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Fire Support Integration and the
Task Force Combined Arms Rehearsal

by LTC Harry C. Garner, Timberwolf 27, Task Force Fire Support O/C, CMTC, Hohenfels, GE


"The combined arms rehearsal is required to synchronize all BOSs before combat operations. FS points that should be highlighted during the rehearsal include:
  • Synchronization of the FS Plan with the Scheme of Maneuver.
  • Target execution responsibilities, to include primary and backup observers and their engagement areas.
  • Artillery and mortar positioning and movement plans.
  • Verification of TA plan.
  • Fire support coordination measures.
  • Close air support.
  • Verification of windows to mass battalion fires."

(FM 6-71)

TF Tiger's deliberate attack on brigade Objective Shasta is not going well. OBJ Shasta, occupied by a reinforced MRC of the 12th MRR, is divided into three TF objectives, Betty, Jane and Jill. The lack of effective fires is severely jeopardizing the operation. In retrospect, this is not surprising since fires were not discussed in detail at the TF Combined Arms Rehearsal (CAR). The TF commander could not even remember if a fire support rehearsal was conducted prior to the attack.

The smoke planned to screen Team Alpha's movement from LD to Attack Position BOB did not occur, exposing it to highly effective OPFOR fires from the CSOP. Three M1s and four M2 BFVs were destroyed before it arrived in BOB. Reports indicated its FISTV was destroyed just forward of the LD. The FIST was the primary shooter for the screening smoke. The CAR did not address alternate shooters for the planned smoke mission. No priority targets were planned. Priority of fires was never clearly established.

Team Bravo fared no better. As the breach force attempted to reduce and secure a series of complex obstacles forward of the objective, it relied heavily on the effective and synchronized use of TF mortars and DS artillery fires to suppress and obscure the obstacle. However, as the breach force moved into position, TF mortars were out of range. Artillery smoke and suppressive fires were unavailable because the DS FA Battalion was emplacing brigade-directed FASCAM minefields in an effort to delay the Combined Arms Reserve. The breach team suffered horrendous causalities while exposed to an unmerciful barrage of indirect fires and well-aimed direct fires from enemy over-watch positions. The late execution of a CFZ over the breach area contributed little to force protection. After a valiant effort, Team Bravo secured and opened a lane through the obstacle belt.

After suffering heavy casualties to indirect fires, Team Charlie, tasked with destruction of the northern MRP on OBJ Betty, assaulted through Bravo. Late triggers and delays in the clearance of fires resulted in ineffective fires on the objective. The general lack of knowledge and understanding of the TF fire support plan was painfully obvious. Control of fires on the objective, both direct and indirect, was not discussed in detail during the Combined Arms Rehearsal (CAR). This critical oversight significantly contributed to the quickly deteriorating situation.

Team Delta, tasked with the destruction of the center MRP on OBJ Jane and the remnants of the southern MRP on OBJ Jill, was floundering. It was apparent that Shasta would not be secured and the Combined Arms Reserve would soon arrive to reinforce the determined MRC. Combat power for the TF is less than 15 percent. What had gone wrong?

This illustration is dangerously familiar to the Observer/Controllers (O/Cs) at the CTCs. Units fail to execute critical task force targets at the proper time on the battlefield. Quite often, this failure threatens to unhinge the entire brigade operation. There are numerous reasons: no clear essential fire support tasks, poor IPB, poor target location, poor observer planning, and loss of primary observers during the battle. The list goes on and on.

Each reason is a "symptom" of the bigger problem. The overarching cause of poor, unsynchronized fire support is the lack of a detailed Combined Arms Rehearsal (CAR) which fully incorporates the task force fire support plan.

"The maneuver course of action and supporting fire plan should be analyzed in anticipation of the enemy course of action that might occur in actual execution of the plan...The rehearsal improves responsiveness of fires and the synchronization of all the maneuver commanders' resources for the battle.The rehearsal (fire support) conducted by only the support personnel is limited in that the success of the rehearsal and benefits derived from it depend on how well the FSCOORD/FSO conducting the rehearsal know the maneuver commander's concept of operation."

