This article was written in the spring of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. OWI Squad is at version beta 18.
As of late, I’ve been taking up the Squad Leader position more often. I’ve noticed that the new commander artillery has caused the use of mortars and other player controlled indirect fire to become less common. I find this to be a little troubling because the use of accurate fire that was achievable with mortar teams is something that is incredibly useful for attacking enemy positions.
First of all, if you’re just getting into mortars in Squad, I suggest either the excellent, browser based SquadMC, or the Android based Squad Mortar Calculator. Both of these apps will give you a quick and accurate way to put rounds on target.
Now, a calculator isn’t enough to be an effective mortar team in Squad. To be effective, I believe that a robust method of communication is key to be stay coordinated between the people on the cannons and the people on the ground who are either observing the shots or pushing into the area that was just bombarded.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight. Effective mortars requires at least five people dedicated to the task of firing, guarding, observing, and resupplying. Without those five people, there will be bottlenecks in the process which slows the mortar team’s response time or up time.
Mortar Team Roles
Position Number One – The Truck Driver
The truck driver is the unsunghero of the battlefield who brings load after load of explosive ordinance to the mortar Forward Operating Base (FOB.) Once you have your FOB built, ensure your driver brings load after load of sweet sweet ammo. Remember to thank them for their effort, which is often lackluster but very necessary!
Position Number Two – The Guards
Effective shot placement pisses the enemy off. Without a doubt, competent mortar teams are going to attract the attention of competent opponents. Too often I’ve seen completely unguarded mortar teams get stabbed in the back and taken offline by one or two sneaky bad guys. Don’t let this happen to you! Post at least one guard who’s only job is to stare through binoculars and call out incoming aggressors.
Position Number Three – The Firing Unit (FU) aka Gunners
The gunner is the fist of the mortar team. The gunner’s job is to interpret fire mission orders, load the appropriate rounds, fire the rounds, and communicate with the rest of the mortar team.
I say gunners as plural because I think that’s essential for effective mortar teams. One gunner is not enough! One gunner could be sending rounds completely off target, or not spreading out their shots in the target area. Ideally, both gunners would be trained well enough to be putting rounds on target, but two gunners gives redundancy in the case that one of the gunners is too green.
It is not enough to dial in your mortar cannon’s settings to hit the target coordinates and then repeatedly send rounds down range. It is very important to scatter each shot a few clicks in each direction for both azimuth and elevation. What this does is it separates each mortar impact, evenly spreading the damage in the area which enemy infantry is likely to scatter. Of course, fire missions targeting stationary vehicles are an exception to this rule. As a gunner, be creative! You have a target coordinate, but it’s up to you to figure out how to dispense your payload in that area.
Mortar calculators are a godsend for the gunner. SquadMC is nice because there is no manual punching in of grid coordinates required. Instead, the gunner simply clicks the map to tell the calculator where the mortar cannon is placed, and then clicks again to tell the calculator where the gunner needs to send the ordinance. Every Squad mortar calculator out there has different pros and cons, perks and quirks. It is up to the gunner to practice with their calculator of choice and become proficient in it’s usage.
Controls & Terminology
First time using a mortar in Squad? It’s a simple concept, but difficult to master. Firstly, let’s talk about your controls. Moving the mouse from left to right will adjust your mortar’s azimuth.
In case you were not paying attention in math class (I know I wasn’t,) azimuth is the horizontal direction in which the mortar cannon is aimed. In Squad and Mortar Calculators, azimuth is expressed in degrees.
Up and down on your mouse will adjust the mortar cannon’s elevation, which is expressed in milliradians.
Finally, you can right click when operating a mortar which gives you the option of looking through the mortar’s sights.
There are two choices of mortar rounds which gunners have at their disposal. High explosive, and smoke. High explosive is the round to send when you mean business. It is the round that will kill infantry, disable vehicles, and wreak the opponent’s day.
Smoke is the round to send to obstruct the enemy’s view and provide concealment for your team’s movements. Don’t mix these up; friendly fire is not friendly!
I could write more about mortars, but a big part of being a good gunner is getting out there and practicing. Hop on Jensen’s range with a friend and get to it!
Position Number Four – The Forward Observer (FO)
A mortar team isn’t going to put a dent in the enemy if it doesn’t know where to direct it’s fire. This is where the forward observer comes in.
The forward observer’s job is to identify targets and situations where mortars will be effective for advancing the team’s goals. It is important for the forward observer’s to have a good sight picture on the target and make the gunners aware of any friendlies who might be near the area which is about to be bombarded.
When friendly units are near the mortar target, the phrase, “danger close” is used. This term notifies the gunners that their shot placement is deadly important. When gunners hear this, they know that they should not disperse their shots carelessly, as doing so could result in a fratricide. You may have heard this term thrown around in Squad when players are trying to warn one another that there is an enemy nearby. That would be an incorrect usage of the term!
Let’s look at an example of a forward observer. Let’s say there’s a flag that needs to be captured, but the enemy has built a well armed super FOB there. The enemy is armed it to the teeth with two infantry squads, emplaced heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. All attempts to assault this enemy fortification with friendly infantry has failed, and the squad leader determines that a coordinated mortar strike is needed before the next attempt.
