Central War Gaming Blog

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Simulating Ambushes, Near and Far

Last week I wrote about the principles of scale in war gaming and simulation systems. I made some references to the effect specific terrain features have on the scenario, and implied tactical considerations of that without getting into too many details. Today, let me explain one of them to you.

Ambushes are considered to be one of two types: near and far. Near ambushes you react to by running over them, far ones you react to with range weapons or support, and withdrawing. But the definitions of which is which are where things can break down.

I've seen specific distances used, or "grenade throwing range" as a definition. And I've specifically seen good, smart instructors say you simply cannot have a far ambush simulated in exercises (some admit it maybe works with MILES). 

FM 7-92 even says that a near ambush is one in grenade range, and includes in the react-to-ambush drill that you throw grenades and smoke. But it leaves this out for far ambushes. 

But those are incorrect definitions, and lead to worse training and no one getting proper experience. Instead, the definitions I think are right are: 
  • Near ambush – Ambushers can be easily assaulted as they are nearby, without difficult terrain or obvious obstacles in the way. React by:
    1. Returning fire 
    2. Using smoke to obscure your position and actions, and grenades to distract and kill the enemy
    3. Troops in the kill zone turn and assault through the enemy position as soon as grenades fire
    4.  Troops outside the kill zone continue firing upon the enemy position until friendly forces over-run the enemy position, then lift or shift fires
  • Far ambush – Ambushers cannot be easily reached due to distance, or obstacles. React by:
    1. Returning fire
    2. Using cover, concealment and smoke to reduce the effectiveness of the ambush fires
    3. If available quickly enough, using elements not in the kill zone to direct fires and destroy or displace the ambushers
    4. Withdrawing from the kill zone  
This definition allows us to accurately simulate both types of ambushes just fine with short range systems, such as paintball, Simunitions, blanks-and-yelling, or airsoft. This is important not just for the exercise or game administrator, but for tactical commanders as both options are available to you still. 

I have seen this happen on several occasions in fact, to great effect and to great training value. Near ambushes are largely unchanged, but far ambushes are different. The ambushing unit: 
  1. Sets at nearly the maximum effective range of their weapons
  2. On the other side of an obstacle such as a creek, embankment, marshy area, etc. 
Distance is actually irrelevant. Your "far" ambush may have troops set up 20 yards from the crossroads you are ambushing, because that is as far away as they can be to bring fire to bear effectively, and the steep-sided creek between the two is effectively impassable.

When the ambush occurs, the troops in the kill zone may be able to clearly see the enemy forces just a few dozen yards away, but will also be able to tell they cannot be reached. 

As an aside, simulation grenades are often very lightweight so have a reduced range, thereby adding to the scale effect. 

Complex terrain occurs in reality just like this. If I was setting up an ambush I would certainly want to make sure you could not assault my position, regardless of how far away I was. This has happened many times in our most recent wars, with walled garden plots, and frequent irrigation ditches providing obstacles to reach enemy forces who are quite nearby, per conventional definitions of ambushes. 

Do not hew too hard to doctrine and rote memorization of facts and drills. Think about why things are the way they are, how environment and circumstances get their vote in the battle, how you can exploit the situation, and how the enemy can use this all this against you. 

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