(FM 6-20-40)

Here is a method that produces a truly integrated Combined Arms Rehearsal where coordination and synchronization of the TF fire support plan with the scheme of maneuver are primary objectives. Time constraints associated with the mission cycle (routinely 36-hour preparation periods) are a very real limitation on the TF commander's ability to conduct face-to-face coordination with his subordinates. The TF CAR is the only viable opportunity for the commander to gather his entire staff, company commanders and other key personnel in one central location to rehearse the upcoming mission. Given the extended travel distances, weather and environmental factors (particular winter operations), and the need to conduct individual and subordinate unit preparation, it is unrealistic to expect commanders, and staff to remain following the CAR for separate, lengthy and often redundant combat support rehearsals.

The integration of the critical aspects of the TF Scheme of Fires, as well as other BOSs, should be incorporated into the CAR, thus realizing a true combined arms rehearsal.

The integration of fire support into the true CAR requires commanders and FSOs to actually brief and rehearse their specific fire support responsibilities. The result is a greater understanding of the complete, integrated scheme of fires. A successful CAR precludes the need for a lengthy, relatively pointless fire support rehearsal. Pointless because, more often than not, critical leaders and staff are not present at the fire support rehearsal. A detailed radio (FM) TF Fire support rehearsal, facilitated by either the TF Executive Officer or the S3, is critical to the final synchronization of the TF fire support plan. This rehearsal must include all players involved in the execution of the fire plan. The soldiers who execute it must understand the fire plan. This means maneuver shooters, FIST, mortars and all others involved with the plan must participate. The details of the FM fire support rehearsal will not be discussed in detail here.

Using the rehearsal format in FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, and FM 71-3, The Armored and Mechanized Infantry Brigade, this article offers TF commanders a method for integrating the TF fire support plan into the TF CAR. These recommendations are fully applicable to abbreviated CARs when only specific actions and critical events are rehearsed. Commanders should incorporate these recommendations as minimum requirements to the unit CAR SOP.

"The most important task force rehearsal is the combined arms rehearsal. This rehearsal must integrate fully the fire support plan...If time permits, the TF should conduct a fire support rehearsal."

(CALL CTC Quarterly Bulletin No. 96-4, 2QFY96, Mar 96, "Indirect Fires and the Combined Arms Team.")

CONDUCTING THE CAR

"The Combined Arms Rehearsal is normally conducted by a maneuver headquarters and performed after subordinate units have issued their OPORDs. This rehearsal ensures that:
  • Subordinate units' plans are synchronized with those of other units in the organization.
  • All subordinate commanders' plans will achieve the intent of the higher commander."

(FM 101-5)

FM 100-5, Staff Organization and Operations, provides the doctrinal framework for the CAR. FM 71-3, The Mechanized and Armored Brigade, incorporates the framework in an excellent discussion of the brigade-level Combined Arms Rehearsal. With the exception of a small paragraph, FM 71-2 w/change 1, The Tank and Mechanized Battalion Task Force, is silent on the issue of rehearsals. CALL Newsletter No. 98-5, Rehearsals, Mar 98, supports my position that these principles are fully applicable to TF-level operations.

The type of rehearsal described in FM 71-3 is the terrain model rehearsal. It is an effective technique accomplished relatively quickly and normally involving key leaders and staff. It is most often used when time and resources prohibit the full-dress or key leader rehearsal. Please note that the principles I outline for fire support integration are fully applicable to all rehearsal techniques considering procedural adjustments based on the time and rehearsal technique. Site selection and preparation will not be addressed in this article.

