How to fight tanks with ATGM
So, you got handed an Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) unit, now what? Most players in Steel Beasts are very comfortable with tanks and IFVs as those are normally the reason they got the software in the first place. Not many know how ATGMs work, or how to properly use them; as a result their first attempts with a ATGM system ends in failure and gives them a bad taste for ATGM and a view that they suck on the armored battlefield. That could not be more wrong! Properly used, ATGMs can make a huge difference on the battlefield and be a key part in the battlefield commander’s magic bag of tricks. In this guide, I will go through some basics to help users get along better with the ATGMs in Steel Beasts.
Note: ATGM in real life have a lot of weaknesses not yet simulated in Steel Beasts, so I will not mention those, if they show up in Steel Beasts in the future I will update this post.
What is a ATGM and what does it do?
I will not go through every detail of how ATGM works, as it would take forever and there are plenty of good articles on the web, but to properly use them effectively you need to have a basic understanding of how they function.
In Steel Beasts ATGM use either Semi-Automatic Command-to-Line of Sight guidance (using lasers or wire/cables, for example: TOW, Milan, AT-4/5, or BILL) or fully automatic fire and forget (locking on a target using radar, fiber-optics, or thermal imaging without further operator input like Javelin and Spike) and can be either dismounted or mounted on different platforms like the M2 Bradley, M113, and Humvee or dedicated ATGM vehicles like the Jaguar or BRDM-2AT.
The big difference between a tank and ATGM is that the ATGM is a missile, and not a round fired at 1700m/s from a tank gun, but needs to have an engine of its own to get to its target. And that is one of the bigger weaknesses with the system, because that gives long flight time to target; a tank round takes around 1.5 second to reach 2km while a ATGM can take around 12-14 seconds. So this needs to be calculated for on the battlefield, and we will get to how later on. The tactical advantage with ATGMs is their size, they are portable by foot by a crew, can move in terrain where vehicles cannot, and once in position they leave a very small footprint in thermals. (Currently, as of Steel Beasts 4.000, ATGM teams may use any dismounted movement type available, but fatigue much quicker when jogging or sprinting compared to regular infantry units). This also goes for most vehicle mounted systems as well, even if the vehicle itself is much bigger. Look at the picture below to get an idea of the footprint the system leaves when properly placed.
As you can see a properly placed ATGM is a very hard system to discover and engage at 1-3km ranges, with a very small profile and heat signature. But, as any other system, if you do not know how to use it, its worthless, so let’s change that.
The Placement of the System
An ATGM is like any other system, it needs good conditions to be at its best, and that is something you need to consider when finding and choosing your BP’s (Battle Position). The basics for choosing a good BP is in Sweden known as “the 8Fs” and other countries use different names, but here I will use the 8Fs as it’s the one I know and use, but translated for you guys:
- Clear fields of fire
- Air cover
- Frontal cover
- Field works (foxholes for yourself, obstacles for the enemy to slow them down/force them in your direction, etc.)
- Free regroup roads (be sure to be able to get out of trouble as quick as you got in)
- Avoid forest edges
As we all know, finding a position that matches all of above is a rare happening, but we must at least try to find as good position from above as possible to make us live longer on the battlefield.
When it comes to ATGM there are two of above that is especially important: Clear fields of fire & defensible ranges.
- Clear fields of fire: Trees in front of you, even few small ones, are a big trouble. You might have a clear shot when you fire off the ATGM, but as you are tracking the target the missile is changing its path and might hit a tree instead of the target – bad day for you.
The importance of clear fields of fire will show itself when we come to working on our range card.
- Defensible ranges: ATGM systems have a maximum and minimum range. ATGM systems are not good at close combat, some systems need around 400m before they are activated and working properly, and at close ranges the tanks discover you faster. If a system has a 2km max range, then a good combat range is 1000-2000m; not too close, but not too far.
Also, you do not want to sit in a 5km open field when you only can reach 2km, this will increase the risk of you getting discovered before you can engage the enemy, and you also risk getting tempted to fire off missiles on targets that are outside your max range. In other words, you loose the missile to self-destruction.
So when positioning your system try to keep these things in mind:
We want a position with good background (signature) on the reverse side of a hill so we can give a small signature and be able to back into cover quickly, preferably a solid obstacle between us and the enemy like a house or a small hill so we are not discovered before we can fire. And, of course, we want flanking positions on the enemy as their best observation is in the front of the tank – the flank or rear are far worse for observation. Being in a forest gives us a better signature and air cover that is very good, but it’s important to stay back from the woodline's edge and use the forest's shadows for concealment.
