Soft Contact

When the enemy is seen first, before seeing friendly forces. The significance of this is that the friendly forces have time to react to then enemy presence by moving into a better position to engage, avoiding enemy contact or withdrawing. A good example of a Soft Contact Drill is a Hasty Ambush.

Hard Contact

When the enemy presence is first detected by an exchange of fire, such as an enemy ambush. This is a result of the enemy detecting the friendly forces first (a soft contact from their perspective). This is the least desirable form of contact. A good example of a Hard Contact drill is a Counter Ambush.

Chance Contact

When there is essentially a hard contact for both sides; Either force only knows about each other at approximately the same time, relatively close to each other and without warning. The significance of this is that neither force is prepared for the engagement, so which force gains the advantage (besides size, preparedness and equipment) depends on which force reacts the most decisively, the quickest and with the most aggression. A good example of a Chance Contact drill is an Immediate Assault.

Suppressive fire

Fire, or the threat of fire that renders an enemy ineffective, and unable to maneuver (or “fixed”). An enemy is only suppressed if the enemy believes that ignoring the fire and exposing itself would be fatal.


When the base-of-fire element moves to dominating terrain that enables them to engage the enemy with the intent of fixing the enemy and supporting the maneuver element.

Maneuver Element

A unit or sub-unit of combatants (such as a patrol or buddy team) who is enabled to move by the Base-of-Fire element to a position of advantage or to the flank of the enemy, in order to destroy the enemy.

Base-of-Fire Element

The element who supports and enables the maneuver element with Support-by-fire and/or suppressive fire against the enemy. The base of fire element is usually the team with the most firepower in the form of automatic fire and/or the team in the best position (such as at dominant terrain) to perform the task.


This is in contrast to the concept of a maneuver and support element working together, where instead the enemy is destroyed without a maneuvering element from a distance. This is used when ambushing the enemy, where the ambushing force has a great advantage over the enemy  and/or when occupying the objective area is not intended.



Evolution of a Fire-Fight:

A basic engagement (or firefight) with the enemy usually follows a structure described with the mnemonic called “The Four F’s”, or Find, Fix, Finish, Follow-Through. This is the desired form that a fire fight should usually take, however there are situations where breaking out of this form is desirable, such as when engaging a superior enemy force, or when engagement is otherwise undesirable.  Defending an advantageous fixed  position (such as with the hasty defense drill) or disengaging an enemy force (such as with the peeling drill) are actions that are taken when a break out of the four F’s is desired.

The Four F’s can form the building blocks of a larger battle, and this cycle is often repeated several times during the course of a wider battle.



Soft Contact

There are several methods that should be used together to find the enemy before they find you (a Soft Contact);

A point man or unit (in the case of a larger formation) should be careful and alert, in order to detect the enemy before being spotted and to avoid walking into an ambush.

Reconnaissance can take the form of a dedicated patrol or scout team, aircraft, UAV or observing the area with effective optical tools from a distance. In addition to the enemy presence, Recon should also detect the enemy composition, intention, defenses, assets and the surrounding terrain.

Stealth & Rules of Engagement reduces the chances of the enemy spotting you. This is achieved by planning unit movement through terrain to minimize the exposure to a potential enemy and to use good individual movement (as discussed in the individual movement page). Rules of Engagement comes into play once the enemy has been detected, as once a friendly fires on the enemy, stealth will be lost for the entire friendly formation. As a result a clear ROE must be communicated to all subordinates. The ROE usually takes the form of not firing unless cleared to do so by a superior, so as to make the best use of the advantage gained by the Soft Contact.

Situational Awareness & Security is important, as a point man may not have seen the enemy, the enemy may be coming towards a flank of the unit, recon may have missed the enemy force or they’re location may have changed since last detected. Therefore detecting the enemy first can often depend on each member of the friendly force maintaining good situational awareness at all times and keeping up security (including making sure that the formation’s rear is clear). Remain diligent even in areas previously cleared.


Immediate Halt

When the enemy is spotted first (soft contact) by any friendly and there is a risk that friendly forces will be imminently detected or attacked, then the order ‘Freeze!’ is given by that friendly and the entire patrol freezes immediately and awaits orders. A contact report must be provided as soon as possible after the freeze is called by using the 3Ds below by the person who called freeze or anyone else who sees the enemy in question.


Hard/Chance contact

The final case in which the enemy is detected is in a Chance or Hard Contact, when they detect you first, or an engagement starts without warning. If you come under fire in this scenario, immediately drop to the prone position and seek the nearest available cover, then determine where the fire is coming from and return fire immediately, giving a contact report using the 3Ds below as soon as possible. The difference between a reaction to a Hard and Chance Contact would be that in a Chance Contact, only the lead elements in the friendly formation would likely come under fire, with less intense and coordinated fire than would occur in an ambush. As a result of this, the trailing members of the formation should  engage the enemy as soon as possible before the enemy does the same (thus initiating an Immediate Assault drill).

The drill to be used in the event of a Hard Contact is either the Counter Ambush (when receiving heavy fire) or the Immediate Assault (when the contact is a Chance Contact or light) drills.


The 3Ds

When the enemy is detected by a friendly in a soft contact, then that person would say “Sighting!”, or in the case of a hard contact, “Contact!”, both followed by a description of the contact by using the 3Ds below. If the friendly force is at risk of being detected or attacked then it is better to provide an adequate 3D now, than a perfect 3D when its too late or the information is no longer timely. For each of the 3Ds, below, examples are given in increasing order of accuracy, but each step can become progressively slower to determine and report.

