You’ve got your column formed- the world has taken a turn for the worse, and the baddies are inbound for a raid. Fortunately, your team has the weapons they need and you agreed on a group standard with serviceable day optics and a combat load to go with it. Right on. Time to form up that L-shaped ambush on the route of march and let slip the dogs of war.
But the challenge is STANO: Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Night Observation. The equipment is expensive and often has a waiting list of several months. This is the reality for a lot of people out there and will be in the future. Not everyone will have the high-end equipment in a ‘come as you are’ conflict. Its just one of the multitude of challenges you’re going to have to face.
The point is that you’ve got to work with what you have, not what you wish you had. Better equipment may or may not materialize as time drags on. But for the moment, you’ve only got what you’ve got. Figure it out.
Fortunately, even though you may be at an inherent disadvantage at first glance, you’re not as bad off as you think. In the Scout Course I teach the students to adapt to the situation. Not having certain pieces of gear, including NODs (night operating devices) is just one of the issues. But that being said you still have to fight. The first thing I suggest is reading over Night Movements. It was the manual written by the Imperial Japanese Army for training their forces to fight at night, and it remains one of the finest references on combat ever written.
Keep your distances between troops close. At night, the intervals between troops should be shorter so that you don’t lose sight of anyone. Movement at night is never a race. Embrace the darkness and use it as cover.
Allow your eyes 45 minutes past nautical twilight to adjust to the ambient light. The rods and cones in our eyes lengthen and we see far more than we think we do. Keep your column away from any light sources if at all possible, and if you need light, make sure it is a red lens. This is the shortest wavelength of light and lessens the impact on your eyes.
When observing, scan the terrain based on the diagram above. This allows our eyes to pick up on the shape and silhouette of people not properly camoflaged for night movements. Its the same basic techniques that we use during the day, only allowing our eyes to account for the differences in light sources.
When moving, mitigate noise and light as much as possible. The same rules that apply during the day certainly do at night as well, but even more so. The conventional wisdom has always held that sound carries further at night. In my experience I don’t think that’s exactly true so much as people are more in tune to their other senses at night to compensate for the lack of depth perception and visual acuity during reduced periods of visibility. To mitigate this, have your guys jump up and down a couple of times with their combat load. Anything that shakes, rattles or rolls gets duck tape to quiet it down. Cinch down all your loose straps. Duck tape over anything that emits light, such as your radios. Light colors actually do much better at night masking your signature as well- dark colors reflect light. And having a top with a hood masks your head and shoulders outline.
Your weapon should be fitted with a flash hider, not a compensator. Compensators are great on the range for weapons control in competition, but not so much for fighting at night. Your muzzle flash should be reduced as much as possible- because without light, those muzzle flashes become easy targets and there’s nothing you can do about it at that point. The good ol’ A2 works just fine at mitigating flash out of the 14-16in AR barrels, and the Smith Enterprises Vortex is superb for the AR-15, AR-10, M-14, and AK platforms (I’ve personally used one on each of them over the years). There’s flash cans for the AK that virtually eliminate any muzzle flash as well and if you’re running the AK, its a must-have.
Training on these points will do much to get your team where they need to be at night. Tactically, if you’ve taken all of the other steps necessary for laying in a proper ambush, you’ve going to be mostly successful. Keep in mind that a technologically superior foe will almost always do two things: become over-reliant on that technology to the point of being self-defeating, and, struggle to properly implement it at the most basic levels. With night vision devices, this becomes fighting with your gear to properly account for the difference in depth perception, which in turn leads to the users making far more noise than they naturally would. H. John Poole noted this in his book The Tiger’s Way based on tests he conducted during his time at the USMC School of Infantry. If you’ve trained with them frequently enough, its no longer a problem. But if they haven’t, locating them is easy- its where the herd of elephants are.
When implementing NODs of your own, have one set on your point man at the beginning of the column. He’ll be able to better observe both the route of march and warn the column of potential danger. Keep in mind he needs to be switched on mentally, and also that he’ll quickly get burned out over long movements.
When laying in the ambush, the most critical position to place the NODs are on the outsides of the formation. These provide the near and far side security as well as have the broadest viewing ranges of the kill zone. If you only have one set, the last man in the column should have them to make sure your patrol wasn’t followed into the ambush line. If you have two sets, they go on the outsides. If you have three, the Patrol Leader will keep a set as well when he initiates contact, and the rest fill in as you have the equipment for it.
Even if you find yourself at a technological disadvantage, you can easily make up the difference through training on the basics. Hammer home the training and always remember the fifth principle of patrolling: common sense. Even for a lack of high tech, a guerrilla column may not find itself too far behind as long as their tactics are sound. And in some cases, like my second night ambush group in the last Scout Course, their perceived disadvantage actually became their strength.