Soldiers tactical movement across terrain

Movement to Contact

When necessary, commanders order subordinates to conduct a movement to contact regardless of which element of decisive action is currently dominant—offense, defense, or stability. Commanders conduct a movement to contact to create favorable conditions for subsequent tactical tasks. A commander conducts a movement to contact when the tactical situation is not clear, or when the enemy has broken contact. A properly executed movement to contact develops the combat situation and maintains the commander’s freedom of action after contact is gained. This flexibility is essential in maintaining the initiative. All of the tactical concepts, control measures, and planning considerations introduced in ADRP 3-90 apply to the conduct of a movement to contact. The attack preparation considerations introduced in this article also apply.


2-1. A movement to contact employs purposeful and aggressive movement, decentralized control, and the hasty deployment of combined arms formations from the march to conduct offensive, defensive, or stability tasks. The fundamentals of a movement to contact are—

  • Focus all efforts on finding the enemy.
  • Make initial contact with the smallest force possible, consistent with protecting the force.
  • Make initial contact with small, mobile, self-contained forces to avoid decisive engagement of the main body on ground chosen by the enemy. (This allows the commander maximum flexibility to develop the situation.)
  • Task-organize the force and use movement formations to deploy and attack rapidly in any direction.
  • Keep subordinate forces within supporting distances to facilitate a flexible response.

Maintain contact regardless of the course of action (COA) adopted once contact is gained.

Close air support, air interdiction, and counterair operations are essential to the success of large-scale movements to contact. Local air superiority or, as a minimum, air parity is vital to the operation’s success.

2-2. The Army’s improved intelligence capabilities reduce the need for corps and divisions to conduct a movement to contact since modernized units normally have a general idea of the location of significant enemy forces. However, enemy use of complex terrain, such as jungle, urban, and extensive forests, operations security, and military deception operations designed to degrade the accuracy of the friendly common operational picture (COP) will continue to require small tactical units to conduct a movement to contact. Likewise, if opposing a peer competitor having a sophisticated command and control warfare or electronic warfare system capable of seriously disrupting or degrading U.S. national-level intelligence and surveillance systems, large tactical units may be required to conduct movements to contact.

2-3. A meeting engagement is a combat action that occurs when a moving force, incompletely deployed for battle, engages an enemy at an unexpected time and place. The enemy force encountered may be either stationary or moving. For a meeting engagement to occur, both forces do not have to be surprised by their meeting. The force making unexpected contact is the one conducting a meeting engagement. Such encounters often occur in small-unit operations when reconnaissance has been ineffective.

2-4. In a meeting engagement the force that reacts first to the unexpected contact generally gains an advantage over its enemy. However, a meeting engagement may also occur when the opponents are aware of each other and both decide to attack immediately to obtain a tactical advantage or seize key or decisive terrain. A meeting engagement may also occur when one force attempts to deploy into a hasty defense while the other force attacks before its opponent can organize an effective defense. Acquisition systems may discover the enemy before the security force can gain contact. No matter how the force makes contact, seizing the initiative is the overriding imperative. Prompt execution of battle drills at platoon level and below, and standard actions on contact for larger units, can give that initiative to the friendly force.


2-5. A movement to contact is organized (as a minimum) with a forward security force—either a covering force or an advance guard—and a main body. A portion of the main body composes the commander’s sustaining base. Based on the mission variables (mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations) of METT-TC, the commander may increase the unit’s security by resourcing an offensive covering force and an advance guard for each column, as well as flank and rear security (normally a screen or guard). (See figure 2-1.) FM 3-90-2 discusses security operations.


Figure 2-1. Force organized for a movement to contact

2-6. A movement to contact mission requires the commander not to have contact with the enemy main body. However, the commander may still know the location of at least some enemy reserve and follow-on forces. If the corps or division commander has enough intelligence information to target enemy uncommitted forces, reserves, or sustaining operations activities, the commander normally designates forces, such as long-range artillery systems, attack helicopters, extended range unmanned aircraft, and fixed-wing aircraft to engage known enemy elements regardless of their geographical location within the area of operations (AO). At all times the forward security element and the main body perform reconnaissance.


Security Forces

2-7. A commander conducting a movement to contact typically organizes the security element into a covering force to protect the movement of the main body and to develop the situation before committing the main body. This security element is normally the unit’s initial main effort. A covering force is task-organized to accomplish specific tasks independent of the main body such as conduct mobility and selected countermobility operations in accordance with the mission variables of METT-TC. This covering force reports directly to the establishing commander.

2-8. If a force conducting a movement to contact is unable to resource a covering force for independent security operations, it may use an advance guard in the place of a covering force. An advance guard is a task-organized combined arms unit or detachment that precedes a column formation to protect the main body from ground observation or surprise by the enemy. This typically occurs when a brigade or battalion conducts a movement to contact. In cases where the higher echelon (corps or division) creates a covering force, subordinate elements can establish an advance guard behind the covering force and ahead of the main body. This normally occurs when subordinate units are advancing in multiple parallel columns. In this case, each main body column usually organizes its own advance guard.

