Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tactics #6 - Ambush!

Ambush is one of the most devastating tactics on the battlefield. Attacking an opposing force (OPFOR) that's off-guard and in a bad position can inflict heavy losses on them before they have a chance to recover. The shock and ferocity of a well-planned ambush can (and usually does) win the firefight!

In this post, I'll outline the basics for executing a successful ambush.


The element of surprise is crucial for an ambush to work. Obviously if the OPFOR knows you're ahead, it's not an ambush! Instead, if they decide to press ahead it becomes a standard attack/defend scenario. If they pull back, then they now have intel on your position. In the worst case scenario, they could send an element to sneak around and flank your waiting forces, making YOUR team the subject of an ambush!

Do everything you can to stay hidden until it's time to empty your hopper/mag on the enemy. Obviously wearing proper camouflage gear adapted to the terrain is a no-brainer, and being quiet is a must. But just as important is staying low and out of sight.

For starters, only the team leader needs to be watching the OPFOR prior to an ambush. When he starts shooting, that's when the rest of the team can pop up out of hiding and open up. A team of 10 people all watching their opponents wander into their ambush and getting excited means 10 bobbing heads for the OPFOR to notice. To maintain the element of surprise, the ambush team needs to be disciplined, and be ghosts until the moment is right.

Typically, staying concealed for an ambush means remaining in a prone position. Going prone is not something you see paintballers do often, because most players get their experience in fast-moving, short games where it's important to stay on your feet and mobile. Others may find it uncomfortable, or are afraid of getting dusty or muddy (getting paint all over you is ok, but dust isn't?). But for a successful ambush at a Big Game or scenario event, just taking a knee behind a bunker won't cut it.


The second most important factor in a successful ambush is its location. There are many considerations in choosing a good ambush site.

The Kill Zone

The "kill zone" is the place you anticipate your OPFOR to be when you launch your ambush. Ideally, you'll want your kill zone to put the OPFOR at as much of a disadvantage as possible. You want them in the open, where they have no cover to run behind when the shooting starts. You'll want a kill zone that has limited avenues of escape (ideally only the way they came in, so you can shoot them in the back as they retreat!). If the kill zone is knee deep in snow/sand/mud, or very rocky, even better - they'll have to move slower to find cover or escape, giving you more time to light them up.

Speaking of lighting up, consider the lighting around the kill zone as well. If it's bright out you'll want the sun behind you, so they're lit up nice and bright, but they can't look at you without being blinded by the sun. If it's dark, you'll want the kill zone to be lit up with moonlight or artificial lighting (streetlights etc), while you're in the shadows.

Your Firing Position

Where your forces are positioned during the ambush is also crucial to its success. Ideally, you'll want a position offering good cover, with an unobstructed view of the entire kill zone. At the same time, you'll want to be concealed as much as possible, blending in with your environment so you're not seen by the OPFOR until the ambush is launched, and the paint is already raining down on their poor heads.

Here are some textbook positions for ambush:

-The top of a cliff or hill, with the kill zone below it
-The side of a ravine, on top looking down into the kill zone below it
-Hidden back in the tree line by a clearing - with the clearing being the kill zone
-Hidden in a ditch near a bend in a trail or road (the kill zone would be the trail or road)
-A rooftop or above-ground-level floor of a building, with the kill zone being the alleway below.


Additionally, you'll want to select a spot where the OPFOR is more or less funneled into the kill zone. An ambush position is useless if the people you're trying to ambush have no incentive to enter your kill zone, and can go around it.

The suggestions for ambush sites I listed above reflect this. Most paintball players will stick to dirt roads, trails, and clearings to move from Point A to Point B, rather than move inside the tree line, getting caught on twigs and bushes. Take advantage of people's tendency to take the path of least resistance, and select your ambush site accordingly.

Covering the Flanks

Remember the ideal L-Shape flanking maneuver described in my post on flanking? Well, the ideal positioning of your forces for a successful ambush relies on this positioning as well.

