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Route-Clearance Operations
A Guide for Intelligence Professionals

by CPT Jan Rueschhoff, S2, 1-33 Armor Battalion


The ability to move forces and material to any point in an area of operations is basic to combat power and often decides the outcome of combat operations. Maneuver depends on adequate lines of communication (LOC) within the area of operations. It is necessary to conduct route and road clearance operations to ensure LOC enables safe passage of combat and support organizations.1

--FM 20-32, Mine/Countermine Operations

INTRODUCTION

At the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), units are routinely plagued by the Cortinan Liberation Front (CLF) interdicting their combat service support (CSS) assets along the main supply routes (MSRs) and other routes. The CLF has the capability to establish nuisance minefields in support of ambush operations and it is well within their ability to reseed these obstacles once cleared. This will allow the CLF to bleed a brigade white within the five-day low-intensity conflict (LIC) phase of a rotation. Despite the importance of keeping MSRs and other routes clear of enemy mines, there exists only sparse doctrine on how to best tackle this problem. This paper examines the current doctrine found in our field manuals and the observations from the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) on how to accomplish route-clearance operations. Additionally, suggestions on how the intelligence battlefield operating system (BOS) can help the exercising unit in this type of operation is included. Such suggestions are just those--suggestions. Any discussion of the suggestions included--either supportive or critical--is an important step to professional preparation for the JRTC. As with any endeavor, a professional should examine what could work and what will not before he initiates operations. The time for this discussion is not while he is seeking shelter from the rain under the circus tents at the intermediate staging base (ISB). The time for this discussion is now.

THE ENEMY SITUATION GENERAL THREAT

The Cortinan Liberation Front (CLF) is an insurgent organization that has been supported through special operations forces of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Atlantica. Most units are introduced into the area of operations as the CLF has already started phase 2 insurgency operations. These operations include the mining and establishment of ambushes on lines of communication. The CLF operates in a decentralized manner; three- to five-man teams are the normal tactical element. Despite their small force organization, they routinely exact a 7:1 or 9:1 casualty ratio against the U.S. rotational force. This is due to their guerrilla-style tactics, which engage friendly forces at their weakest point and at the most inopportune times. Although, usually armed with only small arms--the M-16 being the most common--the CLF has been known to use light anti-tank weapons such as the RPG-7 and the B-11 recoilless rifle. Yet, the most common anti-tank weapon that the CLF uses on a regular basis is the anti-tank mine.

THREAT TO CSS OPERATIONS

The CLF is best at exploiting the vulnerability of the brigade's supply system. They understand that the brigade must keep its combat forces supplied with water, ammunition, food, and fuel. Additionally, casualties must be evacuated to the aid stations for treatment. All of these activities must be run on the few roads throughout the battlefield. It is through ambushes and the CLF's formidable countermobility operations that most threaten CSS assets traveling on the battlefield. The CLF is highly efficient in their use of nuisance minefields to destroy vehicles and set up ambushes. The typical obstacle is quite simple, yet skillfully employed:

  • Usually, a CLF minefield uses only 2 to 10 mines in the road.

  • Some are buried, while others are surface laid.

  • Mines may be hidden in meal, ready-to-eat (MRE) boxes, potholes or camouflaged in other ways.

  • Mines are found on the side of the roads to destroy vehicles attempting to assume the herringbone formation. Additionally, obvious bypasses and turnaround points may be mined.

  • Most obstacles are covered by either direct or indirect fire.

  • The CLF will generally not engage by direct fire a well-protected convoy unless desperate to inflict hardship on the brigade.

  • It takes the CLF only 30-60 minutes to re-seed a previously cleared minefield, and does so regularly.

  • Mine caches are necessary for the CLF to readily reseed these obstacles.

  • These mine caches are found from 50 to 500 meters from the obstacle location. However, most are located within 200 meters. They are hidden with various degrees of concealment. Many are skillfully concealed in pits and canvas tarps covered with foliage. Others are simply hidden in holes and tall brush.

  • Mines and caches are regularly booby-trapped. Approach with caution.

THREAT TO ROUTE-CLEARANCE OPERATIONS

The CLF is not expected to engage our armor. A combat force made up of M1 tanks would make such an attack foolhardy. However, the CLF should still be considered able to threaten such operations. The most dangerous threat to the operation would be the use of the CLF's 82mm mortar. An observer can easily identify the force at an obstacle and call in mortar fire. Although the tanks may be unaffected, the mortar fire could decimate an infantry force and their soft vehicles. The Q36 is the best asset to employ a quick counterfire against the CLF's mortars.

The second threat is that the assault force can be baited out of range of the M1's supportive fire. If unfixed, the CLF can move away from the M1's firepower; baiting the assault force to follow. Once away from the support force, the CLF can execute either a baited ambush or box attack to separate the assault force and create heavy losses for the unit.

