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Developing a Graduated Response Utilizing
Lethal and Non-Lethal Weapons

Situation: The country of Coriland has undergone civil unrest for four months. Guerrilla forces have taken three major cities and are now attacking the capitol. An airborne infantry company has been deployed at the request of the U.S. Ambassador to conduct a noncombatant evacuation operation in an uncertain, possibly hostile environment. The company has just landed on the hot landing zone (HLZ) and has begun movement toward the U.S. Embassy. Along its route, the lead platoon encounters a crowd of demonstrators numbering well over 300.

The platoon leader immediately directs his attached Tactical PSYOP Team (TPT) to broadcast the United States' intent and approved psychological message to the crowd. The crowd begins to yell louder and move toward the platoon. Realizing that the situation is beginning to escalate and the crowd is becoming a threat to his mission, the platoon leader directs his men to place their weapons at the ready and has the lead squad chamber rounds in their weapons.

The TPT immediately escalates its message to warnings. The warnings inform the crowd that U.S. forces will use whatever force is necessary to accomplish their mission and to defend themselves. An attached interpreter is finally able to start a conversation with the apparent leader of the crowd. The leader makes it clear that his people will not clear the way. They have no intention of letting the U.S. force pass. They fear that if the Americans are evacuated, their government will collapse and they will be left fearing for their lives from the guerillas.

Twenty or so demonstrators from the crowd form a line in front of the U.S. force. They are carrying axes, machetes, and clubs. The platoon leader has been constantly reporting to his higher headquarters. Higher dispatches a UH60 with an Airborne Loud Speaker (ALS) to the scene. The UH60 hovers over the crowd. The ALS broadcasts a warning to the crowd. It is specifically directed at the armed civilians. The crowd wavers, but does not disperse.

By this time, the company commander is on site. In conjunction with the interpreter and TPT, he decides to demonstrate his company's capability. He uses a non-infrared laser pointer to place a spot on a vehicle away from civilians. He has the interpreter direct the crowd's attention toward the vehicle and orders his sniper to shoot at the laser spot. The crowd immediately relents. The commander directs his force to move forward in a crowd-control wedge formation. The force eventually makes it to the objective without a hostile situation developing and no casualties.

The increased U.S. participation in contingency operations, such as stability operations in Bosnia, noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) in Africa, and humanitarian assistance in Haiti, underscores the need to establish procedures for applying graduated military responses to situations that threaten these missions. Numerous Graduated Response Matrices (GRMs) and other products exist in the military. These products graphically portray available responses in a graduated manner. The intent is to give on-site commanders a list of options with which to control or diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand. Most threats can be eliminated without loss of life or collateral damage by effectively applying the resources available.

The Southern European Task Force Lion Brigade (SLB) developed a GRM that is beneficial to other military units facing contingency missions. It is unique because it effectively integrates non-lethal with lethal responses, all in accordance with the Rules of Engagement. This chapter addresses the requirements for a GRM, how the SLB developed its GRM, discusses each category and response, and explains how to use the GRM to conduct graduated response training.

Planning a GRM

Step 1. Identify the need for a GRM. This is done during the mission analysis portion of the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP). Missions that require soldiers and units to enforce treaties or accords, protect the lives of civilians in uncertain or hostile environments, such as NEOs, or provide large-scale humanitarian assistance demand some sort of graduated response criteria to maintain order and prevent uncertain environments from becoming hostile. Not all missions require a GRM. The decision to use a GRM requires careful consideration. Once the staff has agreed that a GRM is necessary, it requires guidance from the commander regarding the response options available. Determining the appropriate responses is based on the facts, assumptions, and constraints/limitations identified during mission analysis.

Planners (staff) must agree on the intent of the GRM. First, the GRM is foremost a training and rehearsal tool. It provides leaders with the most likely vignettes that can be incorporated into course-of-action analysis, pre-deployment training, and rehearsals. Second, the GRM becomes a handy reference during situations that require graduated responses.

