Soldiers tactical movement across terrain


When the commander decides to attack, or the opportunity to attack occurs during combat operations, the execution of that attack must mass the effects of overwhelming combat power against selected portions of the enemy force with a tempo and intensity that cannot be matched by the enemy. The resulting combat should not be a contest between near equals. Attackers must be determined to seek decision on the ground of their choosing through the deliberate synchronization and employment of the combined arms team.


3-1. Attacks take place along a continuum defined at one end by fragmentary orders that direct the execution of rapidly executed battle drills by forces immediately available. The other end of the continuum includes published, detailed orders with multiple branches and sequels, detailed knowledge of all aspects of enemy dispositions, a force that has been task organized specifically for the operation, and the conduct of extensive rehearsals. Most attacks fall between the ends of the continuum as opposed to either extreme. (ADRP 3-90 discusses this continuum between hasty and deliberate operations.)

3-2. This article addresses those considerations unique to the attack task. Those general offensive warfighting function considerations discussed in chapter 1 continue to apply. There are no unique sustainment and protection functional considerations that apply only to the attack.


3-3. Once a commander determines the scheme of maneuver, the commander task organizes the force to give each unit enough combat power to accomplish its mission. The commander normally organizes the force into a security force, a main body, and a reserve, all supported by some type of sustainment organization. The commander should complete any changes in task organization in time to allow units to conduct rehearsals with their attached and supporting elements. The best place and time for an attacking force to task organize is when it is in an assembly area.


3-4. Under normal circumstances, a commander resources dedicated security forces during an attack only if the attack will uncover one or more flanks or the rear of the attacking force as it advances. In this case, the commander designates a flank or rear security force and assigns it a guard or screen mission, depending on the mission variables of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT-TC). Normally an attacking unit does not need extensive forward security forces; most attacks are launched from positions in contact with the enemy, which reduces the usefulness of a separate forward security force. An exception occurs when the attacking unit is transitioning from the defense to an attack and had previously established a security area as part of the defense.


3-5. The commander organizes the main body into combined arms formations to conduct the decisive operation and necessary shaping operations. The commander aims the decisive operation toward the decisive point which can consist of the immediate and decisive destruction of the enemy force, its will to resist, seizure of a terrain objective, or the defeat of the enemy’s plan. The scheme of maneuver identifies the focus of the decisive operation. All of the force’s available resources operate in concert to assure the success of the decisive operation. The subordinate unit or units designated to conduct the decisive operation can change during the course of the attack. If the commander expects to conduct a breach operation during the attack, the commander designates an assault, breach, and support force.

3-6. If it is impractical to determine initially when or where the echelon’s decisive operation will be, such as during a hasty attack, the commander retains flexibility by arranging forces in depth, holding out strong reserves, and maintaining centralized control of long-range fire support systems. As soon as the tactical situation clarifies enough to allow the commander to designate the decisive operation, the commander focuses available resources to support that decisive operation’s achievement of its objective. Enemy actions, minor changes in the situation, or the lack of success by other elements cannot be allowed to divert either force or its effects from the decisive operation.

3-7. The commander may need to designate a unit or units to conduct shaping operations to create windows of opportunity for executing the decisive operation. The commander allocates the unit or units assigned to conduct shaping operations the minimal combat power necessary to accomplish their missions, since overwhelming combat power cannot be employed everywhere. Units conducting shaping operations usually have a wider area of operations (AO) than those conducting a decisive operation. If the commander has sufficient forces to conduct echelon shaping operations, the commander can assign the tasks of follow and assume or follow and support to subordinate units. (Appendix B defines these two tactical mission tasks.)


3-8. The commander uses the reserve to exploit success, defeat enemy counterattacks, or restore momentum to a stalled attack. Once committed, the reserve’s actions normally become or reinforce the echelon’s decisive operation, and the commander makes every effort to reconstitute another reserve from units made available by the revised situation. Often a commander’s most difficult and important decision concerns the time, place, and circumstances for committing the reserve. The reserve is not a committed force; it is not used as a follow and support force or a follow and assume force.

3-9. In the attack, the combat power allocated to the reserve depends primarily on the level of uncertainty about the enemy, especially the strength of any expected enemy counterattacks. The commander only needs to resource a small reserve to respond to unanticipated enemy reactions when detailed information about the enemy exists. When the situation is relatively clear and enemy capabilities are limited, the reserve may consist of a small fraction of the command. When the situation is vague, the reserve may initially contain the majority of the commander’s combat power.


3-10. In addition, the strength and composition of the reserve vary with the reserve’s contemplated missions, the forces available, the form of offensive maneuver selected, the terrain, and the risk accepted. For example, in a hasty attack the reserve can contain up to one-third of the force’s combat power. Alternatively, in a deliberate attack the commander sizes the reserve to defeat the enemy’s projected available counterattack forces. The commander should not constitute the reserve by weakening the decisive operation. A reserve must have mobility equal to or greater than the most dangerous enemy ground threat, and be able to counter that threat.

3-11. In an attack the commander generally locates the reserve to the rear of the unit, placing the decisive operation in a location that provides maximum protection from hostile observation and fire. However, the reserve must be able to move quickly to areas where it is needed in different contingencies. This is most likely to occur if the enemy has strong counterattack forces. For armored and Stryker equipped reserve forces, the key factor is cross-country mobility or road networks. For light forces, the key factors are the existing road network, the availability of trucks and helicopters, or the availability of pickup zones (PZs) for use by supporting helicopters that enable the reserve to conduct air assault operations. The commander prioritizes the positioning of the reserve to reinforce the success of the decisive operation first, then to counter the worst-case enemy counterattack.