Imagine that your teams are hidden on both sides just inside the treeline, and that the OPFOR moves into the clearing (your kill zone). With this positioning, your forces won't get into a crossfire situation with each other, and 100% of your teammates can open up on the badguys. Also, the OPFOR is "pre-flanked"; whatever cover they take from your forces in front of them, they may still be exposed to your forces on the left, and vice-versa.

Not only that, but wherever the OPFOR moves in response to your ambush, they'll still be taking fire from one of your two fire teams. If they break left, they'll be moving into the fire of your flanking fire team. If they move right, your flanking fire team will be shooting them in their backs. If they move forward, they'll be moving into the fire of your main fire team. And of course, if they turn around and run back the same way they came, the main fire team will be painting their backs all the way. Truly, with your forces set up in an L-formation, that kill zone is a terrible place for your opponents to be!

Whatever spot you decide to use for an ambush, choose it carefully. An ideal site takes into account all of the above factors.


The security of your own forces is also a factor in the success of your ambush. As mentioned earlier, while you're waiting to ambush some opponents, friends of theirs may be attempting to sneak up on and attack you, in effect ambushing the ambushers! It's important that you designate a player or two to hang back several meters behind you, dig in, and watch the rear. The job of these team members is to cover your asses while you take care of business.

Other Considerations

Even with surprise on your side, perfect positioning, and proper security, there are other things to keep in mind before launching your ambush:

Don't waste it on small potatoes

A savvy team leader will recognize a good ambush site, and will usually send a "point man" into possible kill zones in order to draw fire or "test the waters" before committing his whole team. In larger scenarios, a General may send a reconnaissance team or a couple of scouts into an area before using it as a route for respawning players or other logistics.

If you've gone to the trouble of selecting the perfect ambush position, you don't want to be wasting it on any sort of advance party. In the worst case, the point man or scout will escape your ambush alive, and run back to tell his team leader about the ambush ahead. In the best case scenario, you'll eliminate him, but he'll walk back towards the OPFOR with his gun in the air, showing them all that there's enemy contact ahead (as if all the paintball shots didn't alert them already). If your scenario's rules allow for the taking of prisoners, then this is definitely the best option if you choose to ambush advance parties - surrender them without a shot, and have someone take them back to your HQ, so that your ambush on the main force can continue as planned.

Another way of doing things (and one I recommend) is to allow the point man or scouting party to move into your kill zone, and hold your fire. This would give them the false idea that the area is safe, and then the main bulk of the force would move into your kill zone. THIS is the deserving target your perfect ambush is waiting for!

Plan an escape route

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry, and your ambush may turn into a disaster for you. For example, that squad of players you decided to ambush just happened to have 50 more freshly-respawned players 100 meters behind them that you didn't know about! Your perfect ambush has now turned into a 50 vs. 5 firefight, and you need to get out of there before your squad's annihilated.

An ambush is a bad idea if you don't have a quick way out if s*** hits the fan - always decide on fallback positions and escape routes as part of your plan!

Hasty Ambush

A hasty ambush is a small-scale ambush set up in the moment, at the sign of spontaneous opportunity. The hasty ambush is executed when there's no time for setting up L-formations, planning escape routes, and all that good stuff. They're pretty limited in their effectiveness, but they're a good tactic for slowing down or harassing advancing OPFOR.

Here's two examples of a hasty ambush off the top of my head:

-In a CQB situation, you see 2 OPFOR players coming down the hallway, but they don't see you. You go prone around the corner and wait to light them up when they show up.
-In the middle of a firefight in the woods, you break contact and fake a retreat down a trail. The OPFOR players chase you, and you quickly take up a position down the trail to fire at them when they come into view.