In a worst-case scenario, the CLF would conduct such a baiting maneuver while calling for their mortars to engage the vehicles on the road. The most common threat to the clearance force's activities is that the lead echelons would miss a hidden mine and that follow-on vehicles--a tank or 5-ton--would run over it. While conducting sweeps for mines, units should look for these hidden mines. The following is a list of indicators of hidden mines or booby-traps:2

  • Damaged vehicles
  • Dead animals
  • Avoidance by the local population
  • Signs of digging
  • Signs of concrete removal
  • Holes or groves in the road
  • Boxes or parcels placed along the road or shoulder
  • Parked vehicles and bicycles without operators
  • Wires on the road surface or extending to the shoulder
  • Metallic devices on the roadway surface
  • Evidence of mine-peculiar supplies (such as wrenches, shipping plugs, wrapping paper, and safety collars from fuses)
  • Disturbances of road potholes or puddles
  • Differences in amount of moisture or dew on road surface
  • Differences in plant growth (such as wilting, changing colors, or dead foliage)
  • Signs posted on trees that covertly alert the local populace to the presence of mines

Once friendly operations have been identified, the CLF is likely to alter their course of action. The CLF may pull back from the roads and allow the route-clearance operation to pass them. Once passed, they would restart their countermobility operations until they identify another clearance operation mounting on the route. If the clearance operation had destroyed their caches, they would need to receive resupply from either their platoon or company supply point. The key to foiling such a course of action is establishing ambushes during the evening on both cleared obstacle locations and likely routes to resupply mines to the CLF.

THE OPERATION CONCEPT

"A lack of clear doctrinal guidance for route clearance and limited training.stands as two significant reasons why units achieve only limited success in the clearance of routes."3 --Center for Army Lessons Learned

Now that friendly forces have an idea of the type of enemy that they are facing, the unit should examine what is involved in a route-clearance operation. The following sections provide the current doctrine about such an operation--from what is route clearance to what parts make up the organization.

Defining the Mission

To best understand the mission, it is best that the relevant terms be defined.

Route Clearance. One manual has defined route clearance as the removal of mines along pre-existing roads and trails.4 However, another manual has implied a much more complex goal. It states that the mission of route clearance is to "conduct clearance-in zone operations to ensure battlefield circulation."5

Clearance-in-Zone. If route clearance is a style of clearance-in-zone operation, then what is clearance in zone? Doctrine defines it as: "A requirement to eliminate organized resistance in an assigned zone by destroying, capturing, or forcing the withdrawal of enemy forces that could interfere with the unit's ability to accomplish its mission."6With the understanding of what clearance-in-zone means, it is clear that what the unit wants to accomplish is more akin to the second definition of route clearance. The unit plans to destroy the enemy first, clear the road second. The zone is simply dictated by the route that the unit wishes to clear.

Breaching vs Clearing. There are two terms to further investigate: breaching and clearing obstacles. The differences in these two terms may play a role in understanding the intent of the commander. Breaching is defined as the employment of a combination of tactics and techniques to project combat power to the far side of an obstacle.7 In breaching, obstacles are reduced so that forces can cross through a particular area. This lane may be anywhere from 1 to 16 meters. If a bypass is identified, the obstacle may not be reduced at all. Rather, the bypass is marked so that forces can safely pass around the obstacles.8 Doctrine refers to such breaching operations. Generally, breaching obstacles is presented in the context that the enemy is on the far side of the obstacle. An example would be assaulting onto an objective. Breaching is broken down into three separate types: In-stride, Deliberate, and Assault.

In-Stride Breach. The in-stride breach is a special type of breaching operation used to overcome unexpected or lightly defended tactical obstacles.9It is expected that the initial engineer action upon arriving at a CLF minefield will be the execution of an in-stride breach. By quickly developing a lane, assets are able to utilize the route until more extensive clearing operations have been completed.

Deliberate Breach. The deliberate breach is a scheme of maneuver specifically designed to cross an obstacle to continue the mission. Unlike the in-stride breech, the unit is given a specific objective and control measures for the attack of the obstacle.10An example of a deliberate breach is a task force planning to breach through the tactical obstacle (turning, fixing, disruptive) forward of an enemy's defensive area. However, a deliberate breach operation could be formed to reduce an obstacle should an in-stride breach operation had previously failed.

Assault Breach. The assault breach allows for a force to penetrate an enemy's protective obstacles and destroy the defender. It is performed as part of a larger unit's attack.11This is an obvious engineer mission during either a hasty or deliberate attack.

Clearing. Clearing is the total elimination or neutralization of an obstacle. Clearing operations are not conducted under fire. They are usually performed after the breaching operation by follow-on engineer forces, or anytime in a friendly area of operations where an obstacle is a hazard or hinders movement.12Limited clearing operations can be conducted once the initial obstacles have been breached and the area has been secured.13

Route-Clearance Methods

Doctrine normally refers to general guidance on route-clearance operations. Essentially, doctrine seems to suggest a linear clearance method. However, observer/controllers at JRTC have noted that this method is not the most secure method available. Two other methods--the combat clearance and the combined clearance techniques--are available to the maneuver commander.14

Linear Method. This is the method described by current doctrine. By far the simplest method, the clearing force moves down a route from point "A" to point "B." Should an obstacle be discovered, the unit secures the area, breaches then clears the obstacle, searches for caches, and then moves on down the road. Unfortunately, the linear clearance method allows the enemy to accurately track the location of the element and engage it only when most advantageous to the insurgent force. The enemy may decide to pull back, allow the clearing force to pass, and then return to resume operations on following units.