3-12. The commander resources sustaining operations to support the attacking force. A maneuver battalion commander and that individual’s supporting brigade support battalion (BSB) commander organizes the maneuver battalion’s supporting sustainment assets into combat and field trains. The Stryker brigade combat team (SBCT) sustainment organization is different in structure from that of armored brigade combat teams (ABCTs) and infantry brigade combat teams (IBCTs). Higher echelon commanders appoint someone to control sustaining operations within their echelon support areas. For example, this is often the BSB commander in an ABCT and the commander of a division’s attached maneuver enhancement brigade (MEB). In an attack, the commander tries to position sustainment units well forward. From these forward locations they can sustain the attacking force and provide priority of support to the units conducting the decisive operation. As the attacking force advances, sustainment units and capabilities displace forward as required to shorten supply lines, using displacement techniques designed to ensure uninterrupted support to maneuver units. The size of the force a commander devotes to the echelon support area security mission depends on the threat in the attacking force’s support area. A significant enemy threat requires the commander to resource a tactical combat force. (FM 3-90-2 discusses tactics associated with the conduct of area security operations.)


Note. An Army Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) should not be confused with a Marine Expeditionary Brigade. They are two very different organizations with vastly different capabilities.




3-13. Units conducting offensive actions are assigned an AO within which to operate. Within the AO the commander normally designates the following control measures regardless of whether the attack takes place in a contiguous or noncontiguous environment:

  • Areas of operations for subordinate units of battalion size or larger.
  • A phase line as the line of departure (LD), which may also be the line of contact (LC).
  • The time to initiate the operation.
  • The objective.

If necessary, a commander can use either an axis of advance or a direction of attack to further control maneuver forces. (Figure 3-1 depicts minimum control measures for an attack.)

Figure 3-1. Minimum attack control measures

3-14. A commander can use any other control measures necessary to control the attack. Short of the LD or LC, the commander may designate assembly areas and attack positions where the unit prepares for offensive actions or waits for the establishment of the required conditions to initiate the attack. Beyond the LD or LC the commander may designate checkpoints, phase lines (PLs), probable lines of deployment (PLDs), assault positions, direct fire control measures, and indirect fire support coordination measures. Between the PLD and the objective a commander can use a final coordination line (FCL), assault positions, support by fire and attack by fire positions, and a time of assault to further control the final stage of the attack. Beyond the objective the commander can impose a limit of advance (LOA), if the commander does not want the unit to conduct exploitation or a pursuit. (Appendix A discusses these control measures.)

3-15. In an attack during limited-visibility conditions, the commander maintains control over the movement of all attacking elements. Typically, additional control measures are imposed beyond those used in a daylight attack. These additional measures may include using a point of departure (PD) and a direction of attack.



3-16. In an attack, friendly forces seek to place the enemy in a position where the enemy can easily be defeated or destroyed. The commander seeks to keep the enemy off-balance while continually reducing the enemy’s options. In an attack the commander focuses movement and maneuver effects, supported by the other warfighting functions, on those enemy forces that seek to prevent the unit from accomplishing its mission and seizing its objective. Planning helps a commander synchronize the effects of combat power through the military decisionmaking process and troop leading procedures outlined in ADRP 5-0.

3-17. Fire superiority is that degree of dominance in the fires of one force over another that permits that force to conduct maneuver at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the enemy. The commander plans to focus the effects of friendly systems to achieve fire superiority and allow friendly maneuver forces to breach the enemy’s defensive network. The force must gain and maintain fire superiority at critical points during the attack. Having fire superiority allows the commander to maneuver forces without prohibitive losses. The commander gains fire superiority by using a variety of tactics, techniques, and procedures. This includes using counterfires and precision fires, suppressing enemy positions, and destroying key facilities and assets. Achieving fire superiority requires the commander to take advantage of—

  • The range, precision, and lethality of available weapon systems.
  • Temporary information superiority resulting from a blend of friendly information management; knowledge management; intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance operations; and joint information operations and Army inform and influence and cyber electromagnetic activities.
  • Movement to place the enemy in a position of disadvantage where enemy weapon systems can be destroyed, one or more at a time, with little risk to friendly weapon systems.


3-18. The commander states the desired effect of fires on the enemy weapon systems, such as suppression or destruction, as part of the planning process. The commander assigns subordinate units their missions and imposes those control measures necessary to synchronize and maintain control over the operation.

3-19. Using the enemy situational and weapons templates previously developed, the commander determines the probable line of contact and enemy trigger lines. As the commander arrays subordinate elements to shape the battlefield, friendly weapon systems are matched against the enemy’s to determine the PLD. Once the commander determines the PLD, the commander establishes how long it takes subordinates to move from the LD to the PLD and any support by fire positions the attack requires. The commander establishes when and where the force must maneuver into enemy direct-fire range.

3-20. In addition to accomplishing the mission, every attack plan must contain provisions for exploiting success or any advantages that may arise during the operation. The commander exploits success by aggressively executing the plan, promoting subordinate leader initiative, and using units that can rapidly execute battle drills.


3-21. In the plan of attack, the commander seeks to surprise the enemy by choosing an unexpected direction, time, type, or strength for the attack and by exploiting the success of military deception operations. Surprise delays enemy reactions, overloads and confuses enemy command and control, induces psychological shock in the enemy, and reduces the coherence of the enemy defense. The commander achieves tactical surprise by attacking in bad weather and over seemingly impassible terrain, conducting feints and demonstrations, maintaining a high tempo, destroying enemy forces, and employing sound operations security (OPSEC). For example, a unit in extremely hilly or mountainous terrain may consider transporting light infantry forces to the heights and have them maneuver down the terrain. The commander may plan different attack times for the decisive and shaping operations to mislead the enemy and allow the shifting of supporting fires to successive attacking echelons. However, simultaneous attacks provide a means to maximize the effects of mass in the initial assault. They also prevent the enemy from concentrating defensive fires against successive attacks.

3-22. In planning, the commander and subordinate leaders focus on the routes, formations, and navigational aids they will use to traverse the ground from the LD or PD to the objective. Some terrain locations may require the attacking unit to change its combat formation, direction of movement, or movement technique when it reaches those locations. The unit can post guides at these critical locations to ensure control over the movement.

