Motivator: Gangs Growing In Rural Areas And A Word About LEOs

A Deputy Sheriff (we’ll call him Deputy Prepper) sent me a link via the blog to a very interesting article.  Take a moment to read and absorb it.  Then ponder its main points:

  • Gang related crime has grown as much as 25% in 2011 in Tennessee – much of it in rural areas.
  • Gang related crime has tripled in Tennessee since 2005
  • From 2005 to 2011, cities with fewer than 50,000 residents saw gang crimes rise 232%

This quote grabbed my attention: “But rural towns often have small and sometimes ill-equipped police departments, which can make the communities vulnerable and attractive to young criminals trying to dodge larger cities with more sophisticated gang units. Also, gangs find rural areas to be full of eager, new drug customers and devoid of competition from other gangs.”

I’ve stated before I believe that the first real and credible threat after SHTF to rural communities will be from gangs roaming outside of the cities and towns after they have either been picked clean or when the challenge to their dominance becomes unfavorable.  Given the fact that they already have their own tribe assembled NOW time will not be on the rural communities side.  I did a bit more digging and found some rather startling facts from the latest unbiased* report published in 2010.

  • In one year (2009-2010) Gang related homicides in rural areas increased 12.4% nationally despite the overall gang related homicide statistic decreasing 3%.  Rural areas are making up for the larger cities.
  • Small cities (under 50k) and rural areas account for over 36% of gang related activity in 2010

Rather startling when you think about it.   But the article above and the statistics reinforce one idea – If you fail to pay attention and collect Intel on gang activity in your area you’re probably ignoring a credible threat.

* The 2011 FBI report has been criticized as being lenient on a lot of the traditional militant black gangs and separatists as well as understating the threat from radical Muslims and their presence in the Narco-Cartels.  It has also been criticized for overplaying the “homegrown extremist” threat posed by Constitutionalists and Libertarians. It’s statistics in regards to rural communities has been shown to be flawed. 

Now my second point.  Remember I said a Deputy Sheriff sent this in via the blog.  I see a lot of blogosphere types mouthing off about how Law Enforcement is a tool of the machine and they’re going to target them all, etc.  I’m drawn to a conclusion about quite a few of these types of folks.  I’m pretty convinced they don’t live in a rural area and their comments show their lack of understanding in what rural law enforcement is and how it works.   Sure you read about “Sheriff’s Deputy shoots family dog” but how often is that in a rural area?  And folks – Austin isn’t rural.  If your house is 20 feet from your neighbors you aren’t rural.  Just because you have a backyard garden doesn’t make you rural.   Around these parts the Sheriff’s Office (SO) has been pretty aggressive busting the meth trade.  I have no doubt it’s an uphill battle but they have yet to conduct a mistaken raid, point a firearm at anyone that wasn’t armed and breaking the law, shoot someone that wasn’t shooting at them first, or kill a dog that wasn’t foaming at the mouth with Rabies.  YMMV.

And here’s my point.  Just because someone in the blogosphere has an experience or story in Bugtussle WV don’t take it for granted it applies to your area as well when it comes to LEOs unless you live in that area.  Get to know them, use them for intel, and form your own opinion as to whether they are “nefarious actors” or not.  Have and use some common sense.  You focus should be local.

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Defense – Obstacles Part VI: Using Water To Our Advantage

Over the last few entries we’ve kind of moved back and forth over man-improved and man made obstacles.  We’ve covered hills, slopes, roads and trails, and bridges.  Now we’re going to examine a few ways to use water as a natural, man-improved, and man made obstacle.

Bodies of water exist in a few different forms in rural communities.  Rivers, creeks, streams, and ponds  all present a movement challenge to the threat.  Not only is it difficult to move through a shallow body of water for dismounts but water in any significant depth will prevent most wheeled vehicles from crossing.  It’s not just the depth or speed of the water itself but when coupled with a bottom that is thick mud or a material like loose shale wheeled vehicles loose traction pretty quickly.  If the water is deep enough and an engine running at operating temperature hits it there’s a couple of things that happen.  Of course steam is produced however water is a lot like air in one aspect – it will seek any opening and fill that opening.  So any kind of breather or dipstick without a good check valve is going to get backfilled.  And water in a crankcase is death for a running engine.    There’s four basic ways water can be enhanced as an obstacle: Speed, depth, width, and clutter.  It’s pretty difficult to speed water up so we’re going to skip that one.  Depth is a little bit easier.  The average pickup truck has an air intake that is approximately 3 feet above ground level – not too hard to achieve.  In reality you should go for as much depth as possible – HMMWV air intakes are often rerouted above the cab so six feet is better.  Six feet also gives you something else – a higher water level than the air intake on an M113 APC.  Rule of thumb – as deep as possible – the deeper the better.  If the increased total depth after modification is less than 2 to 3 feet then it may be a waste of effort.  More on that in a bit.

So how do you make water deeper and wider?  Dam it.  When I was a kid out in the country we didn’t have cool pools to go to.  Not being too keen on swimming in some pretty filthy stock ponds we used to go out in the woods and find a decent sized creek to suite our purpose.  But in the summer those creeks would often run low.  To fix that we would damn it up.  Not a really complicated process but it requires some material and labor.  When we looked for a place to put our dam we would look along the creek bank and try and determine what spot would give us the best depth for our work.  Knowing that water will always take the path of least resistance flowing downhill we would look at where the creek had overflowed it’s banks before.  Normally that’s a pretty good spot to put a damn in.  Anyway what you want to do is sink a few posts (we used wooden ones but the newer steel ones will work just fine) about a foot apart all the way across the creek.  Then find some sheet material (we used corrugated tin) you build a wall on the upstream side of the posts overlapping the material as you go.  Digging in the sheets on the bottom and sides was always the hardest part (dig in soft mud – it ain’t no picnic) but once the sheets were in place the water would come up pretty quickly.  As time went on we added a few tricks like knocking holes in the tin with a Phillips screwdriver and hammer and using wire to hold it in place on the posts.   We always backfilled our little dams on the downstream side and threw in whatever limbs and wood we could find to help build a support matrix behind it.  Did it work?  Hell yeah.  A few weeks ago I took HH6 down to see one of the spots and thirty+ years later that old dam is still in place and still doing its job.  It needs some work, but it’s there.  Which returns us to another point about obstacles: You have to check them.  Obstacles aren’t put in and ignore defensive measures because the environment will take its toll on them.

So we want to beef up a creek or stream in our AO.  First rule of dams – make damn sure your dam doesn’t create some damn problems with your damn tribe (Arnie would be proud of that one).  If you’re going to dam up water get offa yer backside and walk the basin area of that creek or stream.  If it empties out into someone’s cattle pasture you might have a problem.  Seasonal flooding is one thing but with no feed stores or fuel to cut hay ol’ Roy may need that pasture for his cows and if it ends up under a couple of inches of water he ain’t going to be too happy with your work.  All part of keeping the peace in the tribe.

