Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paintball CQB Tactics, Part 4 - CQB Week

In this installment of the CQB series, we’ll take a look at the tricky matter of safely negotiating corners. Corners are a big unknown in close-quarters battle, second only to doorways in risk.

There are 3 mainstream methods of negotiating corners. Let’s take a closer look at each.


First, let’s analyze the movie and TV-style method of taking corners, AKA “Taking a corner dynamically”. Although this method sometimes has its place, in 99% of situations it’s a VERY BAD IDEA. Let’s look at the method step-by-step:

1) Our fearless hero hugs the wall and creeps up to the very edge of the corner (usually with his gun up James Bond-style);

2) Suspecting someone is on the other side of the corner, he steels his nerves and prepares himself; and

3) He jumps out or swings around from the corner, confronting the badguy with a no-bullshit fancy stance and a muzzle pointed right between his eyes.

Our hero doesn’t use the cover and/or concealment provided by the wall, choosing instead to expose most or all of his body to return fire. BECAUSE IT’S NOT IN THE SCRIPT FOR HIM TO GET SHOT.

To be fair, a variant of this called “The Pop” is sometimes used by real combat professionals, but it’s usually done in pairs to reduce the disadvantage of jumping into the unknown. Also, they make real sure that they don’t expose any more of themselves than they have to to get the job done. A somewhat comparable concept is “snapshooting” in speedball.

But generally this method is a bad move, and it’s used less and less these days. Here’s why: Remember the Action-Reaction process and the concept of the Cognitive Delay from Part 2 of this series? Well they come back with a vengeance when you take a corner dynamically. Picture 3 badguys on the other side of that corner, covering it with their weapons. Because it’s the expected direction a threat will come from, they’re ready with a twitch of their trigger fingers to blast anything that moves around that corner. They’ve already perceived the corner as a danger, evaluated what they’re going to do, and all that’s left for them is the action part. Then we have our hero, literally jumping into the unknown. As soon as he leaves the cover of that corner, he’s faced with 3 bad guys at the ready. He first has to perceive them, then evaluate how to proceed, then take action (either shooting at them or ducking back behind the cover of the corner), all while under the stress of getting shot at. That’s a BAD spot to be in. So please, use the Popping method sparingly, and take corners dynamically as a last resort.

The Quick Peek (“Israeli Peek”)

As far as I can tell, the Quick Peek method came into use during the Israeli war in Lebanon in 1982. Basically, the Israeli soldiers were fed up of getting shot by PLO snipers, so they devised this method of checking around corners to avoid exposing themselves unnecessarily. Hence it became known as the “Israeli Peek”. Here’s the Quick Peek method step-by-step:

1) An operator comes up carefully to the edge of a corner;
2) He sticks his head out from the corner for less than a second, taking a mental “snapshot” of what’s around the corner and immediately pulling back.
3) He then adopts a kneeling stance, then pops back out from the corner, this time with his weapon at the ready, and engages any snipers or other bad guys he spotted during the “snapshot”.

The idea behind this is that any sniper covering the corner wouldn’t be able to react in time to shoot off the operator’s head the first time he sticks it out. So the sniper covers the exact spot where the operator stuck his head out, ready to shoot it the moment it pops out again, but SURPRISE! The operator’s head pops out at a LOWER spot, this time with his gun up and shooting back!

Well as you can imagine this worked great at first, but generally in warfare people quickly learn and adapt to their enemies’ tactics. Snipers just started to aim lower after seeing someone’s head pop out, and the advantage of the Quick Peek method was quickly negated. Not to mention there are other disadvantages to the Quick Peek. Namely, with the penetration power of high-powered rifles, snipers could just try to shoot a “peeker” THROUGH the wall they just peeked around (though this is not an issue in paintball of course). Also, when you take your “snapshot” around the corner, by the time you pop out the second time, the tactical situation could have changed considerably – what could have looked like a clear area the first time might now be crawling with hostiles who just ran out of a building or around a corner. Keep in mind too that less than a second isn’t much time to see everything, especially if your enemy is camouflaged. Not to mention that by sticking your head out from cover, you completely give away your position to anyone watching for movement in your sector. I would say the biggest disadvantage though is that no matter what you see in your “snapshot”, you’re not in a position to DO anything about it. You could peek around a corner and see Osama Bin Laden himself, but with your gun pointed elsewhere, he runs for it when he sees your head pop out, and you missed your chance!

For illustration purposes here’s an example of me performing a Quick Peek in a hostile CQB environment (my bedroom), from the friendly viewpoint. Watch how my gun is pointed down at the floor and useless:

And here it is from the enemy viewpoint, a nice giveaway of my position:

In fact if you were an aggressive player, you would probably rush me and surrender or bunker me before I could get my gun up!

The Pie Method

With the limitations of the methods for taking corners illustrated above, these tactics are rapidly falling out of favour among real-world operators. The current favoured technique is what’s known as “Slicing the Pie”.

Slicing the Pie involves treating every corner as a circle, or a pie as an analogy. The idea is to carefully maneuver around the corner with your weapon ready and held in tight to your body, so that as you come around the corner you can see your enemy, but all they can see is your aiming eye and your muzzle while you pull the trigger and take them out.

