A good number of people who play Steel Beasts prefer to play online with other live players rather than merely against a pre-programmed computer opponent. Playing against other real people is often more challenging than playing against the computer. And playing with others co-operatively toward a common goal can be very satisfying as well. When playing with others, voice communications through third party applications such as Teamspeak can enhance the game by facilitating teamwork. Mixing players who have varying levels of experience with military radio procedures, internet gaming, and with different proficiencies in English (by default, the lingua franca of the community for which this article is being written), however, often results in voice communications not being used to their full potential.
For that reason, I offer the following suggested adaptations of military radio procedures for use in multi-play. Military radio procedures have been created and refined with the goal of communicating all necessary information as clearly and concisely as possible. These procedures depend on a vocabulary of short, easily understood words that have precise meanings. Adopting some of the most applicable of these words and procedures should result in allowing non-native English speakers to communicate as well as native English speakers and should foster teamwork by allowing all players to communicate necessary information fully and clearly.
RADIO TRAFFIC TRAVELS ON TWO-WAY STREETS
The concept of teamwork implies at least some level of organization. This article assumes that the players have organized themselves into at least some hierarchy, with a superior-subordinate chain-of-command relationship between players and units. Communications travelling downhill from superior units to subordinate units are orders; orders should contain all the information necessary for their successful execution. Communications travelling uphill from subordinate units to superior units are reports; reports should be complete, accurate, and timely. Any communication not travelling in either of these two directions is impeding the flow of traffic and should be avoided.
Clarity demands that all messages indicate for whom they are intended and who sent them. On military radio nets, messages begin with an identification. The identification is of the format, "Hey YOU, this is ME." Recipient and sender are designated by call-signs.
On encrypted secure radio nets, static call-signs are frequently used. These call-signs are usually of the form of a nickname for the radio station's unit along with a designator of the station's position within that unit. For example, all of a battalion's companies may have nicknames that begin with the same letter as each company's designation, for example: A Company is "Anvil", B Company is "Battleaxe", C Company is "Chainsaw", and so forth. By convention, the unit commander is usually designated by the number "Six" and the executive officer by "Five". Thus the B Company commander would be "Battleaxe Six." Platoons within those companies may be designated by color: red, white, blue, and green; black normally designates the headquarters platoon. Squads or vehicles within platoons would be designated by number. Thus, the platoon leader of second platoon would be "White One". On unencrypted nets, call-signs are assigned through codebooks and may take a form similar to R8J69, or some other alphanumeric combination.
For reasons too obvious and numerous to warrant mention here, such a system of assigning call-signs is not practical for Steel Beasts multiplay. The units in any given Steel Beasts scenario have been given unit designations by the scenario designer. These designations take the form: CO/A, 1/A, 2/A, 3/A, CO/B, 1/B, et cetera. Typical practice at present, when any attempt is made to address a particular player, is for players to call each other by their in-game nicknames or by their chosen avatars. For example, I am routinely addressed as "Gary Owen" or as "Gee Oh". This is a source of in-game confusion because it is not readily apparent from looking at the map which player is controlling which units at any particular time during a game. Accordingly, my offered suggestion is that in-game call-signs be used based on the scenario assigned unit designations. For example, whichever player is controlling the 1/B unit, should be addressed as "One-Bravo". The B company commander should be addressed as "C.O.-Bravo", "Bravo-Six", or simply "Six". In a scenario with a large number of players or units, the overall team commanders can be addressed as either "Blue-Six" or "Red-Six". (Using the term "Bravo" to designate the letter "B" is a convention of the phonetic alphabet. The complete phonetic alphabet can be found here.)
Thus, if the overall blue team commander wishes to issue an order to B company, he should send the message with the following identification: "Bravo-Six, This is Blue-Six". Using call-signs in this manner should reduce confusion, and facilitate task organization and teamwork.
When a superior assigns a task to a subordinate unit, the order should contain enough information for the successful completion of that task. The subordinate unit must understand the "who, what, where, when, and why" of the task.
"One-Bravo, this is Bravo-Six, over."
"Bravo-Six, One-Bravo, Roger, over."
"One-Bravo, Bravo-Six, Move to Battle Position Four once Three-Bravo has completed his move in order to provide overwatch for his next bound to the objective, over."
"Bravo-Six, this is One-Bravo, Wilco, over."
"One-Bravo, Bravo-Six, out."
