Archive for the ‘Military Tactics’ Category

Tactics 101: The Assembly Area

March 1, 2013


“One of the greatest difficulties in war is to have the men inured to marching… The rapidity of a march, or rather skilled marches, almost always determines the success of a war… It is the power of marching which constitutes the strength of infantry; and enterprises which seem to present difficulties, become comparatively easy by the advantages accruing from rapid marches.”

Marshal of France Michel Ney – 1834

In our last article, we dissected the tactical road march.  The overall theme of the article was that in combat operations; any movement of vehicles/soldiers must be executed tactically.  In other words, there is no such thing as an administrative road march.  An administrative mentally in combat gets soldiers killed.  In our discussion, we began by defining a tactical road march and laying out some of the key concepts associated with it.  Following that, we looked at how you plan, prepare, and execute a tactical road march.  One final point we emphasized was that a well-executed tactical road march sets the conditions for success for the next mission (be it an offensive or defensive operation).  Vice versa, a road march executed poorly has a negative impact on a unit’s ability to conduct its follow-on mission.

In our article, we ended with a brief discussion on the assembly area.  Because of the importance of the assembly area; we wanted to give it the emphasis it demands.  Consequently, we will focus this month’s article on the assembly area.  In our treatment, we will look at all aspects of the assembly area.  This includes the selection of an assembly area, actions of the quartering party, the maneuvering from the release point to the assembly area, occupying the assembly area, and maneuvering out of the assembly area.  Just as we discussed last month, do not take all that revolves around the assembly area lightly.  As with everything in tactics, this is tough stuff and separates the good units from the poor ones.  LET’S MOVE OUT!

Definition – In simplest terms, it is an area where a unit assembles itself to prepare for future operations.  This occupation may be relatively short-lived or could be for an extended amount of time.  There are three critical pieces to an assembly area.  First, is the ability of a unit to smoothly occupy an assembly area.  Second, is how effectively a unit takes advantage of the time it occupies the assembly area.  Finally, is the ability of a unit to depart an assembly area and position it to maneuver to its objective.

Selecting an Assembly Area
There is far more to determining the location of an assembly area than just drawing a goose egg on a map and telling everyone to go find a spot to park your vehicles.  As we addressed in the definition, this is the terrain in which you will conduct your final preparations for your combat mission.  With this in mind, you must select a location which facilitates this preparation and affords you as much security as possible.  There is a checklist of criteria you want in your assembly area.  Let’s look at these below:

•    Sufficient Space.  An assembly area must have enough terrain to take in the personnel, vehicles, and equipment of the unit.  You also would like to disperse vehicles as much as possible for security reasons. In regards to space, you must consider the space required for your logistical assets.
•    Concealment.  You want to find a location that provides as much concealment from the enemy as possible.  You can’t make it easy for your foe to find you.  Of course, this is much more challenging when the enemy possesses technology such as UAVs, satellites, etc….
•    Cover.  A good assembly area should provide you as much cover from enemy indirect and direct fire as possible. Indirect fire is obviously a challenge, but direct fire is certainly something you can affect.
•    Observation.  You will want terrain in or around the assembly area which will provide you observation of the ground and air enemy avenues of approach into the location.
•    Defendable.  An assembly area should be located on defensible terrain.  A unit positioned in an assembly area can be a highly lucrative target.  It may convince an enemy commander to conduct an attack with some portion of his force.  The prudent commander always prepares to defend no matter how long he is idle.
•    Drive ability.  You don’t want to position an assembly area into a potential mud pit or lake.  We have seen units paralyzed in an assembly area because a rain storm made the ground nearly impossible for some types of vehicles to move.  Another time, we observed a unit locate its’ assembly area in a large desert wadi.  Unfortunately, a rare desert rain storm turned that wadi into a river.  Needless to say, this unit’s assembly area experience did not set the right conditions for their upcoming attack.

Not the Best Location for an Assembly Area!

•    Good Internal Transportation.  Inside an assembly area, there should exist the ability for vehicles to move around.  This assists in logistical operations, defending one’s self, and command and control.
•    Good External Transportation.  An effective assembly area should have enough good routes to facilitate traffic in and out.  This is especially critical when the unit departs the assembly area.  We will discuss this later.

Organization of an Assembly Area
There are many techniques a unit may utilize in organizing an assembly area.  Thus, once the unit has determined the terrain to emplace the overall assembly area; you must then divvy it out to the subordinate units.  Let’s address some of these techniques below:

Many assembly areas are normally set-up as 360 degree positions.  Within the 360, subordinate units are assigned pieces of the 360.  In the above example, you will see a battalion task force in an assembly area.  The battalion has located its scouts forward in the direction they will ultimately maneuver to or the anticipated direction of the enemy.  Outside the perimeter, the battalion has positioned Observation Posts (OPs) for security.  The battalion has apportioned the assembly area into designated areas for each of their subordinate units.  The line companies are positioned on the outside.  Inside the perimeter, they have located the headquarters element, combat trains, mortars, and anti-armor elements.  This is a pretty basic structure.  Below we will illustrate how a company might occupy the above area they were assigned.

A company may decide to organize into their own 360.  If the frontage assigned to a company is fairly minimal, this is certainly a viable option.  Terrain may also dictate this option.

Another option for the company is to orient the entire force in one direction.  In the above diagram, you see the line platoons in a staggered front.  The dispersion between vehicles will be dictated by the tactical situation.  Below the line companies will be positioned the other elements of the company.

The Role of the Quartering Party
As we highlighted last month, the quartering party is instrumental in setting the conditions for a smooth transition from maneuvering from the release point to occupying the assembly area.  Because of this, the quartering party must be comprised of a unit’s best.  As we addressed previously, a quartering party is very small.  In a battalion road march, this will equate to usually one-two vehicles (combat or wheeled) per company.  Inside the vehicles, will be a rep from each of the platoons with the company executive officer or first sergeant leading the contingent.  Each of the platoon reps will obviously be responsible for their own platoons with the XO or First Sergeant responsible for overall quartering party actions.  Let’s highlight some of the key actions of the quartering party below:
•     The first and probably the most important task of the quartering party is the recon of the site.  This recon must be complete and there cannot be any corner cutting.  In this recon, the quartering party must be looking for enemy forces, emplaced obstacles, and the presence of chemical or biological weapons.  Thus, the quartering party must be prepared to fight and possess the right equipment to conduct chemical and biological agent testing.
•    Once the potential location has been found secure in the above areas, it is time to determine if it is suitable for the assembly area.  The suitability criteria are no different from the criteria we discussed above.  If the area is deemed suitable, then the quartering party begins preparing it for occupation.  If it is not, the quartering party must seek other terrain. This may be a little painful, but you must do the right thing.
•    Once the assembly area is approved, it must be organized.  The overall assembly area has been apportioned in planning.  For example, in a battalion assembly area, companies have already been allocated terrain for their assembly areas.  It is now up to the quartering party to organize it for their own company and the particular platoons.  Many times, this is an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) task for a company.  In this case, a platoon will always occupy certain areas within an assembly area – making it a little easier.  Key to organizing an area is to emplace stakes and marking material in the ground to designate vehicle locations.  If occupation is at night, the trusty chemlights makes the task easier.
•    With the assembly area organized, the quartering party should begin making improvements. One of the key improvements is improving the road networks going in, going out, and inside the assembly area.  In most cases, work should be pretty minimal.  However, there may be occasions where terrain is not the best and some work would alleviate some potential headaches.
•    As discussed earlier, the quartering party should conduct a thorough recon of the assembly area.  If the recon discovered some obstacles in the area and the location has been approved as the assembly area; then they must be dealt with.  The starting point in dealing with obstacles is to get your engineers involved.  A smart unit will have engineers as part of the quartering party for those occasions.  There are two ways the engineers or other type forces can handle this.  First, they can decide to remove the obstacle.  This can mean detonation or removal.  The other option is to leave it in place and mark its location – mark it well!

To Breach or Not to Breach?

•    Depending on how long the unit will occupy the assembly area; a commander may give the quartering party additional tasks to perform.  This could include things such as build a rehearsal site; make range cards and sector sketches for the weapon systems coming into the assembly area, emplacing hasty obstacles, etc…

Guides are Crucial from the Release Point to the Assembly Area

From the Release Point to the Assembly Area
This should be a pretty seamless operation. Near the vicinity of the release point, the XO or First Sergeant will be positioned in their vehicles.  As their main body vehicles reach the release point, they will escort the vehicles to their particular assembly area.  This should be a rolling link-up.  Waiting at the release point only slows down the entire process and wastes valuable time (time that certainly be used elsewhere).  As they reach the assembly area, they should be met by platoon guides.  These guides will take control of their vehicles and place them into the locations they have selected.  This action is not rocket science.  However, the platoon guides must have done their part to facilitate success.  Things obviously get a little more complicated at night.

A Layout for a Traditional Company Assembly Area

Actions in the Assembly Area
The unit has now physically occupied the assembly area.  Poor units will take this as a sign to kick back a little bit and gear down slightly.  Good units know that there is still much to be done.  Let’s review some of those key actions.
•    As always, the first thing that must be achieved is to execute your security plan.  There can be no surprises for a unit occupying an assembly area.  The extent of the security plan clearly depends on the tactical situation.  There are many actions that must be considered.  These include:

o    Emplacing Observation Posts (OPs) in or around the assembly area.
o    Conducting patrols outside the assembly area.
o    Manning weapon systems and scanning forward.
o    Emplacing alarms and sensors

Security is Paramount

•    One of the most critical activities in an assembly area is getting the unit right logistically.  This includes things such as refueling vehicles, ammunition resupply, distributing vehicles parts, resupply of food and water, etc… If resupply of ammo, food, and water are not readily available, a unit may need to redistribute these items amongst its subordinate units.
•    Coordination in the assembly area is critical.  Units should coordinate with friendly units to the front, rear, and flanks. You must know where friendlies are located and what their actions are now and in the future.
•    No matter how long you think you will be in an assembly area; you must conduct defensive preparation.  Who knows, that one hour you thought you would be in the assembly area could stretch to many hours.  In terms of your preparation, you should develop priorities of work.  These priorities will include actions such as digging fighting positions, developing range cards and sector sketches, emplacing obstacles, developing an engagement area, etc….  Really, within the assembly area you must possess a defensive mindset.

Improve your Positions in an Assembly Area if Time Permits

•    Although there is much to do, smart units will be able to implement a rest plan in the assembly area. In many cases, this may be the last chance to get some sleep before taking part in a physically and mentally exhausting operation.
•    Tied to getting some rest is getting some chow.  This is all the better if it is a hot meal, but the tactical situation obviously, may not warrant this.  Again, this may be the last chance to grab a meal.
•    The assembly area is perfect spot to conduct operator’s maintenance on vehicles, weapons, and equipment.  For the vehicles, most have just completed a tactical road march and need some attention.  In regards to weapons and equipment, it is the last chance to prepare them for the upcoming mission
•    As discussed above, conducting maintenance is imperative in an assembly area.  Besides conducting preventive maintenance, the time spent in the assembly area can enable a unit to repair maintenance down vehicles.  This translates to more combat power at the objective.  A Commander may need to make some decisions in this area.  He may decide to take parts off a maintenance down vehicle in order to get another (or others) up for the mission.  In army language, this is called controlled substitute.  Many call it by its slang name – cannibalization.  We will discuss this in a later article.
•    It is crucial that any unit occupying an assembly area execute strict noise and light discipline.   No better way to draw unwelcomed enemy attention than to be lax in these areas.  Sometimes when you are sitting in an assembly area for an extended time, it tends to provide opportunities to be a bit careless.
•    Within an assembly area, a unit wants to limit the amount of signatures emitting from the location.  Again, signatures draw unwelcomed attention.  What this equates to is limiting the amount of radio traffic in an assembly area.  There are several communication options inside the assembly area.  These include using liaisons or runners to take messages from the higher headquarters to their subordinates or using hard wire communications between units (if you anticipate being in an assembly area for an extended stay).

Camouflage and Communications

•    Anytime vehicles are anticipated to be idle for a period of time, camouflage is necessary.  If vehicle camo nets are available they should be erected.
•    No matter how long you will be in an assembly area; some form of a rehearsal for the next mission should be conducted.  The more time available; the more elaborate the rehearsal.  Even if you only have minimal time, you can gather the leaders around a vehicle and conduct a “jeep top” rehearsal.  Rehearsals may include small units rehearsing the critical tasks they will be required to execute during the next mission.
•    Once vehicles are assembled in the assembly area, you can execute any task organization changes you may require prior to the mission.  In most cases, these should have been completed prior to the tactical road march.  However, changes in the tactical situation or even maintenance breakdowns during the march could precipitate changes.  Again, as we have discussed in prior articles, complete these link-ups as soon as possible.
•    There may be rare occurrences when new equipment or weapon systems arrive to a unit while they occupy an assembly area.  If this is the case, training on this equipment or weapons must be conducted immediately in the assembly area.
•    One of the key actions in any assembly area is to get your weapon systems ready for the next mission.  Again, time and the tactical situation dictate the extent of this preparation.  Actions should at least include a bore sight and zero of major weapon systems.  If possible, you can set-up a quick range to test fire your smaller weapon systems.
•    Anytime a vehicle is idle for a period of time, crew members should inspect the vehicle and ensure supplies/equipment/ammunition has not shifted around after movement.  If these have shifted they can fall off during your next maneuver and they could be lost.  More importantly, they can move and potentially injure crew members.  It is also possible that while in an assembly area you may receive additional supplies/equipment/ammunition which will require adjusting load plans.
•    In line with inspecting load plans, is for soldiers to conduct their Pre-Combat Checks/Inspections (PCC/PCI).  These include ensuring you have the right equipment you will require for the upcoming mission.  For instance, if a unit knows they will be conducting a breach of an obstacle; they must have the equipment on hand to conduct that breach.  Finding out that you are missing a piece of critical equipment when you need it is unacceptable.

Getting out of The Assembly Area
Everything has been going smoothly.  The unit got into the assembly area with no issues and utilized the time well while there to prepare for the upcoming mission.  Now it is time to depart the assembly area and cross the Line of Departure (LD).  A no-brainer some would think. Oh contraire!  This may be the most challenging of all actions associated with the assembly area.  Many an attack has been de-synched from the get-go because a unit could not get out of its’ assembly area in an organized manner.

A unit must plan and rehearse getting out of the assembly area.  It must be a synchronized movement out of the assembly area.  Chaos ensues when everyone moves out of their positions at once.  One of the best ways to do this is to select a piece of terrain outside the assembly area where units can move to.  Here they can get into the maneuver formation they will utilize maneuvering to their objective.

For an example, let’s use a battalion task force utilizing a diamond formation for the attack.  Please refer to the diagram below to add a bit of clarity:

1.    Scouts will move out first from the assembly area to provide some security and early warning for the task force.
2.    Right on their heels will follow the mechanized infantry company which is point of the diamond.  They will set and form the base for the rest of the task force.
3.    With the point set, the other mech infantry company will place itself on the left flank of the formation.  They must ensure they position themselves far enough on the flank so the follow-on units in the middle of the formation have space.
4.    As the left flank unit moves, the right flank company team can begin movement as well.  Again, they must place themselves far enough on the right flank to create space for the middle units.
5.    With the three companies set, the middle can form.  You can use the same process as above.  The anti-armor moves first and sets.  Following them is the engineer platoon and the air defense platoon. With them set, the mortar platoon and the headquarters element can position themselves.
6.    Once the headquarters is set, the task force can begin to maneuver slowly forward.  This will then create the space for the last tank company to form up.
7.    Once the tank company is tied in, the task force can then begin to reach their maneuver rate of march.
8.    With the formation now moving, the trailing combat trains can initiate their movement.

As you can see, this can be a challenging operation in itself.  Throw in things such as restrictive terrain and limited visibility and it gets a little tougher.  However, good command and control, disciplined and trained units, and flexibility of mind and action can make this a pretty basic operation.  Again, you can see that if chaos is allowed to rear its’ ugly head; a unit may be hard-pressed to get back on track to succeed in its upcoming mission.

There are a few other things that must be addressed in the departure of an assembly area.  First, before a subordinate unit moves out of the assembly area they must account for equipment, sensitive items, and personnel.  The personnel reference may strike some of you as odd.  However, we have witnessed several instances where a soldier was somehow left behind in an assembly area.  This of course is an indicator of more serious issues within a unit.  Second, a unit must “sanitize” the assembly area as they depart.  This is not to say it should be left in the same condition as when you entered.  Obviously, an area occupied by perhaps a battalion and its’ complement of vehicles will leave a mark.  However, what we are saying is that you do not leave behind any items/papers/graphics that can compromise the unit and its operations.  As always, Operational Security (OPSEC) is a twenty four hours a day task.

OPSEC (Need We Say More – Oh We Can’t Say More)

Hopefully, this article was an eye-opener to some of the challenges of entering, occupying, and departing an assembly area.  Each of these actions takes quality planning and preparation.  We cannot overstate the importance of an assembly area.  A unit can complete actions within an assembly area which can clearly set the conditions for success in their upcoming mission.  Vice versa, a unit that does not take advantage of an assembly area or has problems moving out of an assembly area has made subsequent mission accomplishment very difficult.

Tactics 101: The Tactical Road March

January 21, 2013


“An army is exposed to more danger on marches than in battles.  In an engagement the men are properly armed, they see their enemies before them and are prepared to fight.  But on a march the soldier is less on his guard, has not his arms always ready and is thrown into disorder by a sudden attack or ambuscade.  A general, therefore, cannot be too careful and diligent in taking necessary precautions to prevent a surprise on the march.”

Flavius Vegetius Renatus
Military Instructions of the Romans AD 378

In our last article, we focused on the raid.  In our discussion, we addressed several areas.  These included us reliving an old war story, looking at some of the more famous raids in history, and discussing the planning, preparation, and execution of a raid.  A raid can have huge ramifications at all levels of war and certainly, politically.  As we highlighted, raids can pay-off handsomely or they can fail miserably.  There is not a lot of middle ground!  A well-executed raid starts with meticulous planning and painstaking preparation.  Anything less can dramatically impact mission accomplishment.

During combat operations, there is no such thing as an administrative road march.  Whenever a unit is maneuvering from point a to point b; it must be planned, prepared, and executed tactically.  There is no greater example of this than the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You cannot take shortcuts in your planning and preparation and units must be trained on the what-ifs that can occur during a road march.

This month’s article will focus on the planning, preparation, and execution of a mounted (vehicle) road march.  We will cover the following: 1) Definition of a tactical road march.  2) The Language of the Road March.  3) Planning the Tactical Road March.  4)  Preparing for the Tactical Road March.  5)  Executing the Tactical Road March.

We will dissect this topic focused on how heavy forces conduct tactical road marches.  In later articles, we will address how light units conduct tactical road marches.  LET’S MOVE OUT!

Let’s begin with a definition of a tactical road march which we can work with.

A tactical road march enables a unit to rapidly maneuver its forces (in a combat area) from one point to another in order to position it for future combat operations.  A successful tactical road march will set the conditions for success in the offense or defense.  A tactical road march which stresses and severely challenges a unit will certainly have the reverse effect.

Talking the Language of the Road March
Before we begin discussing the specifics of the planning, prep, and execution of the tactical road march; we must all speak the same language.  Below we will address some of key language that will be utilized throughout this article. To begin with, we will start with the building blocks of developing the road march:

March Column
Tactical Road Marches are normally conducted in a column formation.  This does mean hi diddle diddle up the middle with ducks in a row.  There are various techniques available with are dictated by the tactical situation.  Below we address the three types of column formations you can select from.

Open – When conducting a tactical road march during daylight hours, a unit will normally utilize an open column.  However, because of tremendous advancements in night vision equipment; nighttime is almost the same as daylight for some.  In either case, good vision enables a unit to use much more dispersion between vehicles.  This dispersion translates to between 50 and 200 between vehicles in an open column.   Consequently, this column can extend for long distances.

Closed – When visibility is a concern because of light, weather, or technology; a unit will normally utilize a closed column.  In a closed column, the distance between vehicles is far closer.  This will translate to less than 50 meters.  A closed column is a very tight formation.

Infiltration – When a commander has security concerns or may want to deceive his opponent; he can utilize infiltration.  In infiltration, he will maneuver small groups of vehicles at various time periods to get from A to B.

March Serial
Within a column, you will normally break down the unit into serials.  Depending on the size of the unit conducting the road march; a march column can have numerous serials. The reason for serials is pretty basic – it aids in the command and control of the road march and assists in the transition to future operations for the unit.  As an example, let’s use a heavy division conducting a tactical road march.  The division itself would maneuver in the march column.  Within the march column, the division could break down into battalion-size serials.  Each of these serials would be commanded by the unit’s battalion commander.

March Unit
Within a serial, you will normally break down into march units.  Using our above example, the battalion size serials would break down into company size march units.  The size of heavy company (normally around 20-25 vehicles) is the perfect size for a march unit.  This enables the company commander and his chain of command to command and control their maneuver.

In summary, the building blocks look like this:  COLUMN >SERIAL>UNIT

Besides determining the columns, serials, and march units; the other key organization decision a unit will make is organizing itself into a quartering party, a main body, and a trail party. Each of these has a distinct role in the execution of the road march.  Below we will address each of these critical parts.

Reconnaissance – As in any operation, it all starts with recon.  Depending on the size of the unit, the recon units will more than likely be the initial element sent forward.  The objectives of recon are pretty straightforward. Provide information on the terrain and the enemy that is associated with the tactical road march.

Quartering Party – One of the keys to success in conducting a tactical road march is the actions of the quartering party.  Normally, trailing right behind the recon element are the quartering parties of the unit.  Again, depending on the size of the unit, each unit will be able to send a vehicle or possibly two.  Thus, in a battalion tactical road march; each company would be allowed to send at least one vehicle on the quartering party.

The purpose of the quartering party is simple – enable the main body to occupy their ultimate assembly area as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.  In order to aid in this, the quartering party will execute a variety of tasks.  These could include the following:  1) Recon of the route 2) Recon of the assembly area.  This recon involves checking the area for obstacles and potentially chemical weapons.  Additionally, they will determine where their unit’s vehicles will physically occupy the assembly area.  3) Conducting security in the assembly area until the main body arrives.  4) Serve as guides to assist the main body in occupying the assembly area.

Main Body –  As the name suggests, the preponderance of a unit’s vehicles will make up the main body.  All of the other elements of the road march should be focused on setting the conditions for a smooth execution by the main body.

