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THE FIRE SUPPORT REHEARSAL

by CPT Samuel R. White, Jr., Observer/Controller, National Training Center


Some challenges facing fire supporters during tactical operations is the conduct of fire support rehearsals. Time constraints and frequent changes to the plan team up to create seemingly insurmountable obstacles to conducting an effective rehearsal. The most well-intentioned fire supporters routinely settle for substandard rehearsals because they feel they are victims of events beyond their control. They perceive that the greatest of all enemy forces--TIME--has outwitted them, and no matter how badly they really wanted to do a quality fire support rehearsal, it is impossible to do now.

In reality, though, the greatest enemy of effective fire support rehearsals is normally not a lack of adequate time to conduct the rehearsal. Properly conducted fire support rehearsals are not time-intensive events.

Rehearsals are not the quality product that we desire because we do not plan for them to be.

In other words, rehearsals don't accomplish their intents. We conduct rehearsals because we know they are necessary and because our doctrine calls for rehearsals. When the rehearsal is then conducted, it normally is not a rehearsal at all. It is usually a combination of developing the fire support plan, changing the existing plan, or talking through the scheme of fires. Units then mix all of this with a generous portion of what-ifs and wargaming. When the attempt at rehearsing ends, no real rehearsal occurred, yet we feel satisfied because we have conducted a fire support rehearsal. In reality, most fire support rehearsals are rehearsals in name only.

Doctrinally, the requirements and importance of rehearsals are clear. What is lacking is an actual "how to" doctrine for fire support rehearsals. This article will explore the rehearsal of fire support, and, in particular, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) for use when conducting fire support rehearsals. Presenting these TTPs in a tactical standing operating procedure (SOP) format will provide a framework for inclusion in the unit tactical SOP. These TTPs have been developed at the National Training Center (NTC) based on literally hundreds of tactical missions conducted by a wide range of units.

FIRE SUPPORT REHEARSAL SOP

1. This SOP will establish the TTP for the conduct of fire support rehearsals within _________ BDE.

2. The types of fire support rehearsals available are:

a. Sand table/terrain model.

b. Map rehearsal.

c. FM (radio) rehearsal.

3. Order of preference. The preferred method of fire support rehearsals within the brigade is the FM radio rehearsal. If possible, conduct the rehearsals using the actual terrain that the fire supporter will occupy during the operation. This will allow verification of the communications plan during the rehearsal. As such, all fire supporters will operate on the actual communications devices they will use for execution. The Field Artillery Battalion signal officer will establish alternate frequencies for the conduct of the rehearsal to facilitate communications security (COMSEC), but will announce the actual frequencies for use during execution of the mission prior to the beginning of the rehearsal. The second method in order of preference that will be used is the sand table/terrain model. The least preferable method is a map rehearsal, but if time does not permit conducting an FM or sand table rehearsal, use this rehearsal method as a minimum.

4. Outcome of the rehearsal.

a. Regardless of the type of rehearsal conducted, verify the following items during the rehearsal:

(1) The Target List: Verify the target list to ensure that all fire supporters have the correct and most current brigade consolidated target list. The target list will be verified at the beginning of the rehearsal by the direct support field artillery battalion fire direction officer (FDO).

(2) The Observation Plan: Verify the primary and alternate observers for each target. This verification includes the occupation of primary OPs and displacement to subsequent OPs, mission of each observer, and method of execution of responsibilities for each observer. The rehearsal of the observation plan will include all observers (e.g., ETACs, scouts, MPs, etc.).

(3) Scheme of fire support: The scheme of fire support will be verified. Scheme of fire support includes several sub-items.

(a) Triggers for events. This is a fire support rehearsal, not just a field artillery rehearsal. The triggers that are rehearsed aren't just triggers to fire artillery targets. Rehearsals will include triggers for close air support, naval gunfire, mortars, and other fire support assets.

(b) Timing of events. The fire support rehearsal will verify more than just the sequence of events. The time between events will be verified to ensure the time is sufficient to allow accomplishment of all of the events in that sequence. In other words, is there enough time to execute the plan the way it is planned? The verification of the timing of events will be a major goal during the rehearsal.

(c) Firing unit assignments and volume of fire. The rehearsal will verify, first, that firing unit assignments have been made, and, second, that the volume of fire is sufficient to achieve the desired effects.

