Tactical Considerations for Lone Operators

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        This is a re-post, in line with my intent, stated yesterday, of bringing forward older blog posts that many may have missed. Interestingly, I have recently been making video and doing a bot of live fire on my own in my backwoods. The brings it home, because when doing that, i am unable to ‘fire and move” because I have no buddy. I have been considering another video, which is forming my mind, showing individual break contact. This becomes fire – move – fire – move which breaks with the principle of fire and movement. However, given the fact that many are simply operating on their own, as the protector of their families, it is something that cannot be ignored. We all want to be in tactical teams, but how many actually are? Here is that video:


        The genesis of the article is comments that I see on my blog posts and elsewhere from individuals who, to a certain extent, reject small unit tactics as a means for post-collapse survival and prefer to plan to operate as a ‘lone wolf.’ I see comments such as ‘I’ll be going hunting’ and criticism of small unit tactics on the basis of them being ‘for the military’.

        Ok, so let’s take that at face value and examine some tactical considerations for such an operator. Let’s envision a post-collapse scenario where a father is protecting his family at a hidden retreat. I am going to put this in the woods/country rather than urban, just to make the article shorter and because that is where most retreats are located, but many of the considerations will apply across tactical environments.
        Imagine that in your area there is an active paramilitary marauder gang who thus poses a clear and present threat to your retreat and family. They are conducting active operations in your area of operations (AO) and you therefore decide that the best approach for the tactical self-defense of your family is an active defense. Such an active defense will mean going out and disrupting the operations of this group in such a way that they will be deterred from operating in your area. Otherwise known as goin’ huntin’!
        Your primary concern is stealth and concealment. If you are going away from your retreat you need to consider how that retreat is defended in your absence, and what will happen if you do not come back. The best defense of that retreat will be avoidance by concealment. Perhaps if you do deter the gang from your area you are also defending your retreat by preventing the enemy from moving in your direction and discovering your family/stash.
        We are going to talk about a lone operator. Many of the disadvantages faced by a lone operator can be overcome by moving at a minimum in a pair, like a sniper team. But this is going to be a purist article, it is going to be about a ‘lone wolf’.
        Your main defense will be stealth of movement and concealment. You will suffer from being unable to establish security and when resting you will be unable to maintain a watch/sentry. If you are compromised and contacted by the enemy you will not be able to conduct fire and movement. You will be limited to fire-move-fire–move or simply getting behind a terrain feature providing cover and running out of there (or both).
        Such a situation is not unprecedented and I have heard anecdotal stories about operators, in places such as the southern African bush wars of past years, moving alone as scouts and simply crawling into a deep bit of brush/cover when needing to sleep. Be a light sleeper! So there are disadvantages but that does not mean you can’t make it work while taking some risks. The fact that you are a lone individual gives you advantages of stealth and concealment with a smaller signature. If you are only conducting short term operations then the need to rest up is reduced, but see below for reasons why you may need to work further afield from your retreat.
        Some of these techniques are summarized here for brevity but you can find more information on everything discussed here in ‘Contact! A Tactical manual for Post Collapse Survival’
        Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival
        Area of Operations: you need to consider that if the enemy is in any way switched on, and are keeping any sort of incident map, then if you simply operate close to your retreat they will build up a picture that may well lead them to your home and family. Thus you should be unpredictable and move further away or from unexpected directions in order to prosecute your attacks.
        Navigation: you will need to be able to accurately move by map and compass across rough back country terrain to get in and out of your objective. You will take separate routes in and out and use deception. Be aware of tracking and do not get tracked back, or followed, to your base location: see ‘When They Are Hunting You‘.
        Movement: You must use cover and concealment to move. You will have to move slowly, at a jungle patrol pace, in order to effectively scan ahead and around. Cover means using the ground (hard cover) to conceal you, such as moving in draws or behind terrain features. Concealment means using vegetation to hide you from any observers. You will need to plan a route accordingly, also avoiding any settlements where there is an increased risk of compromise and where dogs will bark at you.
