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by CPT Sal Bora, MSG William McNeal, and CPT Wade Johnson,
Aviation Observer Controllers, JRTC

"There is many a boys here today that look at war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell."

--William Tecumseh Sherman

The opposing force (OPFOR) attack:
Aviation tactical assembly area on D+7, JRTC, FT Polk

It is 0210 hours. A six-man OPFOR sapper squad lies in position for its assault on the aviation tactical assembly area (TAA). After observing the aviation perimeter for seven hours from an observation post (OP) five meters inside an adjacent tree line, the OPFOR sappers decide to start the attack from the north, near the port-o-johns. Their mission: Attack the aviation TAA to destroy the forward area rearming and refueling point (FARP) and other targets of opportunity in order to disrupt aviation operations.

The OPFOR is concerned about four infantry anti-tank (AT) HMMWVs attached to the aviation battalion for security. Two of these vehicles are conducting roving patrols inside the perimeter of the aviation TAA, but they are not much of a problem for the OPFOR. The AT crews have become complacent and predictable. The OPFOR observed that the patrols pass by the same point every six to eight minutes. Other than the AT roving patrol, the aviation task force did not establish OPs for security. There is only one strand of concertina wire on the northern perimeter. The guards are in their hasty fighting positions (150 to 200 meters apart), but the OPFOR successfully marked the BLUFOR trip-flares before sunset.

At 0216 hours the OPFOR squad prepares for the attack. Four of the OPFOR establish a support-by-fire (SBF) position inside the aviation TAA on the northeast side of the perimeter. The other two sappers are 100 meters to the west of the SBF. The OPFOR sappers infiltrate the aviation TAA perimeter near the port-o-johns by stepping over the single strand of concertina. They conceal themselves in a low-lying area 10 meters from a road used by the AT roving patrols.

As the roving patrol passes 20 meters from the OPFOR sappers, one of the two sappers walks briskly toward the parked aircraft. He sets one-pound satchel charges near each aircraft he passes. The second sapper makes his way past three different company command posts (CPs) and the aviation battalion tactical operations center (TOC) to a water trailer parked 20 meters from the aviation FARP. He activates and throws two one-pound satchel charges under one of the two fuel HEMTTs. The two sappers walk through the open terrain of the aircraft parking area and link up near a parked BLUFOR HMMWV.

Figure 1
Aviation TAA Sketch

They take cover and wait for the explosions.

KABOOM! Eight simulators explode a few seconds apart, destroying the aviation FARP and six aircraft. In the light from the explosions, one roving patrol observes the silhouettes of two OPFOR sappers trying to escape. The AT vehicle's .50-caliber machine gunner opens up on the two OPFOR. He kills one, but in the process the gunner damages (fratricide) two BLUFOR aircraft. The OPFOR SBF responds in kind and silences the AT vehicle with well-aimed fires from their captured M-60 machine gun.

The second BLUFOR AT vehicle drives toward the sounds of battle and directly into the OPFOR's SBF position. The AT vehicle is engaged and lightly damaged but not before it kills a second OPFOR sapper. With most of the BLUFOR AT crews killed or wounded and the aviation TAA in a state of confusion, the four remaining OPFOR capture the damaged AT HMMWV and proceed to drive out of the aviation TAA, engaging personnel and equipment with the captured .50-caliber machine gun.


2 x Refuel HEMTTs 1 x AT HMMWV - Captured
6 x Aircraft - Destroyed 6 x KIA (1 x Fratricide)
3 x Aircraft - Damaged (Fratricide) 7 x WIA
1 x AT HMMWV - Damaged SINCGARS w/Secure Fills - Captured


2 x KIA

Events such as this are not uncommon at the JRTC, nor are they limited to aviation units. The remainder of this article will discuss trends, procedures, and techniques associated with light Army aviation TAA force protection issues at the JRTC.

The rebel commanders always selected and advanced to the spot where the resistance was the weakest. They knew how to avoid or by-pass a strong defense and to assault the weak spot...They knew how to make a detour in order to attack the rear or the flank of the enemy's position and how to confuse the enemy by attacking at one point to divert his attention while actually advancing on another...They knew how to spy on their enemies and the activities of their fifth columnists usually preceded a formal military operation.

--Mao Tse-Tung speaking about the T'aip'ing Rebellion (1849-51)
Sun Tzu: The Art of War


How do you rate the effectiveness of your TAA security? Most aviation CSMs will admit that their security is not as effective as they would like. When asked why and what they are doing to fix it, the responses are mixed. Before you can fix something, you must assess what is broken. The following self-assessment will assist you in identifying problems and will help focus your time and effort to improve the effectiveness of your aviation tactical assembly area force protection plan.

