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ACTION AFTER THE TACTICAL OBSTACLES
by SFC Douglas Roy, NTC Engineer O/C

"Every attack ends with some form of assault unless the enemy position is destroyed by gunfire or the mission allows bypassing the position." FM 90-13-1, Chapter 5

According to doctrine, a unit conducting an attack must plan and prepare for a final assault onto the objective unless the unit intends, if possible, to bypass the enemy position. In most attack missions at the National Training Center (NTC), the mission does not allow units to bypass the enemy position. Additionally, during the planning process, task forces cannot anticipate destruction of the enemy positions by fires, so they must still plan and prepare for an assault.

The field manual is clear on the subject of attacking on to the objective, yet in most attack missions at the NTC, the engineer company stops after it breaches the tactical obstacles. The intent of this article is to highlight the need for training the mechanized engineer platoon on that all-important task of attacking on to the objective as part of the assault force.

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In some recent NTC rotations, task forces conducting an attack task organized a platoon of engineers with the assault force. The engineer platoons generally received the following task and purpose: Provide mobility support to the assault force. Typically, this is the amount of detailed guidance for the engineer platoon.

TRAINING ISSUE: Units do not train for or rehearse assault breaching.

DISCUSSION: Although engineer company commanders commonly task organize an engineer platoon to support the assault force company in a task force attack, rarely does the assault force or engineer platoon conduct training or rehearsals on assault breaching of protective obstacles. Unfortunately, the training at NTC contributes to this situation. For a multitude of reasons, mechanized infantry platoons are unlikely to dismount and secure an objective. The objective's protective obstacles are most likely not well prepared, even though the protective obstacles are the first priority in the OPFOR's obstacle emplacement scheme.

RECOMMENDATION: The engineer company OPORD must clearly state that the task and purpose of the platoon is primarily to conduct an assault breach or to breach the enemy's protective obstacles, and that the engineer platoon is required to link up early with the assault force commander. If the platoon has a "be prepared" mission to breach the tactical obstacles, let that mission be one that they receive from the assault force commander. Past observations have shown that the engineer platoon is expected to travel with the engineer company; then, after the tactical obstacles have been breached, they are to link up "on the fly" with the assault force. The platoon leader must know the assault force commander's plans in order to task organize the platoon to support the fast flowing assault force. AND if the squads are task organized with an infantry platoon, they must rehearse with the infantry platoons.

TRAINING ISSUE: In engineer units, crew knowledge of weapon systems and leader knowledge of basic fire control measures needs improvement.

DISCUSSION: Because mechanized engineer platoons rarely execute an assault breach, many squads believe they do not need their weapons and leave their weapons behind. This has resulted in a decline in crew knowledge of weapons systems and leader knowledge of basic fire control measures. Basic knowledge on the placement of squad vehicles to ensure that the vehicle weapon systems can engage the enemy without endangering the dismounts during the breach is lacking. If the assault is dismounted, the squads seldom think about, let alone rehearse, the placement of their squad light weapon systems.

The norm for most engineer squad rehearsals:

  • Squads conduct a single breach drill-usually on an anti-tank mine minefield with a reinforcing wire fence.
  • Squads do not vary obstacles to include anti-personnel minefields or complex wire obstacles.
  • Squad rehearsals do not include training in close combat skills needed for an assault breach.

RECOMMENDATION: Squad leaders must train their squads in assault breaching of protective obstacles. This may mean reducing the lane width from four meters to one meter if the assault is to be conducted by dismounted sappers in support of dismounted infantry. A dismounted breach also changes the marking requirements. If the objective has a complex trench line, the squads may also concern themselves with bunker clearance or the removal of booby traps in the trench line. They should think about their ability to control surface danger zones (SDZ) for the uses of explosives in the breach. This requires team leaders to be prepared to handle many of the things now trained by the squad leader.

SUMMARY

The need for an increase in assault breach training conducted at platoon level is paramount to the unit's ability to completely destroy the enemy, in detail, on the objective. Just a quick review of Chapter 5, FM 90-13-1, Combined Arms Breaching Operations, should get commanders and platoon leaders thinking. In order for engineers to complete their mission, leaders must plan and prepare to fight on to the final enemy position in order to close with and destroy the enemy. Engineers must not be satisfied to plan to the first tactical obstacle; they must be prepared to take the fight to the enemy any way that they have to.

The next time the platoon says it's a "T" in breaching--the next time your squads say that they have completed their rehearsals--start asking some questions.


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