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Tactics 101 059: Smoke in the DefenseBy Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland | Tactics101|War College | Published: April 11, 2011 at 9:40 am
SMOKE IN THE DEFENSE
Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after they occur.
General Giulio Douhet
The Defense of Australia
The BLUFOR was tucked in on the west side of the 909′s‚Äîwe couldn’t see them, but they could watch us across the 12 kilometers of open desert that separated us. They could hide in preparation for their attack, while we had to dig in and emplace obstacles. There would be a persistent dust cloud over us throughout our preparation.
The terrain provided pluses and minuses for both sides. The attacker (BLUFOR) could see every move we made as we prepared our position, while we couldn’t see anything the attackers were up to. The ridgelines that hemmed in the valley provided excellent cover and concealment for the BLUE scouts. On the other hand, we in the defense (OPFOR) would see the attack coming all the way, day or night, and they would be out in the open vulnerable to our artillery for 9 kilometers before they could get into direct fire range against us. If they couldn’t shorten the engagement area, they’d get hammered by our artillery.
We finished preparing our defense late in the evening after having sent out our Listening Posts/ Observation Posts (LP/Ops). We were probed during the night, but not seriously although we had to assume the enemy had eyes on us. About an hour or so after sunrise, a thick smoke blanket began to build up around 909 South. It obscured the hill and the southern wall of the valley leaving the northern two thirds of the valley uncovered. The smoke was around 10 kilometers away, just on ‘our side’ of the 909′s. It was a great blanket, but I really didn’t know why the enemy was laying it down when and where they did.
As the smoke cloud expanded, a few of the VIP observers strolled over to my position. I was in a foxhole on the military crest of the hill where I could see the engagement area clearly and could call in the artillery. The ranking VIP asked me what I thought of the impressive smoke blanket and what effect it was having on our defense. I told them that I thought the smoke was in the south because they were working their way through the foothills to the north. I also figured that even if they were behind the smoke they would skyline themselves as soon as they headed east towards us. My guests were visibly disappointed—either my estimate was off or I had ‘read’ the enemy’s plan. It turned out to be the latter. The enemy kicked up quite a dust cloud as they shifted from their hide positions in the south towards their attack positions in the north. When they committed to the attack they popped out in the open desert without any smoke concealing their movements. They were easy to target and track so I laid the artillery fire on and walked along with them all the way towards our position. They zigzagged as best they could only to run head on into our obstacles. At the breach, where they really needed their smoke, they didn’t have any and we added direct fire to the pounding. Their smoke not only failed them, it helped us.
WHAT CAN SMOKE DO FOR THE DEFENDER?
There are dozens of ways that the defender can utilize smoke to his advantage. Let’s address some of the key applications below:
WHAT DOES SMOKE DO TO THE DEFENDER?
The same smoke you employ to affect the attacker will undoubtedly have some impact on you, the defender. This could include the following:
Smoke can certainly impact the defender’s ability to see these points on the ground.
In last month’s article, we provided numerous areas that must be addressed in the planning of smoke in the offense. These areas were a mix of both art and science. Many of these same basic areas are addressed in defensive smoke planning. These include:
Defensive smoke preparation usually has two advantages over offensive smoke preparation. First, in general (not always the case) you will have more preparation time in the construction of the defense than in preparing for the attack. Second, your defensive prep is usually done in the location of execution, whereas, this is not feasible in offensive preparation. These two advantages certainly assist in preparing the unit for smoke emplacement. Below we will highlight some of the key actions you need to complete during prep time.
It is not surprising that things will not ultimately go as you planned. Because of this, units must be extremely flexible during the execution of smoke emplacement. This flexibility is tied to the following:
Smoke in the defense can be a huge asset for the defender. It can truly shape the battlefield for the defender and give the attacker fits. There are many challenges to utilizing smoke effectively in the defense. A good unit can meet these challenges by conducting quality planning, taking advantage of available preparation time, and being flexible during the execution phase. If these challenges are not met, then the Commander is wasting a valuable asset. It is also highly likely that your enemy is the one taking advantage of your smoke.
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