Breaching minefields under fire is one of the most complex and challenging tasks in combat. Task forces are unable to rapidly breach or bypass minefields under fire while suffering acceptable casualties. The casualties and time delays incurred breaching threat minefields will severely degrade decisive offensive action.
Breaching is a combined arms operation which is an integral component of any attack. Breaching an obstacle under effective fire is not normally possible because 30-60 minutes of manual breaching in these conditions normally results in catastrophic casualties. If hasty breaching is to be successful, the task force must reduce the obstacle in 7-10 minutes. If the enemy situation or assets available prevent this rapid breach, the task force conducts a deliberate breach. Neutralization of enemy fires through suppression, obscuration, and security of the far side by fire or maneuver is the prerequisite to breach. Units must mass on the enemy's weakest point to achieve the overwhelming fire superiority required for neutralization. The following countermine tactics sequentially describe how to mass on the enemy's weak point and then breach. These lessons depict how to avoid the most common pitfalls during the attack/breach.
IDENTIFY ENEMY WEAKNESS
ENSURE UNITY OF EFFORT
ISOLATE ENEMY WEAKNESS
To mass, the Commander first identifies tentative enemy weaknesses during the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB). Recon and developing the situation are the commander's two methods to verify enemy vulnerabilities. The commander concentrates his combat power by ensuring unity of effort.
Clear orders issued to a prepared, combined arms team with well trained standard operating procedures provide unity of effort. Finally, based on the situation, the commander isolates the enemy's weak point and breaches or bypasses obstacles enroute.
IDENTIFY ENEMY WEAKNESS
all Available Recon Assets
Minefields as NAI
- Disseminate Intelligence
Recon is the basis for successful attacks. Eighty-three percent of units at the NTC which recon effectively before deliberate attacks win. Ninety percent of those that don't, lose. Note: Effective recon is defined as reporting enemy positions and obstacles in sufficient detail to confirm the IPB template by H-1 (hours).
Initiate Recon Rapidly
Recon takes time and minefield recon takes much more time. Seventy-three percent of units which issued timely recon plans attacked successfully. Eighty-two percent of those that didn't, failed. Dismounted observation posts (OPs) normally provide the Commander his best combat information. These OPs must survive infiltration through the security zone, have sufficient time to safely observe the enemy, and recon obstacles. To maximize recon time:
Contact with the Enemy
Recon Assets First
Issue Recon & Surveillance Plans
- Don't "Over Mission" Recon Elements
Only the best scout platoons, those which can continually operate as three teams, successfully gain/maintain contact with the enemy. All scout platoons should be able to gain/maintain contact, but most can't. The majority of scout platoons operate with two teams. They should commence their recon after resupply instructions from the S2/S3. Don't wait for the perfect situational template or the ideal tentative plan. Rapidly issue the recon and surveillance plan to recon assets. To resupply scouts which have no organic logistics package (LOGPAC):
a scout LOGPAC from HHC assets
the scouts off company/team LOGPACS
scout resupply the HHC XO's primary mission
- Assign scouts top priority when using service station resupply
Use All Available Recon Assets
Fifty percent of units which augment the recon by the scouts, win. Sixty-six percent of those that don't, lose. Scouts can't do all the recon for a task force. Scouts can reliably recon two NAIs during most attacks. Normally the scouts confirm the assumed weak point in the enemy defense. The task force then plans backwards to mass on this point. Task forces usually have more than two NAIs for area recon and one or more axis for route recon. As required, augment the scout platoon with:
platoons (area recon)
aviation (all recon missions)
- Engineer/chemical elements (technical augmentation)
If more than one engineer platoon supports the task force, consider augmenting all platoon sized recon assets with engineers. Augmention is normally an engineer NCO or squad per recon platoon. These engineers expedite:
recon to provide info for follow-on engineers
- Breaching/bypassing minefields not under fire before the attack
If only one engineer platoon supports the task force, dispersion of engineers to the initial recon assets normally is counterproductive. Maintain engineers available to recon any detected obstacles as part of the attack. These focused/massed engineers then provide the commander with crucial information regarding whether to breach or bypass.