The forward observer gets into place and views the enemy FOB through their binoculars. They plot a vulnerable point on the map and come over the Squad net with a call for fire. Effective mortar teams in Squad communicate quickly and efficiently, which means this message is kept brief, and recited using NATO phonetics.
I need mortar fire at grid. CHARLIE ZE-RO SEVEN, subkey FIFE, subkey TOO.Forward Observer
Position Number Five – The Fire Direction Center (FDC)
FDO is a fancy word, but really I’m going to go ahead and say that this is a position for a Squad Leader, and I’ve never heard anyone in-game refer to their SL as FDC. Squad Leader has access to the command net, in which other squad leaders may utilize to make calls for fire.
An inter-squad fire mission can be difficult due to the amount of relaying information which may need to occur, but the trick to staying on top of it all is to communicate quickly and without hesitation. It’s better to say a little more than is needed or ask for clarification if it means that everybody stays on the same page and stays in one piece. I can tell you for sure that one Squad acting as FO while the other acts as FDC and firing unit is a beautiful dance which pays off greatly when done well!
FDC’s job is to communicate. The FDC should spend a great deal of their time staring at their map, coordinating their infantry to make attacks in concert with the mortar strikes.
Mortar Team Communication Protocols
This brings me to a concept which is rather novel in a video game, but something that I appreciate and want to experiment more with. The idea is a consistent method of radio communication between FO, FDC, and Firing Unit.
1a) Call for fire
The Forward Observer initiates a call for fire. He does this using the adjust fire callout.
Adjust fire. Grid. ECHO ZERO SEVEN, subkey WUN, subkey WUN.Forward Observer
1b) Call for fire Confirmation
Immediately following the call for fire, the Fire Unit acknowledges the fire mission and responds to confirm. keeping with the theme efficiency, they discard all information except the grid coordinate.
Grid. echo zero seven, subkey wun, subkey wun.Fire Unit
I have to stress here that I don’t think Forward Observers and Firing Units should be relying on map icons to make and interpret calls for fire. I think this method is lazy, and adds unnecessary extra steps for the Forward Observer and the Fire Unit. Shit happens quick, and effective mortar teams need to take every shortcut to minimize the time between identifying target coordinates and getting rounds on target.
The whole reason I am so adamant that the Forward Observer should be calling out coordinates rather than simply placing a fire mission icon on the map is because of my experience being the Fire Unit. Speedily operating of a mortar cannon is best accomplished when I can focus on two things. My mortar calculator, and my mortar’s controls. I don’t want to be bringing up my in-game map to see where the Forward Observer dropped the icon. That is simply a redundant action which takes seconds out of my response time.
When the Forward Observer has the target coordinates in their mind, and communicates them directly to the Fire Unit, this eliminates the redundancy. No in-game map for the Fire Unit is necessary, and those coordinates get punched into the Fire Unit’s mortar calculator straight away. The Fire Unit has a firing solution and makes the necessary adjustments to their cannon.
While this is happening, the Forward Observer can make a description of the target, which indicates to the Fire Unit what type of round to send, how many, and how to distribute the round placement.
2a) Target Description
Whole squad of stationary Infantry in the open, spread 2 meters apart. Bring the heat!Forward Observer
I added some flare to that description, but the key takeaways are that the target is infantry holding still, and they’re all bunched up. This is a Fire Unit’s wet dream of a fire mission, because these targets are soft and exposed. A case like this might be a little unrealistic, but it gives the Fire Unit an indication that they should be firing high explosive rounds and to distribute their shot placement over a small area. The first round would probably incapacitate a majority of a compact unit like that, but if it doesn’t, the following distributed shots would have a good chance of killing the infantry who scatter.
2b) Target Description Confirmation
As per usual, the Fire Unit should always confirm messages from the Forward Observer.
Copy. Infantry in the open.Fire Unit
3a) Method of Engagement
Between the FO and the FDC, a round type and a round count should be determined to make the strike as effective as possible. In this case, since the target is stationary infantry, I would say that all available cannons should fire in unison to maximize the surprise barrage.
As fits the theme, delays must be avoided to strike while the iron is hot.
Both mortars, fire in unison. 6 rounds each.FDC
3b) Method of Engagement Confirmation
Copy! 6 rounds.Fire Unit
The Fire Unit should send their assigned volley, and confirm over Squad net that their volley is outbound.
shot over!Fire Unit
4b) Fire! Confirmation
shot, out.Forward Observer
5) Observe, Report, & Repeat
Mortar rounds in squad have about 20 second of flight time before impact. Once they make impact, the Foward Observer goes back to work, observing the effectiveness of the splash and making any necessary adjustments. This process repeats itself, starting again at 1a) with an “adjust fire” callout.
I’ve written about a lot of ideal conditions in this article, but hey, this is simulated combat. Ideal operating conditions are rarely normal!
I think there might be some more experimentation to be done on optimizing the relationship between the FDC and the Fire Unit. Perhaps it would be a good idea for the FDC to compute firing solutions using a mortar calculator, and relay the azimuth/elevation to the Fire Unit. This eliminates the need for each gunner to run their own mortar calculator outside of the game, and this would also give the FDC more control over how shots are timed. For example, the mortar team could call out, “up!” when they are loaded and ready to fire. The FDC could then have all mortars fire in unison for maximum shock & awe, or they could offset the firings to completely eliminate breaks between volleys.
Fire discipline – Wikipedia.
Field Artillery team – Wikipedia.