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by Captain Dennis Hatcher


PICTURE THIS: A squad of night fighters are sitting with their backs against the gently falling golden Saudi Arabian sun. They are staring anxiously at the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter that will take them into striking distance of an Iraqi outpost. Sand is piled up in small dunes around the aircraft's wheels. Thin layers of gently swirling dust and grit have accumulated around the engine compartment, on the rotor head and in the rocket tubes . . . stark reminders of this morning's blast-furnace sandstorm.

For some of the soldiers, this would be their first time in a helicopter, and they silently wondered if everything would work the way it should. Did sand get into the fuel tanks? . . . Is there enough fuel for the trip? . . . In this 130-degree heat, had any of the engine's oil evaporated or leaked out? What if they took enemy fire along the way . . . Were the rockets loaded and armed? . . . Did the crew chief remember to remove the safeties? Were there any aerial flares to light up the desert if a firefight erupted? If even one of these items was overlooked, they could all be dead before they ever got to the landing zone, and a couple of old timers nervously rubbed their chins.

A few minutes later, two pilots and a crewchief walk to the Blackhawk, under the close scrutiny of the waiting soldiers. The soldiers notice a small black book pulled from an aviator's flight bag. The book is a checklist, read aloud by the copilot while the aircraft commander peeks into holes, opens doors, and shakes tubes. The commander runs his hands smoothly over the aircraft's skin as if trying to find something that, hopefully, isn't there. He turns on lights, flips switches, and intently studies the rocket tubes. He looks inside the cabin and sees that the first aid kits are there, and that the water bottles are securely stored. The crewchief looks in the fuel and oil tanks, takes samples of each and studies them closely for signs of contamination. He doublechecks the supply of flares and goes over the rocket tubes, even though the pilot has just spent a full five minutes on them. Climbing on top of the helicopter, the crewchief carefully wipes away sand from the rotor and engine air intakes. In fact, he rechecks everything that the pilot has checked, to ensure that everything is in working condition for their mission. Finally, he straps his tool box in place aboard the aircraft.

The squad leader nods approvingly to himself, content that these professional aviators are doing the same kind of careful checks that he had just done half an hour before, ensuring that his men and equipment are combat ready.

Few people would ever question the routine wisdom of a preflight check by those aviators. And what squad leader would ever take soldiers into combat without first checking that they had weapons, ammo, food, and basic survival gear? No one, you would think, but, in reality, it happens all too frequently from what is observed at the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC). Squads, platoons and sometimes entire companies march or roll into combat without checking to see that men and equipment are fully ready. The results have been predictable.

Who is responsible for ensuring that precombat inspections (PCIs) are performed? Ideally, each soldier should be responsible for his own readiness. But experience and common sense delegates this job to the noncommissioned officer (NCO). While senior leaders need to make spot checks to ensure that PCIs are being done, it is the junior leader who physically inspects every soldier and each item of equipment.

When are PCIs performed? The answer is: continuously. A PCI is the first thing done when an operational requirement is made, and it is the last thing done before an operation begins. Between those two points, during the preparation phase, a PCI is performed to determine the rate of progress and priority of tasks. The minds of all NCOs must be tuned to the central idea that the unit must be at its best possible combat readiness, and give orders to that end.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that there are hundreds of details in a PCI to be remembered, some more critical than others. The only way that an NCO can ensure a critical detail is not overlooked is by the use of checklists. Aviators, who may know every inch of their aircraft by heart, still use a checklist. Why? Because humans make mistakes and mistakes can cost lives. PCI checklists should be a part of every unit's standing operating procedures, and they should be constantly improved with time. Checklists should also be flexible, adaptable to different missions and scenarios.


The following information contains current TTP from the CMTC based on the Battlefield Operating Systems (BOSs).



DISCUSSION: The S2 is usually expected to know the enemy's doctrine, organization, tactics and capabilities for all BOSs from Army to Motorized Rifle Platoon. At the same time, the S2 must have nearly the same proficiency and knowledge as the S3 on BLUFOR operations so that he can synchronize intelligence and combat operations with enemy actions. The S2 officer is usually the most junior and inexperienced of all the primary staff officers. During the course of the battle, he attempts to respond to the needs and requirements of the commander, subordinate commanders, S3, FSO, ADA officer, brigade engineer and NBC officer while at the same time tracking the enemy for the close, deep and flank battles. By doctrine the S2 is, and should be, the focal point to track the enemy situation. But the S2 usually has too few assistants to do this effectively.