2-9. The advance guard operates forward of the main body to ensure its uninterrupted advance by reducing obstacles to create passage lanes, repair roads and bridges, or locate bypasses. The advance guard also protects the main body from surprise attack and fixes the enemy to protect the deployment of the main body when it is committed to action. The elements composing the advance guard should have equal or preferably superior mobility to that of the main body. For this reason, combined arms units containing a mixture of mechanized or Stryker equipped infantry, armor, and reconnaissance or cavalry elements are most suitable for use in an advance guard. Engineer assets should also constitute a portion of the advance guard, but the main body can also provide other support. However, there are some environments, such as jungles and swamps, where providing the advance guard with mobility superior to that of the main body is impossible.

2-10. The advance guard moves as quickly and as aggressively as possible, but, unlike the covering force, remains within supporting range of the main body’s weapon systems. It forces the enemy to withdraw or destroys small enemy groups before they can disrupt the advance of the main body. When the advance guard encounters large enemy forces or heavily defended areas, it takes prompt and aggressive action to develop the situation and, within its capability, defeat the enemy. Its commander reports the location, strength, disposition, and composition of the enemy and tries to find the enemy’s flanks and gaps or other weaknesses in its position. The main body may then join the attack. The force commander usually specifies how far in front of the main body of the force the advance guard is to operate. The commander reduces those distances in close terrain and under low-visibility conditions.

2-11. When the command’s rear or flanks are not protected by adjacent or following units, it must provide its own flank and rear security. The command can accomplish this by establishing a screen or a guard on its flanks or to its rear. The flank columns of the main body normally provide these flank security elements; for example, the left flank brigade would provide the left flank screen for a division-level movement to contact. The rear guard normally comes from one of the subordinate elements of the corps or division and reports directly to the corps or division headquarters. A corps may conduct a flank cover if there is a clearly identified, significant threat from the flank. A flank cover requires significant resources that are unavailable to the main body. Combat aviation units may establish a flank screen, if the mission variables of METT-TC allow it; however, this increases the risk to the main body. (See FM 3-90-2 for more specific information concerning the conduct of the various reconnaissance and security tasks.)

Main Body

2-12. The main body consists of forces not detailed to security duties. It is normally the element that will conduct the decisive operation within the conduct of the movement to contact. The combat elements of the main body prepare to respond to enemy contact with the unit’s security forces. For example, attack helicopter units organic to combat aviation brigades supporting a division or corps conducting a movement to contact normally remain under division and corps control until contact is made. If the situation allows, the commander can assign a follow and support mission to a subordinate unit. This allows that subordinate

unit to relieve security forces from such tasks as observing bypassed enemy forces, handling displaced civilians, and clearing routes. This prevents security forces from being diverted from their primary mission.

2-13. The commander designates a portion of the main body for use as the reserve. The size of the reserve is based upon the mission variables of METT-TC and the amount of uncertainty concerning the enemy. The more vague the enemy situation, the larger the size of the reserve. The reserve typically constitutes approximately one-fourth to one-third of the force. On contact with the enemy, the reserve provides flexibility to react to unforeseen circumstances and allows the unit to quickly resume its movement.


2-14. When a movement to contact is conducted at the corps or division echelon, the corps and division commanders conducting a movement-to-contact will not normally have a command relationship with sustainment assets beyond that found in their attached brigades. Instead, those sustainment assets are assigned to the Army Material Command and attached to or placed under the operational control of the Army’s theater sustainment command or some type of joint sustainment command. They have a support relationship with the corps or division. The division or corps headquarters staff coordinate with the supporting sustainment organization so that the theater sustainment command or sustainment brigade supporting the tactical unit adjusts the supporting sustainment unit’s internal organization to meet the tactical commander’s needs. The corps or division echelon staff informs the commander of any shortfall in available sustainment support so that the movement to contact concept of operations and tactical plan can be modified to meet sustainment realities. This mainly occurs when the tactical unit conducting a movement to contact is not conducting the decisive operation or main effort of its higher headquarters.

2-15. Brigade combat team (BCT) commanders tailor their units’ organic sustainment assets to the mission. They decentralize the execution of the sustainment, but that support must be continuously available to the main body. This includes using preplanned logistics packages (LOGPACs). A logistics package is a grouping of multiple classes of supply and supply vehicles under the control of a single convoy commander. Daily LOGPACs contain a standardized allocation of supplies. Special LOGPACs can also be dispatched as needed.

2-16. The commander frequently finds that main supply routes (MSRs) become extended as the operation proceeds. Aerial resupply may also be necessary to support large-scale movement to contacts or to maintain the momentum of the main body. Combat trains containing fuel, ammunition, medical, and maintenance assets move with their habitually associated supported battalion or company team. Fuel and ammunition stocks remain loaded on tactical vehicles in the combat trains, so they can instantly move when necessary. Battalion field trains move with a higher support echelon, such as the brigade support battalion, in the main body of each BCT. Aviation units use forward arming and refuel points (FARPs) to reduce aircraft turnaround time.


2-17. A commander uses the minimal number and type of control measures possible in a movement to contact because of the uncertain enemy situation. These measures include designation of an AO with left, right, front, and rear boundaries, or a separate AO bounded by a continuous boundary (noncontiguous operations). The commander further divides the AO into subordinate unit AOs to facilitate subordinate unit actions.