3-23. The commander attacks targets throughout the depth of the enemy’s defense to keep the enemy off balance and limit enemy freedom of action. However, at the point of the decisive operation, the commander concentrates the effects of overwhelming combat power against the enemy to shatter the cohesion of the defense. The commander accomplishes this by applying combat power against the enemy at a level of violence and in a manner that the enemy cannot match. For example, the commander could concentrate an Army combined arms battalion’s shock action and firepower against one enemy rifle platoon’s hastily prepared defensive position.

3-24. Another aspect of concentration is the ability to rapidly concentrate force effects such as lethal fires and electronic warfare capabilities during movement. This is especially critical when crossing linear obstacles. Each subordinate element tends to move out independently when it completes passage through a choke point. This independent movement detracts from the ability of the whole force to rapidly concentrate combat power on the far side of the obstacle.


3-25. Daylight attacks allow friendly forces to effectively use their equipment while facilitating control of their maneuver. They are the least stressful psychologically and physically on the attacking units. One major disadvantage is that the enemy force can effectively use its weapon systems to oppose the attack. Another disadvantage is that it does not take advantage of the Army’s generally superior night vision capabilities.



3-26. The mission variables of METT-TC normally require an attack conducted during limited visibility to be more deliberate in nature than a daylight attack, except when it occurs as part of the follow-up to a daylight attack or as part of an exploitation or pursuit operation. The commander planning a night attack considers how limited visibility complicates controlling units, Soldiers, and fires. Limited visibility also complicates identifying and engaging targets, navigating and moving without detection, locating, treating, and evacuating casualties, and locating and bypassing or breaching obstacles.

3-27. Commanders attack in limited-visibility conditions to take advantage of American night-vision and navigational superiority against most potential enemy ground forces. Intensively trained forces equipped for this environment have significant advantages over an enemy who is unprepared for limited-visibility operations. When the friendly force’s limited-visibility operations capabilities are significantly greater than the enemy’s, limited-visibility attacks may become the normal type of attack. Table 3-1 on page 3-6 outlines the advantages and disadvantages of conducting limited-visibility attacks.

3-28. Highly-trained units equipped with modern night-vision devices conduct limited-visibility attacks similar to the way they conduct daylight attacks. Units without extensive night-vision devices can use the darkness to their advantage to conceal their movement, allowing them to get as close to the enemy positions as possible, if the enemy also does not have extensive night-vision capabilities. Troops that are well trained for limited-visibility operations and take full advantage of the superiority of their night-vision equipment gain significant tactical and psychological advantages when attacking the enemy at night or in other conditions of reduced visibility. The commander should understand the different night-vision capabilities of all elements participating in the attack, to include the enemy’s night-vision capabilities, and make any adjustments necessary to the plan based on these differences. The commander should take advantage of superior night-fighting capabilities whenever possible.

Table 3-1. Advantages and disadvantages of limited-visibility attacks

Advantages of limited-visibility attacks

Disadvantages of limited-visibility attacks

  • Defenses are more susceptible to infiltration.

  • Darkness can conceal the movement of large forces.

  • Physical and psychological factors favor the attacker, as shock, disorientation, and isolation are easier to achieve.

  • Air assets can operate more safely because air defenders with only optical sights have greater difficulty acquiring targets at night.

  • The element of surprise may increase because defenders are more susceptible to military deception techniques, such as dummy lights, noise, smoke, and fires.

  • The defender cannot employ reserves as quickly at night as the defender can during daylight conditions.

  • U.S. forces training in a limited visibility environment are superior to most potential opponents.

  • Control of maneuver forces in the absence of technical means is more difficult.

  • The defender can react easier to changing situations.

  • The attacker has difficulty determining the limits of obstacle systems.

  • Restrictive terrain is more difficult to traverse.

  • Light, smoke, noise, and fires can deceive the attacker.

  • The attacker loses momentum because attacks are conducted at a reduced speed to maintain the coherence of the unit.

  • Land navigation, without global positioning systems, is more difficult at night; units may become separated, cohesion can be lost, and support elements can move to the wrong positions.

  • The enemy can reposition or emplace obstacles during darkness without being detected by friendly reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence assets.

  • Attacking units are easier to ambush at night.

  • Adjusting indirect fire is difficult, even with night-vision devices or illumination.

  • Units require significantly larger quantities of signal ammunition such as smoke, tracers, flares, and illumination rounds.

  • Units have more difficulty locating and evacuating casualties.

  • The risk of fratricide may increase.

3-29. The organization of forces for a limited-visibility or night attack is the same as for any other attack. However, changing an existing task organization under limited-visibility conditions requires much more time and effort than it does during daylight. Small tactical organizations, such as combat crews and infantry squads, should be manned and equipped as close as possible to full strength, even if it means reducing the total number of these small tactical groups.

3-30. The presence or lack of illumination characterizes the conduct of limited-visibility attacks. Non-illuminated attacks offer the best chance of gaining surprise. Illumination, however, is normally planned for every limited-visibility attack, so that it can be readily available if required. The commander can choose to conduct a non-illuminated attack until subordinate forces make contact with the enemy. At that point, the objective can be illuminated. The enemy can also choose to employ illumination to increase the effectiveness of defensive efforts. Units generally conduct non-illuminated attacks, although they always plan for illumination. All leaders within the attacking unit must understand the time, conditions, and authority required to employ illumination.

3-31. Illuminated, supported attacks are almost like daylight attacks. They are most effective when speed is essential, time for reconnaissance is limited, or the enemy is weak and disorganized. If the commander employs illumination, it should continue until the force secures the objective. After the attacking force reaches its assault position, the commander should place illumination beyond the objective to silhouette objects on the objective. This helps the assaulting force see and fire at withdrawing or counterattacking enemy forces. The commander may also employ illumination in several locations to confuse the enemy about the exact place of attack.

3-32. The commander plans for limited-visibility operations in the same manner that the commander does for daylight operations, with emphasis on—

  • Keeping the plan simple.
  • Taking additional time for reconnaissance.
  • Taking advantage of easily identifiable terrain features, such as roads and railroad tracks, when establishing control measures.
  • Using intermediate objectives as necessary to control and maintain the correct movement direction during the attack.
  • Concealing preparations.
  • Scheduling initial rehearsals during daylight, with the final rehearsal at night.