(d) Priority of targets. Priority of targets is the method to resolve competing demands for fire support. This is different than priority of fire and high payoff targets. For example, if both enemy air defense artillery (ADA) and artillery are high pay-off targets (HPTs) during a particular phase, rehearsing priority of targets will streamline our fire support process should we get a radar acquisition while the artillery is firing a suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) program. The rehearsal will verify that priorities during different phases of the fight are appropriate, and that they are clearly understood by everyone.

(e) Communications nets, both the primary and alternate, as well as the anti-jam plan.

(f) Fire support coordinating measures. The rehearsal will verify that the measures do not affect the execution of the fire support plan in ways that are unexpected. In other words, we don't want to be surprised when an air coordination area (ACA) is placed in effect.

(g) A review of items that must be verified (rehearsed) during the fire support rehearsal:

The Target List

Observers

Observation Plan

Triggers for Events

Timing of Events

Fire Unit Assignments

Volume of Fire

Priority of Targets

Communications

Fire Support Coordinating Measures

This is a list of items that are to be verified at the brigade fire support rehearsal. Other technical concerns (site to crest, ammunition availability, aiming points, etc.) will be rehearsed by the firing unit during the technical fire support rehearsal, which will be conducted prior to the brigade fire support rehearsal.

5. When to rehearse. In coordination with the brigade/battalion XO and S3, the respective fire support officer will ensure that the fire support rehearsal is included on the brigade/battalion timeline published with the operations order. This ensures it is scheduled in advance, everyone in the unit, including the brigade commander, is aware of it, and it is less likely to get bumped because another event is scheduled at the same time. The scheduling of the fire support rehearsal will allow time for:

issuance of the brigade operations order (OPORD)

the battalions to develop their plans and to submit their additions to the brigade plan

resolution of duplications and conflicts, and

re-issuance of the brigade consolidated target list.

BOTTOM LINE: Schedule the brigade fire support rehearsal as early as possible after the individual fire support pieces have rehearsed their parts and preferably before the brigade maneuver rehearsal.

6. Subordinate fire support rehearsals. Each fire support piece will rehearse their parts prior to the brigade fire support rehearsal. This pieces/parts rehearsal sequence begins at the company/team level.

a. Company/Team fire support rehearsals. This is the easiest part to rehearse, because it has the least number of participants. It is nothing more than a fire support rehearsal at the company/team level. All members of the company/team who have fire support responsibilities should participate and rehearse their parts. If the company fire support officer (FSO) is the only member who has responsibilities, it may merely consist of him, his team, and the company commander rehearsing execution of the company fire support plan, triggers, and occupation of observation posts. On the other hand, if platoon forward observers (FOs), platoon leaders, or track commanders have responsibilities, the rehearsal will have more participants. This rehearsal is particularly important in light infantry companies with company mortars. Commanders may also choose to rehearse key drills or SOP activities, for example, quartering party duties or a platoon "hip shoot."

b. Battalion/Task Force fire support rehearsals. The task force rehearsal is the mirror image of the brigade fire support rehearsal, except units rehearse task force-specific actions and responsibilities. The participants are the same, and the desired outcomes as listed in paragraph 3, above, are the same. If possible, commanders, to include the task force commander, should participate in the rehearsal. This is important because it will allow the task force commander to verify the synchronization of his fire support plan with his maneuver plan, as well as enable him to focus on his subordinate commanders' fire support plans. Additionally, all commanders will become familiar with the entire fire support plan, as opposed to their small piece.

c. Brigade executor's rehearsal. Like the task force rehearsal, it will include only the brigade participants, such as combat observation lazing teams (COLTs), air liaison officers (ALOs), and any other elements under brigade control. The brigade executors need to be well versed in their parts before brigade fire support rehearsal as much as any other executor in the brigade. Again, if possible, the brigade commander should participate. The brigade commander should be present for the same reason company team and task force commanders should participate in the task force fire support rehearsal. Task force FSOs should attempt to monitor this rehearsal. They will gain valuable insight into the brigade maneuver and fire support plans.

d. Field Artillery technical fire support rehearsal. This is the rehearsal that will ensure the plan can be supported from a technical aspect. This is the rehearsal that will resolve the sight to crest problems, the ammunition availability issues, and the movement of firing unit concerns before the entire fire support system comes together for the brigade fire support rehearsal.

7. Participants in the brigade fire support rehearsal. The following personnel will participate in the brigade fire support rehearsal:

All Company/Team FSOs

All platoon FOs

All Battalion/TF FSOs/FSEs

Bde FSO/FSE

DS and Reinforcing artillery battalion S-3, S-2, FDO

FSCOORD

ALOs, ETACs, TACPs, and heli-FACs

All COLTs

All aerial observers

Radar tech/radar section

All mortar plts/sections (both battalion and company)

Any other personnel who have responsibility to execute a portion of the fire support plan.

