Disguise as a conventional forces tactic

This is a quote from an Army study of 2005:

Future enemies have certainly learned from the experiences of the Iraqi military in the last two wars. If a BMP is easily destroyed at two kilometers but a pickup truck with an RPG can infiltrate to within 100 meters of a U.S. tank company, it makes little sense to continue to build battalions of BMPs. We can expect that future conventional enemies will attempt to blend in with the local population by employing forces in civilian clothing and mounted in commercial vehicles. As American UAVs proliferate on the future battlefield, the importance of "blending in" will grow. Adversaries will seek ways to deceive surveillance systems by avoiding detection or by becoming indistinguishable from the increasingly cluttered environment in which they operate.
(Emphasis mine)

This is an interesting thought.

It reminded me immediately of the South African Valkiri multiple rocket launcher which can be hidden behind a normal truck tarpaulin.

Disguising (a form of deception) instead of camouflaging may actually work if there's a lot of 'noise' (civilians and their hardware) and relatively few targets in the area (low force density).
Filtering the noise would require that OPFOR inspects much of the noise - a very personnel-intensive task that distracts from other missions. Many modern combat brigades are too weak on MP and infantry and would be in great troubles if faced with such a challenge.

Such a disguise tactic might actually be useful in economy of force missions, but not in the Schwerpunkt area. The necessary ratio of targets:noise and the difficulties of employing disguised forces in concentrated, decisive tactical blows seem to preclude their use at the Schwerpunkt in any other than supporting roles.

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The disguise tactic also reminds me of guerrilla tactics in urban warfare, especially the Vietnamese ("Blooming Lotus") and Chechen ones. They didn't assault a city from outside to cut it in pieces, but infiltrated and attacked from inside. The infiltration happened in disguise, of course.

On a tactical level, the NVA used a technique known as the "blooming lotus" to take the town. This methodology was developed in 1952 in an assault on Phat Diem. Its key characteristic was to avoid enemy positions on the perimeter of the town. The main striking columns moved directly against the center of the town seeking out command and control centers. Only then were forces directed outward to systematically destroy the now leaderless units around the town. This outward movement, like a flower in bloom, gives the tactic its name. A reserve was maintained to defeat any counterattack that is mounted to relieve the command center.

It's questionable whether conventional forces can adapt to such a tactic, even under favourable circumstances. The required mindset isn't part of conventional forces leader training in most if not all armies. Special forces are prepared for such behaviour, but conventional forces (except maybe in leftist Asia) seem to be ineligible.

I didn't check the conventions this time, but I think soldiers keep their combatant status and do nothing illegal if they use civilian vehicles and attempt to appear as civilians as long as they don't drop visible indicators of their army. Such an indicator doesn't need to be recognizable at 50+ m distance if I remember correctly.

Armies with the determination to improve and adapt to modern warfare and with an inability to defeat intact Western brigades and air power in battle may think about the disguise tactic.

Armies with superior brigade combat power and air power should think about the disguise tactic both as a possible OPFOR tactic and as a tactic for screening, security & recce missions.

Sven Ortmann

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