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Chapter 7


Throughout history, denial operations have been an integral part of military operations. This chapter describes the authority and responsibilities for denial operations, and identifies denial targets and methods in the overall planning process.







A denial measure is an action to deny the enemy the use of space, personnel, or facilities. It may include destruction, removal, contamination, or obstacle construction. Denial operations have always been an important facet that, in many cases, determined the outcome of wars. Denial operations over the years have ranged from the siege of forts or castles to the destruction of ball bearing plants.

There is a reasonably fine line that distinguishes denial operations from obstacle emplacement. Obstacles are normally emplaced to assist in destroying the enemy in the immediate vicinity of the obstacle. Denial operations normally are not focused upon immediate enemy destruction, but are designed to accomplish a more strategic purpose. If planned and conducted properly, denial operations contribute to future operations and have a far reaching impact on the battlefield. By their strategic nature, they also may have a much greater impact upon the civilian population. Flooding a valley or strategically bombing an industrial complex are examples of denial operations that impact immediately upon civilian population with a delayed effect upon military operations.


Denial targets have as their object the prevention of the enemy's beneficial use of some area, facility, or resource. The targets frequently involve civil objects, and a judgment must be carefully made regarding the balance of military importance and the civil impact of destruction or evacuation. Evacuation or destruction must be made in full accord with the Law of War. Accordingly, execution authority for denial targets must be centralized.

The theater commander, subject to national policies and limitations, is authorized to conduct denial operations as a part of the overall campaign. The theater commander establishes the policies governing denial operations in the theater, and delegates planning and execution to service component commanders and subordinate joint force commanders. In developing denial policies, the theater commander will consider national and multinational policies and limitations, and possible reciprocal action by the enemy. Extensive consideration must be given to those facilities and areas required to support civilization in the post-hostility period regardless of the outcome of the conflict. The long-range social, economic, political, and psychological effects of excessive destruction of civil properties and material must be weighed against the military advantages gained.


Corps commanders are responsible for translating the theater commander's policy into operational plans and missions. Corps planners must perform a detailed analysis of the areas of operation. Specific targets are selected and assigned to subordinates for execution. Prohibited targets must also be identified. Corps commanders will specify conditions for execution. Any discretionary areas for subordinate commanders must also be specified, as well as any conditions or planning guidance.

Division commanders are responsible for executing denial operations within their area. In accordance with the denial policy of the theater and mission assignments of the corps, the division plan provides for the denial of both military and civilian supplies, equipment, and installations with clearly identified military value. Division denial operations are generally a major task, requiring a high degree of technical skill and considerable time for detailed planning, careful preparation, and execution.

Brigade, battalion, and other commanders plan and execute denial targets as they are assigned missions in combat plans and orders. Denial operations are the responsibility of all elements of the combined arms team. Although combat engineers are particularly suited for executing denial operations with heavy equipment and demolitions, troops of other arms and services can also help extensively. Transportation and other logistic units can conduct denial by evacuation of strategic equipment and materials. Air Force aircraft can also contribute.

To be successful, denial operations must be comprehensive. Thus, in warfare conducted in a modern state, denial operations will probably exceed the capability for engineer execution alone. All available effort should be used.


The most frequently selected denial targets and methods of destruction are discussed in this section. Some of the reinforcing obstacles that have been discussed in previous chapters may also be used in denial operations.


Areas can be denied to the enemy; however, the length of the denial period may vary widely depending upon the type of denial method used and enemy capability and desire. Areas can be denied by:

  • Demolitions that deny access to the area.
  • Chemical or radiological contamination.
  • Floods.
  • Delayed-action explosives.
  • Construction of obstacles.
  • Isolation through interdiction or destruction.
  • Weapons fire.
  • Maneuver.


For both strategic and tactical reasons, denial of key installations and facilities is desirable inmost situations. Selected denial targets are integrated into the overall strategic and tactical concepts of the theater.