8. Elements of the brigade fire support rehearsal.

a. The brigade fire support rehearsal begins with the brigade FSO conducting a roll-call to ensure all participants are present and prepared to conduct the rehearsal. Each battalion FSO will ensure that all of the company/team FSOs, ALOs, and mortar platoon leaders are prepared, and will respond for them during roll call. The FA Battalion S-3 will ensure the field artillery battalion participants are prepared and will respond for them. The brigade FSO will respond for the brigade participants.

b. Following the roll call, the FSCOORD will address the participants. The FSCOORD will state the Brigade Commander's concept for fire support, his intent as FSCOORD, and the critical fire support tasks that must be accomplished to fulfill the brigade commander's concept for fire support. The FSCOORD will also give any amplifying guidance that is required. Last, the FSCOORD will provide guidance for the rehearsal. His guidance should include his desired outcomes for the rehearsal and areas of special emphasis to be rehearsed.

c. The DS artillery battalion fire direction officer then publishes the brigade consolidated target list by target number, grid, and special instructions, to all participants. This will ensure that all fire supporters have the most recent updates and refined target locations. Any changes to the target list made prior to the rehearsal should be sent to all fire supporters as soon as the change is made. Changes will not be "saved up" until the fire support rehearsal. If this is allowed to happen, and wholesale changes are made to the target list during the rehearsal, the result of the rehearsal will be less than satisfactory. The new targets certainly won't be rehearsed properly; triggers may not yet be in place, the new targets aren't integrated into the scheme of fires, and firing unit assignments won't have been made. Transmit changes to the target list to everyone as they occur to permit detailed planning for the execution of all targets and proper rehearsal of the execution.

d. After the battalion fire direction officer has read the target list and all stations have acknowledged receipt, the rehearsal continues.

e. The Brigade FSO will then continue with the current fire support coordinating measures:

EXAMPLE: "This is Bde FSO, we will begin rehearsing the execution of the fire support plan. The current CFL is PL Fresno. NFA 2, grid NK 396250, 200 meter radius, is in effect. BREAK . . . FA BN S2, begin the enemy time line at H-:10, continue with enemy actions."

f. The DS artillery battalion S2 and S3 will explain enemy actions and/or friendly actions event by event. When the S2 announces the event, all fire supporters will execute the portion of the fire support plan triggered by that event.

EXAMPLE (if the enemy were attacking): "This is FA BN S2; the time is now H+:10. The CRPs have passed the MRR commander's decision point, NAI 91, and he has committed to continuing his attack eastward, into our brigade's sector."

g. In this example, the brigade ALO has an event that is to be triggered at NAI 91. He would execute this event:

"This is BDE ALO; CRPs at NAI 91 is my trigger. I am requesting release of two A-10s currently on ground alert to IP X-RAY. Time to IP X-RAY is 55 minutes."

h. During the fire support rehearsal, the executer will always announce the trigger that is causing him to execute the particular event. This event-by-event methodology will continue through the rehearsal.

i. Execution of fire missions.

(1) Execute fire missions in the same manner as discussed above. When the appropriate trigger is announced by either the S2 or S3 (depending on whether the action is enemy-event or friendly-event triggered), the observer will execute his call fire to the FDC. The observer will also announce his current OP location and the trigger to execute the event.

EXAMPLE: A Company FSO: "This is A Co. FSO. I am currently occupying an observation post at grid NK385250. CRPs at NAI 91 is my trigger, BREAK . . . FDC, this is A Co. FSO, fire target WP0032, AMC, over."

FDO: "Fire target WP0032, AMC, out."

(2) The fire direction officer will repeat the call for fire, then issue a message to observer which includes time of flight:

FDO: "A Co. FSO this is FDC, MTO: DS Battalion, two rounds, target number WP0032, TOF 38 seconds, over."

A Company FSO: "This is A Co. FSO, MTO: DS Battalion, two rounds, target number WP0032, TOF 38 seconds, out."

(3) Following the message to observer, the alternate observer/executor will announce his responsibility for execution:

B Company FSO: "This is B Co. FSO. I am currently occupying an observation post at grid NK395250. I have alternate responsibility to execute target number WP0032, AMC, when the CRPs are at NAI 91, and to fire WP0032 when the CRPs are at NAI 81, out."

