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Synchronizing Fires and Maneuver

by CPT Kyle M. McClelland, Fire Support Analyst, National Training Center

THE ISSUE: Fire supporters at battalion/task force level and below often struggle with integrating their plans with those of maneuver forces to promote synchronization during offensive and defensive operations. The trouble may originate from the lack of published fire support doctrine to support key maneuver tasks such as breaching operations and engagement area development. Doctrinal maneuver manuals, such as FM 71-1, 71-123, and 90-13-1, are critical building blocks which adequately address these maneuver operations, but Fire Support Officers (FSOs) are not familiar with their contents. The result is unsynchronized fires and maneuver.

THE SOLUTION: Fill the time gap in current doctrinal references. Get the Combat Training Center (CTC) "subject matter experts," small group instructors (SGIs), and the Field Artillery School doctrine writers to produce and publish "white paper" tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), checklists, charts and matrices that inherently foster integration of fires and maneuver. The TTPs, checklists, charts and matrices should be tailorable to support any type unit: DS, Reinforcing, heavy, light, Paladin, Marine, and National Guard.

To initiate this integration effort, the TTPs and checklists that follow discuss the fire support role in synchronizing engagement area development and breaching operations. TTPs and checklists presented are focused at task force level.

1. Engagement Area Development. The critical planning piece for both maneuver and fire support during defensive operations is engagement area (EA) development. FM 101-5-1 describes an EA as, "an area in which the commander intends to trap and destroy an enemy force with massed fires of all available weapons. EAs are routinely identified by a target reference point (TRP) in the center of the trap area or by prominent terrain features around the area. Although EAs may also be divided into sectors of fire, it is important to understand that defensive systems are not designed around the EAs, but rather around avenues of approach. EAs and sectors of fire are not intended to restrict fires or cause operations to become static or fixed; they are used only as a tool to concentrate fires and to optimize their effects."

a. The EA development process is an "art" and the FSO plays an important part in ensuring that the "science" portion is complete. He must provide the commander with critical information and ensure that the fire support capabilities and limitations are understood.

b. During the Tactical Decision-Making Process (TDMP), it is essential that the Fire Support Officer (FSO) be involved for EA development and EA refinement. The task force FSO requires critical information from brigade to begin mission analysis. The following chart lists some areas that need to be addressed prior to the FSO entering the EA with the commander and key staff:


1. Brigade commander's concept for fire supportA precise articulation of what and when fire support will accomplish and why it contributes to the overall plan.
2. Brigade scheme of firesHow and where FS will carry out the concept.
Whether there will be a brigade deep fight.
What the deep fight will accomplish/desired effects.
When fires will be available for the close fight.
How to transition to the close fight (triggers, POFs, control measures).
3. Brigade-directed obstacles in the task force sectorThe plan to cover with fires.
4. Class V availability/constraintsFASCAM, DPICM, smoke, and Copperhead allocations.
5. Task Organizatiion/attachmentsCOLTs and their role in the close fight.

The information from brigade, combined with critical information from the task force (maintenance status of M981, FIST-Vs, mortars and mortar ammunition on-hand), will enable the FSO to determine capabilities and limitations for inclusion in his staff update to the commander.

c. At the completion of mission analysis, there are critical FS tasks which the task force S-3 and XO should include on the timeline to ensure they are not overlooked (some tasks may be added after the OPORD issuance and preparations have begun):

(1) Target refinement and cut-off (ensure actual versus planned obstacles are covered by indirect fires).

(2) Indirect fire triggers emplaced (day and night) (identify whether physical trigger or lazed area).

(3) Times recorded by the FSE for Co/Tm FIST's displacement from primary to alternate positions (day and night) and triggers for displacement, if planned.

(4) Mortar displacement times and triggers (identify if pre-stock is available and dug-in).

(5) Co/Tm FIST survivability positions complete (identify whether dug-in or hasty positions).

(6) Radar management (identify if CFZs/CZs have been submitted to Brigade for actual battle positions and mortar locations).

(7) Coordination of land management issues with Brigade S-3 for positioning of artillery in the task force sector (consider the effect on the task force repositioning plan or commitment of a task force/brigade reserve).

d. The S-2, engineer, and FSO are key players for the commander during the EA development process and must all participate. In a perfect world, all planning and preparation for EA construction would be performed on the ground, in the actual EA. Time and daylight often do not permit this to occur, and the staff is confined to a map. Regardless of where or how the initial process takes place, some key areas must be addressed by each staff member:

(1) The S-2 provides the commander with the most likely and most dangerous enemy avenues of approach into the task force sector.

(2) The FSO provides the commander with the Brigade deep fire plan, which will influence the enemy prior to entering the EA and what the desired BDA will be against any enemy formation. This will affect how the task force S-3 and commander array forces and conduct rough battle calculus for both direct and indirect fire weapon systems.

(3) The Engineer and the FSO then jointly provide the commander with a proposed obstacle and targeting concept to get the enemy into the EA and then destroy him.

(4) The Commander will select a point(s) on the ground (TRP) from where he wants to kill the enemy with massed fires from all available systems.

