Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting Ready for Combat in Built Up Areas (ArmA 2)

One small step for man, one giant leap for the enemy

Imagine the following situation: a urban battle is raging and you and your fire team are moving down a very narrow alley. You are enjoying cover and concealment almost 360 degrees around you. You and your team's only worries are covering the front and the rear of the formation. For the hundred steps of the alley crossing, it's always the same: cover the front and the rear. Once you arrive to the exit of the alley, a single step into the street will expose you to thousands of potential enemy fields of fire. One hundred steps of relative safety blown away by just one single step.

The paragraph above is an example of the typical and sudden tactical environment changes that happen during fights in urban areas. Some people call these type of events "compression to expansion" tactical situation changes . Compression meaning both that you are constricted in a small physical space and that very few tactical options are available for the potential enemies around you. Expansion meaning both a bigger physical space around you and increased tactical options for the enemy to shoot you.

Sudden tactical environment changes like the one above can cause sensory overload, a disease for which the only known cure is training.

There are literally thousands of pages about urban warfare available in the net. The scope of this humble blog is just too small to cover even one of those to a decent extent. So please bear with me with this short and disjointed note about the topic.

Balancing your tactical checkbook and herding cats at the same time

Besides the tactical challenges of the realistically simulated urban combat, the ArmA 2 player is up for another one: commanding the AI bots assigned to him. Lines of sight are fragmented in built-up areas and keeping all your virtual subordinates out of danger zones or in a formation that allows mutual overwatch requires skill and quick thinking.

The first thing that I found useful while advancing in built up areas is to rely on the compact column formation. Any formation that puts any of your virtual men at a significant distance from your axis of advance will result in an AI subordinate wandering off into or around a building and straight into an enemy line of fire.

This ain't Fallujah, but still it gives me the creeps. #2 and #3 have been ordered to move to opposite sides of the street and provide cover.

The second thing I like is to issue the "move there" order to individual soldiers or teams. The nice thing about this order is that your subordinate/s go/es exactly where you ordered them and, most importantly, they stay there until you issue a new order.

#2 and #3 in the background are providing overwatch for #4 and me. Note how #2 and #3 stay behind (their icons show "ready" status) and how #4 moves along behind me (column formation) watching my left flank.

A typical "compression to expansion" is when you and your team arrive to a corner. I usually take up the task of peeking around corners myself (can't get the AI to do that without getting killed). When just a peek is not enough and a more prolongued observation around the corner is needed, I'm growing fond of doing it by lying prone. I don't know if this is how it is done in real combat, but peeking around corners lying prone is still being teached by some Marine instructors.
In ArmA 2 at least it helps a bit with not exposing so much of your body to the enemy. But it also has the caveat that it takes a fraction of more time to get back to cover if you are spotted.

If you peek around a corner lying prone, it is advisable to move slowly. Just in case the enemy is a few meters away.

That's it for now. How long until we get into moving like this diagram below?

: )


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