Effective denial of the railway system disrupts one of the enemy's principal transportation means. It necessitates a systematic denial of major structures, facilities, locomotives, and rolling stock essential to the system's operation. To deny a rail net, it is necessary to cut all rail lines running generally parallel to the axis of enemy advance. The number of complete cuts required depends on the length of delay desired. The best specific targets are major bridges, tunnels, and defiles. The most important supporting targets are railway terminal facilities such as roundhouses, shops, and marshaling yards, locomotives, and rolling stock. When friendly forces desire to reuse facilities with a limited rebuilding effort, the railway system may be effectively denied to the enemy by removing or destroying special-type rail sections such as frogs, switches, or guardrails.


If the railway system is successfully denied, the enemy must depend on other transportation. Highway system denial complements railway system denial and is of considerable significance. It should be noted, however, that restoration of the highway system by replacement or repair of bridges and other structures is generally easier and faster than restoration of the railway system. Denial of the highway system, therefore, is not effective for as long a time as denial of the railway system. Specific targets best suited for denial of a highway system are major bridges, tunnels, and defiles.


The airway system is highly important to the enemy for tactical and strategic operations, as well as for limited combat service support. Other than aircraft (which are evacuated or destroyed), the specific targets are the airfields. Airfields can be denied by cratering the runways and destroying key supporting facilities. Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADM) are particularly suitable for this mission.

Petroleum, oils, and lubricants

Petroleum, oils, and lubricants (POL) system denial includes, in addition to the destruction of bulk POL, the destruction of terminal storage, producing, refining, and dispensing facilities, as well as facilities for transporting bulk POL. The amount of destruction required varies, depending on the particular area under consideration, since destruction of a single key facility may eliminate the need for other destruction. For example, in an area lacking in oil production but having refineries, the enemy would be unable to use the refineries if all bulk POL handling and storage facilities were destroyed.

Electric power

Denial of major electric power systems impairs the operation of heavy industries. Denial should provide for the systematic destruction of key generating plants. Since transformer stations form the heart of transmission systems, they are usually the most suitable denial targets for disrupting power service with the least effort. The destruction of electric power systems has a considerable impact on the local civilian population, and this factor must also be considered.


Disruption of major communications systems should provide for the destruction of telephone and telegraph exchanges, repeater stations, and radio stations only. More complete denial has a greater effect on the civilian population than on the enemy military effort.

Inland waterways

In well-developed areas, particularly in Western Europe, inland waterways are highly developed and carry a large part of total freight traffic. The waterways system can be denied by destroying the dams, siphons, aqueducts, embankment or levee walls, locks and gates, barges, and other floating craft, as well as by obstructing the waterways. Drawdown of reservoirs can deny the enemy waterway use, and it can also be a means of flooding.


The destruction of water, gas, and sewage systems ordinarily has little or no military effect on the enemy, but has a most harmful effect on the local population. Unless a marked military advantage accrues, such as in the denial of water to the enemy in a desert or riverine area, utility systems should not be impaired.


Ports can be destroyed by nuclear or conventional demolitions; scuttling ships in harbors, across bars, alongside quays, piers, and docks; removing or destroying cranes, lighters, tugs, rail facilities, channel markers, and communications equipment; removing pilots and key navigational personnel; and destroying bulk POL-handling equipment.

Potable water

The denial of potable water is feasible in areas of the world where water is scarce. Storage containers and water sources such as wells or pipelines can be destroyed or the water made unfit to drink. The possible adverse effect on the command and the local population, however, must also be taken into account. Consideration should also be given to patrolling lines of communication to prevent water resupply from sources outside the immediate area.


The destruction of material is a command decision and, except in extreme cases, is done only on authority of a division or higher unit commander. The general policy is maximum evacuation and minimum destruction. Local civilian material of strategic or tactical value should be denied the enemy, particularly if he is critically short of some items and requires the local items for further operations. The following items are among those which normally are denied to the enemy:

  • Nuclear energy facilities and related equipment.
  • Bulk POL stocks.
  • Locomotives and rolling stock.
  • Critical industrial components such as industrial diamonds, electronic equipment, ball and roller bearings, and aircraft engines.
  • Highway transport equipment.
  • Floating equipment and all harbor facilities such as hoists, cranes, locks, and ship repair facilities.