Recommended CAR attendees, at a minimum, include the TF commander, TF FSO, TF XO and S3, primary and special staff and attachments such as the Engineer company commander, ADA platoon leader, Smoke platoon leader, Mortar platoon leaders, Scout platoon leader, ALO, all CO/TEAM commanders and FIST and designated personnel required by unit SOP. Unit SOP dictates the time sequencing and correlation between the brigade and TF CARs and supporting fire support and BOS rehearsals.

AGENDA

Step 1. The CAR begins with a formal roll call conducted by the XO. Ensure everyone brings proper equipment as directed in the unit OPORD and SOP.

Step 2. Ensure that the XO or the S3 orients the terrain model to the actual ground, the operations overlay and the map. Describe and orient players to critical aspects of the AO. Describe and point out the markers used on the terrain model. Replicate TF targets using standard target symbols. These target symbols indicate the type of target, (point, linear, circular) and target number. These target symbols should be laminated to allow easy updating. They must become part of the rehearsal kit managed by the TF operations NCO with assistance from the FSNCO.

Step 3. TF XO briefs the TF timeline. Set the time interval used to start and track the rehearsal. For example, a 10-minute interval equates to one hour real time during the operation.

Step 4. Designate a recorder. Designate the Fire Support NCO or Specialist as the fire support recorder responsible for capturing all fire support issues arising during the rehearsal. The XO or S3 reviews all ground rules and reiterates specific rehearsal SOP requirements such as who walks the terrain board, how the rehearsal will be controlled, and when the special staff briefs.

Step 5. The S3 reads the mission statement, reviews the commander's intent and lays out the current friendly situation, using the terrain model. The TF FSO reviews the TF Commander's Concept for Fires, indicates the current locations of friendly fire support assets in the TF's AO and indicates ranges of various friendly weapons system. Detailed fire support discussions occur in later steps.

Step 6. The TF S2 briefs the current enemy situation, likely enemy COA and status of the R&S plan. During this step, either the S2 or TF FSO should discuss current enemy fire support assets, current enemy positions (templated or actual) and their range and influence on the upcoming operation.

Step 7. This step is the real guts of the rehearsal process. The TF commander will direct the actual start point for the rehearsal. It may begin at actions on the objective or another critical event. Regardless of the start point, the actions of the TF FSO should not be altered. The TF S3 briefs the disposition of friendly maneuver units at rehearsal start time. Utilizing the TF Scheme of Fires as depicted in the Fire Support Execution Matrix, the TF FSO begins to "paint the fire support picture" by phase providing a fire support overview throughout the TF AO. The TF FSO briefs these fire support specifics:

A. Brigade Fire Support plan in the TF AO. This allows the TF commander to determine whether the brigade Essential Fire Support Tasks and Scheme of Fires mutually supports or conflicts with his scheme of maneuver. If he is relying on the DS artillery for obscuration smoke and suppressive fires during breach operations, he must know the brigade commander's intent for counter-fire and FASCAM during the same timeframe. If required, the TF commander must address conflicts directly to the BDE commander.

B. Priority Target/FPFs. These targets should be highlighted as critical targets to the phase.

C. Fire Support Coordination Measures (FSCMs). What are the FSCMs impacting on the TF AO and what are the triggers directing a change in FSCM? The brigade CFL, NFAs and ACAs are examples of FSCMs, which may have a significant impact on TF operations and require negotiation with higher headquarters.

D. Priority of Fires. Priority of fires, as designated by the commander, facilitates rapid delivery of fires during critical junctures in the operation.

E. Fire Support Force Protection. Where are the CFZs, and do they support the scheme of maneuver? What company team is providing security for target acquisition radar located in the TF AO?

Step 8. This is the most critical step of the rehearsal process. Every action in this step is designed to make sure that all actions on the maneuver synchronization matrix and/or DST are addressed at the proper time or event. Commanders from TF commander on down execute their responsibilities on the terrain model using appropriate commands. CO/TEAM commanders tell when they initiate fires IAW their fire plans. Using the PLOT-CR format, commanders should brief the following fire support data:

A. Purpose. The CO/TEAM commander briefs his target responsibilities. He must demonstrate his understanding of why he is directed to provide resources, possibly maneuver shooters, to observe and/or trigger targets in support of the TF scheme of maneuver. If he is uncomfortable with an aspect of the plan, he must immediately bring the issue to the forefront. If it cannot be immediately resolved, the fire support recorder documents it for future resolution.