Combat Clearance Method. Sites where the enemy may most likely employ minefields are targeted as Named Areas of Interest (NAIs). A sweep force moves to secure and then clear the area. Once cleared, the sweep force moves to the next mined area (also an NAI) and repeats the process. This technique is ideally suited for light forces because they do not need to move along fixed routes potentially targeted by the enemy.

Combined Clearance Method. This option combines the two previous methods: linear and combat clearance. It is a two-phased, force-intensive operation and may require a battalion-sized element.15 As with the combat clearance method, likely obstacle areas are templated, targeted, secured, and cleared by a light force. Once these targeted areas are cleared, the sweep force moves down the route and clears any obstacles missed or not identified during the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB)/engineer battlefield analysis (EBA) process. This method allows for the route to be cleared while maintaining security, initiative, and flexibility. Additionally, the combat power of the armored team is utilized in the operation.

The Mission Requirements

Commander's Intent. Finding the enemy is the first part of killing the enemy. Due to the enemy's tactics of interdicting our CSS assets on the MSRs and other routes, it is not difficult to template where on these MSRs he will want to operate. With this, the commander can state that "if the enemy wants to fight on the roads, we'll fight him on the roads." Such is the commander's intent. More specifically, the commander can have each battalion dedicate one company to route-clearance operations. Each company can be reinforced with a platoon of armor and receive augmentation from its engineer platoon. The brigade can give each company a route it would be responsible to clear. The intent is for the company to clear the route of not only the obstacles, but also of the enemy and his caches of mines. Remember that this is a clear-in-zone mission.

Doctrinal Tasks. There are several tasks that the existing doctrine indicates must be accomplished to be successful for route-clearance operations. Although the intent is for this to be a company operation, for success to be achieved, elements of the entire task force will need to be involved. The following is a listing of the doctrinal tasks required.16

Engineer Element

  • Conduct deliberate sweep operations.
  • Detect obstacles.
  • Conduct breaching and clearing operations.

Maneuver Element

  • Secure the area to be cleared.
  • Develop a fire plan/suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD).
  • Conduct route reconnaissance.
  • Conduct mounted-movement drills.
  • Conduct road movement.
  • React to enemy contact.
  • Conduct a hasty attack.
  • React to civilians on the battlefield.

Battalion Staff

  • Conduct an air-mission brief (METT-T).
  • Develop a fire plan/suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD).
  • Conduct emergency resupply operations.
  • Conduct vehicle recovery and evacuation operations.
  • Collect and disseminate intelligence information.
  • Provide command and control ( C2).
  • Conduct liaison with civil authorities.
  • Respond to press interviews.
  • Deploy a reserve.

Order of Battle

The order of battle for this operation was discussed briefly earlier. However, taking a closer look at what is needed and what current doctrine recommends may be helpful.

Cascade Thrust Order of Battle. During Cascade Thrust, the order of battle for the company STXs were much like the following:

One light infantry company, a platoon of tanks and two engineer squads. The companies experimented with several techniques. Some companies used 5-ton trucks, while most had the force dismounted throughout the clearance operation.

Doctrinal Task Organization. Doctrine provides for a more robust package for route clearance. FM 5-7-30, Brigade Engineer and Engineer Company Combat Operations, lists two recommended task organizations. One is for a light/heavy team; the other is for a pure light team. Although the maneuver element is a company team, the involvement of other BOS indicates that the task force needs to be fully engaged in the operation's planning and support. Remember that these task organizations are intended for the linear route-clearance method.

Clearing Organization. The clearance operation is broken into three sub-units in accordance with breaching doctrine. They are the Support Force, Breach Force, and Assault Force. While the same elements in a clearing operation are used, the roles are slightly altered.17

Support Force. The support force maneuvers to a position where it can overwatch the minefield and direct effective fires on possible enemy locations. Its primary responsibility is to prevent the enemy from interfering with the breaching/clearing operation.

Breach Force. The breach force moves forward with tanks in the lead. The infantry platoon provides local security while the engineers and/or tanks with mine-clearing rollers conduct the actual clearance of mines.

Assault Force. The usage of the assault force in clearance operations is altered slightly from breaching operations. In breaching operations, the assault force is to project itself through the breach and destroy the enemy overwatching the obstacle. In route-clearance operations, the assault force moves (dismounted) using a covered and concealed route. Once contact is made, it will be the killing force of the CLF. This force will also be the element that searches the surrounding area for caches and hidden enemy.

Assault ForceLIGHT/HEAVY TEAM

The assault force consists of two infantry platoons. They may use six five-ton trucks to move the platoons up to the objective. Either one of the platoon leaders or the executive officer (XO) will command this element.

Support Force

The support force consists of a Bradley platoon, an engineer squad, a company's 60-mm mortar section, a forward observer, a medical team with two front-line ambulances (FLAs), and a PSYOP team. The Bradley platoon leader commands this element.

Breach Force

The company commander positions himself with the breach force from where he can command the entire operation. It consists of the rest of the engineer platoon, an infantry platoon on three 5-ton trucks, and a section of tanks with mine-clearing rollers.

