Course Review: Urban Defense

What ECQC is to the individual, Urban Defense is to the community. Check out what we learned from Legendary instructor Paul Howe in his 'Urban Defense Course'.

December 30, 2019




  • Paul
  • Cheston
  • Shane
  • Phil


Urban Defense is a curriculum that incorporates various aspects of urban combat into unified sequences to test the student’s ability to rapidly transition between fine and gross motor skills, make quick judgments while retaining trigger inhibition and threat discrimination. The course uses a ‘crawl, walk, run” progression in which the students individual skills are audited during the first portion. Mechanical issues are diagnosed and the instructional staff suggests corrections.

A note on instruction: Throughout the course, Paul said very little about himself, and the drills in particular. In a typical UDC class, the context is provided at the beginning, and the students go into the sequences knowing how they fit in to a collapse.

Nearly everything we did was self-explanatory; there was no excess, and the skills we were developing/auditing could be said to form the “core” of a skillset designed to get out of societies in varying degrees of collapse. When confronted with a question, the staff was extremely diligent in answering thoroughly, indeed, several times they answered, got a second opinion, and gave serious thought to how best to answer.

I confess that during professional courses in which I’m not familiar with the instructor, I sometimes ‘bait’ the instructors by asking questions I know will be seen as silly, stupid, or beneath them to see how they will answer. This tells me a lot about the instructor's depth of knowledge and composure, if done right.

From the moment I arrived, I never once considered it with the CSAT staff. They were all consummate professionals and the curriculum was thought through based on a great deal of operational experience.

"Find Work"

One of the re-occurring themes of UDC, and Paul's curriculum more generally was "go find work". This is an easy thing to think you understand. There's a tendency to think the work is over when the target goes down. The truth is that's a small part of the overall package. Think of it like this: When you eat dinner, you're not thinking about all the work that went into making it, or the work that comes on the tail end. Working these problems is like preparing a meal; you need to have specific ingredients in place and once it's done it's time to clean up.

Throughout the course, Paul would interrogate your thinking if he found you in a "lull". Did you top off your weapons? Did you have a solid level of awareness of the battlespace? What's going on with your teammate? Where are the threats?


The course is broken into the following components:

  • Mindset
  • Neighborhood Defense Overview
  • Zeroing and Skills tuning
  • Surgical accuracy/Hostage Targets (Pistol)
  • Barricade/supported shooting
  • Vehicle Bailouts
  • Managing Checkpoints/unknown contacts
  • Exterior Contact
  • Single CQB and T-intersections
  • Interior movement
  • Medical
  • Cache/Battlefield Recovery
  • Mass Attacks


Author's AK103 Clone. Magnified optics were a tremendous advantage, both in training and during the author's time overseas.

Equipment for the course was, for the most part, “the usual suspects”. Approximately 9 AR variants, 1 .308 caliber AR variant, 1 SCAR/H and 1 AK. Sidearms were mostly Glock 19’s, with a few M&P’s, 2 1911’s, and one enthusiastic H&K shooter.

My load-out for the event was as follows:

1. My EDC, on which I’ve written several times; my sidearm, a spare magazine, a clinch pick, a Quark QT2L flashlight, a Benchmade folder and a Gerber Multitool, in addition to pocket litter (lockpicks, lighter, tourniquet, etc).

2. My Ruck; the pack had 1 spare magazine for the rifle, and 4 for the pistol. I carried water, a purifier, food and a variety of tools and utility items that weren’t of much use within the context of the course. Load weight is approximately 25lbs, plus EDC (8lbs) and rifle (10lbs) for a net total of 43 lbs.

3. HSGI Drop leg pouch with three modules; a. HSGI Taco Rifle/Pistol pouch. b. SilencerCo Osprey c. HSGI Bleeder Kit

4. My primary weapon for the exercise was an Arsenal SLR107F, with an ACOG TA33A-13 calibrated for 7.62x39.

5. My secondary weapon for the exercise was a Smith and Wesson M&P40 Compact, with a threaded 9mm conversion barrel and Heine Straight 8 night sights.

