Fires | Employment of Fires Agains a Hybrid Threat

Employment of Fires Against a Hybrid Threat

by CPT Patrick O. Boling


Against a hybrid threat, organizations should be devoted to shaping the environment for their lower echelons, resourcing their lower echelons and leveraging higher echelon assets as required. I came to this conclusion by fighting a future hypothetical war as part of two simulations executed across the mission command battle lab (MCBL), maneuver battle lab (MBL), Fires battle lab (FBL) Intelligence battle lab and air maneuver battle lab, during the summer of 2012.

What follows in this article are observations from the position of fire support officers (FSOs) at the level of battalion and brigade. These observations were not published as part of the experiment findings submitted to the Fires Center of Excellence (FCoE), Fort Sill, Okla., and other army leadership, because they were not part of the original points of inquiry. However the broader intent of the experiment was to determine the best practices for the employment of future systems and various task organizations. The experiment was a simulated operation for a hypothetical scenario in the near future.

Particulars of the scenario will be kept vague for the purpose of operational security (OPSEC). Exact enemy and terrain does not matter since the observations I mention here are generally applicable throughout unified land operations. The hybrid threat composed of near-peer conventional forces support by an active insurgency.

The first and second experiments provided an opportunity to record observations across multiple iterations with slight variation to the scenario. The overall observation reveled that target saturation becomes more challenging when maneuvering on a near-peer threat in a high intensity engagement is combined with an insurgency. Target saturation required organizations to divide up the delivery of Fires across systems, one echelon up and one echelon down. The insights have been observed in present and past conflict. However, insights gained from the experiments proved these observations are more critical when engaged against a hybrid threat. Here a different scenario will be presented to prevent violation of OPSEC. See figure 1 for an illustration of the scenario. For this discussion the higher echelon will be division/joint task force (JTF), the subject echelon will be brigade, and the lower echelon will be battalions and below. The breakdown below is a list of techniques to address the challenges of target saturation.

  1. Organizations should leverage support from their higher organizations to engage targets beyond the organization’s capability to service them.
  2. Organizations should pass control or coordination for assets to lower echelon units when the target falls within an area controlled by the lower unit.
  3. Organizations should identify gaps between the lower echelon’s close fight and higher echelon’s deep fight and cover the gaps with the subject echelon’s information collection (IC), reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) and indirect Fires (IDF) capabilities.

Organizations should leverage support from their higher organizations to engage targets beyond the organization’s capability to service them. If a higher echelon headquarters seeks and attacks targets; then the role of the subject echelon will additionally pass target data for deep Fires and/or targets beyond the division coordinated fire line (CFL) or fire support coordination line (FSCL). The limited capability to services targets is not just in terms of range but also includes volume of Fires. As draw downs in the force has and will continue to reduce the joint force capability. Reinforcing (R), general support (GS), and general support-reinforcing (GS/R) cannon Fires may not be available for no-notice mission since they are being redisposition out of Fires brigades (FiB) and into the National Guard (NG) units. Direct support (DS) IDF units have limited capability to engage all targets in a timely manor based on two limitations; the limited number of tubes and ammunition to engage, and the need to disposition to maintain IDF coverage and proximity to maneuver forces-for force protection. There are two characteristics of fire support (FS) in decisive action that will compete against each other for priority of IDF systems. The first is that target saturation will require IDF systems to remain in position longer. The second is the rate of march of maneuver forces will require IDF system to remain on the move to prevent the systems from falling to far behind an advance. The challenge of the juxtaposed requirements is that DS IDF will rely more on GS, R and GS/R IDF at a time when these systems are being greatly reduced. An additional consideration is the suitability of certain system/munitions for use against certain targets. Therefore capability is more than the capability to range a target; capability is this case includes volume of fire and achievable effects.

Figure one
Figure 1. (Top Left) A scenario sketch with a village and topographical relief. (Top Right) MCOO with hills and marsh depicted as severely restricted terrain. (Bottom Left) Boundaries and Phase Lines with contact and coordination points. (Bottom Right) Combined Overlays and Sketch.Illustration by Rick Paape, information from CPT Patrick O. Boling

Organizations should pass control or coordination of assets to lower echelon units when the target falls within an area controlled by the lower unit. The area controlled by the lower echelon can be defined as area that the unit is capable of attacking with organic or attached direct or indirect systems (see figure 2). The subject echelon in support of lower echelons should avoid duplication of effort in situations of redundant coverage by weapon system or collection platform. This can be done by pushing control of an asset or capability down to the lowest level possible within the ground commander’s chain of command. For example when a battalion engaged in a close fight with enemy forces requiring the use of external weapons systems to engage and external collection assets to acquire targets; the battalion should retain control of all assets until the engagement is complete or asset departs. When the subject echelon allows the lower echelon to assume control of the asset, the subject echelon may refocus effort on other concerns.

