Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Paintball CQB Tactics, Part 5 - CQB Week

Fighting In Built-Up Areas (FIBUA), also known as Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), is the concept of combat among man-made terrain features and structures. FIBUA is extremely dangerous, and most commanders will try to avoid it if they can. In World War II, the average casualty rate in FIBUA was 80%, which was much higher than in the countryside.

This higher casualty rate can be quite puzzling, upon casual analysis. There are fewer variables in fighting in urban areas; if a shot rings out on a city street, you know it came from one of 20 or so windows, but in the woods that shot could have come from just about any angle, from any position, anywhere.

So what makes urban combat so much more complicated and deadly? The answer lies in two factors that usually aren’t present on natural battlefields: HARD POINTS and FUNNELING.

A hard point (also often referred to as a strong point), is any location that you can hold and reasonably defend, with limited avenues of attack available to your attackers. Out in nature you occasionally encounter naturally occurring hard points, such as canyons, cliffs, and other terrain features that are tricky to maneuver through and advance on. (If a fighting force is static in nature for long enough, they may construct their own hard points, in the form of bunkers and trench systems). But in a man-made environment, hard points are everywhere. They could range from the landing of a staircase, to a room, to a house or building, to the roof of that building. They offer an advancing force limited avenues of approach & attack, and can be defended much more effectively than an open ditch out in the woods.

Funneling is the effect of compressing attacking forces into a narrow avenue of attack. Think of the advancing Germans in the last 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, forced to advance down a narrow street to the center of town. They were easy targets for the much smaller defending force, because they were forced by that funneling effect into the ambush/kill zone.

Specifically, a doorway, hallway, alleyway, staircase, or other narrow avenue that you’re forced to enter is known in FIBUA as a “Fatal Funnel”, and properly-trained fighting forces aim to spend as little time in these areas as possible.

To survive in FIBUA, you must constantly keep these two factors in mind at all times. As an attacker, try at all times to avoid fatal funnels, and to avoid or flank hard points. As a defender, position yourself to fight at a location where an enemy will be forced to funnel into your area, and further position yourself at or inside a hard point to maximize your defence.

General FIBUA Tips

Keeping in perspective that this is a series of articles for paintball players, I won’t go into extensive detail on how to conduct urban warfare! Instead I’d like to focus on general tactics that apply to close-quarters paintball engagements, with an emphasis on built-up areas such as village fields that a lot of paintball parks feature. Some fields can have pretty elaborate village setups, with multiple-floor buildings and urban features, so I’ll touch on some general tips to do well during these games.


First, I’d like to talk about cover and concealment. Cover is something that will stop a paintball from hitting you, while concealment is something that will hide you from view, but won’t necessarily stop a paintball (i.e. bushes or foliage). Cover usually offers concealment as a bonus (i.e. a large tree hides you AND stops paintballs). Generally the outdoors offers plenty of concealment (leaves, bushes, and small trees), but not much cover, while built-up areas provide plenty of cover.

As much as possible, try to look out to the SIDE of cover, rather than overtop of it. The human eye tends to follow horizontal planes better than vertical ones, a feature developed in us from millennia of watching over horizons for a prowling lion’s head popping up out of the tall grass. What this means is that it’s easier for us to spot someone popping up from cover than someone peering around it. Popping over your cover is a sure way to catch your opponent’s eye.

Remember the concept of “Slicing the Pie” from Part 4 of this series? Well slicing the pie applies to cover too. Whenever possible, pie off your cover, rather than just popping out from behind it. This will ensure that you’re exposed as little as possible when you emerge to look around or fire. And just like you don’t stick your barrel past the threshold of a corner and give your position away, don’t do the same with your cover either.

Not all cover has to be some sort of structure or wall. “Dead ground” can be used effectively for cover as well. Dead ground is a location where you’re below an enemy’s line of sight, and can’t be struck by direct fire. Some examples of dead ground are ditches, dips in the earth, the base of a cliff, or next to the walls of a structure if an enemy is on a higher floor (or the roof). Dead ground is also known in military terms as defilade.

Whenever possible, stay close to walls as you move from Point A to Point B. Not only does this put you in defilade from any attackers up high, but you only have to worry about threats from 180 degrees, rather than from all directions. Be sure to “pie off” windows and doorways you approach along the wall though!

Attacking structures

I’ll get into a full explanation of the finer points of Dynamic Entry (“Room-Clearing”) in Part 6 of this series, but for now I’ll just go over some general points about assaulting buildings from the outside.

For communication purposes with your team, it’s important to designate quick references to locations on the structure. Rather than saying “The East/West/North/South wall” (which can confuse people if they aren’t good with getting their bearings), refer to the “front” of the building facing you as the white side, and the back wall of the building as the black side. The wall on the left of the building (as you’re facing it before the assault) is referred to as the green side, and the right wall as the red side.

From here, number any openings on the respective walls (doors, windows) from left to right. These measures make it easy to relay messages quickly to teammates; instead of trying to point out “the window just right of the middle window, with the pink paintball stain just to the right of it”, you can go with something simpler like “white side 4”. If you see an opponent pop his head around the corner on the front right side of the structure, "Threat at White-Red corner!"

