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Guide to Urban Concealment

Tactical concealment is often only discussed in the context of rural conflicts. This shift of focus may have stemmed from the last 20 years of GWOT, where coalition fighters maintained open force postures and put less emphasis on disguising their dispositions. Luckily, within the last year we have seen a resurgence of urban concealment ideas, especially in relation to urban ghillie suits.



Urban concealment is more than a set of skills to support combatants, it is also vital for the survivability of any civilian population caught within a domestic conflict. The importance of disguising your movements and operating locations from the observation of enemies or criminal civilian opportunists cannot be understated.


Scope


We will discuss the fundamental differences between urban and rural concealment, methods to disguise both personnel and equipment in the urban environment, and counter-sniper tactics that have been employed during recent conflicts.


Definitions


Concealment - Concealment is anything that hides an individual, his position, unit, or equipment from enemy observation.


Obscuration - The employment of materials into the environment that degrade optical or electro-optical capabilities to deny acquisition by or deceive an enemy.


Urban vs Rural Concealment


Unfortunately, we have to go over some of the ‘suck eggs’ basics. If you have any military experience at all, just skip this section.


Concealment starts with what is known as 5S’s 1M, which is a short guide to what the human brain is good at detecting. There are a number of variants to this observation guide, for instance, some may have been taught the 7S’s. We will use the US army variant.


Silhouette


Silhouette refers to the outline of the human body (particularly the head and shoulders), vehicles, rifles, and other equipment that may be well known to an enemy fighter. To successfully camouflage these items, care must be taken to disrupt the symmetry or outline of the object.


Surface


Surface (sometimes referred to as shine) refers to the material and texture of equipment. Reflective/smooth surfaces or materials that do not match an environment will stand out more.


Shadow


Shadow refers to two concepts. First, move and stay in the shadows whenever you can, you will be harder to detect. Second, be aware of the shadows you cast as you move, this is especially important indoors where artificial lights will cast shadows into doorways before you cross their threshold.


Shape


Shape refers to patterns and items on your kit that may be unnatural in an area, for instance, a square admin pouch, magazines, or non-congruent camouflage patterns.


Sound


You have two ear holes on your head. They are moderately good at determining distance and direction. Try it out sometime.


Movement

Your eyes are very effective at seeing movement, particularly in your peripheral vision. Humans have been hunting animals for a long time and our brains are quite adept at seeing movement to support this behavior.


Now that we understand the basics, let's apply them. Urban camouflage relies more on mimicking man-made structures and objects, while rural camouflage focuses on blending with natural elements and terrain. The topic of concealment is very location dependent, you will have to survey your own city to know what works best. As a general rule of thumb, the urban environment tends to be ‘lighter’; light grays and even multicam have performed better than ranger greens or woodland camouflages.



You may be tempted to mimic a ‘trash ghillie’ to most effectively conceal yourself in an urban environment. Be aware that in areas of open conflict, conventional militaries will ‘recon by fire’ (shoot spare rounds at) anything that looks suspicious; trash piles, given their employment to hide IEDs in the past, will likely receive this treatment.


Finally, take stock of your tactical situation and scale your concealment plan to your objectives. The US army rarely employed concealment during GWOT as their objective was to maintain an open force posture, they wanted the areas they patrolled to know a large and well equipped force was present, and concealment would have degraded that perception. In a WROL situation, you may need to abandon your concealment strategies in the event you are tasked to conduct search and rescue or other humanitarian efforts in a collapsing town.


Disguising Urban Movement


The most vulnerable situation every fighter faces is moving through an urban center. Luckily, the civilian population of an urban area provides us with a new opportunity. Instead of attempting to completely obscure our movements, we can conceal our intentions and equipment.


The concept of the ‘gray man’ should not be alien to you. Observing and mimicking a local population's behaviors and clothing may be sufficient to allow you some freedom of movement within a city, our main issue is to disguise the equipment we carry. While most assault or field packs can be substituted for civilian variants, rifles and other enabling equipment will be more difficult.


A common approach to disguising equipment is to place it within non-descript carry bags for similar-sized items. A packed down HF radio, antenna, or solar array will fit into larger civilian duffle bags, while Rifles can be carried over the shoulder in lawn chair bags.


Image sourced from Larplabs. Instagram, larplabs.com


In the image above we see the setup used by Larplabs in APR 2023. He employed this method while providing aid to a tornado damaged area in Little Rock and carried in his rifle as a contingency due to the area's high crime rate.


Finally, taking advantage of the urban underground will likely be the only method that allows completely undetected movement. Subterranean movement and warfare is a topic we hope to delve very deep into at a later date. In short, there is a lot to learn about using the environmental and fighter-constructed tunnels in an urban area. Even in peacetime, the hundreds of narco-tunnels that pass beneath the US border with Mexico are invaluable to the cartels that employ them and it is clear that whoever controls and utilizes the tunnels in an urban battlefield will similarly gain a massive tactical advantage.


Wagner Group in Soledar salt mines - used as protection from artillery and to support the groups freedom of movement.


Hide Sites


A hide site is a location with complete concealment from an enemy while achieving as wide of a field of observation as possible. Rural hide sites may take several hours to build, however, much less work is needed to prepare an urban hide site. In some instances, a fighter may only need to close the curtains of a room to complete their hide.


Well-resourced teams will hang fine dark mesh from the ceiling of a room to create the illusion of a false back wall, behind which the fighter can prepare their firing position. Other teams have boarded up windows and left small peepholes to observe and fire through, or alternatively, drilled holes through an exterior wall to achieve the same goal. The easiest method, and one that doesn't require any change to the room, is to use a sniper shroud.


Photo of a police sniper in a hospital with a hastily constructed sniper shroud.


As long as it matches the interior of the room, a bed sheet or towel may be sufficient to completely disguise a fighter. These effects are amplified when the firing position is as far back into the room as possible.


For more permanent hide sites, fighters may consider employing decoys along their area of engagement. False firing positions in adjacent buildings may distract an enemy or give the fighter more time to abandon his position in a decisive engagement.

Sniper Obscuration


Many people don't consider the ‘counter-sniper’ tactics available to them. Most conventional militaries don’t teach anything beyond ‘pop smoke and triangulate’. This is a very reactionary method, and it is insufficient for civilians who are living in urban conflict zones.


A method that surprised many coalition troops in the middle east was the locals tactic of hanging bed sheets to obscure urban streets and movement corridors.



These sheets would disrupt any attempted contacts above ground level and would massively improve the civilians survivability.



Ingenuity has always been a force multiplier in conflicts, and the added intensity and restrictions imposed by urban environments ensure that the most creative fighters perform extremely well.


This is a look at key methods of urban concealment. This is not an encouragement to break local or federal laws.


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