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Setting the Conditions for the Breach

by MAJ Dennis McNulty, MANSCEN Battle Laboratory

Chapter 3:  Terrain Analysis Considerations
Table of Contents
Chapter 5:  Organization for the Breach

"...when the conditions are set, I will call the breach force forward to reduce and mark two lanes through the obstacles and then rapidly pass the assault force through...."

"...and here's where the obstacle will be. That is where we will do the SOSR thing."


The quotes above, or similar ones, are commonly heard at the National Training Center during combined arms rock drills when preparing for offensive operations that will likely include the breaching of obstacles. "...when the conditions are set....," the first five words of the first quote, convey an extraordinary amount of information and should invoke a common mental picture to all staff and subordinate commanders. More often than not, these words have different meanings to each staff member and should prompt more questions than they answer. What exactly are these conditions? How will we know when we have achieved them? Who decides when the conditions are set? What information does the commander need to make the decision to commit the breach force, and how will we get it to him?

Let's first emphasize the point that the ultimate gauge of success for any offensive operation is not whether you breach through enemy obstacles, but rather if you accomplish your assigned mission. But a critical sub-task is being able to establish the conditions that allow a force to move through, over, or around an obstacle without impeding its momentum or suffering undue losses. This chapter will attempt to more thoroughly define the conditions that need to be established before a breach is attempted. By thoroughly defining these conditions, the commander assists his staff and subordinate leaders in identifying their specific actions in support of the operation. The end result should be a plan that is synchronized, with defined criteria for each of the breaching fundamentals as well as a common intent among all staff members.

Defining the Conditions

The conditions for a successful breach, the ones to which the commander refers in the rock-drill briefs, amounts to the proper application and synchronization of the breaching fundamentals of the first three breaching fundamentals. SOSRA is the acronym that outlines the breaching fundamentals to Suppress, Obscure, Secure, Reduce, and then Assault through an obstacle onto the objective. "...when the conditions are set...." in the opening quote is actually a reference to the completion of the first three fundamentals of SOSRA. Note that the breach force's task to reduce two lanes through the obstacle and its purpose to rapidly pass the assault force are specifically stated. But what about the criteria defining the other elements of SOSRA? Let us examine the first three of these elements in detail and suggest ways that the commander may thoroughly convey his intent for a breach to the staff. The following table from FM 3-34.2 provides a good framework for discussing the relationship and responsibilities of the breaching organizations and the breaching fundamentals.

Breaching OrganizationBreaching FundamentalsResponsibilities
Support ForceSuppress.
  • Suppress enemy direct fire systems covering the reduction area.
  • Control obscuring smoke.
  • Prevent enemy forces from repositioning or counterattacking to place direct fires on the breach force.
  • Breach Force
  • Suppress (provides additional suppression.
  • Obscure (provides additional obscuration in the reduction area).
  • Secure (provides local security).
  • Reduce.
  • Create and mark the necessary lanes in an obstacle.
  • Secure the near side and far side of an obstacle.
  • Defeat forces that can place immediate direct fires on the reduction area.
  • Report the lane status/location.
  • Assault ForceSuppress (if necessary).
  • Destroy the enemy on the far side of an obstacle that is capable of placing direct fires on the reduction area.
  • Assist the support force with suppression if the enemy is not effectively suppressed.
  • Be prepared to breach follow-on and/or protective obstacles after passing through the reduction area.
  • Table 1. Relationship Between Breaching Organization and Breaching Fundamentals.


    Suppression of direct fire forces at the breach site is the primary task of the support force. Suppression is defined in FM 3-34.2 as "a tactical task used to employ direct or indirect fires or an electronic attack on enemy personnel, weapons, or equipment to prevent or degrade enemy fires and observation of friendly forces. The purpose of suppression during breaching operations is to protect forces reducing and maneuvering through an obstacle." The support force will control fires, both direct and indirect, utilizing fire control measures to synchronize other actions within the breach area. Examples of commonly used control measures are: SBF (support by fire) position, ABF (attack by fire) position, RFL (restrictive fire line), PL (phase line), CFZ (critical friendly zone), fire support targets and linear targets. Although the support force has the primary responsibility for suppression, the breach force should also be able to provide additional suppression against any enemy that the support force cannot effectively suppress. In addition, the assault force may also be called upon to assist in the suppression mission, but should only be used if the support and breach force cannot adequately suppress the enemy.

    The definition of suppression implies that the locations and composition of all enemy units that can disrupt the breaching operation are known. Of course this is seldom the case, especially during the initial planning phases of an operation. The staff can begin, however, by conducting a thorough IPB. The concepts discussed in Chapter 3 on terrain considerations and templating enemy positions and obstacles drive the event template and the R&S plan. As the enemy COA is confirmed, our plan should also be refined in terms of targets and suppression. As simplistic as this concept is, it gives the staff the framework for considering and planning the overall suppression actions required. It also allows the staff to consider how obscuration and security relate to, and assist in, the overall breaching operation. When staffs view setting the condition of suppression in this manner, they realize that suppression is an integration of several actions as opposed to a single overarching event. By breaking the suppression down in this fashion, more thoroughly integrated and synchronized plans may be established.