Anyway what we want to do is get out and identify all the possible and likely crossing places in our AO.  You’ll find they frequently are near a bridge. That may be because the county put up a temp bridge while the regular bridge was under construction or closed for repairs.  You’ll also often find them along trails used to get into and out of the woods.  I’ve found the best way is to take a good long walk along the creeks and streams with a map in hand marking all of the possible crossing sites up and down those bodies of water.  Once you’ve done that it’s time to get busy.  Once I’ve identified a crossing location I look downstream for an isolated spot our of visual range of the crossing.  Why?  It doesn’t take much effort to knock down an ad hoc damn.  A good rule of thumb is at least two or more bends downstream or fifty meters.  Closer if you can conceal the damn with downed trees or brush but we want it out of direct visual range. The idea is that looks are everything.  And if your average pack of dirtbags walks down to one bend and looks and it ain’t any better then odds are they’ll probably look no further and reroute elsewhere.  Placing your dam well out of sight takes advantage of basic lazy ass human nature.

In the example below I’m depicting a creek crossing that is adjacent to a bridge.  Notice we already put an abatis in and parked a truck on it as described in the earlier entry dealing with bridges.  However that crossing creates a problem for us – it gives the threat a chance to attack an obstacle from the side.

So what we do is compound that obstacle even further by creating a wider and deeper creek.  Note in the drawing below I would normally put the dam well away from that bridge but it’s closer to fit in.

The dam increased the width and depth of the water however I also compounded it by dropping trees into the water itself. That can help conceal the damn or the crossing while at the same time creating even further frustration for a threat – hence the term “clutter”.  Chainsaws suck cutting in water and they sure don’t run underwater.  And if those trees are interlocked and still attached to their stumps this crossing ain’t going to be an easy one.  To compound it even further if you have access to a bucket (like a lift on a tractor) find you a few good sized boulders to dump in the middle of that crossing.  And make sure you reinforce the dam itself so a heavy storm or wash doesn’t tear your dam out.   Add a muddy bottom and this is a nightmare.

Why did I use the bridge as an example?  In rural areas bridges most often cross low ground where creeks and streams run.  And they’re normally built up well above the road level. A flowing body of water is going to back up until it has sufficient depth to overflow it’s dam.  And if you build your dam correctly the water will fill in the areas on the side approaches to the normal creek path.  Plus if that stuff is pretty swampy or heavily wooded it’s going to become moccasin country pretty quickly.  Gotta love mother nature.  Anyway this is one example of how to take advantage of a creek or stream.  There’s another type of water body we’re going to address – ponds.

Ponds on property do a couple of different things.  The most common is the ornamental yard pond that may be used for fishing or the regular old cattle pond.  Either way once they are filled it’s pretty impossible to tell how deep they are.   We’re going to use that to our advantage.  Remember the entry where I listed some common types of vehicles and their capabilities?  For SnG here it is again:

When it comes to water the thing that you should key in on is the “Fording Depth” or as listed “FORD”.  That is the depth the vehicle can cross without swamping.  The largest number on that chart is 78 inches (7 1/2 feet) So we want our pond to be at least that deep – we’ll use 7 feet for our planning numbers.  But there is an additional number we need to be concerned with – a term called “swim depth”.  Swim depth is the depth of water in which those two vehicles that are listed as “FLOATS” need to swim.  In reality once an M113 is prepped it will swim in water as shallow as five feet.  “So wait a minute Treaded- we need 7  feet but an M113 can swim in 5? That’s a problem”.  Right you are.  And we’re going to fix that problem or rather take advantage of the construction of the vehicles themselves.  See That M113 and that LAV  are kinda nose heavy.  And they need a nice clean bank of less than 30 degrees to enter the water to be able to swim.  And ya know what happens when they are in water too shallow to swim that the bottom drops off almost vertically?  They pitch up ass over nose and go under like a sub doing an emergency dive.  The M113 is much more susceptible to this than the LAV but the same thing applies.   Once you get that air intake or crew compartment swamped they ain’t going nowhere – that’s the point the driver typically starts panicking.  And a swamped vehicle regardless of whom is assaulting you is now a major catastrophe for the threat and is going to break his momentum.   So let’s get the dozer out and cut a pond or add-on to an existing one.  Now when you decide to put a pond in or increase the size of an existing pond a technique that works well is to cut the bank like so:

Notice we have our 7 foot depth with a five foot approach to our drop off of at least 4 feet which is less than 3 feet underwater.  That in itself isn’t going to be within the performance parameters of either of those vehicles listed above.  Additionally that four foot plunge is going to be pretty nasty to anyone that tries to cross on foot (unless you’re being attacked by a mutant basketball team).  You could always throw some caltrops on the approach but if you have cattle I wouldn’t.  Decent, but it could be better.  Time for some compounding of our obstacle.  I really want anything that tries to cross that pond to pitch up and nose down like a carnival ride.  So what I’m going to do is add a little obstacle from the last entry – the log crib.

Now if you put these in on the approach there’s a few things to take into consideration.  Logs float so you’ll have to find a way to tie them down or anchor them.  Secondly if you put a log crib in too close to the plunge when a vehicle hits it it’s going to break loose and either float or sink off in the bottom – neither is a good thing.  So allow yourself at least 3 feet from the edge of the plunge to give the soil adequate strength to hold it on impact.  Now do you see what is going to happen here if say an M113 rolls up on this?  It’s going to nose up as it climbs the underwater obstacle and then once it’s center of balance is over it (at which point it’s committed) it’s going to shoot nose down with all of that weight off of the plunge filling the air intake with water and once it’s full the engine compartment as well – even bilge pumps aren’t going to be able to handle that rate.  Years ago when I had some downtime I was watching some engineers swim their M113s and I noticed they always kept the hatches open.  I asked why and the short answer was “because if the vehicle dies or swamps it’s going to sink and trap the crew inside”.  Sounds like a true “oh shit moment” for the threat to me.

So say we cut a new pond using the specs in the illustration and lay log cribs in but still have some gaps?  At that point we can use posts to fill those gaps.  A post is nothing more than a pole stuck into the bank of the pond pointed outwards.  If the pole is anchored sufficiently and a vehicle runs onto it (especially if the approach and banks are muddy) it’s going to sit and spin it’s tires or track.  If they had enough momentum and get stuck on it there’s another “oh shit moment” for the threat.

Ideally you want the tip of it below the water’s surface so the threat doesn’t see it until it’s too late and they’re committed and on top of the darn thing.  Sinking this in at least four to five feet is going to be your best bet.  Once again allow enough distance from the edge (3 feet from the nearest edge and not the top like the pic depicts…I’m going to have to get on the graphics department about this one) to prevent fracturing of the soil and sufficient angle to create some mayhem.

So I’m ready to hop on the dozer and start cutting a new pond right?  Not just yet there’s just one more thing to look at.  Do we need that steep angle and those obstacles everywhere?  If you have the time, resources, and energy and want to go for it.   Exiting the water vehicle won’t be as impeded by these obstacles but it’ll still give them some headaches.  However realistically you probably only need these on the approach side that the threat is coming from.  So what you do is lay things out and diagram it to save yourself some trouble.  In the illustration below I have laid out my pond with the shallow approach depicted in red with both log crib and pole obstacles depicted.

