Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Monday, May 28, 2018

More on Cateyes

The amazing amount of moonlight at Swift Fox ruined my plans to try out some of my night sighting equipment, and some other operational night stuff, like glow in the dark notebooks, signalling gear and cateyes on everything.

But the other day I was out shooting in a very dark night, and noticed some gaps in capability. Glow tapes were hidden because I was on the other side, new items were hard to find, and I couldn't take notes without breaking out a flashlight, which isn't exactly super sneaky.

So, have now fixed it. Here's how everything looks now in my precision rifle setup. Look close, it's only worth looking at in the dark:

My solutions are mine, and many of you won't have much of this gear. But you should be able to use the ideas to think through solutions to some of your problems before they arise.


I totally have velcro on the outside of the pack, and a cateye, but... when I am using the pack the lid is flopped open so you cannot see it.

So, I added a small glow in the dark tag to the webbing on the inside of the lid. You can see it here centered in the lid at the bottom of where it is when halfway flipped open.

Similarly, I'll also note that I flipped over my magazine carriers. You want them right side up of course, but I made them "right side up" when the pack is upright, as though worn. But I never pull mags out when wearing it, but laying on the ground. So, I flipped them over. Just like the cateyes, think about everything in the context you will actually use it.

Expensive Things

Really, this is "loose things" and much of the immediate value is finding them without bumping into other stuff as you brush your hand around the terrain.

But what freaked me out while packing in the dark was finding the very expensive LRF and Kestrel. So they got various labels with my name, a reminder the LRF is in yards (not meters) and also some glow tapes.

Importantly again for context, note where I put them: on the flat sides. The kestrel gets to be right below the screen—and on the back, on the windvane cover—as it lays on one side or the other.

The laser rangefinder gets them on the sides. Which seems nonsensical when using it, but when you lay the unit down, those are the sides facing up.

Ammo Box

Most ammo is in magazines, but I also keep a spare 50 in a plastic MTM box. It has a little glow tag, and appropriate day labels, on the lid. But again when used it is open. So I added a nice large chunk of glow sheet to the inside of the lid.

This much sheet will shine light onto things, so if it's really, really dark you can see the ammo itself.

Also note, I wrote on it. You can write on the glow sheets to label items. Here, I've labeled the type of ammo in case I forget and need to write it down. I get forgetful.

Data Book

I used the weird heat-sensitive glow sheet I got the right way finally, and ironed it onto the divider in my notebook holder, as a sort of sheet lifter. Now it's smooth, so I don't need to keep several sheets of paper under it to write on it.

Not sure my eyes are good enough to read this anymore, especially as I use pencil, but at least it glows enough to find the book and then if I use a light I am swinging it around a lot less to find things.

Scope Adjustments

Windage and elevation knobs have little glow triangles.

These are not so much to be used to adjust, and with a zero stop there's no direct need to have it on the elevation knob except for one issue:

I am terrible at this. I forget to adjust properly, reset knobs between ranges or even range days. I spent a whole range session the other month wondering what was wrong with the rifle. Gave up, and once I got home looked and yup I had leftover windage dialed in.

These, day or night, help remind me to start at zero.

Clip On

This is probably the simplest. I have a simple glow tape on the back of the PVS-30.

It provides an orientation mark to the gun, which I would otherwise put on the rifle but I don't need it when the clip on is not attached.

I have similar tags on the back of the tripod (not shown) and some other modular rails that I use at night.

Again here I wrote on the tag, the amount you dial for offset.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

TTPs for Ad Hoc Teams

One of the key things that makes teams work in tactical settings is working as a team. Teams that train and work together for a long time establish—formally or informally—TTPs, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures.

This means that everyone is on the same page. From radio codes, to react to contact, an order or observation means the same thing to everyone. Even better, you end up talking less, as you just know where everyone is, and what everyone is likely to do next.

Ad Hoc Teams

The real world is more complex than this. Far too often in critical tactical situations, you will find yourself suddenly attached to another team, that your team has attachments, that you've merged units, or are cooperating closely with an adjacent unit or agency.