Trail Party – The final element of the tactical road march is the trail party.  Obviously, this is the last element in the tactical road march.  The task of the trail party is to police up the road march route.  This mainly involves taking care of disabled vehicles that have broken down during the road march.  Consequently, the trail party is composed primarily of maintenance vehicles and personnel.  It is critical that the trail party recovers vehicles as quickly as possible.  This allows maintenance personnel to get to vehicles quicker and conduct repairs.  Time lost here impacts directly on combat power when it is needed later on.

Below is a good graphic which portrays a typical organization for a tactical road march:

Within the tactical road march, there is likely going to be times when the unit is going to stop.  Obviously, the longer the distance you will maneuver; the more likely there will be halts.  When we talk halts, there are two types of halts – scheduled and unscheduled.  Let’s discuss each below:

Scheduled – In order to set the conditions for a smooth transition into the next operation; it is wise to plan for scheduled halts along the route.  Scheduled halts are planned for several reasons.  These include maintenance checks and quick operator’s maintenance if needed, refuel vehicles if required, change out drivers if it is a long duration march, or to tidy up the column, serial, or march unit (this could be enabling vehicle/vehicles to catch up or vehicle/vehicles to pass others).  Every good unit will have an established procedure as to when to conduct a scheduled halt.  For example, it is a good rule of thumb to conduct a 10-15 minute halt after the first hour of maneuver.  Following that, every two hours should have another 10-15 minute halt.  If a refuel is necessary, this will probably require a longer halt (depending on the capabilities and training of the unit).  A Refuel on the Move (ROM) is a far harder mission than some would think.  We will discuss this operation in a later article.

Unscheduled – As a name suggests, there will inevitably be occurrences in a tactical road march when it is necessary to conduct an unscheduled halt.  There are many reasons why an unscheduled halt may be required.  First, there may be obstacles that are in the route.  This could be natural obstacles caused by nature (fallen trees, washed out roads, etc…) or man-made obstacles (Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), conventional mines, wire, ditches, etc…).  Second, may be an attack or ambush by the enemy.  This could be attacks from direct fire, indirect fire, or even air attack. Obviously, this is unscheduled, but it should be a contingency that is planned for.  Third, could be from a change in the tactical situation.  Perhaps, the unit has a change of mission and must await orders for where they must maneuver to.  Whatever the reason for the halt, there are some key actions that must take place.  We will address these in our execution discussion later in the article.

Start Point – In a tactical road march, this is the location on the ground where vehicles come under control of a particular march commander.  For instance, if a vehicle was part of a march serial it would come under the control of the serial commander at the start point.  This is especially critical when you may have vehicles from various units making up a serial.  These vehicles would all come under control of the serial commander.

Release Point – In a tactical road march, this is the location on the ground where vehicles revert back to the control of their normal organization.  The release point is normally located prior to vehicles entering the assembly area.  In our above example, those vehicles from the various units who were under the control of the serial commander; would revert back to their own organizations at the release point.

Light Line – We must admit we seen some tactical road marches that were lit up brighter than Las Vegas.  In this case, it is the enemy that has hit the jackpot.  Anyway, in some cases the tactical situation may allow for lights on in a tactical road march.  However, the majority of time, a tactical road march conducted at night will require vehicles to drive without lights utilizing night vision technology.  Commanders will designate where this will take place – this is called the light line.

Traffic Control Point (TCP) – Within a road march route, there may locations where a commander may be concerned that the potential to “mess with success” is present.  This could be a confusing intersection or challenging terrain which could cause a unit to take a wrong turn and subsequently, severely affect the timeline of the tactical road march.  To assist in these wrong turns not occurring, a unit will place a TCP at these critical locations.  A TCP is usually manned by military police who will guide vehicles in the right direction.  They are good to report information to the commander as to how the road march is being conducted.  If military police is not an option, a unit’s scouts are another good choice.

Planning the Tactical Road March
As in any mission, the first step is conducting a comprehensive mission analysis which assists you in understanding yourself, the enemy, and the terrain and weather.  Unfortunately, many times complacency sets in and you whip up a quick plan, paying little attention to the above.  Sure, you may get away with it a few times; but sooner or later you will pay the price.  Below are a few items you will want to consider in your planning:

Understanding Yourself
•    What is your timeline for future operations?
•    Will you need to refuel vehicles during the march?
•    Do you possess air superiority or even air supremacy?
•    What is the follow-on mission after conducting the tactical road march?
•    What is current maintenance status?
•    Do you have the logistical assets available to support the tactical road march?

Understanding the Enemy
•    Does the enemy possess fixed wing air that can attack your columns?
•    What assets does the enemy possess to conduct ambushes on your forces?
•    Does the enemy have a history of conducting these types of ambushes?
•    Will the enemy emplace obstacles, mines, IEDs along the route?
•    What are the current locations of enemy forces?
•    What do you anticipate the enemy’s future operations to be?

Understanding the Terrain
•    Where does the terrain support potential ambush sites?
•    Where are the potential road march routes?
•    Where does the terrain support an assembly area at the other end of the march?
•    Where does the terrain support scheduled maintenance halts?
•    Where does the terrain support refueling operations?
•    Will weather affect the route and the conduct of the road march?

Graphics/Control measures

Of course, one of key outcomes of planning is producing the graphical control measures to conduct the road march.  Below we will depict some fairly typical road march graphics and add some discussion afterwards.

Let’s discuss some of the control measures you see in the above graphic:

AA Ramona – This is the initial location (assembly area) for the unit prior to executing the tactical road march

SP (Start Point) – As highlighted earlier, this is the location on the ground where the road march begins.  Individual units will report when they cross the SP.  This should be an identifiable piece of terrain on the ground.

LL (Light Line) – As units cross this terrain, lights off!

ROUTE IRON – This is the primary tactical road march route the unit will utilize.

ROUTE RUST – This is alternate route that the unit can use.  As always, you must plan for the what-ifs.  An alternate route assists you in dealing with these what-ifs.

TCPs – There are several locations on the route (s) that concern the commander.  Placing TCPs in those locations can alleviate potential chaos.

Bridge Classifications – There are two bridges emplaced on the route.  It is critical that units understand what types of vehicles can safely use the bridge and which ones cannot.  Bridge classifications provide this info.  On our graphic, you see two circles both with an A2 and numbers.  This provides the information as to what can cross and what can’t.  Bridge classifications are all about weight and height.  Too heavy is no go.  Too much length – likewise.  We will discuss this system in a later article.

UMCP – This is a unit maintenance collection point that will be established.  Broken down vehicles will be taken there and depending on the severity of their maintenance trouble will be fixed there.  If a vehicle has significant issues it will be likely taken to another area where more significant maintenance will be conducted.

RP – As discussed earlier, this is where vehicles go back to organic unit control and prepare to enter their end state assembly area.

Not shown on the graphic is that end state assembly area.

Preparing for a Tactical Road March
As in any mission, you must conduct a thorough preparation before execution.  There are several actions you can conduct during the time before execution which will assist in achieving success during the road march.  These include the following:

•    Clearly, the first thing you must do is inform.  As soon as you know you are conducting a tactical road march; you must tell your subordinates.  Provide them a warning order so they can get themselves prepared mentally and mechanically for the road march.  Maintenance conducted during preparation will pay off in folds during execution.
•    Get your task organizing completed as soon as possible.  Earlier we talked how serials may be comprised of vehicles from various units.  If that is the case, get them linked up as soon as possible.  Waiting until the last minute to conduct link up only ensures that link up will not happen.
•    Just as in any operation, rehearsals are a necessity.  If time is available, they can be as elaborate as when you are conducting an offense or defense.  You must rehearse the what-ifs that may (and probably) occur.  Quality rehearsals build confidence and more importantly save lives.
•    Pre-Combat Inspections (PCIs) are vital.  Inspections are just as important in conducting a tactical road march as they are in executing an assault.
•    Make sure your drivers get some rest.  A tactical road march can be extremely taxing on drivers.  Set them up for success and get them some sleep.

Executing the Tactical Road March
The execution of a tactical road march, as discussed earlier, is a challenging operation.  The keys to execution are several.  They include:
•    Communication – In any operation, effective communication is vital – a tactical road march is no different.  Communication ensures the commander has situational awareness to command and control the operation.
•    Speed Control – One of the quickest ways for a tactical road march to literally self-destruct is for a unit to not control road march speed.  We have seen road marches that quickly turn into an accordion – speed up/slow down/speed up/slow down.  It is exhausting for all those involved and a recipe for failure for future operations.  A unit must dictate speed and following distances between vehicles.  Leaders must be ruthless on this and units must possess the discipline to follow these orders.
•    Traffic Control – As we addressed earlier, a wrong turn somewhere by a vehicle or a group of vehicles will short-circuit a road march.  A unit must have a plan to manage traffic control.  The utilization of TCPs is a big step in the right direction!
•    Security – A column of vehicles is an inviting target for an enemy.  Consequently, security is paramount. This security is not only 360 degrees, but must pay particular to air threats (fixed and rotary wing).  Security begins with observation.  You must have systems in place to conduct this observation.  We will discuss security a little more in our next section.

Actions at the Halt
One of the most critical aspects in executing the tactical road march is what the unit does during halts (scheduled or unscheduled).  Let’s discuss the particulars in each type of halt

Actions at the Scheduled Halt
1)    You will normally begin by units/serials moving into a herringbone formation.  This greatly assists in conducting observation and beginning to conduct security. You must also ensure you have dispersion among vehicles.  Bunched up vehicles are lucrative targets for any enemy.  Below you will find a sketch of a small unit in a herringbone:

2)    The most important action you will conduct is obviously pulling security.  This includes manning weapon systems, 360 degree scanning, air guards scanning above, and if you believe you will be in position for a period of time you should send out some local patrols. Additionally, you should always put together a quick indirect fire plan.
3)    Once security is emplaced, you must get down to logistical business.  This can include things such as refueling, rearming, refitting, etc ….  Most importantly, vehicle operators should be pulling maintenance on their vehicles.

4)    A scheduled halt is a good time for a leaders huddle.  Company Commanders should get their subordinate leaders together and talk over future operations.
5)    Depending on the duration of a road march, units may need to execute a rest plan (specifically for vehicle drivers).  A scheduled halt is a perfect time to switch out vehicle drivers.  A tired driver is an unalert driver.  We all know what that leads to.

Actions at the Unscheduled Halt
As we touched on earlier, there are a myriad of reasons why you would conduct an unscheduled halt.  Let’s address how a unit may handle some of these below:

Attack by Enemy Air – Depending on the size of the unit, there should be some early warning of an attack by enemy air.  With early warning, the first thing to do is disperse vehicles as much as possible. Once vehicles are stopped, air guards are looking and vehicles are monitoring their radios for more info.  All weapon systems should be prepared to fire at the air.  This includes small arms, crew-served weapons, main guns, and of course, those systems designed for air defense.

Obstacles – The best way to decrease the effect of obstacles on the main body is to find obstacles early.  Early reconnaissance of the route by recon forces and quartering parties can greatly assist here.  If it is the main body that discovers the obstacle, they have two courses of action – bypass or breach.  Bypassing an obstacle can be difficult.  The terrain may not support a bypass.  If breaching is required; the breach is conducted and all forces must be focused on security.  Remember, good units will cover obstacles with fire (indirect or direct).  Emplaced obstacles also are the first step in an enemy ambush.

Enemy Direct Fire – When a tactical road march makes contact with the enemy, the actions are no different than in any other operation.  The four steps are the same for both:
1)    Deploy and Report
2)    Evaluate and Develop the Situation
3)    Determine a Course of Action
4)    Execute the Course of Action

Enemy Indirect Fire – A column of vehicles can be highly susceptible to indirect fire.  If a unit receives indirect fire, they button up the hatches and continue maneuver.  If the unit possesses counter-fire capability, this is obviously an efficient way to silence that fire.

Changes in Weather and Visibility – During the execution of a road march, a unit can experience dramatic changes in weather and visibility.  A dust/sand storm or going from day to night can cause a unit to make an unscheduled halt.  During this halt, a unit may provide more control measures to assist in command and control.  These can include more checkpoints or phaselines to control maneuver.  If conditions are so bad; the unit may be forced to halt for an extended time.

Disabled Vehicles – Vehicles are going to break down and can, in some cases, cause a tactical road march to stop in its tracks.  In disciplined/trained units, a disabled vehicle must be moved off the route by any means possible and reported up the maintenance chain.  As the vehicle is being moved, someone takes charge and guides the column through.

The Assembly Area

The final action of any tactical road march is to occupy the final assembly area.  A unit must have a plan to get a unit from the release point to occupation of the assembly area.  As discussed before, a good quartering party should be the key to success here.  Because this is such an important and often overlooked subject, we will address this in our next article.

A unit must plan and prepare for a tactical road march with the same sense of urgency as with any other mission it must accomplish.  We hope this article provided you a solid background on road march terminology and the planning, preparation, and execution of the road march.  In our experience, a unit that can conduct a tactical road march to standard will be highly effective in any mission they are given.  Always remember that the objective of the tactical road march is to maneuver a unit as quickly and as safely from start point to release point.  This sets the conditions for the unit to achieve success in any defensive or offensive mission they are assigned.

As we mentioned a few lines ago, we will dissect The Assembly Area in our next article.  We will include areas such as preparing the assembly area for occupation, maneuvering from the release point to the assembly area, occupying the assembly area, and maneuvering out of The Assembly Area (The Alpha Alpha).  See you next month!

Tactics 101: Adaptation in War

January 21, 2013

Adaptation in War

“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.”

Sun Tzu

In our last article, we focused on the combat raid.  For an operation that strives to be as stealthy as possible; it perhaps receives more publicity than any other attack.  This is because it is such a high risk/high reward operation.  There have been many successful raids in history that have had a huge impact militarily and politically. Conversely, a failed raid can have the same dramatic impact.  In our discussion of the raid, we keyed on a few areas.  First, we reminisced a bit with a war story from days gone by.  Second, we highlighted some of the more famous/infamous raids in military history.  Finally, we dissected the planning, preparation, and execution of the raid.


Our article this month will be a little more thought-provoking than normal.  We will look at adaption in war.  Throughout history, there are numerous examples of leaders/units/countries who have adapted in war and reaped the benefits.  This adaption may have been out of necessity or simply brilliance.  On the other hand, there are just as many instances where the failure to adapt ultimately led to defeat.  This failure can be the result of numerous factors which we will address later.

In tackling this subject, we will key on a few areas.  These include: 1) Recognizing success or failure.  2) Examples in history where adaptation in war was clearly evident.  3) Times in history where adaption did not take place.  4) Tactical adaptations tried and true.  5) What happens when the enemy adapts and you do not. LET’S MOVE OUT!

In war, you either impose your will upon the enemy or he imposes his will upon you.  There are the occasional draws, but usually someone comes out on top.  If you’re on the losing side, will you recognize it coming?  If you do, will you adjust what you are doing or will you ‘stick to the book’ and hammer him in the only way you know how?  The answer seems obvious, but it actually isn’t.  Too many times we just keep on doing what we’re doing, thus validating Einstein’s definition of insanity; “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein

Recognizing Success or Failure.   Combat leaders cannot afford to don rosy glasses, they must assess the situation in the light of cold rationality.  Commanders use a decision support template that lists critical events linked to decisions to track battlefield progress.  Tracking the reports tells the commander if he’s headed in the right direction.  If he’s not, it’s time for a change.  Lee missed this key point at Gettysburg.  Lee’s attacks were repulsed two days in a row, thus indicating the strength of Meade’s positions.  Rather than recognize failure, Lee tried again with Pickett’s charge on day three—a disaster.

Pickett’s Charge

What do you do when you recognize failure?  A good answer is to break contact to buy time and look for ways to do things differently.  This was the essence of Grant’s approach during the Vicksburg Campaign.  He tried a multitude of approaches, but wasted little effort or resources repeating failed attempts.  In short; adapt or die.

“It is also greatly in the commander’s own interest to have a personal picture of the front and a clear idea of the problems his subordinates are having to face.  It is the only way which he can keep his ideas permanently up to date and adapted to changing conditions. If he fights his battles as a game of chess, he will become rigidly fixed in academic theory and admiration of his own ideas.  Success comes most readily to the commander whose ideas have not been canalized into any one fixed channel, but can develop freely from the conditions around him.”

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

Failure to adapt: USSR 1989.   In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to protect their many interests.  Many would contend they went in perhaps over confident and did not dedicate the resources they truly needed.  Others say that from the moment the Red Army entered Afghanistan until they departed ten years later, the Soviets fought as if it was WWII the sequel.  Their forces were road-bound and tied to forward base camps.  They relied on heavy firepower, artillery, and air attacks to intimidate the insurgents.  Instead of pacifying the rebels, the Soviets presence rallied them.  While the Soviets controlled the ring road and the cities along it, the rebels ran the other 80% of the country.  The Soviets refused to accept Afghanistan as a people’s war, or guerilla war, rather than a conventional war.  They never adapted to the insurgency and thus quit in 1989 after ten years of wasted effort.

Adapting too late: Germany 1918.   World War I saw a great deal of adaptation as both sides grappled with the riddle of the trenches.  The commanders on all sides quickly realized the old modes of warfare didn’t work, but they were at a loss for solutions.  The list is exhaustive, thus justifying the notion that WWI was a watershed.  From 1914 to 1917, the following adaptations were tried:

  • ­    Chemical warfare to break the lines
  • ­    Open ocean submarine warfare to strangle the opposition
  • ­    Centrally controlled indirect artillery fires to mass on points of penetration
  • ­    Strategic air bombardment
  • ­    Tactical air attack
  • ­    Tactical wireless communications
  • ­    Motorized logistic resupply
  • ­    Shoulder fired automatic weapons
  • ­    Tactical front to rear medical support
  • ­    Opening of new fronts to create vulnerable flanks
  • ­    Light mortars
  • ­    Mechanized armored vehicles
  • ­    Tanks
  • ­    Indirect approach through new fronts: Gallipoli, Salonika, Italy
  • ­    Economic Warfare: blockade and U-boat offensive

In 1918, the Germans created Storm-troop units and trained them in infiltration tactics.  They were not going to launch massed frontal assaults across broad fronts.  Now they were going to send small groups forward to probe for weaknesses to be followed by larger formations.  They shifted from command push tactics (befelstaktik) to recon pull tactics (auftragstaktik).

  • Reorganization:  Divisional and Regimental assets were pushed down to squad and platoon level.
  • ­Command:  From massed units led by officers to small decentralized storm troops (stosstruppen) led by NCO’s.
  • ­Training:  Storm-troop training that emphasized small unit independent action and initiative.
  • ­Outcome:  Broke the stalemate.

The Germans came to the conclusion that the solution to the problem did not lie in weapons or technology, but in the way they were fighting; their tactics, techniques, and procedures.  A lesson from WW I is that small unit tactical changes can have tremendous strategic level effect.  Storm-troops employed new methods and carried a more diverse package of weapons.  The follow-on forces also followed new procedures.  Pre-1918 attacks began with extended artillery barrages followed by a massed infantry assault across a broad front.  The new offensive techniques employed new phases:

  • ­They replaced the barrage with a short concentrated artillery bombardment to neutralize front lines rather than to destroy them.  The new fire plan was phased to hit the front then walk back as the attack began—what became modern artillery techniques.
  • ­After the artillery lifted and shifted, the storm-troops began their infiltration under the creeping barrage.  They’d avoid combat whenever possible while destroying or capturing enemy headquarters and artillery positions.
  • ­Regular units then followed the storm troops on narrow fronts, attacking bypassed strongpoints and clearing resistance.

The new tactics were designed to; achieve tactical surprise, focus at weak points, bypass strongpoints, and abandon operations controlled from afar.  Junior leaders exercised on the spot initiative. On 21 March 1918, Germany launched ‘OPERATION MICHAEL’ using the new tactics. Four offensives followed and for the first time in four years the stalemate was broken, but it was too late for Germany.


Slow but steady: Iraq 2006.   From 2003 to 2006, the US-led coalition in Iraq faced a rising insurgency.  The stability and reconstruction mission became a stability, reconstruction and counterinsurgency mission.  The US-led coalition adapted, albeit very slowly.  Coalition forces integrated special and regular force operations.  National strategic and joint operational assets were pushed down and in support of small units running tactical missions.  Forces began shared planning, collaborative execution, and ops/intel fusion.  Training focused on building teamwork that accelerated operations.  The newly flattened command and control structure coupled with small unit empowerment led to initiative oriented and intent driven operations.

The 2006 adaptation in Iraq introduced highly skilled small units, grounded in the fundamentals of irregular warfare, collaborating together, armed with access to an arsenal of weapons traditionally employed by upper echelon commanders.  US units on the ground adapted to a degraded security situation by developing a streamlined and shared targeting cycle, lowering the threshold of actionable intelligence, and enabling distributed execution empowered by collaboration and shared awareness and purpose.  Teamwork and trust was developed through mutual agreement to work together to dominate the environment.  Units cross-organized and integrated thus sharing responsibilities and risks.  They exploited horizontal intelligence sharing and integrated command & control.  Decisions were made at lower levels and decisive action followed.

“Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after they occur.”

General Giulio Douhet, Command of the Air, 1921

Gaining an edge: Tactical adaptations tried and true.

Combined arms platoons.   The US Army mixes tanks and infantry at the company level and above.  Such groupings are called combined arms.  For some reason, it’s deemed inappropriate to build combined arms units below the company level—the platoon.  Some may think that green lieutenants are incapable of exploiting the dynamic mix of infantry and armor at platoon level – we disagree.

  • MOUT.   This one is not only a no brainer, it’s doctrine.  Unescorted tanks moving through city streets are sitting ducks, even for a neophyte urban warrior.  Tanks in cities need infantrymen out front, spotting bad guys for them.  This is not a one way relationship either.  Tanks add excellent suppressive fires from their onboard machine guns and can breach buildings by firing a 120mm round through the walls.  In short; a combined arms platoon including a rifle platoon and a tank on the urban battlefield is highly lethal.

Korean War

  • Defile drills.   Korea is a land of steep hills and narrow valleys and tight defiles.  It is all too easy to stop an armored column cold as it tries to muscle its way through a defile.  Kill the lead tank and the one or two that try to bypass the wreck and you block the defile.  An answer is to lead off with a combined arms platoon.  It could be composed of a tank platoon and an infantry platoon; a tank platoon and an infantry squad; or an infantry platoon with a tank—it depends on the nature of the threat covering the pass.  The concept is consistent though; the infantry can seize the untrafficable ‘edges’ of the defile.  They pick off armored targets from above or suppress fellow infantrymen directly.  Once enough space is ‘created’, the tank or tanks can rip through and seize a foothold on the far side.  Their job is to hold on until a larger force can break through and the infantry provides an invaluable service as ‘the eye in the sky’.
  • Open terrain and high-speed Avenues of Approach.   During Operation Desert Storm, my company team was defending the right flank of my Brigade Combat Team (BCT).  My company team had to cover the BCT flank and link up with the neighboring BCT and cover the main high-speed Avenue of Approach in the sector.  The problem was that it was late and both BCT’s were set in their positions.  There was a gap; not side by side, but front and rear…we were farther back than they were.  I now had to link the BCT’s while closing a gap along a highway.  I could not move my company.  I had a problem; I could only send a platoon.  If I sent an infantry platoon, I would not have rapid fire capability.  If I sent a tank platoon, I would lack stand-off anti-tank fire and would risk exposure to infantry on foot.  I decided to send a combined platoon consisting of two tanks, two Bradleys, and my XO’s Bradley with my forward observer.  This balanced platoon with a Headquarters’ element was like a mini-company team.  It worked well.

