"What happened to the near ambush?"


I remember an article headline from one of the U.S. Army journals (90's); IIRC it was "What happened to the close ambush?". I don't remember the  article content, but I remember the headline, for it's an example for how tactics sometimes fluctuate in their popularity.

A near ambush is an ambush in which the ambushers allow the enemy to get quite close, maybe 60 m, before they start killing. The opposite is the now fashionable desire to shoot any all detected and identified enemies, even at ranges not traditionally considered infantry combat ranges.

My opinion is something in between; I want infantry sections to be very effective against infantry out to 200 m, maybe 300 m (with support weapons shooting farther, of course). That may sound short distance nowadays, but that's because people have lost the understanding how far away 200 or 300 m actually are. I can look out of my living room window and see 50+ positions at which I'd have great difficulty to timely detect a camouflaged rifleman with Mk 1 Eyeball sensors. That's all within a 160° cone of only 20...100 m length! Open fields aren't necessarily better; some fields were harvested, but the stems are still there and both the sunflower and the corn fields could easily conceal entire cars from view at a mere 20 m distance.

To shoot at long distance serves to slow down any hostile advance and channels it into microterrain that offers concealment, which in turn offers defenders the opportunity to hit moving hostiles with indirect fires aimed at such (in some areas rare) terrain features. The downside of shooting at long distances is that you give away your presence, possibly even your exact location.

The idea of the near ambush is rather lethality; infantry firepower is devastating at such a distance.

The book "War Games" by Leo Murray ( a book about combat psychology) offers an interesting and presumably important psychological detail: Assaults often collapse at a certain distance; the distance where the attackers are at a point of no return. Either they press on with the attack or they withdraw now. To advance and not press on to the enemy's position would be suicide. Leo Murray offers 60 m at a possible such point of no return distance. That happens to be what I remember as a typical near ambush distance (though no doubt different armies in different decades had varying opinions about this).

It might be that the near ambush is a very risky tactic simply because it leaves the hostiles no choice to run; and we WANT the hostiles to run. We ALWAYS want them to run. Hostiles running away from us is GOOD (as long as they're no steppe horse archers). We never want them to fight, certainly not within hand grenade throwing range (~30 m) to us.

This reminds me of how the usual talk about infantry combat ranges is too devoid of tactics and (certain) combat psychology considerations. Combat psychology would favour long ranges, tactics would favour rather short ranges. I suppose that people who are outspoken in their preference for long ranges ('We want to return fire to the Taleban's harassing PKM fires from the distant ridgeline!') just give in to their own combat psychology. Moreover, the effect of equipment weight (and the effect of range requirements on equipment weight) seems to be underappreciated. The videos from Ukraine clearly don't show infantry as overburdened in battle as the imagery from Afghanistan.













  1. Judging by plenty of telegram videos out there, the near ambush is plain and simply well and alive at least in the ukraine. It's the full spectrum over there.

    1. There's a bias because videos of shots at distant men don't show much unless captured through a magnifying sight.

    2. You get actually drone observation videos of about everything. Storming of trenches, anti tank weapons fired at short distances (50-100m) by infantry and in sequence in an obvious direct ambush. The action can be clearly identified for what it is. They call it active defence: small mobile reconnaissance detachments setting up ambushes in front of a hard defence line. At least the Russians are doing plenty of exactly that.

  2. I suspect that there will be computer aided observation to identify possible enemy shooters. How does a close ambush survive the improved observation power?
    Computer aided vision and aiming might lead to a redefinition of the word close.

    1. Most soldiers do not shoot as well on the 2-way range as we would like to believe. The enemy quickly learns to become an elusive target or is is removed from the gene pool. Adrenaline, fatigue, fear kick in affecting accuracy, then there is the noise/smoke/confusion, finally, a great many shooters have crap range estimation skills: usually dramatically over-estimating the distance to target. This is why crew served weapons tend to decide the issue, not the riflemen. Even at ranges under 100-meters, it is better to initiate an ambush with command detonated mines: even grenades on detonating cord, than to rely on solely on rifle fire.

    2. @GAB You are mostly right. However please don't forget that there is an immense difference in this regard between conscripts caught forcefully from the streets and already baptised by fire troops like for example the "musicians".