2-18. The operation usually starts from a line of departure (LD) at the time specified in the operation order (OPORD). The commander controls the movement to contact by using phase lines, contact points, and checkpoints as required. (See figure 2-2.) The commander controls the depth of the movement to contact by using a limit of advance (LOA) or a forward boundary. Figure 2-2 shows an LOA and not a forward boundary. The commander could designate one or more objectives to limit the extent of the movement to contact and orient the force. However, these are often terrain-oriented and used only to guide movement. Although a movement to contact may result in taking a terrain objective, the primary focus should be on the enemy force. If the commander has enough information to locate significant enemy forces, then the commander should plan some other type of offensive action.


Figure 2-2. Movement to contact control measures

2-19. Corps, division, or BCT commanders use boundaries to separate the various organizational elements and clearly establish responsibilities between different organizations. Battalion commanders use these control measures along with mission orders, coupled with battle drills and formation discipline, to synchronize the movement to contact. Company teams are not normally assigned their own areas of operations during the conduct of a movement to contact.

2-20. The commander can designate a series of phase lines that can successively become the new rear boundary of the forward security elements as that force advances. Each rear boundary becomes the forward boundary of the main body and shifts as the security force moves forward. The rear boundary of the main body designates the limit of responsibility of the rear security element. This line also shifts as the main body moves forward. (See FM 3-90-2 for a discussion of security force boundaries.)

2-21. Commanders may use an axis of advance in limited visibility. However, there is the risk of enemy forces outside the axis not being detected, and thus being inadvertently bypassed.


2-22. The commander executes the intelligence annex to the OPORD to determine the enemy’s location and intent while conducting security operations to protect the main body. This includes the use of available fixed-wing aircraft. This allows the main body to focus its planning and preparation, to include rehearsals, on the conduct of hasty attacks, bypass maneuvers, and hasty defenses. The plan addresses not only actions anticipated by the commander based on available intelligence information, but also the conduct of meeting engagements at anticipated times and locations where they might occur. The commander tasks the forward security force with conducting route reconnaissance of routes the main body will traverse.


2-23. The commander seeks to gain contact by using the smallest elements possible. These elements are normally ground scouts or aerial scouts performing reconnaissance, but may also be unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) or other reconnaissance and surveillance assets. The commander may task organize the unit’s scouts to provide them with additional combat power to allow them to develop the situation. The unit’s planned movement formation should contribute to the goal of making initial contact with the smallest force possible. It should also provide for efficient movement of the force and adequate reserves. The commander can choose to have all or part of the force conduct an approach march as part of the movement to contact to provide that efficient movement. An approach march can facilitate the commander’s decisions by allowing freedom of action and movement of the main body. (See FM 3-90-2 for a discussion of an approach march.)

2-24. The frontage assigned to a unit in a movement to contact must allow it to apply sufficient combat power to maintain the momentum of the operation. Reducing the frontage normally gives the unit adequate combat power to develop the situation on contact while maintaining the required momentum. Both the covering force and advance guard commanders should have uncommitted forces available to develop the situation without requiring the deployment of the main body.

2-25. The commander relies primarily on fire assets to weight the lead element’s combat power, but the commander also provides it with the additional combat multipliers it needs to accomplish the mission. The fires system helps develop fire superiority when organized correctly to fire immediate suppression missions to help maneuver forces get within direct-fire range of the enemy.

2-26. The reconnaissance effort may proceed faster in a movement to contact than in a zone reconnaissance because the emphasis is on making contact with the enemy. However, the commander must recognize that by increasing the speed of the reconnaissance effort, there is an increased risk associated with the operation.

2-27. Bypass criteria should be clearly stated and depend on the mission variables of METT-TC. For example, an armored or Stryker BCT commander in an open desert environment could declare that no mounted enemy force larger than a platoon can be bypassed. All other forces will be cleared from the brigade’s axis of advance. Any force that bypasses an enemy unit must maintain contact with it until handing it off to another friendly element, usually a force assigned a follow and support mission.

2-28. The echelon intelligence officer (G-2 or S-2), assisted by the engineer and air defense staff representatives, must carefully analyze the terrain to include air avenues of approach. The echelon intelligence officer identifies the enemy’s most dangerous COA in the war gaming portion of the military decisionmaking process. Because of the force’s vulnerability, the G-2 must not underestimate the enemy during a movement to contact. A thorough intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB)—by developing the modified combined obstacle overlay to include intervisibility overlays and other products, such as the event templates—enhances the force’s security by indicating danger areas where the force is most likely to make contact with the enemy. It also helps to determine movement times between phase lines and other locations. Potential danger areas are likely enemy defensive locations, engagement areas, observation posts (OPs), and obstacles. The fires system targets these areas, and they become on-order priority targets placed into effect and cancelled as the lead element can confirm or deny enemy presence. The intelligence annex of the movement to contact order must address coverage of these danger areas. If reconnaissance and surveillance forces cannot clear these areas, more deliberate movement techniques are required.