Special Purpose Forces/GeneralPurpose Forces—Expertise and Numbers.  In the aftermath of the combat phases of OIF and OEF, the forces on the ground soon discovered that they couldn’t remain in their comfort zones where conventional guys do what they do and Special Forces do what they do.  The conventional infantry and armored forces had the manpower while the SOF had the expertise.  The conventional troops were responsible for establishing security and for tracking mid-level insurgents and terrorists while SOF focused on top priority targets.  Each force traditionally pursued their respective missions separately from one another.  This is fine during a conventional conflict, but it doesn’t work in a counterinsurgency.

  • Targeting.  What happens when regular infantrymen and Marines are hunting low level enemy bomb makers in neighborhood X while the special forces are tracking the bomb making financier in neighborhood Y?  The money man wanders into a bomb lab in neighborhood X and is killed or captured in a raid or worse, is let go since he is unknown to the regular troops.  The solution is to make targeting non-proprietary and to share targets.  This is exactly what happened.  The conventional troops told the SOF who they were after and vice versa and both sides were empowered to take action on any threat target that popped up in their sector.  By sharing targets and targeting, both forces enhanced their chances of success.  There were more eyes searching.  Furthermore, the SOF shared their precise techniques with the regulars, thus making them more effective in the man-hunting realm.
  • Fusion.   Once the conventional and special forces began to share planning and execution; they had to share everything else.  Each force had its own support, planning procedures, sources and chain of command.  They usually didn’t even know exactly where each other was working.  The solution was to create shared command and control centers where all information from all sources and location could be fused in order to create a shared vision of the battlefield.  The new facilities were called ‘fusion centers’ and the goal were to generate a common operating picture (COP).  Like cops getting the morning brief before hitting the beat, the newly integrated force now knew who was looking for what and where.  They know where each other was operating and could alert each other if a priority target wandered into their area of operations.  The Marine Corps Gazette summed up the new arrangements nicely:

“. . . teammates share a common knowledge of the events taking
place around them. In this way, shared mental models enable
teams to adapt to new and dynamic environments by allowing
them to predict the needs of their teammates, thus
coordinating their actions.”

Marine Corps Gazette  April 2007

Helicopters and troops: the Ground Air Team.   The AH64 Apache attack helicopter was developed to prosecute the deep attack as part of the old AirLand Battle plan.  Their role was to fly over the close battle in order to strike the uncommitted reserves and follow on forces.  Apaches are tough, well-armed, have excellent acquisition technology, can deliver precision fire and are also very expensive.  The employment of the attack helicopter battalion (AHB) traditionally rests in the hands of a division commander or higher.  The problem in Iraq and Afghanistan was that there weren’t huge armored forces in depth waiting to rush the line through the hole created by their predecessors.  The battlefield was no longer linear and clearly populated with an identifiable enemy army.  The new enemies were insurgents and terrorists who looked like civilians and moved among civilians within cities and villages.  Indirect fires that landed inside US bases didn’t originate from fielded artillery battalions; they came from two or three man teams firing a portable mortar.

  • The AHT: Attack Helicopter Team.   The integration of attack helicopters and small hunter-killer recon teams was a nice adaptation to respond to random mortar attacks. The traditional method of using artillery counter-fire against the source of enemy indirect fire was not acceptable since such an action would devastate an entire grid square full of non-combatants.  The solution was to put attack helicopters into the hands of sergeants manning observation posts looking for mortar teams.  The ground team perched on rooftops could spot the guerilla mortar men, designate them, and call in precision fires from the Apaches.  This technique was devastatingly effective and is one you should consider when facing guerilla warfare as part of a counterinsurgency campaign.
  • CCA—Close Combat Attack.   As stated above the AHB mission is, by design, the deep attack against uncommitted follow on forces and reserves.  But what if you are stuck in a narrow and long valley where an armored force is denied the ability to mass and artillery cannot find space to establish firing points to support forward troops?  The answer was to remember adaption from the past (specifically Vietnam) and resurrect the concept of close combat attack.  In this case, the attack helicopters strike enemy troops in their forward positions in support of direct ground attack.  It’s the attack helicopter version of close air support and it is a technique that works well when planned for ahead of time.

T.E. Lawrence

What happens when your opponent adapts and you don’t?   The answer to this question depends on the overall competence and general luck on each side.  If your opponent is significantly inferior in men and material then his adaptations may do nothing more than extend the war.  If his adaptations are launched prematurely or without a clearly defined purpose, then he might just squander resources like the Brits did when they sent tanks into Cambrai.  The tanks broke through, but there was no real plan to exploit their success.

  • The Fortunate One.   You may get lucky and prevail in spite of yourself.  In this case, the least incompetent side wins.  In Russia 1941, the Red Army was out of position, poorly commanded, and was totally unprepared to respond to the new form of warfare—blitzkrieg.  The Russians lost one disastrous engagement after another until they found their backs to Moscow.  They managed to turn it around, not based on their own sudden burst of competence, but rather based on Germany’s incompetence.  Like Napoleon before, the Germans fell victim to vast distances, poor roads, and the harsh winter.  The Germans in fact, failed to adapt to the physical environment.
  • Irrelevance.   Another outcome is that your actions end up having no appreciable effect.  In this case, the enemy embarks on a series of adaptations while you stand still.  This is, in effect, losing in slow motion.  This was the fate of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula from 1916 to 1918.  The Arabian Tribes banned together from time to time to assault fortified Turkish garrisons inside fortified cities and were repeatedly defeated given their disadvantage in equipment and training.  When T.E. Lawrence joined the Arab army as an advisor; all that changed.  The Arabs started to attack the Turks along the rail lines, away from their bases.  The tactics were hit and run guerilla tactics and the Turks had no effective response.  They lost in slow motion.
  • Chaos.   The worst outcome when a static system collides with an adaptive one is systematic failure.  In this situation, the enemy adaptation shocks the system to such an extent that every action taken in response only hastens the ultimate collapse.   A good example of this was France 1940.  The French expected and planned for a repeat of 1918.  They saw themselves as invulnerable to a repeat since they built the largest, most extensive, and most expensive series of fortified defensive positions ever seen in history; the Maginot Line.  The problem for France was that Germany cheated.  They didn’t attack the vaunted line; they went go around it.  The French Army ended up sending its armored units here, there, and everywhere.  Confusion reigned as units fell like bowling pins.  The collapse was spectacular, comprehensive, and complete.

Maginot Line

When you are on the battlefield, the situation is not what you expected, and nothing seems to be working; you’d better be thinking about what you can do differently.  Doctrine is a start point not an end state.  It grows and develops as leaders in the filed adapt and innovate to overcome unexpected challenges.  It’s ok to break the rules especially when the alternative is defeat.  Be creative and try new tactics, techniques, and procedures.

As we begin the new year, we will again shift gears.  Our first two articles of 2013 will focus on two areas that may not be as “glamorous” as some.  These are the tactical road march and the tactical assembly area.  As we have stressed throughout our series, there is no such thing as an admin mentally in combat.  Every action and operation must be planned, prepared, and executed tactically.  With this in mind, we will address how you plan, prepare and execute the tactical road march.  Following that article, we will dissect the tactical assembly area.

“In any problem where an opposing force exists, and cannot be regulated, one must foresee and provide for alternative courses.  Adaptability is the law which governs survival in war as in life – war being but a concentrated form of the human struggle against environment.”

Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart

Tactics 101: The Cover

October 15, 2012


“The general should be ignorant of none of the situations likely to occur in war. Who can attempt to accomplish what he does not understand? Who is able to furnish assistance in situations whose dangers he does not understand?”

The Emperor Maurice

Our last article continued our series of articles focused on security operations. In it, we keyed on guard operations. In dissecting the guard, we addressed several areas. First, we defined the guard mission. Second, we highlighted how a guard differs from the screen (which we addressed in the previous month). Third, we provided you the critical tasks of a guard. Fourth, we discussed how you would organize your force to conduct a guard. Fifth, we spent the majority of the article dissecting the three types of guard – advance, flank, and rear. Finally, we looked at how control measures are utilized in conducting the guard. Overall, we believe it was a pretty comprehensive lay-down of the guard. The key takeaways were: 1) The guard can truly set the conditions for success in the offense and the defense. 2) A unit must be highly trained and well-organized to conduct a guard. 3) A guard can take many forms and those forms can morph throughout an operation

Our article this month will complete our discussion on security operations. The focus will be on the final piece of the three principle security missions – the cover. We will address several areas as they pertain to the cover. These include: 1) A definition of the cover. 2) The critical tasks of conducting a cover. 3) How you organize to execute a cover. 4) The types of cover operations. At the conclusion of the article, you should have a thorough understanding of how a cover operation can be utilized in the offense and the defense.

A Covering Force Possessing its own Artillery Support

Like its’ fellow security brethren (screen and guard), the cover has the same principle three key tasks. First, it wants to protect the main body from surprise from the enemy. Second, it wants to develop the situation for the main body commander. This aids in keeping the commander’s options viable during the fight. Finally, it wants to give the commander time and space in which to respond to the enemy’s actions. As with the screen and guard, a cover can be offensive or defensive. Again, as with the screen and guard, it can be executed to the front, flanks or rear of the main body. Additionally, a covering force can be utilized with a stationary or maneuvering force.

Just as the guard was a step-up from the screen; the cover is a step-up from the guard. Consequently, a cover can achieve all the tasks which a screen and guard and much more. Here are the key areas which differentiate the cover from other security missions:

  • The unit assigned a cover is self-contained. This means it can operate at a significant distance away from the main body because it possesses its’ logistical and indirect fire support to conduct operations independently. The distance apart from the main body is of course determined by a variety of factors. These include factors such as the terrain of the operation, the location of the enemy, the enemy’s strength, and rates of maneuver for both the enemy and the friendly main body. However, it is safe to say that a covering force can operate between 50-60 kilometers away from the main body.
  • Because it can operate away from the main body it can clearly develop the situation for the main body far earlier than the screen or guard.
  • A unit conducting a cover will almost always possess much more combat power than a unit executing a guard and obviously a screen. This combat power provides it great flexibility in conducting options that will assist it in achieving the purpose it is assigned.
  • Because of its’ combat power and support elements; a guard force can become decisively engaged with the enemy. In fact, there will be times when a commander will want the cover force to become decisively engaged.
  • Because of its’ logistical support; a covering force can operate in much longer time durations than a guard or screen force.
  • A cover will almost always be an enemy oriented operation vice a terrain oriented operation.

In regards to utilizing a covering force, it’s clearly size that matters. In order to resource a covering force, you must have some substantial combat power available. Consequently, you will see covering forces utilized at the corps and division level. Let’ address how each would organize a covering force.

Within a corps, a cavalry regiment is tailor-made to execute a covering force mission. Besides the combat power it possesses, it contains the critical command and control architecture to execute this challenging mission. A corps commander will also determine, based on his mission analysis, if he should augment the regiment with additional elements. These can be anything such as additional artillery, engineer support, air defense, and/or logistical support.

If the corps commander does not have a cavalry regiment at his disposal, he may decide to use one of his divisions as a covering force. In this scenario, the commander must truly require a covering force to utilize a division. However, there are clearly situations where this would be sound.

At division level, the formation of a covering force is obviously a little more challenging. Normally, the division commander will utilize one of his brigades as a covering force. Depending on the mission and the distances required; he may augment the brigade with a cavalry squadron. If the distances are shorter and the amount of terrain that must be covered is fairly narrow, the division commander may determine that the cav squadron can handle it. If that is the case, he will likely augment it with some of the elements we addressed in our corps discussion.

To Use or Not to Use a Covering Force?
The decision to utilize a covering force is a difficult one. Of course, it is made much easier if the unit possesses cavalry units in its’ task organization. These units are clearly made for covering force operations. If a cav unit is not available to a commander, the decision becomes much more difficult. Within this decision, he must weigh several factors. First, does the tactical situation dictate the need for a covering force? Second, can you resource a covering force and still have enough resources to execute your assigned purpose and task? Third, does the unit you have in mind to conduct a covering force have the ability and training to achieve the mission? Fourth, would the resources you utilize to organize the covering force be better utilized in other ways? After answering these questions, you may determine a covering force is not feasible. If that is the case, you may decide a guard is a better fit for the operation. As addressed last month, a guard would be far easier to resource.

Types of Cover Operations

A Brigade Conducting an Advance Offensive Cover

A Cavalry Regiment Conducting an Advance Offensive Cover

Offensive Cover
In large unit offensive operations, an offensive covering force can be a decisive factor in achieving success. A covering force aids in mission accomplishment in a variety of ways. Chief among these is either seizing or retaining the initiative from the enemy. Acquiring this initiative should enable a commander to attack the enemy when and where he wants to. Within an offensive cover, no matter the type, there are several key tasks the covering force should be expected to execute. These include the following:

Key Tasks:

  • Conduct reconnaissance (zone) along the main body’s primary axis of advance. This recon sets the table for the main body attack.
  • Deny the enemy information about the size, strength, composition, and objective of the main body. A good enemy is trying to find out just as much about you, as you about him. A covering force makes it far more challenging for an enemy to collect this information.
  • Destroy or repel enemy recon and security forces. One of the best ways to deny the enemy this information is to ensure the enemy’s assets to collect it are not successful.
  • Develop the situation to determine enemy strengths, weaknesses, and dispositions. The covering force does the heavy lifting; allowing the main body’s attack to be as effective as possible.
  • Defeat, repel, or fix enemy forces as directed by the higher commander. There may be times when the covering force will come into contact with the enemy’s main body forces. If the tactical situation dictates, the covering force may be assigned a task and purpose it must achieve against these forces.
  • Exploit opportunities until main body forces are committed. The security fight at any level provides opportunities. A covering force will be afforded some opportunities in their mission. It is up to the covering force to exploit these times and take advantage of them.
  • Clear bypassed enemy based on commander’s criteria. One of the calls a commander must make is his bypass criteria. A commander must weigh the time required to clear enemy forces with what damage these forces could do to the main body. The commander will provide this bypass criterion to the covering force.

Types of Offensive Covering Force Operations
There are two types of offensive covering force operations a unit may conduct – advance and flank. Below we will address each:

This is the most commonly executed type of offensive cover. As the name suggests, the covering force is the advance formation of an attack. Because of this, it will normally conduct its’ own operation as a movement to contact. That way it can develop the situation and be prepared to conduct various missions including defend and attack. Whatever the case, it should contribute to seizing or maintaining the initiative. In conducting the advance cover, the covering force will either come in contact with a defending enemy or one that is also maneuvering. The tasks of the covering force will obviously be different for each one. Below we will highlight the keys task in each:

Defending enemy

  • Penetrate the enemy security zone to locate enemy main defensive positions. The covering force can paint the picture for a commander as to the enemy’s defensive preparation.
  • Determine enemy strengths and weaknesses. Part of this picture is analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the defense. As always, you do not want to attack into the teeth of a prepared defense.
  • Locate gaps and weaknesses in defense. If a gap is discovered, a covering force does possess the combat power to exploit that gap in certain situations.
  • Defeat or repel enemy forces as directed. An enemy will stand idly by and let you collect as much info on him as you need. The covering force may need to fight for this info.
  • Deceive the enemy that the covering force is actually the main attack force. This can cause him to prematurely commit his counterattack forces or if lucky, his reserve.
  • Fix enemy forces allowing the main body to maneuver on an assailable flank. When attacking, it is all about finding a flank to attack into the enemy. A covering force can find that flank and then fix the enemy so he can’t reposition forces to cover that flank.

Maneuvering enemy

  • Destroy enemy recon, advance guard and lead elements of his main body. If the covering force can achieve this, it gives friendly forces the conditions to conduct a successful hasty attack.
  • Determine location of his assailable flanks. A maneuvering enemy has vulnerable flanks. A covering force that discovers these flanks provides his unit a huge advantage.
  • Fix enemy forces allowing the main body to maneuver on an assailable flank. Once this flank is found, the covering force that can fix the enemy enables the main body to exploit that flank.

Advance Covering Force – Things to Know
Below are some ‘nuggets’ to ponder in regards to executing an advance covering force:

  • Plan it as a zone reconnaissance or movement to contact. In other words, flexibility is imperative.
  • The maneuver units of the covering force almost always maneuver abreast. Thus, if a cavalry regiment is the covering force, its’ squadrons will be abreast during execution.
  • The covering force must have a reserve to aid in flexibility. We will discuss the reserve later in the article.
  • Keep artillery forward so it is responsive and can range when required.
  • Likewise, keep engineer support forward (particularly breaching assets) to keep freedom of maneuver.
  • The maneuver of the covering force is controlled by defined control measures such as objectives, phaselines, and checkpoints. We will discuss control measures at the end of this article.
  • Because of a covering force’s significant combat power, it can do much more than just report and wait for the main body to execute. A good covering force should be able to take advantage of enemy weaknesses it discovers. For example, if the covering force encounters a defending enemy; they have the strength to exploit a gap in that defense. This sets the conditions for the main body attack.

A Cavalry Regiment Conducting a Flank Offensive Cover

Of the two types of offensive cover operations; the flank cover is the least conducted. Normally, a unit will not dedicate this large of a resource on its’ flank. Thus, they will determine that a guard or screen is more appropriate. However, if the commander deems that his threat on the flank is that significant he can elect to utilize a cover.

There are two major differences between a flank cover vice a flank guard or screen. First, if the commander decided a cover was required; it is likely he would take advantage of the combat power of the force. This combat power provides him the opportunity to utilize deception or perhaps, use the covering force in a more offensive role. Second, the commander could position the covering force at a far greater distance away from the main body than if he used a guard or screen.

There are also some similarities between the cover and the guard and screen. To begin with, the cover must maintain contact with some portion of the main body. As in any security mission, there must be a connection between the security force and the main body. Without this tie-in, the commander is not getting the results he wants from his security force. The second similarity is that the cover force, while maneuvering to its flank locations will ensure the route is cleared between itself and the main body. If this doesn’t occur, the main body could very well get surprised by bypassed enemy units. Finally, just as with the screen and guard, the covering force must meet the challenge of maneuvering in conjunction with the main body if it is a moving flank cover. As we highlighted in the screen and guard articles, there are several techniques available to the covering force to succeed in this endeavor.

As we addressed several times in our flank cover discussion, the distances between the flank cover and the main body are large. One way to mitigate these distances is with the use of rotary wing aircraft. There are many ways air can be invaluable in conducting a flank cover (or in any type of cover). These include the following:

  • They can bridge the gap between the covering force and the main body. Thus, they can be the unit that maintains the required contact between the elements.
  • As we touched on earlier, the terrain that the covering force maneuvers on from the main body to their flank locations should be cleared. Aviation can assist in this task.
  • As with the other security operations, a mix of ground and aviation assets can be a powerful combination in accomplishing the flank cover.

A Cavalry Regiment in a Defensive Cover

Defensive Cover
A covering force in the defense can have a huge impact. A commander may have several purposes in mind when he elects to utilize a covering force. These can include:

  • Ensure your opponent does not keep or obtain the initiative. This is a challenge since the enemy is preparing to attack and in many cases has the initiative. The covering force can be a significant factor in changing this. Through their actions they can prevent the enemy from attacking where and when he wants to and at what strength level.
  • As we have addressed countless times in the series; time is the one resource you can’t get enough of. The covering force can be invaluable in gaining precious time. This is time that can be utilized in preparing defenses, deploying forces where it can gain an advantage and potentially conducting a counter-attack, or enabling the force to get logistically up to strength.
  • The commander may want to drain the enemy of combat power and its’ will to fight. A defensive covering force can achieve this by forcing the enemy to maneuver/fight through the covering force.

So how does a covering force influence initiative, gain time, or degrade the enemy’s strength mentally and physically? Below are some tasks that will aid the covering force in achieving these purposes:

  • Ensure the main body does not get surprised by enemy actions. Critical in this is not being engaged by the foe’s direct fire weapon systems. (Obviously, drawing direct fire at a time when you are not expecting it may infer the enemy has surprised you).
  • A security stable – Must keep around the clock eyes on all high speed enemy avenues of approach into the security area which ultimately lead into the main body.
  • These eyes should also be able to determine various things about the enemy main body. These include the size of the attacking force, its’ strength, the vehicle composition of its’ units, and direction of attack (especially of the main body’s main effort, if possible). Obviously, all of these are critical to the commander deciding what options he has available.
  • Destroy or defeat enemy recon units. One pesky single recon vehicle which gets through to the main body can cause serious havoc. In particular, in can direct indirect fires into the main body. Good units will coordinate the efforts of all security elements (cover, guard, screen, recon, etc…) to increase the probability this won’t happen.
  • An enemy at significant strength will likely employ his own guard or cover force. A defensive covering force must defeat these forces and any other lead security elements the enemy may maneuver.
  • If the covering force becomes engaged with the lead elements of the enemy’s main body; it must persuade the main body to maneuver into deployment formations. Forcing the enemy main body to deploy prematurely has a direct impact on momentum and initiative. If things go right, the enemy main body will attack piecemeal into the friendly main body engagement areas.
  • In conjunction with the above, the covering force should strive to destroy as many enemy vehicles as tactically feasible. The covering force must be careful not to get so wrapped up in this that they leave themselves no displacement options.
  • Although extremely challenging, if the covering force can influence the actions of the enemy’s field artillery and air defense systems the result could be huge. The key action would be for these units to displace rearward which would dramatically impact the artillery and air defense protection of the main body.
  • A covering force has great flexibility in the range of things it can do on the battlefield. One way to utilize them in a defensive cover is in deception. A good deception plan and execution can deceive the enemy that the covering force is the main body defense. The ramifications of this are significant.
  • The last task we will address is the covering force must ensure enemy security elements do not bypass them. Obviously, you do not want enemy security forces in the rear of the covering force setting their sights on the main body. The results will not be favorable.

