Employing Joint Fires in Support of Defensive Operations

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Employing Joint Fires in Support of Defensive Operations

                                                                        MAJ Ryan L. Smith



The ability to employ fires throughout the breadth and depth of the battlefield during large scale combat operations continues to be a focus area during rotations at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC).  While Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) attending rotational exercises at JMRC continue to grapple with the integration and employment of fires, recent JMRC trends show that rotational units must achieve success in several key areas in order to effectively integrate and employ joint fire effects in support of defensive operations. These areas include; Early execution and integration into higher headquarters’ targeting cycle, integration of enablers to shape the enemy within the brigade deep area, conducting joint fire rehearsals as a part of the brigade daily battle rhythm, transitioning joint fire effects from the brigade deep area to the brigade close fight, and integration of joint fires effects within the brigade obstacle plan. This article looks to highlight those areas above where rotational units are effective, discuss the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) employed and finally, recommend additional TTPs all in effort to increase discussion and inform home station training on improving the employment of joint fires in support of defensive operations. 

An effective targeting cycle nested and complementary to the division targeting cycle has shown to be extremely effective in employing joint fires in support of defensive operations. Successful units use the targeting process to synchronize their intelligence collection (IC) plan with joint fires to focus intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and observers to deliberately acquire targets and shape the brigade’s fight across the depth of the battlefield. Starting the brigade targeting cycle early in the brigade’s planning process in order to synchronize the staff on brigade level targeting objectives is paramount to this integration and synchronization.  In a recent JMRC rotation, the brigade targeting officers were able to develop outputs from the brigade targeting working group and inject their efforts into the division targeting working group resulting in a common understanding of brigade capability gaps and where division assets were needed to meet brigade shaping operations within the commander’s intent. This allowed the brigade-targeting officer to fight for necessary divisional resources based on the commander’s priorities. This also allowed the brigade intelligence officer to develop a more accurate assessment of enemy composition and disposition leading to an effective event template (EVENTEMP) for targeting, enabling the brigade to see enemy formations and locations of high payoff targets (HPT) earlier over time and space.  In addition the brigade was able to plan early and synchronize target hand off as enemy formations transitioned between the division area of operation and the brigade deep fight.  Coupled together, these processes enabled the brigade to gain situational awareness of enemy formations prior to entering the brigade battle space and through the use of well-developed NAIs and TAIs were able to successfully target brigade HPTs and shape enemy maneuver formations earlier, buying time and setting conditions for success.


Rotational units also find success in the brigade deep area by properly integrating brigade and higher headquarters enablers into the overall joint fires fight. JMRC has seen positive trends in recent exercises where rotational units realize success in their ability to plan, synchronize, and coordinate joint fires effects within the brigade deep area while targeting enemy indirect fires capability and air defense artillery. A quick look at the last six JMRC rotations demonstrate that rotational units on average destroyed approximately a battalion worth of enemy artillery and associated air defense artillery and radars through effective integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with both Close Air Support (CAS) while employing both rocket and cannon artillery fires. In one recent rotation, the Brigade Intelligence Support Element (BISE) worked with divisional intelligence to closely monitor enemy formations via ground movement radar and provide assessments based on well-developed event templates and situational templates. These assessments were then relayed to the brigade current operations where both the current operations intelligence section and the brigade fires section, in close proximity, were able to confirm enemy targets via full motion video and engage with the appropriate delivery system using the brigade attack guidance matrix. This TTP proved very successful in attrition of high payoff targets denying the enemy key capabilities and systems for his attack. 


Successful brigades not only establish an effective targeting cycle and successfully integrate brigade and echelons above brigade (EAB) enablers in the brigade deep area, but also synchronize joint fires effects through deliberate joint fires rehearsals. Within defensive operations, rehearsals become extremely important given the requirements to distribute joint fires effects within the close area, brigade deep area, and in some cases within the division’s area of operations. Rotational units at JMRC continue to be successful at conducting intelligence and fires rehearsals following the brigade level planning.  What separates successful units however, is their ability to not only conduct rehearsals after initial planning but incorporate joint fires rehearsals inside the brigade and / or fires daily battle rhythm. Recently at a JMRC exercise the brigade not only conducted an effective rehearsal synchronizing brigade and EAB ISR assets with appropriate delivery systems for all brigade level targets, but incorporated daily technical rehearsals as part of their daily fires battle rhythm. These technical rehearsals focused on updated brigade and battalion targets resulting from changes and outputs of the brigade targeting working group and included most subordinate unit participation. In a separate JMRC rotation, the brigade capitalized on creating effective execution checklists (EXCHECKs) for specific brigade events and conducted multiple rehearsals of the EXCHECK prior to execution. The EXCHECKs focused on key brigade level events including the brigade coordinated attack and employment of FASCAM.  Last, this same brigade incorporated their higher headquarters inside brigade level rehearsals discussing key synchronization efforts but more importantly the handover of various high payoff targets and ensuring employment of key enablers at the desired time and place necessary for success.   