2-29. The commander develops decision points to support changes in the force’s movement formation or a change from an approach march to a combat formation. Using both human and technical means to validate decision points, the commander must determine the acceptable degree of risk, based on the mission. The commander’s confidence in the products of the IPB process and the acceptable risk determine the unit’s combat formation and scheme of maneuver. In a high-risk environment, it is usually better to increase the distance between forward elements and the main body than to slow the speed of advance.

2-30. Corps and divisions can execute shaping operations in support of their subordinate BCTs as part of a movement to contact, although, by definition, a force conducts a movement to contact when the enemy situation is vague or totally unknown. This occurs when the necessary information regarding enemy reserves and follow-on forces is available, but information regarding those enemy forces in close proximity to the friendly force is not available. As in any other type of operation, the commander plans to focus operations on finding the enemy and then delaying, disrupting, and destroying each enemy force element as much as possible before it arrives into direct-fire range. This allows BCT maneuver forces to prepare to engage enemy units on their arrival.

2-31. In a movement to contact, the commander can opt not to designate a decisive operation until forces make contact with the enemy, unless there is a specific reason to designate it. In this case, the commander retains resources under direct control to reinforce the decisive operation. The commander may designate the decisive operation during the initial stages of a movement to contact because of the presence of a key piece of terrain or an avenue of approach.


2-32. The preparations for the conduct of a movement to contact are the same as those for an attack. (See the appropriate section of chapter 3 for additional information on this subject.)


2-33. Each element of the force synchronizes its actions with adjacent and supporting units, maintaining contact and coordination as prescribed in orders and unit standard operating procedures (SOPs). The advance guard maintains contact with the covering force (if one is established). The lead elements of the main body maintain contact with the advance guard. The rear guard and flank security elements maintain contact with and orient on the main body’s movement. These security forces prevent unnecessary delay of the main body and prevent the deployment of the main body as long as possible. Reconnaissance elements operate to the front and flanks of each column’s advance guard and maintain contact with the covering force. The commander may instruct each column’s advance guard to eliminate small pockets of resistance bypassed by forward security force. (See figure 2-3.)


Figure 2-3. A column advance guard attacking to destroy a contained enemy force

2-34. The commander of the advance guard chooses a combat formation, based on the mission variables of METT-TC, to make contact with the smallest possible force while providing flexibility for maneuver. Whatever combat formation the commander chooses, the unit must be able to deploy appropriately once the enemy’s location is determined. The commander ensures that the route or axis of advance traveled by the main body is free of enemy forces. The main body may move continuously (using traveling and traveling overwatch) or by bounds (using bounding overwatch). It moves by bounds when contact with the enemy is imminent and the terrain is favorable. Some indirect-fire assets, such as a mortar platoon or artillery battery and combat observation and lasing teams (COLTs), may be positioned with the advance guard. The COLTs can help overwatch the advance guard movement, and indirect fires focus on suppressing enemy weapons, obscuring enemy observation posts, and screening friendly movement.

2-35. The main body keeps enough distance between itself and its forward security elements to maintain flexibility for maneuver. This distance varies with the level of command, the terrain, and the availability of information about the enemy. The main body may execute an approach march for all or part of the movement to contact to efficiently use the available road network or reduce the time needed to move from one location to another. Command posts and trains travel along high-mobility routes within the AO and occupy hasty positions as necessary.

2-36. Behind these forward security elements, the main body advances over multiple parallel routes with numerous lateral branches to remain flexible and reduce the time needed to initiate maneuver. (While it is preferred for a battalion to use multiple routes, battalions and smaller units can move on just one route.) In a movement to contact, the main body’s march dispositions must allow maximum flexibility for maneuvering during movement and when establishing contact with the enemy force.

2-37. The commander’s fire support systems tend to focus on suppression missions to disrupt enemy forces as they are encountered and smoke missions to obscure or screen exposed friendly forces when conducting a movement to contact. The commander schedules the movements of fire support systems in synchronization with the movement of the rest of the force. Fire support systems that cannot match the cross-country mobility of ground maneuver units cause them to slow their rate of advance. If these units do not slow down, they run the risk of outrunning their fire support. The commander synchronizes the employment of close air support to prevent the enemy from regaining balance while the commander’s ground fire support assets are repositioning. The main body updates its priority target list during a movement to contact operation.

2-38. Similar considerations apply to air and missile defense when the enemy possesses these capabilities. The unit conducting a movement to contact remains aware of the air and missile defense umbrella provided by Sentinel Radars and Army Air and Missile Defense Command Patriot systems, and the combat air patrol provided by Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps fighter aircraft.

2-39. The unit’s tempo, momentum, tactical dispersal, and attention to electromagnetic emission control complicate the enemy’s ability to detect and target the main body until contact is made. Once the force makes contact and concentrates its effects against detected enemy forces, it becomes vulnerable to strikes by enemy conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It must concentrate its combat effects rapidly in a meeting engagement and disperse again as soon as it overcomes resistance to avoid enemy counteractions, if the movement to contact is to continue. However, the results of that meeting engagement and the mission variables of METT-TC will determine the specific COA selected.