Include Minefields as NAI
Assume all avenues of approach are mined until recon determines otherwise. Even then, remotely delivered threat mines can block an avenue after recon. Wargaming identifies which potential minefield locations decisively affect the scheme of maneuver. These few areas (e.g., a pass) become NAI requiring constant observation. Minefield recon is too resource intensive and time consuming to be used everywhere.
Provide Redundant Commo
Dedicate redundant communications to all recon assets. Task forces commonly lose communications with recon assets. Maintain comm with:
command post (CP)
- Company team assigned the recon task
Disseminate intelligence using"eavesdrop" and intelligence updates. Subordinates monitor (eavesdrop) the scout's spot reports to the CP. The S2 updates the task force one or two hours prior to movement.
Actions On Contact
- Develop the Situation
On contact with enemy fire or obstacles, the unit deploys in anticipation of heavy enemy fires. The destruction of a vehicle or detection/detonation of a mine does not indicate that the unit encountered a minefield or enemy position. Quite possibly, the unit encountered a single nuisance mine.
Report the initial event just as it happens. Report the presence of a minefield only after verifying the presence of several mines. If enemy fire is heavy, units may be incapable of verifying the presence of a minefield.
Develop the Situation
The lead element deploys in accordance with battle drills and develops the situation. Enemy vehicles, obstacles, and covered/concealed routes are priority intelligence requirements (PIR). The vehicles and protective obstacles define the enemy position.
Tactical obstacles outline the fire sack. Covered/concealed routes provide bypasses and safe avenues to assault and overwatch positions. The situation development is a battle for information.
To develop the situation, units must maintain control, mutual support, and movement. Task forces fail to develop the situation because they:
on contact (solution move)
blindly into the kill zone (solution-control)
- Maneuver units on separate axes defeated in detail (solution mutual support)
ENSURE UNITY OF EFFORT
Drill Breach Procedures
Combined Arms Teamwork
all Soldiers/Units to Manually Breach
- Specify Responsibilities
- Designate assault/breach/support forces
- March Order IAW METT-T
Develop Combined Arms Teamwork
Only well drilled combined arms teams successfully breach. The breach underfire is an incredibly complex operation which stresses engineers and fire support assets to their limit. Each part of the combined arms team must understand and perform their role to avoid catastrophic loss of the breach force. Fully trained combined arms teams understand how to rapidly organize and prepare to breach. These units can then rapidly modify their standard operating procedures to fit the actual situation because preparation and organization is rapid and the members of the combined arms team understands their roles.
Push Logistics Forward
Push logistics forward in preparation for the massive materiel consumption during the breach. Maintaining a 1000 meter smoke screen (the width of a strongpoint) for a 30 minute manual breach using heavy mortar white phosphorus consumes 500 rounds under lapse conditions. The mortar platoon only carries 528 rounds of all types. Depending on the situation, reducing a lane through a minefield takes from 5 minutes to 8 hours. Note: Units normally can't conduct extended (8 hour) breaches with probes under fire. Units normally breach with probes before the attack or during clearance operations.
Plan employing at least six mine clearing line charges (picnics) to breach the required minimum of two lanes per obstacle. Under perfect conditions, a MICLIC breaches 100 meters. A threat mixed minefield is 60-270 or more meters deep. Plan employing a minimum of two MICLICs per lane and have a third ready if the minefield depth exceeds 150-180 meters or if one of the other two is destroyed/ineffective. Note: Mechanized engineer companies have two MICLICs authorized with a pending change to four MICLICs per company. Normal planning calls for each MICLIC to have two reload kits.