The commander establishes control measures to facilitate visualizing, describing, and directing subordinate and supporting forces during limited visibility operations. Commanders should also take advantage of the technical capabilities of the equipment available, such as those projected for the Land Warrior system.

3-33. To simplify control problems, the commander may weight the support element over the assault force to reduce the number of friendly Soldiers moving on the objective in the darkness. The commander may also develop a plan that does not require the unit to change its movement azimuth after it crosses the LD or PD to simplify execution.

3-34. The commander must assume that the enemy possesses, in at least limited quantities, the same limited-visibility observation capabilities as friendly forces—absent positive information to the contrary— when conducting a limited-visibility attack. Using terrain to mask movement and deployment remains critical because limited visibility may create a false sense of protection from enemy observation. During movement, leaders reduce the distances between vehicles or individual Soldiers as necessary to allow one system or Soldier to observe the other. This decreases the time necessary to react to enemy contact. The attacking force strives to maintain its momentum; therefore, it does not preserve the alignment of units within the selected combat formation at the expense of additional time. However, the attacking force must adhere more closely to the plan of attack than under daylight conditions.


3-35. To employ the proper capabilities and tactics, the commander must have detailed knowledge of the enemy’s organization, equipment, and tactics. The commander must understand the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, this knowledge is available during the military decisionmaking process. The commander and staff develop enemy situational and weapons templates based on analysis of all available combat information and intelligence data. These templates must address both conventional and unconventional threats. These templates help to determine the feasibility of available courses of action (COAs) designed to achieve a position of advantage.

3-36. Before the attack, a unit conducts reconnaissance and surveillance activities to ascertain those information requirements addressed in paragraphs 1-157 to 1-163. Other information requirements can include—

  • The location and depth of enemy reserves.
  • The location and extent of contaminated areas.
  • The location and extent of obstacles, possible breach sites, and enemy engagement areas.
  • The location of areas where attacking units could become disoriented, such as rough or restrictive terrain.
  • The most favorable routes of approach to the attack objective.
  • Areas that the attacker can use for flanking fire and maneuver, such as support by fire and attack by fire positions.
  • Suitability of planned friendly assault, support, artillery, and sustainment positions.
  • Enemy deception operations.

Commanders and leaders at all echelons personally participate in this process.

3-37. The commander takes every opportunity to gain and refine combat information regarding the enemy. Available reconnaissance and surveillance assets are employed to gather combat information and process it

into intelligence. Information gathered during the planning phase of the plan, prepare, and execute cycle is especially useful in determining the viability of each COA developed. Generally, if a commander does not have good intelligence and, therefore, does not know where the overwhelming majority of the enemy’s units and systems are located, the commander cannot conduct a deliberate attack. The attacking unit must conduct a movement to contact, conduct a hasty attack, or collect more combat information.

3-38. The two fundamental employment techniques for reconnaissance in the attack are reconnaissance-pull and reconnaissance-push. In reconnaissance-pull, the reconnaissance objective is to find weaknesses in enemy dispositions that can be exploited by the main force. Reconnaissance is launched over a broad area that allows the reconnaissance elements to identify enemy weaknesses to exploit and enemy strengths to avoid. Once these are identified, the commander exploits the situation by choosing a COA that allows the decisive operation to attack enemy weaknesses and penetrate gaps in the enemy’s defense. The commander can then commit forces to widen the gap and envelop the enemy. The reconnaissance elements continue to move, seeking paths of least resistance and pulling the main body deep into the enemy’s rear.

3-39. In reconnaissance-push, the reconnaissance objective is to identify the obstacles and enemy forces the attack forces must overcome to assault the objective in a previously chosen location in accordance with a COA selected before the reconnaissance. Once friendly reconnaissance elements gain contact with the enemy, they develop the situation within their capabilities. If the objective is an enemy force, the reconnaissance element orients on it to maintain contact and determine as much as possible about its dispositions.

3-40. The commander ensures that reconnaissance and surveillance of the enemy’s defensive positions and any terrain critical to the scheme of maneuver continue throughout the attack. If the enemy units attempt to modify their defenses, those actions will be detected. In turn, this allows the commander to adjust the scheme of maneuver as the enemy situation becomes clearer. The commander can use human and technological means, acting separately or in combination, to provide the required degree of reconnaissance and surveillance.

3-41. A commander’s capability to gain information about the enemy and the AO’s environment varies by echelon. Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) are the lowest tactical echelons with organic analysis capabilities. However, continuing improvements in intelligence dissemination capabilities and greater tactical internet bandwidth availability means that intelligence products developed by higher echelons will be more available at low tactical levels—battalion and company level—in the future than they are today.

3-42. All intelligence disciplines can be found in the theater army’s intelligence brigade. The Army’s battlefield surveillance brigade (BFSB) contains a military intelligence collection capability that includes unmanned aircraft system (UAS) sensors, signals intelligence, human intelligence, and counterintelligence. The BFSB’s reconnaissance and surveillance squadron provides ground reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities. BCTs also contain organic UASs, signals intelligence, human intelligence, counterintelligence, and ground reconnaissance capabilities although the organic reconnaissance and surveillance assets of a BCT are less capable than those found in the BFSB. Maneuver battalions and companies have their own reconnaissance capabilities. Non-maneuver battalions and companies can conduct reconnaissance patrols as necessary to enhance their local security or to gain or improve their understanding of the mission variables of METT-TC around their locations. (FM 3-90-2 contains the basic tactics associated with the conduct of reconnaissance operations.)


