CLEARANCE OF FIRESby CPT Samuel R. White, Jr., Observer/Controller, National Training Center
Experiences at the NTC reveal that most heavy brigades do not employ procedures that ensure positive clearance of fires. In fact, our doctrine contains no standardized clearance of fire procedure for a brigade. Units attempt a variety of methods at the NTC, the most common of which are described here:
a. The Brigade Fire Support Element (BDE FSE) consults the Bde S3 battle captain, who looks at the S3 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).
b. The Task Force Fire Support Officer (TF 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."
c. The Bde FSE calls the FSE in whose zone or sector the fires plot and requests the fire mission be cleared. The subordinate FSE then either consults their situation map or consults the TF S3's map. Again, if no "sticky" icon is posted at the grid in question, the mission is declared "clear."
None of these procedures are completely effective. Over the past years, the result of ineffective clearance of fires has yielded an unacceptable number of fire support-related fratricide incidents per rotation. The result: loss of combat systems and soldiers. Additionally, a high percentage of artillery fire missions per rotation are determined to be "close to friendly;" i.e., less than 500 meters from friendly soldiers. Although no casualties occurred in the "close to friendly" fire missions, the high percentage indicates a lack of positive clearance of fire procedures. However, using live munitions on another battlefield, may produce different results.
1. Maneuver Control Measures: The first step in effective clearance of fires is the use of maneuver control measures. Both TF and Bde S3s 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 possible level. The higher headquarters (probably brigade) now has the requirement to coordinate all clearance of fires short of the Coordinated Fire Line (CFL), a very time-intensive process. Whenever possible, use boundaries to allow the unit that owns the ground to engage targets quickly, requiring coordination and clearance only within that organization. Boundaries also neatly divide 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.
2. Fire Support Coordination 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 Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) or Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) as the brigade can track. In other words, place the CFL just beyond the last point on the ground where units can accurately locate the FEBA/ FLOT. Use No Fire Areas (NFAs) to protect forces beyond the FEBA/FLOT, and, therefore, beyond the CFL, such as Combat Observation Lazing Teams (COLTs) and scouts. If units cannot accurately track forces beyond the FEBA/FLOT (i.e., to establish NFAs), push the CFL beyond the point these assets would reasonably locate. NOTE: CFLs only apply to surface-to-surface fires. It is doubtful that the Corps Fire Support Coordination Line (FSCL) will be shallow enough to facilitate Close Air Support (CAS) attacks for the brigade or task force. Therefore, the units owning the ground must clear all CAS missions, regardless whether long or short of the CFL. Units should establish NFAs on all forces forward of the CFL. Send these NFAs to higher, lower, and adjacent unit headquarters. Establish NFAs on assets short of the CFL if those assets are not task-organized to the force in whose zone or sector they are positioned. EXAMPLE: Bde COLTs in TF 1-1's sector; TF 1-1 scouts in TF 1-2's sector, etc.
3. Pre-Clearance: Next we must make a determination as to which fires short of the CFL will be considered precleared. In some very specific instances, units can clear fires during the planning phase (preclearing). Again, these are very specific instances, as described here:
a. 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 RDO. Also, rehearse the CFFZ in advance. This preclearing does not apply to fires resulting from a violation of a critical friendly zone (CFZ) because, unlike a CFFZ that 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.
b. 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 in the plan can be considered pre-cleared. If we shift from a target or known point, take active measures to clear these fires.
c. 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 that 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.
4. Clearance of Fires Battle Drill.
a. Even if 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. Do not clear fires off situation maps! Situation maps will never be accurate enough. No matter how much we pride ourselves on battle-tracking and situational 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 Operations/Intelligence (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.
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 the brigade O/I and the brigade fire support nets:
Within TF 3-19, the process is repeated on the task force command or O/I nets and the heavy mortar net:
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. Treat this as a battle drill, and the entire process takes surprisingly little time.
b. 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 short of the CFL and into a task force zone/sector (such as COLT, Q36, Military Police (MP), Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance Platoon (TARP)). Conduct this according to the example above.
(3) Any fires by anyone short of the CFL if task force zones/sectors are not established (as in a defense from a battle position mission). This is best accomplished as outlined above, except that the brigade will announce guidons calls 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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