B. Location. The CO/TEAM commanders simply recite the grid location of the target ensuring it coincides with the TF target list.

C. Observers. As the "executors" of the TF fire support plan, CO/TEAM commander announces which platoon and preferably the individual responsible for observing critical targets. If he is challenged with the execution of several targets during a phase, he requests guidance from the TF commander as to which is the most critical. Based on that decision, he considers positioning his FIST and/or FOs to provide "professional" observation of the target area. Maneuver shooters perform as alternate observers. The commander discusses their tasks supporting the TF observer plan. The following areas must be addressed:

(1). OP location with visibility/equipment requirements.

(2). Time to occupy.

(3). Infiltration Route.

(4). Security requirements/arrangements.

(5). Disengagement criteria.

This information is critical to the TF commander. If an enemy asset is so critical as to be designated as a TF target, then it must be adequately resourced with execution assets. This brief discussion allows the TF commander to assess the observer to target ratio (minimum 2:1) and determine necessary changes.

D. Triggers. CO/TEAM commanders must discuss the triggering events that alert them to execute a specific target. In some cases, the commander responsible for triggering a specific target will not be the same commander responsible for observing a target. In this case, both commanders will brief their tasks. It is critically important that target hand-off criteria between trigger and observer are synchronized and rehearsed. Commanders can talk the event during the CAR. Detailed rehearsal must be executed at the subsequent fire support FM rehearsal conducted later in the planning timeline. The term "trigger" in this discussion should not be confused with the trigger grid determined by the FIST in determining the moving target intercept point/point to impact. This is a technical point not applicable to commander's discussion. However, immediately following the commander, CO/Team FISTs should discuss the intercept trigger during their portion of the CAR.

E. Communications NET. The CO/TEAM commander repeats the TF fire support frequency and alternate fire support frequency. On what frequencies do maneuver shooters call for fire (CFF)? How will CFF executed on the internal company net reach the fire support channels?

F. Rehearsal. The CO/TEAM commander reiterates essential fire support tasks scheduled for rehearsal at his company CAR.

Following the commander's briefing, the Company FIST should initiate CFFs on assigned targets ensuring complete understanding of the plan. The TF commander dictates the level of FIST participation.

Step 9. The S2 continues to portray the enemy most likely COA (situational template), stressing reconnaissance routes, objectives, security force composition and location. He must be specific. He must tie enemy actions to specific terrain or friendly unit actions. The walk-through should be an accurate portrayal of the situational template.

Step 10. This step marks the end of Phase I. The TF commander's intent for the phase is met. The TF fire support plan is synchronized with the scheme of maneuver. The rehearsal of each additional phase should follow the procedures listed above.

Step 11. Since the key to a rehearsal is coordination of key events, when the need for additional coordination is required, all efforts should be made to accomplish it immediately upon the conclusion of a phase. Results of additional fire support coordination are recorded by the fire support recorder for later input into a subsequent TF FRAGO.

Step 12. Rehearsal of Branches and Sequels. After the initial walkthrough of the base order, key decision points and criteria, which alter the original plan, are discussed. Assume the criteria have been met and then refight the fight until the desired end-state is achieved. Fire support tasks should follow, as close as possible, the same procedures as outlined above given the level of preparation. The TF FSO "paints the fire support picture" in the TF AO at the time the decision is made to execute the branch. Commanders brief their fire support tasks and FIST "execute' their target responsibilities. The level of detail will depend on the level of initial planning undertaken by the staff during the initial wargame and subsequently directed in the TF OPORD.

Step 13. Repeat step 12 for each subsequent decision point/branch.