3-43. The planning process synchronizes the unit’s maneuver with the provision of fire support. It must identify critical times and places where the commander needs the maximum effects from fire-support assets. That planning must take into account existing limitations on the employment of fires, such as rules of engagement and positive identification requirements, presence of special operations forces (SOF) within the AO, desired conditions of subsequent phases, and requirements for collateral damage assessments. The commander combines maneuver with fires to mass effects, achieve surprise, destroy enemy forces, and obtain decisive results. The commander’s s guidance gives specified attack criteria for supporting fires assets, thus focusing the planning and execution efforts on those critical times and events. The specified

attack criteria are a compilation of the commander’s guidance, desired effects, and high-payoff targets and attack priorities. The amount of time available to plan the operation constrains the commander’s ability to synchronize fire-support operations that employ well-matched effects of all available assets against high-payoff targets.

3-44. The goal of the commander’s attack criteria is to focus fires on seizing the initiative. The commander emphasizes simple and rapidly integrated fire support plans. This is done using quick-fire planning techniques and good standard operating procedures (SOPs). The commander integrates fire assets as far forward as possible in the movement formation to facilitate early emplacement. One example of this integration would be the use of a UAS forward site team from a combat aviation brigade temporarily attached to a fires brigade or a BFSB to identify targets for destruction. Fires concentrate (mass) on forward enemy elements to enable maneuver efforts to close with the enemy positions. Fires can isolate forward enemy elements by using long-range fires, air support, and electronic warfare.

3-45. Fires facilitate the attacking unit’s maneuver by destroying or neutralizing strong enemy forces and positions. Fire systems must take full advantage of available preparation time to achieve these demanding effects criteria. Fire plans feature the following characteristics:

  • Targets that are confirmed or denied by reconnaissance and surveillance efforts.
  • Designation of target sensor-to-shooter communication links.
  • Possible use of preparation and deception fires to shape the enemy’s defense.
  • Air support to destroy high-payoff targets on the objective and then shift to reinforcing enemy units, artillery assets, and command and control nodes.
  • Proactive suppression of enemy air-defense efforts.
  • Preparation fires that shift just as the maneuver force arrives on the objective.
  • Suppression and obscuration fire plan to support breaching operations.
  • Pre-positioned ammunition backed by prepackaged munitions stocks capable of rapid delivery.
  • Integration of nonlethal effects, such as electronic attack and military information support operations, into the attack guidance matrix.
  • Integration of primary and backup observers to engage high-priority targets.
  • Fire support coordination measures, accounting for danger close and other technical constraints, to allow maneuver forces to get as close as possible to the objective before lifting fires.
  • Signals for lifting and shifting fires on the objective, primarily by combat net radio and by visual signals as a backup means.

These later fire support coordination measures should also facilitate the massing of fires, including close air support (CAS) and air interdiction using kill box procedures, against high-payoff targets throughout the AO. (See FM 3-09.34 for more information on the employment of a kill box.)


3-46. Even in fluid situations, attacks are best organized and coordinated in assembly areas. If the commander decides that rapid action is essential to retain a tactical advantage, that individual may opt not to use an assembly area. Detailed advance planning—combined with digital communications, SOPs, and battle drills—may reduce negative impacts of such a decision.

3-47. Unless already in an assembly area, the attacking unit moves into one during the preparation phase. The unit moves with as much secrecy as possible, normally at night and along routes that prevent or degrade the enemy’s capabilities to observe or detect the movement. It avoids congesting its assembly area and occupies it for the minimum possible time. While in the assembly area, each unit is responsible for its own protection activities, such as local ground security.

3-48. Units moving to assembly areas send out their quartering parties and link up with their guides at the designated locations. (FM 3-90-2 discusses these aspects of troop movement.) While subordinate units move to and occupy assembly areas, the commander completes the process of planning and coordinating the attack.

3-49. The attacking unit should continue its troop leading procedures and priorities of work to the extent the situation and mission allow before moving to attack positions. These preparations include but are not necessarily limited to—

  • Protecting the force.
  • Conducting task organization.
  • Performing reconnaissance.
  • Refining the plan.
  • Briefing the troops.
  • Conducting rehearsals, to include test firing of weapons and breach and gap crossings, if these operations are envisioned to occur during the attack. (The type of rehearsal and techniques used will vary based on the mission variables of METT-TC.)
  • Moving logistics and medical support forward.
  • Promoting adequate rest for both leaders and Soldiers.
  • Positioning the force for subsequent action.

As part of troop leading procedures, leaders at all levels should conduct a personal reconnaissance of the actual terrain when this will not compromise operations security or result in excessive risk to the unit’s leadership. Modern information systems can enable leaders to conduct a virtual reconnaissance when a physical reconnaissance is not practical. If a limited-visibility attack is planned, they should also reconnoiter the terrain at night.

3-50. A thorough reconnaissance of the objective, its foreground, and other enemy positions is a critical part of attack preparations. The commander exploits all available reconnaissance and surveillance assets to provide the necessary information. This includes requesting joint surveillance feeds of enemy movements from higher echelons or imagery of enemy obstacles. Reconnaissance forces infiltrate through the enemy security area to conduct an area reconnaissance. They can employ precision munitions and conventional indirect fires to destroy detected enemy outposts while remaining undetected. They locate and attempt to infiltrate the enemy’s main defensive positions to confirm enemy unit dispositions. When properly task-organized, forces conducting reconnaissance may also be given a mission to conduct covert breaches in the enemy’s obstacle complexes to facilitate rapid movement of the decisive or shaping operation.

3-51. During this phase, the commander positions artillery target-acquisition radars to provide support throughout the AO. BCT and higher headquarters establish quick-fire channels between sensors, such as counterbattery radars, and firing units assigned a counterfire mission, to rapidly silence enemy indirect fire systems. These channels do not change command relationships or priority of fires.

3-52. The commander exercises and refines the maneuver and fire plans during rehearsals which are an important part of ensuring the plan’s coordination and synchronization. As part of the rehearsal process, the commander reviews the anticipated battle sequence with subordinate leaders to ensure all units understand the plan, the relationship between fire and movement, and the synchronization of critical events. These critical events include:

  • Moving from the assembly area to the line of departure.
  • Maneuvering from the line of departure to the probable line of deployment.
  • Occupying support by fire positions.
  • Conducting the breach or gap crossing.
  • Assaulting the objective.
  • Consolidating on the objective.
  • Exploiting success or pursuing a withdrawing enemy.
  • Actions of echelon reserves.

