Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


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.

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