2-40. Movement should be as rapid as the terrain, the mobility of the force, and the enemy situation permit. Open terrain provides maneuver space on either side of the line of march and facilitates high-speed movement. It also allows for greater dispersal and usually permits more separation between forward security elements and the main body than restricted terrain allows. The commander should never commit the main body to canalizing terrain before these forward security elements have advanced far enough to ensure that the main body will not become fixed within that terrain. The enemy may have also established fire support control measures that allow the enemy to employ non-observed harassing and interdiction fires to interdict friendly forces traversing these choke points. As the enemy situation becomes known, the commander may shorten the distance between elements to decrease reaction time or deploy the force to prepare for contact.

2-41. At battalion and company levels, a moving force moves along covered or concealed routes from one covered or concealed position to another, using terrain to minimize its vulnerability to enemy weapons. Further, an overwatching force should cover the moving force. (FM 3-90-2 describes movement techniques, such as traveling overwatch.) Regardless of the specific movement technique employed, subordinate elements need to provide mutual support and be knowledgeable about their counterpart’s sectors of fire.

2-42. The force must attempt to cross any obstacles it encounters without loss of momentum by conducting hasty (in-stride) breaches. The commander uses forward security forces in an attempt to seize intact bridges whenever possible. Lead security elements bypass or breach obstacles as quickly as possible to maintain the momentum of the movement. If these lead elements cannot overcome obstacles, the commander directs subsequent elements of the main body to bypass the obstacle site and take the lead. Following forces can also reduce obstacles that hinder the unit’s sustainment flow.

2-43. The commander moves well forward in the movement formation. Once the formation makes contact with the enemy, the commander can move quickly to the area of contact, analyze the situation, and direct aggressively. The unit’s security elements conduct actions on contact to develop the situation once they find the enemy. Once they make contact with the enemy, a number of actions occur that have been divided into the following sequence. (Units equipped with a full set of digital information systems may be able to combine or skip one or more of the steps in that sequence. Those units will conduct maneuver and remain within supporting distance of each other with a significantly larger AO than units equipped with analog systems.) These actions normally constitute a major portion of the unit’s shaping operations.

2-44. This publication discusses executing all four offensive tasks in a five-step sequence:

  • Gain and maintain enemy contact.
  • Disrupt the enemy.
  • Fix the enemy.
  • Maneuver.
  • Follow through.

This sequence is for discussion purposes only and is not the only way of conducting these offensive tasks. The five steps used in this publication to illustrate the execution of offensive tasks actually tend to overlap each other during the conduct of offensive actions. Normally the first three of these steps are shaping operations or supporting efforts, while the maneuver step is the decisive operation or main effort. Follow through is normally a sequel or a branch to the plan based on the current situation.


2-45. A shaping operation is an operation at any echelon that creates and preserves conditions for the success of the decisive operation through effects on the enemy, other actors, and the terrain (ADRP 3-0). If the result of any of these three steps is the complete development of the situation and the establishment or regaining of contact with the enemy main body, not just enemy security forces, then that step will have been the decisive operation of the movement to contact.

Gain and Maintain Enemy Contact

2-46. All reconnaissance and surveillance assets focus on determining the enemy’s dispositions and providing the commander with current intelligence and relevant combat information; this ensures that the commander can commit friendly forces under optimal conditions. The commander uses all available sources of combat information to find the enemy’s location and dispositions. Corps and divisions use the long-range surveillance units and detachments, unmanned aircraft systems, and technical systems found in the attached battlefield surveillance brigade (BFSB) in conjunction with data provided by special operations forces, joint, and multinational assets to gain contact with the enemy. BCTs and their subordinate battalions use their organic reconnaissance assets to gain that contact. This contact may be in any of seven forms: visual; physical; indirect fire; obstacles; aircraft; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE); and direct fire. Commanders use these systems to cue the conduct of aerial and ground reconnaissance by their attached BCTs and combat aviation brigades.

2-47. The enemy situation becomes clearer as the unit’s forward security elements conduct actions on contact to rapidly develop the situation in accordance with the commander’s plan and intent. By determining the strength, location, and disposition of enemy forces, these security elements allow the commander to focus the effects of the main body’s combat power against the enemy main body. The overall force must remain flexible to exploit both intelligence and combat information. The security force should not allow the enemy force to break contact unless it receives an order from the commander. When a strong covering force has not preceded the advance guard, it should seize terrain that offers essential observation.

2-48. Actions on contact are a series of combat actions often conducted simultaneously taken on contact with the enemy to develop the situation (ADRP 3-90). Actions on contact are:

  • Deploy and report.
  • Evaluate and develop the situation.
  • Choose a course of action.
  • Execute selected course of action.
  • Recommend a course of action to the higher commander.

2-49. Once the lead elements of a force conducting a movement to contact encounter the enemy, they conduct actions on contact. The unit treats obstacles like any other form of enemy contact, since it assumes that the obstacles are covered by fire. The unit carries out these actions on contact regardless of whether the enemy has detected its presence. The unit’s security force often gains a tactical advantage over an enemy force by using tempo and initiative to conduct these actions on contact, allowing it to gain and maintain contact without becoming decisively engaged. How quickly the unit develops the situation is directly related to its security. This tempo is directly related to the unit’s use of well-rehearsed SOPs and drills.

