“Kill Zone” ... A Concept That Can Mean Life or Death (USCCA)

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Fred Fuller

Moderator Emeritus
Mar 26, 2004

“Kill Zone”
...A Concept That Can Mean Life or Death To Those Who Use It
And Those Who Ignore It.

By Gregory Klein
USCCA Inner Circle

WASHINGTON D.C. - “The Art of War” was written by the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher Sun Tzu over two thousand years ago.

Today it remains one of the foremost authorities on conflict and strategy and is studied not only by military leaders but also by politicians and top executives.

In essence, “The Art of War” teaches that the ultimate goal is invincibility. It tells us that we should strive for victory without battle.
Put another way, Sun Tzu’s advice encompasses the idea that battles should be won before the actual engagement begins. The ambush is the perfect illustration of putting this advice into practice.

Ambushes have been used for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest tactics known to man. It was most likely a hunting technique that made its way into battle early on in the development of warfare.

Throughout history it has, at times, been viewed with disdain as being a less-than-honorable way to do battle.

Nevertheless, it has remained a staple of military tactics for one reason - it works. And as long as the object of war continues to be to take out the enemy, it will continue to be used.

The Kill Zone

By definition, an ambush is a tactic whereby cover and concealment are used to surprise the enemy in a Kill Zone.

Of course, it takes all of these elements to carry out a successful ambush. However, the Kill Zone is what can make the difference between it being a surprise harassment or a surprise victory.

The Kill Zone is the area the target is in when the ambush is sprung. It is an area that the target is either induced or naturally channeled into by means of terrain, obstacles or deception. Furthermore, a good Kill Zone has barriers, either natural or devised, that hinder the target’s ability to flee, and it provides a good field of fire for the ambusher.

As part of the ambush tactic, Kill Zones have been used for centuries.

Knowing how to select and set up a Kill Zone is an intrinsic part of guerilla warfare. Nothing demoralizes an enemy quicker than to come under sudden, heavy attack with no quick or easy way out. In this sense, the ambusher relies as much on the shock value and confusion created as on the actual destructiveness of the attack. The ambusher is banking on the idea that, inside a good Kill Zone, the target will panic or freeze or both.

The ambush is the perfect illustration of the desire to win before the engagement begins. It is smart to go through your house or office and identify potential kill zones like this staircase.

Not just for soldiers.

While the concept of Kill Zones developed out of the ambush tactic, their use is not restricted to ambushes, nor are they used only by the military anymore.

Kill Zones are used by terrorists all the time as well as by common street criminals. Targets of ambushes now include ordinary citizens along with government officials and corporate executives. And many violent crimes are committed in what could be classified as Kill Zones. (We will continue to refer to them as “Kill Zones” even though the street criminal may more often use them for robbery, rape or assault.)

Kill Zones are a subject you should know about if you are serious about tactics and survival. It’s the last place you want to be if you are the target of an attack. Conversely, it’s the place you want to draw potential threats into.

How to recognize Kill Zones

To avoid being caught in one, the first thing you have to be able to do is recognize a Kill Zone. In simplest terms, these are areas where you would or could be trapped if you were attacked.

Some good examples include one-way streets or cul-de-sacs, elevators, stairwells, parking structures, construction zones, structures or rooms with only one entrance/exit and so on.

Of course, much depends on what preparations the threat to you has taken. You may think you have a clear avenue of escape or retreat only to find that the attacker has planned in advance and has you completely covered. To this end, you have to look beyond the obvious in assessing the potential danger of a location.

This means looking at a location in its entirety. You want to be aware not only of pathways or routes in and out, but also objects and features that can provide concealment and cover for the attacker. At the same time, there will be a noticeable lack of objects and features which can provide you with such protection. This kind of setup indicates a good field of fire for an attacker.

Be aware of being forced into an area or direction by virtue of obstacles, both natural and man-made. For example, maybe a crowd or a design feature blocking your path forces you to take an alternate and more vulnerable path.

The bottom line in recognizing Kill Zones is to think about where you are going, both walking and driving.