Answer the following questions as objectively as you can. Evaluate each question with all the leaders who are involved in your force protection plan. Include support units.

1. Does your TSOP address assembly area (AA) security?

2. Do your battle captains/NCOs, radio telephone operators (RTOs), and TOC personnel know the procedures for elevating/disseminating the readiness condition (REDCON) level?

3. Do subordinate units know what security actions they must execute for each REDCON level? How often does the unit drill the SOP?

4. Is there an established graduated response matrix (GRM) and is everyone familiar with the rules of engagement (ROE) applicable to the GRM?

5. How often does your unit deploy to the field? Do these deployments include slice elements? How do you overcome these training challenges?

6. Who posts and updates the security REDCON levels and does this information get passed to the subordinate units in a timely manner?

7. Does your staff and subordinate units know the meaning of commander critical information requirements (CCIR)? Does the commander state the CCIR clearly?

8. Do your NCOs have a detailed understanding of the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP)? Do they contribute to the MDMP?

9. Are your subordinate units familiar with the locations of adjacent friendly units?

10. Do you have interlocking fields of fire? Have you established preventive measures to minimize the risk of fratricide?

11. Who is in charge of the TAA security? Who controls the quick reaction force (QRF)? Who authorizes fires inside the TAA? Who can fire inside the TAA and with what caliber weapon?

12. Are fighting positions and obstacles built to standard (FM 7-8, Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad)? Have you requested or do you have priority and a plan for the employment of engineer assets?

13. Are guards familiar with the terrain (dead space, obstacles, etc.)? Do your soldiers know how to complete a range card?

14. Does your unit have a consolidated TAA security sketch in the TOC?

15. Has your unit developed a risk assessment plan based on the threat?

Answers to these questions should indicate how effective your force protection plan is. These questions focus on areas where the majority of aviation units training at the JRTC experience problems. Do not feel intimidated or combat ineffective if you have problems in some or all of these areas. You can improve many of these areas by implementing some simple tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

Force Protection Functions

Observations: Units fight as they train. You must regard force protection as a mission more important to the commander than any flying mission. Aviation units do not spend adequate time training on force protection measures. Consequently, they are often unsuccessful at repelling OPFOR assaults at the JRTC. Most OPFOR attacks on the aviation TAA result in a disproportionate number of BLUFOR casualties and destroyed or damaged equipment.

There are many professional articles provided in CALL publications and doctrinal manuals -- FM 7-8, FM 7-10, The Infantry Rifle Company, FM 7-20, The Infantry Battalion, FM 100-5, Operations, and aviation-specific Mission Training Plans (MTPs) -- which provide detailed information on improving the TAA force protection plan. Listed below are the most common reasons given by aviation personnel for the apparent lack of success in their force protection plan.

"I have to defend an area twice the size of an infantry battalion's area, with half the number of personnel."
"One-third of my personnel are pilots; the others are crew chiefs and mechanics. My mission is to fly these aircraft and fix them."
"My men have little time to turn wrenches and fix aircraft. Somewhere between kitchen police duty and guard duty they have to get some rest."
"Mechanics have to follow fighter management policies also."
"NCOs don't get enough time with the soldiers to conduct NCO business."
"We will always be so far back in the division rear that we will not have to worry about it."
"When we deploy for real, we'll have military police or infantry to protect us."
"If this were an actual war, I would never set up my assembly area like this."

If your unit expects to be protected by the infantry, don't bet on it. Do you honestly believe that a commander will give up a combat unit that is trained to find, fix, and finish the enemy to protect a unit that should be capable of protecting itself?

Properly conducted, defensive operations can defeat numerically superior forces. Survival on today's battlefield demands that combat, combat support, and combat service support units not only execute their assigned missions, but also provide for their own force protection.

TAA Security - the BIG 5

The five major functions of TAA security are:

1. Establish Priorities of Work.
2. Prepare Sector Sketches and Range Cards.
3. Conduct Coordination.
4. Emplace Obstacles for Perimeter Defense.
5. Prepare Fighting Positions.

1. Priorities of work. The first step in establishing force protection is to set the priorities of work. Leaders use this list to control what tasks are accomplished and in what order. Priorities of work are established in the unit's TSOP and are confirmed before a unit occupies its assembly area.