2-50. Deploy and Report. When a unit’s security element encounters an enemy unit or obstacle, it deploys to a covered position that provides observation and fields of fire. If the security element is under enemy fire, it uses direct and indirect fire to suppress the enemy and restore freedom of maneuver. Simultaneously, the commander of the security element reports the contact using a spot report format to provide all available information on the situation to the next higher headquarters and update the common operational picture. This alerts the commander and allows the initiation of necessary actions. (FM 6-99.2 provides the format for a spot report.)

2-51. Evaluate and Develop the Situation. The unit’s security force develops the situation rapidly within mission constraints by employing techniques ranging from stealthy, foot-mobile reconnaissance to reconnaissance by fire, which uses both direct and indirect fire weapons. After evaluating the situation, the commander continues the security mission with other elements not currently in contact with the enemy after evaluating the situation, if possible. This helps to develop the situation across the front and provides more maneuver space to execute further actions. As the situation develops and the enemy’s dispositions, strength, and intentions become clearer, the security force submits additional reports.

2-52. Choose a Course of Action. After the security force makes contact, its commander gathers information, makes an assessment, and chooses a COA consistent with the higher commander’s intent and within the unit’s capability. The unit initiates direct and indirect fires to gain the initiative, if it is appropriate to engage the enemy. This allows the security force to resume its mission as soon as possible. The commander cannot allow small enemy forces to delay the movement of the security force. Usually, available intelligence and the concept of operations indicate the COA to follow. For obstacles not covered by fire, the unit can either seek a bypass or create the required number of lanes to support its maneuver or the maneuver of a supported unit. Once enemy contact is made, these COAs are normally to conduct an attack, bypass, defend, delay, or withdrawal. For obstacles covered by fire, the unit can either seek a bypass or conduct breaching operations as part of a hasty attack.

2-53. Execute Selected Course of Action. The security force commander should determine quickly whether to bypass the enemy or attack. The security force attacks if it has sufficient, immediately available combat power to overwhelm the enemy and the attack will not detract from mission accomplishment (see chapter 3). Such attacks are usually necessary to overcome enemy attempts to slow the movement of the security force. If this initial attack fails to defeat enemy defenses, the security force commander must consider other options, such as making a more deliberate attack or assuming the defense while continuing to find out as much as possible about the enemy’s positions.

2-54. The security force may bypass the enemy if it does not have sufficient combat power or an attack would jeopardize mission accomplishment. It must request permission to bypass an enemy force, unless the operations order provides bypass criteria. The security force commander must report bypassed enemy forces to the next higher headquarters, which then assumes responsibility for their destruction or containment. Alternatively, the security force could keep a minimum force in contact with the bypassed enemy so that the enemy cannot move freely around the battlefield. (See appendix B for a discussion of bypass as a tactical task.)

2-55. If the security force cannot conduct either a hasty attack or a bypass, it attempts to establish a defense (see chapter 6). In the defense, the security force maintains enemy contact, continues to perform reconnaissance, and prepares to support other forces. When the security force commander decides to defend, responsibility for further action rests with the higher commander. In the event other COAs would lead to decisive engagements or destruction, the security force conducts those activities necessary to assure self-preservation, such as delay or withdrawal (see chapter 9), but maintains enemy contact unless the higher commander orders otherwise.

2-56. Recommend a Course of Action to the Higher Commander. Once the security force commander selects a COA, keeping in mind the commander’s intent, the security force commander reports it to the higher commander, who has the option of disapproving it based on its impact on the overall mission. To avoid delay, unit SOPs may provide automatic approval of certain actions. If the higher commander assumes responsibility for continuing to develop the situation, the security force supports the higher commander’s actions, as ordered. The higher commander must be careful to avoid becoming overly focused on initial security engagements to the determent of operations directed against the enemy main body.

Disrupt the Enemy

2-57. Once contact is made, the main body commander brings overwhelming fires onto the enemy to prevent the enemy from conducting either a spoiling attack or organizing a coherent defense. The security force commander maneuvers as quickly as possible to find gaps in the enemy’s defenses. The commander uses reconnaissance and surveillance assets to gain as much information as possible about the enemy’s dispositions, strengths, capabilities, and intentions. As more intelligence becomes available, the main body commander attacks to destroy or disrupt enemy command and control (C2) centers, fire control nodes, and communication nets. The main body commander conducts operations to prevent enemy reserves from moving to counter the commander’s actions.

Fix the Enemy

2-58. The security force commander does not allow enemy security and main body forces to maneuver against the friendly main body. The organization, size, and combat power of the security force are the major factors that determine the size of the enemy force it can defeat or fix in place without deploying the main body.

2-59. The commander uses aerial maneuver and fire support assets to fix an enemy force in its current positions by directly attacking enemy maneuver elements and command systems, and emplacing situational obstacles. The typical priorities are to attack enemy forces in contact, enemy command and control and fire direction control facilities, enemy fire support assets, and moving enemy forces not yet in contact, such as follow-on forces and reserves. These priorities vary with the mission variables of METT-TC. Attack helicopters and close air support fixed-wing aircraft working in joint air attack teams (JAAT) are ideally suited to engage the enemy throughout the depth of the area of operations, if suppression of enemy air defenses can reduce aircraft risk to an acceptable degree.

