs.

Red Teaming. A practice that is becoming more common in corporate enterprise is ‘Red Teaming’.  Defined loosely, Red Teaming is the practice of viewing a problem from an adversary or competitor’s perspective.[5] Red teaming is used at the strategic and operational war fighting level; in business and industry it is similar to what we do during war gaming in the MAP to identify weakness in our own plans. Having individuals or collective groups tasked to form a Red Team during tactical training will increase our organisation’s understanding of the adversaries we are likely to contest. Red Teaming will also improve our war gaming ability as individuals will be acting and reacting to deliberately planned courses of action.

Quick Decision Exercises. A QDE is another method of tactical training that can be structured towards OPFOR. A QDE is a great way to evaluate soldiers and officers knowledge of OPFOR doctrine/TTPs. With the impending release of new LWP-G 7-5-5 Training Adversary publication, OPFOR TEWTs and QDEs would be an effective training tool to help soldiers and officers adapt.


Our tactical training, when implemented in steps that advance in complexity, should include OPFOR planning and analysis. This will aid our knowledge to not only fight our adversary but understand them.

OPFOR TEWTs, Red Teaming and QDEs are great ways to conduct tactical training. OPFOR TEWTS will enhance our decision making, help us identify weaknesses and oversights in our planning, and more importantly, will enable soldiers and officers understand how the enemy fights and thinks.

About the author

WO2 Chris Sharp is Squadron Sergeant Major of B Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment.


I would like to pass on my appreciation to the Commanding Officer, 2nd Cavalry Regiment – Lieutenant Colonel Grant Chambers, CSM and Bar; and the Senior Instructor – Combat Command Wing, Major Benny Gray for their input and professional opinion in the composition of this pre-emptive discussion piece.


[1] Tactical Training Lesson Plan, RAAC ROBC Training material.

[2] ADF Journal 2003, Tactical Understanding in the Australian Army Officer Corps.

[3] Discussion on topic with MAJ Benny Gray, Senior Instructor, Combat Command Wing, 2017.

[4] Discussion on topic with MAJ Benny Gray, Senior Instructor, Combat Command Wing, 2017.

[5] Red Team Journal, www.redteamjournal.com.

2 thoughts on “OPFOR TEWTS – Understanding the Enemy’s Mind

  1. Excellent proposition. Why not take this concept a step further and develop exercise scenarios where the BLUFOR can actually ‘lose’ due to unrestricted OPFOR action. How many major exercises have been halted, mid-stride, because an OPFOR action would land a decisive strike against the BLUEFOR?

    If we truly want to understand our weaknesses and be prepared to combat an intelligent adversary, we should embrace the lessons of defeat more willingly in our training. In my 15+ years of service, I can only recall one exercise, that I have been involved in, where BLUFOR was ‘allowed’ to decisively lose.

    I understand that major exercises cost a significant amount of resources. I also understand that these exercises MUST meet the training objectives set out for the BLUEFOR (eg. certify a force as ready/fit to deploy). But are we really doing ourselves a favor by continuing the cookie cutter method of BLUEFOR clearing Objectives A, B and C with minimal OPFOR interference, largely in part, due to EXCON adherence to the exercise script. That enemy counter-attack force penetrating the Brigade HQ – Nope we can’t have that. The log convoy carrying fuel to the tanks getting ambushed/destroyed – no that can’t be allowed to happen, the tanks are crucial to phase 3A. The incredibly bold CT helo air insertion at night which was detected and destroyed by enemy action…. no the insertion was good, they hold the town now.

    What it comes down to, if we are going to be serious about how we do training, is that we should really begin allowing our training tools (OPFOR) greater freedom of action in order to truly test our own critical vulnerabilities. Rather than writing scripted ‘events,’ exercise planners/designers should be more invested in writing OPFOR ‘SOPs/TTPs’ based on the adversary they want to train against.

    Some of our greatest lessons learned come from our defeats. Why do we only train to success?

  2. Adversary- focused TEWT’s are an excellent idea and can be very valuable in exposing some of our inherent weaknesses. Anything that helps us move beyond planning to fight a mirror of ourselves has to be a good thing. However, allowing red teaming where you simply give the enemy some different equipment and free rein will, with halfway competent leaders, give you a force optimised to defeat Blue. That can be reasonably realistic and worthwhile with asymmetric adversaries but maybe quite misleading for higher order state on state combat. Any state opponent is both enabled and constrained by things such as culture doctrine (including tradition), training levels, of discipline and morale and so on. I suggest that an adversary focused TEWT is much more valuable if you nominate a specific enemy. The Musorian exercise enemy was intended to do this, but precisely because it was a fictional enemy constructed to avoid political sensitivities it only really provided the equipment and doctrine element of the equation – decisive things like culture and morale would never really established. Noting that the risk appetite for playing the PLA may not yet be there or suggest that the 1990s ‘Soviet’ army is an excellent enemy to use. It aligns fairly well with the earlier US OPFOR and there is an absolute mass of information about how they plan to fight available. The differences can be very instructive – not just things like artillery fire planning norms or the deliberate rejection of fire and movement below section level – but also fundamental things like Soviet military decision-making. Soviet military doctrine rejected Western notions of a thorough appreciation and taught something called the combat decision -predicated on choosing one of a limited number of tactical options within a few seconds. This is completely alien to us (and has obvious weaknesses) – that is precisely its value in a adversary focused TEWT. Another, and sometimes easier, option is to just pick another military in which you have somebody who has served and use them to provide a general background brief about the force you will be playing. For example, if you have a German available to brief you on the German army then you run a TEWT fighting with a German force – this gives you all the benefits of red teaming already described in the article above plus a whole lot of value from the discussions afterwards will occur when you examine the difference between the plans proposed by Australian soldiers and what the German will tell you his/her Army would actually have done.

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