        However, do not move on obvious features or along trails and tracks. You can handrail (parallel) them at a distance if you need to or if you need to use them for navigation. It is often best to ‘cross-grain’ the terrain thus making your moves hard to predict. Valley bottoms and trails/streams are good places for you to walk into an ambush. Use techniques for avoiding ambush such as hand railing and moving partway up a valley side (contouring), thus giving you the benefits of cover and concealment but avoiding natural ambush sites and places where others will travel.
        You must be very careful at any kind of obstacle, vulnerable point, channelling feature or linear danger area. Examples of a channelling vulnerable point include crossing a bridge or moving through a track or trail junction. A linear danger area is any kind of open feature that you have to cross such as a road, river or trail, even a power line through the woods. You must be very careful to observe in detail prior to crossing and find a point where the crossing is best concealed, such as in a depression or even by crawling through a culvert, for example.
        As you move, you need to stop regularly for listening and observation breaks. Scan and listen. Do this before moving through the next natural part of the terrain, cross it then stop again. A real game changer would be having a portable FLIR thermal imager (such as the FLIR Scout), with which you can scan around and into the brush to spot anyone concealed.
        You have to decide whether to move by day or night. The balance of your and the enemies capabilities will determine this. Do you have night vision or FLIR? Does the enemy? You can move very well in the woods at night without any technology, but if the enemy has night vision capability you may be just as well moving during the day by concealed routes where at least they don’t have the night vision advantage over you and you can see better to observe. This also goes to the times you will be able to target the enemy. If you don’t have a night vision or optic capability for your weapon system, you may be restricted to daylight shots. Of course, if the enemy is illuminated, perhaps in a compound or similar, then you can take a shot from out in the darkness no problem. You need to know all this, which is why “Time spent in recce is seldom wasted.”
        If you do invest in any night vision, you need to give thought to how it is rigged and used. A night sight on a rifle will allow you to take shots but will be limited for movement use and general observation, without bringing the rifle into the shoulder to observe. Using night vision goggles/monocle will allow you to see as you walk but will not transfer directly to your weapon sight. That is why the military use IR laser pointers on the rifle zeroed to the rifle, so you just point the laser and view through the night vision goggle and place it on the target. All this says that before you spend money on expensive equipment for night ops you need to give some thought as to the gear you will buy and how it will be set up. See ‘ Considerations for Night Operations‘ for more information.
        Consider the use by the enemy of FLIR both from ground and airborne systems. Use terrain and vegetation cover as well as frequent observation and listening stops to counter this. Have a ‘thermal poncho’ rigged up so you can get under it, providing camouflage from both naked eye observation and also FLIR TI. You will need to be able to camouflage your heat signature.
        As well as being covered in ‘Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival’ the subject of aerial thermal/FLIR observation and targeting is covered extensively as part of the story line of Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises’ – my educational tactical novel.
        Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises
        Getting into position: ideally the place you will take your shot from will have a covered approach into which you can bug out afterwards or if compromised. An example would be coming up behind a ridge or along a ditch. You may have to be prepared to conduct a ‘stalk’ such as a sniper does by low crawling at the pace of a snail through cover and concealment. You have to give thought as to how you will get out once the place goes hot.
        The concepts of enfilade and defilade will go a long way to help you. Enfilade is a side shot, from the flank. It is preferably taken from a defilade position. Defilade basically means being behind a terrain feature (even a small one) where you cannot be observed by the enemy until they are in your target area. Imagine that the enemy is using a track. You get into position to overwatch the track from a small draw running down to the track which provides cover to each side (correctly, defilade just needs to be to one side, the direction the enemy is coming from). This means that you have reduced your sectors of observation of the track, but you are protected from observation and fire from any enemy not directly in front of you on the track that faces your draw.