Locations of a Defensive Cover Operation
Just as with the guard, there are three locations where you a defensive cover can be conducted. These are the front, flank, and rear. By far, the most frequently utilized defensive cover is to the front. This is followed by the flank cover. Consequently, most of the above discussion on the defensive cover relates directly to the execution of the front and flank. Below we will address some key aspects of the front/forward and rear defensive covers.

Front/Flank Defensive Cover

  • Again, a cavalry regiment is the primary choice with a heavy brigade next in priority to conduct a front or flank cover.
  • These units can be augmented by various combat, combat support and logistical units if the situation dictates.
  • Within a covering force, you will usually break up the terrain in sections and give that to individual units. Thus, if a regiment was conducting the mission, you would give these sections to squadrons to operate in.
  • If you could match these with the boundaries of units in the main body all the better. That would greatly simplify things and aid in areas such as coordination, passage of lines, etc….
  • A commander always wants a reserve at his control to influence an operation. In a front/flank covering force it is no different. Within the covering force, it is the wise commander who designates both an air and ground reserve. Attack aviation can maneuver to a location quicker and is far less affected by terrain, but of course can be weather dependent. A ground reserve (preferably tanks) may get there slower and can be influenced by terrain, but is affected little by weather. In either case, the commander needs a reserve to get him out of trouble or exploit success.
  • Air/ground coordination is imperative in the cover. A commander must blend their strengths (always aware of their weaknesses) during the cover. Each arm must know what the other is doing at all times.
  • As in any security operation, the passage of lines is vital to mission accomplishment and protection of the security element. In the defense, units conducting a front or flank cover will almost always conduct a rearward passage of lines with the main body. It is an operation which must be expertly planned, prepared and executed.

Rear Defensive Cover
A rear defensive cover is very comparable to a rear defensive guard. It is used when the main body is maneuvering away from the enemy. In most cases, this is not good. However, there may be times when the commander wants to fall back for various reasons (mainly logistical). When the main body is in retrograde mode, it is highly likely that a good enemy will be right on their heels. Consequently, a commander must determine how he can slow down the enemy’s pursuit and save the combat power of his main body. One major option available to the commander is to utilize a rear defensive covering force.

The execution of a rear covering force can take many forms. One of the most common follows below:

1) The unit decides it must conduct a withdrawal and based on the situation determines a rear covering force is needed.
2) The covering force positions itself to the rear of the main body. They will normally position themselves abreast. If a cavalry regiment is conducting the mission; it will be 3 cavalry squadrons abreast. If it is a brigade conducting the mission; it will likely be 3 battalions abreast.
3) While in position, the covering force will establish passage points where the main body will pass through the covering force. They should also plan for the what-ifs that could occur in this very fluid situation.
4) Once the main body meets the covering force, they pass through them and the main body continues maneuver to their destination.
5) Once the main body completes the passage, the covering force has several options depending on the tactical situation. First, the covering force may stay in these positions and conduct a defense against the pursuing enemy. Second, the covering force may conduct a delay against the pursuing enemy. Finally, the covering force may maneuver with the main body as its’ trail element. Again, these options are situational dependent and could obviously change based on the circumstances.

A covering force can have a huge impact on ‘big unit’ battles. In the offense, a covering force can enable the main body to attack its’ opponent at a time and place of its’ choosing. A covering force can also exploit opportunities that may come its’ way. In the defense, the covering force can deny the enemy its’ ability to attack at a time and place of its’ choosing. It can also be a tremendous aid in preserving combat power if the force is required to conduct a retrograde. The price of standing up a covering force is not cheap. It requires significant power, but the payoff can also be significant.

This article concludes our discussion on security operations. We have gone in great detail on the subject which included focusing on each of the big 3 security operations – screen, guard, and cover. Next month, we will maneuver in another direction and key on the raid. We will look at several areas including successful and unsuccessful raids in history and the planning, preparation, and execution of a raid. We think it will be an area you will find extremely interesting. See you next month!

Tactics 101: The ‘Guard’ Mission in Security Ops

September 22, 2012


“No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.”


Niccolo Machiavelli

In our last article, we dissected the first of the big “3” security operations – the screen. In our discussion, we addressed several areas as they related to the screen. These included: 1) Providing you a definition of the screen. 2) Laying out the characteristics of the screen. 3) Addressing the key concepts of the screen. 4) Describing how a unit typically conducts a screen focusing on its’ 5 phases. 5) Presenting the types of screen operations. 6) Finally, we provided you a visual of and the definitions of the control measures you would typically utilize in a screen. We hope the one thing you will remember regarding the screen is that it is a very challenging operation to conduct. It is one that takes quality planning and preparation to set the conditions for execution success. Those who think you can throw a screen mission together without this planning and preparation will suffer the consequences.

Our article this month will key on the second of the big “3” security operations – the guard. Our agenda will be reminiscent of the prior month. We will look at these areas: 1) The definition of the guard. 2) How a guard differs from a screen. 3) The critical tasks of a guard operation. 4) Organizing to conduct the guard. 5) The types of guard missions. and 6) The control measures normally utilized in a guard mission. Let’s Move Out!

Definition – A guard force protects the main body by either fighting to gain time or by attacking, defending, and/or delaying the enemy to prevent him from observing the main body and potentially engaging it with direct fires. Additionally, it can be the key component in providing the main body with the freedom of maneuver it desperately requires to achieve success. Throughout a guard mission, the force will observe the enemy and report its’ actions to higher headquarters. A guard can be conducted in support of a stationary force or a moving force. It can be utilized in an offensive or defensive mission.

How does a Guard differ from a Screen?
The guard is clearly a step up from the screen in most regards. These step-ups include the following:

  • It possesses far more combat power than a screen. Consequently, it is equipped with enough firepower so it can fix, repel and even defeat the lead elements of an enemy force so it can’t engage the main body with direct fires.
  • A guard force will usually be positioned on a narrower front than that of a screen force. Thus, in a guard force, vehicles will have less dispersion than in a screen. This enables the guard force to concentrate combat power if it is required to fix, repel, or defeat the enemy.
  • Because of the mission of the guard force, it will engage the enemy with both its own direct fires and generally the main body’s indirect fires. Remember, as with the screen force, a guard force will operate within range of the main body’s indirect fires. As we discussed last month, a screen force does not want to engage the enemy with direct fires unless absolutely necessary. A guard force is equipped and prepared to conduct this direct fire engagement.

Critical Tasks
A unit conducting a guard may need to execute a number of various tasks in order to be successful. These include:

  • Destroying the security forces of the enemy. A guard force should be capable of destroying or certainly defeating the advance guard (we will address what an advance guard is further in this article) of the enemy. It should easily be able to destroy any screen forces of an enemy.
  • An imperative of any security operation is to gain and maintain contact with your opponent. It is no different in a guard. In fact, a guard will possess far more assets than a screen force to gain and maintain this contact.
  • Keep continuous eyes on the avenues of approach into the main body. The enemy can conduct an attack on your forces at anytime. So whether you are attacking or in a defensive posture, the force must be vigilant on keeping surveillance on the enemy approaches into the main body. If your intelligence determines that enemy forces could be significant, then a guard force may be utilized.
  • If forced to displace, the guard force must understand that the enemy will be right on their heels. This will normally be recon and security units. Consequently, the guard force must be prepared to disrupt and delay any enemy forces maneuvering behind them. As we have discussed many times in this series, a delay is a challenging operation. The guard force must be trained to meet this challenge.
  • There may be situations where it is the main body of the enemy and not its’ recon and security that are on their heels. If that is the case, the guard force must be ready to conduct a delay on these forces.
  • This is obviously a no-brainer, but if enemy security forces are able to get past the guard force, they must ensure this is reported to the main body.
  • Guard forces, no matter where they are operating must maintain contact with main body forces. This is especially critical when guard forces are positioned on the flanks.

Call in The Cavalry

Organizing for the Guard
In tactics anything is possible, but many things just aren’t feasible. Consequently, when we talk about what size unit could generate a force to execute a guard, the most feasible is an armored or mechanized division. These divisions are equipped with the perfect unit, organization and mindset to execute the guard – the cavalry. More specifically, within the cavalry it is the squadron (normally part of a cavalry regiment).


An Excellent Blend of Air and Ground Assets

The cavalry squadron is an excellent blend of ground and air assets that can accomplish the critical tasks we highlighted above. A typical cav squadron will have three troops (companies) assigned to it. Each of these troops will be a blend of tanks and fighting vehicles. They are trained to protect, observe, and report. They are additionally trained to defend, attack, and delay. The cav squadron also is equipped with air troops. These troops will have some type of observation helicopters assigned to it. In combination, it is a perfect blend.

Some units may not be fortunate enough to have a cavalry unit assigned to it. If not, this is not to say they cannot conduct a guard. They must simply be a bit more creative in organization. In manning the guard, they should utilize the cav squadron as its’ template. With that template, the right size unit would be an armored or mechanized battalion task force. The task force should have at least three companies assigned to it. These companies would then each be task organized with a blend of tanks and fighting vehicles. The air portion of the mix may be a little more challenging to create. If this challenge is unfeasible, the unit will just go with the ground assets.

Three Types of Guard – Advance, Flank and Rear

Types of Guard Missions
There are three types of guard operations a force can execute. These are advance, flank, and rear. Obviously, the mission and tactical situation will determine if the guard is required and if so, what type. Below we will discuss each type.

Advance Guard
Let’s highlight the key aspects of an advance guard:

  • Positioned forward of the main body and any screen forces
  • Ensure the momentum of any main body offensive operation
  • Protect the main body from surprise whether it is maneuvering or stationary
  • Facilitate maneuver of the main body by removing obstacles, repairing roads/bridges in the axis of advance
  • Can be utilized in an offensive or defensive context
  • If the main body is conducting an offensive mission; the advance guard will almost always be offensive in nature
  • If the main body is conducting a defensive mission; the advance guard will almost always be defensive in nature

Infantry Fighting Vehicles – A Key Component of the Advance Guard

Defensive Advance Guard
When conducting an advance guard in support of a defensive operation, it is all about protecting the force. This protection will be in several areas. These include protection from enemy surveillance (enabling the enemy to acquire intelligence on the main body defensive preparation), protection from surprise enemy offensive operations, protection from enemy indirect fires, and protection from enemy direct fires.

When conducting the defensive advance guard, the force will set-up into a defensive posture. The extent of the preparation efforts are tied directly to the tactical situation and the intent of the commander. Preparation efforts could range from a very hasty defense (almost mirroring a screen) to a very deliberate defense with obstacles and extensive preparation.

In many cases, the defensive advance guard will have to conduct a delay of enemy forces. This can be one of the most difficult missions any unit can conduct. There are several reasons for that. First, the odds are likely that they will have to conduct this delay against the enemy’s recon and security units. These are usually well-trained forces that will be difficult for a guard force to delay against. Second, the guard force will have to conduct a rearward passage of lines through a well-prepared defense. This must be well-planned and coordinated. If not, the guard force could find themselves caught between the friendly defense and the rapidly advancing enemy. Third, conducting a defensive advance guard is a physically and mentally demanding operation. Asking them to now conduct a delay adds to their physical and mental exhaustion.

Offensive Advance Guard

Offensive Advance Guard
When conducting an advance guard in support of an offensive operation, it is all about freedom of maneuver. Consequently, the advance guard will execute tasks that achieve this purpose. Critical in their operation is to provide surveillance of the enemy, provide early warning to the main body of enemy actions, breach obstacles and clear maneuver routes, and if required to fix, defeat, or destroy enemy recon and security assets.

When conducting an advance guard, the force will almost always conduct a movement to conduct. This allows them to develop the situation for the main body. Because they are executing a movement to contact, the guard force may wind up conducting a variety of missions including a hasty attack or preparing a hasty defense.

Based on the size of the unit, the advance guard may actually follow a covering force (we will discuss the cover in our next article). When this occurs, the level of coordination and communication obviously increases dramatically.

The tasks of a unit conducting an offensive advance guard are significant. Certainly, you must give this mission to a well-trained unit. The best situation is for the higher headquarters to assign this to a cavalry unit as we discussed earlier. If a cav unit is not available, the higher headquarters must assign it to one of their better subordinate units. No matter the unit, they may be required to conduct the following:

  • Breach obstacles to ensure freedom of maneuver for the main body.
  • Conduct a passage of lines with a covering force if the covering force is required to fall back.
  • Clear any axis of advance that the main body may require.
  • If a covering force is utilized, the guard force may need to destroy any enemy forces the covering force has bypassed.
  • When contact is made with the enemy, the guard force may conduct offensive operations, conduct a defense, or execute a delay based on the situation.

The Flank Guard

A commander will want a flank guard when he has an exposed flank with his unit or he is concerned significantly about one of his flanks. This flank guard could occur in an offensive or defensive mission. Like most security operations it has three key tasks. First, protect the force from enemy ground observation. Second, protect the main body from enemy direct fire. Third, protect the main body from a surprise attack from the flank. A flank guard could be of two varieties — moving or stationary. Let’s address each below:

Moving Flank Guard

A moving flank guard is certainly a test for any unit to execute. There are two big challenges for the guard unit in conducting the moving flank guard. First, they must gauge their maneuver to ensure it is coordinated with the main body. If they maneuver too fast; they are little value to the main body. If they maneuver too slowly; they are little value to the main body. Second, they must be located at a distance sufficiently apart from the main body so that they can provide early warning and ensure the enemy can not engage the main body with direct fires. If they are located too close to the main body, they are obviously not providing early warning. In fact, it may not be any warning at all.

In executing maneuver, the guard force has the same basic techniques available to it as a screen force.


First, they can maneuver by alternate bounds by units in the guard force. Thus, they are playing a game of leap frog with the stakes being far higher.


Second, they can bound by successive bounds. Here the unit will execute a series of maneuver and set during the main body’s maneuver.


Finally, based on the main body’s maneuver, the guard force may simply conduct a continuous maneuver throughout the mission. Below you will find a table addressing each of the methods available:



“Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>METHOD mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”> “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>CONSIDERATIONS mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”> “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>ADVANTAGES mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”> “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>DISADVANTAGES mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>
“Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Successive Bounds “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Enemy contact likely; Main body slow; Bound by troops in succession or simultaneously “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Most secure “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Slowest
“Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Alternate Bounds “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Enemy contact likely; Main body slow; Troops bound from rear to front “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Secure; faster than successive “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>
“Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Continuous Marching “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Enemy contact not likely; Main body fast; Troops remain in march column on route; Air screen on flank “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Fastest “Times New Roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Least secure

Whatever technique is utilized, the moving flank guard force must achieve the following:

  • Maintain eyes, at all times, of any enemy avenues that could threaten the flank of the main body.
  • Conduct reconnaissance of area between guard force and main body if the situation dictates it.
  • Ensure enemy recon does not maneuver through the guard force into locations where they could direct indirect forces into the main body. This means they must destroy or repel enemy recon forces.
  • Ensure enemy security forces (this could be guard or covering forces) or main body forces do not get into positions from the flank where they can fire direct fire into the main body. This means they must fix, repel, or defeat these forces.
  • Keep in contact with the lead elements of the main body. This is the only way to coordinate the maneuver of the guard force and the main body.

Stationary Flank Guard

In a stationary flank guard, the first key task is for the guard unit to get into a quality position so that they can achieve their tasks. Normally, the guard unit will depart their initial locations and conduct a zone recon until they get into initial positions on the flank guard. This zone recon serves a number of purposes. Besides clearing the zone, it allows them to get a good feel of the terrain that they are operating in. Once the guard unit gets into these initial positions, the guard force has two options in how they will operate. The first is that they can conduct a defense. This defense will probably not have the depth you may like because the force is likely to be a little more dispersed. The other option is for the guard force to conduct a delay. What option do you use? As always, it depends on the terrain, the enemy situation, and the friendly situation. Whatever the option, the stationary flank guard force must achieve the following:

  • Maintain eyes, at all times, of any enemy avenues of approach which could threaten the flank of the main body.
  • Ensure enemy recon does not maneuver through guard force into locations where they could direct indirect forces into the main body. This means they must destroy or repel enemy recon forces.
  • Ensure enemy security forces (this could guard or covering forces) or main body forces do not get into positions from the flank where they can fire direct fire into the main body. This means they must fix, repel, or defeat these forces.

Of all the types of guard missions this is the most overlooked. In the rear guard, as the name suggests, the guard unit protects the rear of the main body. This area is likely to be occupied by logistical units, combat support units, and command and control nodes. A commander will normally assign a rear guard in two circumstances.


First, is when the main body is maneuvering at a significant rate and has distanced itself from the rear area. This could come when the unit is conducting a pursuit or exploitation. In this case, the commander may decide that he wants these rear area units to stay in their current positions. However, because he is concerned about their security, especially being attacked by enemy remnants that may have been bypassed he wants a security force with them. This is a great mission for a rear guard. In the above graphic, you see that the rear guard has developed a series of battle positions in which to fight from and protect the rear units.


Second, is when the unit is executing a form of retrograde (maneuvering away from the enemy). Consequently, the rear area units may need security in their maneuver. Of the two ways in which a rear guard is normally utilized, this is clearly the most difficult to execute. Not only must the rear guard force contend with all the elements usually associated with a delay, but they must also focus on protecting the rear area units. These are units not typically versed at delay actions; consequently this could get a little dicey (not a doctrinal term!). This will take a quality unit to achieve success.

Control Measures
Just like a screen, there is group of control measures which assist a unit in conducting a guard. These are predicated on the type of guard you are conducting. A stationary guard will likely utilize predominately defensive control measures. The control measures for a moving guard will resemble those used for a movement to contact. Additionally, depending on the situation there will be measures added which will facilitate other operations such as a passage of lines, delay, etc… Below we will depict these control measures graphically and follow that with a discussion on each particular control measure.


Above you will find some basic control measures to facilitate an offensive advance guard mission. As we discussed earlier, a force conducting an offensive advance guard will normally execute a movement to contact. So as you see in the graphics, control measures are developed to facilitate a movement and contact. These control measures must assist in providing flexibility to the unit. Critical in providing this flexibility is the use of checkpoints and phaselines (which you see in abundance). Additionally: 1) Boundaries are established for each troop’s maneuver. 2) Coordination points are established on the boundaries of units to assist in coordination and communication. 3) Aviation control measures are placed on the graphics.

These include the future operating area of the aviation unit and their refueling/log area (FARP 1). 4) Locations for field artillery units are included along PL JEFF. These units are not internal to the guard unit, but you must carve out ground for them in order for them to support you.


A well-executed guard operation can truly set the conditions for a successful offensive or defensive operation. Its’ ability to protect the force in a variety of ways has an immeasurable effect. As this article has highlighted, a guard can take many forms. It, in itself, can be offensive or defensive in nature. It can be conducted to the front, flanks, or rear of the main body. It may be stationary or moving. Whatever the case, it takes a highly skilled and trained unit to execute a guard.

Our next article will focus on the last of the major security operations – the cover. Units conducting a cover possess significant combat power and are a force in themselves. We will look at how a covering force can be utilized in both the offense and the defense. We will also discuss how the cover ties into our previous security operations – the screen and guard. See you next month!

Tactics 101: The Screen in Security Operations

August 26, 2012


“THE PRINCIPLE OF SECURITY. The objective in battle being to destroy or paralyze the enemy’s fighting strength, consequently the side which can best secure itself against the action of its antagonist will stand the best chance of winning, for by saving its men and weapons, its organization and morale, it will augment its offensive power. Security is, therefore, a shield, not a lethal weapon.”

Major-General J.F.C. Fuller

Our last article began a series of articles we will devote to security operations. We utilized the first article as a primer to get our audience up to speed on the basics of security operations. Our discussion focused on these areas: 1) The definition of security operations. 2) The types of security operations. 3) The key fundamentals of security operations. 4) Basic planning considerations of any security operation. With this background complete, we can now key in on the primary types of security operations.

This month’s article will focus on the first of the ‘Big 3’ in regards to the types of security operations you may execute – the screen. (In subsequent months, we will attack the guard and cover). In dissecting the screen, we will address several areas. First, we will provide a definition of the screen. Second, we will touch on the characteristics of the screen and how it is differentiated between the guard and cover. Third, we will address the phases of conducting a screen. Fourth, we will discuss the types of screens you can conduct. Finally, we will lay out some of the key graphical control measures you could utilize to command and control a screen operation. Lots to cover this month so – LET’S MOVE OUT!

In a screen operation, a unit is asked to gain and maintain surveillance; provide early warning to the main body of the higher unit they are assigned to; or may be required to impede, harass, or destroy enemy recon elements within their capability without being decisively engaged.

Let’s dissect some of the key components of this definition.

Gain and Maintain surveillance – It all begins with getting your eyes out at a location which enables you to observe and identify enemy actions.

Provide early warning – The primary role of a unit on a screen is to ensure the main body of the unit does not get surprised by the actions of its’ enemy. The unit conducting the screen, along with the higher headquarters will determine on the ground where the optimal location is to provide this early warning. Thus, early warning is obviously tied to time, but also tied to providing the main body the space it requires to react to any enemy initial actions.

May be required to impede, harass, or destroy enemy recon elements – The focus of the screen unit is not to destroy every enemy element it sees on its’ mission. It should not be equipped or organized to do this. As we have discussed, it is to observe and identify. However, if the tactical situation warrants; the screen force may be required to impede, harass or destroy enemy elements. The necessity is two-fold. First, is to aid in the screen forces’ own survival. Second, is to assist in providing early warning for the main body.

Without being decisively engaged – One of the cardinal rules of a unit conducting a screen is not to get decisively engaged. The major reason is that they will likely not possess the combat power to easily get out of jams. Becoming decisively engaged can lead to the main body maneuvering forces forward to assist (this is if indirect fires are not successful).

Characteristics of the Screen
There are several unique characteristics of the screen which differentiate it between the guard and cover. These include the following:

  • The most commonly executed security mission.
  • The least amount of internal protection for a force conducting a security mission.
  • Should only engage the enemy in self-defense.
  • Appropriate when a unit has extended flanks.
  • Appropriate when gaps exist between units and can’t be totally secured.
  • Commander simply wants early warning for his main body.
  • Unit does not possess significant combat power to commit to security operations.
  • Is purely defensive in nature.

Screen Key Concepts
Before we get much more in depth on screen operations; let’s address some of the key concepts that will continually surface in our discussion:

Named Area of Interest: In terms of screen operations; everything revolves around the Named Area of Interest (NAI). As a reminder from past articles, an NAI is “a point or area along an avenue of approach where you believe enemy activity is likely to occur. This activity or lack of activity will confirm or deny a particular enemy course of action.” In a screen mission, the screen force will almost always be given some NAIs to observe. These NAIs provide focus for the unit and should be in locations which will assist in providing early warning for the main body.

