Defense: Farm and Ranch Concealment Theory 101

In the last entry we examined developing cover in and around our immediate area of operations (which as usual is our ranch or farm).  Referring back you’ll remember cover is the first part of the C in OCOKA (Observation and fields of fire, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles, Key terrain, Avenues of Approach).  In this entry we’re going to tackle that second part of the C which is concealment.  This topic has been beaten to death in hundreds of manuals, websites, and blogs so I’m not going into a lot of weeds with this one but I’ll frame it more of as what we can do that I haven’t seen addressed for our purpose.  What is concealment?  Concealment are measures you take to avoid detection, observation, and targeting by the threat.  That detection may include not only visual means by either daylight or darkness (night vision), acoustic means (through noise), but also electronic means as well i.e. radio traffic interception.  Our efforts in this entry will primarily address countering those three techniques however we’ll touch on some others as well.  During this entry I want you to keep one thing in mind – you need to examine your efforts from the threats perspective and what you think its capabilities are.  Looking out isn’t going to give you as clear a picture of your efforts as looking in.

From an observers standpoint concealment typically means camouflage (camo) or hiding.  Camo exists in nature all around you.  Not only do most animals blend with their environment but instinctively they also avoid areas they will tend to be highlighted in.  Militarily camo has been in use for well over a hundred years.  It has been used not only at the lowest level (the individual troop) but on vehicles and  facilities as well.

For our purposes concealment is going to take two basic forms.  Those forms are mimicry (looking like something else) and blending (looking like the surrounding area).  Additionally we are going to examine  signature reduction measures to reduce the appearance of heavy use of the farm or ranch.  Now if you intend to continue to operate your place then I’ll be up front with you – it’s going to be virtually impossible to reduce your footprint to zero.  But you can take some measures to reduce it significantly.

First up is mimicry.  Mimicry simply defined is the characteristic of looking like something else.  As an example during preparations for the D Day invasion the allied underwater cross channel pump houses were disguised as stores including such innocuous establishments as an Ice Cream Store (a place with little to no military value).  Objects concealed through mimicry are not not actually concealed from complete view but rather their purpose or value is concealed with the intent of making them seem of little to no worth to a threat.  What we have to do is not so much reduce the apparent military value but reduce the overall value of whatever we’re going to conceal through mimicry.  To effectively accomplish this we’re going to have to look at what the threat might hold of value.  In a post SHTF scenario we can probably take it as a given that anything that contributes to survival is going to be of value.  Also included would be any apparent defensive measures that we can make look like something else.  That could include obstacles and even positions.  Some examples: If I wanted to build an improved position at the rear of the barn and I wanted good frontal cover I could take a bunch of tires and fill them with sand or dirt and stack them in front of the position.  From a distance it’s probably going to appear as nothing more than a stack of tires.  Remember in an earlier entry I wrote about spoofing the threat by giving them too much to look at?  Using that same concept if we add a few sheets of plywood painted to look like windows and doors to one of our outbuildings we might make it look like another dwelling.  That additional “house” might just give the threat the idea that more folks live at that location thereby assuming it’s more heavily defended.  Or possibly even shooting it with a paintjob to give the appearance that it has suffered through a fire.  Another example could be jacking up a tractor and removing one of the wheels and lifting the hood when we’re not using it giving it the appearance of being broken down.  Parking it in tall grass can amplify that effect.  If it appears to be missing parts and not touched it’s less likely to be considered as immediately usable.  The key concept here is mimicry is making something of value look like it’s nothing of value.  Use your imagination and think and observe from the threats perspective.

Mimicry also has another use.  If I take something of little to no worth and make it look like it’s valuable then it’s going to draw attention and interest a lot faster than something that doesn’t appear to be of any worth.  That can definitely be used to our advantage.  How so?  Think about this:  If I get a few dozen GI sandbags and fill them with something that provides little to no protective value (leaves, old insulation, styrofoam anyone?) and create a position using them in the middle of one of my open areas and stick an old shovel or pick in the ground next to it the threat is going to look at that and think they’ll have a covered position to bound to in an assault.  Mr. threat sprints across an open area to get there and suddenly finds our fires pounding the heck out of that position shooting through it pretty handily.  Cover it definitely ain’t.  I like to refer to measures like that as “honeypots” but they fall more into the realm of decoys (more on that below).

Next up is the concept of blending.  When we think military camouflage that’s blending – making an object look like its surroundings.  I won’t get into a troop level class on camouflaging yourself and your individual equipment in this entry as there’s probably the best primer available linked at the bottom of this entry.  It goes without saying that using individual camo measures is sound.  And I urge you to study them but at the same time use some prudent judgment when using them.  Driving the tractor around the back 40 wearing a ghillie suit is probably a bit dangerous.  But take that same ghillie suit wrap it up in a bail out bag along with your rifle and if you get caught on the back 40 on the old Kubota snatch it as you go to ground and you’ve got something to work with.  More on bail out bags in a later entry.