LESSON(S): The commander and XO should ensure that:

  • Each battle staff section becomes the subject matter expert on OPFOR doctrine, capabilities, organization, and tactics for its specific BOS.
  • The staff is trained on the threat at home station paying particular attention to enemy tendencies that coincide with the first stages of the IPB process.
  • The tracking of enemy events related to the commander's intent during the battle is coordinated.



DISCUSSION: To be successful, leaders must completely plan the mission from the tactical assembly area to the objective. Success depends on the massing of combat power at critical points on the battlefield and integrating indirect fires with maneuver. Artillery and mortar fires must suppress the enemy and conceal the maneuver of ground forces on and around the objective. Engineers can enhance the efforts of the maneuver force, but their efforts must be planned and rehearsed. Breaching assets should position where they can quickly execute the reduction of obstacles. Leaders who succeed at these tasks understand how to use terrain to their advantage to mask their forces from the enemy. Control measures, such as an assault position or probable line of deployment, are crucial to coordinating the BOSs and controlling the tempo.

LESSON(S): Actions on the objective are, arguably, the most important part of the plan. Strong task forces (TFs) take a disciplined approach to rehearsals as they do with the backward planning sequence. The rehearsal must address the fire support plan, the R& plan, breaching drills, and the synchronization of the maneuver and direct fire plans as they pertain to the final phase of the assault. The staffs must study the time-space relationship and incorporate appropriate control measures. The TF must maintain continuous observation on and from the objective area. Scouts are best employed deep to identify the introduction of follow-on echelons and local counterattacks. Therefore, other TF assets should be employed to keep eyes on the objective. The scheme of maneuver should identify single enemy platoon positions to be assaulted, while the others are isolated with direct/indirect fires and/or smoke. The timing and coordination of the enemy defense must be broken. Timing of the assault must link to the initiation of fires by the attack-by-fire force. Use of a reserve should be an integral part of the scheme of maneuver. Timing of commitment and axis of advance must be thoroughly rehearsed. Instead of merely plugging a gap, the reserve should be employed in a concentrated way against the critical point of the enemy's defense or counter-attack.



DISCUSSION: TFs must plan for fire support from the line of departure to actions on the objective. Successful units plan for smoke and suppressive fires to deny enemy observation during the movement to the objective. OPFOR observation posts (OPs) continually destroy considerable TF combat power with indirect fire prior to the unit's arrival at the objective. Units generally do not completely suppress and observe obstacles during breaching operations. During the assault on the objective, the execution of fire tend to become disconnected from the scheme of maneuver.

LESSON(S): S2s and Fire Support Officers (FSOs) must be trained to develop the reconnaissance and surveillance plans and fire plan together. The S2 must template and develop named areas of interest (NAIs) for all OPs and command observation posts (COPs); obstacles; MRPs; potential reserve platoons and antitank ambush. At the same time, the FSO must put the named areas of interest (NAI) into the fire plan as targets. Together, the S2 and FSO must track the results of reconnaissance to confirm, update, or deny their NAIs. The fire support element (FSE) must update targets based on reconnaissance. During movement, the TFs must plan to suppress direct fire and use smoke to screen themselves from known and suspected OPs that can affect their courses of action. All obstacles that affect the TF's movement and assault of the objective must be breached, and breached quickly; they require a corresponding fire support plan. Units must practice breach drills with fire support actions included. For obstacle breaches, units must learn to call for indirect suppressive fires on enemy overwatch positions and smoke to screen friendly positions. These fires must be called and in place before the unit leaves its last covered and concealed position. For smoke, this may mean initiating the call as much as 10 minutes ahead of the unit departing for the breach to ensure that the smoke screen is in place. Most units will not carry enough mortar smoke to do the job, so the use of field artillery smoke must be in the plan. The breaching of the obstacle will probably require 30 minutes of smoke if done correctly. For both the breaching of obstacles and the assault of the objective, TFs must develop graphic control measures that integrate the movement of forces and the delivery of fires. These graphics must be tied to specific locations on the ground where maneuver forces control the delivery and shifting of fires. Key control measures include limits of advance to designated locations (to shift fires across the objective). The TF leadership must understand the concept, must train leaders specifically on the call for fire to control the fire plan and identify SOPs for graphic control measures, radio procedures and nets. The rehearsal of fires and maneuver on the objective must be reviewed by company commanders and platoon leaders.



