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Fundamentals of SUT: A Conceptual Approach to React-To-Contact

September 18, 2012

Regular readers of the blog will recognize that I am a very vocal advocate of learning, understanding, and mastering the fundamental battle drills of the Ranger Handbook and FM7-8, as well as aggressively closing with and destroying the enemy, whomever and wherever he is. Some readers have even gone so far as deriding this view as “too conventional.” From day one of the old site however, I’ve shared with the readership that unconventional warfare is nothing more than conventional small-unit tactics executed by irregular forces in unconventional environments.

That having been said, the point of mastering the doctrinal, by-the-book battle drills is because, while the fundamental battle drills ARE effective, they are the lowest common denominator response to common situations that arise in tactical situations. This allows them to be easily taught to new recruits to the guerrilla force element, and once they are mastered, the irregular force, small-unit element possesses not only the ability modify them in accordance with METT-TC considerations of the immediate situation, but also possesses a fall-back “fail-safe” when shit goes to hell in a hand basket.

Arguably the single most critical battle drill to master is the basic React-to-Contact drill (I certainly teach it as such–J.M.). While some would argue that others, such as React-to-Ambush are equally, or even more, critical, my argument, which is vindicated both by my real-world experience, as well as evidenced in training, is that the concepts embodied in the React-to-Contact drill are universal to successful close-combat encounter survival.

For U.S. trained and influenced infantry forces, taking advantage and exploiting situations of enemy contact, whether deliberate or chance, the default response is boiled down to the basic battle drill. The importance of momentum to the key concepts of speed, surprise, and violence of action outweighs all other aspects of developing the situation. While there is certainly some merit to this, the drawback is that people end up convinced that the ONLY way to handle EVERY chance encounter is the default battle drill, executed “by-the-book.” This is foolhardy however, since every situation is different, even just from a METT-TC standpoint.

The reality is, while the basic battle drill works remarkably well in the event the enemy sees the small-unit element first, in the reciprocal, giving up the element of surprise by engaging with your weapon as soon as you see the enemy may not be the most valuable answer. Instead, the individual who sees the enemy first (stealth is survival!), should have the authority and the confidence to assess the situation and instantly suggest a different course of action to the element leader. Simply stopping, while remaining concealed from enemy observation, long enough for the patrol leader to rapidly observe and assess the situation, then decide on a prudent course of action will not necessarily rob the element of the advantages of momentum, but it may allow him to multiply the effects of speed, surprise, and violence-of-action, by hitting the enemy first from somewhere he is not expecting it.

The patrol member who initially sees the enemy has basically two options, realistically. One, he can simply start shooting, and if the enemy has seen him simultaneously, or is maneuvering to envelop the patrol, this is obviously the proper course-of-action, setting the basic doctrinal battle drill in action. Second, he can stop moving, signal to the rest of the patrol, and surreptitiously move to a position of cover and/or concealment. By doing so, he has assessed that the situation may be ripe for more thorough development, and this is a de facto signal for the patrol leader to begin his assessment and decision-making process.

In either case, the patrol leader should move to the center of the front of the patrol, from where he has the best vantage point of the enemy position, as well as the greatest ability to control the patrol’s response to the contact. The patrol leader may still decide that the basic battle drill response is warranted, or he may decide that it is more prudent to develop the situation by trying to allow his sub-elements to maneuver closer, and/or to more advantageous positions to destroy the enemy with fires. Alternatively, he may determine that the only prudent course-of-action is to pull his element back and either maneuver around/away from the enemy, or to re-develop the situation from another angle of attack. By not instantly defaulting to the “shoot first, shoot now” mindset of the basic battle drill however, he leaves an opening to develop the situation in his favor.

On Aggressiveness and Audacity

“You go get ’em! In the end, you’ll save lives. There are times when you’ll have to flank, but don’t forget that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” –Chesty Puller

While stalking closer to the enemy, using stealth as a weapon seems to go against the natural aggressive nature of American culture, our military traditions were originally founded on such skills, developed by elements such as Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian Wars. On the other hand, conventional doctrine tells us we need a 3:1 numerical advantage to successfully dislodge or destroy an enemy defending force, despite this having been proven demonstrably false by irregular elements throughout modern history by special operations forces. The advantage of size in a fight certainly must be considered, but in reality, this advantage has more to do with tactical expertise and the exploitation of terrain than any other factor.

Terrain is everything. Terrain is everything! (Say it again, kids!) A unit must use terrain, even micro-terrain to mask its movements from numerically or technologically superior foes. Neither NODs nor IR can see through earth. Masking flanking movements, or even direct advances with terrain can allow a smaller element to get close enough to the weak, unguarded spots in an enemy position to multiply the effects of its strength to counter the drawbacks of its small size. The element that runs out of terrain suitable for cover will have two viable options. One, the element can simply increase it’s pace of forward movement, basically “charging” the enemy across the open. While this CAN be done successfully, assuming adequate suppressive fire from supporting elements, for the irregular force element, limited to small-arms, the ability to apply this level of suppressive fire will generally not be available or even possible. The more sensible alternative is for that element to stop it’s forward movement, either maintaining the momentum of the attack through direct fires, or they may be able to slip back and redirect the attack axis along a different terrain feature that provides adequate cover for the element to maneuver closer. Of course, in order for this to work, another portion of the element, or a sister element will have to provide fires or maneuver on the enemy position in order to maintain the momentum as the first element backs away and redirects their movement.


