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FIRE SUPPORT PLANNING IN THE
ATTACK HELICOPTER BATTALION

by CPT Rick Richardson, FA


"Combined arms warfare produces effects that are greater than the sum of the individual parts. . . . The application of combined arms in this manner is complex and demanding. It requires detailed planning and violent execution by highly trained soldiers and units who have been thoroughly rehearsed." -- FM 100-5, Operations

"To survive and succeed on the battlefield, the Attack Helicopter Battalion must fight as an integrated member of the combined arms team." -- FM 1-112, Attack Helicopter Battalion

Fire support in the Attack Helicopter Battalion is much more than the Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD). Fire support can play a broader role in the execution of the Attack Helicopter Battalion's mission. This article focuses on techniques to integrate fire support as an effective combat multiplier during the Attack Helicopter Battalion planning process.

AVIATION FIRE SUPPORT

Fire support for the Attack Helicopter Battalion is fundamentally the same as fire support for any ground maneuver battalion. Key differences in the Attack Helicopter Battalion are:

1. Supporting Artillery. The Attack Helicopter Battalion and Aviation Brigade have no habitually related artillery in direct support. Normally, the Attack Helicopter Battalion receives its artillery fire support from the organization to which it is attached or under operational control. This support usually comes from division or corps general support artillery.

2. Fire support element. The Attack Helicopter Battalion fire support element is not as robust as its ground maneuver counterparts. In addition, unlike its ground counterparts, the Attack Helicopter Company has no Fire Support Teams (FISTs). Therefore, the Attack Helicopter Battalion Fire Support Officer (FSO) must rely on scout and attack helicopter air crews to execute the commander's scheme of fires.

3. Planning. The Aviation Brigade Fire Support Element does much of the fire support planning for the Attack Helicopter Battalion. The key role of the Attack Helicopter Battalion FSO is to plan and execute fire support for the battalion fight.

FIRE SUPPORT PLANNING

One of the Attack Helicopter Battalion Commander's greatest challenges is to synchronize and concentrate all of his combat power at the critical time and place. The goal of fire support planning is to effectively integrate fire support into battle plans to optimize this combat power. The FSO must work with the battalion staff to translate mission, enemy, terrain, weather, troops, time available, guidance from higher headquarters, and the commander's guidance into the final scheme of fire support. Figure 1 illustrates typical attack helicopter fire support considerations.

PHASE
ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN
Ingress/EgressConsider planning:
  • fires on enemy Air Defense Artillery (ADA) weapons that are a threat along ingress and/or egress routes
  • fires on enemy ADA C3, acquisition and tracking radars
  • fires to suppress enemy direct fire weapons that could be used in an AD role along routes
  • Smoke to restrict enemy observation and optical ADA acquisition and tracking systems

Consider preparation fires on the battle positions and in the engagement area if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages:

  • Will the enemy be forewarned of an attack?
  • Will the loss of surprise significantly affect the chance of success?
  • Are there enough significant targets to justify a preparation?
  • Is there enough fire support ammunition to fire an effective preparation?
  • Can the enemy recover before the effects can be exploited?
  • Will smoke and dust from the preparation degrade attack helicopter observation and gun/missile engagements?

Determine when and how you will shift fires:

  • Time: at a predetermined time, fires will shift.
  • Location: fires will shift when the maneuver unit reaches a certain location, such as a phase line.
  • On call: the maneuver commander directs when the fires shift.
  • Event: a predetermined event signals shifting of fires.
Engagement areaConsider planning:
  • fires to suppress ADA weapons or direct fire weapons capable of use in an ADA role.
  • fires to suppress, neutralize, or destroy in order to delay, disrupt, limit, attrit enemy forces to assist in accomplishing the mission.
  • fires to suppress enemy forces as friendly elements maneuver.
  • smoke to obscure vision of enemy forces.
  • fires to isolate enemy formations.
  • fires to support disengagement.

Allocate priority targets.

Plan trigger points for possible moving targets.

Plan Critical Friendly Zones (CFZs) around battle positions

If available, plan scatterable mines (FASCAMs) to slow or canalize the enemy.

