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Clearance of Fires

by CPT Samuel R. White, Jr., Fire Support Division Observer/Controller


Experiences at the National Training Center (NTC) reveal most heavy brigades do not employ procedures that ensure positive clearance of fires. In fact, in our doctrine, there are no standardized clearance of fire procedures for a brigade. A variety of methods are attempted at the NTC. The most common are:1) The Bde FSE consults the Bde S-3 battle captain, who looks at the S-3 situation map. If no friendly "sticky" icon is present at the grid, the battle captain pronounces the grid "clear" (this is the most common technique used by brigades to clear fires).

2) The Task Force FSO calls the observer and asks if he can positively identify the target as enemy. If the answer is yes, the grid is declared "clear."

3) The Bde FSE calls the FSE in whose zone or sector the fires plot is contained and requests the fire mission be cleared. The subordinate FSE then either consults their situation map or consults the TF S-3's map. Again, if no "sticky" icon is posted at the grid in question, the mission is declared "clear."

None of these procedures are ever effective. Over the past year, the result of ineffective clearance of fires has yielded an average of seven fratricide incidents per rotation due to fire support, resulting in the loss of five combat systems and 31 soldiers. Additionally, on average, 25 artillery fire missions per rotation are determined to be "close to friendly," that is, less than 500 meters from friendly soldiers. Although no casualties were sustained in the "close to friendly" fire missions, the large number indicates a lack of positive clearance of fire procedures and, on another battlefield, with live munitions, the results may be different.A SOLUTION

Maneuver Control Measures

The first step in effective clearance of fires is the use of maneuver control measures. Both Task Force and Bde S-3s should be reminded of the effect on clearance of fires if subordinate maneuver units are not given zones or sectors (i.e., no boundaries established). Since boundaries serve as both permissive and restrictive measures, the decision not to employ them has profound effects upon timely clearance of fires at the lowest level possible. The higher headquarters (probably brigade) now has the requirement to coordinate all clearance of fires short of the CFL - a very time-intensive process. Whenever possible, boundaries should be utilized as they allow the unit which owns the ground to engage targets quickly, requiring coordination and clearance only within that organization. Boundaries also neatly divide up battle space and clearly define responsibility for clearance of fires. An important point on maneuver control graphics: staffs must be knowledgeable regarding the different maneuver control measures and their impact on clearance of fires. For instance, boundaries are both restrictive and permissive, corridors are restrictive, while routes, axis, and directions of attack are neither.

Fire Support Coordinating Measures

The next step in effective clearance of fires is to properly use fire support coordinating measures (FSCMs). Judicious recommendation to the division FSE on the placement of the CFL within the brigade zone or sector is extremely important. The CFL should be as close to the FLOT or FEBA as the brigade can track. In other words, the CFL should be placed just beyond the last point on the ground that the FEBA/FLOT can accurately be located. Forces beyond the FEBA/FLOT, and, therefore, beyond the CFL (COLTs, scouts, etc.) should be protected by NFAs. If forces beyond the FEBA/FLOT cannot be accurately tracked (so that NFAs can be established), the CFL must be pushed beyond the point these assets would reasonably be expected to be. A note: CFLs only apply to surface-to-surface fires. It is doubtful that the CORPs FSCL will be shallow enough to facilitate CAS attacks for the brigade or task force; therefore, all CAS missions, regardless whether long or short of the CFL, must be cleared by the unit owning the ground.

NFAs should be established on all forces forward of the CFL, and these NFAs should be sent to higher, lower, and adjacent HQ. NFAs should be established on assets short of the CFL if that asset is not task-organized to the force in whose zone or sector it is positioned (for example, Bde COLTs in TF 1-1's sector, TF 1-1 scouts in TF 1-2's sector, etc).


Next, we must make a determination as to which fires short of the CFL will be considered pre-cleared. In some very specific instances, fires can be cleared during the planning phase (pre-clearing). Again, these are very specific instances. These instances are:

1) Fires into a planned call for fire zone (CFFZ) resulting from a radar acquisition from that planned CFFZ. The CFFZ must have been planned in advance and published in the Radar Deployment Order. The CFFZ should have been rehearsed in advance also. This pre-clearing does not apply to fires resulting from a violation of a critical friendly zone (CFZ) because, unlike a CFFZ which targets a specific enemy artillery formation at a specific location, a CFZ generates a fire mission regardless of the location of the enemy artillery, and is, therefore, impossible to predict.

2) Fires on a preplanned target, with a definable trigger, against a specific enemy, and according to the scheme of fire support. In other words, if we are executing the fire support plan, that specific target can be considered pre-cleared. If we shift from a target or known point, these fires must be positively cleared.

Prior to pre-clearing any fire missions, the maneuver commander must do a fratricide risk assessment to determine if his unit is trained to a level which allows pre-clearing fires. Since this is not positive clearance of fires, it is absolutely vital that commanders, not FSOs, determine that this technique will be employed.

Clearance of Fires Battle Drill

Even though all of the measures outlined above are taken, there will be times when fires must be cleared. This procedure must be a battle drill in all command posts and operations centers. Fires cannot be cleared off of situation maps! Situation maps will never be accurate. No matter how much we pride ourselves on battle tracking and situation awareness, our maps will be wrong or considerably behind reality. A call must go out on radio nets requesting from the force on the ground clearance of a particular grid. This radio call must be a two pronged attack: A call on the fire support net, simultaneous with a call on the command or O/I net. The command net is preferred because more stations monitor that net, but reality says that it will more than likely be the O/I net. As an example, if a brigade COLT wants to fire an unplanned fire mission short of the CFL in TF 3-19's zone, the call would go out on brigade O/I and brigade fire support nets: "TF 3-19 FSE/TOC, this is Bde FSE/TOC, request clearance on grid NK395176." Within TF 3-19, the process is repeated on the task force command or O/I nets and the heavy mortar net: "Guidons, this is TF 3-19 TOC/FSE, request clearance on grid NK395176." This request, received at the company command post and the company FSO's FIST-V is quickly answered and sent back to the task force TOC/FSE and then back to brigade as a cleared fire mission. The entire process takes surprisingly little time if it is treated as a battle drill!

There are several scenarios that may require clearance of fires:

1) Fires across one task force boundary into the zone/sector of another task force. The most effective method to clear fires in this instance is for the brigade to authorize direct clearance of fires between task forces. That is, TF 3-19 can call directly to TF 2-19 to clear a fire mission. This is best done on brigade O/I and brigade FSC nets. The brigade TOC will monitor the action, and will get involved only to facilitate coordination (i.e., communications between task forces are poor, etc.).

2) Fires by a brigade observer (COLT, Q36, MPs, TARP, etc.) short of the CFL and into a task force zone/sector. This is conducted as per the example above.

3) Any fires by anyone short of the CFL if task force zones/sectors are not established (as in a battle position defense mission). This is best accomplished as outlined above, except that the brigade will announce a guidons call to the force as a whole. This method obviously will take time, and highlights why every effort should be expended to make use of boundaries, FSCMs, and pre-clear fire missions.


Maneuver commanders clear fires. Certainly they may delegate coordination responsibility to their fire support elements, but the final yes or no answer must come from commanders. Fire supporters at all levels must assist their supported maneuver commander and maneuver staff in developing battle drills to clear fires. The tactics, techniques, and procedures presented here are effective and will work. They may be the basis for a brigade or task force battle drill in your unit.

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