A couple of notes:

1) I KNOW someone is thinking that this is a misuse of personnel, and that the “sniper” role would be more effective in this case. While the SDM/urban sniper/precision rifleman certainly has his place, and the abilities of such are critical, this is not that place. The real role of the SDM for the irregular force is more appropriate defined in the same way they were utilized by the IRA, for deliberate assassination attacks, while still utilizing small-unit attacks, in both urban and rural environments, to close with and destroy security force elements.

2) Suppressive fire is NOT simply sticking your rifle up from your position of cover and blindly pulling the trigger, like some Hajji fuck with the attitude of “Inshallah, if Allah wills it, my bullets will kill the evil infidel!” Rather, the proper use of semi-automatic (or automatic fire, for that matter) for suppressive fire is to place one or two rounds into clearly identified positions of known, suspected, or likely enemy positions of enemy cover. Suspected or likely positions of enemy cover however, should only be fired upon after known enemy positions are addressed. Known positions of enemy concealment will not generally be recognized as such by seeing an enemy shooter there, but rather because you caught a glimpse of movement there and/or you’ve identified muzzle flashes.

3) You are never going to get a “clean, clear” shot at enemy personnel in a gunfight. At the very least, even in a close-quarters fight, the bad guy is going to be moving fast as fuck. At any distance, even as close as 50 meters, the best you’re going to get is a quick glimpse of a furtively moving humanoid shape, or even just part of a shape. The same applies to “spotting” the enemy before he sees you. Experienced hunters will tell you that you seldom, if ever, see the whole deer or elk. Rather, it will be a flash of movement that will draw the eye, or the recognition of some color that seems slightly out-of-place, such as the white of the belly or the lighter faun-tan color of the deer in relation to the surrounding vegetation. These are things that can only be learned from experience, but are demonstrative of the importance of actual field-training in stalking and patrolling exercises, versus simple square-range drills.


Nous Defions!

John Mosby

Somewhere in the mountains


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  1. Hognutz permalink

    Sir, I am glad you are on Freedom’s side!

    I can attest to #3 being the truth. I look for movement, and also the deer looks for movement too. A lot of times you can have one looking straight at you and if you move at a snails pace, so movement is imperceptable you can get away with it.


  2. is that the concepts embodied in the React-to-Contact drill are universal to successful close-combat encounter survival.

    Yes. Thanks you for this.

    I’m unpacking my stuff from moving and I ran across my box containing my Ranger Handbook, 7-8, 17-98 (I was a 19D- this is the “Scout’s Bible”), and some other misc. FMs. I’ll be reviewing them.

    Thanks for this!


  3. Grenadier1 permalink

    Is there not a means of distiling these various responses down into a single process?
    I thought about this the other day and please excuse my ignorance, is there not a fine line between “contact” and “ambush”? In other words what constitutes an ambush is that the bad guys start shooting at you first and thus response “A”. If you see them first response “B”.
    Maybe I am thinking it more complex than it is.

  4. Grenadier1, You are absolutely correct. Unfortunately, until someone explains it properly, most people, including experienced infantry NCOs, don’t pick up on that, in my experience.

    • Grenadier1 permalink

      Well i like the route yo are taking here so I will follow the conversation closely.

  5. brocktownsend permalink

    is there not a fine line between “contact” and “ambush”?

    Your comment prompted a re-post.

    “142 went out, 64 were killed and almost all the rest were wounded”

  6. Gospel brother.

  7. brocktownsend permalink

    is there not a fine line between “contact” and “ambush”?

    Reminded me of a video to re-post.
    “142 went out, 64 were killed and almost all the rest were wounded”

  8. robroysimmons permalink

    If I over step the bounds please tell me, the closest I have come to incoming fire was the 500meter line in the butts at the rifle range (USMC), but after reading about one billion words written on battle I think I can discern some patterns. While you gentlemen are discussing “hammer and anvil” battle tactics in idealized terms and projecting upon the participants what needs to be in an idealized state of mind, lets be honest. Most of patrolling as ordered is stumble around, draw fire, call in supporting fire and maybe just maybe some maneuver to the flank. JM had some thread castigating the patrol from a 101st unit that drew some Haji fire for their lack of initiative. Well the video was long gone before I watched it, but from what I gather the Haj was a klick away blasting caps off at a patrol sent out, and lets admit it as bait, those young men knew it and IMO did not waste their efforts when a supporting fire asset is better used. As ex-arty I would rather have gotten a call, “Haj in the rocks grid ******** FFE Ti, over” than send those worn out kids up a hill with their battle loads.

    • robroysimmons permalink

      To try and actually make my point, discussions seem to fall back to the default American position of being the counter insurgency. I’m pretty sure this time we have to be the indians.

      • blair permalink

        Agreed! Any CONUS combat at this stage needs to be planned as a “party event”. Sudden, Swift, Violent & Gone.

  9. Thank you for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and
    I will be waiting for your next post thank you once again.

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  1. Mosby: A Conceptual Approach To React-To-Contact | Western Rifle Shooters Association
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