The diagram below illustrates the concept of Slicing the Pie:

By moving slowly through the numerical positions around the corner, you can clear the corner incrementally, a sliver of “pie” at a time. This way you use the corner as a pivot point and the wall as cover, keeping the least amount of your body exposed, while being ready to effectively engage anyone around that corner. Done properly, you’ll see an enemy’s foot, knee, or shoulder and be able to shoot it before he even knows you’re there.

Another HUGE advantage of the Pie Method is in dealing with multiple opponents. Picture the 3 red circles in the diagram below as 3 threats:

If you had jumped or popped around a corner like our TV hero discussed above, you’d have to engage all 3 badguys at once, and more than likely your ass would be grass. But by slicing the pie, you could take out an enemy at position 2, while the other 2 can’t see or hit you through the wall. Then you could take out another enemy at position 4, while the other remaining enemy can’t see or hit you. Lastly, you could take out the final enemy at position 7. Instead of jumping out into a 3-on-1 battle, you engage in a series of 3 1-on-1 battles, where you have cover, the element of surprise, and the ability to strike first and fast with your weapon up and ready.

Speedball players are no strangers to slicing the pie. The concept of “wrapping” in Speedball is almost identical, and seasoned Speedball players are acutely aware of angles around a bunker, and keeping only a minimum of their bodies exposed. In fact the best Speedball players tend to get eliminated mainly by hits to the shoulder, or to the exposed edge of their goggles.

One crucially important thing to keep in mind is to keep back from the corner. There’s no use Slicing the Pie and trying to surprise someone around a corner when they can see your barrel pivoting around said corner.

In fact I’d advise staying back a couple feet from a corner as you pivot around it. There’s no need to be close to a corner, as the angles and cover are the same, and your paintball marker can easily launch a paintball on a relatively straight path out to 60 feet. In the following photo I’m about 3 feet back from the corner. Assuming the photographer was the threat, I’d still easily be able to hit him:

So this is all fine when a rightie has to “pie off” a corner towards the right side, but what about a corner where he would need to move to the left? Obviously keeping your normal stance would expose the left side of your body coming around a corner, so this needs to be addressed.

One method would be to adopt a “southpaw” stance, and switching the weapon to your left side/hand. Although this will definitely work to keep you less exposed, this can lead to a couple seconds during the hand-change where you’re vulnerable. Also, you may not be proficient in firing your marker with your support hand. If this is the case, a secondary method is to tilt your upper body and weapon towards the left, so that you lead the corner with your weapon and your left eye instead.

The downsides to this method are that it may be awkward to shoot in this position, and with your marker tilted steeply your hopper may have trouble feeding, and you’ll be limited to a couple of shots before you have to shake your marker (obviously this isn’t a problem when going mag-fed).

One thing you really have to be careful about when you pie off a corner is the position of your elbows. If you lead with your elbow, it’s very obvious to your enemy that you’re coming around the corner. Plus, you’re offering him another place to shoot you.

Make sure those elbows are kept tucked in! Imagine your elbows are Krazy Glued to your rib cage. I notice a lot of paintballers fire their markers with their elbows way out. Remember that you’re firing a paintball gun, not your granddaddy’s 30-06 hunting rifle. There’s barely any kick to speak of in even the harshest mechanical marker, so you don’t need your elbow all the way out, bracing for recoil. In fact, with most real weapons used for CQB (MP5, M4, etc), the kick is so negligible that you’ll rarely find real-life operators using a stance with their elbows way out.

The speed at which you “slice the pie” really depends on the situation. If you have the time to go slow, then do so. By going around the corner slowly, you give yourself more time to perceive and evaluate what you see. Generally the fewer “unknowns” there are, the faster you can go. For example, if you’re just going around a corner to a narrow hallway, you could probably do it in a few seconds. However, if you’re coming around a corner into a large open area surrounded by open windows and structures, you may have to take it extremely slow and check each hazard area before inching over a little bit more.

Keep in mind also that a “corner”, in the context of these tactics, isn’t limited to the end of a hall or wall. For the purposes of this discussion, the same principles can be applied to a doorway, a staircase, a nook/alcove, a barricade/bunker, or any unknown angle where it’s to your advantage to pie it off and keep as little of your body exposed as possible until you know what’s there.

Happy Slicing

Now that I’ve explained how to take a corner properly, and how to avoid the most common mistakes, you’ll have a better grasp of how to keep from getting all shot up in one of the most hazardous moves in CQB. And if I ever see you doing something like THIS, sticking your whole upper body around a corner to check or engage someone, I’ll personally walk up to you and punch you in the mask!!!

I hope by now you understand why there’s no need for this, and that you can accomplish the same goal by exposing only your shooting eye and your gun, and hanging back.

NOTE: In closing I just want to highlight a cardinal safety rule in CQB paintball: NEVER BLIND FIRE AROUND CORNERS! Around the corner could be the back of some poor 10 year-old kid’s head, and if you’re launching a dozen paintballs into it at point-blank range, you’d really be making the sport look bad (not to mention possibly causing permanent damage!)

Part 5

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