On obstacles:

  • Plan fires behind obstacles to hinder enemy breaching operations.
  • If available, plan FASCAM to re-seed minefields that the enemy has breached.
  • Plan fires to close gaps and lanes in barrier or obstacle plans.
  • Integrate fires with obstacle to compliment direct fire weapons.
Beyond the engagement
area
Consider planning fires:
  • to suppress or destroy overwatching ADA weapons
  • to impede enemy reinforcements
  • to block avenues of approach for counterattacking enemy forces or repositioning ADA weapons.
  • to slow or block enemy retreat
  • to interdict following enemy formations.

Figure 1. Attack Helicopter Fire Support Considerations

MISSION ANALYSIS

Mission analysis is the first step in the planning process. The Battalion FSO provides the following information during mission analysis:

  • Fire support asset allocation and status.
  • Brigade Commander's intent/concept of fires.
  • Fires planned by higher headquarters in zone.
  • Limitations and constraints.

Technique: The Battalion Fire Support NCO should train to be able to conduct mission analysis in the absence of the FSO during high tempo operations.

COMMANDER'S GUIDANCE FOR FIRE SUPPORT

Too often this guidance is simply to suppress enemy air defense, mass indirect fires to destroy the enemy, and execute targets of opportunity as required. This vague guidance rarely produces a coordinated plan that supports the scheme of maneuver and provides a focus for the observers and supporting artillery.

FM 6-20-20, Fire Support at Battalion Task Force and Below, 27 December 1991, states "The commander's intent serves to prioritize fire support on the battlefield and focus fire support execution at the critical time and place. To be useful, the commander's intent for fire support must be both understood and feasible. This requires a mutual effort by FSOs and supported commanders to articulate and understand exactly what fire support can, and is expected to, accomplish during an operation. The commander's requirements of the fire support system must be within the capabilities of the resources available--adjusted as necessary for mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available (METT-T) factors. The FSO must know and communicate fire support capabilities, limitations, and risks during the process of developing the commander's intent for fire support."

Technique: The commander's guidance should address the following:

  • enemy formation to be attacked
  • enemy function that is unacceptable
  • desired effects
  • purpose: the maneuver reason for effects

Technique: Address artillery effects desired per FM 6-20-10, The Targeting Process, using the terms disrupt, delay, and limit. These terms apply to the effect that the damage has on the target as it pursues a course of action.

  • Disrupt: Prevent the enemy from carrying out his function in the method he intends. Example: "Disrupt the enemy's ability to fix our screening force."

  • Delay: To cause that function or action to happen later than the enemy desires. Example: "Delay 2d Motorized Rifle Company (MRC) until A & B companies destroy the 1st MRC."

  • Limit: Prevent that action or function from happening where the enemy wants it to happen. Example: "Limit the advance guard's use of the ridge to position its air defense weapons."

Example Commander's Guidance: Disrupt the Combined Arms Reserve 2d Motorized Rifle Company's ability to fix B & C companies until they destroy the 1st MRC with direct fire.

Technique: When planning time is limited, the commander must give specific guidance in the quick decisionmaking process:

  • Who will indirect fires affect: enemy formation, High Payoff Targets

  • What are the desired effects: destroy, neutralize, suppress (with an assigned no./ type of vehicles) to delay, disrupt, limit, etc.

  • How this will be accomplished: field artillery, mortars, close air support, electronic warfare

  • Where will it be accomplished: in engagement area Red, at target reference point 1, at target AV2001

  • When will it occur: when the Forward Security Element is identified, as the 1st MRC crosses decision point 1

  • How the task contributes to our success: to allow B Co to maneuver to battle position 21

COURSE OF ACTION DEVELOPMENT

During this phase, the FSO and staff should translate the commander's guidance into a concept of fires for each course of action.

Technique: Determine

  • Concept of fires in terms of task, purpose, method, and end state that achieves the effects required
  • Tentative triggers and Fire Support Coordination Measures (FSCMs)
  • Tentative observer focus and positioning

Example Concept of Fires:

  • Task: Disrupt the 2d Motorized Rifle Company (MRC)
  • Purpose: Prevent the 2d MRC from engaging B and C Companies while they destroy the 1st MRC
  • Method: A Company eyes on 2d MRC deep, MLRS triggered on 2d MRC as they enter EA Gold
  • End state: Two2 BMPs destroyed, flank 2S6s suppressed, 2d MRC unable to engage attack companies

WARGAME

The wargame is the process where the FSO turns the concept of fires into a detailed scheme of fires. The result of the wargame is a clear sequence of fire support events with detailed triggers, fire support coordination measures, and observer plan. In addition, the staff must clearly identify attack systems, volume of fires required, and High Payoff Targets.