  • D – Direction (Direct front!, North West, 270 Degrees)
  • D – Distance (Close!, 100m!)
  • D – Description (Multiple Infantry!, 3 Men!, 3 Men armed with RPG’s at AKs!)
  • For a quick example: “Contact! Direct front! Close! Multiple Infantry!
  • For a detailed Example: “Contact! 230 Degrees… 100 meters… 2 Men, armed with AKs!”


Patrol Leader’s Actions

Following the contact report, the Patrol Leader will confirm the contact by saying “Seen!” (If he/she was not the one to make the contact report) and will then decide on a course of action based on the direction and strength of the contact and the circumstances at hand and alert higher command his/her team is in contact with “Contact! out.“.



This next step is crucial to allow friendly forces to maneuver around the enemy in the next step (Finish) and utilize tactics that require maneuver in order to destroy the enemy.

Fixing the enemy is achieved by using support-by-fire and/or suppressive fire over the enemy with the intent of achieving fire superiority over the enemy, allowing friendly forces to maneuver around the enemy without the threat of being attacked in an exposed flank, or the enemy maneuvering to interfere with the friendly maneuver or base of fire elements.

Another important requirement needed to fix the enemy is to isolate them. Isolating the enemy is done by cutting off outside enemy support or interference and the ability of the force being fixed from mutually supporting each other and maneuvering.

Fixing the enemy has the added advantage of putting pressure on the enemy and their commanders, forcing them to stay on the defensive.

Most drills require the enemy to be fixed (such as Fire and Maneuver) and the aim of some of them is to achieve this (Such as Immediate Assault, Hasty Ambush and Counter Ambush).


Fire Commands

Achieving fire superiority and adequate suppression is vital to fix the enemy in place. The method best used to coordinate the team’s fire in order to achieve this is known as Fire Commands:

A – Alert – “SAW Gunner!”
D – Direction – Use laser, tracers, bearing (Eg: North West or 180 degrees) or point
D – Description – “3 enemy, with small arms!”
R – Range – “100m!”
R – Rate of Fire – “Sustained (Semi-auto)/Rapid (close to full)/Cyclic (full auto)
C – Command to Fire – “Fire!” or “Fire on my mark!”

The same principles on timeliness described above in the 3 D’s section applies here as well: “better to provide an adequate 3D now, than a perfect 3D when its too late”.


Search, Fire, Check

Each member firing on the enemy should maintain communication with fellow team members and situational awareness by using Search, Fire, Check: Search for enemies in your sector of fire. Fire on them. Check each team member around you for orders and to maintain Situational awareness. Repeat from beginning.



In the offensive, this is known as an assault, in the defensive, this is known as a counter-attack.

The aim of finishing the enemy is to put the enemy at a greater disadvantage after being fixed by engaging them when and where they are most vulnerable, such as from a flank or close advantaged position while they are fixed and/or suppressed, then to press home this advantage by destroying the enemy with fire.

Finishing is primarily the responsibility of the maneuver element and can be achieved by using the Fire and Maneuver drill. Then once the maneuver element is in close with the enemy they can defeat them with the Fire and Movement Drill. Finishing the enemy is achieved once the enemy is killed or unable to fight any longer.

Sometimes Fixing and Finishing the enemy may merge into the same step when the volume and effectiveness of the Fixing fire on the enemy is so great as to defeat them. This is usually the case in an ambush (such as in the Hasty Ambush Drill) where attack-by-fire is used. When this is the case, then there are usually no separate Maneuver and base-of-fire elements.



Once the Fire Fight is over (even if you broke out of the Four F’s with a Disengagement (such as a Peel Back Drill)), it is important for the team to reorganize and continue with it’s mission. it is the responsibility of the Patrol Leader to reorganize the team and make sure it is in a combat ready state as soon as possible. The following procedure should be followed to achieve this:

  1. Security: Establish 360 degree security, usually with the Go Firm Formation at the Patrol or Section level.
  2. Check: Check for and treat casualties, if any. Check the ammo levels of each team member and redistribute ammo if necessary. No one moves without Ammo.
  3. Replace: If casualties are taken, replace the casualty’s position if he/she held a key position (2IC/PL) and make sure that important weapons and equipment are manned or carried.
  4. Notify: Notify higher command what the size of the enemy force was, the location the contact occurred at, how the enemy force was dealt with, the number of friendly casualties and what the team’s following actions are going to be.
  5. Resume: Resume the mission if possible.



Initiative Based Tactics

Initiative Based Tactics (IBT) are something I first read about in an excellent After-Action Review written by Marines who fought in Fallujah, Iraq. I will quote them directly – these are the four rules of IBT

- TTP2

IBT is an important mindset for Patrols to have and is a useful tool in order to deal with difficult combat environments and to maximize the chances of survival for your team.
From the document:

The Four Rules of Initiative Based Tactics
  1. Cover all immediate danger areas.
  2. Eliminate all threats.
  3. Protect your buddy.
  4. There are no mistakes. Every Marine feeds off of each other and picks up for the slack for the other. Go with it.

Useful quotes selected by TTP2:

All danger areas while on the move must be covered.  Security must be three-dimensional and all around.  Each Marine in the stack looks to the Marines to his front, assesses danger areas that are not covered, and then covers one of them.  If every Marine does this then all danger areas will be covered.

At all times the squad will move by using IBT and adhere to its principles which will be addressed later.  No Marine should make an uncovered move. The squad should move at a pace that is swift, but controlled, exercising “tactical patience.”