A denial operation carried to an extreme would remove or destroy everything that could aid the enemy in any way. Because military assets are always limited, however, denial operations must be planned and coordinated carefully to insure the military value of the target, and to determine the priority of destruction. Coordination with civil affairs personnel is particular important. Effective denial operations will be targeted against objectives with high military value and full consideration will be given to the needs for particular facilities in the post hostility period. Whenever possible, denial targets should be selected to aggravate enemy strategic weaknesses and limitations. In selecting denial targets, commanders should insure that they meet one of the following criteria. If this denial target is executed, loss of this capability to the enemy should:

  • Disrupt logistical support capabilities.
  • Prevent the use of local materials, supplies, and equipment to reinforce or augment offensive capabilities.
  • Require the diversion of significant engineer and operational efforts for repair, reconstruction, or rehabilitation to support military operations.
  • Delay the movement and distribution of replacements, supplies, equipment, and reserve units by forcing them to use secondary and low speed routes of advance and movement.
  • Restrict tactical or strategic mobility.

Denial targets must meet the test of one of the above criteria. They must meet those criteria in a substantial--not incidental--manner.

Furthermore, the means selected to deny the intended object should be one reasonably available and capable of producing the least damage to civil property.

For example, while it may not be appropriate to rubble a large portion of a town to temporarily close a major route, it could be justified to destroy a major bridge to close that same roadway. However, such determinations must be made at appropriate levels of command based on the circumstances at the time. Using the same example, if a rapidly advancing enemy force can be stopped most effectively by blocking a major route with rubble from destroyed buildings, such action would not be prohibited by the Law of War.



Evacuation of material is as much a part of denial operations as destruction and should always be considered first. Evacuation must be started early and conducted in accordance with prepared priority lists. Selective removal can be quite useful; however, the capability of the enemy to replace missing components or complete items must be accurately assessed. Selective removal is most profitable when the item removed is already critical to the enemy. All like items (or selected components), including spares, must be removed. Technicians may be required for meticulous selective removal.


Explosives are generally used for destruction; however, other means can also be used.


Destruction by burning is a valuable technique; however, some materials that are considered to be capable of burning will not burn. The advice of engineers should be secured before planning destruction by burning. The security of the tactical operation must also be considered; intentions to withdraw may be given away by the burning.


Rotating or reciprocating machinery usually requires lubrication to prevent damage from friction. Such machinery can be damaged or destroyed by removing or contaminating the lubricants. The operator of the machinery or a technician is the best source of advice on rapid destruction methods of machinery items.


Water can damage many items beyond repair. The effectiveness of water as a destructive means should be checked with a specialist on the item or material. Destruction by water can usually be done quietly and without disclosing future plans or intentions.


Mechanical methods (such as breaking with a sledgehammer) can also cause destruction. An informed operator can achieve maximum damage with a minimum of effort.


Destruction by cutting vital metallic members of a structure with welding torches is simple, easily learned, and a positive technique, but the equipment required is heavy.


Thermate grenades are useful in denying certain targets; the intense heat produced fuses the metallic portions of the target or distorts them beyond usefulness. The use of thermate grenades must be planned in advance so that they, and the experts who use them, are available.


Strong acids (such as nitric and sulfuric) properly applied can destroy many mechanisms and materials beyond economical repair; however, they are of marginal utility and of such special or limited application that their extensive use is not practical.


Many industrial items can be made unusable with a small amount of a contaminating or adulterating substance. No one substance is universally applicable therefore, technical familiarity with the target is required.


Contamination by chemical or radiological agents increases the denial effect by forcing the enemy to decontaminate or to wait until the contaminants have decayed to a safe level. Contaminants also can render an item temporarily unusable; however, items can be decontaminated. Further, the contaminating agents deteriorate and lose their effectiveness unless periodically refreshed. Contamination is most effective when used with other denial methods.


Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADM) can destroy targets considered difficult or impossible to destroy by other means. Normally, the theater commander publishes separate instructions governing the employment of ADM. Subordinate commands expand these separate instructions to fit their area of operations. Atomic Demolition Munitions can destroy targets and accomplish missions that might normally be prohibitive for conventional explosives because of the logistic effort involved.

Selection of an ADM target involves the consideration of several factors. Some targets, such as bridges and locks, usually can be quickly and adequately destroyed by conventional explosives; some, such as dams, may be suitable for demolition by either conventional explosives or nuclear weapons. Other targets may require excessive amounts of conventional explosives and emplacement time, such as tunnels and underground installations, or they may require rapid and positive destruction, such as airfields. Targets that require an excessive amount of labor or time for emplacement of conventional explosives, because of their size or type of construction, are considered to be hard targets and are particularly well suited for the use of ADM. The military significance of a target is evaluated based on the effect that denial of the target will have on the enemy's combat effectiveness. If the reduction in the enemy's combat effectiveness is such that a major advantage is gained, the target has high military significance. Targets located in or near large urban areas in friendly territory normally should not be attacked with nuclear weapons; however, the advantages of destroying the target, particularly a hard target, must be weighed against the possible effects on the local population. Types of ADM targets are listed below.

Defiles and tunnels

Defiles and tunnels are frequent ADM targets because they have high military significance, are hard targets, lend themselves to effective blocking, and are seldom located near areas of dense population.


Bridges are infrequent ADM targets since, with the possible exception of some heavy masonry and concrete structures, they can be sufficiently destroyed by conventional explosives. Complete destruction is seldom required.

Stream cratering

The use of ADM for stream cratering is infrequent; however, the great cratering capability of ADM makes stream diversion possible to create obstacles where the enemy least expects them. The crater lip can form a temporary dam, create a lake, cause overbank flooding, and produce an effective water obstacle.

Dams and dikes

Dams and dikes are infrequent ADM targets since a reasonable amount of conventional explosives can normally accomplish the desired destruction.

Area contamination

It is possible to employ ADM in surface or shallow subsurface to create radiologically contaminated areas as a part of an obstacle system; however, the requirement for optimum meteorological conditions and the temporary nature of the contamination make the use of ADM for this purpose infrequent. Unless contamination is renewed, the obstacle created is effective for only a few days.


Airfields are frequent ADM targets since the demolition of an airfield's runway complex is the most effective way to destroy the operational capability of an airfield.


When denial policies are established, detailed planning must be accomplished at all levels. Initial planning and policy guidance will be published, at theater level. Operations plans and orders based on this guidance will assign denial targets and mission responsibilities at corps and subordinate levels. A formal denial plan will be prepared by each corps and division. Engineer terrain analysis teams will provide information on the use of terrain in denial operations such as defining flood boundaries. Combat engineers will be assigned a major role as they have the equipment, special knowledge, and skills to perform such work.


The following items should be considered when establishing policy, formulating plans, or selecting targets:

  • Specific target areas (facilities) and items to be denied.
  • Degree of denial (denial or evacuation).
  • Priority for preparation and execution.
  • Command channels that will apply for the specific target.
  • Assignment of planning and execution responsibility.
  • Assistance to be provided or desired for protecting the targets from enemy interference.
  • Availability of special denial teams.
  • Limitations on the means of destructive denial.
  • Use of contaminants and/or nuclear devices.
  • Safety and security measures to be followed.
  • National policy restrictions (if any) of US or host nations.
  • Coordination required between US elements, joint commands, and allied forces.
  • Timing of planning and execution of the denial mission(s).
  • Allocations of available and local resources.