The blending measures I’m looking at are more along the lines of reducing objects visibility.  Take for instance a well house (also called a pump house).  A well house has some value in that it’s a source of water.  Given that we probably aren’t going to knock it down.  But I want to hide or obscure it.  So with some careful planning a little green and brown paint and some thick bushes planted around it along with some creeping vines it’s distant visibility will be reduced significantly as it blends with the vegetation around it.

By breaking up the shape of an object you can also reduce it’s visibility.  The human eye is naturally attracted to recognizable geometric shapes.  And there are few if any objects in nature that are straight lines or boxes.   So rather than taking that camo net and throwing it on the roof a better use of it might be covering our tractor with it.  Supported in a couple of places to break up the tractor shape (outline) and from a distance it’ll be quite a bit harder to determine what’s there.  That’s not to say breaking up the outline of the roof isn’t worthwhile, but you have to look at it from the threats perspective and what you perceive to be its capabilities.

One thing you will definitely want to address is covering any reflective surfaces.  It doesn’t do a whole lot of good to cover that jeep parked between a couple of haybales if the windshield or headlights are reflecting the sun.  Likewise if your house is sited on place with a woodline and it’s not so discernible from a distance those windows may reflect the sun and give away it’s location.  Bright reflective colors will give away your location as well.  That shiny blue Mahindra will stand out quite well against a treeline so maybe a couple of cans of krylon flat in an earth tone might be in order. The steps to reduce the visibility of an object is referred to as “toning down” the object.

Another area to look into blending is hiding our defensive measures.  If I want those hasty positions to be less visible then maybe letting the grass grow a bit around and in them isn’t such a bad idea.  Same thing with any tanglefoot (tanglefoot is a wire matrix run just above the ground designed to impede foot movement – more on that in obstacles).  Let the grass grow up over the tanglefoot a bit and it will almost disappear.  And woe is the dirtbag that think he’s going to sprint across an area with tanglefoot emplaced especially if it’s not readily visible.  The same thing goes for razor wire aka concertina.  If you manage to get your hands on some concertina wire probably the most effective application is allowing thorny bushes to grow up around it.  Years ago during a training exercise we were ambushed and one of my squad mates dove into what he thought was a small bushy thicket while trying to break contact.  Turns out it was a giant jumble of concertina wire that had been left and grown up with vines.   You  couldn’t see the concertina until you were inches away from it – it literally blended that well.  At any rate it was pretty damn painful and took him out of the fight almost instantly.

It’s probably not going to be realistic or feasible to blend or camo your entire house and all of your outbuildings especially if you’ve removed a lot of the trees.  Even if you go out and spend tons of money on nets and support systems chances are it’s going to look like a house with nets over it.  A rule of thumb when using camo nets is that the larger or taller an object or structure is the harder it will be to camo and the more it will look like something covered with camo nets thereby drawing attention.  IMHO your money is better spent elsewhere.   As far as camoing roofs IMHO it’s kind of futile.  Modern sensors like synthetic aperture radar don’t rely on sight and pick up structures clear as day.  But if the threat is using visual means like commercially available UAVs to detect structures then it may be worth the effort.  On that note if you decide to go with improved fighting positions inside of a woodline or thicket camoing that position with some natural vegetation added is a very prudent measure.  If you establish caches then you’ve absolutely got to conceal them.

Signature reduction is going to be one of the most effective measures we implement but probably also the hardest.  Why?  Simply because it takes a conscious effort in every activity to be effective.  Signature reduction is the measures taken to reduce our “footprint” or detectable signs of activity.  Think for a second about what cues predators use while hunting in nature.  Sight, sound, smell, spoor (tracks and droppings), and movement.  The threat is going to use the same things to acquire you.  So we have to develop and implement measures to reduce as much as possible those signs of activity.

Reducing the visible (sight) aspect will be challenging especially if you try and maintain working your farm or ranch.  Simple things like parking vehicles inside of garages or shops or hiding the tractor in the barn when not in use, avoiding hanging clothes on clotheslines (set ’em up in the shop or barn instead),  avoiding burning fireplaces and stoves during still winds in daylight (and make sure you have a diffuser  as it helps thin the smoke out), and implementing basic light discipline at night.  Avoiding things like using white lights and having blackout covers over windows during darkness goes a long way.  Here’s an interesting tidbit:  Generation one night vision (the cheapest and most available) generally amplifies available light up to a thousand times (1000X).  That means something as seemingly innocent as smoking a cigarette can be easily seen a few hundred yards away.  Even without night vision the light from a cigarette is still visible for a hundred yards with no cover.  Key concept:  No lights at night unless you absolutely have to have it.  And then if it’s necessary keep it covered.  Red, blue, and green lenses on flashlights are better than white but still visible from a good distance.  If you have to work on equipment during hours of darkness try to do so indoors and cut the lights before you open a door to enter or exit.  What about cattle?  You could do things like avoiding grazing them in outlying areas or allowing them to overgraze an area that’s near a trafficked route (like a paved road).  One critical area here is trash and litter discipline.  What are you going to do with your trash?  Burn it? Bury it?  Whatever you do make sure you keep control of it and dispose of it while taking into consideration the visibility of the effort not only in sight (smoke) but by smell as well.  Remember we’re trying to reduce our visible presence to as near zero as feasible.