One-Bravo is the who of this order, that he move is the what, to BP4 is the where, once Three-Bravo is in position is the when, and to provide overwatch is the why. Bravo-Six did not instruct One-Bravo which route to take. That would have been telling him how to execute the task. Bravo-Six made his intent clear by explaining the why of the order. Telling him how to do it would have been micromanagement, which is a bad command practice and is no fun for One-Bravo who should be allowed to figure that out on his own. (For a brief discussion on including the commander's intent in orders, see the article on OPORDS here.)
Generally there are three types of reports: SPOT REPORTS, STATUS REPORTS, and ACTIVITY REPORTS
Spot reports should be sent any time a player makes any type of contact (visual or sound) with something that is not a feature of the terrain map and is not a friendly unit. Examples are: enemy units, minefields or other obstacles, or artillery barrages.
Spot reports should be proceeded by the warning "Contact, _____, over." or "Contact, _____, out." This warning should issue immediately on making the contact. The warning should include a brief description of the contact. For example, "This is One-Bravo, Contact, tanks, out." or "This is One-Bravo, Contact, troops, over." The "Contact, out." warning should be given when your attention is necessary to develop the situation. For example, after having come into close contact with a platoon of enemy tanks, it is more important to either engage those tanks or to put the unit into a proper defensive posture than it is to immediately transmit the spot report. If the contact is only a sound contact, that should be mentioned. "This is One-Bravo, Contact, I hear tanks moving, over." The spot report should follow the warning as soon as you have the situation sufficiently under control to afford to make the report.
The spot report should contain enough information to apprise the commander of
the situation. The SEAL (Size, Equipment,
Activity, Location) format
should be sufficient in most circumstances. If the commander needs more
information, he can issue orders to develop the intelligence.
In some circumstances, an element of the SEAL format will not be necessary. For
example, a unit reporting a minefield may pass sufficient information
with the following: "This is One-Bravo, Contact, mines, over." "Minefield, oriented on north-south axis, grid 456123, over." In this case the size element of the format is unnecessary.
Status reports should be given at the first reasonable opportunity after any engagement or on request by the commander. Status reports should include any observed battle damage to the enemy and the status of the unit's vehicles, personnel, and ammunition. Status should be reported using the colors: green, yellow, red, and black.
A vehicle that is fully mission capable is green, a vehicle that has minor damage (GPS or laser rangefinder damaged, e.g.) is yellow, a vehicle that has major damage (immobilized or main gun damaged) is red, a destroyed vehicle is black.
A crew that is full strength is green, a crew with a wounded crewman but that can still perform (e.g., a crew with an injured loader) is yellow, a crew that can no longer perform is red (gunner and TC injured), a dead crew is black.
An ammo load that is sufficient for an engagement is green, an ammo load that
requires a quick reload is yellow (e.g., a tank that needs to shift AP into the
but that has HEAT available in the ready rack), an ammo load that requires an extended reload time is red (reload AP and HEAT, or a Bradley that needs to reload 25mm), an ammo load needing resupply is black.
An example of a status report:
"Six, this is One-Bravo, Status follows, over."
"One-Bravo this is Six. Ready, send it, over."
"Three T-72s destroyed."
"Two vehicles green, two yellow"
"All crews green."
"Ammo yellow, over."
Activity reports should be made whenever arriving at a movement control graphic, such as a phaseline, or whenever arriving at or leaving a position.
"Six, This is One-Bravo, PL GOAT, over."
"Six, This is One-Bravo, Moving west to overwatch Objective Lucy, over."
"Six, This is One-Bravo, Set at Battle Position Alpha Three, over."
POSTSCRIPT, "Roger-Wilco, Over and Out!"
WORDS, I believe.) facilitate brief and concise transmissions.
PROWORDS have precise meanings but are frequently misused. Knowing the precise
meanings of the most commonly used PROWORDS and using them consistently
in accordance with those meanings will facilitate good communications.
ROGER = I have received and understand your last transmission.
WILCO = I have received, understood, and will comply with your instructions. (Preceeding "WILCO" with "ROGER" is redundant.)
SAY AGAIN = Retransmit last message. (REPEAT is a call for another fire on a target that has just been engaged.)
OVER = End of message.
OUT = End of conversation. Generally the higher echelon station will be the transmitting party to decide when the conversation is finished and will be the one using 'OUT'. There are exceptions to this rule, however, see for example, contact warnings.
BREAK, BREAK = Clear the net, I have emergency traffic.
SILENCE, SILENCE = Clear the net of unnecessary traffic.
GUIDONS = The following message is intended for the leaders of all subordinate units on the net.
CORRECTION = last transmission was in error or "let me try that again."