After an engagement, a team is formed from the remaining elements, and the leader quickly briefs everyone on the new plan. 

I have a lot of experience with this in instructional, and other war gaming and simulation environments. Very rarely do entire units show up for training or other events, or there is a serious mismatch in unit sizes, and we have to split your team for the exercise to work properly. We end up creating ad hoc units, and forcing them to work together, sometimes to solve fairly complex tactical situations, or do actually dangerous things, by relying on surface-level operational and organizational skills, and instructor oversight also. No TTPs to fall back on.

Except, that is not entirely true. Teams can add a handful of them to the mix, all by using the basic methods we all already use for instructional settings. Think of a safety briefing. We tell everyone the same thing, repeat it (in summary) as needed, and make sure everyone understands what is being said.

Set Standards

As the team leader, you cannot be effective in a tactical environment if every time something happens you have to be giving orders to each individual. This is slow, and maybe dangerously ineffective. You need a few basic tactics that everyone can follow.

But just a few. Enough that you can get them out to everyone in the time available. It could be several minutes if planning for an exercise or mission, it could be seconds if reacting to an active shooter. But talk to the team.

Pick 1-3 things to say. No more. What you pick is mission dependent, but good categories are:
  • Marching order, environmental dangers (cliffs, waterways), and any key actions or hand gestures you expect to give: "This means freeze in place, this means get down."
  • Define the objective. You can consider this part of the mission brief, but it also establishes what everyone focuses on, and therefore what you don't worry about. 
  • Actions on contact. If, for example, contact is not your objective then maybe you withdraw and go around in order to make sure your objective is met. 
Without these being clearly stated, even briefly, you could get distracted, bogged down, or have different people do different things as they react to situations on the ground. 

I've seen team leaders go too far with this. If there's suddenly half an hour to kill, they add a few more tactics, and we do shoulder-to-shoulder training. This is too much for the little time available. Too much information in too short a time means the team will fail to absorb any of it. Keep it brief, and keep it to a verbal briefing only.  

Repeat, and Confirm

Whatever you say, say it again, every time you brief the team. If you've been walking through the woods for an hour, now the objective is in sight, and you give a final briefing about the attack, first re-state the basics.

Sometimes this is because your plans have changed. The movement orders may be entirely different so you need to give new ones for this phase. But even if everything stays the same, reinforcing it helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Make sure everyone understands their role. Ideally, by getting a verbal readback from everyone. If the team is too big or there's not enough time, just spot check with the guys who don't seem to be paying attention. It helps make sure your orders will be followed, and everyone will know it better hearing another person say the same thing.

Use Plain Language

It also confirms they understood properly. Because, they might not. If the team members don't have experience with your tactics, they may not understand your jargon. If they repeat it wrong or sound quizzical, make sure they understand what you are saying.

If part of your team are foreigners, they may not understand your accent, abbreviations, or your colloquial language. Make especially sure at least one of them understand, and in the worst case he can explain to the others in their native language.

Break Contact! 

I'll use a relatively recent CWG force-on-force event as an example. The team I led was very small, and had a mission to survey, not to fight. So I briefed most of all that our react to contact drill was "run away."

More specifically, I said:
  • This drill is for when they see us and there's no way out but to shoot our way out. If we see them first, we just freeze, get low, and generally hide or move away so they do not see us. 
  • If contact is unavailable, whoever sees the contact will alert everyone else, loudly, to direction, distance, and appx strength. 
  • Everyone fire at them. A lot. Keep talking, so we can direct each other's fires.  
  • Throw smoke AT them. 
  • Then fall back one by one, while firing. A few seconds of movement to the rear each time, then turn, drop and return fire to cover the others falling back. 
  • When I say "break contact," turn and move without continuing to return fire.
And this actually worked. I wish I had it on video because it was really well executed, and in the AAR the opposing force thought we were amazingly quick, a larger force than we actually were, and could not figure out where we'd gone. 
An ad hoc team reacts to unexpected contact. Their actions-on-contact briefing takes hold and they are able to move from having lunch to combat success with minimal casualties.

