The science of firefights
The term contact is used in military for many purposes. In Recon it simply means that your Rangers are engaging the enemy or being engaged by the enemy. The short form is TIC (troops in contact). Due to the nature of fire fights in Recon, contacts can be very exciting but also very brutal and short. In this article we will cover the type of contacts and the actions to be taken while under fire in order to maximize your survivability.
Single contact vs multiple contacts
Your team has four men. They are amongst the best soldiers the Vietnam conflict can offer to a commander. This means that one on one, in a straightforward exchange with the enemy, it is safe to assume that your men will prevail. This means that when under contact the most important thing as a commander overviewing the tactical situation (moving guys around) is to maneuver your men in order to:
- Minimize the amount of enemies firing at your men to achieve at least a 1 on 1 ratio; and,
- Minimize the angles your men are being engaged from, preferably to one.
These are called the maneuvering principles.
This can be achieved by using ground features (such as rocks, trees, hills and structures) and moving your men under fire in a very efficient and expedite way in order to cut your men's exposure and funnel the enemy into one clear fire arc. It cannot be emphasized enough. As soon as your troops are under contact if they remain static you are not doing your job as a tactical commander and are likely to expose your team to unnecessary risks. A fire fight is extremely dynamic, soldiers are moving, reloading, terrain changes and weapon systems can and will fail. As a commander you need to identify this and move your Rangers in order to preserve the principles mentioned above.
Fire and movement
When to move
So now that we've established that your Rangers have to move in order to limit the enemy's incoming fire and the angles of attacks, let's have a look at when. There is a paramount rule that is if a Ranger is not putting fire down range he is to move to a better position and there is always a better position. As a rule of thumb you want as much fire down range as possible while moving your men around in order to keep the enemy down and gain the initiative. Most of the time and in a perfect world you want 3 shooters and one mover. There is basically two ways to move troops under fire in Recon, a move or a peel. Both are viable options with slight differences in opportunities, exposure, and volume to fire.
- Move: (all of your men to move and shoot) In Recon, when a Ranger is tasked to move to a new position, he will immediately head towards the designated area. Luckily enough for you, the Ranger will stop after a short bound to open fire at the enemies he is aware of (It is important to note that, although Rangers are not able to see in their back, they do communicate with each other extensively during combat. If an enemy is engaged by a Ranger, all of the others are aware of it.) This means that if you order all your men to move at once the team will effectively, and without you macro managing, apply decent ratio of fire downrange and move accordingly. This is very effective when your team needs to own a piece of real estate that is crucial for winning the fight and no more time than required is to be spent on the line. This can be achieved by doing an all move order or by ordering all of your men individually for better control over positioning. The drawback to this method is that the volume and fire and movement is left to your men's discretion and can be inconsistent at times.
- Peel: (One single man designed by the commander is to move) A peel is a more deliberate movement where you as the commander will order one soldier at the time to move while the remainder of your team will apply pressure down range. The most important thing to remember here is in order to maximize your output, you (the commander) have to order the soldier that is not shooting to move in a position where he will be able to effectively engage the enemy while navigating towards the end point. IE: Soldiers that are fixing a jam, Soldiers that are reloading and soldiers that don't have any targets. It is imperative that these individuals are off the line and move towards your objective (preferably away from incoming fire) since they serve no purpose at that specific moment. Experienced commanders will time their order movements to match soldier's actions (reload, unjam, no targets) to effectively accomplish a peel and a seemingless manner. When effectively done a peel looks very sharp.
Where to move
We already know the following: All your men need to effectively engage the enemy. This means that when under contact, if someone is not engaging, he is moving. If one of your men is not firing at a target (besides aiming obviously) and not moving, you as a commander are not doing your job. We also know that we can move all of our men at the same time creating a mixture of uncontrolled yet effective movement and fire when speed and aggression is required. This also ensures that all your men have a job for that particular moment. We learned that in some occasions you will want to deliberately move one man at the time in order to maximize the pressure down range and personally manage arcs of fire and Rangers who are not effectively contributing to the fight. Now that it is established, we need to find out where to move.
There is three options as far as movement goes. Getting closer, moving away or maintaining the line. What will dictate your next move is a combination of factors and your interpretation of what the enemy will try to do next. Here are the determining factors during a contact:
- Range and the limitations of your weapons platforms.
- Fire power effectively applied to the enemy.
- Momentum and how the enemy is maneuvering.
As a rule of thumb, creating distance between you and the enemy is a good thing. First, because your men are simply better marksmen than your enemy. Although more ammunition and maneuvering will be required. If you keep the enemy at bay and stay slightly out of SMG effective range you considerably improve your chances of survivability -even- if your men have SMGs. Keep that in mind when you want to rack some kills and have the time to do it.
