<XMP><BODY></xmp>The Screen and the Machine

Added 29-8-14

The Screen and the Machine

As some regular readers may know, I enjoy playing the occasional video game. Such games often make me think about equivalent real world situations of what is happening in the games. Some time ago I was playing the game “America’s Army”. In one of the SAW gunner missions you have to approach and storm a building in a desert environment. At the start of the mission you approach down a valley and there are numerous side gullies from which an enemy may ambush you.

In the game you are on foot, and I reflected that walking long distances in a desert is often to be avoided. What would happen if I drove down that valley? Probably the vehicles would be destroyed by RPG-armed ambushers hiding in those side gullies. Suppose, I thought, that the force had vehicles that were screened by dismounted infantry?

Obviously the vehicles that accompany dismounted troops would not be able to move that fast. On the other hand, the vehicles would be much harder to attack due to the screening force of dismounted infantry who can investigate potential ambush points and spot signs and tracks that would not be visible to a vehicle crew. This is not a particularly radical concept. Tanks have been using dismounted infantry to support and screen them for nearly a century. This practice seems rarer for less well-protected vehicles such as trucks, HMMWVs or APCs, however.

This mixed force of mounted and dismounted fighters has a number of other potential advantages. The dismounted troops can leave most of their gear on the vehicles, reducing fatigue. During an extended approach troops can rotate between operating on foot and riding in the vehicles. By reducing fatigue and letting troops rest they have better situational awareness when on foot and are fresher for the operation on the objective. If personnel are injured by either misadventure or enemy action they can be carried by the vehicles without the unit being slowed down. Medical attention can be provided while the unit is still in motion. Such a force will move at a walking pace so the vehicles will produce less of a dust signature than a conventional faster moving mechanized or motorized unit. Since part of the unit are walking the unit may need less vehicles, further reducing signature. The use of vehicles also allows the unit to bring heavier weapons and additional munitions and equipment to achieve their objective. This includes useful items such as ladders that might be too bulky for a dismounted unit to move long distances. In the video game the final approach to the objective building involves traversing a distance of open ground while under fire. If the unit had brought vehicles such as M113s this distance could have been travelled under armour in a fraction of the time while supported by heavy weapon fire from other vehicles.

Another video game made me reflect further on the military use of vehicles. In Far Cry 2 your main options for getting around are walking, driving or taking a bus. (There are also boats and hang gliders). It soon becomes apparent that the most practical way to get around is to “fast travel” by taking a bus to the station nearest your destination and then walk. If you drive on the roads you inevitably run into checkpoints and get fired on and are often then pursued by armed vehicles. Driving across country is pretty slow and there is still the chance of running into enemy patrols. It is easy to roll over the crest of some terrain and run right into the enemy. If you walk, however, you are likely to hear enemy vehicles approaching. It is a simple matter to freeze and crouch and let a vehicle pass by. Dismounted enemies are usually at checkpoints or other static locations so it is often easy to spot or hear them before they see you.

There are some obvious real world lessons here. If you want to infiltrate, moving on foot, preferably away from well-travelled routes is a good option. It is also apparent that patrolling in a vehicle is highly unlikely to catch any reasonably competent infiltrator moving on foot. On the downside, moving on foot is slow and there is an obvious limit to how much you can carry. In a desert or similar hot environment you may have problems simply carrying enough water to get you across a long distance.

The other day I came across this article by William Owen where he mentions vehicles moving in short bounds in co-ordination with dismounted infantry. The infantry infiltrate forward, surveying the intended route and possibly preparing rest points. The vehicles then move in short bounds of 5-10km, moving from one place of concealment to another. This obviously reminded me of my reflections playing “America’s Army”. The use of vehicles allows the dismounted element to be only lightly encumbered. Should the infantry unit encounter more resistance than it can handle the vehicle element can manoeuvre to reinforce, evacuate or outflank.