Screen Line: This is an extremely important control measure in the conduct of screen operations. The screen line is depicted as a phase line on the graphics. In the planning of a screen operation, it is first utilized as a mark for the screen force to maneuver to and recon to determine if this location is appropriate to observe from. The prime considerations in selecting this screen line are time and distance. These considerations impact on the ability of the screen force to provide early warning. Once the screen force decides where this location is, the phase line is formalized. Once formalized, this phase line also becomes the limit of advance for the screen force to maneuver to. In other words, the screen force cannot maneuver past this location unless approved by their higher headquarters.

Observation Posts: In our last article, we touched on Observation Posts (OP). Within screen operations, the use of OPs is the method in which a force observes and identifies the information they are tasked by their commander. As a real simple definition, an OP is a location from which observations are made.

Phases of the Screen
It wouldn’t be an operation unless it had phases! Well, when a unit conducts a screen there is a basic flow of how the operation should shake out. Let’s discuss this flow below.

Phase 1 – Maneuver to the Screen Line
As the saying goes, “you must arrive alive.” Because the situation is so fluid and unclear at this point of the operation, the maneuver to the screen line is a challenging mission in itself. As in all things tactics you must understand yourself, the enemy, and the terrain in planning, preparing and executing your maneuver to the screen line. In some cases, the current tactical situation may dictate that the screen line will be located very near where the unit presently sits. However, in other circumstances maneuver (sometimes at significant distances) will be required. In that case, there are three options that a commander will usually consider if maneuver is necessary. These are: 1) The Tactical Road March 2) The Movement to Contact 3) The Zone Reconnaissance. Let’s discuss when each of these would be the most feasible option.

1) The Tactical Road March – When you need to occupy a screen line quickly and enemy contact is highly unlikely; the tactical road march is the optimal option. Essentially the tactical road march is a start point (from the present location) to a release point (where the unit will then occupy their screen line).

At first glance, some may insinuate that a tactical road march is ducks in a row, high diddle diddle up the middle. This would be a wrong assumption. A tactical road march is exactly that – tactical. Those units that do not put a premium on security and plan for the what-ifs will eventually suffer the consequences. (We will highlight the tactical road march in a future article).
2) The Movement to Contact – When the enemy situation is a little more unclear, the screen force may conduct a movement to contact. Obviously, this technique is a little slower than the tactical road march. However, with this comes more security for the screen force as a whole. Within the movement to contact, the force will execute this from their current location to the screen line.

3) Zone Reconnaissance – If a unit has sufficient time, the zone reconnaissance is the preferred technique. In executing a zone reconnaissance, the unit is really conducting a two-fer. First, the screen force conducts the zone recon from their initial location to the screen line.

Zone – A zone recon is focused on obtaining information (on the enemy or terrain) on a particular zone dictated by the commander. The zone will be articulated by boundaries. This zone could contain a route or routes and an area/areas. Thus, it is the encompassing of all the forms of recon.

A commander will decide a zone recon is needed when he requires more info on a zone in which he anticipates maneuvering in the future. At the present time, the commander has little information on the enemy and the terrain. Thus, the requirement for the zone recon.

Once the unit has completed the zone recon and has arrived at the proposed screen line, it will then begin the task of occupying the screen line. Executing the zone recon is certainly the most time consuming of the three techniques. However, there are several benefits. First, the unit as a whole collects information on the terrain and the enemy forward of their present location. This is information they do not presently have. Second, it is a very secure method of movement

Phase 2 – Occupy Screen Line
The unit has maneuvered itself to the screen line. If all as gone well, the force is mentally and physically prepared to execute the screen. If things have not gone as well, the ability of the force to conduct the screen will be diminished. In either case, it is time for the force to occupy the screen line. This task cannot be done haphazardly. There are many things that must be accomplished before the force actually occupies the screen line. These tasks are:

• You already have a templated a location for the screen line. This may have been determined by an earlier recon of the area. However, in most cases this recon likely did not occur. Thus, the first thing that most be achieved is a quick, but detailed reconnaissance of the area by the screen force leadership. The obvious requirement in selecting these locations is ensuring they can observe what the commander wants the screen force to observe. Additionally, it should provide adequate cover and concealment for the screen force.
• Once locations are decided upon, it is time to occupy them. This occupation cannot be done hastily and sloppily. This only can bring disastrous results. Units must plan their occupation of the screen line. Forces will normally maneuver from a cover and concealed position to their designated locations on the screen line. This positions can be dismounted OPs, mounted OPs, and of course a mixture. In occupying the screen line, you may also emplace various types of radars and sensors to provide early warning of the enemy.

• Upon occupation of the screen line, forces must also conduct the following:

o Finalize your indirect fire plan. Because a screen force generally does not possess significant fire power; the use of indirect fire is option number one when trouble occurs. Thus, it is critical the screen force has a well-developed indirect fire plan. This plan obviously includes assets from higher headquarters (field artillery) and may also include a section of mortars attached for responsive fires.
o Finalize your direct fire plan. Although you do not want to get in a direct fire fight with the enemy; you must plan for it. The commander of the screen force must have a direct fire plan that includes essentials such sectors, maximum engagement lines, and engagement areas. Neglect this planning at your own risk.
o Although the screen force will not have significant logistical assets; they must be located where they can support the screen force. This can be a challenge when the screen line is extended in width and/or depth. If the screen force is a long distance away from the main body; air evacuation of any casualties must be planned.
o The command and control of the screen force can be a challenge. The commander of the screen force must ensure he is positioned to understand and influence operations on the ground. He must also ensure he has a solid communications (with redundant means) plan in place. This plan is two-fold. First, it enables him to receive timely and accurate reports from his subordinates. Second, it enables him to send these reports (after he synthesizes them) to his higher headquarters.
o One of the critical tasks to occupying the screen line is ensuring you have conducted all necessary coordination (especially on your flanks). In many operations, there will be other units (from other units) conducting operations on your flanks. You must ensure contact is made with these units for two primary reasons. First, to determine if any gaps exist between the operations of the units. These gaps could be exploited by the enemy. If gaps do exist, it should be reported to a higher headquarters to ensure they are aware and to act on if necessary. Second, operations in the security are very fluid and can get confusing. Units must ensure they understand who their friendlies are and what they are doing. If they don’t, this could very well lead to friendly fire incidents on the battlefield.

Phase 3 – Surveillance and Counter-Reconnaissance
Occupation is complete and it is now time to observe and provide early warning for the main body. The screen force will conduct this surveillance by a variety of means. The primary means (as addressed earlier) is through the use of OPs. These can be augmented by various assets including different types of radars and sensors. Certainly, in this case technology can be a huge benefit for the force. Another consideration in surveillance is to fill those gaps that we have discussed earlier in the article. One of the ways to mitigate these gaps is to conduct patrols in these areas.

In conducting surveillance the obvious driver is the NAIs assigned to the screen force to observe. Since this is so critical, the screen force must organize and locate its assets keying on the NAIs. Two key principles (which we have discussed in our recon series) are redundancy and cuing. Let’s review each since they are so important in a screen.

Redundancy – If information is clearly vital to assisting a commander in making a decision you must have redundant assets assigned to collect. In definition, redundancy is utilizing two or more like assets to collect information against the same requirement

Cuing – When you conduct cueing, you first utilize one asset to collect fairly general information in a certain area. If certain information is found this then triggers (cues) another asset to go into the area and collect more specific information. Cueing is usually conducted when you have limited ground R&S assets (which are usually the case).

Counter-Reconnaissance – We will delve into this topic far more in an upcoming article. As the name suggests, in counter-recon you are striving to ensure the enemy does not have success in his recon operations. In traditional counter-recon this means destroying the enemy’s recon assets. To achieve this, you usually divide the force into hunters and killers. In other words, someone finds/observes the enemy recon assets and someone else kills them. In a screen operation, the screen force is generally not manned/equipped to hunt and kill. Thus, based on their mission they are clearly suited to observe enemy recon and let someone else do the killing. This coordination and handoff as you can expect is a real challenge (again, we will address this in a future article). This must all be worked out before the screen force begins their operation. As always, the screen force must also worst-case it and have a plan to both hunt and kill.

Phase 4 – Displace/Maintain Contact
One of most difficult phases of the screen mission is for the unit to displace while still maintaining contact with the enemy. A unit which completely breaks contact from the enemy is certainly putting the main body in a precarious position. The old rule almost always applies, “Once you gain contact, maintain contact.” This is easier said than done if the enemy is breathing down your neck.

So how do you achieve this? The best way to look at this is to approach it as a retrograde operation.

In doing this, the key is prior planning. During the initial planning of the mission, it is imperative you look at the terrain to determine locations where you may fall back to. Consequently, graphics must be developed that include phase lines which elements of the screen force can fall back to and potential OP locations.

In execution, the screen force will echelon their fallback in order to maintain contact. Typically, a portion of the screen force will fall back to the preplanned screen line. Once they are set, the forces left at the original screen line will fall back past this force to another preplanned location. This ‘bounding’ continues until forces are near the main body. Once this is completed, the screen force can begin Phase 5 – The Passage of Lines.

Before leaving this phase, a few things to remember:

  • Contact does not necessarily have to be eyes on. Well-placed and dependable radars and sensors can be utilized to maintain contact when Soldiers eyes are not feasible.
  • During displacement, the best friend of the screen force can be indirect fires. As discussed earlier, a screen force normally does not possess significant combat power. Thus, becoming decisively engaged is not a good thing. To get out of trouble, indirect fires (accurate and above all, responsive) are the weapon of choice.
  • With moving pieces maneuvering around the battlefield it is imperative that all forces know what is taking place. During displacement there must be constant communications between the screen force and the main body. Lack of communication can lead to bad things.

Rearward Passage of Lines Graphics

Phase 5 – Passage of Lines
The mission is not complete until you have successfully passed through the main body. Perhaps, of all the phases the passage of lines can be the most challenging. It seems that chaos is running rampant around the battlefield during any passage of lines. The screen force normally has several challenges when it conducts its passage. First, the enemy is normally not far away. Second, conducting a screen is exhausting. Consequently, the screen force is mentally and physically tired. Third, it seems that the passage is always occurring during limited visibility.

Whatever the case, the goal of the passage is to quickly, without incident, pass the screen force through the main body to a location in the rear area. There, the screen force can refit, refuel, and rearm itself. In this location, the screen force can then prepare for its’ next mission. Again, you cannot expect a lot out of the screen force anytime soon. Let them take care of business and then give them a new purpose and task.

There are several actions which assist in making the passage as smooth as possible. These include: 1) Reconnaissance of the location which the screen force will occupy. 2) An advance party to meet the screen force at the location. 3) A logistical package waiting at the location for the screen force to utilize. 4) A guide vehicle to meet the screen force and escort them to the location. 5) Communications throughout the main body informing them that the screen force is passing through.

Moving Screen

Types of Screen Operations
There are two basic types of screens a unit can execute. These are the stationary screen and the moving screen. Let’s address each and lay out their particulars.

Stationary Screen – This type of screen is utilized when the main body is itself – stationary. This usually means that the main body is either in preparation for an attack or is preparing a defense. In fact, the majority of this article was written with the stationary screen as the basis. Consequently, we will not spend any further time discussing the stationary screen.

Moving Screen – This type of screen is normally utilized when the force is executing maneuver. Based on the situation, you will place a screen force on the main body flank or flanks and perhaps the rear of the formation. Again, the commander will decide where in his formation he requires screens.

Of course there are two significant challenges for the force conducting the moving screen. The first is operating at a distance that provides the main body sufficient early warning of enemy actions. Second, is the ability of the screen force to maneuver with the main body and continue to conduct the screen operation. In order to assist in achieving this, the screen force has several techniques they may utilize. Let’s address these below:

Continuous Maneuver – As you can surmise from the title, in this technique the entire screen force is maneuvering at the same time. This technique is generally utilized when the main body is maneuvering very quickly and enemy contact is highly unlikely. This technique is certainly the least secure of the ones available to a unit. It does keep the unit together throughout and normally makes them available for another mission almost immediately after the screen is complete.

Alternate Bounds by OPs – The best way to ensure surveillance during movement is to bound by OPs. In this method, the screen force will occupy OPs throughout the main body’s maneuver. As the main body maneuvers forward, OPs will position themselves to provide the early warning needed for the main body. This technique would be utilized if you believe enemy contact is possible and you desire the most surveillance possible from the screen force. Certainly, the bounding of OPs can be a time consuming process. It also requires a skilled screen force who can set-up and displace quickly. It must also have leadership that has a superb understanding of when and where to place the OPs. If executed correctly, this is an extremely secure technique and one that provides outstanding surveillance throughout the main body’s maneuver.

Alternate Bounds by Units – Another method available to a commander is to bound by units. Let’s use a company for our example. If a company (no matter the flavor) was given the screen mission, it would bound by platoons. Thus, as the main body maneuvered; the screen force would continually bound by platoons to provide the screen. Like the method above; you would utilize the technique when enemy contact is possible. However, unlike the above; the main body is likely to be maneuvering a little faster and the commander does not want maximum surveillance (which OPs provide). There are several advantages to this technique. First, it is far easier to bound by units vice OPs. Consequently, if the main body is maneuvering at a pretty good pace; unit bounding may be the preferred method. Second, this technique does afford good surveillance for the unit. Third, bounding as smaller units keeps unit integrity. The one disadvantage of the technique is that it can lead to some gaps in coverage when the bounding is not properly synchronized.

Successive Bounds – The last technique available is successive bounds by the screen force. In this method, the screen force in its’ entirety, bounds from position to position to provide the screen for the main body. You will normally utilize this technique when the main body is making frequent halts in their maneuver. This bounding by the entire unit clearly takes the most time of all the methods. This bounding can also mean that the unit as a whole is less secure while maneuvering. Additionally, it can lead to some temporary gaps in coverage while bounding. However, when set this is the most secure of the methods and provides the best surveillance.

Which method to use? It all depends, as always, on the conditions (friendly, enemy, and terrain and weather)!

Control Measures
In every tactical mission, you must develop clearly understandable and effective control measures to set the conditions for success. It is no different in executing a screen operation. Below we will provide you a snapshot of the typical control measures utilized in the screen. We will follow the example with an explanation of each of the measures.

  • As we discussed several times, the screen force must be given areas to observe. The NAIs designate these areas.
  • Phase lines initially define the forward edge of the screen line (in this case – PL RED). Later they are utilized to define future fall back screen lines (PLs WHITE and BLUE).
  • Observation Posts are generally utilized to place assets in locations where they can observe NAIs. These OPs are represented by the triangles. For sake of argument, these are dismounted OPs.
  • Because these are dismounted OPs, we must designate areas for the vehicles to locate. To facilitate potential contingencies, we have placed these armor platoons in battle positions focused on Engagement Areas PINK and ROSE.
  • As we addressed earlier in the article, a screen force does not possess significant combat power. To augment this force, we have assigned a mortar section and positioned them to the left of EA ROSE. They will support the OPs initially and reposition if the OPs reposition.
  • Command and control and logistics are critical to screen operations. In the above depiction, we have placed the command and control and logistical nodes near PL WHITE.
  • Finally, coordination is imperative in a screen. To facilitate this, we have placed coordination points (4 and 10) to aid in flank coordination.

This is pretty basic graphics. It would provide sufficient measures to conduct the screen.

To most, executing a screen is a pretty elementary task. In fact, in tactics it is a term which is thrown around commonly. However, this article should have highlighted that conducting a screen is far more difficult. It takes quality planning and preparation to set the conditions for a successful screen. It also takes a good unit to execute a screen. Next time you hear the term; remember just how challenging a screen operation is.

Our next article will address the second of the primary security operations – guard. In a guard, the complexity of the operation is a notch above that of the screen. We will address these complexities. In dissecting a guard operation, we will attack it the same way we did with the screen. See you next month!

Tactics 101: Security Operations

July 27, 2012

“Even in friendly territory, a fortified camp should be set-up; a general should never have to say, I DID NOT EXPECT IT.”

The Emperor Maurice

During the last two months, we have focused our efforts on the mix of heavy and light forces. As history has shown, a commander who can deftly combine the strengths of heavy and light forces has a significant advantage over his opponent. Of course, combining these forces takes a talented commander. In our past two articles, we provided you some ways on how you could combine these forces effectively. In doing this, we first looked at how you integrate a smaller light force with a larger heavy force (heavy/light). Then in our past article, we turned the tables and dissected how you integrate a smaller heavy force with a larger light force (light/heavy). We hope these articles shed some light on how these operations were effective in history and how you can utilize this mix on your future battlefields

Beginning this month, we will dedicate a group of articles dissecting security operations. We will begin by looking at them as a whole and then we will start to get into the weeds. In our overall discussion, we will address the definition of security, the types of security operations, the fundamentals of security operations, and things you must consider when conducting security operations. With the preliminaries complete, we will then focus on three of the key types of security operations – Screen, Guard, and Cover in future articles. Let’s Move Out!

What are security operations? These are operations in which a unit conducts to provide them early (and accurate) warning of the enemy’s operations. The objective of security operations is to provide you with reaction time, maneuver space, and protection to the force. These operations can be conducted anywhere in relation to the unit’s main body – front, rear, and flanks.

After our discussion several months ago on reconnaissance operations; some may wonder what the difference between reconnaissance and security operations is. The key difference lies in the focus and emphasis. In security operations, the emphasis is on the friendly force. You are conducting the operation so nothing negative occurs to the friendly force. In recon operations, the focus or emphasis is on the enemy or on the terrain.

There are five basic types of security operations. These are screen, guard, cover, area security, and local security. Within this group, you can basically break them up into two groups. The first involves screen, guard, and cover which are generally the three that come to mind when discussing security operations. The other group is composed of area security and local security. These are almost always part of every unit’s overall posture. Below we will provide a brief discussion on each type. We will get into far more detail on each (especially screen, guard and cover) as we continue.

Screen – Screen operations are probably the most known of the ‘Big 3.’ The purpose of the screen is to position forces so they may provide early and accurate warning to the main body. In relation to guard and cover, a screen will consume less combat power. Because of this, you do not want your forces to get decisively engaged with enemy forces. You want them to simply do their mission, providing early and accurate warning.

Guard – In a guard mission, the force is upping the ante on a screen. In a guard, forces continue to provide early and accurate early warning to the main body. However, these forces are also asked to protect the main force and buy them time. They achieve this by preventing the enemy from observing the main body and not allowing them to fire direct fire weapons at the main body. To do this, the guard force may have to conduct reconnaissance, conduct offensive operations, form a defense, or conduct a delay. During a guard, the guard force will conduct their operations within the range of the main body’s indirect fire weapons.

Cover – In a cover mission, the force is upping the ante on a guard. In a cover, forces provide early and accurate early warning and protect the force. They will conduct recon, offensive operations, defend, and delay. The main difference in a cover is that the covering force can operate beyond the range of the main body’s indirect fire weapons. A unit conducting a cover will possess everything they require to operate independently. Obviously, this is a very robust force and a force that is well-trained.

Area Security – In area security, the unit positions forces to protect a certain critical area. This could be an installation, command post, logistical node, a portion of a supply route, etc….

Local Security – Most of us have heard the term, “Put out Local Security.” Whatever the size of the unit or the situation on the ground; putting out local security is a must. In basic terms, local security is placing security elements (better known as Soldiers) in areas near the unit so the unit doesn’t get surprised.

The fundamentals of security operations are nothing profound. In fact, in most cases they are things we have addressed in other discussions in the series. Yet, as mundane as they appear, it is vital for any unit that they are adhered to. Let’s touch on each of them below.

Provide early and accurate warning – This is one of the overriding fundamentals of security operations. You want to place your assets far enough forward so they can provide this early warning. However, you must balance this with putting them in no man’s land where you can’t assist them in a timely manner if they get in trouble. A unit with the means can mix technological assets with conventional means to achieve this.

Provide reaction time and maneuver space – This is one of the more challenging of the fundamentals to achieve. The key in this fundamental is being able to locate your security forces as far away from the main body as tactically possible. This should translate into more reaction time and maneuver space. This is aided when you can provide this force as much combat power as feasible.

Orient on the force or facility to be secured – Security forces must always understand that their mission is tied directly to the security of the main body or a location. Thus, these forces must have a continuous understanding of how their actions and location on the ground impact their ability to conduct security.

Perform continuous reconnaissance – We addressed this fundamental pretty extensively in our recon series. To reiterate, recon and security is 24 hour a day business. Anything less, puts a unit at a huge disadvantage. You cannot make up this time no matter how good the unit is.

Maintain enemy contact – Again, another fundamental that has found its way in various operations. Once you have gained enemy contact (remember, this does not have to be physical, it can be visual); you must ensure you maintain it. Maintaining enemy contact can mean several things. First, you may originally have gained contact physically, but because of the situation you switch it to visual means. This could mean aerial assets such as a drone. Second, the unit originally making contact can be switched out by another unit to ensure no break in coverage.

Considerations When Planning a Security Mission
As we highlighted earlier, we will address screen, guard, and cover separately in significant detail later. However, there are many planning considerations which relate to each of them. Let’s discuss these below.

What are you securing? It all begins with what you determine must be secured. The Commander will determine what he deems is critical in the security arena. In determining this, he this will set the table for the rest of your security planning.

What type of security operations is required? There are many things that will dictate the type of security operations you will conduct. Of course, the upcoming mission of the unit will obviously influence the type of security operations the unit will conduct. The terrain you are operating in will impact what types of security operations are feasible and which ones could be a significant challenge to conduct. The enemy always has a vote and their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses will come into play. Finally, the capabilities, strengths, weaknesses, and experience will play a part in determining the optimal security operation.

What are the specifics on the security area? Terrain management is vital on the battlefield. This is certainly true in security operations. As stated in our fundamentals section, providing maneuver space is usually imperative. Consequently, you want to mold the security area so that it provides this maneuver space. In analyzing the security area, you ultimately want to determine the depth, width, and orientation of the security area. These should be driven by the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) you have conducted. This should provide you things such as enemy avenues of approach, enemy recon capabilities, etc…. These will assist in formulating the security area.

What are the constraints of the mission? During planning, guidance should be given by the commander on security operations. Within this guidance, the commander many place some constraints on the security mission. These constraints could include things such as engagement criteria, withdrawal criteria, etc…. Constraints will clearly shape the type of security you will conduct.

Where will you place your initial observation posts? As we stated earlier, recon and security is 24 hour business. In order to not lose any initiative, a key action is to place Observation Posts (OPs) on the battlefield as soon as possible. These observation posts will set the conditions for a unit to conduct the three principle types of security operations. There is truly an art and science to emplacing OPs. We will discuss this art and science in a future article.