Through the wargaming process of action-reaction-counteraction, the FSO recommends the best concept of fire support that supports each course of action developed. As the friendly and enemy courses of action are fought in the wargame, the FSO and staff determine how to integrate fire support with the scheme of maneuver. The FSO recommends fire support employment options and determines how fire support will be used with direct fire weapons and maneuver in terms of time and space.

TARGETING

Targeting is an integral part of the detailed wargame of the chosen course of action. Targeting is the process of identifying enemy targets for possible engagement and determining the appropriate attack system to be used to achieve the desired target effects. The emphasis of targeting is on identifying the enemy function or formation he can least afford to lose to accomplish the friendly mission. To be effective, targeting must be an integral part of engagement area development and direct fire planning. And most important, targeting decisions must support the commander's intent to affect the target in the way the commander desired.

Targeting at the Attack Helicopter Battalion is not as formal as targeting at the brigade. However, the concept of the targeting process, which identifies High Payoff Targets, and eventually evolves into attack guidance, is still valid and useful at battalion level.

The focus of the targeting process is development of a prioritized list: the High Payoff Target (HPT) list and the Attack Guidance Matrix (AGM). This list specifies:

  • What targets are to be acquired and attacked
  • When they are to be acquired and attacked
  • What is required to achieve the commander's desired effects

The battalion may not develop its own formal High Payoff Target list and the Attack Guidance Matrix. The battalion may use or modify the High Payoff Target list and attack guidance developed by brigade and higher fire support elements. No matter which products are developed, the focus at the battalion level is to determine the critical information required to detect, prioritize, and engage appropriate targets. Bottom line: battalion targeting must be time sensitive and practical.

Targets should be developed by the targeting team: S-3 (operations), S-2 (intelligence), Electronic Warfare Officer, and FSO. Targeting as a team ensures that the targets are synchronized with, and supported by, the enemy situation and scheme of maneuver. The FSO advises the targeting team on the following:

  • The fire support system's ability to defeat high payoff or other designated targets.
  • The best means of attack.
  • The best type of munitions to achieve the commander's desired results.

Technique: Armed with the S-2's situation and event templates, High Value Targets, and commander's guidance, the targeting team should interact during wargaming to develop targeting products. As the staff fights the different options during the wargame, the S-2 must identify specific High Value Targets and the collection means available to acquire these targets (including the FSO's observation plan). The S-3 and FSO use their knowledge of friendly weapons systems to determine if a capability exists to attack the High Value Targets with lethal and non-lethal assets. Using this knowledge of friendly attack capabilities and the knowledge of enemy vulnerabilities, the S-2 then analyzes and predicts the enemy's response to each attack method. This analysis determines if the attack of the High Value Targets is necessary to ensure the success of the friendly mission. The High Value Targets that meet the criteria of being acquirable, attackable, and necessary to ensure friendly success are designated High Payoff Targets and recorded on the Decision Support Template (DST) for that specific phase of the battle. In addition, as part of High Payoff Target development, the targeting team should determine when to acquire and attack targets while deciding the best means of attack. Knowing target vulnerabilities and the effect a method of attack has on an enemy operation allows the staff to propose the most efficient available acquisition means, attack means, and time to attack.

Technique: The targeting team can use the Aviation Mission Planning System (AMPS), Terrabase, and Tactical Sensor Planner as tools to identify enemy weapons and radar that can affect friendly operations.

The FSO, as part of the targeting team, determines which and how many enemy systems to attack with lethal and non-lethal indirect fires to achieve the desired target effect. The FSO must also use battlefield calculus to figure what the fire support assets can actually accomplish. Most important, the FSO must determine if he can meet the commander's guidance.

Technique: The FSO should consider the following questions as part of battlefield calculus during engagement area development:

  • How many vehicles will enter the engagement area (EA)?
  • How long will the enemy be in the EA?
  • How many rounds can I fire during that time?
  • How many vehicles will these rounds kill or suppress?
  • Can we kill him in the numbers required?

Technique: Before a target number is assigned and the target placed on the map, the targeting team should answer these questions:

  • What is the purpose of the target?
  • Does this target reflect the commander's intent?
  • Is this target in synch with the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield?
  • Can this target be observed and triggered?

