Army Platoon Tactical Basics: Ambush

Army Platoon Tactical Basics: Ambush

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Infantry Platoon Ambush - Basic Tactics


How to Plan an Ambush: A lot is expected from the basic US Army Infantry Platoon, as it rightly should be. Arguably one of the most capable organizations on the planet, our Infantry Platoons have several tactical basics they must master. The three most basic and important are the Raid, Ambush, and Defense. One of the most basic and important is the Ambush.

The Ambush has three different doctrinal classifications (ambush categories, ambush formations, and ambush types), a unique task organization, and phases that are important to understand while planning an ambush. 

If you came to read about all the boring doctrine, you may want to scroll on down! While doctrine is certainly important, and we will cover it further down, chances are you came here to see how to put a basic ambush together, and we will show you just that!

The first thing we need to do for an ambush is to pick an appropriate piece of terrain. There are many considerations to take into account, generally, you want some high ground to fight from and a good existing natural obstacle to help keep the enemy in the kill zone. This looks like the perfect spot!

good platoon ambush terrain

Fig. 1 Good Terrain for a Platoon Ambush

Next, we need to determine what tactical tasks our platoon needs to conduct to successfully execute this ambush. Generally, an ambush consists of a few the following tactical tasks: destroy, support by fire (SBF), isolate, attack by fire (ABF), fix, suppress, block.

One of your tasks will always come from your mission statement, but the others are up to the platoon leadership to determine. Just keep in mind that doctrinally a platoon needs an Assault, Support, and Security element. 

For this particular ambush, we will choose the tasks of destroy, SBF, and Isolate. This should be enough to achieve the platoon's purpose. But now where do we put them? 

 ambush tactical tasks

Fig. 2 Ambush Tactical Tasks, where do they go?

Doctrine doesn't specifically state in what order you should add your graphics to a COA Sketch, but I generally follow these steps: 1) Place enemy where you think they will be 2) Place Tactical Tasks on the sketch. 3) Place unit symbols in their assault positions. Though there are several other steps after this, especially when we are planning and depicting direct fire control measures (DFCM) and indirect-fires (IDF), those details will be saved for another article. 

So, lets put this plan together!

 platoon ambush task locations

Fig. 3 Placing Ambush Tactical Tasks


 Now, let's add everything else!

Platoon Ambush COA Sketch

Fig. 4 Platoon Ambush COA Sketch

 And we're done! Well, sort of...

There are actually a lot of important details missing from this sketch, such as maneuver and direct fire control measures, key weapons, leadership, DO and SO designations, but we will leave that all for another time. For now though, be confident, you can put together a basic ambush plan in just a matter of moments!

If you want to put together a complete plan, one that your commander or seasoned NCO will be proud of, you must realize we’re hand waving a lot of steps. You should always perform a thorough Mission Analysis (METT-TC) and Course of Action Development (COA DEV), which will be discussed at length in a different article. 

And now for you nerds out there, we will dive into the doctrinal foundations of an ambush that allow us to put together a plan like the one we walked through. 

 The first thing we need to understand is the task organization of an ambush. Generally, we always organize our platoon like this:

doctrinal platoon ambush task organization

Fig. 5 Doctrinal Platoon Ambush Task Organization, with Common Associated Tasks

 This is what helps us decide which squad is going to conduct which task in the ambush. Remember, this isn't set in stone, you can certainly switch up which squads complete which tasks.

Next, we have the ambush categories: Hasty Ambush and Deliberate Ambush. These are quite simple and don't have any cool graphics to go along with. The platoon (or squad) conducts a hasty ambush when it makes visual contact with an enemy force and has time to establish an ambush without being detected. The conduct of the hasty ambush should represent the execution of Disciplined Initiative within the parameters of the commander’s intent. The actions for a hasty ambush should be established in a unit SOP and rehearsed so Soldiers know what to do on the leader’s signal. 

When planning a deliberate ambush, the leader requires detailed information on the

  • Composition of the targeted enemy unit
  • Weapons and equipment available to the enemy
  • Enemy’s route and direction of movement
  • Times that the targeted enemy unit will reach or pass specified points along the route
Next are the Ambush Types, of which there are three of: Point Ambush, Area Ambush, and Anti-armor Ambush. The differences in these are quite simple. A point ambush consists of a single killzone. An area ambush consists of multiple related killzones, usually on multiple enemy formations. Doctrine states that a single platoon cannot conduct an area ambush, rather they are limited to a point ambush. The third type, anti-armor, is simply a point ambush, however, the Assault element in the task organization has the armor defeating weapons, such as AT-4s and Javelins (usually the weapons squad has these). 
the three Ambush Types
Fig. 6 Point and Area Ambushes
Next, we have what I personally believe to be the most important ambush doctrine (along with Task Org), the Ambush Formations: Linear, L-Shaped, and V-Shaped. 
The linear ambush is perfect for a good straight kill zone (think nice stretch of road), however, this formation necessitates better restricted terrain on the flanks of the kill zone. What you don't want is for the enemy to be able to jump off of the far side of the road and take cover in a ditch. Try to set up a linear ambush with a cliff, lake, swamp, etc. on the far side. There are a few cons to the linear ambush. The first problem with a linear ambush is that it takes a long time for the enemy to get completely in the kill zone. The lead enemy element has to pass by your entire patrol usually before you are ready to execute the ambush. This leads to an increased chance of compromise. Another problem with the linear ambush is it only provides flanking fires (bullets come from the enemy's side). This is fine for individual weapons, but your most casualty producing weapons, the M240B and M249SAW machine guns, are much more effective with enfilading fires (bullets from enemy's front). 
Linear Ambush Formation
 Fig. 7 Linear Ambush Formation
The L-Shaped Ambush is perfect for a short and long axis on a kill zone (think a bend in a road). This formation does not necessarily require a good existing obstacle on the backside of the kill zone, because your machine guns should be able to cover the dead space on the backside. The greatest strength of this formation is it allows your machine guns to achieve enfilading fires when you have them on the short axis (you should almost always place them on the short axis!). This will allow your most casualty producing weapons to wreak havoc! The L-Shaped Ambush also reduces the chance of compromise as compared with the Linear Ambush. The biggest problem with the L-Shaped Ambush is the increased likelihood of fratricide. Ensure you implement good DFCM while using the L-Shaped Ambush!
L-Shaped Ambush
Fig. 8 L-Shaped Ambush Formation
The final ambush formation is the V-Shaped Ambush. The V-Shaped Ambush is a unique formation and usually used only in specific circumstances. The V-Shaped Ambush is particularly suited for terrain with limited cover where you are worried about being compromised, as it allows the enemy to enter deep into the kill zone before they begin passing any of your formations (think a road with sparse tree cover). It is also particularly suited for blocking an avenue of approach as it provides enfilading and inter-locking fires, meaning the enemy would have to push straight through your fires to continue onward. The biggest setbacks of the V-Shaped Ambush are serious fratricide concerns, as well as the inability of the security element to be forward of the kill zone, where they usually provide early warning of the enemy approach.
V-Shaped Ambush
Fig. 9 V-Shaped Ambush Formation
The last part of doctrine for the ambush are the Ambush Phases. This is more important as you get into the process of Completing the Plan and Issuing the OPORD. The four phases of an ambush are: Planning, Infiltration, Actions On, and Exfiltration.
And that's it! Now you know how to put together a basic ambush and all of the doctrine behind the process. 
Want to master platoon level tactics? Get the Ranger Handbook on Audiobook on Audible right now! Master platoon tactics while you ruck, eat, or sleep.
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