Despite the successful TTPs used to better shape and synchronize joint fires in the brigade deep area, rotational units continue to struggle with both transitioning joint fires from the brigade deep fight to the brigade close fight as well as integrating joint fires with maneuver defensive obstacles. Being able to distribute joint fires in both the brigade deep area and close area is necessary to ensure desired effects are coordinated at the desired time and place. Trends show that rotational units do not effectively plan nor rehearse the transition of both HPTs and enemy maneuver forces to the brigade close area. Over past rotations, this results in rotational units on average destroying only a minimal enemy maneuver combat power prior to enemy forces reaching friendly maneuver battalions engagement areas and initial defensive obstacle belts.  Included in these joint fires challenges are the lack of detailed integration of joint fires with maneuver obstacles. Outside of firing FASCAM, rotational units struggle with executing defensive pre-planned targets fired in support of obstacles. Units on average fire less than 10% of pre-planned targets supporting obstacles. This is a result of ineffective bottom up target refinement, vague and unrehearsed target triggers, and the absence of a layered observer plan.  Additionally, units struggle to create a combined obstacle plan at the brigade level that includes joint fires integration. This lack of brigade oversight places majority of defensive synchronization and fire integration at the battalion level, often times creating gaps and seams in the brigade defensive plan. As a result, brigades depend more on dynamic targeting in the close fight which are typically less responsive, reduce lethality, and limit additional shaping in the brigade deep area as follow on forces continue to transition the brigade battle space.

Because on these challenges, units must develop internal training and SOPs focused on layering brigade ISR assets with joint fires effects from the brigade deep area to the brigade close area. Brigades must include the use of all available organic ISR (Calvary Squadron, forward observers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare and signal intelligence assets, etc.) and delivery assets (howitzers, mortars, and maneuver) to allow both constant monitoring and constant disruption of enemy movement beginning in the brigade deep area. In addition, describe in the SOP the reporting requirements for each ISR asset and the requisite primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency (PACE) plan for communications.  Additionally, establish in the planning-SOP (PSOP) the duties and responsibilities by staff agency to plan, coordinate, and synchronize both obstacle development and supporting joint fire effects at the brigade level. Synchronize these efforts by utilizing both the fires rehearsal and the combined arms rehearsals to identify friction points and potential gaps in the plan.

Employing fires in support of defensive operations continue to improve at JMRC.  Though there can be multiple tools for ensuring success, what has proved most successful at JMRC has been a result of brigades establishing TTPs which lead to successful targeting cycle integration, successful integration of joint fires effects in the brigade deep area, and finally the use of daily rehearsals to synchronize updates or changes to the fire support plan. Areas where units continue to struggle includes the transition of joint fires effects from the brigade deep fight to the brigade close fight and the lack of fires integration with brigade obstacles. Although the TTPs and recommendations identified here mainly focus at the brigade level, maneuver battalions can equally find success through implementation of similar TTPs during execution of their supporting close fight.  While units continue to train at JMRC to prepare for large scale combat operations against near pear threats in the European theater, improving joint fires efficiency will continue to be a big focus area for rotational units. Units looking to improve joint fires employment in defensive operations can use the TTPs discussed here to better focus home station training and updating unit level standard operating procedures


MAJ Ryan L. Smith is currently serving as the Field Artillery Operations OC/T at the Joint Multinational Training Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany.  Prior to this assignment, MAJ Smith served as the Brigade Fires OC/T for JMRC. Prior to joining JMRC, MAJ Smith’s was stationed at Fort Drum, NY where he served as a Brigade Fires Support Officer and Battalion Executive Officer.