Figure two
Figure 2. An Infantry battalion and Cavalry squadron is shown with concentric circles that represent the ranges of IDF systems. Illustration by Rick Paape, information from CPT Patrick O. Boling.

Organizations should identify gaps between the lower echelon’s close fight and higher echelon’s deep fight and cover the gaps with the subject echelon’s IC R&S and IDF capabilities. Beyond the concentric mortar range rings and short of the CFL is considered the gap. See figure 3 for an illustration of the concept being discussed here. The CFL is not always but may be used as the line beyond which is considered the deep fight. This is where the many lessons were learned during the experiment. The threat was capable of using insurgent forces to find, fix, disrupt and delay friendly forces. Threat beyond the CFL would avoid detection until the passage of concentrated deep Fires. Threat could more freely maneuver between the close and deep fights. Trapped by habits of the last 12 years of experience, majority of assets not engaged in the deep fight would focus on single points of contact in the close fight. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat would focus insurgent activity at single points where the friendly forces were perceived to be spread thin. The conditioned response has become all echelons focusing on points of activity instead of look for additional threats. When this happens blind spots can be created for threat forces to maneuver undetected. Therefore the gaps are self inflicted wounds conditioned by past experience. The gap created in detection would translate into a gap in the coverage of IDF and air-ground support. These gaps in detection also occur between lower echelon units’ ability to detect and deliver against threats. Here to exist the need for a subject echelon to begin shape the fight with Fires in the sensor and shooter paradigm. If gaps have been programed into behavior by conditioning at the brigade, these consequences may not only trickle down the echelons. If battalions, divisions and JTFs are distracted in a target rich environment, threats may have freedom to maneuver and opportunities may be missed. Hence the role of the subject echelon, in this case brigade, is to use assets to detect threats and resource delivery against them. With lower echelons focused on maneuvering and engaging threats in the close fight, subject echelons can shape with Fires in the gap. At this point, I acknowledge the gaps are not likely occur as complete ignorance of the environment but rather areas of less focus created by the distraction of events at the lower echelons. As stated previously, as assets are need in the lower echelons area of control they should be passed to the control of that echelon. Therefore complete ignorance of the lower echelon is not what is being suggested. Against a hybrid threat, the subject echelon should be devoted to shaping the environment for the lower echelons, resourcing the lower echelons as required.

Figure three
Figure 3. The illustration above is a snap-shot in time of maneuver units as they maneuver against a hybrid threat. The threats depicted are representative hybrid of a near-peer enemy and insurgent/paramilitary. Illustrated is an Infantry battalion and Cavalry squadron with concentric circles the represent the ranges of IDF systems representing the close fight. Additionally the CFL is PL Green and the FSCL is PL Purple, the targets beyond them can be engaged by higher echelons. What exists outside the range rings and short of the CFL can be considered the gap. Short of Phase Line (PL) Iron are infantry and insurgent/paramilitary threats. Beyond PL Iron and Short of PL Green are threat armor, insurgent/paramilitary and mortar teams. Beyond PL Green also the CFL are a number of deep threats in the form of artillery. Illustration by Rick Paape, information from CPT Patrick O. Boling.

Organizations should leverage support from their higher organizations to engage targets beyond the organizations capability to service them. As previously discussed, capability is more than the capability to range a target; capability is this case includes volume of fire and achievable effects.

When possible an organization should allow their lower echelon to control assets, the organization may their headquarters efforts. Organizations should identify gaps between the lower echelon’s close fight and higher echelon’s deep fight and cover the gaps. These gaps are created when the organizations are distracted by concerns best handled by their lower echelons. Therefore against a hybrid threat, the brigade should be devoted to shaping the environment for the battalions and below, resourcing the battalions and leveraging division / JTF assets as required.


Captain Patrick O. Boling is currently serving as an Intelligence officer. Previous assignments include but not limited to: Field Artillery Captain’s Career Course small group leader/instructor, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery commander and assistant S-3 in 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery, and battalion fire support officer in 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry and 2nd Squadron, 7th Cavalry.