Assault ForceLIGHT TEAM

Just as with the light/heavy organization, the assault force consists of two infantry platoons. They may use six five-ton trucks to move the platoons up to the objective. Either one of the platoon leaders or the XO will command this element.

Support Force

The support force consists of a section of the battalion's anti-tank (AT) platoon (or an military police (MP) section), an engineer squad; a company's 60-mm mortar section, a forward observer, a medical team with two FLAs, and a PSYOP team. The AT platoon leader commands this element.

Breach Force

Again, the company commander commands from the breach force. It consists of the rest of the engineer platoon, an infantry platoon on three 5-ton trucks, and a section of the battalion's AT platoon (MPs may be substituted).

COMMAND AND CONTROL ISSUES

Again, although it is only a company team from each battalion that is executing the route-clearance mission, that must be planned at the battalion, if not the brigade level. The following section will present some of the existing doctrinal factors. However, it will also include some suggestions on the best manner to plan for such an operation.

Doctrinally Identified Facts and Assumptions

FM 5-7-30 has already identified many of the facts and assumptions that will be encountered when planning route-clearance operations. As a staff officer reads these, he will realize that the situation will closely mesh with the enemy and the operation that faces them at JRTC.

  • Noncombatants are in the area.
  • Noncombatants will use the main supply routes (MSRs).
  • Rules of engagement (ROEs) are in effect.
  • MSRs are limited, and the terrain is restrictive.
  • Enemy teams, squads, and platoons conduct decentralized operations; they can mass to company-level operation.
  • The enemy makes extensive use of minefields, indirect fires, snipers, and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
  • The enemy can infiltrate to ambush, emplace minefields, reseed cleared minefields, erect obstacles, emplace explosive devices, and conduct acts of terrorism.
  • Buried point minefields can be emplaced in 1 to 1 1/2 hours on an unimproved road and 2 hours on an improved road.
  • Point minefields consist of 5 to 35 mines with a mix of 10 to 25 AT mines and/or 5 to 10 AP mines.
  • Direct and indirect weapons may cover minefields and obstacles.
  • All obstacles are considered to be booby-trapped.
  • Cleared minefields can be reseeded which indicate the presence of mine caches.
  • All movements are considered combat operations.
  • Clearance operations are conducted during daylight hours.
  • MSRs must be swept daily.
  • Each convoy has a security escort that can also breach minefields, if required.
  • Aviation, fire support, military intelligence, military police, ADA, civil affairs, and psychological operations assets are available.
  • Light forces can clear 700 meters of a route per hour, using a minimum of four mine detectors, in a deliberate sweep operation.
  • Heavy forces can clear 5 to 15 kilometers of a route per hour, using a minimum of three mine-clearing rollers.
  • A reserve is available.
  • U.S. forces have air supremacy.
  • Light, mobile security elements have a mix of M-60 machine guns and MK-19 30-mm grenade launchers.
  • A truck platoon is available to move security forces.
  • Each light infantry platoon requires three 5-ton trucks for transportation.

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

The S-2 and the engineer representative are responsible for conducting IPB and the engineer battlefield assessment (EBA). During this process, there are several factors that should be kept in mind:

  • The CLF wants to influence the battlefield by interdicting our CSS assets. To best succeed at this, he will want to position his forces on the routes that we are most likely to use. He has probably correctly identified which routes we will be using as our MSR and alternate supply routes. It is on these and connecting major routes that he will focus his countermobility effort.

  • Once the route is targeted, the CLF will identify the best locations to emplace their obstacles. These locations tend to be at choke points, intersections, road bends, bridges, tunnels, and roads leading to built-up areas.

  • Be sure to paint the picture to the unit on what these obstacles will look like. They will not be complex obstacles. Typically, the CLF will use only 2 to 10 mines at each obstacle. These may be buried or surface-laid. Although there are usually mines on the road, the CLF will also mine the areas off the road. Additionally, obvious bypasses and turn-around points are good prospects for being mined as well. Some of the mines have anti-handling devices and booby traps are common.

  • Understand the primary reason for these minefields. They are not emplaced to slow; they are utilized to kill. Although there are exceptions, if there is a mined road, there is someone observing it. A 3- to 5-man team may be positioned to ambush poorly protected convoys or vehicles. Additionally, on each minefield is a target reference point (TRP). This gives the CLF the ability to engage elements clearing the obstacle with its 82-mm mortar as well as with direct fire. Coordinate with the fire support element (FSE) to plan coverage of route-clearance operations with the Q36 counter-battery radar.

  • Template from where the CLF is coming. They operate on the roads. They do not live on the roads. After each day's activities, the CLF will move back to a hide site. These hide sites are often near the streams where the vegetation is thick and they can hide easily. Many times the CLF will cut their way into the vegetation with machetes to establish a beaver lodge-like hide spot. The next morning they will go back to work on the routes. Templating likely hide spots can lead to better-planned ambushes against the CLF.