The unit should conduct rehearsals under as many types of adverse conditions as possible (under time and other constraints) to identify and prepare the unit to cope with problems. At lower tactical echelons, the rehearsal includes battle drills, such as creating lanes through minefields.

3-53. From their assembly areas, attacking units move to their respective LDs. (See figure 3-2.) Units move from assembly areas to the LD in the same way as for any other tactical movement. (FM 3-90-2 discusses troop movement.) The number of columns a unit employs in its movement depends on the availability of suitable routes and the friendly and enemy situation. The tactical situation and the order in which the commander wants subordinate units to arrive at their attack positions primarily govern the march formation. Using an LD facilitates the simultaneous initiation of the attack at the prescribed time by all attacking units.


Figure 3-2. Movement from the assembly area to the line of departure

3-54. Light infantry units should move by tactical vehicles to the maximum extent possible to avoid prematurely exhausting their Soldiers. However, light infantry forces should not travel too far forward in tactical vehicles. The enemy can detect the noise and other battlefield signatures associated with using tactical vehicles at a greater distance than dismounted infantry Soldiers can be detected, and the enemy will probably respond to the presence of tactical vehicles with direct- and indirect-fire systems. The commander must weigh the need for security against the time required to conduct a foot march and its resulting effects on Soldiers.

3-55. Units move rapidly through their attack positions and across the LD, which should be controlled by friendly forces. A unit uses its designated attack position only by exception, such as when it must refuel before to crossing the LD to ensure sufficient fuel to reach the objective or the conditions required to ensure the success of the planned maneuver are not yet established. A unit does not occupy its attack positions for more than 10 to 15 minutes without initiating actions to protect itself and increase its survivability, such as deploying local security and camouflage nets and starting the construction of fighting and survivability positions. If necessary, a unit can use guides to assist in occupying the attack position.

3-56. For units attacking on foot using infiltration and stealth, a commander may designate a point of departure for the attacking units instead of an LD. Armored and Stryker-equipped units normally use gaps or lanes through the friendly positions to allow them to deploy into combat formations before they cross the LD.

3-57. Preliminary operations for an attack may include using preparatory fires and the relief of units in contact by executing a relief in place (RIP) or a forward passage of lines. The relief of units may be desirable to continue the momentum of the attack with fresh troops, change the direction of the attack, exploit a weakness in the enemy position with reserve forces, or initiate an offensive on a stabilized front. (FM 3-90-2 addresses the basic tactics associated with the conduct of a RIP and a forward passage of lines.)

3-58. The commander uses available artillery, mortar, CAS, air interdiction, electronic warfare, and military information support operations (MISO) to conduct preparation fires. Preparation fires are developed from the top down, with bottom-up refinement. The subordinate commander most affected by the effects of these preparatory fires must strongly emphasize the bottom-up refinement process. Preparatory fires can accomplish the following functions:

  • Destroy the enemy.
  • Suppress, neutralize, or disrupt high-value or high-priority targets.
  • Gain fire superiority.
  • Suppress enemy forces in their defensive positions.
  • Facilitate the attacking force’s maneuver.
  • Deceive the enemy.

3-59. If the attacking forces are in contact with the enemy’s security zone, preparatory fires may initially destroy or disrupt only the enemy’s reconnaissance and security forces and positions. In either case, counterfires conducted as part of preparatory fires serve to degrade the enemy’s fire-support systems and assist in achieving fire superiority.

3-60. The commander ensures that attacking maneuver forces have the functional and multifunctional support and sustainment assets necessary to conduct the operation and maintain the attack’s momentum as part of the preparation process. That support and sustainment effort must anticipate future maneuvers to ensure the uninterrupted advance of the maneuver force.


3-61. An attack consists of a series of advances and assaults by attacking units until they accomplish their mission. (This may be the seizure or securing of a final geographic objective, or the destruction, defeat, or disruption of a designated enemy force in accordance with the higher commander’s intent.) Commanders at all levels must use their initiative to rapidly shift their decisive operation or main effort between units as necessary to take advantage of opportunities and momentum to ensure the enemy’s rapid destruction. Attacking units move as quickly as possible, following reconnaissance elements through gaps in the enemy’s defenses. They shift their strength to reinforce success and carry the battle deep into the enemy’s rear. A commander does not delay the attack to preserve the alignment of subordinate units or to adhere closely to the preconceived plan of attack.

3-62. The commander must avoid becoming so committed to the initial plan that opportunities are neglected. The commander is mentally prepared to abandon failed attacks and to exploit any unanticipated successes or enemy errors by designating another unit to conduct the decisive operation in response to the changing situation.

3-63. When maneuvering the force, the commander strives to retain freedom of action while protecting the force. Although a detailed plan to defeat the enemy may exist, the commander continually seeks any opportunity to attack to defeat, destroy, or reduce the enemy’s combat power or shatter the enemy’s cohesion and will to fight. The commander avoids dogged adherence to a plan no longer appropriate to current battlefield conditions. The difference between success and failure in combat often depends on the commander’s ability to make the plan fit existing circumstances rather than trying to make circumstances fit the plan.


3-64. The five step discussion of offensive actions introduced in chapter 2 is used in this article, although there are others ways of discussing the execution phase. Just as in chapter 2, the first three steps are usually shaping operations or supporting efforts. These steps are presented here for discussion purposes only and often overlap during the actual execution of attacks.

Gain and Maintain Enemy Contact

3-65. Gaining and maintaining contact with an enemy determined to break that contact is vital to the success of offensive actions. A defending enemy generally establishes a security area around those forces manning the main line of defense to make early contact with attacking forces to determine their capabilities, intent, and chosen COA, and to delay their approach. The enemy commander uses that security area to strip away friendly reconnaissance forces and hide enemy dispositions, capabilities, and intent. The enemy commander’s goal is to compel the attacking force to conduct a movement to contact against defending enemy forces that know the exact location of the attacking force.