The strategy of combining dismounted and mounted movement has other applications. A typical vehicle patrol is unlikely to catch a competent foot infiltrator. The noise of a vehicle makes it too easy to hide from and the vehicle usually moves too fast to spot any tracks or other sign. The very utility of patrolling in vehicles comes into question. It seems more practical for vehicles to use their mobility to set up temporary observation points.

If we add in a dismounted element to this idea we have a strategy that might be called “Sweep and Lurk”. A patrol vehicle deploys a dismounted tracking team, possibly with dogs. The vehicle(s) deploy at a location where they can remain stationary, possibly making use of thermal imagers, ground surveillance radar and drones. The vehicles move when it is necessary to transport or support the foot patrol, or move to new RV or observation points.

Some armies practice attacks where their armour is preceded by dismounted light infantry. The infantry infiltrate as close as they can and if possible eliminate defensive positions covertly. If this is not possible the enemy is attacked from close range and vehicular support moved forward as the infantry attack disrupts the position’s defensive capabilities.

Whether a vehicle-mounted force deploys dismounted elements will depend on a number of factors. In rolling terrain having an infantryman peek over a ridge top before crossing it may be very prudent. Moving up and down steep terrain can be tiring, even for a lightly encumbered individual. A motorbike or quadbike might be used for this role, preferably a quieter hybrid-electric model. Bicycles or hybrid-electric bicycles might be an even stealthier option for the “ridge scout”. In some desert terrain some units have found it necessary to have a man jog ahead of the vehicle to check if the sand is too soft or deep. A similar approach might be needed in snow, possibly utilizing a skier. On more open terrain or in more secure areas the vehicles may opt to not deploy a foot soldier screen and move at greater speed, of course.

In some circumstances a military unit may have little choice but to use an existing road system. How it proceeds will depend on the operation and anticipated threat. As detailed above, it may deploy a dismounted screen to reconnoitre the route and its surroundings while the vehicle elements move at slow speed or in bounds. This may be another situation where bicycle-mounted infantry might see some application. Where a faster mode of travel is needed elements of mimesis may be used. Owen’s article and one of my own have discussed the military use of civilian vehicles or military vehicles that appear civilian. The South African Valkyr MBRL system was designed to resemble a canvas-topped cargo truck of a type commonly used throughout Africa in both military and civilian roles. A number of modern weapons use launchers that resemble or are ISO shipping containers. During World War Two Operation Bertram used a simple construction to disguise tanks as trucks. A similar device could be used for tracked vehicles such as the M113.

Earlier in this article I mentioned that the “fast travel” option in Far Cry 2 was represented by a bus journey. One can image the game’s mercenary character cradling his rifle on a rickety bus, surrounded by chickens and gossiping tribe women. For those that do not know, “fast travel” in a sandbox game moves you from one part of the game map to another. An advantage of this is that you can avoid being ambushed or any other encounters while traversing this distance. What are the real world equivalents of this?

It is quite possible for a military unit to move into an area or to an objective by means of civilian or public transport. Famously during the First Battle of the Marne (1914) 600 Parisian taxi cabs were used to transport 6,000 French reserve infantry to the battle. Troop movement by rail was common in this conflict and has been claimed as one of the contributing factors to the form of this conflict. Defensive forces could be deployed at much greater speeds and volumes than attacking forces, limiting breakthroughs.

While infiltration by public transport is possible the infiltrating unit may be limited as to what overt military materials they can move in this manner. A more practical mode is infiltration by freight vehicle. Private cars and public transport can be easily searched while unloading a truck apparently packed solid with cargo or searching the contents of a bulk tanker will often be avoided unless there is considerable reason for suspicion. Illegal immigrants are moved vast distances within ISO containers so this means of infiltration is well within the capabilities of a disciplined and prepared military unit. An initial attack may not come from an obvious column of military vehicles rolling down a highway or from an agent with false papers but from an force inserted by cargo trucks or container ship.

By the Author of the Scrapboard :

Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.

Crash Combat Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition Second Edition with additional content.

Crash Combat Third Edition
Epub edition Third Edition.
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