        When the enemy moves along the track and into your sector of fire, you take an enfilade shot and then bug out back along the draw. Because you are alone, the lack or observation and early warning may be a problem but you could have two positions: initially be on the side of the draw observing over the lip and then move down and into position once you see the enemy coming.
        When in position be aware of your thermal signature and the need for general concealment. See ‘thermal poncho’ or use a ghillie suit which will hide your thermal signature very well due to the thickness, just don’t try and move very far in it. Simply getting behind solid cover will block your heat signature, but beware of your head peering over the lip.
        Logistics: you will need to consider the need to sustain yourself while you are out. This will mean rations and water. You will need to carry a patrol pack but keep it light as possible and consider caching it short of your firing point. You obviously can’t use white light or anything less than shielded pin prick flashlight while you are out and you can’t have a fire to cook or heat water. Consider what rations you will carry, for energy only. If you are out for a time and you do cook on a camp stove or similar, then you will need to pick a position for that, conceal your spoor, and then move on before considering stopping to rest or stay the night.
        That reminds me that anytime you stop you should observe you back trail for a time to pick up if you are being followed. With a bigger force that may be in the form of a hasty ambush but in the case of one man you will want to just observe and slip away in a different direction.
        Anything you do out there that creates any visual sign or smell could compromise you. You don’t want to smoke, spit gum, clean your teeth, use deodorant or anything that is a non-natural smell. You will need to be careful of any sign you leave, such as clearing leaves/brush to sleep. Carry out anything you defecate in a zip-lock bag along with any paper you use. Urinate somewhere that it will not leave an obvious stain. Clearly don’t leave trash.
        Administration: you will need to wear and carry the right gear for the environment, whether that is snow covered hills or hot Louisiana swamp. Think about suitable clothing for the environment. A dry set of clothing and a change of socks: this applies to both cold and jungle environments. You won’t be doing anything elaborate for a camp, you will be on ‘dirty patrol’ and ‘travel light, freeze at night.’ If you do sleep it will be after crawling into a deep bit of brush. Carry some light sleeping gear, your thermal poncho and perhaps a thermally insulated  ground mat.
        You will need sufficient food and water. How will you resupply water? From a creek? Then use puri-tabs to purify it in your canteen. You will need sufficient batteries for whatever equipment you have with you, such as night vision etc.
        Wear appropriate camouflage: white sheeting in the snow, face cam cream for in the woods, hunting or military camo clothing are examples. Be aware of your equipment and tape it down or pack it away to prevent rattle and shine. Wear your gear squared away so it is not hanging off you and put retaining lanyards on anything you get in and out of your pockets such as compass etc. Give thought to how you gear up, with an essential survival  load in pockets, then any kind of tactical vest, then your patrol pack, so if you have to dump any of it you will first have your tactical vest and then at a minimum some survival gear on your person.
        One of the arguments people bring up with the stealth thing is that it allows you to do away with any form of body armor or plate carrier and also reduce the amount of ammunition you are carrying. It depends on your mission, and your personal load is just that, it’s a personal thing. Just consider that with a plate carrier it may save you if you walk into a contact or things go pear shaped for any reason. It also provides a good base for carrying magazine pouches, and you can never have enough ammo if things go wrong! But yes, balance gear against weight and the need for stealth and to get in and out of your shoot position: stripping down and leaving stuff in a cache behind the objective is one way around this, best of both worlds. That ties in with a basic load on your person in case you are pushed away from the cache.
        Consider Camouflage & Concealment, Why things are seen:
        Shape: conceal the shape of any obvious equipment you are wearing or carrying. Use of burlap and ‘micro-ghille’ to break up shape, such as a head net over a boonie cap, helmet camouflage, burlap on your rifle etc.  Consider the use of a full ghillie suit but it may not be necessary or practical for movement – you may have top carry it for donning for the final stalk.
        Shine: cover and eliminate any shine of equipment. Use camouflage paint on your face and hands to both cover the color but also the sheen/shine of sweat. Cover binoculars with scrim (or pantyhose) to stop the shine/glint of the optic. Same for rifle optics.