3-66. A commander employs combat power to overwhelm enemy forces in accordance with the commander’s situational understanding. However, echelons below division do not normally have the detection, tracking, and weapon systems necessary to conduct decisive or shaping operations directed against enemy forces not currently committed to close combat. The way a unit gains and maintains contact depends on whether the unit is in contact with the enemy’s security area or the enemy’s main line of resistance and the echelon of the unit in the nested layers of reconnaissance and security. For example, the intent of a corps’ reconnaissance effort is to determine the dispositions, composition, direction of movement, and rate of movement of a defending enemy’s significant forces. An ABCT, acting as a covering force or advance guard, can fight through most security areas, develop the situation, confirm information provided by technical means, and force the enemy to reveal more information than could be acquired solely through using intelligence sensors. This additional information includes locating the enemy’s tactical and possibly operational reserves. At a lower level, a battalion constituting the advance guard of the main body of a brigade combat team can use its scout platoon to conduct a zone reconnaissance that focuses on acquiring updates of enemy positions and obstacles.

3-67. The commander’s ability to sense the enemy’s actions by gaining and maintaining contact with all significant parts of the enemy force, to include tracking enemy reserves, fire support, and follow-on forces, increases the security of the attacking force. The commander seeks to detect the enemy’s attempts to shift major elements of defending enemy forces or launch a counterattack. Additionally, by sending out a force to conduct area reconnaissance with an on-order mission to be prepared to conduct a security mission, the commander can prevent enemy reconnaissance assets from detecting the friendly force’s major movements and increase the enemy’s risk. The risks to the enemy force increase when friendly forces impede or deny enemy reconnaissance and surveillance assets success. Combining these factors results in providing the attacking commander with additional time to take advantage of the changing situation. Moving within the enemy’s decision cycle allows the commander to take advantage of successes by transitioning to the exploitation and pursuit to complete the enemy’s destruction.

3-68. The capabilities of digital information systems offer additional techniques a commander can use to gain and maintain enemy contact. The improved common operational picture provided by those systems enhances the commander’s situational understanding and ensures rapid, clear communication of orders and intent, thereby reducing the confusion and friction of battle. This is especially true when the data on those information systems providing that common operational picture is rapidly updated from the lowest tactical echelons. The disposition and activities of friendly and enemy forces and third-party agencies are important elements of information. Advanced Service and joint intelligence systems feeding those information systems enable the commander and echelon staff to detect and track enemy forces throughout a given AO without having subordinate forces make physical contact with the enemy. The commander’s ability to see and understand the situation before the enemy can allows the friendly force to act first and rapidly maneuver out of contact with the enemy at a high tempo. This allows the commander to position subordinate forces where they can overwhelm selected elements of the enemy force to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s combined arms team. Such attacks—delivered simultaneously with precision by air, ground, and naval systems throughout the width, height, and depth of the battlefield—stun the enemy forces and rapidly lead to their defeat.

Disrupt the Enemy

3-69. Disrupting one or more parts of the enemy’s combined arms team weakens the entire enemy force and allows the friendly commander to attack selected portions of the remaining enemy force in an asymmetrical manner. The assessment and decisions regarding what to disrupt, when to disrupt, and to what end are critical. For example, the goal of disrupting the enemy’s fire-support system is to allow friendly forces to maneuver and mass the effects of their weapon systems against the enemy without being engaged by the enemy’s indirect-fire weapons. Attacking forces can accomplish this by attacking enemy forward observers, fire-direction centers, command posts, artillery, rocket systems, or ammunition. Each set of targets requires a different amount of resources. The probability of success, the effectiveness of the attack, and the time necessary to achieve the desired target effects varies with each set of targets.

3-70. Once any type of contact—even sensor contact—is made with the enemy, the commander seeks to use the element of surprise to conduct shaping operations that strike at the enemy and disrupt both the enemy’s combined arms team and the enemy commander’s ability to plan operations and control enemy forces. Once the attacking commander begins this disruption process, it continues throughout the attack.

The commander uses any existing technological advantage over the enemy in the following areas to aid the disruption process:

  • Joint information operations core, supporting, and related capabilities and Army inform and influence and cyber electromagnetic activities.
  • Lethal firepower effects.
  • Range of direct-fire weapons.
  • Protection.
  • Battlefield mobility and countermobility.
  • Information management.
  • Mission command systems.

3-71. Disrupting the enemy enables the commander to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative, maintain freedom of action, impose the commander’s will on the enemy, set the terms, and select the place for battle. That disruption also allows the commander to exploit enemy vulnerabilities and react to changing situations and unexpected developments more rapidly than the enemy. This disruption effort usually occurs at divisional echelons and above because lower echelons lack the necessary reconnaissance, target acquisition, intelligence analysis, and target attack assets to engage enemy forces not committed to close combat.

3-72. The commander plans the shaping operations to occur at the place and time necessary to establish the conditions for the decisive operation. Targets of a shaping operation may include enemy command and control facilities, reconnaissance and surveillance assets, fire-support systems, reserves, and logistics support nodes. If a commander executes a shaping operation too early, the enemy has time to recover and respond before friendly forces conducting the decisive operation can complete their maneuver.

3-73. The commander plans to use harassment, suppressive, or interdiction fires against positions likely to contain high-payoff targets to disrupt enemy reactions to the attacking unit’s advance. These fires deny the enemy unrestricted use of the terrain and can prevent enemy reserves from entering the fight before the attacking friendly unit seizes the objective. Additional benefits may result from these fires over time, including increased psychological pressure on enemy personnel and a reduction in their mental and physical capabilities by disrupting their sleep and rest patterns.

3-74. Surprise denies the enemy the opportunity to focus and synchronize combat power against the attacking force. It prevents the enemy from massing defending enemy forces or fires at a critical, possibly decisive, place and time. In place of cohesive resistance, surprise can produce confusion, fear, and piecemeal resistance. Factors that contribute to surprise include the tempo and intensity in executing the attack plan and employing unexpected factors, such as selecting a less than optimal COA, varying operational tactics and methods, conducting military deception operations, and ensuring OPSEC.

