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HEAVY/LIGHT/SOF


VIGNETTE

On Ancon Hill, the M113s were already started and running. M551 Sheridans were in positions overlooking the Commandancia while attack helicopters and an AC-130 gunship were positioning themselves to support with direct fire. At 20 0045 Dec, the mechanized infantry of B/4-6 Inf (M) crossed the line of departure (LD) and was almost immediately confronted by a roadblock and heavy small arms fire. Simultaneously, the M551s and special operations aircraft opened fire on targets of opportunity within the Commandancia complex. After an intense firefight, the M113s were able to break through the roadblocks and move to blocking positions which sealed off the large complex. Systematically, the soldiers of the 5-87th Inf began breaching holes in the outer wall and clearing the outer buildings. It would be almost 24 hours before the complex was completely cleared. It required a determined assault to break the enemy's defenses.

KEY POINTS

The integration of light and heavy forces was common throughout JUST CAUSE. The very limited PDF armor threat allowed the JTFSO to attach M551 Sheridans at section level across the task force rather than concentrating them in company and platoon strength. This concept of employment allowed the simultaneous engagement of many of the D-Day targets with the infantry supported by the shock effect and firepower of a mobile protected gun system. The shock effect and firepower were critical in military operations on urbanized terrain (MOUT) fighting, at roadblocks, for fixed site security and convoy escort. The mix of mechanized and light infantry afforded the same advantages of shock effect and protection. Support of the heavy forces by light units, although accomplished, took more than normal effort. Light infantry units are not equipped to move bulk fuel, large caliber ammunition and spare parts. Supply of these heavy forces was also affected by the tempo, widely dispersed units, and a nonlinear front.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Heavy units, even relatively light armor and mechanized units, require support which light units are not organized to provide or resourced to transport. Units must carefully task-organize to ensure an adequate dedicated support slice is provided or created from internal ad hoc assets.

  • Task organization should not spread heavy forces too thin but still must provide support to as many light units as possible.

  • Tank sections attached to rifle companies and convoys provided significant fire power against roadblocks/strong points.

  • Commanders must do a METT-T analysis when adding armored vehicles to convoys as protection. A tradeoff exists between convoy speed and the additional firepower.

  • Use M551 Sheridans and M113s for fire power demonstrations for assaults and position them at key roadblocks. M551s were effective in crashing through/over enemy roadblocks, and the 152-mm round created entry holed in walls and buildings.

  • Integrate heavy elements with light forces in defensive positions. Place armored vehicles near key installations while light forces conduct area patrols.

  • Subordinate heavy forces should provide a liaison officer (LO) section to infantry battalion and brigade headquarters.

  • The external phone on the M551 Sheridan was essential for light elements to communicate with tank crews providing suppressive fires, especially during MOUT.

Table of Contents, Volume II
Volume I, Lessons Learned--Soldiers & Leadership: Family Support Groups (FSGs)
Special Operations Forces (SOF) - Conventional Force Integration



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