Now, it partly worked because everyone was briefed to the same level. I was entirely distracted, in the middle of navigating and my first thought was to secure the map and documents. So I failed miserably as a team leader, and didn't call out the action to take. But someone else did, which got is all in gear, so I tossed the smoke, and everyone started moving.

Know Your Limits

This basic tactic didn't work when we tried to reverse it. A situation developed so that we felt it was important to stage a quick deliberate attack—more of a spoiling attack to just displace them—upon the opposing force. Thinking that we had a solid plan that worked, I thought: reverse it. Smoke, bound forward, sweep the objective. Easy!

Nope. It did not, for many reasons. But most of all because it exceeded the brief. 

When you have to work with ad hoc teams, keep things simple, and as a combat leader recognize your limits. Actions you might perform normally may be too dangerous with the limited TTPs the whole team you have with you knows. 

Most of all, plan ahead, think before you get into trouble, and tell everyone what you expect of them within the time and tactical situation presented.

Come Try it Out

In five weeks CWG will be hosting our next force-on-force event, where you can try out this technique, and all the tactics and equipment in a realistic, day/night, all-weather combat setting.

Sign up today for operation Swift Fox 18, 27 - 29 April 2018 in north-east Oklahoma.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


For most of the history of warfare, night vision meant letting your eyes acclimate to the darkness, and night combat would have been met with blank stares as it simply was not done. In only the past half century or so, as the industrial era moved to the technological era, have we gotten the technical capabilities to do things like see better at night.

Not all new technology can or should supplant old methods, and for night fighting in many cases the earlier, ones are still very applicable. We should understand how to keep our eyes acclimated for darkness, and we should use cateyes.

The cateye is a common name for glow in the dark tapes worn on the back of the helmet, hat, ruck, or rig. Glow in the dark technologies were ready for the consumer market in the 1950s, and mostly were used for toys and other novelties, Remember, we had radium for serious uses!

By the early 1970s glow in the dark tapes were available, and began to be used by individuals and on a unit by unit basis in some armies, such as the US in Vietnam. In May of 1981, the previously experimental addition of two panels of glow tape to the issue helmet band became standardized.

How Glow In the Dark Works

Phosphorescent, or "glow in the dark" paints, inks and dyes absorb UV radiation, and covert it to visible light. The transition between these states is, conveniently for us, very slow, so you can "charge up" the glow in the dark cateye, or your compass, watch, etc. and it will remain glowing for many hours, though it slowly gets dimmer over time.

Note I said they use UV light, not white light. Just a few years ago, this was unimportant, as incandescent light bulbs are a mess, so put out lots of heat, and light in frequencies we don't use including UV. LEDs, on the other hand, are very narrowly focused so have no spare frequencies they emit. Charging a cateye with a white light today is pretty ineffective.

So, you shou also have at least one UV light—a keychain light will be plenty—for each fire team or squad, to make sure everyone's cateyes are charged every few hours.

Cateyes Are Not For You

Some use of glow in the dark patches is for you, and works well even if working alone. It is common to stick small pieces of glow tape to key parts of radios, handsets, tent openings and the like. Then you can find them in the dark, and orient yourself to your location, without turning on the lights. I even have some glow tape on an Army issue typewriter, though it is hard to imagine night typing being a thing. The Army even issues a 2x2" velcro glow patch for placing on your rucksack, so you can find it when returning to a cache point, OP, or patrol base.

But the primary tactical use of cateyes is when moving as a team at night. Generally, you follow each other in a long line. Without night vision it is very common to be arm's reach away from each other at night, and when you cannot see them even that close, you simply grab onto the back of their rig or ruck. Cateyes allow you to move much, much more easily.

Cateyes glowing (slightly) on a helmet in dim light.

With night vision, cateyes still work, just the same way. It is often still very, very dark, so hard to pick out where the guy you are following is, so the cateye in front of you is much easier to follow. And easier is safer. When that part is easier, you can spend more time making sure you step safely, don't get snagged by branches, and looking out for the enemy.