The action of closing in to the enemy involves more risks and gives the enemy a bigger target to shoot at. The trade-off can be considered by a commander that wishes to expedite the fight in order to move on to his next objective. It is advised to close in on the enemy on few occasions and only if the risk is worth the reward.
- Time is critical: If for some reason you need to end the fight very quickly, closing in will give your men bigger targets. It'll also give them the ability to use grenades which will enable your team to finish the fight in a faster fashion than if they were to take deliberate shots.
- Ambush: There will be that time where you will be in the kill zone. The enemy will own the ground and they will have the numbers on their side. If the ambush is well executed moving away will only prolong your exposure to their fire. At this point, as a commander on the ground, you need to identify the weakest element of the ambush and assault it. It is likely the sought after position will offer you cover in order to limit the angles (see firefight principles), maybe some soft cover and definitely some breathing space to plan your next move. You need to realize that facing an ambush is likely not to go well. Expect a casualty or two; it is unfortunate but a better option than losing an entire team to the enemy.
- Advantageous ground: The enemy is engaging you from a defensive position or, any type of substantial cover. At this point there are two options, breaking contact and putting as much as natural obstacles between you and them, or take the ground. Now there is a question you need to ask yourself before taking the ground: "Will I use this ground to my advantage and will it facilitate me fulfilling my mission?". Taking ground can be appealing and most of the time seems like the right thing to do. But if it is not to be used or does not help you achieve your long term goals in the AO it will end up being an unnecessary challenge that can easily deplete ammo and personnel that you may require at a future crucial stage of the mission.
The best example would be during a Radio Relay patrol. Your team has found the vantage point for re-transmitting and is under contact subsequently. After a quick observation you realize that your team is taking fire from a sandbag defensive position. At this point as a commander you have the choice to relocate nearby knowing the enemy owns your vantage point, or, assault the sandbag defensive position and use it to your own advantage in order to give significant cover to your relay station.
As a rule of thumb if you are not to use the ground you are fighting for, don't waste your time fighting for it. Let the regular troops deal with the charms of futility.
This is short for reorganise. Firefights are pretty intense in Recon and it is easy to get sucked into the action losing the overall SA (situation awareness). An inexperienced commander can easily jump from one fight to another regardless of his true end goal or actual ressources. This behavior will likely to engage his team into a fight they won't be able to get out of.
When is a contact over? You maneuvered your team away or towards the enemy and you do not take effective fire anymore. Your team is together and the situation is under control. You are now not under contact anymore. Be mindful that at this point if the enemy still have the will to fight you he still probably maneuvering towards you. You don't have much time to spare and your actions must be tough and deliberate.
What to during the reorg phase:
- Treat life threatening injuries: At this time task you most medically inclined individual to stabilize any wounded Rangers. The upcoming events are unknown but it likely to involve a fair amount of moving and fighting. Especially now that in this particular case, you are down one man or more. This is your priority, for obvious reasons we don't want to move and fight around carrying a dying Ranger. Form an all around defence around the designed medic with the remainder of your force and start working. Now although you are actively doing something keep in mind that the other members of your section can simultaneously accomplish the other tasks expected during the reorg phase. This will allow to proceed with the next logical step of your patrol in a minimal amount of time. Remember, especially when compromised, if you take knee it has to be for valid reason and not a second more than required.
- Communicate: TOC needs to know what's up. As soon as the reorg has started your radio man gets on the horn and send a sit rep/contact rep while other members are busy performing other actions. The radio man can easily accomplish this task while also being part of the all around defence. Be mindful that a radioman that sends a message will not be accomplishing other actions for 100 ticks (about 5 sec) - his rank x 10.
- Ammo count: After your wounded have been treated and your CoC is aware of what's going on, it is time to establish how much ammo your team has. Do a quick survey of all your able men. The availability of ammo specific to each weapon system dictates your posture from now on. Can you still fight? Do you have just enough ammo to deal with potential threats at the LZ? Is your team ammo depleted and your operators are about to switch to their secondaries? From there, you have to make a call and adapt your tactics based on that call. If your ammo is getting low, you need to maneuver in a more defensive manner and likely to peel off away from further contacts. A team that wishes to remain in the AO at that point must be resupplied either by carried ammo boxes or an air drop.
- Move: Once your decision is made and you have reorganised your team, you need to move. It is likely that the enemy has the numbers on his side and that he also just reorganised. If the enemy knows what he is doing (NVAs or VC lead by a commander) they will sweep the area in a methodical manner. Your small team needs to capitalize on its ability to move fast and head towards the next objective that fulfills the commander's intent. As a rule of thumb, at team shall not remain static more than it is necessary while the situation is overt.