Step 2. Establish a team to develop the GRM. In a recent Joint Task Force training exercise, the SLB established a GRM team. It was headed by the Fire Support Element (FSE). It also included the brigade legal officer, a psychological operations (PSYOP) representative, and a land information warfare/information operations officer. Since the GRM is designed to give commanders/leaders graduated options for dealing with both hostile and non-hostile threats to the mission, this team composition allows for target selection, application of the rules of engagement, and attack using both lethal and non-lethal means.

Step 3. Develop Targets. The FSE, in conjunction with the S2 section, developed targets for both lethal and non-lethal attack. In the case of stability operations, these targets are usually not the conventional specific point or piece of equipment on the ground. They are more situational than specific. The GRM identified situations or acts that subordinate elements could face during the mission. The example GRM in Figure 1 shows three possible situations or acts that on-site commanders could expect to encounter. From the targeting standpoint, these are groups of more specific targets.

During mission analysis, the FSO identified both non-lethal and lethal assets available to his unit. A Tactical PSYOP Team (TPT) attached to the unit is an example of a non-lethal attack asset which was not overlooked. Examples of what the FSO should look for are:
  • Riot-Control Agents.
  • Tactical PSYOP Teams (TPTs).
  • EW Assets.
  • Civil Affairs (CA) Team.
  • Information Operations (IO) Team.
  • Artillery Smoke Projectiles.
  • Aircraft (AH-64s, OH-58Ds, AC130).
  • Mortars.

The lethal assets described could very well be used in a non-lethal show of force or demonstration to diffuse a situation before it requires lethal force. The critical element of this mission analysis by the FSO was not to focus solely on lethal attack assets. In stability operations, the U.S. Army wants to prevent acts of hostility first and then be prepared, if necessary, to apply lethal force.

The FSO then used the planning guidance given at the end of the mission analysis brief and listed the responses at the top of the form, as shown in the SLB example (Figure 1). Graduated responses ranged from command presence through the show of force, a demonstration, the use of Riot Control Agents and techniques all the way to the application of lethal force using snipers, small arms, AC130, and indirect fires.

Step 4. Staff Coordination. This is the point where the rest of the GRM team came together to complete the escalation sequence for each response. PSYOP and legal representatives were critical attendees during the escalation sequencing process. In the area of psychological operations, the TPT must exploit the effects of all responses.

Example: A crowd gathers in front of U.S. forces conducting an operation. The on-site commander, in conjunction with the TPT, sends a message out to the crowd that is consistent with the Information Operations campaign. This does not work, so the unit hands out information handbills/leaflets in the native language. The TPT then exploits these messages and reinforces them with another pre-planned message. Task Force Eagle (TFE) applied this type of non-lethal response to the riot at Lukavak during Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. The TFE leadership became involved in a situation where approximately 100 personnel, many holding sticks and rocks, were blocking a convoy route. By effectively using a Civil Affairs Team, an interpreter, and the local police, the TFE leadership was able to prevent escalation and accomplish the mission. Face-to-face communication, the use of a loud speaker system, and clear message content are effective TTP in preventing situations from turning hostile and endangering the mission.

The legal officer evaluates each escalation-of-force option and graduated response to ensure it is consistent with the ROE. The GRM was designed to recommend applications of force consistent with the ROE, yet not limit the leader or individual soldier's right of self-defense. The SLB graduated response matrix shows clearly that if a hostile act occurs, lethal options will be first and foremost.

In the case of lethal responses, the commander's guidance must again be applied. In the example, lethal responses were allowed only in self-defense. Additionally, there were five conditions that had to be met before release of lethal AC130 or indirect fires. In all lethal responses, the use of the TPT and PSYOP messages to exploit the effects of the lethal attack were critical in controlling the situation and restoring it back to non-lethal or less threatening circumstances.

