5.56 Timeline

Two Man Tactics Part 3 – Sectors of Fire,

I’ve been struggling with writing this one as there are so many parts of this topic.  Hard to say where to start or what to cover.

Well, what is a sector of fire?  It is “A defined area which is required to be covered by the fire of individual or crew served weapons or the weapons of a unit.”

Preferably, a sector of fire could be completely observed by the individual (or team) from single place with out movement.  Ideally, a target could be engaged in this sector of fire without obscuring visible observation of the rest of the sector of fire.  For an individual, this usually ends up being a maximum angle somewhere around 90-120 degrees.  A smaller of sector of fire is preferable as it is easier to maintain complete observation over it.

But if you are alone, you need cover 360 degrees around you, not including the potential of threats above and below. You have to turn your head (or entire body) to maintain observation on this area. That sucks! Fortunately, we are talking about two person teams. That drops your area to cover to a 180 degree swath, not mentioning looking up and down.

Previously we established that there are three different two-man formations.  Column, Line, and Echelon.  Let us look at the column formation.

It would be easy to assume that the optimum way to do things would be the split coverage front and back and each person would cover a 180-degree swath.

Some would immediately argue that each person should cover as much area as they can.  While there is some truth and wisdom to that, there is also a reason why we say not to do that.  I’ll come back to this topic.

There may be any number of situations where one individual of the pair may not be able to cover a 180 degree swath.  For example, if were trying to move through thick brush, an area of booby traps, or a hallway.  The lead person might be focused on clearing a path, looking for traps, or looking into/pieing/observing rooms and windows or other avenues where threats may reside.

I think one of the most realistic examples of this might be a hallway. The rear person do their best to cover forwards and backwards down that hallway, while the lead person covers forwards and looks in each door, window. As the lead person is covering potential problem areas to each side, they will not be covering forwards, so the rear person needs to be covering it.

When you are moving, and especially in small teams, your sector of fire is continuously changing, and you need to be observant and reactive to this.

Covering to the rear is often seen as slightly less important than covering to the front or sides. This tends to be due to the direction of movement potentially moving you closer to hostiles, and that you have likely cleared the area you have just moved though. If this is not the case, if you are fleeing a hostile group, then covering towards the rear may be much higher priority than to the front.

It seems to me that when working in pairs, be it two vehicles with turrets or two individuals, splitting the coverage for direct front for one and the rear 180 degree arc for the other made sense, it was a little easier if the sectors of fire were angled.

front and rear sectors of fire
angled sectors of fire

While the sectors of fire depicted on the left picture worked ok, something like the right picture tended to work a little better in practice. The lead person often had to look back (look over their shoulder or turn) to maintain awareness and communication with the tail element (rear person) that which ever side they favored they could also cover more in that direction. The person in the rear almost never is able to just walk backwards watching the rear (walking backwards is a good way to fall on your ass). This angled sector of fire can be completely observed by turning ones torso when walking forwards. You can’t cover the a rear 180 degree as well as an angled one.

But this is something you need to practice with your partner/battle buddy/buddy cop/etc. It will come naturally with practice, but you won’t find what works best with out actually doing it. Lefties will be more comfortable using a different angle than righties. If there is a height difference, it might be better to have the tall person in the rear where they can look over the short person. (If I were shorter I would want the tall person in front so I would have more concealment from enemy fire). Etc, etc, etc.

Yes, but no.

Let me share a reason why we don’t teach sectors of fire like the picture above. Each individual has a job to do and needs to be trusted to do that job. Only once they have done their job should they try to help others. If you are trying to cover your buddies sector of fire and yours, and a hostile pops up in each sector of fire, you might end up engaging the one in your buddies sector of fire, leaving the one in your sector free to kill both of you.

How do I explain this?

And why beholdest thou mote that is in they brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the most of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out from thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the most out of thy brother’s eye.

Even Jesus says to cover your sector of fire first.

Let me share a story. When I was in School of Infantry East (SOI), at Camp Lejeune, as one point we went though a live fire shoot house. Mine you, SOI’s shoot house was two rooms where you could only shoot one direction (downrange). The shoot house was a major culminating point in this urban warfare training. But to be realistic, the shoot house really wasn’t much by way of training, and the urban warfare part of SOI curriculum was really lacking. But it was all new to us, and between the stress and trying to learn everything else, it was hard.

We did lots and lots of dry runs in a field near the shoot house. Looking back, we got more out of those dry runs than the couple minutes of live fire in the shoot house.

The Marine I was partnered with must not have thought very much of me. I am not sure if it was intentional or subconscious, but he must have thought that I couldn’t do it. We were having a good bit of trouble during the dry runs and practice. Finally the instructors pulled my partner aside and talked to him. They pointed out that each of us had a job to do, sectors of fire to cover, and targets to engage. My partner was trying to cover his entire sector of fire, engage all his targets, while covering my sector of fire, and engaging my targets. He was trying to do twice as much work as he needed to, and in turn, prevented me from being able to do what I had to do. I couldn’t do my job due to his interference, reinforcing his thought that I was unable to do it. I was too inexperienced to realize what was wrong. They instructor talking to him pretty much had to tell him that I was doing what I was suppose to be doing, and he wasn’t. That all he had to do was his share of the work.

A few more dry runs and we finally got proficient enough that we did the shoot house. Went fine.

It is good to help people, but you gotta talk care of the things you NEED to do first.
I’m not saying not to engage targets in your buddies sector of fire, I’m saying don’t do it unless you are completely confident your sector of fire is secure, will remain so while you are not observing it, and that your actions are necessary for victory.

Different shorter story. When I was in Iraq, I got shot. When I came back to my unit from the hospital, some of my squad mates joked about my getting shot because I didn’t cover my sector of fire. I pointed out that I was shot from behind. NO ONE got shot from MY sector of fire. All that joking quickly stopped. No one ever did say who was watching our rear when I got shot.

Working with other people involves trust. They may fail you. You might die because of that. But if you don’t trust people, you will never be able to work effectively with them.

1 thought on “Two Man Tactics Part 3 – Sectors of Fire,”

  1. Max Velocity has a great video on rules of thumb on getting to cover, avoiding fratricide, safety angles, etc.

    For fixed positions:
    I think this 3 man MG fighting position really does a great job of explaining sectors of fire, and it’s common-sense to understand how you can add an add’l fighting position for secondary flank and rear cover if needed: https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/23-65/Appd.htm

    Curved 2 man fighting holes also allow greater sector coverage and also info on sector stakes, etc: https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/21-75/Ch2.htm

    Also, this Vietnam A Camps book provides great insight on configuring modern forts/defenses. Largely based on star fort design dating back to renaissance time w/ mutually supporting fires, outer and inner perimeters, etc. Can easily scale these concepts up and down depending on area, personnel, etc: https://www.amazon.com/Special-Forces-Vietnam-1961-70-Fortress/dp/1841768391/


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