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Fires in the Close Fight Newsletter

Battalion Task Force Fire Support Rehearsals

by MAJ Jeff O’Neil and MAJ Lee Desjardins, FS Division JRTC

Maneuver battalion fire support rehearsals synchronize the battalion’s fire support plan with its scheme of maneuver. The fire support rehearsal also ensures that delivery assets are synchronized and prepared to support the battalion with timely and accurate fires.

To many units arriving at the JRTC, fire support rehearsals are unexplored territory. They have never actually rehearsed their fire support plan at home station and are hardly prepared to do so during their rotation. Their natural tendency is to avoid or minimize the requirement if at all possible This tendency to avoid rehearsals has a negative impact on the unit's execution of the fire support mission. Misunderstandings over who is shooting on specific targets, what is being fired on targets, or when fires are to be initiated are common. The same holds true on location of targets, delivery assets, how fires support the scheme of maneuver, and the overall purpose of fires. What it all boils down to are late and ineffective fires for the maneuver battalion task force.

The battalion fire support officer (FSO) should plan on conducting a tactical fire support rehearsal on a terrain model and a technical rehearsal conducted via FM on the battalion mortar net or fire support net. The tactical rehearsal should include the battalion FSO, FSNCO, company FSOs, scout platoon leader or platoon sergeant, a representative from the anti-tank platoon or company, mortar platoon leader, battalion ALO, and attached COLT. If available, platoon FOs should attend as well. Other members of the maneuver battalion who can significantly contribute to the fire support rehearsal are the BN CDR, S3 or Assistant S3, S2, SIGO, and company commanders. The most effective time to hold the battalion tactical fire support rehearsal is approximately one hour prior to the battalion maneuver rehearsal. In a time constrained environment, the FSO may opt to rehearse only fires for critical events rather than throughout the entire operation, conduct the fire support rehearsal concurrently with the maneuver tactical rehearsal, or conduct an FM tactical rehearsal. These are not the best methods, but when time is short an abbreviated rehearsal beats no rehearsal.

The operative word in rehearsal is rehearse the fire support plan, not just brief it. The battalion FSO initially addresses the events to be rehearsed, briefing sequence, and the timeline of the rehearsal. The FSO conducts the rehearsal by phase of the operation. If possible the battalion S2 briefs the enemy situation including enemy action and reaction. The battalion FSO then provides the scheme of maneuver, essential fire support tasks by phase, and the “big picture” of all fire support assets and their availability to the brigade and battalion. The first element that can expect contact begins the rehearsal. In most cases that means the scouts. Then the main and supporting efforts add their parts. All participants should use the “actions, reports, orders” format such as “Action I will take…; I will report…; or I will order…" as a means of talking through the rehearsal.

Company FSOs must rehearse planned targets as part of their own unit’s scheme of maneuver. They also practice fires on targets of opportunity derived from contingencies and enemy reactions, introduced as "what ifs" by the BN FSO or BN FSNCO. The mortar platoon leader responds with the standard fire order and expected traffic to be heard on the battalion mortar net. The PLOT-CR (purpose, location, observers, trigger, communications and rehearsal) format is the best tool for company FSOs and platoon FOs rehearsing planned targets. The battalion FSO ensures the rehearsal does not evolve into a back brief. FSOs and FOs discuss and rehearse their control options, including clearance of fires procedures and final checks on all no fire areas (NFAs) and restricted fire areas (RFAs). The battalion FSO or FSNCO responds with the field artillery fire order call signs, and the exchange expected on the battalion OF net. The battalion FSO/FSNCO addresses naval surface fires and close air support with the battalion ALO. The battalion FSNCO conducts rehearsals in the absence of the FSO. The end result of the tactical rehearsal is a thorough understanding of the battalion’s fire support plan by those responsible for executing the plan, both observers and shooters. The fire supporters should know what to do to execute fires in case the plan changes or the battalion undertakes heavy casualties.

A technical rehearsal via FM ensures that the commo structure works and that delivery assets compute technical solutions to ensure fire support coverage. It also confirms that observers responsible for targets are familiar with call-for-fire procedures and radio procedures. Observers rehearse planned targets and targets of opportunity based on contingencies expected during the upcoming operation. The BN FSO or BN FSNCO again introduces targets of opportunity as “what ifs” as during the tactical rehearsal. The battalion mortars compute data and rehearse planned targets to ensure that the mortars will be in the proper location and azimuth of fire to support battalion targets. They check for sufficient ammunition and provide the FSOs with the expected response time for planned targets. The end result of the technical rehearsal is that sensor to shooter links are synchronized to support the battalion with fires. The technical rehearsal is the last opportunity to focus the battalion’s fire supporters.

Supporting the maneuver battalion with timely and accurate fires demands that battalion fire support rehearsals take place. Agendas and formats included in the unit’s SOP should be promulgated at home station. Training must occur at every opportunity, not only at the option of the fire supporter. Units can train on fire support rehearsals in garrison and the field. Arrival at the JRTC or a real-world theatre of operations is the wrong time to begin training on the “how-to” of fire support rehearsals.

(Tactical Fire Support Rehearsal)

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