  • Remember that just because the obstacle was cleared today, it doesn't mean that tomorrow it will still be clear. The CLF is quite effective at reseeding their minefields. It takes them only 30-60 minutes to reseed a minefield on a route that took the brigade hours the day before to clear. Typically, the CLF will reseed these obstacles in the dark. However, the CLF is a bold force that may reseed their obstacles during the day if they know they will not be observed. Find the caches. To reseed their obstacles, the CLF will place mine caches 50 to 500 meters from the obstacle. However, generally these caches are located within 200 meters and they frequently are booby-trapped. If the caches haven't been taken care of, you will see the obstacle again.

Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) Planning

It is essential that the S-2 develop a detailed R&S plan that gives the clearance element the best information possible about what lies waiting for it down the road. Obviously, once the situational template is completed, the S-2 section should begin developing a preliminary R&S plan (the final plan will be completed upon the conclusion of the wargame).

NAIs

Designate NAIs on likely ambush/obstacle locations along the route planned to be cleared. If your unit is planning to clear more than one route, you may find you have a large number of NAIs, which is alright. The unit should then time-phase the NAIs. Although the CTCs love to criticize units for having "too many NAIs," doctrine does not support such a critique. Instead, doctrine calls for NAIs to have a purpose and to be able to be covered by the unit's collection assets.

Support Platoon

Look beyond the scout platoon for collection assets. Ground support radar (GSR), remotely monitored battlefield sensor system (REMBASS), aviation, and signal intelligence (SIGINT) are the primary external assets to which the unit can depend. However, what about your Support Platoon? Their routes should be relatively easy to plan. Give them the tasking to report on those routes when they travel from the combat trains to the units.

AT Platoon

During the low-intensity conflict (LIC) phase, the AT platoon becomes the battalion's force protection package for nearly everything that moves. Although the routes and schedule that the AT platoon may travel is not set in stone, you can make the AT platoon a reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) asset through prior planning. Coordinate with the AT Platoon Leader to monitor the operations and intelligence (O&I) net and give a report once he has finished escorting an element to a location. Make him understand that a report of no activity on a route is just as important as reporting enemy activity.

Once a route-clearance operation has cleared a route, it is important to continue sweeping to ensure it remains clear. Attached armor units equipped with the mine roller can provide this quick sweep of previously cleared routes.

Scout Platoon

The use of non-standard R&S assets has already been discussed; however, there is a use for the scout platoon. Conventional missions would have the scouts perform a route reconnaissance on the MSR due to be cleared. Additionally, they could be sent to confirm or deny templated obstacle locations. This would allow for a light sweep force to proceed to only those obstacle locations that have been confirmed.

Other missions may include having a scout team provide overwatch on a cleared obstacle to destroy by indirect fires CLF attempting to reseed a minefield. A technique that was employed in a recent rotation was to utilize the sniper teams to cover cleared obstacles. The roads made nice and long shots for sniper teams to pick off CLF attempting to reseed mines.

REMBASS/GSR

If REMBASS and GSR are available, they could serve to support R&S for route-clearance operations. For REMBASS, consider having a REMBASS team travel with the route-clearance element. Once an obstacle has been reduced and cleared, have the team emplace a seismic acoustic (SA) sensor at the obstacle or cache location (if a cache has been found). By doing so, the unit has a mechanical sentry keeping tabs on the location. If the sensors detect personnel moving in the area, it can cue the unit that the CLF are attempting to reseed the minefield.

Ground surveillance radar is more difficult to find a viable usage. However, it may be possible to use it to maintain surveillance on long, straight stretches of road.

The bottom line for the S-2 is to put thought into the R&S plan and use all of the assets that are organic to the battalion.

Other Planning Considerations

Targeting Meeting

It is understood that the primary purpose of this operation is to destroy the enemy. Clear the enemy from the routes through capture or destruction. (The unit does not want them moved to another area.) The best way to properly focus the operation to destroy the enemy will be through the use of the targeting meeting. In a targeting meeting, the unit brings together all of the key individuals necessary to properly synchronize an operation. (Actually, what the brigade and some of the battalions execute is more of a synchronization meeting that also performs targeting).

The routes that units should clear first are MSRs and alternate supply routes. There are two reasons for this. First, they are the most critical routes for free movement to be preserved. Second, through the first targeting meeting, it should come out that these are also the routes that the CLF will also be targeting. Again, going to where the CLF is will facilitate that unit in destroying them.

After the first critical routes are clear, the targeting meeting will become more important to assess which routes should next be cleared. The initial thought is that the route that has had the most CLF activity would be the prime candidate.

The end state of these targeting meetings is a well-synchronized plan that focuses our combat power against known (or highly suspected) locations of the enemy. Several things go into that synchronized plan:

  • The brigade targets the route promising the best chance to accomplish the mission.

  • Combat power is reassessed to ensure that the companies have the right task organization to complete the mission.

  • The R&S plan is updated to support continuing route-clearance operations.

  • Assets are tasked and deployed to confirm or deny enemy presence on targeted routes.

  • Aviation assets may be tasked to overfly the route prior to initiating the operation.

  • Involve CI and CA assets to gather information from local government and civilian sources about CLF countermobility operations in the area.

  • Enemy situation is reviewed and included in an INTSUM with the resulting FRAGO. The INTSUM should be graphic in nature.

  • Electronic Warfare is reviewed for its role in the clearance operation. If the brigade has jammers, EA taskings should be worked out to support the jamming efforts.