If the process is conducted on the ground, the FSO can then do an about-face and conduct hasty terrain analysis to determine likely OPs and alternate OPs to support the EA. With the Co/Tm FSOs present, they can begin OP selection and occupation to determine feasibility/tenability. Upon returning to the TOC, these positions can be entered into TERRA-BASE to determine line of sight, dead space, and produce visibility diagrams to be issued to CO/TM FISTs.

Staff integration with the S-2 and engineer during the preparation phase is essential, and the critical fire support tasks on the task force timeline need to be monitored for completion in the fire support element (FSE).

EA construction consists of seven steps:

(1) Visualize how the enemy will/might attack

(2) Select where and determine how to kill him

(3) Position forces to kill him with direct fires

(4) Position obstacle groups to support direct fires and obstacles

(5) Plan indirect fires to support direct fires and obstacles.

(6) Complete the plan, drive the EA, select/prepare final positions, site obstacles and triggers

(7) Rehearse

e. The FSO/FSNCO may find the following checklist of FS considerations for defensive operations helpful. The checklist can be modified to support any type unit or defensive operation.


FIST/mortar survivability ___ mounted ___ dismounted
Engineer assets_______________________________________________________
C2 of FISTs ___ centralized ___decentralized
Use of Brigade assets in the close fight
COLTS available to support close fight? ___yes ___no
Assign Bde targets in TF sector to execute? ___yes ___no
Task and purpose______________________________________________________
Solely against dismounted breaching threats? ___yes ___no
Observer positions
All targets visible from OPs? ___yes ___no
All triggers established? ___yes ___no
Copperhead (CPH) requirements__________________________________________
Is CPH available? ___yes ___no
Engagement area developed? ___yes ___no
TF FSO position considerations for redundancy______________________________
Visible both day and night? ___yes ___no
Who is responsible for marking?__________________________________________
How can TF assist?____________________________________________________
Who will supervise emplacement?________________________________________
All covered by direct/indirect fires? ___yes ___no
Commanders critical/priority obstacles_____________________________________
Target refinement complete by resp FIST? ___yes ___no
"Drop-dead" time to refine if obstacles are emplaced in a different location________
Force protection
Commander's critical units _________________location______________________
Main Effort?_________________________________________________________
CFZ refinement; expect GPS locations for BPs when?_________________________
Land management
Artillery position______________________________________________________
Impact on repositioning the TF for defense in-depth___________________________
Impact on repositioning of reserve force____________________________________
Final protective fires (FPFs)
Artillery FPFs allocated_________________________________________________
Mortar FPFs available__________________________________________________
Priority for planning FPFs_______________________________________________

f. As a planning tool, the FSO may want to ask himself the following "4-Ss" concerning time management and time available:

SUNLIGHT - How much daylight do I have available to conduct defensive preparations?

SUBORDINATES - What is the training level of my FISTs, and how familiar are they with the SOP and FS requirements for EA development tasks?

SUPERVISE - How much time do I have to supervise and check preparations? How much responsibility can I delegate to the FSNCO?

SIMPLICITY - Do the Co/Tm FISTs understand the overall concept and intent for the Brigade and TF plan? How much time do I have to rehearse the entire plan with all key players?

g. During the execution phase, the FSO provides redundancy for targets and focuses the fires where the commander deems necessary. The following is a summary of building an engagement area:

(1) Visualization is crucial

(2) IPB drives much of the process

(3) Subordinates must understand when, where, how, and why to engage

(4) Time management often determines success or failure

(5) Plan from the EA looking back

(6) Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

2. Breaching Operations. Conducting a successful breaching operation is often the most complex task a unit encounters during a CTC rotation. Breaching operations are clearly defined and addressed in doctrinal references FM 90-13-1, Combined Arms Breaching, and FM 6-20-40, Fire Support for Brigade Operations, yet it remains the hardest task for maneuver and fire support to synchronize. FM 90-13-1 is probably the best "how to" doctrinal reference manual. Task Force FSOs need to have FM 90-13-1 in the reference library and be as familiar with its content, if not more so, than our maneuver brethren. It provides the FSO with the step-by-step requirements for fire support and breaching operations.

a. Things the fire supporters need to know:

(1) The three breach organizations, and what each is responsible for:

(a) Support force

(b) Assault force

(c) Breach force

(2) The four types of breaching techniques and the fire support requirements for each:

(a) In-stride breach

(b) Deliberate breach

(c) Assault breach

(d) Covert breach

(3) The "SOSR" fire support requirements to support breaching fundamentals:

(a) Suppress

(b) Obscure

(c) Secure

(d) Reduce

b. The FSO's doctrinal knowledge of breaching operations is necessary for mission success. Understanding breaching operations will assist the FSO in developing a commander's concept for fires which focuses on the critical tasks. If the FSO is unfamiliar with doctrine, he may find himself developing a concept for fires which tasks the FS system with too many requirements to accomplish.

c. In accordance with the concept for fires, fire support at task force level (to include mortars) can probably accomplish four to five tasks in support of the breach:

(1) Provide obscuration and suppression fires

(2) Destroy AT weapon systems

(3) Destroy dismounted infantry positions

(4) Delay, disrupt, neutralize repositioning forces

(5) Possibly destroy the CSOP(s), if identified and not in direct fire contact

d. The following comment is often heard from brigade commanders and FSCOORDs at combined arms rehearsals:

"I don't care if we do everything else wrong, we will get the smoke in the right place with sufficient volume and we will suppress the enemy!"