DECISION SUPPORT TEMPLATE

The Decision Support Template is developed as the commander and staff form the operations plan during the wargaming process. Wargaming identifies the decision points for the commander while the Decision Support Template graphically portrays the decision points and the options available to the commander if an action occurs. It identifies the critical fire support triggers on the battlefield and is an aid to the commander and staff in synchronizing the battlefield operating systems. The Decision Support Template provides the FSO with the critical information that is required to plan fire support that is synchronized with direct fire and maneuver. This information becomes the basis of the fire support plan.

FIRE SUPPORT PLAN

The fire support plan is based upon the detailed scheme of fires developed during the wargaming process. The fire support execution matrix and detailed observer plans are the end result fire support products developed during the wargame.

The plan may include the following:

  • Commander's guidance for fire support.

  • Availability of fire support assets and their status.

  • A fire support execution matrix that lays out the clear sequence of fire support events.

  • A target list that includes locations where fires are expected or likely to be used.

  • A priority of targets and engagement criteria telling which type of target to attack first and how that target should be attacked (High Payoff Target List/Attack Guidance Matrix).

  • An observation plan that identifies who is responsible for observing and firing each target, and where each observer must be positioned to see the trigger and the target.

  • A priority of fires telling which element will receive fire support in case of competing demands.

In summary, the fire support plan must articulate the critical time and place to focus fires, who will trigger and control fires, where the observer will position himself to see triggers and targets, which targets to shoot (no./type of vehicle, formation, etc.), when and where to shoot them, what target effects are desired, which type of indirect weapon and munition to achieve the commander's desired results, and the purpose of shooting the target.

EXAMPLE SCHEME OF FIRES:

OBSERVATION PLAN

If a target is important enough to target, it is important enough to assign an observer to control fires. Because Attack Helicopter Companies do not have assigned fire support teams, the Battalion FSO normally assigns observer responsibilities to specific companies. However, the FSO must receive bottom-up refinement from the companies on the details of their observation plan to validate their ability to execute the battalion fire support plan. All targets should have alternate observers assigned in case the primary observer is unable to fire the target.

Technique: Use the Aviation Mission Planning System (AMPS) or Terrabase to analyze terrain to determine observer line of sight to assist in observation post selection.

FSO/FSNCO POSITIONING

The FSO must decide where he and his Non-Commissioned Officer (FSNCO) should locate for mission execution. This is especially crucial because there are no fire support teams at the company level. The FSO normally has four options: locate with the Battalion Commander, S-3, battalion command post, or tactical command post. The type of aircraft used by the commander and S-3, and radio capabilities of any airborne command and control (C2) aircraft affect the FSO's options. The FSO must position himself and the FSNCO where they can best support the commander's concept of fires.

COMMUNICATIONS

The FSO and S-3 must also decide how the observer will send fire missions and spot reports to the FDC. The FSO will usually require observers to send all fire missions through him or the FSNCO. This way, the FSO can clear fires and ensure the missions support the scheme of fires and commander's concept. In addition, the Attack Helicopter Battalion may require an aerial or ground radio re-transmission team to talk over long distances to the supporting artillery. The FSO may also request a quick-fire channel to facilitate rapid communications with the supporting artillery. This is usually most effective when supported by division or corps general support assets.

CLEARANCE OF FIRES

Attack Helicopter Battalions typically receive missions to attack second echelon and reserve forces, stop enemy penetrations, and to conduct screens forward or to the flanks of the ground maneuver forces. These missions often require the Attack Helicopter Battalion to request fires into the ground maneuver zone of action. FSOs must develop and coordinate maneuver and fire support control measures to safeguard friendly elements and ease rapid clearance of fires outside the battalion's zone. In addition, the FSO must develop plans to control and coordinate indirect fires within the Attack Helicopter Battalion's subordinate units.

Technique:

  • Establish and practice positive controls (maneuver control measures and fire support coordination measures).

  • Establish simple procedures for external (adjacent and higher) and internal (company) clearance of fires. Include these procedures in Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs).

  • Use Aviation Brigade Liaison teams for detailed coordination with external units.

CONCLUSION

The combat power of the Attack Helicopter Battalion is most effective when synchronized with massed indirect fires. The Attack Helicopter Battalion FSO plays a crucial role during the planning process to effectively integrate these fires. As a combat multiplier available to the Attack Helicopter Battalion Commander, fire support will always play a key part in the application of firepower and maneuver.



The Fire Support Rehearsal
Acknowledgements



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