EDC/First Line: This setup proved very useful for Urban Defense


Day 1

Zero, Shooting Drills, Tactical Drills

Due to weather, our course started directly with action. We were expecting some serious down-pouring over the weekend, and so we went straight to diagnostic firing/zeroing. We worked rifles and confirmed our zero in the morning, and we broke into two groups to work barricade drills and CQB/T-intersections.

Barricade drills consisted of making hits on steel at 80 yards with your sidearm and rifle from standing and kneeling, and from both right and left hand cover. This was quite a challenge, and reinforced the need to verify your ability to make good hits and rapidly assume firing positions, control breathing, and maintain fundamentals while moving. This was essentially a diagnostic period for the instructors to see where the shooters were at in terms of their ability to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship, and for us to get some familiarity with the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used at CSAT in their shooting courses.

Close Quarters battle/Structure Clearing

CQB/T-Intersection drills worked at developing a static entry skill-set, and addressed how to navigate urban/residential structures with a minimum of security. Footwork, threat assessments, and close quarters shooting were drilled. We went on and discussed the reasoning for approaching room clearing from a less dynamic perspective when working within a smaller operational package. CQB has been changing in recent years to be less kinetic and more about situational orientation. UDC built on that. The instructors discussed the importance of an aggressive, but cautious approach to clearing structures. Therefore, the student must have the ability to modulate their speed and approach, while retaining good decision making and marksmanship.

Both of these drill sets were practiced twice dry, and twice live.

Vehicle Bailouts and Mass Attacks

After this, we worked vehicle bailouts and mass attacks. These scenarios were slightly longer and more involved, and teams ‘raced’ the clock to exfil from their vehicle, recover and make ready their longarm, and move to the firing line to engage 17 targets at 100 yards. Our team of two made one of, if not the quickest times, having engaged all targets in 6.46 seconds.

We ended the day here, and went to chow. A word about the group: There was a ton of self-selection in this class. Everyone was polite and talkative and it was great to get to know them.

Day 2

Day two started with the class being broken into two groups once again, and we were trained on Position Sul, Hostage drills, vehicle egress/bounding by fire while fighting around vehicles. Each of these descriptions short sells the actual training, so I’ll talk about each in a little more detail.

Sul and Hostage Drills

We approached the topic of moving within confined spaces and around non-hostiles to engage threats with surgical fire. At 7 yards, we rotated through a line of 5 targets features 5 hostage targets per paper. The hostage taker was in varying degrees of cover behind the hostage in each image; from about 75% obscured to around 25% obscured. The objective, clearly, was to avoid hitting the hostage while making clean, accurate shots on the hostage taker. Each time we finished engaging our 5 targets, we would transition to Sul, move around a person acting as an obstruction, and re-engage the next target.

Our class did very well, and Paul remarked that we were considerably above average with regards to not hitting the gal, and that he generally stops counting once his SWAT classes have hit her 33 times. No word as to why 33, but I did a quick count and saw we were at around 20-25 hits on our hostage.

While I didn’t hit the girl, I did pitch several shots. I remember two clearly, but I was dry at the end of the run, which means I fired 25 rounds from 2 (12) round magazines… so my miss rate may have been 20%. This was an eye opening drill, and absolutely something I intend to both incorporate, and expand on by trying to make these shots at longer ranges.

Vehicle Egress/Movement by Fire

The vehicle egress segment was done in Paul’s personal truck, if that says anything about his level of confidence in his instruction. And I’m glad to say his trust was well founded. We didn’t shoot his rig.

As to the meat and potatoes of this drill, it’s a stepwise process of stopping the vehicle, removing safety restraints, acquiring a firing position and drawing during the process. Our targets were steel circles ~15-20 yards away. Upon knocking down our requisite 2 targets, we were to bound around a berm into a field of vehicles, using them as concealment while engaging more steel targets at the same distance. The goal was to make two solid hits, and when your partner engages, bound past him, cover by making your two solid hits and continue until you reach the end of the lane. This is a very familiar drill to the military folks out there – it’s simply a alternating bounding by fire drill done with pistols.

Upon completion of the bounding drill, we were to issue an ACE report and GTFO. The ACE Report is to establish your Ammo, Casualties, and Equipment status. After that, our goal was to blend back in to the population and become non-combatants. This point was stressed throughout the course: don’t try and be a cowboy. If you’re faced with a threat, neutralize it quickly, efficiently, and return to a posture that is as 'low signature' as possible. This means looking like you belong wherever you are.