DISCUSSION: Most TFs observed at CMTC understand the fundamentals of breaching, e.g., Secure, Obscure, Suppress, and Reduce (SOSR), but have great trouble with proper execution. Failure to rehearse the TF breach seems to be the cause. In most TFs, companies can execute an in-stride breach, but, the TF, as a whole, has not practiced either the in-stride or deliberate breach. OPFOR obstacles are normally simple in design and construction, but they effectively stop BLUFOR units. Once stopped, our forces usually fall victim to deadly accurate OPFOR direct and indirect fires, resulting in high casualties. TFs often do not identify obstacles prior to the whole TF's arrival. Often, inaccurate reconnaissance results in the lead elements piling into the obstacle with no attempt to bypass. Once the obstacle has been identified and the execution of the breach initiated, units must suppress the far side. Failure results in wholesale destruction of the unit's breaching force. Likewise, smoke is often slow in coming and fails to conceal breaching activities. Generally, the problem results from not adjusting for the time it takes to get rounds on target and how long it takes to build an appropriate screen. The failure to adequately adjust smoke is another TF shortcoming.

LESSON(S): Integrate the engineers into all home-station training. Conduct TF rehearsals and exercise plays based on in-stride and deliberate breaches. Train in simulations the synchronization of all engineer assets in the breach along with direct and indirect fires. Train to use all of the assets available to the TF.



DISCUSSION: Smaller weapons systems are rarely employed against fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft at CMTC because warnings of imminent air attacks receive limited dissemination. Also, our soldiers have little confidence that their small arms fire will have an effect on the attacking aircraft, so they don't engage. Normally, rotary aircraft kills at the CMTC are a result of engagements by the M1s and M2s. Sometimes, they are directed not to engage because their leaders have been trained that passive air defense is often times the best defense, not realizing that METT-T must be applied to this decision.

LESSON(S): Develop unit SOPs that address actions to be taken upon engagement by enemy aircraft. Identify air guards for all vehicles. Train all soldiers in the use of small arms against aircraft as part of the Combined Arms Air Defense doctrine and institute battle drills. Use the air defense artillery (ADA) platoon leader in Officer Professional Development (OPD) to teach proper ADA small arms engagement procedures. Ensure that the air defense officer (ADO) is integrated into all simulations and command post exercises (CPXs). During live-fire exercises, use remote control aerial targets to ensure proper small arms air defense engagements.



DISCUSSION: Units usually do not repair critical combat systems in the Unit Maintenance Collection Points (UMCPs). Units should fix vehicles in the UMCPs if they can do so within six hours. They should avoid taking nonmission-capable (NMC) systems from one location to another or evacuating them to the brigade support area (BSA). The units should check and see what resources are on hand to repair the item. They should ensure that a maintenance technician or senior mechanic of the UMCP reports correctly NMC equipment as it occurs. The battalion maintenance officer (BMO) is usually checking on the TF's maintenance status; he is frequently traveling back and forth. Each UMCP needs a ramrod available at all times. Also, Maintenance Support Teams (MSTs) frequently have no communications with the shop office, and support operations rarely hear from the BMO. Therefore, command emphasis is not placed on quick turnaround.

LESSON(S): The TF's BMO must be in charge of the UMCP. Command emphasis must make the fix-forward concept work at the UMCP if operations of over seven days are to work.


DISCUSSION: Units often use the CMTC ATP in the BSA as a holding point rather than a doctrinal ATP. Too often, logistics structures at CMTC are "ad hoc" in nature, designed to survive the box and not to train the way we fight. Forward Support Battalions (FSBs) often have trucks that are attached for the duration of the exercise from Corps Support Command, Division Support Command or Main Support Battalion. Doctrinally, ammunition trailers are to be brought to the ATP and dropped. The tractors should be returned to their origin. Full trailers should replace empty trailers on request through support operations and the division ammunition officer.

LESSON(S): The FSB should perform doctrinally instead of by CMTC-unique logistics arrangements.



DISCUSSION: Failure to render complete and accurate reports often results in commanders not having the information they need to make informed decisions regarding tactical maneuvers and the allocation of combat power. The consequences could mean complete mission failure, or the unnecessary loss of lives and resources. Often a reporting system is contained in the unit SOP, but it is not properly trained or used.

LESSON(S): Review unit SOPs. Refine reporting procedures to ensure that critical information reaches the right addressees easily. Eliminate unnecessary reports and standardize those that remain within subordinate units. Use SALUTE and NBC Warning and Reports System reports in doctrine. Strong units constantly standardize report formats and procedures until they become second nature.

Table of Contents
National Training Center
Battle Command Training Program

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