    Suppression of Direct-Fire Forces

    Achieving the breach tenet of mass is critical when suppressing the direct-fire weapons systems of the enemy. Although the purpose of suppression is to prevent or degrade enemy fires, the real intent is to kill enemy forces, rather than just driving them into hide positions. Forces driven into hide positions eventually come out and must be dealt with by the Assault Force. Suppressive fires must include the full range of weapons, from direct and indirect fire weapons to electronic countermeasures. Staffs must not be limited to planning for just those assets that are assigned, attached, or under the operational control of their particular echelon. They must be able to integrate direct-support (DS) and general-support (GS) assets as well. The staff must consider the use of attack aviation, close air support (CAS) and MLRS as well as Air Defense Artillery coverage to prevent interference with breaching forces. Electronic jamming assets must be focused on disrupting critical command and control nets to prevent the enemy from synchronizing and reinforcing his defense. Killing the enemy may seem obvious, but the point is made because commanders often assign the task of "providing suppressive fires" to a unit occupying a SBF position, but do not establish a goal to gauge the effectiveness of the suppression. The obvious goal is the total destruction of all enemy forces, and this is acceptable for an endstate, but it may not be realistic for gauging the effectiveness of suppression when deciding whether to commit the breach force to the obstacle. The commanders must set target BDA for the battle position that he wants to isolate and ensure that there is a reporting system in place that will notify him when this target BDA has been reached. Of course, common sense would dictate that subordinate commanders do not stop engaging when the target BDA is reached, but rather the target BDA is only in place to allow the commander to gage the pace and effects of the desired suppression. The commander relies on his direct observations and spot reports from air defense radars, and electronic jamming systems to help him substantiate the level of suppression that his forces are achieving on the enemy direct fire assets.

    Suppression of Indirect-Fire Forces

    Suppression of the enemy occupying the battle positions is not the only suppression that has to be considered. The staff must also consider artillery units which can support the enemy defense. These enemy forces must be targeted as well. Available CAS, MLRS and cannon artillery, and attack aviation assets can assist in this suppression. The timing of attacks on indirect fire forces is crucial. Ideally, the attacks should occur just prior to when friendly forces make contact with the enemy defenses so those which are not destroyed are forced to displace and are less likely to be able to effect the breaching operation. Designation of a critical friendly zone (CFZ) and integration of it into the counter-battery fire planning is perhaps the most important action that the unit can take to keep indirect fires from interfering with the breach. Enemy indirect fires landing inside a designated CFZ will automatically cue counter-battery fires. Once activated, the radar is susceptible to being acquired and targeted by enemy forces. Therefore, the synchronization of when to activate it, how long to leave it active, and when to displace it is critical. Suppression should be achieved prior to activating the radar and it should displace as soon as the breach is finished. Once it displaces, the commander must decide whether to continue the radar on the breach site or to use it for the assault force.

    The Role of Intelligence

    Elaboration on a critical point in regard to suppression is required. This point is the absolute critical role that intelligence plays. All other breaching tenets hinge on the amount and quality of information collected on the location and composition of enemy forces and the composition and orientation of obstacles. Conducting a thorough IPB and templating positions and obstacles are important, but only provide a starting point to focus reconnaissance assets. To target effective friendly fires, and thus prevent effective enemy fires, unit positions must be confirmed. There is little doubt then why intelligence is the first tenet of breaching operations and has to be the S-2's priority when preparing for breaching operations. Knowing accurate unit locations not only applies to the enemy units occupying the battle positions but also is required for supporting artillery units and reserve units as well. With the evolution of the tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), and the emerging capabilities for providing sophisticated and timely imagery to lower echelons, units may soon find themselves in a position to request and receive timely intelligence required for their operations. When enemy unit locations are known, the tenet of mass is much more likely to be achieved. Instead of committing assets toward suspected targets, all assets can be committed toward confirmed targets.

    In restrictive terrain, reconnaissance assets should be prepared to reconnoiter different types of obstacles than normally encountered open terrain. Because of the restrictive nature of the terrain, sequencing of vehicles can be crutial. Reconnaissance assets used to collect OBSTINTEL must be able to report back and recommend reduction methods and sequencing of reduction assets to be used by the breach force commander when reducing the obstacle.

    Achieving the Conditions for Suppression

    So what can a commander do to focus his staff on achieving the conditions of suppression? First, he should specify detailed priority intelligence requirements (PIRs). PIRs in preparation for breaching must be specific. Eight-digit grids for specific fighting positions and the type of systems/vehicles occupying them are required. Obstacle start and end points and specific obstacle composition and orientation are required so that the S-2 and engineer can conduct line-of-sight analysis to determine the most advantageous point at which to breach. (See Chapter 3.) Second, the commander's intent statement should include the intent and priority for all available support assets to include allocated CAS, ATK Aviation, and artillery fires. If there are EW assets assigned or in support, specific command and control nodes that the commander wants to target should be specified. Additionally, the commander should have his staff establish BDA goals for the BP to be isolated as well as for supporting artillery groups and ensure that there is a means of receiving reports for enemy BDA.