We also need a secondary position to switch to so we do not get taken out by artillery once discovered. We also want to use obstacles to force the enemy into our best engagement areas or slow them down so we have longer times to engage them. And did I mention we want as clear lanes of fire as possible so we don’t hit a tree instead of a tank?
The point about obstacle use is very important. Up to now we have been talking about the ATGM as A system, but an ATGM system is a system of systems; to get good results we need to work with mines, obstacles, friendly infantry covering our flanks, and artillery to pound the enemy.
Normally you get an ATGM platoon of 2-4 systems that you need to place so they can cover the EA (Engagement Areas) properly and work with them so when one system moves the other systems can cover the EA or open fire with all system at the same time to take out a tank platoon directly and not one by one (as the like hood of the enemy tank finding you increases with every missile you launch). This “bigger picture” is not something I will go into, as it is standard stuff even for tanks and IFVs, and you already should be aware of it.
Missile Flight Time
Below are collected a list of flight times for all the missiles we have in Steel Beasts right now. Notice on some systems (Like BILL and TOW) it is time from trigger press to missile hit, not true flight time. (Some systems have 1.5-2 sec calculation before sending off the missile itself). This will be vital when moving on to our range card and it is also good to count your time when you send off the missile; that way you know if something's gone wrong before the missile self-destructs.
- Example: You fire a TOW at a target at 2000m and that should take 11 seconds to impact, but after 13 seconds nothing has happened. This means you have missed your target (flew over the target for example) and you can ditch the missile, then reengage target without having to wait further 13 seconds to get confirmation the missile self-destructed.
Range Card/Target Availability Assessment
So now we will step back down to individual systems again and go to something in English called a range card. In Swedish it’s called MTB or Måltillgänglighetsbedömning (Target Availability Assessment) and it’s here the ATGM squad leader has his work cut out for him, together with the ATGM gunner.
Here we have our BILL2 ATGM system in position and in front of us is our EA, both in 3D and in map view.
So, how do we quickly get the range setup? Well, first we can use the BP Icon on the ATGM system. If you click your ATGM unit and have them on Defend/Hold/Stay or whatever you can move the black/white observation circle back and forth and it will indicate a range to that point and the pink field represents the maximum range of selected system. So that’s a fast and easy way to get a range set out.
But, if we want more permanent range markings on the map we need to do them our self. What I normally do before scenario start is to create range rings outside of the map boundaries, and then drag into position when I need them during the mission.
So, we create a new graphic – an oval and then type an “X” in the text box. The text box is initially centered, so now you have a zero point to work from. Be sure to set text size to 0 or the X will be to big and your results will not be as good as with a smaller “X”.
Now as you need bigger and smaller range rings just put the “X” on where two grids meet each other and drag your oval to next grid line, then you have a 1km range ring. To get 1.5 km just keep dragging until the grid figure on the map shows “50”, then you know you have 500m from the first grid line. (If it isn't obvious the "X" is where you put your ATGM system...)
So, this is how it looks when I am done with the range rings and showing the LOS tool so we do not forget that one. In real life you have a map tool to help you do this, so its pretty quick and simple to do.
What we are looking for on our range cards are of course RANGE. We want to know range to distance, as this will give us missile flight time to target (which varies depending on system), as well the limit of how far we can shoot.
We also need to decide what kind of targets we can or cannot engage in our EA, classified as follow:
- Static target
- Slow target (0-8m/s) [0-29km/h]
- Fast target (9-16m/s)[32-57km/h]
Why do we need to do this classification you ask? The answer is flight time, the big downside with ATGM systems. For example it takes a TOW 2 23 seconds from the moment you pull the trigger to the time the missile hits it max range at 3.7km out. 23 seconds is an eternity in combat; a clear target can easily disappear before the missile arrives and you have sacrificed a missile for nothing while giving your position aw at the same time. So this is VERY important, and my guess is that it's here most players fail in Steel Beasts; they don't identify what missile window they have, resulting in many wasted missiles. But, missiles like Spike, BILL, and Javelin can shine in these situations, as they are using a top attack angle, and are not affected if a target disappears behind a hill.
So, what do we need to know to make our classification on the range card (or TAS)? We need to know how fast our missile goes out to certain ranges, the range out to any obstacles that may block our target or affect our missile's flight, and the distance between those obstacles. Having a dedicated ATGM map tool really helps out here, but it's fairly easy in Steel Beasts as well using the Battleposition function.