        Shadow: use shadow for additional concealment, rather then being out in the sun. Be aware that the shadows will move with the sun. Also, make sure you are not casting a shadow out from cover, such as being hidden knelt along a fence line but casting a shadow out into the field.
        Surface: again, use of material such as burlap and krylon paint to disguise unnatural surface appearance.
        Spacing: not so important as a lone operator – avoid exact spacing, this is unnatural and will draw the eye.
        Silhouette: this is very important at night (and during the day) when ‘cresting’ a ridge or rise. You being silhouetted depends on the position of the observer, it is not just if you cross a ridge. Anywhere where the sky is behind you will silhouette you. To avoid this, either crawl over such obstacles, or make sure you have background, such as another ridge, or vegetation. Move using concealment where possible. Also, if taking a shot, make surte there is background to your head/shoulders, or your silhouette will stand out against the sky.
        Movement: will draw the eye. Either be on the other side of a terrain feature, in concealment, or move slowly. In a stalk, take risks early, make the bigger  moves early, talking extra care when closer in to the objective.
        Aircraft (plus drones): be aware of the different way things are seen from above for m aerial observation. Also, avoid looking up at passing aircraft, your upturned face will be obvious.
        Thermal: related to aerial surveillance but also applies  to ground surveillance. The best way to avoid thermal detection is to use terrain, vegetation and weather masking. See ‘Countering Aerial Thermal Surveillance‘ and the various follow up posts. If you suspect thermal surveillance, create a counter-thermal camouflaged ‘ghillie tarp’ to get underneath. A thick ghillie suit will also go a long way to covering up thermal signature.
        Noise: consider the use of a suppressor to disguise your sound signature when you fire.
        Muzzle flash: a problem at night.
        Dust: dust kicked up from firing your rifle. It depends on the ground you are working on. If it s problem, consider putting down some water below your muzzle to keep the dust down.
        Avoid obvious cover. Check out this video for why:

        One a more serious note, check out THIS POST and video:

        When carrying out the mission, be aware how the scene will change once you have put one of the enemy down, and the need for you to escape from the firing point. Think putting a stick in a hornets nest! You also need to know what means they have for QRF to follow up and detect you. That is one of the areas where counter-thermal comes in. You need a covered route out of the firing point and a rapid move back to pick up any cached gear before following a covered route out of the objective area. Then take a different route back. You need to rapidly evacuate the contact area before falling back into a more steady patrol pace and awareness of your surroundings. Consider the need to set up hasty ambush or booby traps on your back trail and also not going directly back home, in case you lead the bad guys there.
        You need to have discussed with your home base what they will do if you are wounded captured or killed. They may never know, you simply may not return. Depending on the proximity of the AO to your base and how well that retreat is hidden they may feasibly stay in palace. Alternately, you may set time limits after which they will bug out via a series of emergency RVs, staying a certain time at each one. It may be that you simply stumble back into your house wounded. Or you may be dead in the woods or strung up from a lamp post. What then?
        Clearly if you are going to engage in such operations you need to steel yourself for the implications. It’s not a game. Big boys rule apply. To take the step to move from a defense in place of your retreat to an active act of going out to target the bad guys will be based on an assessment of the threat and the best way to counter it. You would not take such a move lightly, but the conduct of this notional paramilitary marauder gang will determine the best response for tactical self-defense.
        Note I have not even covered the need to be able to actually hit the enemy with a shot from an effective weapon system! It just seemed too obvious to state, but it does need to be stated. Your rifle needs to be zeroed and effective at the range you intend to use it against the intended targets. You may carry two rifles, a hunting rifle slung on your pack and an AR-15 style for while you are patrolling and for closer range self-defense. Think about how best to do that. Train and have the competence to take the shot. and score a hit.
        Here is A LINK TO A POST with two vintage sniper training videos. HERE
        I have not covered everything, but that’s a good introduction.
        Live Hard.
        Die Free.
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