Planning beforehand will save you time, energy, fuel, and resources.  Notice how on the top edge where the pond diagram is irregular I spiked it with pole obstacles?  That prevents me from having to create a bunch of small log cribs.  Want to make it even worse?  If you aren’t using it for cattle add some barbwire to those underwater obstacles.  Everything goes better with barbwire 😉

So how do I deal with nosy neighbors and the other problems associated with cutting a new pond on my property (maybe within eyeshot of a road)?  You can explain it as a cattle pond, fishing pond (stock it with cats anyway – another source of food is always a good thing), whatever.  And if the nosy neighbors come by and see all of these log cribs and poles in my yet to be filled pond?  They’re erosion control measures and the poles are to spread netting across.  Yeah, that’s it. And then tell ’em to mind their own business or grab a shovel.  That’ll get them scooting out of your view real quick.

As always these are just a few examples.  Yes there are others out there but these are IMHO the simplest and some of the easiest to implement.  Use your imagination and keep in mind that obstacles work both ways.  The next obstacle entry will be a bit of a departure but I’ve been asked by more than one person to present a couple of way to interdict helicopters.  There are a few tricks you can use and we’ll cover those in the next obstacle entry.

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By Request: Caltrops

When CA at WRSA posted a link to Part V of the defensive obstacles entry he also posed a request for a cheap and simple method to construct caltrops.  For the uninitiated a caltrop is a small device that no matter how it lays will always have a sharpened point facing upwards.  They have been used against everything from horse to foot troops and vehicles (they were a constant source of pain for the Somoza troops in the 80s).

So how do ya make ’em?  Here’s a little shopping list for one method:

– Find the thickest banding material you can lay your hands on.  Banding material is the spring steel material they use to run around pallets of equipment and other goods when they ship them.  Anyway the thicker the better.

– You’ll need a good set of sheet metal snips.  Harbor freight also sells a cutter with different type heads on it petty cheap as well.  Good snips will make this job easier.  Cheap ones will make it harder.

– Gloves.  This shit gets sharp and will cut the piss out of you.

– A good pair of pliers (or two which makes it go faster).

Here’s an illustration to go along with the following text:

Once you have all of your material together you need to cut the banding into pieces between 2 inches and 3 inches  in length.  Using either a sheet metal brake or snips cut a triangle out of either end.  Then using your pliers bend the opposite corners (top right and bottom left) opposite directions along the dashed line.  After that bend the other opposite corners (top left, bottom right) opposite directions along the dashed line.  Using two pliers you can bend one end in one motion.  Pretty simple huh?  Simple enough to make a few hundred on a Saturday afternoon.  Look at the pic at the beginning of this entry if you need a little more visual clarity.

A good source for material is big box stores – they will gladly hand it to you but if they don’t want to just check their dumpster.  It’s trash to them.

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Defense – Obstacles Part V: More On Slowing The Threat Down on Roads and Trails.

I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get this next entry up but life has been eating my time up.  Anyhow in this entry we’re going to look at a couple of other ways to “block” a road and slow down traffic.   Now when I write blocking a road remember some of the basic tenants of obstacles.  A determined and capable threat is only going to be slowed by an obstacle.   Obstacles can also slow your exit from the area down as well if you have to shag out.  In this entry we’ll focus once again on stopping what will probably be the first type of threat we’ll likely encounter – a four wheel drive pickup full of dirtbags that have expanded beyond the picked clean towns to raid rural areas.  Also note these obstacles are calculated based on the performance characteristics of an HMMWV which is really representative of a good 4×4 pickup.

First up is a standard pole driven into the road.  This can be something as simple as a section of telephone pole, section of tree, or even a piece of railroad rail.    And as always the red arrow represents the direction of threat travel.

To really be effective we need to have as much anchor in solid ground as possible.  I recommend a minimum of 4 feet.  That’s quite a job using post hole diggers or a shovel however an auger on the back of a tractor makes it a simpler task.  Also you want at least 3 feet above ground.  That will more than impact the undercarriage of most jacked up trucks.  Anything extra in height is probably a waste unless you already have the posts pre-cut.  If you use railroad rail for this make sure you put the flat edge facing the direction the threat is coming from.  That gives the greatest contact area with the vehicle and also presents the greatest area of force against the ground if they try to push it over.  To be effective these really need to be no less than 4 feet apart – 3 feet is better.  You can run steel cable between them to impede motorcycles and other vehicles but with an unobserved obstacle that’s nothing more than a nuisance to  light vehicles like bikes and ATVs.

Next up is a another form of Abatis using poles in a manner kind of like a “pike”.  This design is based on a medieval design that would stop horses and cavalry from advancing.  For our purpose we’ll use it to create damage on any vehicle that runs into it.  When you dig one of these in you want the base of it at least four feet deep and the post itself at a 45 degree angle with the tip between 18 and 36 inches from the ground.   By cutting a point on the end and painting it dark grey or black if someone hits it blasting down a road in the dark they’re going to trash their vehicle pretty badly.  Plant it deep and firm enough and if the vehicle is going fast enough when it hits it there’s a chance the occupants are going to get some pretty serious injuries as well.

When you put these in it’s a good idea to plant them in a pattern similar to what the illustration below shows.  On a 12 foot roadway plating them 3 feet apart in three staggered rows that are four feet apart you can get by with 13 poles.  Make sure you take a good look at the soil composition before you start digging.  If it’s really soft then once the first row is impacted there’s a possibility of the second and third rows being displaced.  That can be fixed by increasing the distance between rows.  If you use the “pike” type setup combined with wire in and around it you have created the other form of an Abatis which is pretty effective against dismounts.  We’ll cover that later in wire but for now we’re focusing on vehicles.  This type of patterned obstacle is also highly effective when combined with the natural choke point of a bridge.  Put in on the approach and exit of a bridge combined with an abandoned vehicle (like in the last entry) it gives the threat a pretty good compounded obstacle to deal with.

Another useful option can be created by using three steel fence posts and a 55 gallon drum.  This type of obstacle is pretty darn effective.  I’ve seen a truck hit a very similar setup doing about 40 miles an hour and bounce off while creating only minimal damage to the drum setup itself.  The driver lost a few front teeth and got a pretty good concussion out of the deal even wearing his seatbelt.

The first step in constructing this is to dig a hole at least 18 inches deep and larger in diameter than your 55 gallon drum.  Then drive three steel fence posts 12 inches apart in a triangular pattern with the leading one facing the anticipated threat approach.  You want these in a minimum of 3 feet but 4 feet is better.  Then cut both the top and bottom off of the drum and set it over the posts with the triangle you’ve created centered inside of it.  Now fill it with sand or dirt (or both) and rocks ensuring you bury the outside of the barrel as well.  The fill needs to be tightly packed as you go and wetting it will help create a “poor man’s concrete”.  A little bit more work but if you have the material or need an alternative it’s doable.  With this design it’s good to use at least 6 foot long posts but seven or eight feet is even better.  If you put them in using the staggered pattern above they’re going to stop a pretty fast moving vehicle. Are they impervious?  No.  A truck or  tractor with a blade or dozer and some manpower is going to be able to cope with them.  However they will slow, delay, or force the threat to take another route.