  • TAIs and fire support targets are tied into the scheme of maneuver.

  • Coverage by the Q36 is planned to support the resulting clearance operation. CFZs are planned to activate when the element closes on suspected ambush/obstacle locations.

  • Fire support assets (105-mms for brigade, 81-mms for battalion) are reviewed to make sure they can support the operation.

  • Smoke is planned for suspected ambush/obstacle locations.

  • ADA assets are positioned to interdict on any rotary aircraft performing reconnaissance and gun runs on the routes. A light company with 5-tons and tanks produce a nice linear target for an armed HIP.

  • Give clear start and end points for the clearance operation. Designate the size of "swath" that the unit should clear on each side of the route. This "swath" should extend at least 200 meters.

  • Determine whether this will be a brigade- or battalion-level operation. If a targeted MSR runs through more than one battalion's AO, does each battalion clear the MSR in its own AO? Does one battalion own the entire road for the clearance operation throughout the Brigade AO? If the later is the case, support and clearance of fires issues should be worked out at this meeting.

  • Consider using the MP platoon to close off targeted routes to civilian traffic during the clearance operation. CI/CA assets may be augmented to the MPs to assist in the liaison with the COBs.

Reporting Criteria

A major stumbling block to most units at a CTC is inadequate reporting. At JRTC, it is common for the same minefield to be the cause of over three or four incidents. It is not because of the CLF reseeding the minefield. Rather it is because no one reported the minefield throughout the brigade and three separate units stumbled across the minefield. The brigade must make it a goal that not one vehicle, not one soldier dies in a minefield because someone else earlier had identified it and the word didn't get out. Put an incentive behind the goal; a training holiday for the entire unit if they meet the goal.

Make Reporting Easy

Procedures such as the FSB's "Hammer Pass" are a step in the right direction. However, the staff must ensure that the information gathered at the FSB is reported throughout the brigade. Conversely, the information gathered throughout the brigade must be reported to the FSB. Each command post (CP) should incorporate a pass-type system. A link that is missing in the CSS loop is the traffic in and out of the battalion's combat trains and TOC. By making a concerted effort to collect this information, we build the LOC status database. As this database is continuously refined, it can assist the planners with a better template for the enemy, target him, and then destroy him without being destroyed.

Negative Spot Reports

Units need to make sure that everyone understands that negative spot reports are important. When a vehicle stops, the crew should report that along routes A, B, and C there is no enemy activity. This is useful information. Why? It helps clarify the situation and take away the unknown. Start with the premise that the brigade TOC, with the mutual support of the brigade engineer and S-2, is the maintainer and clearinghouse of the LOC status data base. If all that is reported to the TOC is the presence of obstacles, that is all that is known. If units know the routes that are closed, but have no information to determine which ones are clear, as in a proposed LOC overlay, the unit is not well informed. For example, the route names must be the same on overlays at all levels. Route names should be specified by brigade to each battalion task force. If task forces have to name a route, the task forces must share the route names horizontally and also pass the names back up to brigade. Ideally, the brigade planners would name all potential routes in their order and on their overlay.

LOC Overlay

To correct this, the brigade should provide a standardized LOC overlay to keep track of the routes in the brigade. Not a new idea, but one that needs to be more detailed.

Figure 1. LOC Overlay

Figure 1 shows an example of the suggested LOC overlay. Most likely routes to support the brigade are identified. Additionally, each route is subdivided and named. The way this would be used is that a convoy would plan its route and match it to the corresponding routes. To check for the route status, a staff officer would simply give the route numbers: P1-C2-C3-F1.

The TOC would be tracking these subsection's status and report the route's status. For example: "C2 and C3 were clear 15 minutes ago. P1 is unknown. But a convoy was fired on while traveling on F1 3 hours ago at grid 909429. No obstacle was reported." This gives the convoy commander much more distinct information on which he can make his own risk assessment. The current system does not yield itself to the resolution required.

Should a battalion find that they are using a route not included on the overlay, the S-2 would call the brigade and the route will be added. The route's subsections and name will be sent out in the next INTSUM. A hardcopy will be available for the battalions by the next FRAGO at the latest.

IDEAS ON EXECUTION

While the previous section dealt with suggested ways to plan and command and control the route clearance operation, this section will present some of the ideas about the actual execution. The leader and staff should examine the doctrinal methods for tackling this problem. This section deals with how a unit can best execute the mission during a rotation.

Finding the Fight

There are only a few valid targets outside of route clearance for a battalion S-2 to dispatch its scouts to find during the LIC phase. These targets are the 82-mm mortar and the company and battalion supply points. In addition to these targets, the scout platoon may be tasked to perform a route reconnaissance of routes targeted for clearance. It may even be possible for an R&S team to perform the route reconnaissance in route to the NAI for a templated mortar or supply point location. The other two companies not involved in route clearance activities could be tasked to check the routes within their area of operations.

Other assets such as Army Aviation could be used to report on routes deemed critical to CSS movement. Moreover, the AT and Support Platoon can be turned into valuable collection assets on the routes they use. It may be possible to use an armor section with mine plows to sweep routes. The bottom line is that the brigade must open its field of view on who can be intelligence collectors. Use any asset that can get to where the commander needs to look and submit a report of what they find.