What types of observation posts will you utilize? You have options in the type of observation post you can emplace. The two basic types of OPs are mounted and dismounted. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, the tactical situation and terrain will dictate the type of OP. In many cases, a unit will utilize a mix of OPs to achieve the required results. Let’s go into a little more detail on each type.

Mounted OP – As the name suggests, a mounted OP is one in which observation is conducted via a vehicle platform. This type of OP has several strengths. First, the vehicle is usually equipped with some ‘high speed’ optics aiding in observation. Second, if needed, most vehicles will possess some potent weapon systems on board. Thus, if engagement of the enemy is needed; a mounted OP should be more lethal than a dismounted OP. Finally, again, if needed, a mounted OP can ‘hightail it out of the AO’ (not a doctrinal term!) much quicker than a dismounted OP. Of course, mounted OPs do have some weaknesses. The key one being that it is difficult to hide mounted OPs from the enemy (a true art). Consequently, when steathiness is at a premium, a mounted OP is not the optimal method.

Dismounted OP – The strengths and weaknesses of utilizing dismounted OPs are a polar opposite from mounted OPs. The strength of dismounted OPs is clearly their stealthiness. Soldiers experienced in dismounted OP operations can be nearly impossible to detect by their opponents. In fact, there are numerous examples in warfare where dismounted OPs were hidden for days in the midst of an enemy position. Since a dismounted OP is virtually Soldier dependent (whatever the Soldier can carry or do physically) it has several challenges. First, the optics available to the individual Soldier just can’t compare to those vehicles may possess. This of course influences the quality of observation. Second, Soldiers on a dismounted OP simply cannot carry the firepower a vehicle will have. Finally, if the situation becomes precarious; the ability of a dismounted OP to displace can be highly difficult and time-consuming.

What is the endstate for the security mission? Security missions as part of a relatively short-term tactical operation (a defense or an attack) are normally not open-ended. Consequently, it is wise for the commander to specify an end-state to the mission. Endstates should be either time-driven or event-driven. A time-driven is obviously tied directly to a time period. For example, a commander may want a screen forward of his main body for six hours. Thus, the endstate for that mission is six hours. Certainly, this time could fluctuate based on what is taking place on the ground; but for now the mission is complete in six hours. Event-driven endstates correlate to an event occurring on the ground. For example, the commander may require a force to conduct a guard operation as the main body prepares a defense. Once the defense is set and the enemy begins to conduct their attack; the commander may order the guard force to complete their mission and fall back to the rear of the main body.

Will you need to augment your security forces? One of the key considerations in security planning is determining how to augment your security forces to achieve their mission. Some units are organized, equipped and trained to conduct security operations (in particular, cavalry units). However, many units assigned a security mission do not possess these characteristics. With that the case, you must determine what is required for the mission and what the unit currently has. The higher headquarters must then decide how it will make up this ‘delta’. This augmentation could be in the form of combat forces, but is usually more combat support and combat service support related. These resources could be things such as engineer assets, types of radars, chemical recon and decontamination assets, and logistical support. Augmentation can occur in any of the types of security operations – screen, guard, or cover.

What intelligence support is required? When we discuss security operations; one of the first things that should come to mind is intelligence support. Obviously, intelligence is critical in all areas of warfighting. However, nowhere is it more essential to assisting in mission accomplishment than in security operations. Once again, the two principle variables are the type of security mission to be conducted and the capabilities the unit assigned the mission possesses. The intelligence support that may be required can come in numerous forms. This could include radars and sensors, high level assets from the theater or national level, and aviation assets which are specially developed to acquire intelligence. Normally, the key thing these assets buy for the unit conducting the security mission is time. Because of these asset’s unique capabilities; they can track enemy maneuver from great distances. This assists the security unit in acquiring the time and space the main body requires.

What indirect fire support is required? The extent of indirect fire support for a unit conducting a security mission is based principally on the specific type of the security mission. Each of three main security missions (screen, guard, and cover) will have different indirect fire support needs. Indirect fires are particularly important for a screen force. Normally, these forces are fairly light on combat force. Thus, if they get into trouble; indirect fire is the preferred option in enabling them to break contact. Within a guard operation, forces are still within friendly indirect fire range. Consequently, they require indirect fire support from their higher headquarters. This fire support can be a little more challenging because fighting between guard forces and the enemy is usually more intense than in a screen. In a cover mission, the force is almost always robust. Within this lethality are organic indirect fire support assets, so they can operate outside the main body’s indirect fire range. To summarize this consideration, the commander must place his assets in supportable locations in a screen or guard operation. In a cover, he must ensure the force is internally equipped with the indirect fire assets they may need.

How will you integrate any aviation support (if available) with the ground forces? One of the best ways to increase your ability to accomplish your security mission is to integrate aviation support with your ground forces. This integration is a challenge based on the complexities of utilizing air. One of the biggest challenges is that aviation can’t truly occupy ground. In security operations, the ability to occupy terrain in key locations is a huge advantage. With that said, aviation can be extremely valuable in security operations. The following are some ways aviation can support the ground effort:

  • Can be utilized forward of the ground units to extend the depth and width of your security.
  • Can be used to plug gaps between security units if needed.
  • Can be utilized to keep a link between the main body and the security unit.
  • Because of its’ capabilities can provide early warning in areas ground assets may not be able to physically get to.
  • Depending on the aircraft (preferably attack aviation) can be utilized to aid ground units in breaking contact if the tactical situation warrants.
  • Can recon areas which ground units may soon occupy.

Will engineer support be needed? Depending on the type of security operation, engineer support can be a huge multiplier. In security operations, mobility is clearly one of the keys to success. Engineers can be instrumental in assisting in gaining and maintaining the mobility advantage over your opponent. Engineers can aide in mobility in a number of ways in security. These include:

  • Creating maneuver routes where they currently do not exist.
  • Breaching obstacles/minefields if required.
  • Developing survivability positions (vehicle or soldier) if needed.
  • Emplacing obstacles/minefields to assist in creating maneuver space or buying time.

How will you logistically support the operation? Logistically supporting units conducting security operations can be a huge challenge. For some units, who are equipped and organized to conduct these type of operations this is not as significant. However, for units not as fortunate it is a different story. There are several critical actions that should take place (no matter what type of security operation) to aid in supporting the security unit. These include:

  • Logistical planning starts as soon as there is a warning order for the mission.
  • For the organization conducting the security mission, someone must be responsible for logistics. Normally, this is pretty cut and dried. However, in other cases, the unit may be a hodge-podge of smaller units and the rose may be a little more difficult to pin.
  • Once the above person is identified, they must immediately establish link-up with the higher headquarters logistical POC. This communications must be established quickly.
  • There are many variables that will affect the degree of log support needed. This includes the type of security mission, the distance from the security unit to the main body, log capabilities of all units, etc….

How will you medically support the operation? Medical support for a unit executing a security operation is even more challenging than supporting them logistically. The challenges in medical support are pretty straight-forward. The over-riding factor is time. Nowhere is time more critical than in medical evacuation. The environment surrounding security operations greatly affects the ability to evacuate casualties in a timely matter. This environment includes: 1) The distance separating the security unit with the main medical facilities. 2) The terrain in which the security unit is operating can be difficult to maneuver medical evacuation vehicles. 3) In a security mission, it is critical that you strive to remain undetected from your opponent. This is complicated when you are attempting to evacuate casualties out of the area of operations.

How will you command and control the operation? As in any operation, a commander must position himself where he can best command and control his unit. The commander must conduct some quality analysis in determining his location. This is because once in position, it can difficult to move to another location without giving away your location to the enemy. Units must be disciplined in their reporting procedures while conducting a security operation. Undisciplined procedures will quickly give away your positions to a savvy (and even a not so savvy) enemy.

Are there any special requirements in the operation? A commander should always dictate any special requirements he has for the unit conducting the security operation. In some cases, these special requirements can be considered constraints on the unit. These special requirements can be things such as engagement criteria, disengagement criteria, bypass criteria, reporting instructions, indirect fire restrictions, dealing with civilians on the battlefield, observing certain locations on the battlefield, and various restrictions based on the rules of engagement.

Are there any enemy considerations that must be addressed? Just as in any mission, you must conduct quality Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) to set the conditions for success. In regards to a security mission, there are some things that clearly stand-out as things you want to know about your foe. These include:

  • Strength and capabilities of all enemy recon elements that are or may be operating in the security mission area of operations.
  • Strength and capabilities of enemy security elements that are or may be operating in the security mission area of operations.
  • Known locations or templated locations of any enemy forces that may have been bypassed in past operations.
  • Routes you believe the enemy will utilize for reconnaissance or infiltration.
  • The capabilities the enemy has in conducting infiltration.
  • The capabilities the enemy possesses in conducting an aerial insertion.
  • Locations you believe the enemy could utilize to position observation posts or indirect fire observers.
  • The enemy’s capabilities in surveillance assets. This could include various radars and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).
  • Determining what field artillery assets the enemy possesses that can range the anticipated locations of the security unit.

How will you conduct coordination in the security area? One of the most challenging and critical aspects of a security mission is conducting the necessary coordination between and among units. This coordination can take many forms. These include:

  • A security mission can involve operating in inhospitable terrain and may cause a unit to operate in depths and widths they are not accustomed to. These factors can result in causing gaps in the unit’s coverage. Consequently, coordination must be conducted to ensure these potential gaps are covered within the unit. These gaps can be mitigated if the unit possesses technology such as radars and other surveillance assets.
  • Many times there is a significant distance between the security unit and the main body. Coordination must be conducted to ensure the main body knows exactly where the security unit is operating and what they are doing.
  • Once a unit is given a security mission, it may be required to pass through other units to get to its’ specified location. This will require coordination between all units to conduct this passage of lines.
  • Vice versa, once the unit has completed its’ mission, it will generally maneuver back to and through the main body. Coordination must take place between units to ensure this rearward passage of lines is conducted without a hitch.
  • One of the key pieces of coordination that must be done is between the security unit and units from other commands. This coordination must take place so units know who may be operating on their flanks, forward of their location, or to their rear. A lack of this awareness can lead to disastrous consequences.

Needless to say, security is an imperative. You may have the greatest plan in the world, but if your security is a sieve; you will never get to execute this plan. In this article, we wanted to provide you a solid background on security operations. We included the types of security operations, the fundamentals of security operations, and concluded with a group of considerations you should reflect on during the planning of any security operation. This background will set the conditions for our following articles.

We have covered the basics of security operations. Now it is time to dissect the first major type of security mission – the screen. Our discussion next month will address all facets of the screen – planning, preparation, and execution. At first glance, it may appear that executing a screen is a pretty elementary operation. However, as you will discover there is far more to a screen than meets the eye. See you next month!

Tactics 101: Light-Heavy Operations

June 25, 2012

Light-Heavy Operations

“Figure out how to do things so that you can get the
maximum effect and the least bloodshed.”

Sun Tzu

The light infantry battalion was ordered to attack an enemy motorized rifle company consisting of 10 BMP’s, 3 T72 tanks and 70 plus infantrymen. Although they were defending in a relatively densely wooded area, their position was dug in astride an open area that over-watched a 4-way road intersection. The division needed to control the intersection to continue the offensive. The task of the light battalion was to control the intersection. Their purpose was to facilitate the continuation of the division attack.

The enemy was dug in deeply and they were surrounded by a dense and complex system of obstacles. The strongpoint was oriented on dominating the road. The light battalion assigned to destroy the defenders was augmented by the brigade commander. He attached an armor company consisting of 10 M1A1 Abrams Tanks. It was a significant addition of combat power. Of course, it is only combat power if it is utilized and utilized efficiently.

The mission was training; the commander was new; and the location was Fort Benning, Georgia. He was an old fashioned infantryman, who didn’t think he needed tanks to help his ‘light fighters’ execute and accomplish the mission. He planned to leave the tanks in an assembly area behind the line of departure. He designated them as his reserve and would only call on them if he got in trouble. He was sure that call would not be needed.

This didn’t sit well with his evaluator for exercise. We’ll come back to this shortly.


In our last article, we begin our series on the integration of heavy and light forces on the battlefield. The article keyed on the augmentation of a heavy force with a smaller force (Heavy-Light Operations). In our discussion, we addressed the following: 1) Definition of Heavy-Light Operations 2) Why we use heavy-light 3) A concise assessment of heavy forces 4) A concise assessment of light forces 5) When would light forces benefit heavy forces 6) The challenges light forces bring to a heavy force headquarters. In addition to the above, we wove a war story throughout that provided a great example on how the heavy-light mix should be utilized.

This month’s article will shift the emphasis and focus on Light-Heavy Operations. In this relationship, a smaller unit of mechanized vehicles (tanks and/or infantry fighting vehicles) augments a larger light infantry unit. Our discussion will focus on the following: 1) Why light-heavy operations. 2) What heavy forces bring to light forces. 3) What are the challenges of heavy forces. 4) The safety concerns of heavy forces working with light forces. 5) Planning considerations of heavy forces. We also conclude the article with the rest of the story from the attack we highlighted above. LET’S MOVE OUT!

Light-Heavy Operations
Light-Heavy operations are missions conducted by a task force or team consisting of infantry, mechanized infantry, motorized, or armored forces under a light infantry headquarters. So why put tanks or infantry fighting vehicles (IFV’s) under a light infantry command? The answer is found in the idea that each force has strengths and weaknesses that balance, compliment and mitigate one another. Armor can support infantry by providing accurate long-range fires; day or night, stationary and on the move. They can suppress or destroy enemy vehicles in support of the infantry. They can fix enemy forces as the infantry breaches obstacles or maneuvers to an enemy weak point.

The Elements of Combat Power
The way to determine when, why, and how to mix heavy and light forces is to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses based on the four elements of combat power: maneuver, firepower, protection and leadership. We assessed light and heavy forces in the last article so, this time, we’ll focus on what ‘heavy’ assets bring to the light heavy fight.

Tanks. The most obvious attachment to the light task force is the tank. The M1Abrams tank provides speed and mobility; comes with excellent protection and lethal fires. As history has proven, it is most effective in open terrain with extended fields of fire.

Capabilities. The M1 can move quickly either on or off road. It can cross ditches; ford streams and shallow rivers; and push through small trees, vegetation, and limited obstructions. Tanks move effectively in multiple types of terrain while delivering firepower and shock effect against the enemy.

Limitations. Tanks are noisy—you’re not going to sneak up on anybody in an M1! In cold weather and when thermal night-sights and/or radios are used, tanks must run their engines about 30 minutes every 2 hours to keep the batteries charged. Tanks can only cross bodies of water less than 4 feet deep without bridging. Another significant limitation is that the M1 guzzles fuel! You will find no economy versions of M1. It’s not miles per gallon; it’s gallons per mile!

Capabilities. The M1’s 120mm main gun is accurate and lethal at ranges out to 3 kilometers. The gun is stabilized which allows effective fires even when the tank is moving cross-country. M1 tanks pack a formidable array of machine guns; the tank commander’s 50 cal, the loader’s 7.62-mm coax machine gun and the 7.62-mm machine gun. These provide a high volume of suppressive fires for self-defense and supporting fires for the infantry. The tank’s on board target acquisition system exceeds the capabilities found in a light infantry battalion.

Limitations. The tank’s top, rear, and flank are vulnerable to antitank weapons. The top is also vulnerable to precision-guided artillery or air-delivered munitions. Antitank mines can destroy or disable the M1. Tanks fight with their hatches closed which reduces the crew visibility.

Capabilities. M1 armor provides excellent protection. Across the frontal 60-degree arc, the tank is safe from all weapons except heavy antitank missiles or guns and the main gun on enemy tanks. When fighting with the hatches closed, the crew is safe from small-arms fire, artillery (except direct hits), and antipersonnel mines. The tank’s smoke grenade launcher provides rapid concealment from non-thermal observation.

Limitations. Tanks are vulnerable from the flanks, top, and rear to light antitank weapons. The top is vulnerable to precision-guided munitions while antitank mines can disable the vehicle. Again, fighting with hatches closed reduces crew visibility.

Infantry Fighting Vehicle. The M2/M3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV or BFV) provides mobility and protection against small arms fire and shrapnel. They deliver excellent firepower. IFV’s operate best on open terrain for mounted maneuver. To best employ IFVs, commanders must consider their limited protection. Each IFV can carry a 9-man squad.

Capabilities. The M2/M3 was designed to partner with the M1 and thus, has mobility similar to the tank. The Bradley has the added capability, not resident in the M1, to swim across large bodies of water, with moderate currents, where entry and exit points are available. They can carry soldiers inside and outside while swimming. (Having swum on a Bradley many times, we can vouch that yes it can swim).

Limitations. Bradley’s use lots of fuel (although obviously less than an M1), and consumption obviously increases during offensive or fast-paced missions. Like tanks, IFVs are noisy and in cold weather or when using thermal night-sights or radios are used, IFV’s must run their engines to keep the batteries charged. The noise, smoke, dust, and heat generated by IFVs make surprise difficult.

Capabilities. The Bradley packs a 25-mm chain gun as its’ main weapon. It also has a TOW missile launcher and a coaxially-mounted machine gun. The chain gun is accurate and lethal against lightly armored vehicles, bunkers, trench lines, and troops out to 2 kilometers. It also has stability which allows for accurate fire on the move. The TOW provides a lethal anti-tank capability able to kill enemy tanks or other point targets out to 3,750 meters. The 7.62-mm coax machine gun provides a high volume of suppressive and supporting fires for the infantry. The stabilized turret, thermal sights, high volume of fire, coupled with a diverse mix of weapons and ammunition (TOW missiles, 25-mm APDS and HEI-T, and 7.62-mm) makes the Bradley an excellent fire support platform in support of an infantry assault. The IFV can acquire targets better than other infantry battalion systems. The thermal sight allows the crew to observe, recon, and control fires and can be used during the day to identify heat sources through light vegetation and other concealment.

Limitations. The Bradley thermal sight, when operated with the vehicle’s engine off, clicks loudly enough to be heard at a good distance from the vehicle. Of course at night, that sound seems to carry forever. Logistical resupply of fuel and ammo may be difficult and usually requires external support not resident within a light infantry unit.

Capabilities. The IFV provides good armor protection. When fighting with the hatches closed, the crew is safe from small-arms fire, fragmentation munitions, and anti-personnel mines. The vehicle’s smoke grenade launcher and smoke generator provide rapid concealment from observation from everything, but thermal sights.

Limitations. The IFV is vulnerable from all directions to anti-tank weapons and is especially vulnerable to enemy tanks. Anti-tank mines can destroy or disable the Bradley. When operating with open hatches, the crew is vulnerable to small-arms fire and sniper fire.

The Challenge—Safety.

Infantry leaders need to take safety precautions when operating with armored vehicles. This is especially important for infantry units with little training or experience with armored vehicles. All personnel must know the precautions to take and must remain alert during light-heavy operations.

Tank and Bradley crews are blind to infantry soldiers near their vehicle. This limitation is worse during limited visibility or when the hatches are closed. This causes the crew to focus on the enemy or on potential enemy locations rather than on infantry moving close to the vehicle. Therefore, the infantry soldiers must remain alert and must maintain a safe position relative to the vehicle.

Infantry moving next to armored vehicles will be exposed to fire directed against the vehicles. They will not be able to avoid detection when near the armor. Troops on the ground should maintain enough distance to avoid enemy fires even when they are providing security or close support to them. Likewise, the armor-piercing discarding sabot round fired by the tank main gun and the Bradley 25-mm gun can injure soldiers in close proximity to the vehicle.

M1’s exhaust can reach 1,700 degrees or more. Soldiers behind a tank must be to the side of the exhaust grill and should not move directly behind it. Soldiers riding on the vehicle trade the speed of mounted movement for stealth; you’ll be detected more easily so be careful when ground troops ride and when they walk. Infantry should ride on vehicles only when the risk of enemy contact is low or the need for speed is great.

Don’t ride on the lead vehicle; it’s the most likely one to make contact and can react quicker without soldiers on top. Infantry leaders should ride with the armored leaders. Contingency plans for chance contact and danger areas must be planned and rehearsed since vehicles and soldiers react differently. The infantry should dismount and clear choke points and danger areas with the armor providing suppressive fire and overwatch.

Air guards and sectors of responsibility for observation will be assigned and alert methods must be agreed upon. The infantry will probably spot enemy air sooner than vehicle crews will and they must have a means for alerting them. Infantry must be alert and ready to dismount quickly. In the event of contact, the armored crew reacts to protect their vehicle and the infantry on top are responsible for their own safety. They should rehearse rapid dismount and leaders should consider leaving rucksacks and extra gear on the vehicles while having the soldiers move on more suitable terrain near the vehicles.

Support of Light Infantry.

Light infantry can attack independently and link up afterwards. They can precede armor through an air or airborne insertion or by infiltration. Light infantry may ride on vehicles (see above) to exploit their mobility and armor can use on-board smoke to provide obscuration. Armor can also provide long-range observation and target detection, especially at night. Armor can also help with casualty evacuation and by hauling extra gear and resupply.

Tanks can lead movement, using firepower, mobility, and protection to quickly develop the situation upon making contact. Tanks can also follow the infantry to the objective after lanes through obstacles have been cleared and can lead, or provide suppressive fires for, the assault on the objective. They can also provide protection when the enemy antitank capability is limited and, of course, tanks can be used to destroy enemy armored vehicles—especially tanks.

Never underestimate the psychological impact tanks can have on the enemy. Having been on both sides of this, we can vouch for what the sight of tanks in formation can do to the mind of a soldier. When a soldier sees tanks accompanying infantry (when he is expecting a pure light fight) the pucker factor goes sky high.

Infantry supports armor by clearing or breaching obstacles and marking lanes in minefields to allow the armor to use its speed and mobility. Infantry can destroy, suppress, or neutralize anti-tank weapons and destroy enemy bunkers. They can follow an armored assault closely to protect the rear and flanks of the tanks and can clear the objective or reduce bypassed enemy forces. They can secure or clear choke points such as towns, forests, stream crossings, and narrow defiles and can provide close security at nighttime or in restrictive terrain. Lastly, infantry is always well suited to conduct reconnaissance in support of planned armored maneuver.


The light infantry staff must study and prepare for light-heavy operations since they are not typically versed in them. An officer from the armored unit should be attached to the light unit headquarters where he can advise and assist in planning and execution. The commander of the armored unit should be asked for his recommendation on how to employ his forces although, the light commander has the final say. The light unit staff must know the abilities, limitations, and requirements of the armored force and must plan for them. Let’s address some of the key planning considerations below in the areas of intelligence, maneuver, combat service support, and command and control.


