Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Tank Platoon in the Defense, Part 1: Tactical Misadventures in Steel Beasts ProPE

One of the things I like about Steel Beasts ProPE (SBProPE) is that it forces you to think really hard about tactics. The virtual battlefield in SBProPE is fast and brutal and the only way to survive is to get serious about what you are doing with your tank.

This scenario I'm writing about today is part of the older scenarios in SBProPE. It features a platoon of M1 Abrams defending objective "Star" in a sector two kilometers wide or so. The enemy, a motorized rifle company is advancing from west to east.

The OPORD in this scenario is more like a FRAGO, which is correct I guess given the size of the scenario. In the FRAGO, the commander of blue forces orders us to avoid the enemy getting to objective "Star". The commander also has provided some maneuver and tactical guidelines which are depicted in the next map as operational graphics.

Two recon HMMWVs are in front of blue forces as combat patrols and will provide warning of the approaching enemy. Our M1 Abrams tanks are supposed to inflict as many casualties on the enemy by firing from battle position 1 (BP1) towards engagement area "Dog" (EA Dog). On order, we are to withdraw towards battle positions BP2A and BP2B under the cover of artillery-delivered smoke and destroy the remaining enemy forces in engagement area "Cat" (EA Cat).

Simple, uh?

Not quite.

For starters, the scenario is about using tanks, intrinsically offensive weapons, in a defensive role. The British military theorist J.F.C. Fuller, in his "The Foundations of the Science of War", suggested that the basic three actions of combat are: move, strike and protect. According to Fuller, in a typical weapon system, each of these actions influences the other. One soldier cannot fire (strike) as precisely when he is running (move). In addition, if the soldier is running (move), his cover (protect) is reduced. The tank is not exempt from these factors, yet it has a superior mobility (move) that can be used with little compromise of its firepower (strike) and protection against enemy fire (protect). The ability to "move strike and protect" at the same time constitutes the biggest advantage the tank has over other weapon systems. Renouncing to move your tank, as you would do in a defense scenario like the one detailed above, is giving away one advantage. And since the "move, strike and protect" factors seem to combine synergistically, loosing one of three is loosing much more than1/3 of your capabilities. Just staying alive in such conditions requires mastery and study. When tanks stay put in the battlefield with inexperienced crews inside, bad things happen.

FM 17-15 (Tank Platoon) has a whole chapter devoted to defensive operations. In chapter 4 there is this important paragraph:
The two patterns described in FM 100-5 are mobile and area defenses. A mobile defense is executed to destroy the attacking force by permitting the enemy to advance into a position that exposes him to counterattack by a mobile reserve. The focus of area defenses is on retention of terrain; defending units engage the enemy from an interlocking series of positions and destroy him, largely by direct fires.
Since in this scenario we lack a mobile reserve, in this scenario we will be conducting an area defense.

Continues here ...


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