The initial requirement in the formulation of plans for denial operations is a detailed assimilation of all available maps and intelligence pertaining to the area of operations. Pertinent intelligence is studied to determine the enemy's vulnerability to denial operations. The planner must analyze the area of operations, the military objectives, and the location, characteristics, and optimum denial period of specific denial targets. Targets must be selected with care to insure that the enemy cannot readily compensate for their denial. The planner then selects those key elements of each target that should be attacked to make it inoperative for the predetermined optimum denial period. The planner's goal is to select those industrial, logistic, and communications systems that are most vital to the enemy's long-term operations. In addition, the systems selected should--

  • Disrupt enemy logistic support.
  • Require the diversion of major effort to reconstruction and rehabilitation.
  • Prevent the use of local materials, supplies, or facilities necessary for continued operations.
  • Force all necessary supplies, especially heavy or bulky items such as POL and ammunition, to be transported over long and frequently disrupted lines of communications.


The destructive work required for denial operations must not be confused with that required for an obstacle system. Both involve extensive destruction and both may require destruction of the same facility.

Consequently, there is an overlapping of objectives in the two plans. Normally, tactical targets of interest to a tactical commander in mission accomplishment are included in the obstacle plans of division, corps, and field army, unless restricted by specific orders or policies of higher commanders. Responsibility for destruction of these obstacle targets flows through command channels.


Responsibility for some significant tactical and strategic denial targets requires coordination at all levels of command, since specific targets may be of such overwhelming importance to the theater and the theater commander's mission that the commander is unwilling to delegate authority for destruction. For example, highway and railway bridges crossing a major unfordable river may be of such strategic importance that a high commander is willing to isolate some troops, perhaps a brigade, on the enemy side of the river rather than to risk capture of the bridge intact. On the other hand, a division commander probably would consider blowing the same bridges only after the bulk of the division was safely across.


In the denial plan, the theater commander includes instructions for the execution of specific denial missions. The commander may employ and control specially trained teams or task forces to destroy all significant strategic targets, and make corps and their subordinate commands responsible for destruction of significant tactical targets. Thus, with primary interest in each type of target, the commander directs the preparation and destruction of the target and overlapping of responsibility does not occur. On the other hand, the commander may assign responsibility for executing all denial target missions to the subordinate commanders in whose areas the targets are located. When the responsibility is assigned to subordinate commands, the commander may also provide specially-trained denial teams to each echelon of command concerned to execute, advise, or assist in the destruction of technical targets.

The actual organization and method for conducting denial operations are governed by the technology of the targets. Some denial targets are so highly technical that special units must be organized and trained for the task. Other targets are so simple that any military unit can accomplish the required task with no more preparation than receipt of an order. In general, however, execution of denial target missions requires some technical or special training. The decision on the organization and method adopted is made only after a careful analysis of the factors involved, including the adequacy of communications. When adequate communications are not available, authority for execution of all denial target missions must be delegated either to the tactical commanders in the area concerned, or to liaison personnel stationed at the target site.


Because of the magnitude of denial operations and the limited time and means normally available, missions are given priority in the order in which they contribute to the overall operation. Those with the greatest immediate effect in reducing the enemy's combat effectiveness in the battle area generally have priority over those that have delayed or long-range effects. For example, the denial of major airfields, bridges, or bulk POL, when tactically essential to the enemy, takes priority over the denial of major industrial facilities.


Denial operations are an important facet of modern warfare. The following guidelines apply with regard to denial authority, methods, and planning.

The theater commander establishes denial policy.

Corps and division commanders plan and execute denial operations.

Denial targets can be varied based upon METT-T.

Denial methods range the spectrum.

Denial targets must deny the most vital system to the enemy and should accomplish one or all of the following:

  • Disrupt enemy logistic support.
  • Require the diversion of major effort to reconstruction and rehabilitation.
  • Prevent the use of local materials, supplies, or facilities necessary for continued operations.
  • Force all necessary supplies, especially heavy or bulky items such as POL ammunition, to be transported over long and frequently disrupted lines of communication.

Priority of denial missions is based upon overall contribution.

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