Be on the lookout for areas that force you to become isolated and that limit your options as to ways to enter and exit and seek cover if necessary. Also be aware of persons that try to maneuver or induce you into a position or location.

How to avoid Kill Zones

Being deceptive and being aware can go a long ways toward preventing you from walking into a Kill Zone.

Being deceptive in this case means becoming unpredictable. Many victims of crime wind up that way because their attacker is able to set up and wait for them. They do this based on the knowledge of the victim’s regular routine or patterns of movement.

It is always a good idea to vary your schedule somewhat. Also take different routes to work and home.

Being aware simply means being vigilant and always on the lookout for settings, locations, persons and situations like those mentioned above. You should also always be checking your surroundings before committing yourself to them.

Check the area surrounding your home before you walk out the door. This is easy to do from a door peephole or through the blinds. Look for things that are out of the ordinary like loiterers, door-to-door salesmen, parked cars and so on. When you step out, look around again and listen.

In office buildings and such, use elevators whenever possible. But avoid getting into elevators with suspicious people or people holding the door for you, and always push your own floor button.

Avoid stairwells as much as possible. The numerous door and hallway access points, along with numerous blind spots make them excellent Kill Zones. If you have to use a stairwell, try to use one centrally located in the building to cut down on isolation.

Look around when you enter lobbies of buildings. Make mental note of the people there as well as the layout. Do the same in parking structures and every place you move about. Stop, look and listen. Above all, never dismiss your own gut feelings about safety at any given time.

If you’re caught in a Kill Zone

Military and civilian security experts agree, if you get caught in a kill zone, the advice is this: get out of the Kill Zone any way you can.

Do whatever it takes - drive, run, crawl - to get out. It doesn’t matter how courageous you are, or want to be, your first objective is always to survive. When you’re trapped in a Kill Zone, your attacker has the advantage.

Remember that Kill Zones provide cover and concealment for the attacker while limiting the amount of cover and concealment available to the target. The only way you can turn that around is to first get yourself out of the Kill Zone.

It is vital that you are conditioned to react immediately. Part of being in the proper state of awareness should include thinking ahead. As you go about your day encountering new surroundings and situations, learn to recognize potential Kill Zones, and have a plan as to what you will do if there is trouble.

By constantly going through these kinds of mental rehearsals, you will gradually condition yourself to where the correct response becomes second nature. At that point, your reactions can be counted on to occur immediately.

To avoid being caught in one, the first thing you have to be able to do is recognize a Kill Zone. While this image may seem a little dramatic, it serves as an illustration of what can happen when trapped in a staged kill zone.

Turning the tables

While an attacker’s Kill Zone is the last place you want to be, a Kill Zone you control is your first choice of places to encounter a threat. Planned for and used properly, a Kill Zone will give you an enormous advantage in dealing with and taking out a threat, even when they have a firepower advantage. What would otherwise be a decisive win for the attacker can be turned into a complete and utter defeat.

But first you have to have a Kill Zone to get them into. Start thinking of the settings and environments you control in terms of how they can be used for cover, concealment and field of fire. Your home, your office, your travel paths to and from your car, your walk to the mailbox, your favorite restaurant - all the places you appear or occupy on a regular basis should be examined for ways you can set them up to control them.

Planning a Kill Zone

You need to set up excellent cover and concealment for yourself in planning a Kill Zone. In addition to providing you with protection, these elements can also give you the advantage of surprise over your attacker.

You also need a good field of fire to have an effective Kill Zone. This is the area where you can open fire upon the target at will, using the advantage of cover and concealment, with minimum risk to anyone other than the intended target.

Keeping these elements in mind, start trying to arrange your environments in such a way that potential threats will be forced into your Kill Zone. This can be accomplished by assessing from which direction a potential threat would most likely come. It could be a back door, a window, a lobby, down the hallway, whatever. Having made this assessment, you can then strategically place barriers or devices in the threat’s most likely path which will force them into your Kill Zone.

Tactical interior design

When it comes to arranging our homes and offices most of us place a priority on appearance alone. The suggestion is that you start to look at these areas from the perspective of a potential battlefield. Then consider how you can arrange things for an optimal strategic advantage.