2-60. The techniques a commander employs to fix the enemy when both forces are moving are different than those employed when the enemy force is stationary during the meeting engagement. In both situations, when the security force cannot overrun the enemy by conducting a hasty frontal attack, the commander must deploy a portion of the main body. When this occurs the unit is no longer conducting a movement to contact but an attack.


2-61. If the security force cannot overrun enemy security forces with a frontal attack to make contact with the enemy main body, the commander quickly maneuvers the friendly main body to conduct a penetration, flank attack, or envelopment of those enemy security forces. At this point, this makes the main body the decisive operation of the movement to contact. This is one of the key reasons that commanders ensure that their main body is not engaged until the time and place of their choosing. When and where possible, this maneuver should be initiated at a tempo the enemy cannot match. (See chapter 3 for a discussion of attack.) The commander does this to overwhelm the enemy security force before it can react effectively or reinforce. The commander attempts to defeat enemy security forces in detail while still maintaining the momentum of the advance, until the unit makes contact with the enemy main body.

2-62. Main body elements deploy rapidly to the vicinity of the line of contact, if the commander initiates a frontal attack. Commanders of maneuvering units coordinate forward passage through friendly forces in contact as required. The intent is to deliver the assault before the enemy force can deploy or reinforce its engaged forces. The commander may order an attack from a march column for one of the main body’s columns, while the rest of the main body deploys. The commander can also wait to attack until the bulk of the main body can be brought forward. The commander avoids piecemeal commitment, except when rapid action is essential and the unit has combat superiority at the vital point and can maintain it throughout the attack, or when compartmentalized terrain forces such a COA.

2-63. When trying to conduct an envelopment, the commander focuses on attacking the enemy’s flanks and rear before the enemy can prepare to counter these actions. The commander uses the security force to fix the enemy while the main body maneuvers to look for an assailable flank or the commander uses the main body to fix the enemy while the security force finds the assailable flank.

2-64. If the enemy is not rapidly defeated, the commander has three main options: bypass, transition to a more deliberate attack, or conduct some type of defense. In all cases, the commander makes every effort to retain the initiative by conducting violent and resolute attacks and prevent the enemy from stabilizing the situation. Simultaneously the commander must maintain momentum by synchronizing the actions of friendly maneuver, functional and multifunctional support, and sustainment elements.


2-65. After a successful attack, the main body commander resumes the movement to contact if the location of the enemy main body is still unclear and the limit of advance has not been reached, or the commander transitions to the appropriate task—deliberate attack, a defense, or retrograde—for the existing tactical situation. (For more discussion of these types of operations, see the respective articles in this series.)


2-66. Search and attack is a technique for conducting a movement to contact that shares many of the characteristics of an area security mission. A commander employs this form of a movement to contact when the enemy is operating as small, dispersed elements whose locations cannot be determined to targetable accuracy by methods other than a physical search, or when the task is to deny the enemy the ability to move within a given area. A search and attack is conducted primarily by dismounted infantry forces and often supported by armor, mechanized, and Stryker equipped forces. A search and attack normally occurs during the conduct of irregular warfare. However, it may also be necessary when conducting noncontiguous operations within major combat operations.

2-67. All units can conduct search and attack operations. However, a division will rarely conduct search and attack operations simultaneously throughout its AO. BCTs, maneuver battalions, and companies normally conduct search and attack operations. However, during World War II, Germany and Japan, with their allies, conducted division and even corps-sized search and attacks designed to secure major lines of communications in Russia, the Balkans, and China. BCTs assist their subordinate maneuver battalions conducting search and attack by ensuring the availability of indirect fires and other support.


2-68. The commander can task organize a unit into reconnaissance, fixing, and finishing forces, each with a specific purpose and task to accomplish. Alternatively, all units can be involved in the reconnaissance effort with individual subordinate elements being tasked to perform the fixing and finishing functions based on the specifics of the situation.

2-69. The size of the reconnaissance force is based on the available intelligence about the size of enemy forces in the AO and the size of the AO in terms of both the geographical size and the size of the civilian population contained in that AO. The less known about the situation, the larger the reconnaissance force. The reconnaissance force typically consists of scout, infantry, aviation, and electronic warfare assets. The fixing force must have enough combat power to isolate the enemy forces once the reconnaissance force finds them. The finishing force is normally the main body of that echelon. It must have enough combat power to defeat those enemy forces expected to be located within the AO. The commander can direct subordinate units to retain their own finishing force, or the commander can retain direct control of the finishing force. The commander may rotate subordinate elements through the reconnaissance, fixing, and finishing roles. However, rotating roles may require a change in task organization and additional time for training and rehearsal.


2-70. The commander establishes control measures that allow for decentralized actions and small-unit initiative to the greatest extent possible. The minimum control measures for a search and attack are an AO, target reference points (TRPs), objectives, checkpoints, and contact points. (See figure 2-4.) The use of TRPs facilitates responsive fire support once the reconnaissance force makes contact with the enemy. The commander uses objectives and checkpoints to guide the movement of subordinate elements. Coordination points indicate a specific location for coordinating fires and movement between adjacent units. The commander uses other control measures, such as phase lines and named areas of interest (NAIs), as necessary. (See appendix A for a discussion of these common control measures.)