    Obscuration is defined as the hampering of enemy observation and target acquisition and concealment of friendly activities and movement. Smoke is employed to achieve two major effects during breaching operations. One effect is to provide obscuration. Obscuration smoke is employed on or near the enemy positions to minimize the effectiveness of their target acquisition systems and guidance systems. The support force normally controls obscuration smoke during a breaching operation. The other effect of smoke is to provide a screen behind which friendly forces can assemble or move without being detected. Screening smoke is employed in the breaching area or in between the breaching area and the enemy positions to conceal the movement and activities of the support, breach and assault breach forces. Smoke is used to achieve both of these effects during breaching operations. Smoke employed on the battlefield, however, is always a double-edged sword. It must be carefully planned to provide maximum degradation of enemy observation and fires, yet not significantly degrade or mask friendly fires and command and control.

    Through the commander's intent, the staff can recommend the best asset and task organization to meet the desired effect of the obscuration. The staff must keep the intent in mind, as the plan is refined/changed. Once on the ground, if the breach site is moved, if the wind changes direction, or enemy forces are identified outside the templated area, targets may need to be adjusted to stay within the commander's intent. Important breach obscurations must have redundant assets available to achieve the commander's intent as the weather conditions change. Position the smoke control point where the smoke unit leader can observe the target and communicate with the supported unit. That allows maximum flexibility for the leader/commander to adjust smoke. Focusing on these aspects is the responsibility of the S-3, S-2, engineer, the support force commander, and the breach force commander.

    Determining when the condition of obscuration is set is somewhat of a subjective call. The commander requires assessments from various vantage points on the battlefield. The support force commander is normally called upon to assess if smoke is achieving the proper obscuration effect and the breach force commander normally assesses if smoke is achieving the desired screening effect. Both subordinate commanders must have a means of collecting various spot reports from various vantage points. It is important that specific individuals be tasked to provide these reports. The subordinates tasked with making these assessments must also have the ability to adjust the smoke to meet the commander's intent. When smoke is not meeting the commander's intent, patience is required to allow time for the smoke to be adjusted.


    Securing the breach site is taking the necessary actions to prevent the enemy from interfering with the reduction operations or subsequent passing of forces through the lanes. Securing the reduction area is the responsibility of the breach force. Security actions are targeted against outposts, fighting positions, overwatching elements as well as counterattacking forces. There are two techniques for securing obstacles mentioned in FM 3-34.2. The first method is securing by fires. This method is usually used when breaching tactical obstacles. If the terrain permits, and if suppressive fires are effective, this technique may be as simple as assigning the mission of directly over-watching the breaching force as it reduces the obstacle to provide immediate suppressive fires as required. The second method of securing the breach site is securing by force. This technique is used if the terrain is not conducive to securing by fires or if there is a high risk of interference from dismounted troops. Hence, securing by force is usually required when breaching obstacles in restrictive terrain and is common when breaching protective obstacles. This method involves physically occupying positions in close proximity to the obstacle to provide close-in protection for the breach force.

    In addition, flank security must be considered. Probable counterattack routes and exposed flanks must be covered. Within the reduction area, dismounted or mounted forces may execute this. When using dismounted troops for local security, you must always consider the danger posed by the breach asset being used. All dismounts are in danger when close to the breach site, regardless of asset used to breach, but when using the MICLIC, personnel are at a greater risk from the blast and debris and must be provided protection. To provide adequate protection, they may have to be given time to move to another area, which should be included in the synchronization. Use of terrain for the protection of dismounted forces will reduce the time factor. In addition, aviation may also be used as flank protection, which has the capability of identifying targets much earlier than ground forces. Although not the focus of this paper, the use of situational obstacles and their subsequent cover by fire should be considered as part of flank protection.

    The commander can convey a clear intent for security by stating the technique by which he chooses to secure the obstacle and by assigning flank security missions to subordinate elements. In addition, the commander should dedicate available assets to track the movement of counterattack forces, which could ultimately interfere with the breach.


    In the end, judging when the conditions are set still boils down to the commander's judgement based on his experience and vision as to the effectiveness of the suppression, obscuration and security actions. There is little doubt that today's commanders have a mental picture of what these conditions are and will recognize when they are being met. It is equally important, however, that the staff and subordinate commanders share this mental picture. When there is a unity of purpose and intent, staffs and subordinate commanders will be in a position to thoroughly plan breaching operations and anticipate the pertinent information that the commander will need to make decisions. The trouble is that it takes tactical patience to establish and maintain the conditions. Units that lack this tactical patience and a clearly defined set of conditions will have difficulty in achieving the conditions, generally leading to piecemeal employment of forces and destruction of combat power.

    Chapter 3:  Terrain Analysis Considerations
    Table of Contents
    Chapter 5:  Organization for the Breach

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