What do you have to work with in your environments like your home or office? Consider your couches, chairs, desks, end tables, plants, floor lamps, and decorative objects. What are they constructed of? What can be used for cover, for concealment? Also think of them as chess pieces that can be moved to force someone to take a particular path or stand where you want them to.

Look at the construction elements involved. How is the room laid out? Is there a wall, partition or supporting element like a column to work with?

The variables to consider are virtually endless. The possibilities are unique to each individual’s environments. Summarily the points to be made are these:

You want to be able to channel the target into
your Kill Zone.
You want to have good cover and concealment
and a good field of fire.
You want to be able to strike and withdraw quickly.
You want to deny or restrict the target’s freedom of movement or escape.

If you can set up the environments you control so that these things are accomplished, you will have established an effective Kill Zone. As far as we know there aren’t too many “Kill Zone designers” out there, but perhaps some day .... It might just be an idea whose time has come.

Lance Thomas, a merchant in Los Angeles, survived four gunfights, killed five men and wounded three others. How did he do it? He was heavily armed. He was prepared mentally and physically. And his store was laid out in such a way as that all who entered were channeled into a restricted area with no cover. Plus, Thomas had access to reinforced barriers such as counters and walls.

So when the bad guys pulled their guns and the fight was on, they were sitting right in Lance’s Kill Zone.
Nice post. Even for just playing paintball, you can learn a lot from this. In other situations, this information can be crucial.
Interesting that in the past five years philosophy and tactics to react to an ambush have changed dramatically. Used to be for a near ambush you attack through, for a far ambush you run away. These days it is run away for both.

Time space and distance make all the difference in the world. When dealing with poorly trained marksmen getting away fast is simply one of the best things you can do.
As far as we know there aren’t too many “Kill Zone designers” out there, but perhaps some day .... It might just be an idea whose time has come.

True, but consider the legal hassle that will entail if the prosecuting party learns of such "premeditated" Kill Zones...:eek:

Nice writing, informative post.
These days it is run away for both.

Not necessarily. FM 7-8 (INFANTRY RIFLE PLATOON AND SQUAD) still lists the tactics you said in your earlier posts.

Near - toss concussion, frag, smoke, and then assault through.

Far - Take cover, return fire, flank and destroy or break contact.

Reacting to a mounted ambush is by SOP.

All involve getting of the kill zone - it's just that one way to ensure that you're no longer in a kill zone is to whoop the enemy so that he no longer has the initiative, cover, and concealment (elements needed to comprise a kill zone). That said, if it's a good ambush from an enemy who knows what he's doing, you ain't gonna see it coming.
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Speed, violence of action and fire superiority. Sometimes the best way out of the kill zone is through your enemy. If he's scoped out the kill zone, he's left himself a means of egress that doesn't involve going through you unless he has to. By going through him you may find his egress route for yourself. Surprise him with the violence of your reaction, close with him before he has a chance to adjust. It's probably your best chance of survival if it's a near ambush.
While a classic FM 7-8 and still in some use in the field it is not in use much outside of TRADOC anymore. It is wonderful for giving the basics. Most of the contents have been integrated into the FM 3-XX series manuals and updated.

Even so the unit SOP is what is followed anyway. A lot of units have simply changed tactics. It does not make sense to attack into an ambush in urban terrain especially if the fighter might be wearing a suicide vest or sitting in a VBIED.

Don't forget Murphy, if your attack is going really well it is probably an ambush ;) .
Nice post. Even for just playing paintball, you can learn a lot from this. In other situations, this information can be crucial.

now that i think of it, i made a "kill zone" in paintball a few days ago playing, i found a good place to bunker down, used the surondings to camo my weapon and mask, and waited, the target had only one way to leave thats past me, well i had him pinned down pretty good and it ended in my victory.
My sister recently explained to me how she decorated her house using the theories of feng shui. Maybe I should call her and suggest a Kill Zone arrangement. :evil:

BTW, I enjoyed your post. Very thought provoking.
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