An electronic systems engineer in the defence sector, Olivier Terrien is an active member of the French electronic warfare and information operations association, Guerrelec. An auditor for France's Institution of Advanced Studies of National Defence (IHEDN), he has published hundreds of pages in the international press on a variety of subjects including strategy, military history and influence of electronics in conflicts during the twentieth century.
For more than 100 years, Electronics have shaped our daily lives. Now part of our common language, words like "radar", "radio", "internet", "computer" and "telecommunications" speak of some of the many inventions that result from this technical field of study. Although discreet, Electronics are an essential engine driving innovation today. In our era of economic and cultural globalisation, these advances make our lives so much easier, favour competitiveness in business and provide us with means to ensure our safety.
While our western values consider theft to be a crime, in war it is often seen as a useful method to achieve ones goals. Deviating from the common rule in order to take advantage of the slightest opportunity left by one's adversary is the basis of this stratagem. And when catastrophe strikes, it is important to seize the opportunity without being overburdened by any moral prejudice you might have. An ancient story taken from a Chinese classic illustrates this principle. One of the first combined operations of the Second World War will demonstrate how much history repeats itself: the form has changed, but the substance remains the same.
"A favourable opportunity is very rare, no hesitation can be allowed. The slightest hesitation, the occasion slips away and the regret remains for the rest of your life", recommended a general of antiquity. Seizing all opportunities in a hostile environment or taking advantage of the slightest shortcoming of one's adversary are habitual themes of martial literature. However, understanding the principle is one thing, but putting it into practice is another matter entirely. A royal anecdote will illustrate how a donkey was stolen "along the way" and the modern counterpart of this subtle stratagem will describe the outstanding contribution of an effective electronic self-protection system during highly demanding air exercises.
The translation of the four ideograms of this chapter reveals the subtlety of this stratagem. Depending on the authors, the interpretation of these Chinese characters takes on different meanings. "Kill two birds with one stone" is one, with the idea of conquering two kingdoms in a single movement. "To return bad for good" is another one, with an attack on a kingdom that was once an ally. That said, in all comments about this stratagem, the key idea relates to taking advantage of the kindness or naivety of others. In the Art of War, Sun Tsu reminds us how much war is a question of life or death for a state. An ancient story and its modern counterpart will be used to illustrate the evil determination of certain people to dominate their naive or ill-prepared adversary.
In Chinese literature, "The Story of the Three Kingdoms" is a classic in which a multitude of stratagems is still studied in schools of strategy in Asia. Among the most well-known is the one called the "empty fort strategy". It is even cited in Japanese reports of operations in China during World War II. Despite its age, this stratagem nevertheless concerns a very current issue: adopting the appropriate reaction in a critical situation. According to the ancient narrative, a modern example of electronic confrontations illustrates how much historical references are still valuable and relevant today.
Bibliography of the 36 Stratagems
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Association régionale de l'Institut des Hautes Études de Défense Nationale
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Association française de guerre électronique (chapitre français de l'Association des Old Crows)