Tactical Employment of Smoke Grenades

Smoke grenades are a valuable tool that I teach every Team Leader Class how to use.  Come to a class to learn more.

Smoke grenades are versatile tactical tools that are not commonly discussed.  They’re simply not as flashy as rifles and body armor, so most people are ignorant of how useful they are.  For millennia, people have used smoke for signaling or screening movement, and we still do.  Today I will cover different uses for smoke grenades, considerations for their use, and what options we have available to us as civilians.

Tactical applications of smoke

Screening movement

This is the most obvious use of smoke grenades that everyone immediately thinks of.  If you’re taking fire and you need to break contact, you can pop smoke between you and the enemy to make you harder to engage as you bound or peel towards safety.  It is important to note that blocking line of sight works both ways, and that smoke between you and an enemy will make it as hard for you to see your targets as it does for the enemy.  For this reason, if you have multiple teams in contact with the enemy, only one element should pop smoke and move at a time so you can still maintain some pressure on the enemy as you move.

You can also use smoke to screen movement across a danger area if you can’t suppress the enemy watching it.  This is not the only way to solve such a tactical problem, but it is one option.


As I stated above, most people only think of smoke grenades in the context of a break contact drill.  You can exploit this mental shortcut to trick an opponent into believing you are doing something that you are not.  There are infinite possibilities here, but I will provide a few examples.

  • Use smoke to draw enemy fire.  Upon seeing smoke, most opponents will assume that you are moving behind it, and spray into the cloud.  You can exploit this by throwing smoke somewhere you do not plan to move, and then scoot the other way when the enemy gets tunnel vision on your smoke.  This is especially effective in urban environments.
  • Use smoke to convince the enemy you are breaking contact.  By having one element pop smoke and cease firing, followed by the other element ceasing to fire, you may convince the enemy that you have left.  This can enable you to either slip away after the enemy moves on, or to ambush them when they expose themselves to “pursue” you.
  • Use black smoke next to a vehicle to convince the enemy that the vehicle is disabled.  There are a number of reasons why you would do this, but the first one that comes to mind is to ambush an overconfident enemy that believes they are winning.  It could also deter them from further firing at said vehicle.

As I said, there are infinite possibilities when creating a deception plan.  All deception plans, however, are highly subject to your estimation of the enemy’s mindset and your knowledge of their SOPs and doctrine.  A deception that works on one enemy may not work on another.  And a deception, once used, will not be as effective a second time, and will get you killed the third time.  Don’t establish patterns.

Marking Targets

Smoke can be used to mark targets for a support-by-fire element (or air support, if you have it).  Smoke launched from a grenade launcher or 37mm flare launcher is preferred for this, so you don’t need to get within throwing distance of an enemy position to mark it.

You do not need to get smoke directly on an enemy position to mark it, you can pop it into the middle of a field of fire to use as a hasty target reference point (TRP).  For example, “THEY’RE MANEUVERING TO THE LEFT OF THE GREEN SMOKE!”

Marking Friendly Positions

When coordinating multiple teams, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to mark your position to a support-by-fire element, a QRF, or aircraft/UAS to avoid being shot at by your own guys.  Smoke is an effective means of doing this during the day.  It greatly helps if you have established this as an SOP ahead of time.  If you have not, you will need to inform the friendlies over a radio that you are marking your position with smoke.

Clearing a room/vehicle

This is rather unconventional, but can be effective nonetheless.  As civilians, we really shouldn’t be kicking in doors and clearing rooms if we can at all avoid it (you die in CQB).  If you have an enemy holed up in a room and you want him to come out, you may be able to coax him out by popping a smoke grenade or two into the room with him.  He can then either suffocate or exit the room.  Do it in such a manner that he cannot throw the smoke grenade back out.

Considerations for Employment

Now that you know when you might want to employ smoke, here are some things to consider:

  • Smoke dissipates faster in open terrain than in close terrain.  This means that smoke will linger for longer and remain in a thicker cloud in dense forests or urban environments than in open fields.
  • When using smoke to screen movement, one is never enough.  Always pop at least two smoke grenades when you are planning to maneuver behind it.  If you’re in an open environment or there is wind, more is better.
  • Wind can either help you or hurt you.  If the wind is blowing left/right, you can move with it for a short ways so that it screens you longer.  If it is blowing towards the enemy, it will block your opponent’s line of sight for slightly longer.  Regardless of direction, however, if the wind is blowing hard enough your smoke can be simply rendered ineffective.
  • I strongly recommend that you sit down with your group and come up with an SOP for how to use smoke grenades.  This should be included in your SOI/CEOI along with your communications plan.  Have different colors selected for different uses (i.e. white for screening movement, red for marking targets, purple for marking friendly positions).
  • As a COMSEC measure, never say the color smoke you are using to mark friendly/hostile positions over the radio.  An enemy listening to you can exploit this in a number of nasty ways.  Instead, say “position marked by smoke” and when they see the smoke, they tell you on the radio what color they see.  If it’s your color, tell them so.  It helps to have some unusual colors of smoke available (like purple or green).  Even better, if you have an SOP in place, you don’t need to mention the color over the radio at all.

Tactical Smoke Options 

There are a number of different options for handheld smoke grenades, but my recommendation is Enola Gaye EG-18X smoke bombs.  They are about the size of a coke can, have a wire-pull ignition system, and put out a comparable smoke cloud to military smoke grenades (in my experience, they do it faster).  At $19 each, they’re affordable to just about anybody.  They also fit in standard sized military smoke grenade or flashbang pouches.

The only downside I have noted is that the outside of the grenades feel like they’re made of waxed cardboard, which might stand up to a paintball match but probably won’t last long in soggy field conditions.  I remedy this by coating the outside of the grenades in dark green duct tape.

Note how I didn’t cover the hole in the top where the smoke comes out

This does two things for me.  First, it makes the grenades more water-resistant and durable.  Second, it neutralizes the color so that the bright colored wrapper doesn’t make my pack more visible.  As a final step, since my crew utilizes multiple colors of smoke for different purposes, I mark the grenade with colored electrical tape so I know what color it is.

One last option I would like to mention is 37mm flare launchers.  There are commercially available smoke rounds for these launchers, which can launch a smoke grenade up to 140m.  This could be very useful if you want to use smoke to mark something from a distance.  I have never used one of these personally, so I cannot attest to their effectiveness.  It is, however, an option to consider.


Smoke grenades are valuable tactical tools with a variety of uses.  From screening to communicating to deception, tactical employment of smoke is something that you should train to utilize.  If you buy smoke grenades, buy plenty of them so you can train to use them and get an understanding for how they really work.

If you would like to experiment with smoke grenades, I will have some available for use during the Force-on-Force Lab on March 26-27.  There is no better way to figure out what works and what doesn’t than to pit yourself against a breathing, thinking opponent, so don’t miss this opportunity.

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at vonsteubentraining@protonmail.com

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