How to Avoid Being Ambushed

Unless you're playing against a bunch of schoolteachers who came to play paintball for team-building, your opponents will realize the value of ambush tactics as well, and may attempt to spring one on your team. Here are some tactics to avoid having your team become the victim of an ambush:

Stay out of open areas and other obvious kill zones

Avoid open areas and fatal funnels at all costs. Even when there's no chance of being ambushed for whatever reason, your team should get in the habit of avoiding possible ambush locations. That way, when an OPFOR really HAS set up an ambush for you, you'll naturally avoid it.

A good guide is to follow the "Ten Steps Rule". If you need to cross an open area where at any point you would need to take more than ten steps to reach good cover, find another way around that open area instead! Usually this means taking more time to get around, but it's worth it.

Don't bunch up

This is a cardinal rule when you're moving ahead and expecting contact. If several players are moving together in a big gaggle, a short burst from a full-auto marker could take them all out in under a second, and a paint grenade would do the job instantly. The ambushing team already has the advantage, so don't make it easier for them by packing together. Watch your spacing!

Use scouts and point men

As discussed earlier, send a point man or small scouting party ahead of your main force, to test out a possible kill zone (if you MUST, and have no other way of getting around it). YES this is dangerous for that poor bastard being used as bait, but it's easier to lose one man than your entire team. Most paintball players don't see the big picture and want that "kill" (especially the newer, more exciteable players), so the minute someone from the OPFOR waiting in ambush sees your point man approach they'll usually start shooting and blow the ambush.

Watch the high ground

Ambushes tend to come from higher ground, because it makes life a lot easier for the ambushers and a lot harder for the ambushees. Move cautiously, and keep your eyes up and wide open.

Gun up!

Most paintball players, even those of the Milsim variety, move about with their markers pointed at the ground. This is a bad thing, because if something sudden and unexpected happens (like an ambush), it takes these players a couple of seconds to get their guns up and start throwing paint! For a quicker reaction time, move into the unknown with your gun UP. You don't need to raise it so high that you can't see the ground in front of you, but keep the stock into your shoulder as you walk, and keep the muzzle above waist-level. Point your marker in the general direction you would expect an ambush to come from.

If you find your marker too heavy to hold up properly, then you'll improve your skill and success at the game in the long run by scaling it down. Switch your 20-pound gun for a TM7 or SP-1, or take off the heavy sight or scope you can't even sight down with your mask on. It really will make a HUGE difference in your game when you're able to keep your gun up in a ready position and react quickly with a trigger pull.

Actions On Contact

If the worst should happen, and despite following my advice your team finds itself being ferociously ambushed, here are some tips that can help (some of) your team survive.

First off, MOVE! The ambushing team already has the drop on you, and you're in the kill zone. Don't just stand there and make it easier for them! It doesn't matter where you run, just run somewhere. If a badguy has the choice of shooting at you (a moving target), or at one of your surprised teammates standing frozen in the kill zone like a bunch of stunned c**ts, he'll usually take the easier shot and target the stationary players.

If you can't figure out where to move, then attack INTO the ambush. This may sound counterintuitive, but it's effective because it ruins the angles of a carefully-planned ambush. Remember how the L-Formation avoids a crossfire situation? Well, if you charge towards any of those two sides of the L, you screw with their angles, and the OPFOR on one side of the L risk hitting their teammates on the other side if they shoot at you (crossfire). If your entire team can be rallied to do this, an entire side of the L formation can be forced to cease fire or risk hitting their buddies. This takes half the ambushing force out of the equation temporarily!

Not to mention that by charging into the ambush, yelling and shooting as a group, you can "break" the ambush and cause some of the bad guys on the line to turn around and run!

Again this is counterintuitive at first glance, and will be tough to do as a team unless you're all a bunch of crazy bastards. But look at it this way: If you stay in the kill zone, you're going to get hit. If you try to retreat, you're going to get hit in the back. At least if you fight into the ambush, SOME of you may survive, and if you do buy it, you'll be taking some of those OPFOR bastards with you!

Stay tuned to Grey Ops during the month of December for more informative articles on Milsim Paintball tactics!

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