  • Reconnaissance and surveillance that integrates the heavy force should be developed.
  • Commanders should use the light force’s night vision and dismounted movement and the heavy force’s thermal imagery and long-range night vision capabilities.
  • The heavy force should be allowed to provide input into reconnaissance planning.
  • An excellent counter- recon plan uses the infantry as the screening force that finds the enemy and the armored force to destroy the enemy.


  • Infantry units often conduct operations during limited visibility to gain surprise and reduce vulnerability.
  • The difference in mobility between heavy and light units should be taken into account when terrain is assigned.
  • The timing for every operation must be planned to avoid leaving either force, especially the light force, exposed.
  • The strengths of both heavy and light units should be used to advantage with appropriate tasks assigned, fighting each in a manner that capitalizes on the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses.
  • Each force should compensate for the limitations of the other throughout the operation.
  • The tactical signature of each should be considered. The heavy force will be more easily detected and, as a result, accompanying infantry maybe targeted even if not detected. If infantry with the heavy force can effectively accomplish the mission from a more secure location, they should do so.
  • Armor and infantry can provide mutual support without being co-located.
  • The characteristics of heavy forces must be considered to prevent friendly casualties by employing and rehearsing fire control measures.

Combat Service Support.

  • Light-heavy operations significantly increase the logistics requirements for the light unit.
  • It is preferable if the armored unit brings along a supply specialist to aid the light logistics planners.
  • The light unit must ensure that the attached logistics can provide sufficient support to the heavy unit and, if not, must then request additional support from the heavy force’s parent unit.
  • The light unit logistics officer must integrate the heavy unit’s logistics support into the light unit’s overall logistical plans. He must also ensure that the heavy unit knows the situation and that all logistical actions are coordinated, to include:

­ —Routes, locations, and timings to be used for conducting the heavy force re-supply
­ —Casualty evacuation plan
­ —Vehicle evacuation plan

Command and Control.

  • The heavy force is usually placed under the operational control (OPCON) of the light force because the light force typically cannot logistically sustain the heavy force for very long. The heavy force can be attached for a short time when it brings enough logistical support to sustain itself.
  • Both forces must exchange the frequencies and call signs.
  • The commander should consider the following when task-organizing a heavy force into the light force:

­ —Allow the heavy force commander to retain control of most of his unit to use his expertise
­ —Tanks are most effective when used in mass
­ —Task organizing should occur at platoon level or above to ensure an effective chain of command and to allow the heavy unit to fight as trained.
­ —Task organizing tanks and/or Bradleys by section may be the right answer for urban operations. However tanks and Bradleys should not be task organized on an individual basis ever—keep them in pairs; they need a ‘wingman’ to maneuver with mutual support

Complimentary effects—back to Benning.

The battalion commander was a student in the infantry pre-command course. He was firm in his conviction that his battalion of light fighters had no need for a bunch of tankers. His staff, a group of advanced course students headed for company command, was stumped. They had been trained to task organize in order to exploit strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Who would leave 10 Abrams tanks in an assembly area when attacking a dug in enemy company reinforced by mines, wire, artillery and a reserve tank platoon?

The mentor asked the commander for his reasoning. He listed the tanks deficiencies:

—They’re noisy
­ —They’re road bound
­ —They’d be blocked by the obstacles
­ —The plan relies on stealth

The mentor responded:

—They’re noisy—so are the enemies tanks and IFV’s
­ —They’re road bound—not really, an M1 can push over a tree 12 inches in diameter
­ —They’d be blocked by the obstacles—they have their own smoke, suppression, and one tank plow per platoon
­ —The plan relies on stealth—doesn’t a diversion aid stealth; if nothing else, the tanks could stop 2 kilometers from the enemy and pummel them with 120mm fires

The commander didn’t know the tanks main gun range nor did he know about its multiple machine guns and on board smoke. He also had no idea that tank platoons had mine plows. Lastly, he thought off-road movement was impossible. In spite of the new information that had been passed on to him, he attacked without the armor … and won at a cost of 50+% casualties.

The senior evaluator, a full Colonel in the infantry, made him plan a new mission, this time using the tanks.

The infantry companies infiltrated through the woods at nighttime, as before. This time, the tank company launched a diversionary attack up the road and into the obstacles at the intersection. They blanketed the enemy company with 120mm main gun and machinegun fire while blanketing the entire intersection with smoke. The battalion mortars added their fires to the armored assault.

The defenders responded to the tank attack by repositioning towards and calling up their reserve tank platoon. The new plan anticipated the move of reserves. They were waiting for them with a light infantry anti-tank ambush which destroyed one tank and immobilized the other two.

This was the trigger for the light assault from the wood-line to the defenders rear. The enemy company was completely focused on the Abrams tanks at the road and were blindsided by the swarms of infantry. When the enemy armor vehicles tried to move from their forward positions in response to the infantry attack, they were destroyed by the M1’s over-watching from the road. The infantry rapidly over-ran the enemy position while M1’s lifted and shifted their fires away on order from the commander.

Once the objective was secure, the tanks provided an armed escort to the light battalion trains and then provided perimeter security during consolidation and reorganization. The mission took half the time and suffered two-thirds fewer casualties. The evidence was conclusive: the light-heavy team attack was vastly superior to the infantry pure attack. Usually, if your boss gives you additional combat power, he’s doing it for a reason.


Tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles have operated in support of light infantry since WWI. The US has a long and proud history of such operations however; they are never to be embarked upon lightly and without detailed planning, preparation and rehearsal. Failure to closely adhere to the troop leading procedures when mixing and matching these disparate forces can lead to disaster and unnecessary casualties. We have many different types of forces in order to execute many different types of missions and the ‘teaming ‘of these various forces can be incredibly potent. In fact, to avoid light-heavy or heavy-light operations when the conditions call for it is to miss an opportunity for decisive success.

In our next article, we will begin a series of articles tied to security operations. We will begin the series addressing the basics of security operations. Following this introduction, we will dissect the three primary security operations. These are screen, guard, and cover. As always, we will delve into the planning, preparation, and execution of each of these operations. Security operations set the conditions for a unit’s execution of their primary mission (be it an offense or defense). A poor performance in security operations is a recipe for disaster.

Tactics 101: Heavy-Light Operations

May 15, 2012

“A leader is a man who can adapt principles to circumstances.”
—General George S. Patton, Jr

In our last article, we completed our look at reconnaissance operations. The focus last month was on the planning of reconnaissance and surveillance. We laid out the steps of R&S planning and provided some examples of products that are useful during the planning process. During our discussion, we stressed three principles which should be heeded by all. First, R&S planning must begin as soon as possible. If you procrastinate, you are giving the initiative to your foe. Second, your Priority Information Requirements drive your R&S planning. Assets are limited so they must be focused on acquiring information that can lead to mission accomplishment. Finally, R&S planning never stops. As conditions change (as they always do), so will your information requirements. This should force you to adapt your plan!


Starting this month, we will dedicate the next two articles on the integration of heavy and light forces on the battlefield. In our discussion, we will address the following: 1) Definition of Heavy-Light Operations 2) Why we use heavy-light 3) A concise assessment of heavy forces 4) A concise assessment of light forces 5) When would light forces benefit heavy forces 6) The challenges light forces bring to a heavy force headquarters. In addition, to the above we will weave a war story that provides a great example on how the heavy-light mix should be utilized. Lots of information this month, so LET’S MOVE OUT!


The Brigade Combat Team (BCT) was ordered to attack through a security zone placed in a narrow valley, blocking our access to their main defense to the west. Everyone agreed that the main defense wasn’t the problem—the security zone was the problem. The enemy put a Motorized Company (MRC) (-) consisting of 8 BMP’s and 3 T64 tanks inside a narrow valley over-watching an extremely dense obstacle network.

LEONIDAS King of Sparta

This particular valley had earned a fierce reputation, earning the nickname; Thermopylae Pass, the chokepoint where Leonidas’ Spartans held off the Persian hordes in order to save Greece. This was that kind of pass where very few could hold off very many. It is roughly five kilometers long and about a kilometer wide at the entry and exit points. For the majority of its length, it is only wide enough to accommodate two vehicles abreast…about 150 to 200 meters wide. Most tankers would call the pass a bowling alley. A tank trail snakes its way down the center, choking down to 80 meters at the narrowest point. It is this chokepoint where the defenders laid their mines, fronted by a small AT minefield and a couple of triple strand wire obstacles. Rocket- Propelled Grenades (RPG) toting infantry squads were dug in high up on the walls with battle positions nearby and tanks covering from the far side of the pass. Small wire and mine obstacles blocked navigable draws up the valley walls and observation posts had a clear and unobstructed view of the entry point.

The BCT was formidable in comparison to the meager MRC (-) security zone defenders. It consisted of a Mechanized Battalion Task Force (Bradley) and an Armored Battalion Task Force (Abrams) with a self-propelled artillery battalion in support and a mechanized engineer company providing mobile breaching ability. In spite of the apparent overwhelming advantage held by the BCT, the mission would be extremely difficult.

The Division Commander decided to augment the Heavy BCT with a light infantry battalion; thus creating a Heavy-Light Task Force. Back to the story later.


‘Heavy-light’ doesn’t refer to a low-calorie beer. It refers to an organization for combat where a heavy, or armored, unit has a light, or infantry, subunit attached for an operation. The ‘heavy-light’ headquarters comes from the armored force, mech infantry or armor, as does the bulk of the combat power. A ‘light-heavy’ force is the opposite—a topic for another month (how about next month).

So why mix tanks and Bradleys’ with foot mobile infantry? The two forces are inherently different. They have different strengths and weaknesses and are not built to accommodate a natural partnership. The infantry travels by foot, carry their weapons, and thus; are relatively slower at the tactical level, pack less punch on the objective, are vulnerable to artillery, and they need to borrow trucks to keep pace between missions. On the other hand; tanks and Bradleys are noisy, not very easy to hide, require roads for logistic support, struggle in rough and mountainous terrain and dense vegetation, require lots of fuel and are operationally slow to deploy.

So why marry the dog with the cat? The answer is to offset one force’s weakness by leveraging another’s strengths. There are clearly things the light guy can do that the heavies can’t and vice versa. Sometimes; contrast is the answer.

The way to determine when, why, and how to mix heavy and light forces is to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses. As we highlighted above, we want to offset one force’s weakness by leveraging the other force’s strengths. Let’s dissect these strengths and weaknesses by looking at each force. We will to do this by utilizing the four elements of combat power: maneuver, firepower, protection and leadership.


The heavy battalion task force, mech or armor, is a high tempo ground force that deploys with a full spectrum combined arms team. The heavy force can attain and maintain a high rate of military operations combining tactical speed with powerful weapons systems that possess stand-off range. Operations, stationary or on the move, are conducted under armor. The heavy force delivers the shock and lethality of tanks combined with the versatility and speed of mobile/mounted infantry.

Maneuver is defined as the use of fire and movement to gain a relative advantage over the enemy.

Strengths. The heavy force can sustain a high rate of tactical military operations—OPTEMPO. Heavy forces are particularly effective in open terrain such as plains and deserts and they possess extended range. The teaming of mechanized infantry, mounted on infantry fighting vehicles, with tanks enhances versatility to the force.

Weaknesses. The heavy force is generally road-bound when operating in mountainous and/or densely vegetated terrain. Heavy forces are vulnerable and their roles are limited when executing military operations in urban terrain (MOUT). The heavy force requires extensive logistics support that is mostly truck and road bound. Heavy forces require frequent resupply of fuel and ammunition.

Firepower is defined as the destructive force that can be brought to bear to degrade or destroy enemy capabilities, equipment and manpower.

Strengths. The heavy force carries a wide array of weapons, both mounted and carried. Vehicular weapons can achieve standoff and sustain a high rate of fire. The Tank round and Bradley TOW are extremely powerful and have excellent range and accuracy when fired on the move and stationary.

Weaknesses. Most heavy force weapons are vehicle mounted, limiting dispersion and methods for getting them in proximity to the enemy. The high rate of fire of heavy weapon systems consumes lots of ammunition thus, generating a significant logistical burden.

Protection is defined as the ability of the force to evade or survive threat firepower.

Strengths. The heavy force operates under armor that provides cover from indirect fire. The high speed of heavy maneuver provides natural protection from indirect fire while attached engineers provide survivability, mobility, and counter-mobility capabilities.

Weaknesses. The heavy force is highly visible with a high signature. It is noisy, dusty and easy to spot thus, heavy forces rarely achieve the element of surprise via stealth.

Leadership is the intangible element that provides purpose, motivation, and direction to the force.

Strengths. The heavy force possesses a robust network of command posts that are well equipped with communications that can match the range of the forces ability to maneuver. Headquarters are under armor.

Weaknesses. The heavy force tends to be more centralized in execution. While subordinate units are capable of executing independent operations, it is not always standard. The heavy force tends to operate at the battalion and above levels.


The light force is all-terrain capable, stealthy, and is expert in limited visibility operations. Dispersion and infiltration allows the light force to move within close proximity of its intended target and achieve surprise. Decentralized command and control allows the light force to execute multiple, simultaneous, and mutually reinforcing missions from a single parent unit. There are several types of light forces which bring different capabilities to the fight. These include airborne forces, air assault forces, and straight-legged infantry.

Maneuver is defined as the use of fire and movement to gain a relative advantage over the enemy.

Strengths. The greatest maneuver strength of the light force is its ability to traverse all types of terrain and all weather conditions at night. Their ability to go anywhere from the cliffs of Point du Hoc to the jungles of SE Asia make them a truly versatile force. Their ability to disperse and move in small units allows them to close on their enemy and achieve surprise through swarming.

Weaknesses. Light forces cannot move quickly relative to motorized and mechanized forces and their range is limited. Light force tempo and endurance is also limited since it is subject to the fatigue of the individual soldier. The light force relies on external truck support for mobility between combat missions. During missions they can get near or on objectives via aircraft (airborne, air assault, etc…).

Firepower is defined as the destructive force that can be brought to bear to degrade or destroy enemy capabilities, equipment and manpower.

Strengths. The light force is heavily equipped with portable anti-tank (AT) weapons, which allows them to strike targets from low signature and unexpected locations. They also carry a full array of small arms that can be fired in limited visibility. They carry their own man portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and their own indirect fire mortars complete with smoke, illumination and high explosive rounds.

Weaknesses. Light force weapons are man portable and consequently, tend to have decreased range and penetration capability.

Protection is defined as the ability of the force to evade or survive threat firepower.

Strengths. Light infantry’s ability to move through ‘no go’ terrain in limited visibility is its greatest advantage. Their added ability to successfully employ infiltration as a form of maneuver means that the force is distributed and dispersed and less vulnerable to catastrophic losses if compromised.

Weaknesses. The lack of armor protection means that the light infantry is easy to disrupt and attrite when identified by artillery observers. Their slower rate of movement makes it more difficult for them to evade fires once they are acquired.


Leadership is the intangible element that provides purpose, motivation, and direction to the force.

Strengths. Decentralization and distributed operations are empowered by the ability of light infantry small unit leaders to operate independently. Squad leaders on up are able to maneuver and direct combat operations independently as part of the larger unit effectively and efficiently. Command and control is augmented by visual and audio signals that are well known throughout the units.

Weaknesses. Light infantry small units carry their communications and use handsets to transmit and receive orders. Unlike mounted forces, not everyone can hear all the ‘traffic’ so word is passed from the Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) to the leader and from the leader to subordinates in close proximity. The verbal transmission of orders can become difficult during the noise of battle and instructions have a higher probability of being miss-communicated.

Let’s address some of the types of missions where you might augment a heavy unit with light forces. For our purposes, we will begin with a heavy brigade and then augment it with a light battalion. In our example, we will start with the operation the heavy brigade is conducting. Below the operation, we will discuss how the light battalion can assist in achieving success.

Movement to Contact
If you know there is a piece of restricted terrain on your maneuver route that you must maneuver through (and you are concerned the enemy could make things difficult); you may deploy light forces early to clear and secure the restricted terrain. The obvious choice for this is air assault forces. They can potentially get there very quickly and achieve their mission. The key here is timing. If they arrive too late; this can certainly disrupt the timetable of the heavy force maneuver. If they arrive too early; they can be left to their own devices for a significant period until heavy forces arrive. This is not to say the light forces can’t handle themselves, but if the enemy sees this as an opportunity, they could deploy a substantial force against them.

Hasty Attack
The use of light infantry in a heavy brigade hasty attack can be a challenge. The reason for this is obvious – time. As we have discussed in earlier articles, a hasty attack usually presents itself while you are conducting a movement to contact. Consequently, during the planning of the movement to contact you should anticipate locations and events where light forces may be needed. During a hasty attack, one of the best ways to utilize light forces is to position them in terrain where they can fix enemy forces. Again, the key is to get them in place at a time where they can be effective.

Deliberate Attack
It is in a deliberate attack where light forces can really be a huge benefit to the heavy force. Because of the potential for significant time to get the light force to the location where you need them; there are many possibilities for the light force. First, they can be a great reconnaissance asset. They can get to places stealthily and provide great intelligence. Second, they can be used in an infiltration mode to seize a piece of terrain which is critical later in the mission. Third, air assault forces or airborne forces can be deployed to seize objectives critical to mission accomplishment. Fourth, light forces are excellent at getting to enemy obstacles (many times undetected) breaching them and then marking them so the heavy force can maneuver through them without losing tempo or momentum. Fifth, as history has shown many times, light infantry can be the ideal force in make a penetration in a defense allowing heavy forces to breakthrough.

If an exploitation opportunity presents itself, light infantry can clearly have a role. Since friendly forces tend to be strung out a bit during exploitation; light forces can be utilized in key locations to secure the heavy forces lines of communication and supply routes. Additionally, if time is available, air assault forces could be deployed to seize terrain vital in the operation or even to defeat or destroy enemy forces.

If the unit as a whole is conducting a pursuit, light infantry can be of immense value. Since in a pursuit, there may be several pockets of bypassed enemy forces; light forces can be used to clear these forces. Again, if time and resources are available, an air assault could be conducted to the rear of the enemy to block potential escape routes.

Follow and Support
In a follow and support mission, light forces can play an important role. This includes securing key terrain in support of the heavy force maneuver, again securing the lines of communication and supply routes, and providing rear security for command and control and logistical nodes.

Light forces can truly be the key to victory in a defense. Because maneuver of the force is not as significant a factor as in the offense; there are many ways you can utilize light forces in the defense. First, if the terrain is conducive, light forces are excellent at blocking enemy avenues of approach (particularly dismounted). Second, well-placed light forces can be invaluable in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance efforts in the defense. Third, based on the type of terrain, light forces can shape the entire defense by occupying a strongpoint. Fourth, light forces are highly trained at conducting ambushes. The ability to conduct an ambush can be a tremendous aid in the defense. Fifth, if the heavy commander is concerned about the security of his assets in the rear area (command and control, logistics, combat support, etc…); light forces can be extremely important in conducting this security. Sixth, if terrain and time are right; light forces can be highly successful in conducting spoiling attacks.

Breakout from Encirclement
As we addressed in previous articles, breaking out from an encirclement is one of the most difficult missions you will ever conduct. In a breakout, the stealthiness of light forces can make them the perfect force to conduct a penetration.

It is clearly difficult for heavy and light forces to coordinate operations in order to achieve mutually reinforcing effects. You just can’t throw the forces together and expect things to execute smoothly. There are many challenges that need to be met. The heavy force, since they are the controlling headquarters in a heavy-light operation must understand these challenges. With an understanding of these challenges, they can then take the steps to meet them. Let’s discuss some of them below:

  • The heavy force must understand that light forces operate on a different time line than they do. Their rates of movement are obviously slower and when the heavy force says, “I need you there now!” – Now, may take a little longer.
  • Certainly, related to the above is the challenge of synchronizing the actions of the light forces with the heavy forces. To assist the heavy forces in achieving this synchronization, there must be light force expertise deeply involved in the planning, preparation, and execution of a heavy-light operation. Light force expertise will tell the heavy force leadership what is achievable and just as importantly, what is not.
  • It can take time for light forces to maneuver to terrain. Because of this, there are more chances for things to not go as planned. Thus, time-lines can be thrown-off. This is obviously a challenge! Heavy forces must appreciate this and must work contingencies in planning.
  • Light forces are expertly trained, highly motivated, and in excellent physical condition. However, you know the old saying, “You can only go to the well so often.” Heavy force leadership must know when they have reached the point of diminishing returns when utilizing light forces. Light forces must do their part and let heavy force leadership know when they have reached that point.
  • The transportation of light forces is a significant challenge. The preponderance of light forces do not possess the necessary transportation to get them to where heavy forces want them. Thus, the heavy forces must be creative in acquiring the transportation they need. Heavy forces normally are able to achieve this. The problem usually rears its’ head when the mission is over.

  • As we have stressed several times, one of the advantages of using light forces is their ability to maneuver into difficult terrain. Of course, this can take a significant amount of time. The challenge comes when these forces take casualties while fighting in this difficult terrain and medical evacuation is required. If time is critical (which it often is), the evacuation assets of the light force may not be able to execution the mission. Consequently, the heavy force must have a plan in place to meet this challenge. This plan will often involve air evac in some manner.

  • The resupply of light forces in a timely and efficient manner is a huge challenge in a heavy-light operation. If light forces are utilized a significant distance from the rear area; resupply must be planned. Although light forces are not big consumers of fuel and vehicle parts; they do consume their share of other necessities. This includes small arms ammunition, food and water. In order to keep light forces a viable force, heavy forces must assist the light force in getting the right stuff at the right time.
  • Although weather is a concern for any force, it can wreak havoc on light force operations and their time-lines. Heavy forces must understand this and once again, plan for it. This can be particularly true if the heavy force is planning for an air assault or airborne drop.
  • Communications between heavy forces and light forces can be a challenge. This is especially true if the force as a whole is technologically challenged. Forces must work out the details prior to the first round going off.
  • One of the biggest challenges facing heavy and light forces is the potential for fratricide. When forces are not familiar with each other; the risk goes up. Each force must have a complete understanding of where each will be on the battlefield. One tragic incident can have a tremendous effect on the trust between the forces. The headquarters of the operation (in this case, the heavy force) must do all they can to mitigate this risk. They must work in tandem with the light force.


Complimentary effects—back to Thermopylae. The Brigade Commander met with his three battalion commanders: a mechanized infantry commander, an armor commander, and a light infantry commander. He assigned the missions as follows:

  • The light infantry commander would initiate the attack by infiltrating his forces into the pass in order to clear the obstacle network and mark lanes for the mounted forces.
  • The mech infantry commander would closely monitor the light force’s progress and would be prepared to continue the attack through the lanes established by the light infantry with the mission to destroy the MRC(-) forces.
  • The armor commander would follow the mech force and assume the main effort to seize and retain the exit side of the pass. They would suppress enemy units in the main belt and allow the follow on BCT to conduct a forward passage of lines to continue the attack into the enemy main belt defenses.