Trends associated with establishing priorities of work:

  • Priorities of work have been established but are not being followed or enforced.
  • The task order is not observed; deviations are not being coordinated with the chain of command.
  • Tasks are delegated to untrained personnel or personnel other than the position designated by the TSOP.
  • Leaders and soldiers are not familiar with the priorities of work.

2. Sector sketches and range cards. Aviation units training at the JRTC do not develop sector sketches and range cards to standards as specified by STP 21-1-SMCT, Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks, or FM 7-8. Junior leaders in aviation units concentrate their efforts in the following order: (1) mission planning, (2) completing their flying missions, and (3) fixing their aircraft.

Unlike infantry units that are used to conducting assembly area security, aviation units do not spend enough Home Station training time on force protection issues.

"Generally, he who occupies the field of battle first and awaits his enemy is at ease; he who comes later to the scene and rushes into the fight is weary. Don't let yourself and your soldiers become complacent. Train like you are going to fight, and fight to win."

--Sun Tzu

Trends associated with preparing sketches and range cards:

  • Junior leaders are not familiar with where to find the information on force protection.
  • Soldiers and leaders do not understand the significance of final protective fires (FPFs) or final protective lines (FPLs).
  • There is a lack of urgency for developing a properly completed sector sketch and turning it in to the next higher unit.

3. Coordination. Companies and platoons usually do a good job coordinating with one another. On the other hand, coordination among battalion-size units is mostly incomplete or overlooked. A lack of coordination with adjacent units results in ineffective force protection plans, fields of fire that are not interlocked, and often worse -- fratricide. The TOC must coordinate and announce when adjacent units are conducting patrols and the actions to their subordinate units.

The company fire plan must fully integrate the effects of all weapon systems (both direct and indirect), the company obstacle plan, and the company scheme of maneuver to achieve the greatest effect on the enemy force (FM 7-10).

4. Obstacle emplacement for perimeter defense. You can never have enough Class IV. A battalion-size aviation assembly usually takes up at least one square kilometer of space. Despite this, most units do not have a solid plan for requisitioning or employing Class IV. The aviation battalion must have the brigade commander's support for priority of engineer assets. The engineer assets must be used early in the operation. The OPTEMPO will eat up available time as the battle progresses.

Trends associated with obstacle emplacement for perimeter defense:

  • Units do not requisition enough Class IV or requisition late.
  • Units do not know the amount of Class IV that they will require.
  • Units lack a plan for employing Class IV and engineer assets.
  • There is improper installation or use of barrier material.
  • Units do not know how to estimate the amount of time required for engineers to emplace obstacles.

5. Fighting positions. Units do not build fighting positions to the standards specified by the Soldier's Manual or FM 7-8. The most predominate trends are:

  • Improperly installed beams to support the fighting position.
  • Lack of overhead cover.
  • Fields of fire not cleared.
  • Sectors of fire not interlocked or designated.
  • Lack of knowledge on the part of the leadership.
  • Failure of leaders to conduct inspections.


1. Priorities of Work. Following a leader's reconnaissance of the terrain, the aviation task force commander must visualize his security plan. The focus should be on the emplacement of crew-served weapons, FPLs, FPFs, OPs, TCPs, entry/exit points, etc. Based on the leader's reconnaissance, priorities of work can be modified to meet METT-T. Examples of priorities of work can be found in Chapters Two and Five of FM 7-8. A platoon's normal priority of work is:

  • Establish local security.
  • Position anti-armor weapons, machine guns and squads, and assign sectors of fire.
  • Position other assets attached to a platoon.
  • Establish the CP and wire communications.
  • Design FPLs and FPFs.
  • Clear fields of fire and prepare range cards and sector sketches.
  • Coordinate with adjacent units - left, right, forward, and to the rear.
  • Prepare primary fighting positions.
  • Emplace obstacles and mines.
  • Mark or improve marking for TRPs and other fire control measures.
  • Improve primary fighting positions such as overhead cover.
  • Prepare alternate positions, then supplementary positions.
  • Establish a sleep and rest plan.
  • Reconnoiter routes.
  • Stockpile ammunition, food, and water.
  • Dig trenches to connect positions.
  • Rehearse engagements, disengagements, and any counter-attack plans.
  • Adjust positions or control measures as required.
  • Continue to improve positions.