Fighting the Fight

The commander has set out the basic task organization, which has been reviewed along with the doctrinal suggested organization. Yet, the Cascade Thrust organization is too simplistic and doesn't fully utilize the assets available. The doctrinal suggested organization is obviously not tailored to our situation as it includes a Bradley platoon, an asset not available.

Additionally, both doctrine and the way the units trained at Cascade Thrust prepared them for the linear clearance method. Those at the JRTC have already established that this is not the most successful method. Yet, the O/Cs at JRTC, who have advocated the combat or combined clearance method, do not present a workable task organization either. The light team, who is to move overland to the targeted ambush/obstacle sites, is task-organized with mounted assets in the support element. Obviously this is an unworkable option. So, what is?

First, what assets are available? Throughout the brigade, the following assets are the most likely to be committed:

In addition to these units, aviation, CI, PSYOPS, MP, MI and CA elements may be available. The following is a recommended use of these forces.

The Light Sweep Team

This element is air-assaulted or moves cross-country to the areas templated by the S-2 and engineer as most likely ambush or obstacle locations. The element's purpose is to secure the area, confirm or deny obstacles on the road, search for possible caches and clear the obstacles once the area has been secured. Ideally, the situation at the site has already been confirmed or denied by another R&S asset. This saves time by only sending the team to confirmed locations. If no contact is made at the location, it will move to the next templated location.

The light sweep element is performing a combat patrol. Clearing the obstacle is only a secondary concern. If they are able to destroy the 3- to 5-man team overwatching the obstacle, but do not clear the mines, their mission is still successful. The clearing element moving up the route will take care of the obstacle. This element is to take care of the enemy.

It is possible that units already in the vicinity of the targeted location could complete the task of the team. This would free the team to target other locations. Additionally, the team would ideally start clearing those areas the farthest from the clearing element's start point (SP). This would allow for a quicker clearance. The clearance team would anticipate clearing the first two locations themselves, while locations further down the route would be secured by the sweep team.

The Clearing Element

Advance Guard

The advance guard consists of a squad from the assault force which moves 100-200 meters forward of the assault force. The advance guard will parallel off-road the route being cleared. Its mission is to provide early warning to the rest of the element of unsuspected enemy resistance or obstacles.

If engaged, it will attempt to fix the enemy until the assault force arrives. Within only a 2:1 force ratio over a CLF squad, it should not be expected to destroy the element on its own. One of the assault element platoon's forward observer travels with the advance guard so that indirect fires may be used to fix the enemy.

Assault Force

The assault force may be moved up by trucks until they either close on a suspected ambush or obstacle location or the advance guard makes contact. At this point, the assault force dismounts and advances to the templated or actual enemy location. Otherwise, it advances dismounted 50-100 meters forward of the vehicular portion of the clearing element. One platoon moves just within visual range of each side of the road.

Once it links up with the advance guard, it moves to destroy the CLF team. Once the CLF is destroyed, the advance guard searches at least 200 meters on each side of the road for mine caches. At this time, the breach force moves up to clear the road of identified obstacles and search for hidden mines off the side of the road.

Once contact has been resolved, the advance guard squad may rotate out with another squad from the assault force. The company commander may choose to move with the assault force to control the fight with the CLF. Once the breaching force moves up, the company commander supervises and reorganizes the formation to continue operations.

Support Force

The support force consists of an armor section (one tank with a mine roller), an engineer squad, the company's 60-mm mortar and two field ambulances from the battalion's medical platoon.

The engineer squad sweeps visually and electronically (mine detector) 50 meters forward of the two-tank armor section. It is searching for any hidden mines that were missed by the advance guard and the assault force.

If the advance guard is engaged or engages the CLF team, it is the two tanks of this armor section that first supports the forward squad. They will rush up to support by fire the advance guard's efforts to fix the CLF team and the assault force's mission to destroy the team. To give the armor section the ability to position itself on the far side of the obstacle, if necessary, one of these tanks has the mine plow to breach a lane.

The rest of the support force stays in place with the breach force until the assault force has concluded its engagement with the CLF. The engineer squad links up with the other squad in the breach force to augment its effort when needed. The FLAs stand by for casualties and the mortar section sets up to receive fire missions.

Breach Force

The breach force consists of a section of armor and the last squad of the battalion's engineer platoon. The armor platoon provides rear security for the company team as well as secures the FLAs, engineers, mortar section and associated vehicles while the assault force resolves the fight with the CLF.

Once the CLF threat is neutralized, the assault force will call the remaining support and breach forces up to clear the rest of the obstacle.

The mission of the two engineer squads is now to clear the road and roadsides of mines and destroy any caches that may be found. After the obstacle site has been cleared, the two engineer squads may rotate out. The squad that was with the support force would now be with the breach force and vise-versa.

The Maintenance Sweep Team

Once a route has been cleared, it would be necessary to continue sweeping the road at least once a day to make sure that the CLF has not reseeded obstacles from hidden caches. To accomplish this, a heavy engineer squad would augment a section of armor.

