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Fires in the Close Fight Newsletter

Cracking the Code with Commander's Guidance for Fire Support

by LTC Johnson, 2-15 Field Artillery Regiment


In April of 2001, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment deployed to the country of Cortina to conduct, what turned out to be, a very successful and synchronized fight with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from 10th Mountain Division. Our success in the defense began with a clear vision from the brigade commander that translated into essential fire support tasks (EFSTs) that met his intent. The following is a brief summarized portion of the 2nd Brigade Commander, 10th Mountain Division (LI), Commander’s guidance for the defense:

“………I want to establish a robust and flexible security zone that will destroy division and brigade recon in sector and disrupt 1st echelon dismounts and 2nd echelon mechanized forces. I want to disrupt the enemy’s attack early and continuously, and protect our defensive intentions and preparations. I want to deny key decisive cross-mobility corridors in sector and mass all available combat power on his main effort……”

The result of this guidance drove our course of action development (COA) to include an obstacle plan in the security zone with several scatterable mines (SCATMINES), including an ADAM/RAAMS minefield. Once the OPFOR had “bounced” off one SCATMINE, causing him to mass his forces on one of the cross-mobility corridors in sector, he found himself in the middle of the ADAM/RAAMS minefield. This minefield stopped the OPFOR main effort long enough for the “Commando Brigade” to mass indirect fires and close air support (CAS) on his armored/mechanized main effort. This rapid destruction of the OPFOR main effort resulted in a quick, decisive vistory for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT).


The intent of this article is to generate thought and offer some tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) to determine when and how the Brigade Fire Support Officer (FSO) or the Field Artillery Battalion Commander (FSCOORD) recommends fires guidance to the Brigade Commander. The “when” is pretty easy to answer. We know the commander develops his guidance to all the battlefield operating system (BOS) elements during mission analysis and recommendations to his initial guidance should occur during this time. After several brigade and division level exercises, all under time constrained conditions, we found this task was not as easy as it appears. After receiving the division order, there was little time to conduct our own mission analysis for fire support. The Brigade staff was giving the mission analysis briefing and received the commander’s guidance without having the time to give him our recommendations. After realizing the potential problems this could cause in future situations, we combined our experience, current doctrinal publications, and a simple idea that turned out to have a tremendous impact on our success on the battlefield. FM 101-5, Staff Organizations and Operations, Appendix B and FM 6-71, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Fire Support for the Combined Arms Commander give some great guidelines as to what type of guidance the commander can consider. The actual key is to tailor and package the information to best suit the Commander and give it to him in a timely fashion.

In the commander's guidance referenced above, how "to deny decisive cross-mobility corridors in sector and mass all available combat power on his main effort..." was clearly left to the fire supporters. After being told the "what and why" by the commander, it is our job to work the rest of the details. In one of our recommended EFSTs presented at the mission analysis briefing, we did in fact recommend firing an ADAM/RAAM minefield to deny key cross-mobility corridors. More importantly we were able to give the commander our recommended guidance for fire support before the mission analysis brief. How did we do this and in what format? There are many techniques for this, and I will mention three here: (1) Narrative form, much like you would write a concept for fires paragraph, (2) EFST format, including “method and effect,” and (3) Task and purpose format, which is what we chose to use. Of course the technique chosen by the Brigade FSO or FSCOORD to recommend information to the commander is driven by what works best for that commander. The 2nd BCT uses task and purpose almost exclusively in their instructions to subordinates, so this was a logical choice for us.


Figure 1 1

NOTE: These tasks are not all encompassing. They are only suggestions. Each unit must determine its own generic guidance based on unit missions, commanders, personalities, and TACSOPs


Before deploying to the JRTC, the Brigade FSO, FA Battalion S-3, FA Battalion XO and FSCOORD, developed a “menu” of generic task and purpose items for various tactical situations. The tactical situations we covered were: entry operations, movement to contact (search & attack), deliberate attack, military operations in urban terrain (MOUT), and defense. This list was not intended to be an all-encompassing list, but rather a tool for quick reference when time is at a premium and the fatigue factor sets in. The menu for the defense was as follows:

T: Position fire support assets forward in TF sectors.
P: In order to (IOT) range beyond BDE screen in support of BDE counter-recon flight.

T: Provide proactive and reactive counterfire.
P: IOT prevent RAG and DAG from disrupting our defense and protect the force.

T: Deliver ADAM/RAAM.
P: Delay and separate echelons.
P(2): Assist in establishing engagement areas (EAs) for joint air attack team.

T: Plan smoke during our defensive preparations.
P: IOT prevent enemy recon success.

T: Plan and execute smoke during our counterattack.
P: IOT deceive the enemy as to our location.

T: Incorporate precision guidance munitions (PGMs).
P: IOT destroy high payoff targets (HPTs).

T: Plan CAS in support of EAs.
P: IOT mass at critical points.

T: Jam command & control nets/FS nets
P: IOT disrupt coordination of his offensive movement.

Given this menu for the defense, the FSCOORD was able to very quickly give the commander some recommendations for his fire support guidance before the commander began his own analysis of the mission. We recommended three: (1) Deliver ADAM/RAAM (2) Provide proactive and reactive counterfire and (3) Destroy division & brigade reconnaissance and 1st echelon elements and disrupt 2nd echelon elements. Consequently, when the commander saw the recommended EFSTs in the mission analysis briefing, it confirmed what the FSCOORD has already discussed with him and he immediately approved those as part of his initial guidance. What appears to be a very obvious and simple concept proved to be a key factor in facilitating our planning and in the unprecedented success of the "Commando Brigade" in halting, then destroying the OPFOR main effort in our security zone.

The following key points summarize our experience:

a. Time is of the essence between receipt of commander’s guidance and recommended fires guidance to the commander.

b. Choose a technique for recommended fires guidance that works best for the maneuver commander.

c. Develop a template or menu for your chosen technique that serves as a quick reference in the implementation of that technique.

d. Make initial fires recommendations to the commander during mission analysis and receive early approval.

e. Further develop those initial recommendations to become recommended EFSTs in the mission analysis briefing.

Please keep in mind that there are several resources for guidance for fires, but little instruction. This is because guidance for fires is almost entirely situationally dependent upon the scenario, the maneuver commander’s desires and the relationship between the FSCOORD/FSO and maneuver commander. The commander’s guidance rests to a large degree on the FSCOORD/FSO’s ability to weave all of his resources and experience into a single, simple approach that works for the brigade commander. We found our approach to be essential to our fire support success with the 2nd Commando Brigade.


1MAJ Alvin W. Peterson, Jr., USMC and MAJ D. Wayne Andrews, FA, “Combined Arms Commander’s Guidance for Fires,” Field Artillery Journal ( May-June 2000), p. 27.

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