When assaulting a structure, try to have someone covering outside. They’ll be able to take shots at any enemies who get close to windows. Instead of wasting four team members to cover all four walls, have 2 members set up at opposite corners of the structure. That way they’ll each be able to monitor 2 walls.

Whenever possible, clear a structure from the top down. If you can reach the roof (or a higher floor) of the structure somehow, for example using an outside staircase or fire escape, then by all means do so. Here’s why this is important: Bottom-up clearing pushes your enemy upstairs as they retreat, giving them the high ground, which is much harder to attack and can cause greater losses among your forces. On top of this, if you corner them this way they’ll have nowhere to go, and with their backs literally to the wall they’ll fight harder.

What you ideally want is to avoid a fight in a structure altogether. Remember that a structure is a hard point, and hard points favour the defenders over the attackers, so you want to flush them out of there rather than fight them inside. By clearing a building from the top-down, if the occupiers of the building retreat from you they’ll have to exit the structure eventually. This puts them right where you want them: Outside with a lot less cover, and right in the sights of your buddies covering the structure!

For an example of top-down clearing, watch the opening sequences of Operation Irene in the movie Blackhawk Down. The Delta Force operators landed on the roof of the building they were assaulting, and worked their way downstairs. Meanwhile, the Rangers stood guard outside on the perimeter of the building, ready to neutralize or capture any hostiles that fled out of the building (and ready to block reinforcements).

Just like you don’t want to clear a structure from the bottom up, you also don’t want to attack a structure from both sides simultaneously and “squeeze” opponents. While “pincer” moves are great maneuvers for winning battles on open terrain, in the confines of a structure it can easily lead to crossfire, with friendlies shooting at friendlies. Again, the object is to flush the enemy out of a structure so that they can be neutralized in the open. Squeezing them in from all sides just makes them fight harder, and your shots that miss the enemy can fly through walls and easily take out the opposite half of your team (penetration isn’t really an issue in paintball of course, but there’s still a risk your paintballs will strike a friendly).

Actions on entering a structure

When entering a structure, the first thing your team should do is perform what’s called a “Listening Halt”. This involves standing perfectly still and not talking, and listening for clues to your opponents’ location (if any). This will give your team an idea of which way they need to move.

During the listening halt is a good time to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness inside the structure (if there’s limited lighting). Take the opportunity look around the dark environment before continuing on, and within a few seconds you’ll start seeing features of the structure around you. One thing to keep in mind is that in darkness there’s a blind spot dead in the center of human vision. This has to do with the placement of cones on your retina, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. The important thing is to be aware of it, and the fact that at 50 meters that blind spot can be large enough to hide a tank in!

Here’s a technique to see what’s ahead of you in darkness. Because the blind spot is directly ahead of your vision, scan your eyes counter-clockwise AROUND the spot you want to make out in the dark. Your peripheral vision will form a general picture of what’s in the center/blind spot. The reason you scan counter-clockwise is that your brain is used to scanning clockwise when reading, and this can cause it to miss a lot of things. So by starting in the other direction it forces your brain to be more alert and pick up things that stick out.

Holding a Structure

Once your team clears a building and wants to occupy it as defenders, stick to these tactics for fighting from that structure. First, concentrate most of your team on the second floor of the structure if there is one. This will allow you to hold the high ground, which gives you a better view of the approaching enemy, and a better firing position. Your opponents will also be more exposed to fire coming from above. However, keep a couple of teammates on the ground floor, to provide security and watch your backs, and to take out any opponents at ground level who make it to the dead ground next to the structure. If your teammates on the lower level get taken out, then assign a minimum of one teammate from the second floor to cover the stairs or ladder to the second floor, to prevent anyone sneaking up behind you and taking you out.

When adopting a firing or observer position at the windows, or at a doorway, DON’T “silhouette” yourself by staying in the foreground. Keep back from the window frame or threshold of the door, and stay in the shadows. You’ll still be able to see the enemy out the window, but looking in, all they’ll see is darkness and shadows. If you silhouette yourself by standing right in the window, or worse, sticking your barrel out the window or resting it on the window sill, your opponents will see you easily and fill the entire window with suppressing fire.

To make yourself even harder to see, on top of hanging back, slice the pie at the edge of the window frame or door frame, and shoot/observe from there instead.

You can see the ramifications of ignoring this advice in the photo below. If the defender had hung back from the window instead, the attacker at the corner probably would have no idea which window or doorway the firing was coming from. And he certainly wouldn't have a shot at the defender's arms or marker:

There was no need for the defender to expose himself like that. Given the direction his marker is pointing, he still could have fired at his target at will while backing up a bit into the structure.


I hope this has been enlightening for you, and will help you become a better player during CQB. The tactics above are MORE than enough for paintball play, so that’s pretty much all I’m going to cover for FIBUA. The main points to take away are to be mindful of hard points and fatal funnels, always be aware of your cover, and expose yourself to view or fire as little as possible.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll analyze the derivative battles when assaulting a building, and by that I mean Dynamic Entry or “room-clearing”. I’ll cover the current tactics and procedures to reduce the chances of getting shot in the face when entering a room full of badguys.

Part 6

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