(4) When the S2 or S3 announce the appropriate trigger, in this case a CRP at NAI 81, the observer will fire the target:

A Company FSO: "FDC, this is A Co. FSO. A CRP exiting the northern pass; NAI 81, is my trigger; fire target number WP0032, over."

FDO: "This is FDC, fire target WP0032, out."

FDO: "A Co. FSO, this is FDC; shot target number WP0032, over."

A Company FSO: "This is A Co. FSO; shot target number WP0032, out."

FDO: "A Co. FSO, this is FDC, rounds complete target WP0032, S2: ARADAR this is FA BN S2; the CRPs exiting the passes, NAI 81, is my trigger, call for fire zone number 1, and critical friendly zones 4, 5, and 6 are in effect now. Que radar schedule November, 10 minutes, over."

Radar Tech: "FA BN S2 this is RADAR, call for fire zone number 1, and critical friendly zones 4, 5, and 6 are in effect. Que schedule November, 10 minutes, out, over."

(5) During the brigade fire support rehearsal, it is not necessary to transmit fire orders to firing units or to transmit fire commands to howitzer sections. These actions will have been conducted during the technical fire support rehearsal, prior to the brigade fire support rehearsal. Certainly, the FSCOORD may direct that the brigade fire support rehearsals are carried to the howitzer section level, but in doing so, he must understand that the time required for the rehearsal will increase at least threefold.

j. Rehearsal of firefinder radar events. Just as with all other fire support actions during the rehearsal, cuing the radar and implementation of zones should occur at the appropriate trigger during the rehearsal.

k. Rehearsal of close air support.

(1) When the appropriate trigger is reached, the ALO (or controlling ETAC/TACP) will rehearse their actions. The complete 9 line fighter brief will be rehearsed:

BDE ALO: "This is BDE ALO, an MRB at PL Red is my trigger, four A-10 aircraft with MAVERICKS are at IP WHISKEY. CAS briefing follows: "

"IP: WHISKEY

Magnetic heading from IP to target: 265 offset right,

Distance from IP to target: 7.3 nautical miles

Description of target: MRB north of lake.

Target location: NK410289

Elevation of target: 3150 feet above sea level

Marking of target: Laser, CODE to be determined by aircraft, white phosphorus 500 meters east of target

Location of friendlies: 3,000 meters east in battle position east of lake.

Egress: East along north wall of east/west valley.

Remarks: Artillery SEAD will be fired, ETAC will control, engage with MAVERICKS first, immediate re-attack with guns, stay north of lake.

Time to target - standby: 7 minutes plus 30 seconds - hack

End of briefing.

Time from IP to target, 1 minute, 48 seconds, over."

(2) The execution of the CAS will be rehearsed exactly like the rehearsal of fire missions, with SEAD, ACAs, etc, being executed fully:

COLT 2: "This is COLT 02; I am occupying an observation post at grid NK435303. ETAC 1 is collocated with me. ETAC 1 is in contact with the aircraft. I have the responsibility to designate the MRB north of the lake as the target for the aircraft. I will receive the PRF code for designation from the ETAC at this time."

BDE FSO: "FDC, this is Bde FSO, fire SEAD PROGRAM RED, final rounds to impact 6 minutes from my mark, prepare to mark . . . prepare to mark, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, mark, over."

FDO: "This is FDC; good mark, fire SEAD PROGRAM RED, final rounds to impact 6 minutes from your mark, out."

(3) Rehearse all fires in a schedule of fires (in this case SEAD PROGRAM RED and the CAS hack) in the same manner as other fires, with one exception. Announce the time elapsed since the mark when executing the event. This will verify the timing of events and ensure all participants are aware of the time/event sequence.

FDO: "BDE FSO, this is FDC; the time is now 2 min, 22 sec from your mark, shot, SEAD PROGRAM RED, target WP0040, over. "

BDE FSO: "Shot, WP0040, out."

FDO: "BDE FSO, this is FDC; the time is 2 min, 55 sec from your mark, splash WP0040, over."

BDE FSO: "Splash WP0040, out."

ETAC 1: "BDE FSO, this is ETAC 1. The time is 4 min, 42 sec from your mark, four A-10s are departing the IP."

FDO: "BDE FSO, this is FDC. The time is 5 min, 21 sec from your mark, shot, WP0041, white phosphorus, over."

BDE ALO: "This is BDE ALO, roger, out."