To prepare for materiel consumption:
the breaching materiel required in unit SOPs
how to transport/distribute the materiel
forward this materiel from higher echelons
- Request throughput of additional required materiel to lower echelons
Push Engineers Forward
Push engineers rapidly forward to mass and synchronize at the decisive point. Normally the most crucial engineer tasks are forward where minefields are under fire or where nuisance minefields disrupt main body movement. Changing a task organization is complex and time consuming, so make the change early to allow time for synchronization. Rapidly push engineers forward to the:
guard (during movement)
force(s) (during the breach)
- Recon forces (as practicable)
An advance guard prevents premature deployment of the main body. The advance guard must rapidly breach/bypass and report obstacles not under fire. Otherwise, nuisance minefields will disrupt the main body's movement. A company team sized advance guard attempts to breach/bypass minefields under fire. Normally it lacks the firepower to breach/bypass on its own.
The breach force has engineers or other breaching assets to accomplish the task. Breaching under fire is the most difficult breaching task and must have the maximum number of engineers and breaching assets available.
Recon forces may need some engineers to detect, recon, and bypass minefields. Recon forces primarily employ engineers to report obstacle characteristics to the follow-on breach force. Recon forces require minimal engineer support since the bypass needs only be sufficient to allow the recon force through. Division/Brigade are responsible to push enginers/logistics forward if this is to happen.
Train all Soldiers/Units to Manually Breach
Engineers will not be available to units in many situations. Implicit with massing engineers at the decisive point is economy of force elsewhere. Don't rely on or wait for engineers to breach. Train all soldiers to manually breach. Additionally, many forces don't need engineers and breaching assets. These forces normally breach/bypass minefields which are not under fire. Manual breaching with ropes, probes, and grapnels is adequate for this situation. Since all separate elements can encounter minefields, train all soldiers and units to:
mines visually and by probing
minefields with ropes/grapnels
- Mark mines/minefields
Organize to Breach. Designate:
"Those forces charged with passing through a breach in an enemy fortified position or strongpoint and seizing an objective or completing destruction of the enemy." (FM 101-5-1) These forces tend to be infantry heavy.
"During an attack of an enemy fortified positions or strongpoint, the breaching forces are those elements charged with breaching obstacles along an avenue of approach. Breaching forces clear enemy trenches, bunkers, and foxholes, and create and hold open a breach in the enemy position." (FM 101-5-1) These forces tend to have the majority of the mechanized engineers.
"Those forces charged with providing intense direct overwatching fires to the assault and breach forces." (FM 101-5-1)These forces tend to be tank/TOW heavy. The majority of the units should be support forces to ensure neutralization of enemy fires.
Designating breach, assault, and support forces is not enough. The course of action must specify who is responsible to achieve what. For example:
selects the breach site
controls all fires - e.g. all support forces and fire support assets
lifts and shifts fires - the breach force, assault force, or task force commander
support force suppresses what position(s) and applicable restrictive fire measures
adjusts and executes fire support to include smoke
- Who confirms/requests counter fire
March Order IAW METT-T
The order of march for breach, support, and assault forces depends on the situation:
|1. Enemy contact unlikely||Breach||Support||Assault|
|2. Contact likely, dismounted avenue||Assault||Support||Breach|
|3. Contact likely, mounted avenue||Support||Breach||Assault|
Situation 1 -- Enemy Contact Unlikely
A road march between assembly areas is an example of Situation 1. Nuisance minefields are a primary threat to movement. Since contact is unlikely, the minefield is less likely to be covered by fire. The breach force immediately breaches or bypasses without the massive covering fire to the support force or having the far side secured by infantry assault.
If contact is likely, any minefield encountered will probably be covered by fire. Breach assets are too scarce and vulnerable to lead and suffer attrition during situation development.
Situation 2 -- Contact Likely, Dismounted Avenue
In close terrain or on dismounted avenues, a dismounted infantry (assault) force leads if contact is likely. The infantry protects the force. The dismounted infantry bypass obstacles to mounted movement. The support force follows to support the infantry assault by fire as the situation is developed. The breach force trails and breaches the minefield after the far side is secured.