Noise reduction is another area we can reduce our signature in.  Simple things like making sure mufflers are present and serviceable, avoiding unnecessary vehicle running and movement, and something as simple as ensuring doors don’t slam (I can hear one of my neighbors shop door slam and it’s over a quarter of a mile away) all lend to reducing our noise signature.  Get people used to using a lower than normal voice unless it’s an emergency especially at night (sound travels further at night).  When you have a chance move away from your homestead and just sit and listen for about an hour one day.  That’ll probably give you some ideas about where to start.  I’m not going to get into dealing with dogs and cattle yet as that’s an entry unto itself.

Smells are a bit different.  The scent of a burning fire can travel for miles and the scent of food cooking to a starving person seems to travel as far.  If you are down to using an outhouse the stench of that can carry pretty far too (ever been to Korea during planting season?  The entire countryside smells of “natural fertilizer”). Scent travels as molecules and about the only ways you can hide it is to either mask it or diffuse it.  In the case of the outhouse some lime or sawdust helps.  Using a diffuser can help control smoke smells.  Limiting smoke and smell producing activities to the heat of the day when molecules evaporate faster helps a little.    Likewise be wary of winds which can carry those same molecules a lot farther than they would normally travel.  Enough of the science for now.

For the spoor part we’re going to look at tracks as we covered activity in the sight section.  Traffic indications (tracks) are a challenge as well.  Tracks can be hidden from ground observation by tall grass or terrain but it’s more of a challenge to hide them from aerial observation.  Using a drag is one method to mitigate the obviousness of tracks however the absence of vegetation will still give them away to a point.  Alternating routes through grassy areas which will allow the grass and vegetation time to recover after being trod can help.  Minimizing movement to only the level which is absolutely necessary will help reduce your visibility as well by decreasing the amount of time you’re visible and reducing the tracks you’re making.

In this great age of technology we have to be concerned with other types of signatures as well.  Those signatures being emissions.  much like smoke is an emission from our fire radio signals from our communications and heat from stoves and cooking indicate our presence as well.  By taking precautions we can minimize those emissions.  Referring back to the OPSEC and Rural Defense Comms pieces if we limit our radio traffic it’s a natural that we have reduced the indicators of our presence along with any intelligence a threat might gain.  It always seems to go back to OPSEC, eh?   Thermal emissions are another area we can help reduce out footprint.  By limiting heat producing activities (i.e. cooking) to the hottest part of the day they won’t stand out as much to someone conducting observation using a thermal imaging device (which is most effective at night when the difference in temperatures are greater between objects).  Even the oldest thermal imaging devices can detect a difference of 1 degree in temperature even inside of a house through a window.  Keep that in mind.  There’s you an excuse to re-insulate the walls and attic beyond just saving cash.

A word about decoys.  As I mentioned above there are some creative uses that you can apply to decoys like that “honeypot” concept.  Building fake positions can be used but try and remain aware of what you’re giving to the threat in constructing them.  You don’t want to provide the threat either cover nor concealment when you take any measure.  That being said decoys can be used to facilitate distracting or even moving a threat into an area where you can deliver lethal fires.   Be aware of the terrain and look at everything from the threats perspective.  I’m going to go deeper into decoys later on in the series.

What about weapons and such?    IMHO you need to be armed all the time and if your outside you should be carrying a rifle.  But don’t make it obvious.  Part of the threat intel gathering cycle is going to be determining the defensive capabilities of a target.  It’s a tradeoff but IMHO it’s better to keep them guessing than show an obvious capability or lack thereof.    Remember: a key part of concealment is denying the threat indicators and information about us.

As I stated above it’s going to be a challenge.  Will you be able to reduce every signature to zero?  If you maintain an operating ranch or farm frankly no.  But by being cognizant of what you’re doing, looking at your position and activities from the threats perspective, and implementing some basic common sense measures you can go far in reducing that signature thereby making yourself less of a visible target.

The key concept from this entry I want you to take with you is: You need to be aware of the visibility created by your activities and ask yourself is there a way to reduce that visibility.  Keep the concepts above in mind as I’m going to refer back to them during future entries.

For further research for those so inclined I suggest these:

John Mosby’s NousDefions: Camouflage and Concealment 101 – an EXCELLENT primer for individual and small unit ops camo and concealment

US Army Field Manual 20-3 Camouflage, Concealment, and Decoys

About Treaded

Semi-retired career and contract troop. I own and maintain my own small ranch out here in beautiful rural America.
This entry was posted in Defensive Measures, Hardening the Homestead, Security Planning, Terrain and AO Development. Bookmark the permalink.

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