This comment sends a strong message to fire supporters. If the fire supporters do not understand the importance of breaching fundamentals, such as OBSCURATION and SUPPRESSION, they may develop concepts for fire which do not support the commander's intent. The FSO must get the commander to prioritize what exactly he wants fires to do. The FSO must be alert to the commander's planning guidance and must provide the commander with the capabilities and limitations of the fire support system. This requires a thorough understanding of what the brigade scheme of fires will accomplish, what assets are available to the task force, and what competing demands there will be with the brigade scheme of fires.

e. A useful tool or checklist for SOSR fire support planning considerations to support breaching operations may look like this:


  1. Use TF scouts/COLTs to set conditions for the breach prior to arrival of MB.

  2. Plan target handoff with Bde COLTs.

  3. Refine targets based on "hard intelligence" and actual POP.

  4. Target for all wind speeds and directions.

  5. Position observers with redundancy (plus up the support force).

  6. Shift POF to the SBF force, then back up SBF force, then assault force.

  7. Plan and fire smoke to cover movement of SBF force.

  8. Plan triggers to shift POF from SBF force to assault force as they begin assault.

  9. Plan triggers to lift/shift fires from obscuration to suppression.

  10. Plan FSCMs, FAs, RFLs and CFZs at the POP, SBF position and holding areas.

  11. Position task force SSFO as a redundant observer/executor.

  12. Focus mortars on AT weapon systems and dismounted infantry.

  13. Use signals to communicate with conditions have been meant to commit the breach force.

  14. Plan for additional smoke for mortars and artillery.

f. FM 90-13-1 states that suppression fires are more critical than obscuration fires. Trends at NTC have shown, however, that if obscuration fires are effective, the enemy is suppressed. The use of obscuration fires, then, may be overall more effective than doctrine exhorts.

(1) A standard MRC defense is 1,500 meters wide and 500 meters in depth. The FSO should plan smoke targets, against the S-2's SITEMP, in at least four locations:

(a) Between the enemy and the breach site (POP)

(b) North of the MRC, if winds are from north to south

(c) South of the MRC, if winds are south to north

(d) On top of the MRP to be isolated and obscured in unfavorable wind conditions

(2) Questions the FSO must consider:

(a) Can I fire a 1,000-meter smoke screen?

(b) How many rounds will it require?

(c) How may minutes of smoke are available?

(d) How long will it take to build and sustain?

(e) Can the mortars or mechanized smoke augment?

g. Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) effort. Staff integration with the task force S-2 during the R&S effort is vital. Effective scouts and COLTs can infiltrate enemy defensive positions and provide 10-digit grids to vehicle positions. The key is getting the "hard intelligence" into the fire support system and executing these fires at the critical time. The scouts and COLTs can also be effective in setting the conditions for obscuration fires at the breach site by adjusting fire for the actual conditions of wind speed and direction. FSOs should plan for scouts (or a FIST/FO with the scouts) or COLTs to set the conditions prior to the arrival of the SBF force.


h. Command and Control. The task force conducting the breach operation should have an SOP which defines how the C2system will execute the breach. The task force S-3 is normally the breach force commander. He is responsible for ensuring that the conditions of SOSR have been achieved before committing the breach force. TACTICAL PATIENCE IS CRITICAL, but the maneuver force cannot sit idle and be vulnerable to enemy indirect fires. There also comes a time when the maneuver force can no longer afford to lose momentum. Early commitment of the breach force, without the conditions being set, may lead to the force's demise. The FSO plays an important role during the breaching operations. He provides redundancy and ensures that the plan is adjusted as required to produce the necessary results. The FSO must be able to see the battlefield. He must be able to monitor the command net and lift and shift fires at the critical time, should the executor at Co/Tm level be unable to execute.

i. Force Protection. The FSO must consider the requirements for force protection at the breach site. The enemy phases of fire for defensive operations should focus the FSO's planning requirements for radar zones. CFZs or FSCMs should be planned at the POP, SFB positions, and holding areas. No fire areas (NFAs) should be planned around scouts and COLTs and restrictive fire lines (RFLs) planned for converging forces on the objective.

j. Breaching operations, although difficult to execute, can be incorporated in fire support SOPs and rehearsed at Home Station in a classroom environment. Understanding what the doctrinal fire support requirements are for conducting breaching operations and what the breaching tenant, organization, and fundamentals are, will greatly assist the fire supporters. CTCs should not be the first place that fire supporters are introduced to FM 90-13-1.

SUMMARY: To be an integral part of the "team," we as fire supporters must become intimately familiar with maneuver doctrine and, in most cases, be the subject matter experts because of the fact that fire supports maneuver, not vice versa. Lessons learned, TTPs, and information papers are key to improving our understanding of what we can provide our maneuver forces.

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