This element would move down the road to identify any obstacles on the route. The engineers, traveling in a M113, would breach or clear the obstacle depending upon the enemy situation. If enough mineplows are available, one of the tanks will use it to cut a breach. The engineers would mark it and the sweep team would continue down the route. Any obstacle found, breached or not, would be reported and a decision would be made as to whether a clearance team would be sent in to conduct a combat clearance of the obstacle site.

Battletracking

As noted earlier, reporting the status of the routes is a critical portion of maintaining free lines of communication. Yet, once at the TOC and having received the information, the commander must know how to utilize it. As suggested, the more detailed LOC overlay is the key; to assist in tracking these route subsections, the staff should use a color-code system to define status. The system is described in Figure 2 on page 34. The LOC color-code system would give a quick method to determining the level of risk on each subsection of a route, aiding in risk management of the brigade task force. To track the reports, a LOC status chart would look something like Figure 3 on page 34. The status could be written out as shown, or filled in with the appropriate colored pen for quick reference.

Route ConditionCondition DescriptionInterpretation
GreenRoute with no previous reports of enemy activity: Traveled without incident within the last 2 hours.

Route with previous report of enemy activity, but has been cleared and enemy destroyed and caches found. Traveled without incident in the last hour.

Route is considered safe for movement. Force protection is still required.
AmberRoute traveled within the last 4 hours without incident (but not in the past 2 hours); all previously reported obstacles have been cleared. Caches may or may not have been discovered.Route's status should be relativity safe. However, there is a medium risk of new or reseeded obstacles on the route.
RedHas not been traveled in last 4 hours. This route should be considered medium to high risk. Any movement on this route should be prepared for contact.
BlackKnown non-breached obstacle or enemy presence has been reported on the route.Only combat forces moving to target the obstacle or enemy force should use this route. Route has a confirmed enemy presence.

Figure 2. LOC Color-Code System

Time as of: 101400Sep
RouteSec.StatusTraveledObs1Obs 2Obs 3
A1Green101215 SepNone
2Green101215 SepNone
3Amber101200 SepET123233
Cleared 100900 Sep
B1RedNANone
C1Green101245 SepNone
2Red091800 SepNone
3Black101145 SepET321332
Cleared 090900 Sep
ET321332
Recleared 100900 Sep
ET321332 Not Clear 101145 Sep
4Black091800 SepET333333 Not ClearET 332121
Cleared 091499 Sep
5Black101250 SepMine and Ambush

ET122323 101250 Sep

D1Red091000 SepNone
E1Black100956 SepMine and Ambush

ET332112 100956

F1Amber100900 SepNone

Figure 3. Route Status Chart

CONCLUSION

Whatever method chosen, there are some basic requirements that should be met.

1. The information should be kept accurately.

2. The information needs to be indexed for the user. That means that the convoy commander can easily determine the risk of the route on which he is planning to travel.

3. The information should be cross-referenced among the brigade. This means that the brigade and battalions must not only be talking between themselves, but to all subordinate units.

4. The information must be current. A minefield was cleared two days ago, but is it still posted?

This paper has detailed how doctrine describes a route-clearance operation and some suggestions on the topic. The CLF will fight on the roads given the opportunity. By targeting their countermobility operations, units can attrit their already limited combat strength as well as retain freedom of mobility on the battlefield. But to be successful, a leader must incorporate detailed planning and thought into the operation. A convoy commander cannot expect to perform a "Thunder Run" down the routes and call the operation successful. If he tries to accomplish his mission like nearly every unit that goes to the JRTC, he will be unsuccessful, depleted, and unable to accomplish his mission.

__________________

Endnotes:

1. FM 20-32, Mine/Countermine Operations, 30 September 1992, p. 10-1.

2. FM 5-7-30, Brigade Engineer and Engineer Company Combat Operations (Airborne, Air Assault, Light), 28 December 1984, p. D-7.

3. Combined Arms Route Clearance Operations Video, Center for Army Lessons Learned.

4. FM 20-32, Mine/Countermine Operations, 30 September 1992, p. 8-1.

5. FM 5-7-30, Brigade Engineer and Engineer Company Combat Operations (Airborne, Air Assault, Light), 28 December 1984, p. D-l.

6. FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Symbols, October 1995, p. 1-14.

7. FM 90-13-1, Combined Arms Breaching Operations, 7 May 1993, p. 2-1.

8. FM 20-32, Mine/Countermine Operations, 30 September 1992, pp. 8-1 to 8-3.

9. FM 90-13-1, p. 3-1.

10. Ibid., p. 4-6.

11. Ibid., p. 5-1.

12. FM 20-32, p. 8-1.

13. Ibid., p. 8-5.

14. Leighhow, John K., CPT, Route Clearance Operations, JRTC Plans/Exercise Maneuver Control Center.

15. Leighhow, John K., CPT, Route Clearance Operations, JRTC Plans/Exercise Maneuver Control Center.

16. FM 5-7-30, Brigade Engineer and Engineer Company Combat Operations (Airborne, Air Assault, Light), 28 December 1984, p. D-2.

17. FM 5-7-30, Brigade Engineer and Engineer Company Combat Operations (Airborne, Air Assault, Light), 28 December 1984, p. D-4.


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