Dummies' Guide to Steel Beasts
Cover and Concealment
Not getting hit is at least as, if not more important than, hitting the other guy. The best way not to get hit is to avoid being seen. In order to avoid being seen, you must understand how to use cover and concealment. Cover and concealment are not the same thing. They are distinct concepts. Using cover means that you are using the terrain so that the other guy does not have line of sight to your position. If your position is completely covered with respect to another position, then someone in that other position cannot hit you with direct fire weapons. Concealment is the use of the surroundings to make it more difficult for the other guy to see you.
The following two diagrams, which were taken from the U.S. Army Field Manual 17-15 (1996), demonstrate the difference between cover and concealment. The first diagram shows a tank in a covered fighting position. The tank is completely covered when it is in the hide position. When it is in the turret-down position, it is covered, but the tank commander (TC) can see over the terrain in front of the tank. Because the gunner’s primary sight (GPS) aperture on an M1 is on the top of the turret, in a turret down position the gunner can still scan and acquire targets. In the hull-down position, the tank has moved to a position where it is partially uncovered, but it has exposed only the turret so that the gunner can engage targets. The second diagram shows a frontal view of an M1 in turret-down and hull-down positions. Although the tank on the left is in a good covered position, it is still easy to see because of the outline of the top of the turret. Creating a silhouette this way is sometimes referred to as “sky lining” and should be avoided. The tank on the right has chosen a covered position that has some vegetation as a backdrop. The vegetation breaks up the silhouette and conceals the turret.
Of course using vegetation as a backdrop does not make the turret invisible. In fact it may not be much of a help if the other guy is using equipment with passive thermal sights. The tank’s heat signature will still stand out from the vegetation background. This is important to keep in mind when you are in wooded terrain. When you are surrounded by trees, you may feel safe, thinking that because you can’t see anything but trees from your position, no-one else can see you. This is definitely a false sense of security. A vehicle using thermal sights may be able to see hot spots from your vehicle’s heat signature as it passes through the trees. Thus, traveling through woods is a bad idea for large vehicles. (There is of course also the possibility that you could have a tree stump cause your track to pop off of the road wheels, “throwing track“, or that a tree branch could damage a radio antenna or other vital equipment such as the TC.) Dismounted infantry, however, are safer in wooded terrain than in the open. They are smaller and their ability to get prone makes it much more difficult to see them in the woods. And because they are not limited to the restricted field of view that tank sights have, they can see much better while they are in the woods than a tank gunner can.
Vegetation is not the only source of concealment. Smoke is also an available source of concealment. In Steel Beasts there are three sources of tactical smoke: smoke grenades, smoke generators, and artillery smoke. Tanks, IFVs, and APCs all have smoke grenade launchers. When triggered, smoke grenade launchers create a thick wall of smoke in front of the vehicle Certain vehicles have smoke generators. Smoke generators generally work by spraying crankcase oil or fuel on the exhaust manifold thus creating a trail of smoke behind the vehicle as it moves. Artillery smoke is pretty much self-explanatory. Of the three available sources of smoke, artillery smoke will create the largest smoke screen and it can be called down on distant positions. Its availability depends on whether or not it was included by the person who authored the particular scenario you are playing. When using smoke, it is important to remember how passive thermal sights work. Thermal sights can see through smoke screens, naked eyeballs and other target acquisition systems cannot. But even those vehicles with thermal sights may be effected by smoke. If it is thick enough, it may diffuse laser beams and cause laser range finders to be ineffective.
Cover and concealment should always be kept in mind. If you are in a defensive position, you should be aware of any covered approaches. Terrain that cannot be engaged from a position is called “dead space,” and you should try to eliminate as much dead space as possible. Hiding dismounted infantry in the dead space and using them as observers for indirect fire is a good method. Also, when you are moving, you should try and take advantage of covered and concealed routes as much as possible. Remember that the trick to playing this game well is to see the other guy before he sees you.
We do not intend to get into a technical discussion about the metallurgy and composition of modern tank armor. A few broad generalizations will suffice for our purposes here. Anyone interested in learning more should take the time to read Paul Lakowski’s article, Armor Basics.
Basically, tanks are the most heavily armored vehicles in the game. And a tank’s armor is thickest up front. This is a corollary of the Claymore Principle - Front Towards Enemy. Its armor is not quite as thick on its flanks and is thinnest on its top and rear. It is always best, if possible, to engage a tank from its side or rear. There are two reasons for this. It will most likely be looking to its front and won’t see you coming, and if you do hit it you’re more likely to kill it.
Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Armored Personnel Carriers have lighter armor than tanks. But they do follow the Claymore Principle; they’re most protected in the front, least protected in the rear. That their armor is not as thick as a tank’s armor has a paradoxical effect. A hit from a sabot round might not kill an IFV or APC. The reason for this that when a sabot round hits a target, there is a transfer of momentum. Acceleration is a component of force. When a sabot round hits a target, it decelerates, or loses momentum. That loss of momentum is transferred to the target as a force that the target must absorb. Because a sabot round is likely to pass completely through the thin armor of an APC or IFV without losing much speed, the amount of force absorbed is relatively less than that absorbed by a heavily armored tank. This is why your TC orders your loader to load HEAT rounds when engaging PCs.