Situation 3 -- Contact Likely, Mounted Avenue
In open terrain on mounted avenues, an armored (support) force leads when contact is likely. The support force protects the infantry and engineers. The support force makes contact, develops the situation, and establishes a base of fire. The breach force then reduces the lane(s). Finally, the assault force moves mounted to its assault position and assaults to secure the far side.
Do not have the breach force lead with engineers. In all cases the assault force organizes to breach obstacles to dismounted movement. The mortars move behind the lead elements or are in position to provide immediate fires. The mortars use 5 to 10 minutes to deploy off the route (axis) and set up to fire.
Plan And Issue A Clear/Complete Order
the Courses of Action
- Use briefbacks
An order must be clear, executable, and accomplish the mission. Too often each participant understands the order differently. Diverse backgrounds, to include branch parochialism, present a challenge to the commander issuing clear orders. Too often the order does not address the strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, or limitations of tasked units. For example, assuming that the chemical smoke platoon will obsucre is a recipe for failure. The platoon's effectiveness depends on many conditions such as weather. Additionally, assign units clear and specific responsibilities. This ensures that all tasks are accomplished. Backwards planning, wargaming, briefbacks, and rehearsals create clear and executable orders which accomplish the mission.
Employ Backwards Planning
Employ backwards planning to subordinate the breach and other intermediate tasks to the unit mission. The objective of an attack is to destroy the enemy or seize terrain, not to breach an obstacle. Too often, planning does not include actions on the objective: assault, consolidation, and reorganization. First define actions on the objective. From this movement to the objective, to include breaching, flow logically. Employ backwards planning and focus on the mission.
Wargame the Courses of Action
Normally, the commander wargames with his XO, S2, S3, S1/4, FSO/FSCOORD, engineer, and air defense officer (and aviation LNO/commander if applicable). The wargame highlights the capabilities and limitations of the different arms. Each staff member presents how the different arms can support each phase. They explain the advantages and disadvantages of each type of support. This ensures unity of effort and supports the chosen course of action. The wargame clarifies the concept of operation (the chosen course of action) to the commander and his staff.
While backwards planning and wargamig ensure clarity and the ability to execute at the staff level, backbriefs and rehearsals accomplish the same with subordinates. Immediately after the commander issues the order, his subordinates backbrief the commander on their tentative concepts of operation. If these are in line with the commander's intent, his subordinates understand the plan. If not, the commander clarifies the plan.
Prepare To Execute
- Rehearse Countermine Drills
- Conduct a Combined Arms Rehearsal
First, prepare and inspect equipment. This includes preparing partial ring mains for manual breaching. Next, rehearse the individual, squad, and platoon tasks to detect, recon, reduce, proof, and mark minefields. Engineers consistently prepare this part well.
The commander, staff, and subordinate commanders rehearse. At task force level this usually consists of:
- A walk through of the concept ofoperation where commanders and possiblyplatoon leaders and fire support officerrepresent their element.
- A "map" exercise where subordinates move unit markers (rocks etc).
This rehearsal portrays the plan visually and confirms that at a given phase subordinates are in position to execute their tasks. Time permitting, the company teams also rehearse.
ISOLATE ENEMY WEAKNESS with:
"Isolate the part of the enemy's defense system to be attacked from the supporting fires of other parts of his defenses so that the task force's efforts can be concentrated against it. Actions taken to isolate the enemy position are:
terrain to avoid enemy fires and to exploit gaps in his defenses.
smoke to cover movement.
artillery and mortars to suppress adjacent enemy positions (to include using
- Attack adjacent positions by direct fire or by maneuver" (FM 71-2 J)
and Masses Fires On It
In the example above:
- Task force conducted a hasty attack
- Enemy fire stopped recon before they identified the protective obstacle on the left.
- Of the three tentatively identified platoons, the left platoon appeared to be the enemy's weak point.
- The commander assumed (correctly) that the breach force would encounter a protective obstacle before breaching the motorized rifle platoon strongpoint.
- Since the protective obstacle was within RPG and small arms range of the strongpoint, there would probably be insufficient time to find a bypass.
Table of Contents
Countermine Tactics, Part 2
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