COLT2: "This is COLT 02; there is no change to my observation post. I am designating the northern MRB for CAS; PRF code to be determined by the aircraft, out."

ETAC 1: "BDE FSO, this is ETAC 1. The time is 6 minutes, 30 sec from your mark, four A-10s are attacking the target, over."

BDE FSO: "This is BDE FSO, roger, report aircraft clear, over."

ETAC 1: "This is ETAC 1, WILCO, out."

ETAC 1: "BDE FSO, this is ETAC 1. The aircraft are clear; the flight leader reports two T-72s and two BMPs destroyed, over."

BDE FSO: "This is BDE FSO, roger, BREAK . . . ALL STATIONS, cancel ACA ROBIN, over."

FDO: "This is FDC, roger, out."

TF 1-1 FSO: "This is TF 1-1 FSO, roger, out."

TF 2-1 FSO: "This is TF 2-1 FSO, roger, out."

TF 3-1 FSO: "This is TF 3-1 FSO, roger, out."

BDE ALO: "This is BDE ALO, roger, out."

l. Rehearsal of counterfire.

(1) During the rehearsal, it is necessary to rehearse the priority of targets. That is, how we will react to the competing demands placed on the fire support system. The execution of counterfire is one such competing demand. Rehearse counterfire procedures, or they will catch the system by surprise. A technique that may be used to rehearse counterfire is for the radar technician, who is participating in the rehearsal, to randomly insert radar acquisitions into the rehearsal during the times the radar is cuing. The exact timing and number of the rehearsed acquisitions is a matter that should be addressed by this unit SOP. At a minimum, insert and rehearse one acquisition per cue block. Focus this acquisition on the enemy phases of fire.

EXAMPLE: Radar Tech: "FDC and FA BN S2, this is RADAR, Acquisition, call for fire zone 1, weapon grid: NK300295, impact predict: NK357282, over."

FDO: "This is FDC, radar acquisition, call for fire zone 1, weapon grid: NK300295, impact predict: NK357282, out."

S2: "This is FA BN S2, roger, out."

FDO: "BDE FSO, this is FDC. Following commander's attack guidance for this phase of the operation, I am now pulling one battery off of WP0044 to fire counterfire, over."

BDE FSO: "This is BDE FSO, roger, out."

FDO: "A FDC, this is FDC, EOM target WP0044, over."

A Btry FDC: "This is A FDC, EOM target WP0044, out."

FDO: "A FDC this is FDC, FFE, A, grid NK300295, six rounds, target number WP7012, over."

A Btry FDC: "A FDC, FFE, A, grid NK300295, six rounds, target number WP7012, out."

(2) After pulling one battery off the current mission, the FDO will then increase the volume of fire for the two remaining batteries to ensure it still achieves the desired effects. A revised MTO is then sent to the observers.

FDO: "B FDC and C FDC, this is FDC, correction method of fire, target WP0044, 6 rounds, over."

B Battery FDC: "This is B FDC, correction method of fire, target WP0044, 6 rounds, out."

C Battery FDC: "This is C FDC, correction method of fire, target WP0044, 6 rounds, out."

FDO: "A FDC, this is FDC, change to MTO, target number WP0044: B and C, 6 rounds, target WP0044, TOF 37 sec, over."

A Company FSO: "This is A CO. FSO, change to MTO, target number WP0044: B and C, 6 rounds, target WP0044, TOF 37 sec, out."

9. Conclusion of the fire support rehearsal. The brigade FSO ends the rehearsal when it addresses all actions in their proper sequence and it resolves all discrepancies. The FSCOORD will restate his guidance and provide concluding remarks.

CONCLUSION

The fire support rehearsal is a critical and often overlooked portion of our preparation for battle. Rehearsals generally are ineffective, not by design, but because leaders truly do not know how to rehearse. This article has explored the fire support rehearsal at the brigade level. The lessons learned are applicable at all levels. Effective rehearsals do not happen by accident. Plan them in advance. Unit tactical SOPs must address the conduct of rehearsals so that the format becomes routine.

An FM fire support rehearsal was presented here as an example of one method of conducting a rehearsal. The actual format will vary by unit SOP, but the TTPs presented during this SOP are proven effective. It will provide a sound framework for your unit tactical SOP. The bottom line: fire support rehearsals that have the desired outcome clearly defined, are planned in advance, and follow these TTPs will certainly be more effective and will help you synchronize your fire support plan.



Indirect Fires and the Combined Arms Team
Fire Support Planning in the Attack Helicopter Battalion



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