The Three Man Team
Combat effectiveness – a view from the outside in
Years ago while still in uniform, I was selected to take part in a large training exercise as part of the OPFOR. The exercise was to take place in a high desert setting, not unlike the Afghan mountain areas, and involved a battalion plus hunting down our 12 man “insurgent” unit.
We were up against a battalion of infantry, augmented with a cav scout troop and a company of NATO soldiers. Their sole purpose was to find, capture and/or kill us.
We broke our team into four, three-man cells. We also had a HQ element and two sets of 81mm mortars with organic crews attached. Besides our indirect fire assets, we were armed only with M4 carbines and frag grenades.
Ten days later we were being dressed down for the sin of rendering the battalion "combat ineffective" as well as destroying the TOC and killing most of the staff officers.
All in all I found it to be a useful learning experience. Without violating any OPSEC, let me break down some of the lessons learned…..
1) We spent the first few days avoiding contact and doing as much observation as possible. Whenever feasible we would use coded hand written messages left at a dead drop to pass information back to our HQ. Reason being that we believed the BLUFOR was actively scanning for our TX as well as attempting to DF us. This worked out rather well for us, as our flow of information went largely uninterrupted and we denied them any actionable SIGINT.
2) We traveled light and fast, relying on caches and rolling drops for resupply. We would have to huddle up close in the night time low temperatures to keep somewhat warm - one man sitting up on watch at a time.
3) One of our biggest fears was the BLUFOR’s use of their scout’s mounted thermal assets, especially at night when the ambient temperature fell and our body heat stood out like a sore thumb. Choosing good Hide/RON sites and smart route planning was essential. The few times we were spotted we were able to quickly move into terrain prohibitive to vehicles.
4) Indirect fire assets are priceless. We quickly frustrated them with accurate fire missions on a daily basis. Terrain association, solid map reading skills and good pre-established TRP’s were put to devastating use.
5) The utility of harassment fire cannot be overstated. Again using the terrain to our advantage was essential. A few well-placed shots induced chaos and we made an exit as the unit went into a battle drill before they could ID our location.
6) Eventually we decided to let one of our cells get captured as we needed a peek close in and were fairly confident that we could affect an escape. This risky move turned out to be an intelligence goldmine for us. Our captured cell was able to make their escape that night before being moved to a more secured rear area. The random information they brought back proved very useful.
7) Based on our gathered Intel, we put a plan in motion that involved our last two cells (two had been captured or killed by day ten). One cell engaged a company far to the south of the Bn FOB as a diversion while my cell low crawled about a mile past the Bn FOB to a lightly guarded OP to the north. The soldiers there had seen no action at all and were bored and sleepy. We were able to secure the site and steal a hummer without firing a shot. We then drove into the FOB and began tossing grenades into GP mediums as we moved towards the TOC, where we “shot” the entire staff section.
I should note that the cells we lost were due to one being caught out in the open (huge danger area – poor route planning). The other was due to spending too much time close to a prominent terrain feature after calling in several fire missions. Some studious BLUFOR soldier thought about where he might put an OP and glassed them when he could see their bino’s catching sunlight.
For me, the experience proved useful the next time I was in an operational environment facing down an enemy that felt no compulsion to conform to any particular set of standards.
OPFOR = Opposition Force (bad guys)
BLUFOR = Blue Force (good guys)
HQ = Headquarters
TOC = Tactical Operations Center
TX = Transmission (radio)
DF = Direction Find
RON = Rest Over Night
TRP = Target Reference Point
BN = Battalion
SIGINT = Signals Intelligence
FOB = Forward Operating Base
OP = Observation Point