The light battalion began its final preparations around 2200 and began its maneuver at midnight. They infiltrated in platoon units through the mountainous terrain to a series of preplanned rally points. At the rally points, the platoons consolidated back into company sized units.

The scouts, mortars and Anti- Tank (AT) squads established over-watch positions looking down into the pass from the valley walls. They would provide constant surveillance on the enemy vehicles and dismounted squads in order to provide early warning.

The three rifle companies moved into assault positions near their objectives. Two companies would attack the units over-watching the obstacles while a third would make its way down to the obstacles to breach them and mark lanes. Mortars, AT fires and illumination would focus on the defenders, distracting attention away from the breaching effort. H-Hour was designated to occur at 0300 and the arrival of the mounted guys was planned to occur around 0530 to 0600, upon coordination between the light commander and the mech commander.

All the light forces managed to get into position. There were periodic, small compromises here and there through the night, but none was large enough to trigger an artillery strike or a shift in enemy disposition.

Action was initiated by a casualty producing action; the assaulting companies opened fire on the defenders below them and began to creep forward. The AT systems along the wall fired at vehicles that drove up from their holes onto their firing platforms and the mortars fired illumination to the rear of the enemy defense to cause confusion there and to white out their night vision devices.

As the battle along the valley walls raged, the third company breach team quietly approached the obstacles using their night vision capabilities. They breached the obstacles, wire and mine, and filled in the tank ditch by pushing the spoil back into the ditch. They marked the lanes with infrared strobe lights for night and pickets with placards for daylight. Once they were done, the notified their battalion commander and withdrew to an over-watch/hide position.

The light commander told the mech commander that they were ready for him to begin his assault. Once the mech commander reported passing a pre-determined checkpoint, the light fighters withdrew to defiladed hide positions to avoid being accidently engaged by friendly forces. When the mech battalion entered the pass, the light fighters marked their positions with green smoke—the signal that meant ‘no fire zone’ to the mounted forces.

The mech battalion barreled through and was easily able to pick off the remaining defenders in the valley since their locations had been pinpointed and reported by the light infantry. The lanes through the obstacles allowed for a rapid advance through the pass which triggered the immediate withdrawal of the surviving elements of the enemy security zone.

The light attack took five hours from the beginning of movement until the arrival of the lead mounted forces. The mounted attack took less than an hour and the pass was secured. The combination of heavy and light forces was ideal for clearing the narrow chokepoint and exploiting the opening.

* * *

The vignette is a real-world example of a heavy-light coordinated attack executed at the National Training Center in California (the time was several moons ago!). Had the pass been attacked by a purly mounted force, it would have taken much longer and would have generated many more casualties. A mounted force could not have approached the pass without being detected and would have had to breach under fire. If the mission had been purely a light mission, then the forces would not have been able to exploit the gap they created. The enemy could easily re-plug the hole by sending a tank, a few infantry fighting vehicles and an engineer squad with wire and mines to push the infantry away and re-block the pass.

The heavy/light combat team mix provides the commander with a powerful, all terrain and all weather force. The complimentary effects of the heavy/light team allow the commander to balance his strengths and weaknesses and increase the BCT’s overall tempo and versatility. Perhaps this is why the heavy/light organizational concept is a permanent part of many several organizations.

Remember that tanks, Bradleys and infantrymen can work well together in rough terrain, in urban environments, and in counter-insurgency situations. The weaknesses of one type of unit can easily be mitigated by the strengths of the other.

In our next article, we will conduct a 180 and dissect light-heavy operations. At first glance, you may think there would not be any difference between heavy-light operations and light-heavy operations. However, when a light force is augmented by a heavy force, there are some significant challenges and differences that you do not find in the other mix. We will discuss how you meet those challenges and how you take advantage of those differences.

Tactics 101: Reconnaissance and Surveillance Planning

April 20, 2012

“Agitate the enemy and ascertain the pattern of his movement. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient.”

Sun Tzu (Photo at left)

Our last article was all about setting the conditions for this month. We keyed on the following five areas:

  • The definition of reconnaissance.
  • The critical fundamentals of reconnaissance.
  • The two primary techniques that a commander may utilize in reconnaissance.
  • The four methods of reconnaissance.
  • The four forms of reconnaissance.

This background should provide you the knowledge you need to glean more out of this month’s discussion.

With the background set, we will get into more of the specifics this month. Our focus will be on the planning of recon and surveillance operations. There are three keys in recon planning. First, you must start planning early. Second, everything revolves around your information requirements. Those include your Priority Information Requirements (PIR) and your basic information requirements which enable you to answer your PIR. Finally, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) planning never stops. Since the battlefield is continually changing so will your information requirements. Thus, your R&S plan must adapt with this. In this month’s article, we will focus on these areas and much more. We will organize our efforts by focusing on the steps that you should execute during R&S planning. Let’s move out!

All reconnaissance planning begins with developing the requirements for recon operations. You have to determine what you need to know. These requirements are driven by the unit’s commander. The commander must determine what he wants to confirm, deny, or where to fill-in the gaps. This will aid him in determining the plan he wants to fight and then to enable him to make the key decisions he must make during execution.

In developing those requirements, you look at three categories. These are:

1. Information Requirements
During the planning process, it would be great if you had a complete understanding of the terrain and the enemy. However, we all know that is unfeasible. Consequently, there will be gaps in your knowledge that you would like filled to assist in mission accomplishment. These gaps can be defined as information requirements.

Information requirements are generally derived from three sources. First, you will have questions about the terrain in which you will be fighting upon. Second, you will have questions regarding the enemy you will be fighting against. Finally, there will be questions that once answered will assist you in executing your mission. Some of these information requirements will be converted to Priority Information Requirements (PIR). We will address this shortly.

In crafting your information requirements, you want to address the following five questions:

  • What is it you are looking for?
  • Where is it that you want to look? In defining the where, you will initially categorize these locations as Named Areas of Interest (NAIs) and Targeted Areas of Interest (TAIs). The best way to do this is get a map and start drawing (NAI1, NAI2, ETC…). You will refine these later. Below are definitions on each of these:

A NAI is a place on the ground, a system, or link against which information that satisfies a specific information requirement can be collected
A TAI is a place on the ground where a high-value target can be acquired and engaged by you.
The key difference in the two is that a TAI, if answered, immediately triggers some form of engagement.

  • When is it that you want to look? (Tied to this is the time the information is not needed anymore. As we have addressed in previous articles, you do not want to tie-up valuable recon assets looking for information that is no longer of value).
  • Why is this information so valuable to achieving your mission? This will assist you in determining your Priority Information Requirements.
  • Who is it that needs the information? In most cases, that should be you.

This information will pay dividends when you begin to craft the R&S Operations Order.

2. Higher Headquarters Specific Requirements
Your higher headquarters is going to dictate that you answer some of their intelligence requirements. These are specific tasks that you are not getting out of. Put them on your list and determine how you will accomplish it.

3. Requests from your Subordinates
Squared away subordinates are going to request their higher headquarters assistance in answering their intelligence requirements. This is especially true when they have a requirement which they do not possess the assets to answer. These requests must be reviewed and determined which can be supported. You are not going to be able to utilize your assets to answer all their requirements. Decisions are based on several things. These include: 1) The criticality of the info to their plan. 2) The importance of their mission in achieving your mission. 3) Availability of assets. 4) The proximity of where they want you to look to areas you plan on looking in anyway.

Prioritize and then Develop your PIRs

Once you have compiled your information requirements, determined your higher headquarters’ requirements, and received your requests from your subordinates; it is time to prioritize. Take this group and rank order them from most critical to least critical. The reason is simple – You can’t answer all of them. You just do not have the time or assets.

Once you have completed your prioritized list, you will begin to group them into categories. The first group is the essential information requirements. This is information that is vital to complete your plan, tied directly to an anticipated commander’s decision, will aid you in executing a key target, or assist you in confirming or denying an enemy course of action. We call these essential information requirements – PIRs. Based on experience, you will probably have 6 or 7 of these in a particular mission.

The second group of information requirements is those that fall below a PIR in importance, but are requirements you know you need to recon against. For example, those specific tasks that your higher headquarters told you to do would fall into this category. This is your first cut line.

The last group are those requirements you would like to have answered, but are not essential or must do’s. This group will come into play once you have doled out assets to accomplish the first two groups. After doing this, you determine what assets you have still available. You will then decide what is achievable with what is left. This is then your final cut line. Everything below this line will not be an actionable requirement. As in all things tied to reconnaissance and surveillance; this list is, and should be subject to change. Recon and surveillance is 24 hour business.

With your requirements developed and determined, it is almost time to create your Recon and Surveillance (R&S) Plan. Before you begin putting it into writing or digits, you must get some guidance from the commander. As in most aspects of guidance, there is not a format etched in stone. The format will likely be a little different in each unit. The reason is that every commander will have different thoughts on what they believe is critical to articulate.

Nevertheless, there are five specific areas which should always be addressed in R&S guidance. These are your R&S Purpose, R&S Focus, your Tempo, your Engagement Criteria, and Risk. Let’s discuss each below:

R&S Purpose
The commander’s guidance should begin with the purpose of R&S during the operation. It should be a quick articulation of why R&S is important to mission accomplishment and what the commander hopes to achieve with his R&S.

R&S Focus
As the name suggests, the R&S focus cuts through everything and provides subordinates with the meat that will drive the planning effort. Within the focus, he should emphasize several things. First, he needs to specify his reconnaissance and surveillance objectives. These could include a specific terrain feature, an area, or information about a specific enemy force. These objectives will likely correlate directly with the PIR which were defined earlier. The second thing addressed in the focus is the recon technique he wants to conduct. We discussed this in our last article. As a refresher, below you will find our discussions of the two techniques – reconnaissance push and reconnaissance pull.

Reconnaissance Push – In a reconnaissance push, the commander sends out his assets after he has decided on a plan. Thus, he is pushing his assets out in order to gain information that will assist him in fighting this plan. Within this plan, he may have some critical decision points that he will require information in order to answer. As stated earlier, this information should ultimately be tied to a commander’s decision.

Reconnaissance Pull – In a reconnaissance pull, the commander sends out his assets before he has decided on his plan. Thus, he is deploying his assets to pull information so he can craft his plan. In a reconnaissance pull, the situation is normally unclear or the situation is rapidly changing.

This is a critical piece of the guidance that subordinates must understand. This piece of the guidance affects much of the way the execution of the R&S plan will be executed. Within tempo, the commander will discuss several areas. First, he will describe completeness. Does he want a very deliberate recon or a rapid one? Second, he discusses covertness. Does he want a very stealthy recon or maybe not so much? These areas will determine such things as assets utilized, maneuver formations, maneuver rates, etc….

Engagement Criteria
As we discussed in last month’s article, recon assets who are just looking for a fight are not going to do you much good. Sometimes it may be unavoidable. Other times, a little discretion can get you out of trouble. The commander should give his engagement criteria. He should state what size force recon assets can engage. He should also articulate the level of friendly forces he will commit if the recon force gets into a fight.

R&S is risky business. Risk is simply inherent in recon operations. Within his guidance, the commander must address risk. He should not only identify the tactical risks, but the accidental risks associated in executing the plan. Just as importantly, he must specify how the unit will mitigate those risks.

With the requirements developed and prioritized and commander’s guidance provided, it is now time to synchronize the R&S Plan.

There are two key things you would to achieve during this step. First, you want to dissect your R&S assets. This will include looking at availability, capability, vulnerability, and performance history. Second, you want to decide how you will manage these assets. Let’s discuss each below.

Asset Dissection
Availability – It all starts with knowing what you have to utilize. First of all, you must know what you possess organically. In other words, what you have that you have command and control over. Second, you need to know what assets have been promised to you by your higher headquarters. Related to this is when they should be available for your use. Finally, what assets are out there that you would like to utilize and thus, must request their use.

There are several other issues you must consider in terms of availability. Such things as: What is the maintenance status of equipment and systems? When will down equipment be maintenance up? If you want to utilize manned aviation; what is the crew rest requirements for the aviators? How fatigued are your soldiers who you may utilize? Below is a good way of portraying what you have and when it may be available.

Capability – We’ve all heard the term, “You can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” This is certainly true in regards to R&S assets. You do not want to use an asset to do something it cannot do. Thus, you must know the capabilities of your available assets. The key is knowing if the asset is capable of gathering the information for the requirement.

Vulnerability – No asset is invincible. Each has vulnerabilities that an enemy can exploit if it possesses the expertise and assets. Vulnerabilities must be considered when analyzing assets. When looking at an asset’s vulnerability several things come into play. These include: Does your enemy possess the capability to track your asset from the start of the operation to the target area? Does your enemy possess the capability to destroy the asset if the opportunity arises? Is the benefit from utilizing the asset greater than the risk that it may get destroyed?

Performance History – Hey, if an asset has a proven track record in collecting information in certain environments don’t get clever. As long as your opponent has not figured out your methods, there is no need to change for change sake. Performance history must enter into the equation.

Asset Management
Now that you have determined what assets are available (always subject to change) to conduct R&S, you must decide how you will manage them. The management of assets is critical. It enables you to make the most of an extremely finite resource. The goal is collect the most vital information with the least possible resources in the shortest amount of time. This is a tall order indeed! That is why you must have a plan to manage your assets. Below are the methods you can use to do this management.

Cueing – When you conduct cueing, you first utilize one asset to collect fairly general information in a certain area. If certain information is found this then triggers (cues) another asset to go into the area and collect more specific information. Cueing is usually conducted when you have limited ground R&S assets (which are usually the case). In practice, here is how it works below.

JSTARS first reported that they identified 70 (plus) signatures at grid SLC123456 heading south. This report was clearly important to the Brigade Intelligence Officer. This ‘cued’ him to send his UAV to the location to get more definitive information.

Mixing – When you are mixing assets you are utilizing two or more different type of assets to collect information for the same information requirement. A mix system includes utilizing assets from the various ints (HUMINT – human intelligence, SIGENT – signal intelligence, MASINT– Measurement and Signature Intelligence, ELINT –electronic intelligence, IMINT – imagery intelligence, etc…).

Below is a good way to capture the difference in these areas;

Mixing is an excellent management tool if you have access to the various resources. The great thing about mixing is that it is difficult for an enemy to thwart each distinct asset. Thus, mixing is critical if you desperately need information on a specific requirement. Let’s look at an example below:

In this example, the commander has a definite concern on the enemy inside the black circle (specifically the small red circle). This enemy is planning an attack and the commander wants to disrupt the timing of the attack. Thus, he is requiring information that enables him to know when the attack is to commence. To do this, he is mixing his assets to provide this information. In the example, he is utilizing imagery intelligence, signals intelligence, electronic intelligence, and measurement and signatures intelligence.

Redundancy—Throughout this series, we have discussed the importance of redundancy as it relates to various areas. If something is clearly important, you can’t depend on one thing to accomplish the task. You must have contingencies and redundancy in assets. This is certainly true in the world of R&S. If information is clearly vital to assisting a commander in making a decision you must have redundant assets assigned to collect. In definition, redundancy is utilizing two or more like assets to collect information against the same requirement. Let’s see its’ use in the following example:

Above, the commander is interested in obtaining information on the armor brigade circled in black. To do this, he has committed two assets he has directly under his control – scouts (probably an observation post hidden in the terrain) and a UAV.

Alright, you have determined what your information requirements are (with emphasis on those critical pieces of information tied to a key decision, you have determined what R&S assets you have available or may be available, you have analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of those assets, and you have determined how you will manage these assets. It is now time to put it all together and develop the plan.

There are several products you can produce that will greatly assist in preparing and executing R&S.

You should provide a concise discussion on how your R&S plan will assist in mission accomplishment in paragraph 3 – concept of operation. This paragraph should address the following:

  • Your overall objectives for R&S.
  • Outline your R&S concept.
  • Explain how your R&S concept ties into your overall maneuver plan.
  • Discuss how R&S will contribute to overall mission accomplishment.

You will address specifics in the next products we will discuss.

R&S Annex
The R&S annex will get into far more specifics than the discussion in the five paragraph operations order. This annex will likely be one of many which will accompany the base operations order. This annex will vary depending on the size and type of the unit. Annexes at the battalion level will normally be less formal than at brigade and higher. The brigade and higher will generally have the same look and feel as a five paragraph order. The key at any level is developing a product which is understandable to subordinates and answers the specifics so they can execute your plan. Below we will show you some examples of what an annex can look like at various levels.

Brigade and Higher Level Annex

As you can see from this annex, it utilizes the same format as your basic five paragraph operations order. The example explains what you normally discuss in each of the paragraphs.

Another Technique

For us, if you can capture it all effectively on one page it is a good technique. If you can also throw in a sketch you have made it even better. In this example, the preponderance of the basics are captured here in one look. This order would be accompanied by a couple of additional documents (which we will discuss later) that will provide the details on the collection efforts at each NAI.

Another Technique

In this example, the battalion is providing its’ subordinates with a sketch and then adds the verbiage to it. As we addressed early in the series, the graphics and the words must complement each other and have no discrepancies.

Each of the above, are products and techniques a unit can use to explain their R&S plan. As always, the products and techniques you will use all depend on what works.

Appendix to the Annex
Besides the basic plan, a unit will also product its’ subordinates with more specifics on some of the key elements. These products will be an appendix to the annex (doctrinal lingo). Normally, the critical appendix will be the R&S Matrix. Below you will find a template of what information a matrix should contain. Following the slide, we will address some of the key columns.

Of course, everything begins with the PIR. Our R&S efforts ultimately aim to provide the information that will lead to answering those PIR. Following the PIR, we focus on the information requirements that lead to the PIR. Within this discussion, we address the indicators that lead us to the requirement and the location (NAI) where we anticipate finding the information. The column LTIOV (Latest Time Information is of Value) is a crucial column. This states when the information is not needed anymore. Thus, after that time you can redirect your assets. The other columns are pretty self-explanatory. In total, this matrix provides a great deal of critical information that subordinates need for execution.

Below we will highlight some other matrix examples:

Once the R&S Order is crafted, it must get into the hands of the units who will execute it — immediately. In many instances, these assets will already be moving to locations that will enable them to collect information. As you can surmise, if movement does not occur until once the order is published; you are clearly behind the power curve.

That is why it is critical to send out instructions as soon as it’s available. If time is available, utilize it well and conduct an R&S rehearsal. This rehearsal irons out many things and can be instrumental in enabling you to make the most of your R&S assets.


You can collect all the information you require, but if there is no plan to get it to the right people at the right time to make a crucial decision – it is fairly useless. You must have a plan to disseminate this info throughout the organization. There are several things that enter into the equation. First, you must determine how information is coming to you (or your staff). You must have a plan to receive information from the various assets you have working your R&S. That information will come in through various cells within your command post. As this info comes in, it must go through some type of clearing house to transfer the information to where it needs to go. There are several places it should go. First, it will go back out to the various cells in the command post that requires the information. Second, it will be provided to the group that assists the commander in making his critical decisions. They will make assessments on the information (we will discuss this in the following step). Third, it will go out to any of your subordinate units which require the information. Finally, you will send some of your information to your higher headquarters if they have asked for it or you believe they need it. The system a unit has in place to execute this must be solid and rehearsed. Misplaced information or untimely information can be the difference in accomplishing your mission. Key in ensuring these things do not become a bad habit is having an audit trail on information. A trail that tracks information from the time it comes in until the time it gets to the right destination.

Step 6, Assessments, is conducted almost as soon as information starts coming in. In regards to assessments, there are several things that must be assessed. Obviously, the first is the information itself. In regards to information, we want to collect information that enables us to ultimately answer our Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR) which then assists the commander in making those few key decisions he will make in the fight.

It is imperative that you have a system to track your information and its’ tie to the PIR. Below we have provided you a pretty simple technique to do this. Basically, you highlight your PIR; the information requirements which will assist you in answering the PIR; and the assets assigned to collect on the information requirements. Within this tool, there is one key area that must be continually updated. You must continually assess how you are coming on answering the information requirements. In this case, you use a simple green, yellow, red system. Each time you assess, make sure you update the date/time group in the lower right hand corner.

This assessment tool does several things for you. First, and most critical, it assists you in decision-making. Second, if a PIR is answered, you can retask your R&S assets to look for other things (we will expand on this in our next step). Third, if you are having difficulty collecting information with the assets you currently have assigned; you may make changes in your use of assets.

Your work on assessments flows perfectly into our final step …

A big difference in people that understand R&S and those that don’t is that they know that an R&S plan must continually be revamped and changes must occur quickly or valuable time is lost. Consequently, you must have a system in place to continual update the R&S plan.

There are many things that should result in you updating your R&S plan. Of course, they should revolve around answering the Commander’s Critical Information Requirement (CCIR). Again, these requirements are tied directly to a commander’s decision. Things that should generate updating your plan are:

  • The CCIR has been answered. Thus, you can utilize your precious assets elsewhere on new requirements.
  • Events on the ground have caused the commander to develop new CCIR. This can come about for a number of reasons. First, the enemy is executing an entirely new course of action than anticipated. This requires you to refine your plan. Second, you have decided to develop a new course of action because of your success or lack of success. This will require you to develop a new plan and obviously, new CCIR and a revamped R&S.
  • Your original plan for your management of assets can change. Perhaps, you were using mixing or redundancy of assets and one asset is being able to collect the information you need. This frees up other assets to collect information in other locations, thus requiring you to tweak your plan.
  • During the course of a mission, there may be types of information that may require confirmation. If this is the case, this may result in you making some changes to the R&S plan.
  • Timing is everything in the R&S world. If the information you originally wanted is now no longer of importance; then you must retask your assets. Having them collect on something that has no value is a waste of a valuable asset.
  • The last thing that may change your R&S plan is your higher headquarters. If they order you to collect on a certain area that you were not collecting on; then you will have to adapt your plan.

So what if one of the above things occur? How do you update your plan? Well, basically you should conduct a very abbreviated form of what we have discussed this month.

The planning of R&S operations is tough business. In this article, we provided you the steps which should enable you to develop, disseminate and update an R&S plan. This plan will assist you in acquiring the information you need to win on the battlefield. Remember; don’t be wedded to your plan. Things change and so should your R&S plan.

Our next article will begin a mini-series on heavy/light and light/heavy operations. For those unfamiliar with the terms, these relate to the interaction of light infantry units working with mechanized/armor units on the battlefield. Those types of units clearly provide different strengths and capabilities. A good commander can pair these units together and consequently, make each unit stronger. The ineffective commander will not attempt to capitalize on this relationship. We will ensure you become that good commander.