I’ve heard students question the relevance of long-range pistol shooting before, and this reinforced that you may not have the choice. Under dire circumstance, you might have to engage armed with only what you have on your person, at ranges around the length of a city block.

After lunch, we went directly into scenario-based events, sticking to our formula of a dry walk through, and then groups running through twice, alternating positions.

Scenario 1:

CQB was peppered with "no shoot" targets; Paul advocated a "Hands, belt, demeanor, whole body" approach to determining threat.

The first Scenario I called “Pushed off”, and the background is something akin to: Your team arrives at a 'safe' location and discovers it's been compromised. You and your team mate must retrieve a cache from a spot in the woods, and engage any of the hostiles that compromised your location while moving to a fallback point to rendezvous with a loved on, extract them if possible, and move to an exfil site.

The Situation calls for a verbal challenge of an unknown contact, and possible engagement with handgun at 25 yards through brush, a bound to engage a target at approximately 100 yards, a second target at approximate 150 yards, and another at 200. One member will infiltrate the home, where they find an unknown contact that they will have to either interact with, or neutralize, while their team mate engages a LaRue at ~125 yards simulating suppressing an enemy position. The team members rendezvous and the scenario is complete.

Scenario 2:

200 yard reactive targets:The AK103 was boringly consistent.

The second scenario begins with the two-man team coming under hostile fire which disables their vehicle. The team exits the vehicle, while one member engages a CSAT steel target at a range I couldn’t determine, but was at or in excess of, 25 yards with their pistol. While the member engaged steel, the partner readied longarms, and then moved to a firing position while the other partner recovered his longarm. From here, the team bounded to an unknown contact, verbally challenging the contact and moving quickly up at ~200 yard hill. At various positions along the way, both team members engaged the steel unknown contact at the base from ranges of ~100, 150 and 200 yards.

At the top, one member was to pull security while the other made an infil into the house to recover a loved one. The drill was principally the same as in “pushed off”, where a popper was used to simulate suppressing an enemy, while the house is being cleared. Upon entering the house, the member must negotiate more unknown contacts, and treat a medical injury. After this, the team bounds and forms up to defend themselves against a mass attack, simulating an aggressive mob moving towards your position. The team rapidly engages the targets and the scenario is complete.


1. Taco pouches suck when attached to a leg rig.

2. I didn’t use my bullet drop compensator at all. Magnification was a game changing advantage. The AK was a standout performer.

3. The AK benefits greatly from a modified safety. Likewise, the pistol grip is uncomfortable and the rifle handles better with a more modern, aftermarket grip.

4. Ammunition in 7.62x39 varies in it’s zero – double check it with the ammo you’ll be training with, rather than you’re “go to war” ammo, if you have two separate stocks. The Hornady 123gr SST and Wolf 123gr Military Classic had significantly different zeros.

5. The AK is absolutely capable of 200 yard, off hand shots, with boring consistency.

6. Cardio plays hell on your accuracy/time metric. Pressure breathing and a good rhythm is absolutely necessary, as is good physical conditioning. If you can't manage ten solid minutes of high output cardio, stop reading and work on that.

7. Be minimalist. Gear is largely fluff, and you probably don’t need it. Good EDC and a pouch for a spare rifle magazine is more than enough.

8. Rifle ammunition goes a long way if you do your job. Pistol ammo does not… and the worse you are, the faster it goes. Consider this when making plans for “worst case” scenarios.

9. A mastery of the basics is absolutely essential. Be solid: “Tactically, technically, mentally and physically” to use Paul’s words.

10. Think ahead. You need to have an idea of how you will confront issues before they arise. Pick equipment that is universally useful, common and robust. Having the right stuff is secondary to having the necessary skills and mindset.



  • Professionalism, standards and core curriculum.
  • Emphasis on repetition and independent action.
  • Challenging "tactical, technical, physical, and Metal" situation.
  • Challenging unknown contact situations
  • Scenario based training/Experiential learning


  • Scenario based training involving non-hostile interactions would be of benefit.
  • More emphasis on case studies from actual disasters/collapses to put the training in context.



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