Now say we don’t necessarily want to block the road completely but slow the approach of a vehicle  down.  This is where a device called a “log hurdle” can come into play.  A log hurdle is an obstacle that is composed of a single or group of logs or poles laid on the ground and held in position by posts in three areas.  The illustration below depicts a typical log hurdle.

Notice that the log or pole is held in place by posts in three locations.  The center set of posts keep the log from being swept aside easily if one of the end sets fail.  Additionally the posts in each set are wired together to help hold each other and the log in place.  It’s better to use a figure eight pattern when tying the posts together as that will give them a bit more stability against side force.  You want at least a log large enough (normally 10 inches in diameter) to prevent a four wheel drive vehicle from climbing the hurdle easily.  If you don’t have enough you can also combine logs to create a larger obstacle as shown in the bottom right of the drawing.  Note when you use multiple logs or poles make sure you lace them them together by winding your wire or rope in and amongst the poles.  That keeps someone from easily reducing the obstacle by lifting individual poles out and delays them further by forcing them to have to cut them apart before trying to reduce the obstacle.  Unless this obstacle is tall enough it’s not going to stop a four wheel drive truck or tracked vehicle.  Ideally 3 feet in height is going to be good enough to stop most wheeled vehicles.  It’s also a good idea to dig the main log or group of logs into the ground at least a few inches (6 inches is better).  That helps prevent them from easily rolling.  One interesting fact is that log hurdles on a steep incline will stop most military type tracked vehicles from advancing as well.  Good to know.

So how can we arrange these to slow a fast moving vehicle down?  Let’s say you want to prevent a vehicle from blasting up your drive and stopping next to the house before you can react.  To create some reaction time for ourselves we’re going to arrange log hurdles to create a slalom:

Some key things to look at when putting a slalom in is that you have to prevent a vehicle from easily bypassing it (and you need to still have enough room for a vehicle you want to come in to move around them.  Normally that works out to about 25 feet between them but you can reduce that distance some if you want to create a really challenging course.  The goal with this kind of obstacle is to not allow a vehicle a direct shot into your area.  It also creates a “capture zone” by reducing the amount of space a threat has to withdraw if they suddenly change their mind about assaulting your position.  That capture zone gives you more time to bring fire upon a threat as it’s trying to disengage and retreat.  A slalom can be as complicated as what is displayed in the graphic or as simple as two or three log hurdles and a bypass.  Notice the road is completely blocked at the bottom  and an approaching vehicle would be forced to take the bypass around the last log hurdle to gain entry.  You want that bypass to be a fairly tight turn so a vehicle has to really slow down to make it.   Slaloms are probably a waste of effort away from the homestead unless you have some kind of manned checkpoint.  Instead they’re probably better used to control immediate access to the homestead itself.

You can mix and combine these different types of obstacles to get the results you desire.  Rather than constructing a log hurdle to fill a small space maybe a pole obstacle would be easier.  Use your judgement and some creative thinking to achieve your goals.

One obstacle I didn’t cover and I have been asked about is a log crib.  This is basically a complex structure of logs that creates a couple of interlocked walls and is filled with dirt.  Log cribs are very time consuming to construct and resource intensive.  They also create a structure in the roadway that can provide dismounts cover if fired upon.  IMHO your time and resources are better spent on other obstacles.

Don’t forget to take the basic tenants of obstacles into account when you look at places to put these in.  If you don’t plan on dying in place then that slalom is going to slow you down getting down the drive and delay you long enough on a road that the threat is going to be able to close with you.  That’s one of the characteristics of static defensive measures designed to delay or channel (reroute) a threat.  They always work both ways.   In the next entry we’re going to look at streams, creeks, ponds, and other bodies of water and how we can make them work for us.  Till then keep building tribe and learn your ground.

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Defense – Obstacles Part IV: More On Roads And Bridges

In the last entry we covered what man-improved obstacles were and some ways we could cut (severe) trails.  In this entry we’re going to examine another (and probably easier) way to block trails and bridges.   I’m also going to present some considerations you need to take into account when making the decision to place such obstacles.

The next type of obstacle I’m going to cover is an Abatis.  For our purpose an Abatis is an obstacle  that is formed by a group of trees cut down to interlock blocking a road, trail, or approach path for a vehicle.  As always this kind of obstacle won’t really slow down a threat on foot however it is pretty good at slowing down and temporarily halting vehicles.  Let’s take a look at a diagram that I’ve annotated from an Army manual:

As always the red arrow marked THREAT is the threat’s direction of travel down that road.  This kind of obstacle is created with the tip (treetops) facing the direction the threat is coming from.  The trees have been cut down in the order listed by the boxed numbers to make an interlocking obstacle that when pushed on by a vehicle tends to pile and tighten versus just being swept aside. Also notice the trees are cut down while being left attached to their stumps.  This further compounds the difficulty in clearing this kind of obstacle because trees still connected to their stumps aren’t easily moved.  In the picture it appears that the foliage has been cleared – that’s pretty much just for clarity.  Leave those branches and debris in place as they’ll help frustrate someone trying to clear the obstacle.  This kind of obstacle is a pain to deal with – it’s going to either take heavy equipment (like a dozer)  or guys with chainsaws and trucks to clear.  And it’s not going to be a fast operation unless the threat has considerable resources.  It’s also probably going to be noisy – possibly giving you some warning (but don’t count on that).  If it were me and I had elements on the approach for an assault on the homestead at this point rather than fight through the obstacle I’d dismount.  So the obstacle would have accomplished a basic goal of disrupting my mounted movement and reducing my speed in the assault.  Here’s a top down view of an Abatis cut along a straight trail:

By having those trees interlocking and the foliage still on them very few vehicles are going to easily bypass this.  And if they have a plow on one of their trucks when it starts shoving on those trees they’re going to roll and lockup in each other making it even more of a pain to try and clear.  yeah sure there’s some stuff out there that will climb this (rockcrawlers and tracks maybe) but even your average HMMWV isn’t going to get across this one easily.

One huge advantage of this obstacle is that it’s fairly easy to create.  Two guys that are good with chainsaws can probably lay this in within a half hour.  If they’re able to lay a tree on a dime (I ain’t that good but I’ve seen it done) then they can create an even more frustrating obstacle by interlocking the trees with the tops between the stumps on the opposite side of the trail.  This kind of obstacle is going to probably be more trouble than your average threat is willing to deal with especially if they showed up unprepared to deal with it.  The pic below illustrates a completely interlocking Abatis.  As stated notice the treetops (brown arrows) are down between the stumps (brown circles) of the trees on the opposite side of the road.

If those trees are still attached to their stumps then even a dozer is going to have some work ahead of it getting that clear.  Think about this – that’s only six trees.  If a group of dirtbags in a truck come up to this two miles from your homestead unless they are equipped with chainsaws (and fuel for them) and tackle or a dozer it’s going to be dismount time for them.

Of course the effectiveness of an Abatis is dependent on two things – it’s placement and complexity.  This is where we’re going to look at integrating obstacles.  Say we take that Abatis and place it in conjunction with a natural obstacle like a creek crossing the road with a dense tree line on either side.  By cutting that Abatis where the front edge of it is on a bridge we’ve created an obstacle that the threat is going to have to confront head on.  This is going to cost the threat even more time, effort, and resources to get through.