Figure 2-4. Search and attack control measures


2-71. A commander conducts a search and attack for one or more of the following purposes:

  • Destroy the enemy: render enemy units in the AO combat-ineffective.
  • Deny the area: prevent the enemy from operating unhindered in a given area; for example, in any area the enemy is using for a base camp or for logistics support.
  • Protect the force: prevent the enemy from massing to disrupt or destroy friendly military or civilian operations, equipment, property, and key facilities.
  • Collect information: gain information about the enemy and the terrain to confirm the enemy COA predicted as a result of the IPB process.

2-72. The products of the IPB process are critical to conducting a search and attack. They focus the force’s reconnaissance efforts on likely enemy locations.

2-73. The search and attack plan places the finishing force, as the decisive operation, where it can best maneuver to destroy enemy forces or essential facilities once located by reconnaissance assets. Typically, the finishing force occupies a central location in the AO. However, the mission variables of METT-TC may allow the commander to position the finishing force outside the search and attack area. The commander weights this decisive operation or main effort by using priority of fires and assigning priorities of support to available combat multipliers, such as engineer elements and helicopter lift support. The commander establishes control measures as necessary to consolidate units and concentrate the combat power of the force before the attack. Once the reconnaissance force locates the enemy, the fixing and finishing forces can fix and destroy it. The commander also develops a contingency plan in the event that the reconnaissance force is compromised.

2-74. Fire support plans must provide for flexible and rapidly delivered fires to achieve the commander’s desired effects throughout the AO. The commander positions fire support assets so they can support subordinate elements throughout the AO. The commander must establish procedures for rapidly clearing fires. To clear fires rapidly, command posts and small-unit commanders must track and report the locations of all subordinate elements. Because of the uncertain enemy situation, the commander is careful to assign clear fire-support relationships.



2-75. Each subordinate element operating in its own AO is tasked to destroy the enemy within its capability. Units may enter the AO by infiltrating as an entire unit and then splitting out (see figure 2-5) or by infiltrating as smaller units via ground, air, or water. The commander should have in place previously established control measures and communications means between any closing elements to prevent fratricide and friendly fire incidents. The reconnaissance force conducts a zone reconnaissance to reconnoiter identified NAIs.

2-76. Once the reconnaissance force finds the enemy force, the fixing force develops the situation and executes one of two options based on the commander’s guidance and the mission variables of METT-TC. The first option is to block identified routes that the detected enemy can use to escape or rush reinforcement over. The fixing force maintains contact with the enemy and positions its forces to isolate and fix the enemy before the finishing force attacks. The second option is to conduct an attack to fix the enemy in its current positions until the finishing force arrives. The fixing force attacks if attacking meets the commander’s intent and if it can generate sufficient combat power against the detected enemy. Depending on the enemy’s mobility and the likelihood of the reconnaissance force being compromised, the commander may need to position the fixing force before the reconnaissance force enters the AO.

2-77. Brigade combat teams (and possibly battalions) may establish fire-support bases as part of the operations of their fixing force to provide fire-support coverage throughout the area of operations during search and attack operations conducted in complex terrain. These positions should be mutually supporting and prepared for all-around defense. They are located in positions that facilitate aerial resupply. The development of these positions depends on the mission variables of METT-TC because their establishment requires diverting combat power to ensure protecting fire support and other assets located within such bases.

2-78. If conditions are not right to use the finishing force or main body to attack the detected enemy, the reconnaissance or the fixing force can continue to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance activities to further develop the situation. Whenever this occurs, the force maintaining surveillance must be careful to avoid detection and possible enemy ambushes.

2-79. The finishing force or main body may move behind the reconnaissance and fixing forces, or it may locate at a pickup zone and conduct air assault movement into a landing zone near the enemy, once the enemy is located. The finishing force or main body must be responsive enough to engage the enemy before the enemy can break contact with the reconnaissance force or the fixing force. The echelon intelligence officer provides the commander with an estimate of the time it will take the enemy to displace from its detected locations. The commander provides additional mobility assets, so the finishing force or main body can respond within that timeframe.

2-80. The commander uses the finishing force or main body to destroy the detected and fixed enemy during a search and attack by conducting hasty or deliberate attacks, maneuvering to block enemy escape routes while another unit conducts the attack, or employing indirect fire or close air support to destroy the enemy. The commander may have the finishing force or main body establish an area ambush and use the reconnaissance and fixing forces to drive the enemy into the ambushes.


2-81. Cordon and search is a technique of conducting a movement to contact that involves isolating a target area and searching suspected locations within that target area to capture or destroy possible enemy forces and contraband. Cordon and search operations take place throughout the range of military operations. Commanders conducting a cordon and search organize their units into four elements— command, security, search or assault, and support. The security element must be large enough to establish both an inner and an outer cordon around the target area of the search. In that regards, cordon and search operations are similar to encirclement operations. (Encirclement operations are discussed in FM 3-90-2.) Cordon and search is normally conducted at the maneuver battalion level and below. FM 3-06.20 establishes multi-Service tactics, techniques, and procedures for cordon and search operations.