Step 14. Repeat step 13 until all DPs are rehearsed.

Step 15. Ensure all BOSs are integrated at appropriate times throughout the rehearsal process.

Step 16. Following the rehearsal, the TF recorder restates changes, coordination or clarifications directed by the commander. The fire support recorder monitors this briefback ensuring all fire support issues were captured.

Step 17. The TF commander concludes the rehearsal stressing any key points needing additional emphasis. The TF XO addresses changes to the timeline and anticipated publication time of the resulting TF FRAGO. Commanders and staff are dismissed to continue preparation for the upcoming operation.

A BRIEF WORD ON THE FM FIRE SUPPORT REHEARSAL

The Combined Arms Rehearsal provides the setting for subordinate commanders and staff to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of their tasks in the execution and synchronization of the TF fire support plan. The TF FM fire support rehearsal confirms whether the knowledge and understanding demonstrated by the commanders and FIST at the CAR is imparted to subordinates charged with the execution of the fire plan. The TF commander must take ownership of this rehearsal as it provides the critical assurance that those responsible for the actual execution of the fire plan are rehearing the plan. In an excellent article, The Fire Support Rehearsal, CALL Newsletter No. 97-11, NTC's Fighting with Fires III, Apr 97, CPT Samuel R. White provides guidance on the conduct of TF fire support rehearsals. The fire support rehearsal is the final validation of the integrated TF fire support plan developed during the CAR. This rehearsal provides the forum for the actual executors, the FIST, FOs, and maneuver shooters, such as the Scouts, PLT leaders and PLT Sergeants, to actually rehearse the execution of the fire plan. The TF XO/ S3 should facilitate this rehearsal. By requiring the TF XO/S3 to begin each phase of the fire support rehearsal with the TF scheme of maneuver followed by the TF FSO review of the TF scheme of fires, the TF commander ensures the fire plan and maneuver scheme remain synchronized throughout the fire support rehearsal. Validation of the plan is now the responsibility of the creator of the maneuver plan (S3/XO), not an artillery captain (FSO). It also provides quality control, ensuring all required participants are "up" and ready to rehearse. A properly executed fire support rehearsal complements the CAR, verifying the integration and synchronization of the TF scheme of maneuver and fire plan. (For more information on the fire support rehearsal, refer to CPT White's article referenced above.)

CONCLUSION

The CAR provides the TF commander with perhaps his only opportunity to listen to his commanders and staff as they rehearse an upcoming mission. It provides the TF commander an arena to pay more than a tacit handwave to fire support integration. Incorporation of these recommendations highlights the importance of fire support to the entire chain of command. Its full inclusion as an equal partner in the conduct of combat operations is vital to mission success and the prevention of future TF Tigers.

SELECTED NOTES

Department of the Army, FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, Washington, DC: TRADOC, 1997.
Department of the Army, FM 71-3, The Armored and Mechanized Brigade, Washington, DC: TRADOC, 1996.
Department of the Army, FM 6-71, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures: Fire Support and the Combined Arms Commander, Washington, DC: TRADOC, 1994.
Department of the Army, FM 6-20-40, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Fire Support for Brigade Operations (Heavy), Washington, DC: TRADOC, 1990.
Leiferman, Harry L., LTC, "Indirect Fires and the Combined Arms Team," Center for Army Lessons Learned CTC Quarterly Bulletin, No. 96-4, 2QFY96, Mar 96, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: TRADOC 1996.
Center for Army Lessons Learned Newsletter No. 98-5, Rehearsals, Mar 98, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: TRADOC 1998.
Center for Army Lessons Learned Newsletter No. 98-14, CTC Trends for NTC, Jul 98, Task Force Observation Planning, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: TRADOC 1998.
White, Samuel R. Jr., CPT, "The Fire Support Rehearsal," Center for Army Lessons Learned Newsletter No. 97-11, NTC's Fighting with Fires III, Apr 97, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: TRADOC 1997.
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