Look at your Area of Operations (AO)  and try to identify the possible natural obstacles that you can exploit using this kind of technique.  Bridges are a natural choice however ravines, cuts, and slopes also can lend to the effectiveness of an Abatis.

Exploiting that bridge is a simple choice however there’s even more that can be done.  This is where we enter obstacle complexity.  You don’t want to put a simple looking obstacle in the threats path.   Nope it’s always much better to give them something that looks like it’s going to take more effort than they are either able to or willing to deal with.  By taking the combined obstacle we’ve got (the Abatis and creek/bridge) we can further frustrate the threat by exploiting that bridge (a natural vehicular choke point) even further.  If you have the resources then you could possibly drop it into the creek however that is a likely permanent solution that may bite you in the backside later.   Another option is to block it with a vehicle hulk.  In the diagram below I’ve placed a pickup on the bridge directly in front of the Abatis – good and even better if the Abatis is actually tied into the truck on the bridge.  The best method to do this is drag it up there and park it crossways on the bridge so that it completely block the lanes.  At that point jack her up, pull the wheel and drop it on the axles.  Make sure you turn the wheels when you get it positioned so that if it shoved from the front it will steer itself into the obstacle sideways and not straighten itself out.  Would it be better to flip it on its side or roof?  That depends – the key point is you want as much of the vehicle that isn’t near smooth on the ground.  I’ve seen a single jeep pull a flipped truck off of a road.  Likewise if it’s on its side it may be drug easier.  Basic physics = the more ground contact the vehicle has the more resistance to movement.  I call this kind of obstacle a compounded obstacle.

Not only does the threat have to deal with that vehicle but there’s the Abatis immediately behind it which may be resting on it.  Which brings up another point – work your obstacles from the point of contact (where the threat is going to hit them) back towards your position when creating them.  Using this kind of obstacle the threat is going to need some serious resources to clear it if they want to keep going in vehicles.  I’m going to add one more pic here.  This is part of my obstacle plan for my AO.  The area it’s going into is a set of “twin bridges” on a blacktop road that leads out to my ranch – I’m the only folks down this particular road.  It’s not the only route to the ranch but is one that I don’t absolutely rely on.

Notice I’ve got two trucks blocking the bridges with an Abatis between them.  The first truck the threat encounters is going to have to be drug out of the way or forced into the creek.  In this case the guardrails are concrete pilings so it’s going to take some serious effort to do that.  Then there’s the issue of having to deal with that Abatis and the other truck after it.  I counted just under twenty trees that are going down when this gets dropped.  That’s a lot of timber to have to get out of the way.  The offroad terrain in this area is pretty soupy swamp and moccasin infested as well – even ATVs catch heck in it.  Now there’s one difference here.  Notice the red lined X’s?  That’s concertina (military razor) wire I’ve picked up at a Department of Defense Auction.  It’s going to get wound in all around (and under) those trucks and tied into the pilings and the Abatis itself.  Not only does that frustrate trying to get the truck and the Abatis out of the way but it does something else.  This is an example of a triple compounded obstacle using natural obstacles in conjunction with manmade and man-improved obstacles.  If the threat decides to dismount and proceed they’re going to have to get wet – twice.  And slog through some serious mud.  And after that it’s still two and a half kilometers to the homestead and some more surprise goodness.  Basically I want this far enough out that by the time they get there they ain’t going to be exactly fresh.  Like I’ve stated it won’t stop a dismounted threat but it will deter them and help wear their asses out.  Any chair in a fight.

Use your imagination when it comes to placing compounded obstacles.  These are some examples that hopefully will help you in the long run.  Now we’re going to get into the decision process part of this entry.  Before proceeding it’s been a while so I’m going to touch on the key truths of obstacles again.  These are:

  • Obstacles will not stop a threat.  They will delay it, but a determined threat is going to eventually breach an obstacle.
  • Obstacles that are covered by observation and fire are more effective at accomplishing their goals than unobserved ones.
  • Obstacles that are concealed typically frustrate the threat better than visible ones.
  • Placed correctly an obstacle can channel the threat into your field of fire.
  • Natural obstacles tend to be the most effective.  Man made the least.
  • It is much easier to halt or delay a vehicle than a person on foot with an obstacle.
  • Obstacles require periodic checking and maintenance to remain effective.
  • And finally the greatest truth of them all:  Any obstacle that’s going to delay a threat getting in is most likely going to delay YOU getting out.

Ask yourself some simple questions based on those truths before you decide to put these in.  Are you going to need to get across this is you have to shag out under pressure?  Will you be able to?  Is it going to slow you down so much that the threat can bear down on you while you’re in the middle of it?  Will it frustrate your shovel ready neighbors coming to your aid if you’re being hit?  Does someone else in the tribe need access across this area (it’s bad tribal juju to cut someone off from the rest of the tribe)  Before you drop a bridge think about possibly needing it later on.  In my case I’ve got other routes and this is a high speed avenue of approach for the threat so the advantages of blocking it are greater than any disadvantage.  But if things ever do get back to normal then there’s the possibility of clearing it and using that route again.  And if things get worse then I can increase the complexity even further by adding doings things like adding more wire, completely cutting the bridges, etc.  Bottom line:  Take those truths into account before you place any obstacle.  Would I place this kind of obstacle pre-SHTF?  Nope, I have a trigger point that determines when I’m going to do it.  That trigger point is a well trusted local LEO (and relative) that’s going to notify me when it gets bad enough the county LEOs quit coming in for shifts.  IMHO at that point without the rule of law the lawless will start their shit.

Posting is going to be light for the rest of this week – I’m taking a couple of days to go and see the new grandson so don’t expect another entry until probably late in the the weekend at the earliest.   Hang in there, read Mosby’s blog, and remember as CA sez: Tempis Fugit!

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A Quick Update

Just a quick update – I’ve been busier than that one legged guy everyone talks about this week putting in a new well and getting four new calves situated.  Once I get caught up around here I’ll finish up the next part of Obstacles.

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Defense – Obstacles Part III: Placement And Man-Improved Obstacles

In the last entry we covered what natural obstacles were and why they work.  In this entry we’re going to begin to address man-improved obstacles and their placement.  Remember a man-improved obstacle is one that implies a natural obstacle has been improved or an obstacle created through human effort.   In military doctrine these are normally referred to manmade however I want to draw a distinction between man-improved and manmade (an obstacle human placed that consumes resources like wire, posts, etc.).  Normally man-improved obstacles take less effort than manmade ones and what I refer to as man-improved obstacles normally don’t require significant external resources.

During this entry I’ll be using the phrase “cut a/the trail”  This implies actually severing a trail and not creating one like we would normally use the term.  Why would you cut a trail?  If you have multiple routes in your AO or on your land you may want to eliminate some of them to vehicle traffic (remember a guy on foot is going to be damn hard to stop) which could decrease the numbers of avenues of approach the threat could take while mounted (in a vehicle).  And with cutting a trail the old adage applies – “Any obstacle that’s going to make it hard for the threat to get in is going to make it hard for you to get out“.  Use these examples only by weighing that along with all of the pros and cons that putting them in brings.