2. Sector sketches and range cards. Leaders must look at the layout of the area they are to defend.

  • Walk it off. See it from the enemy's viewpoint. This procedure is the most important part of sector sketch development. It forms a picture in the mind of the observer. It provides a basis for securing the unit's portion of the assembly area.
  • Coordinate with adjacent units to select the best positions for crew-served weapons.
  • Complete the range cards, draw the sector sketch of your area, and confirm the range card with adjacent units.
  • Send a copy of your range card to your next higher unit in a timely manner.

3. Coordination. Before completing the sector sketch, platoons and companies must conduct coordination to:

  • Interlock fields of fire.
  • Coordinate OP sites.
  • Coordinate crew-served weapon emplacements.

Make sure appropriate modifications to the sector sketches are completed and turned in to the battalion TOC. The battalion ties in their defensive plan with adjacent units and coordinates fire support targets to cover dead space, FPLs, FPFs, and avenues of approach.

4. Obstacle emplacement for perimeter defense. An obstacle is any natural or manmade structure that turns, fixes, disrupts or blocks the movement of a force (FM 5-34, Engineer Field Data).

  • Wire obstacles are the most commonly built obstacles at the JRTC.
  • Use engineer assets to restrict vehicle access to avenues of approach by employing obstacles to turn or block movement.
  • Standards for the construction of obstacles can be found in FM 7-8, FM 5-34, and FM 5-102, Countermobility.

5. Fighting Positions. Soldiers must construct fighting positions that protect them and allow them to fire in their assigned sectors. Soldiers and leaders must be able to identify the best location which allows them the maximum effective engagement range, grazing fire, and minimal dead space (OCOCKA). Leaders must ensure that the fighting positions provide interlocking fires and a basis for final protective fires.


1. Priorities of work.

  • Use the examples in FM 7-8 to set priorities of work.
  • Add or delete tasks to be completed, prioritize them, and assign responsibility for each task.
  • Consider the factors of mission, enemy, terrain, troops and time (METT-T) to execute priorities of work during a field training exercise (FTX).
  • Conduct an AAR of the process and reorganize the priorities to fit the mission essential task list (METL).

2. Sector sketches and range cards.

  • Remembering how to do sector sketches when you have not slept in two days may not be an easy task. Referring to FM 7-8 will help.
  • Laminate a blank range card, if possible. Attach a properly filled out card to the backside as an example.

3. Coordination. Sergeant of the Guard (SOG): Get back to the basics. Listed below are some steps that the SOG should take to ensure that the TAA force protection plan is properly implemented and executed:

  • Have a central location where the guards report and are inspected (clean weapons, equipment, general/special orders, etc.) by the SOG.
  • The SOG should emplace each guard personally. It gives him a chance to check on the status of the outgoing guard and inspect the fighting positions.
  • Communication plan. The SOG should inspect the communication plan for each position as the new guards are emplaced.
  • Integrate field artillery targets into the force protection plan. Coordinate with adjacent units and share resources and targets.

4. Obstacle emplacement for perimeter defense.

  • Must be built to standards prescribed in the Soldier's Manual and FM 7-8.
  • Must be documented on the battalion obstacle plan/map.
  • Must be visible from the TOC.
  • Must be checked periodically.
  • Must be within range of the direct fire weapon system.

5. Fighting Positions. Soldiers should always refer to FM 7-8 when constructing fighting positions.

  • Dig or build up the position armpit deep.
  • Fill sandbags about 75 percent full.
  • Revet excavations in sandy soil.
  • Check stabilization of wall bases.
  • Inspect and test the positions daily, after rain, and after receiving direct and indirect fires.
  • Maintain and repair positions as required.
  • Improve the fighting position to include overhead cover.
  • Use proper materials and use them correctly.

6. Other techniques which can improve your defensive plan:

  • Prepare fighting positions in stages.
  • Passive defensive measures, such as trip flares, provide early warning and will allow you to mass your combat power at a specific point to defeat the enemy.
  • Roving Patrols. Active patrolling acts as a deterrence and provides continuous reconnaissance of your area of responsibility.


"We have good corporals and good sergeants and some good lieutenants and captains, and those are far more important than good generals."

--William Tecumseh Sherman

Keys to a successful TAA force protection plan:

  • Train on TAA force protection at Home Station.
  • Leaders conduct reconnaissance of the TAA and construct a plan based on METT-T.
  • Employ engineers early based on commander's priority: FARP, TOC, avenues of approach, fighting positions, etc.
  • NCOs enforce the standards.

The Joint Readiness Training Center will assess and support your training. No unit or person is perfect, and no one expects you to be. But knowing what you are supposed to do, and being prepared to do it, will ensure success in force protection.

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