Step 5. Wargame. Once the types of escalations for each potential graduated response are determined and annotated, the GRM must then be war-gamed. The staff must walk through each act or situation from the on-site commander's standpoint.

Example: In the opening vignette, the SLB team ran across an issue with the use of Riot Control Agents against groups armed with firearms. During wargaming, the SLB team decided that using Riot Control Agents against a well-armed threat could incite precisely the escalation in the situation that it was trying to avoid, thereby violating the commander's guidance.

Result: The SLB GRM directed that Riot Control Agents not be employed in that particular situation.

TFE's response to the riot at Doboj produced some valuable lessons learned in this area.

Example: TFE soldiers reported that approximately 300 Muslims had gathered at a bridge near the town of Doboj. Several hundred Serbs, many armed with axes and knives, also gathered. The Serbs intended to prevent the Muslims from entering the town. The crowds became hostile, particularly the Serbs. TFE soldiers were ordered to fire warning shots into the air. These shots had little effect. Civilians in Bosnia were accustomed to weapons being fired in the air during celebrations. Shots fired safely on the ground in front of the hostile crowd (a demonstration of force) proved much more effective. Subsequently, TFE employed helicopters (rotor wash) to separate the crowds. This was a clear example of escalating non-lethal force to diffuse a potentially hostile situation.

Using the SLB method of wargaming the GRM, it is possible that firing warning shots in the air would have been deemed ineffective and an alternative response should be developed, such as firing warning shots on the ground in front of crowds. This example is not intended to critique the TFE responses but to build on lessons learned.

Step 6. Command Approval. Once the GRM has been war-gamed, it must be submitted to the commander for approval. This is the final check to ensure the GRM team has applied the commander's guidance correctly and met his intent.

Step 7. Distribution. The SOP dictates how the GRM is issued. The SLB issues the GRM as an appendix to the FS annex. The FSO briefs it during the operations order. The final product is also issued as a 5" x 8" (or smaller)-sized card. The GRM is printed on one side and the ROE on the other. This gives leaders at all levels a pocket-sized reference. Use caution when producing the GRM cards to ensure that they are readable day and night (not too small).


GRM training. Units should develop a GRM that covers any number of situations. It should include various responses and escalations for each response. The finished product should drive graduated response training at least down to squad level.

Technique: Develop Situational Training Exercises (STXs). STX lanes give leaders at all levels an opportunity to deal with situations common to contingency operations. STX lanes teach leaders how to react to different situations in a graduated, or escalated, manner.

Example: One platoon (or squad for platoon training) could serve as a hostile/non-hostile crowd, while the other two platoons deal with the situation IAW the GRM. This training should be integrated into the RAMP (Return fire with accurate fire, Anticipate attack, Measure your force, Protect only lives with deadly force) ROE training model (CALL Newsletter No. 96-6, ROE Training - An Alternative Approach, May 96). The GRM becomes the tool to rehearse each of the RAMP rules.

This training also reduces reliance on the reference card. This, in turn, allows for more rapid responses IAW the commander's guidance. The fact is that if you do not train as you are required to fight, you will suffer the consequences when the real thing occurs. For the infantry company or platoon, this type of training should be included as battle-drill training. It is truly a battle drill that troops need to be ready to execute in a contingency operation.


Proper planning and preparation lead to successful execution. Staffs at all levels must not only understand the GRM, they must also anticipate requirements within the escalated response criteria. For example, in the opening vignette, the UH60 airborne loudspeaker system would have to be launched by the SLB during different periods of the operation. Anticipating this response by making sure the aircraft and crew are ready saves time for the on-site commander.


The graduated response matrix is a valuable tool in stability and support operations. Units conducting contingency operations must be ready to employ effective non-lethal and lethal responses to control situations, maintain tactical initiative, and eliminate both hostile and non-hostile threats. Unit commanders should view this as a way to prevent uncontrolled hostile situations, save lives and, ultimately, contribute to successful mission accomplishment.

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