One of the basic tenants of obstacles I presented in the introduction was the fact that it’s much easier to halt or delay a vehicle than a person on foot with an obstacle.  We’re going to focus on delaying vehicles in this entry because it’s a given that a determined threat on foot is going to find a way in.  So for our purposes we’ll look at trails on flat land, uphill/downhill, and side slopes.   IMHO these types of vehicular obstacles are best placed a good distance away from your homestead.  Why?  It they do stop a vehicle completely and the threat dismounts to continue on it’s going to cost him time and energy humping it.  Once he gets to your homestead he still has to assault.  And in the middle of summer with a 100 degrees outside he’s probably going to already be beat.  Since we’re looking at vehicles let’s take another look at the performance stats I presented in the natural vehicle entry.

The HMMWV is a .gov staple and fairly representative of a good four wheel drive truck so we’ll be using it to determine our obstacle characteristics.  By designing an obstacle to counter the performance of a given threat we disrupt the threats ability to easily move along a route and cost him time by forcing him to either bypass or fight through our obstacle.  This is where placement can be critical. We don’t want the threat to have an easy bypass (route around the obstacle) so we need to place it where they can’t simply just drive around it.  Looking at the example diagram below The red arrow is the threat direction of travel and the lettered boxes are our obstacles:

The obstacle marked “A” has enough room around it that if the terrain is passable the threat’s just going to bypass it by driving around it.  Obstacle “B” is placed in an area where the treeline is much denser and closer to the trail.  Another key point in our illustration is the width of the obstacles.  See how obstacle “B” covers the entire width of the area between the treelines whereas “A” is just across the road?  This is critical in denying the threat the capability to bypass an obstacle.

As I’ve stated previously the most effective obstacle is one that can be covered by fire and observation.  If you plan on using obstacles in conjunction with manned positions like Observation Posts (OPs) or Checkpoints (CPs) then you’ll want to afford yourself some standoff distance to prevent a threat from roaring up on your location.  That distance can translate into reaction time.  By placing an obstacle where you can both observe and fire on it (frustrating the threat’s attempt to fight through it) and have some distance between you and the threat if he dismounts and begins to fire and maneuver you’ve increased your survivability significantly. As illustrated by the following diagram The “RDF”” is our Rural Defense Force or simply tribe members:

Obstacle “A” is in what we would consider a protected curve.  It’s going to allow the threat some  measure of cover from long distance fire while at the same time requiring you to be a lot closer to the threat to engage.  Not a good deal.  If the terrain dictates that you use this kind of placement then it’s a good idea to back it up with some other measures (i.e. homemade spike strips before it, wire obstacles, etc.).  Obstacle “B” allows us to maintain that valuable standoff distance.  An added plus is that if you place an obstacle just around a curve and the threat is hauling ass they may not have enough reaction time and end up slamming into it.  If you’ve done your homework and invested some sweat in that obstacle you probably just took a vehicle and its occupants out of the fight at least temporarily.

The next location for obstacle placement we’ll look at is along a trail that is on the side of a hill or ridgeline.  These are usually cut with a steep bank on either side which we can use to our advantage.  In the illustration below the thin lines that run along the road represent contour lines (the natural curve of the terrain feature).  We’re concerned with three types of terrain on this trail.  The first type which Obstacle “A” is placed on is called a draw.  A draw is an area between two ridges or spurs.  If you are standing in a draw, the ground slopes upward in three directions and downward in the other direction. for our purpose just remember that a draw points to a hilltop.  The next obstacle (“B”) is placed parallel and along the hillside.  The final obstacle (“C”) is placed on a spur.  A spur is a short continuous sloping line of higher ground normally jutting out from the side of a ridge or hilltop.  A spur points “away” from the high terrain.  Looking at our illustration:

Obstacle “A” in the draw denies any significant room to maneuver and deal with an obstacle – especially if the terrain is steep.  Likewise with obstacle “C”.  Obstacle “B” gives the threat more room to move vehicles back and forth.  Later in this entry we’ll look at how to capitalize on both a spur and draw to cut a trail effectively.

Let’s deal with a basic flat trail.  Remember from our illustration above it should be placed in a location that doesn’t give the threat an easy bypass.  Used in conjunction with a natural obstacle on either side (like dense treelines) it can be pretty effective at halting vehicles or at least slowing their advance significantly.

In this illustration we have cut a pit 12 feet long with a back wall as near as vertical a minimum of 3 feet deep.  We took the spoil and using some old tires to prevent quick erosion piled the dirt up on the backside of the obstacle.  It’s a good idea to keep the pile at least 6 inches from the edge of the pit to prevent it from backfilling.  That creates a vertical wall well in excess of what the HMMWV can scale.  At this point unless the threat possesses some decent bridging equipment it’s time to dismount, get out the shovels, or turn around.  Now why the 12 feet?  So a pair of car ramps (like you see on U-Haulers which are roughly 6 feet long) can’t be used to cross with little effort.  So how do ya dig this monstrosity?  It’s best left to a dozer or backhoe back dragging the dirt however you can do it with a tractor which is much more time consuming.  Leave one spot to cross back and finish it off with either shovels or a backhoe.   Given the performance parameters of the HMMWV it ain’t getting across this without some significant effort.

Next up we’ll look at your basic hill.  This technique is good for cutting trailheads that lead either up or downhill and is fairly easy to implement.

Notice our original grade was less than 60 percent.  That’s well within the performance parameters of a HWMMV and it would walk right up that hill.  However by using a blade to cut a good chunk out of the side of the hill we have created a vertical wall that the HWWMV is incapable of climbing.  Using the spoil to create a hump further defeats the performance characteristics by denying a straight off shot up or downhill.    Ramps could work with this design however it would take some serious shoveling to get them stable enough to drive across.  Downhill this kind of obstacle is especially nasty at night as a vehicle that drops off of that embankment is probably going to nose down and flip.

The most effective way to cut this kind of obstacle is with a blade on a dozer.  After that using either the blade/bucket on a tractor or a backhoe would be next.  Whatever you do don’t forget to think out how you’re going to get your equipment back on the other side of the obstacle.  I had to use this method to cut the trailhead to the pipeline that runs across my property to keep ATVs from using it.  And before you go getting your panties in a wad and being all judgmental I did it  because it was more of a matter of liability in our sue happy society than being a buzzkill.

The final type of man-improved obstacle we’ll look at in this entry is one that cuts a trail that runs along a hillside.  Referring back to the terrain definitions above the most effective place to put one of these is either going to be on a draw or a spur.  That way if a vehicle tries to negotiate it there’s more likely a chance that the vehicle is going to flip downhill because of the angle of the terrain and it’s center of gravity.  The most effective placement of this type of obstacle is going to be on a spur as the center of gravity and turning of the vehicle are away oriented away from the terrain (kind of like the way a car leans out going around a curve).  Taking advantage of that little piece of physics makes our obstacle more effective.