Night vision doesn't eliminate the value of cateyes.

Cateyes on the back of a 3-day assault pack, viewed under night vision

Cateyes, Two of Them, Not Just One

Note the term, cateyes. Plural. And look at the helmet bands. There are two, not one. Why is that?

Some of this is for the usual two is one, one is none, (in case one is obscured, damaged, or destroyed) but the real reason is about the smallest perceptible difference. It would be very hard to follow a tiny pinpoint of light, as you would have no idea if you are following the proper person, or some distant bright light, and where they are going.

Giving the cateyes dimensionality with two distinct glowing panels allows you to tell how far away you are following, and to tell if they are turning (or at least turning their head as in the example above), so in true darkness you get a heads up about where the trail goes.

Larger things like the custom name tapes we're ordering are fine also, as they have a similar dimensionality. At close range, like when hiking in a line, you can read the name (or at least tell that it's a wide shape), and notice when the aspect ratio changes so determine when the person you are following is likely turning.

Pragmatic Light Discipline

One of the things many soldiers have been taught is to turn their helmet bands inward when closing with the enemy, because of light discipline.
Sniper candidates from 2nd Cavalry Regiment of Battle Group Poland have used the flap on the back of their helmet covers to obscure their cateyes, in 2018

However, cateyes are not that bright, and as we well know, light falls off with distance, until you cannot see a light at all far enough away.

Cateyes are very dim, so are invisible even through night vision just a couple hundred yards away.

Light discipline is important, but it's hard to come up with situations where something as small as the cateye, usually facing away from the enemy anyway, is at all likely to give away your position. In fact, covering up identifiers like your cateyes it's more likely to cause issues of unit coordination, communication, and identification; I've been shot in the back (in FoF exercises!) by my own team when we had problems with identifiers like this.

Cateyes on Everything

So, I've convinced you to go out and buy a helmet band with cateyes on it, or to install some on your hat if not a helmet guy. But what about when the hood of your rain jacket is up? Or you are moving with your ruck, and the top is so tall it blocks your head?

You need to think of the cateyes as a system, and plan for them to always be visible. I like to put cateyes on the back of my:
  • Helmet, hat, and nightcap
  • Assault pack
  • Rucksack
Hell, we even got glow in the dark patches silkscreened into our CWG base layers.

This way, at least one is always visible, no matter what I wear. When I tried wearing a poncho again a couple years ago, I glued a few to the back of the neck of the poncho also.

What you'll figure out pretty soon is not everything will take a helmet band, or has velcro. So, you have to make your own cateyes. Glow in the dark tape is easily obtained, cheaply, and self-adhesive tapes seem to make it easy.

But not so fast. The adhesive is not great, on any of these. They will fall off eventually. The material itself is somewhat rigid, so sewing is messy, and will eventually cause the material to crack and fall off again.

My favorite method is glue. Get a strong contact cement, apply to the cateye, stick it on, pull it off, let it dry for a few seconds, and put it back. Once cured, it won't come off. I have done this on ponchos, webgear, pouches, patrol caps, and more.

Already bought some self-adhesive ones? No problem. The adhesive isn't glue, but is double-sided sticky tape. Just cut off a piece, and peel it off or rub firmly and it will start to peel away. Remove it and you have a clean back to applying your glue.

Another favorite of mine is to attach to small bits of velcro to make re-positionable glow tabs. For larger pieces, the self-adhesive velcro plus self-adhesive glow tape will usually work well.
Two pieces of glow tape attached to velcro to simulate twin cateyes on an assault pack.

Learn More About Night Operations and Night Fighting

Try out marching with cateyes, using IRR panels, night sights, NODs, thermal, and learn much, much more about working at night at our training event, coming up in less than one month!

Night Team Operations Training10 - 11 March 2018
Farmington, Missouri

Sign up today!


© 2015-2016 Central War Gaming | Contact Us | Facebook | Twitter