Monday, August 5, 2013

The Other Eye of Jiān - A Hunter-Killer Scout Platoon in Combat - An ArmA 2 AAR

In Chinese mythology, the Jiān bird has only one eye and one wing. Two such birds become inseparable, as they depend on each other to survive.

This is a story that I found interesting not because of what my virtual troopers and me have achieved, but because of what I have learned.

The use of hunter-killer teams in cavalry operations is well-known and regarded as highly effective. I have played around with this concept with Steel Beasts ProPE a long while ago. In a nutshell, the platoon is divided in hunter-killer teams composed of IFVs and tanks. The IFVs act mostly as "hunters" who find targets and the tanks as "killers", who as their name indicates are the ones who dispatch the enemy. These two are like the Chinese Jiān birds, in an unbreakable bond of targeting and fire.

Today, I did put myself in the virtual boots of a trooper and went into combat against the Takistani Army. It was a fight that needed more men and machines, or better tactical leadership. In either case, a couple of observations will be tossed at the end of the report.

The mission is a rear area security cleanup. The pace of advance of the US Army has been high and there are plenty of bypassed Takistani Army pockets. In this case, a company-sized enemy mechanized force sits in an uneasy spot and needs to be cleared out. My platoon of cavalry (3 CFVs and two M1 Abrams tanks) has volunteered to establish contact and develop the situation.

We took a bit of an aggressive stance and we payed dearly for it.

Right after contact we consolidated the platoon as a single team. Yet, the hunter-killer spirit continues. The M1 tanks (background) with their better armor are positioned forward against the enemy. The Bradley CFVs (foreground) are pulling flank security.

At least a fraction of the enemy is hiding in a strip village. Right next to the village, there is a factory and a green zone, both of which we can't reconnoiter from our current position.
Our reconnaissance by fire comes to fruition. The M1 tanks move a couple meters up and their turret down position becomes a hull down one. In rapid succession they shoot at the BMP-2s in the village up front. A platoon of enemy T-72s emerges from the rear of the building, like cavalry trying to break our formation. Their charge is abruptly interrupted by our M1's fire. Their dust becomes heavy and dark smoke.

There is still plenty of enemy infantry in the village. As dismounts, it is our turn to move up to them.
The smoke billows are excellent reference points for our dismounted advance. We move through the open with the distant support of the two M1 Abrams tanks.

Through the open, the folds of the terrain play tricks against our fields of fire.  The enemy is now in the reverse slope ... This is a very unfortunate situation as we will be able to target the enemy from relatively close range only. 
But it must be done. We pull ourselves up and move forward. Sporadic firefights come and go. We have the upper hand because of our numeric superiority.

We are almost sure that the enemy has no AT missiles or RPGs in the village. The tanks are called up ... They stop too close to us.
A couple of RPGs fly from the village towards the tanks. They fall short, but they kill number two and injure number five. We have failed to observe the most basic drill in tank-infantry cooperation (stay relatively away from the tanks).

We must carry on. I grab the SAW from our fallen comrade number two, and pull everybody out of the open.
We gain a modest foothold on the village and start working our way into it. 
Maneuvering the M1s in any built up area is cumbersome. We need them tanks, they need us infantry. We keep our line of advance anchored to a road.  The Bradley CFVs, still kept in the rear until their two dismounted squads clear enough space within the village to harbor them.
Our journey through the built up area has just started. This is a panoramic view of the way ahead. By the way, I got shot by an enemy grenadier ... Fortunately, I can still carry on.
Advancing through the village. A very deliberate affair conducted at snail pace.

Corner drill.

From this position, I finally spotted a piece of terrain worthy a cavalry man's blood: a factory with a multi-story building. The perfect observation post.
The factory is surrounded by high walls. There are a couple of mouse holes to enter, but we can hear enemy infantry chatter. We don't want to be caught one by one crossing and we call out the tank to breach the wall.

A firefight, as loud as short ends up with us in possession of the facilities.

I leave men and tanks behind and go on point to conduct a dismounted reconnaissance.

The terrain ahead will require a significant number of extra resources.
The mythical bird is now one-eyed, but paradoxically can see further ahead.
The enemy targets multiply at every scan of the terrain. Our platoon has suffered enough casualties to warrant relief from the follow and assume formation behind us.
Even while keeping in mind the shortcomings of ArmA 2 when it comes to the modeling of armored combat, some things from this scenario struck me.

  • I knew that combat in built up areas was infantry-intensive, but in this case I felt like infantry was central even in the open. Maybe because we were closing towards a built-up area?
  • The firepower of the infantry/cavalry combat vehicles is no substitute for boots on the ground. Hell! I had those Bradleys hidden from RPGs and other battlefield hazards at all times. We may as well have driven here in civilian sedans and leave those cars out of sight. 
  • Built up or closed terrain areas suck up infantry like there is no tomorrow. No surprises here, but ... Gee! I don't think that even a full reinforced company would be enough to engage the targets in the green zone ahead. I sorely missed the USMC hefty 12-men squads. 
  • The whole idea of the infantry fighting vehicle was to carry and support infantry into the fight ... With a big emphasis in doing so at areas where tanks can't go. Yet here I am, fighting without IFVs because their armor is inferior and alongside tanks which can barely move through narrow streets. What am I missing here?
  • Dismounted reconnaissance proved the most valuable one
  • At least in this case, the concept of a hunter-killer team had evidently little to do with Bradleys and tanks but rather with tanks and dismounted infantry in a combined arms approach. The eye of the Jiān is not always behind precision-polished lenses



Anonymous said...

A very interesting read. Do you make the scenarios for these AARs yourself?

Chris said...

Nice job JC. Very interesting. Like your point about larger squads. Would have been nice to have a little bit more shoe leather to get around.

JC said...

Thanks for reading, gents.

Anonymous. Yes, those scenarios are custom-made by myself. Most of the times not more than a few units tossed in a map.

Hi Chris. Isn't it like those fancy IFVs are not up for the task during most of the times?


Chris said...

Hah. Probably JC. I know from my Shock Force gaming, that they are best in the rear firing over my infantry unless I can keep OPFOR units suppressed and then move my vehicles in for the kill. Nice use of a Chinese myth btw :)

Johan said...

JC, your experiences got me thinking of these highly interresting blog posts:

Part 1

Part 2

Basically, the argument is that the IFV concept is flawed. By trying to be both a battlefield taxi and a fighting vehicle, it fails at both missions. An APC needs MBT level armor for survivability, and a fighting vehicle needs to use all the available space for weapons systems and ammo, not for transporting a squad of infantrymen. Highly interresting read, and a blog well worth following.

badanov said...

Nice AAR.

It appears you did everything about right. I would say the only problem is with combat correlations. Why attack a numerically superior force defending a fixed position? With the IFVs and tanks you could just pick off the opposing force before trying to rushing into the village with your rifles.

One note about tactical doctrine: US doctrine is that tanks deal with armor and infantry deals with infantry. The Bradley's are great at defending a fixed position but at some moment they have to peak out behind their cover to take their shots... and get shot. Once the enemy tanks were dispatched, Bradleys can take reasonable RPG shots at a distance and still provide covering fire for your rifles.

But as I said, good AAR. Good fun.

JC said...

Johan, those links and that blog are outstanding. Thanks for pointing me in that direction!

Hi badanov,
Points well taken. The correlation of forces was not there in this case. Neither it was at Easting 73, An Nāşirīyah, or even Fallujah.

From the distance, the IFVs and tanks had very little targeting opportunities against an enemy dug in into the town.