Once again the dashed line represents the original grade which was less than 40 percent and well within a HMMWVs capability to traverse.  By doing some digging and piling we create a grade that is almost impossible for a vehicle to stay upright while negotiating as indicated by the improved grade which is over 60 percent.   On smooth ground a HMMWV could possibly cross this but in rougher terrain it’s going to be a total crapshoot.  To make matters even worse make sure you leave no part of the obstacle that is close to horizontal more than 3 feet wide.  This denies the ability to “straddle” the steep portions.  The length of this obstacle should ideally be at least 12 feet long.  Why 12 feet?  that requires the majority of the vehicle to enter the obstacle if it tries to cross it.  Once that center of gravity on that vehicle is committed either going forward or back becomes a much hairier prospect for the threat.  Depending on the width of the trail and the amount of digging this kind of obstacle is probably best cut with a backhoe.  Given the slopes involved moving either a tractor or dozer along that slope could be pretty dangerous. Blasting is another option if you have the resources.  It’s also a good idea to take some erosion control measures at the top of this kind of obstacle to prevent it from backfilling and washing level.  That’s where those old tires come in real handy.

Hopefully these examples have got your gears turning.  Make sure you look at your terrain and be creative when thinking about where to place them.  A few things of note when you start cutting trails.  Be very conscious of what you leave behind and what was there when you began.  Things like logs or downed trees can be drug into position to help breach an obstacle.  We don’t want to leave anything the threat can use to fight through.  That includes piles of dirt.  Better to use them to increase or complicate the obstacle rather than sitting on the side of the trail.   Also remember that man-improved obstacles are more effective in conjunction with natural obstacles.  Don’t give the threat room to bypass or maneuver and you’ll frustrate the piss out of his plan.

In the next entry we’ll continue to look at man-improved obstacles and look at a couple of additional methods of cutting trails and address some issues with cutting roads (both improved and unimproved) and bridges.

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Defense – Obstacles Part II: Understanding Natural Obstacles

In the last entry we identified three categories of obstacles (natural, man-improved, and manmade).  In  this entry we’re going to look at natural obstacles and try to gain an understanding of why they work and how they impact a threat force.  Remember a natural obstacle is any feature already found existing in the environment that will frustrate, channel, delay, or otherwise impede a threats movement (our obstacle goals).  Natural obstacles include bodies of water, terrain features (such as cliffs, steep draws and jagged spurs, and depressions), thickly forested areas, and any kind of terrain that makes crossing it a slow-go/no-go effort.  By slow-go we mean it will severely degrade the movement rate and capabilities of a threat.  No-go means that the terrain is impassible which typically only applies to vehicles but can apply to dismounts that are not properly equipped to deal with it (i.e. a cliff).

Some quick definitions here. In these entries when I use the phrase “fight through” obstacles what I mean here is “Breach”.  When the threat breaches and obstacle they are creating a path through the obstacle whether under fire or not.   The phrase “command and control” (aka C2) means the process by which a threat directs its assets (troops, vehicles, weapons, and other capabilities) during movement and an assault.

Why do natural obstacles work?  They present an established movement challenge to the threat to maintain momentum, direction, and command and control. The key thing I want you to gain from this entry is a basic understanding of what a natural obstacle is, why it’s an obstacle, and how it impacts the threat.  These points are going to be crucial when we discuss man-improved and manmade obstacles.

When we talk about threat momentum we’re referring to the speed at which the threat wants to advance or assault either by vehicle or on foot.  Natural obstacles frustrate and disrupt the threats momentum by forcing them to either bypass around or fight through to maintain their advance. Unless the threat has taken into account that bypass or breach it’s going to cost the threat more time and effort in both instances.  Note I stated unless the threat has taken it into account.  When developing a plan of attack a competent threat that has conducted at least a rudimentary terrain analysis will take into account the amount of time required to deal with a natural obstacle.  Most often with natural obstacles fighting through them just isn’t feasible especially when it comes to vehicles.  That coupled with the amount of time the threat believes it will take to bypass or fight through a natural obstacle will greatly impact their decision making process when it comes to planning the direction of movement both during  preparation and execution of an assault.

How can an obstacle prevent a threat from maintaining direction?  If the natural obstacle is greater than the threats capability to traverse it then it’s going to force the threat to reroute.  This is less true for dismounted (on foot) forces than vehicles.  Additionally regaining the direction of travel after bypassing an obstacle takes time and effort.  Threat forces have to reconsolidate (regroup) and re-establish command and control prior to proceeding.  Some examples of how a natural obstacles frustrates direction of movement are if dismounted troops aren’t equipped to scale cliffs or cross rivers then they are most likely going to have to bypass them.   Likewise if say a river or deep creek exceeds the fording capability of the threats vehicles then they won’t be able to cross at those locations.  FYI: most military vehicles are designed to climb at maximum a 60 degree solid slope – a very common design parameter.  Anything steeper and that vehicle either won’t be able to overcome its own weight and maintain traction or risks flipping.  Trails along the sides of hills that exceed 30 to 40 degrees (once again a common design parameter) are extremely difficult for both wheeled and tracked vehicles to traverse.  Below is a tabulated list of common military vehicle performance data (taken from TMs).

How do natural obstacles impact the threats ability to maintain command and control?  By presenting dense constricted terrain it’s going to be more difficult for the threat to maintain awareness of where his assets are and to control those assets movement in a disciplined manner unless they are highly trained.  The perceived safety of being close to support  or the fear of being lost instinctively tends to make a threat that isn’t highly trained “bunch up” or stay in closer proximity while moving through terrain that provides limited visibility.  Likewise if a natural obstacle forces the threat to split his forces (say between those before it and those beyond it) the threat leader may not be in direct control of up to half of its assets.  In a dense swamp or heavily wooded area the threat may not be able to keep all of his assets in view or not take certain assets with him.  As an example a technical (civilian pickup with a gun mounted) isn’t going to have the same capabilities to cross all of the terrain dismounted troops would.  Likewise when terrain presents a narrow winding corridor like a road at the bottom of a valley or along a steep hillside  that disrupts a threats ability to maneuver his assets while mounted.

So how can we exploit natural obstacles?  It’s going to be difficult because chances are most of your Defensive Priorities are going to be static and there’s not a lot you can do about that.  But by situating things like observation posts, checkpoints, small encampments, and even caches in the footprint of natural obstacles you can possibly prevent their detection by the threat and afford them some protection.  Some protection.  No position is ever entirely safe.  The key thing to remember here is that when you place such positions take into account that the threat may assault them – so be sure to have more than one direction of travel out of any position like this if you have to bug out.

Typically the most effective ambush sites take advantage of natural obstacles as well.  Example: the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan most often used constricted routes that paralleled steep cliffs to ambush Russian armored columns from the high ground by catching semi-isolated elements outside of the view of supporting armor or above its maximum weapon elevation (how high they can aim).  In such ambushes frequently Russian tanks would be unable to move up or back to support the lighter vehicles or get enough elevation to fire on the Muj positions.  Additionally The Muj made it common practice to have at least one natural obstacle between them and the threat thereby allowing themselves some protection from frontal assault.  This is an example of exploiting a natural obstacle.

A key thing to take into account is the threats composition.  A local gang of dirtbags likely won’t have the training nor equipment to scale a sheer cliff or ford a river with vehicles.  Those same obstacles would be almost insignificant to a trained team of troops.   The local SWAT team isn’t going to be as proficient as those troops crossing a heavy swamp but probably have better command and control than the dirtbags.  Take your perceived threats capabilities and measure them against the natural obstacles in your AO.