Yes, being a ATGM squad leader requires a shit ton of math… (I suck at it so I always carried a calculator with me…)
So looking at our map we have already determined that range to the two far center farms is 1300m. Looking at the numbers on how fast a ATGM moves to different ranges (this depends on different systems, but I use BILL2 here) and known numbers is 6 seconds to 1000m and 9 seconds to 1500 so I will go with 8 seconds to 1300m. This can also be added to the range rings, so at 1km it says “1km – 6sec” for example. So now we look on the distance between the obstacles: two farms, and its 210m.
So, with that determined we now need to start calculating on the speed of the enemy to determine which type of enemy targets can be successfully engaged at this point in our EA. Lets start with a slow moving target going 8m/s:
- The target is moving 8m/s x 8 second flight time equals 64m. and we have 210m between obstacles so yes, we can engage slow moving targets between the two farms.
Lets do the same but for max range, flight time 13 seconds:
- 8m/s times 13 second flight time: 104m. So we can engage slow moving targets all the way out to max limit between the two farms.
Can we engage fast moving targets then?
- 16m/s x 8 seconds = 128m. So up to the farms yep.
A fast target goes 16m/s x 13 seconds = 208m. So we can engage even fast targets (but just barely on the max speed!). Now, using the same process, we continue calculate the entire EA. As we start to get results, we mark them on the map. In real life I used XXX zones for areas I cannot engage and /// zones for areas with slow speed only and left the rest of the map clear for fast targets, but here I have used colours: brown for static targets, yellow for slow targets, green for fast targets, and red for no targets to show you how it looks.
Normally, I would mark out limitations only and with smaller lines, but this gritty map is just to make it easier for you to see it all. So, let's continue mapping our range card.
And whoops, what do we have here? A thin layer of trees at 1500m (red area on picture). So up to this point we can engage targets at fast speed, but now what? The trees are in the way of the missile, the likelihood of the missile hitting a tree instead of a target is too large, so here we need to downgrade to static or slow targets.
So now we are finished with our range card/TAS:
Quick Reference/Shortened Range Card/TAS
Now we are done with the range/TAS card. Hell of a work you say? Isn’t there an easier way? Of course there is! This is the final complete range card. There is a fast way to do it that is good enough and it’s the first thing we do when we get into a position.
How it's done depends on the ATGM system, as they all have different sights, but all have lines that equals certain mils, just like a binocular. So for the BILL2 system you use your sight as a crude reference:
- Slow targets can be engaged at max range if the entire sight picture is clear of obstacles sideways.
- Fast targets can be engaged at max range if one and a half sight pictures is clear of obstacles sideways.
This method can be used on other ATGM systems or binoculars with mils, but first you need to figure out flight times to max distance and how many mils the sight is etc. I will see if I can be arsed to do the calculations for the common ATGM systems in Steel Beasts one day.
Most ATGM systems also have some visual help in the sight that helps you determine the range in a quick YES/NO way, but that is different for each system so you need to read up on the system you use. Or in worst case start working the mils calculation.
So now we have done all the boring stuff known as basics and preparation. Now you have the basic understanding to successfully engage targets with your ATGM system right off. But here I will highlight some things people don’t know or do not think about when it comes to ATGM systems:
Early Send Off
We know that flight time is our enemy when it comes to battling tanks, so what can we do to shorten the flight time? Early firing of the missile of course! But how? Look at the forest edge with your thermals and you will see the tank when it still is covered behind trees, but if you see it moving towards the open ground you can fire off the missile so it is almost on the impact point when the tank emerges from the wood. It takes a bit of practice to judge when to shoot but it can also be calculated using flight time, range, and mils.
Same goes if you can see a tank moving around a farm and you are sure it will emerge behind a barn, fire off the missile before so the tank and missile meet up when the tank emerges from the building.
Top Attack ATGM
If you have an ATGM system with top attack munitions, you can engage targets that only show parts of itself. For example: on a T-72, you can maybe only see the commander's machine gun and antenna sticking up behind a berm; not a problem, aim as usual and the top attack will fly over the berm, identify a solid mass behind it and detonate on target.
If you by some reason loose the target (it got away, got destroyed by someone else, etc.) you can switch target mid-flight if the missile is not to far out already. In real life, some missiles have limitations on how much they can turn without destroying itself but Steel Beasts is pretty forgiving, so you do not have to worry too much about what limitation each system has when changing target.
END OF CLASS
This is pretty much all I can think of right now to help people get up to speed with ATGM systems. There are many small paths I could go into depending on what ATGM system you are using, but I can't really be arsed to go write on every ATGM system we have in the game. So take this tutorial as a thumb of rule and then figure out the specials regarding your favorite ATGM.
If you have problem understanding anything I have written, have better suggestions, or questions just hit it and i will try my best to answer or adjust the posts.