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Defense – Obstacles Part I: Introduction

So far we have covered fields of fire and observation, cover and concealment, and now it’s time to tackle obstacles.  Note I’m going to venture a bit away from normal military doctrine in covering obstacles.  What is an obstacle?  An obstacle is either a natural, man improved, or man made feature that is designed and placed in such a way that it will frustrate, channel, delay, or otherwise impede a threats movement (the obstacles goals).  Notice there’s no stop but just delay.  That brings us to a few basic truths about obstacles.

  • Obstacles will not stop a threat.  They will delay it, but a determined threat is going to eventually breach an obstacle.
  • Obstacles that are covered by observation and fire are more effective at accomplishing their goals than unobserved ones.
  • Obstacles that are concealed typically frustrate the threat better than visible ones.
  • Placed correctly an obstacle can channel the threat into your field of fire.
  • Natural obstacles tend to be the most effective.  Man made the least.
  • It is much easier to halt or delay a vehicle than a person on foot with an obstacle.
  • Obstacles require periodic checking and maintenance to remain effective.
  • And finally the greatest truth of them all:  Any obstacle that’s going to delay a threat getting in is most likely going to delay YOU getting out.

Keep those concepts in mind when you develop an obstacle plan.  An obstacle plan simply defined is the concept of what obstacles go where for what reason and how they work together in conjunction with the rest of your defense plan.  Your obstacle plan should exist at two levels.  The first level is for your homestead and your land.  The second level is at the tribal level.  During the next few entries I’m going to go into the different types of obstacles we’ll typically employ and then to close it out by applying  them to our case study.

Above I stated the first type of obstacle for our purpose is natural.  A natural obstacle is any natural feature found already existing in the environment that will accomplish our goals.  Natural obstacles include bodies of water, terrain features (such as cliffs, steep draws and jagged spurs, and depressions), thickly forested areas, and any kind of terrain that makes crossing it a slow-go/no-go effort.   Natural obstacles can also include certain types of vegetation.  Cactus fields, blackberry patches, and thorny thickets are all types of natural vegetation obstacles.  It is always sound practice to exploit any natural obstacle when given the opportunity.  For example rather than positioning an observation post in terrain where there’s no real natural impediments around it maybe putting it near a cliff edge would be wiser in that it would be better protected from a frontal assault.  For a general rule of thumb if you are going to remove a natural obstacle then it’s smart to consider replacing it with something else such as a man-improved obstacle.

Now the phrase “man improved” is a bit misleading.  The word improved doesn’t mean make better here.  Instead it implies that a natural feature has been changed somehow by human effort.  As an example – in our case study so far we clear cut a pretty dense piece of wood line to increase our fields of observation and fire however we also removed a natural barrier to vehicle movement.  But by leaving our 4 inch stumps instead of completely removing an obstacle we have modified it.  It might not be as effective as those woods would have been at delaying a vehicle but it will still accomplish that task. That’s another illustration of tradeoffs that you are going to frequently encounter when dealing with obstacles and the rest of your defense plan.  In that instance we needed clear fields of observation and fire to improve standoff (which was a higher priority) so the trade off was worthwhile.  Another goal of a man improved obstacle is to maximize the effectiveness of existing terrain that may not be a normal obstacle.

Man made obstacles are what most folks typically think of when they hear the word obstacle.  Wire is probably the most frequently used and the first to come to mind.  However barriers, ditches, varying materials, and other features that are placed by humans are considered man made.  Man made obstacles are normally the most resource consuming of the three types however if planned and executed properly can produce excellent results.  Traditionally man made obstacles are most effective when used in conjunction with both natural and man improved obstacles.

Ensure you weigh all of the impacts of what an obstacle will do including the possible necessity of moving out of the area and any requirement to access features outside of that area when developing your obstacle plan.  It would seriously suck to cut the only bridge leading out of your area and then need to get out of dodge in a hurry across that area if you were being assaulted.  When making those considerations think about alternative routes or possibly even creating a new route that affords a little more defensibility.  It’s also smart to take into account your estimate of the threats capability.  If you know the threat is moving around pretty much just in pickups then you wouldn’t necessarily require an obstacle designed to stop a tank would ya?  Using your Situational Awareness and Threat Estimate when planning obstacles will help you get the best bang for your buck and stretch your resources farther.

So who do we let know what is where when it comes to obstacles?  Here’s where OPSEC comes into play.  If I emplace some serious wire obstacles on my land and conceal them I’m probably going to let my neighbors on either side know where they are with the understanding that info goes no further than them.   Why?  Those neighbors may have to rally and help push back an assault on my homestead.  Likewise I’m going to ask my neighbor if he’s got any surprises  in case I have to do the same.  If your tribe forms a Rural Defense Force (RDF) that is going to react to attacks it’s probably a good idea for them to know as well.  This is where tribal trust comes into play.  Swear it by oath, blood, whatever but make damn sure everyone understands the confidentiality of it.  OPSEC uber alles amigos.

Now when you go emplacing obstacles on your own land that’s one thing but when you start putting them in areas and along features where it could impact the Tribes functioning then you might start running into problems.  IMHO any obstacle that is going to impact a roadway, bridge, or common feature (i.e. the church in our case study) really needs to be discussed amongst the tribe.  Let folks play the devil’s advocate and look at alternatives as I mentioned above.  Use your tribal decision making process to determine what kind and if they go in or not.  If folks go against it be ready to plead its viability and likewise be ready to make an argument against obstacles that would be frivolous.

So I want to send some folks out to lay in some obstacles.  At this point if it’s pre-SHTF then probably the only ones you are going to emplace are going to be on your own land.  But once things get hairy your tribe may decide to go out and emplace some in common areas.  To do this it’s best to utilize an Obstacle Party.  An Obstacle Party is a group of armed folks divided into two elements – the work detail and the security detail.  The work detail are the guys (or gals)  actually doing the work.  The security detail are the guys (or gals)  on watch and defending the work party during an initial contact with a threat.  An obstacle party should have a leader (either designated or elected however you choose to do it) to provide monitoring of work and make sure things go smoothly while keeping an eye on the defenses.  He (or she) is the whipcracker for this crew.  Make no mistake once contact is made work on an obstacle probably needs to stop and everyone fight but having that initial security detail to either alert or return fire can help buy you some time.   To minimize fatigue in the work detail and complacency among the security detail it’s usually prudent to rotate folks back and forth between the two.  But anyone not working on emplacing the obstacle should be providing security. The goal of the Obstacle Party is to emplace the obstacle as efficiently as possible while retaining a defensive capability.  Later on when we get into the Rural Defense Force issues we’ll cover things like planning, organizing, and executing Tribal patrols and work details.

Up next we’re going to look at some natural obstacles and ways we can exploit them.  Here’s some further reading for those so inclined:

Air Force Handbook 10-222 Civil Engineer Guide to Fighting Positions, Shelters, Obstacles, and Revetments

Army Field Manual 7-8 The Infantry Platoon and Squad Ch. 2 Section X Obstacles

Army Field Manual 5-102 Countermobility

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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

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