Fix the Enemy

3-75. A primary purpose in fixing the enemy is to isolate the objective of the force conducting the echelon’s decisive operation to prevent the enemy from maneuvering to reinforce the unit targeted for destruction. Since war is a contest between thinking opponents, the enemy will oppose the friendly commander’s attempts to fix the enemy’s forces. Every friendly move causes the enemy to attempt to counter that move. The commander does everything possible to limit the options available to the opposing commander. Fixing an enemy into a given position or a COA and controlling the enemy’s movements limit enemy options and reduce the amount of uncertainty on the battlefield.

3-76. Reducing uncertainty allows the friendly force to use maneuver to mass the effects of overwhelming combat power against a portion of the enemy. It gives the commander more time to modify the attack plan as necessary and synchronize the employment of friendly forces. It allows the commander to mass forces in one place by using economy of force measures in other areas. The commander may also try to fix an enemy unit, such as the enemy reserve or follow-on force, to prevent it from repositioning or maneuvering against the force conducting the decisive operation.

3-77. Fixing the enemy must be done with the minimum amount of force. The commander normally allocates the bulk of friendly combat power to the force conducting the decisive operation, so fixing operations are, by necessity, shaping operations that illustrate economy of force as a principle of war. Therefore, the commander must carefully consider which enemy elements to fix and target only those that can significantly affect the operation’s outcome. The longer the requirement to fix these forces, the more resources the commander needs to accomplish the mission. Generally, an enemy force only needs to be fixed until it cannot respond to the actions of the unit conducting the decisive operation in time to affect the outcome. This may require a commander to slow down the rate of march of an enemy unit to prevent it from influencing the outcome of the engagement or battle.

3-78. One method of isolating the objective is to conduct a shaping operation using lethal and nonlethal effects. Lethal effects may range from sniper fire to a joint fire plan designed to totally destroy a selected portion of the enemy force. Nonlethal effects, such as electronic warfare, can prevent the enemy from receiving orders or vital intelligence and combat information.

3-79. Severing enemy lines of communication over prolonged periods of time by using interdiction measures is another way to fix the enemy. These measures can range from air interdiction that destroys bridges and rail switching yards to ambushes conducted by infiltrating combat patrols.

3-80. Another method of fixing the enemy is to tie obstacles into the existing terrain to canalize and slow the movement of enemy reserves. At lower tactical echelons, scatterable minefields (employed in accordance with the rules of engagement) can seal the objectives from possible enemy reinforcement or counterattacks and block or disrupt enemy actions to the flanks. Military deception operations and activities, such as demonstrations and false preparatory fires, can fix the enemy. Using extensive smoke screens and vehicle mock-ups in a military deception effort can also assist in fixing an enemy force.


3-81. The commander maneuvers subordinate forces to gain positional advantage that enables the friendly force to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. The attacking force seeks to avoid the enemy’s defensive strength. The commander employs tactics that defeat the enemy by attacking through a point of relative weakness, such as a flank or the rear.

3-82. Offensive maneuver seeks to achieve a decisive massing of effects at the decisive point, or at several decisive points if adequate combat power is available. The commander exploits maneuver by—

  • Taking maximum advantage of dead space and covered and concealed routes to close with the enemy.
  • Using advantages in the effective ranges of weapon systems.
  • Repositioning friendly forces rapidly.
  • Navigating accurately cross-country.
  • Obtaining situational understanding of friendly and enemy locations.
  • Taking effective security measures.
  • Synchronizing the application of all elements of combat power at a time and place on the battlefield to maximize their effects.

3-83. The key to success is to strike hard and fast, overwhelm a portion of the enemy force, and then quickly transition to the next objective or phase, thus maintaining the momentum of the attack without reducing the pressure on the enemy. The commander must retain freedom of maneuver with multiple COAs throughout the operation and responsive sustainment. Additionally, the commander must make every effort to locate and track enemy reserve and follow-on forces, which prevents friendly forces from being attacked unexpectedly by significant enemy forces. This allows the commander time to delay, disrupt, or destroy these enemy forces before they can interfere with the attack.

3-84. Depending on the mission variables of METT-TC, artillery and mortars may advance with the attacking formation or move forward by bounds. The echelon fire support coordinators (FSCOORDs) position direct support and reinforcing artillery in coordination with their maneuver commanders. The force field artillery headquarters, normally a fires brigade headquarters, coordinates position areas for general support and general support-reinforcing artillery units through the fires cells organic to the corps, division, and brigade headquarters. The commander considers the maneuver of fire support assets along with maneuver forces to ensure that proper fire support is available at all times.

3-85. The maneuver process normally follows this sequence:

  • Movement from the LD to the PLD.
  • Actions at the PLD, assault position, or FCL.
  • Breaching operations.
  • Actions on the objective.

The movement from the assembly area to the LD that precedes many attacks is troop movement and is discussed in FM 3-90-2.


3-86. The unit transitions from troop movement to maneuver once it crosses the LD. It moves aggressively and as quickly as the terrain and enemy situation allow. It moves forward using appropriate movement techniques assisted by the fires of supporting units. Fire and movement are closely integrated and coordinated. Effective suppressive fires facilitate friendly movement, and friendly movement facilitates more effective fires. Whenever possible, the attacking unit uses avenues of approach that avoid strong enemy defensive positions, takes advantage of all available cover and concealment, and places the unit on the flanks and rear of the defending enemy. Where cover and concealment are not available, the unit uses obscurants to conceal its movement. Any delays in establishing obscuration and suppressive fires before crossing the PLD may require the attacking unit to occupy its assault positions.

3-87. Artillery and other ground-based fires assets move as necessary to ensure that the attacking unit remains within supporting range. The commander’s analysis of the time it takes the maneuver unit to move from the LD to the PLD and the distances involved ensures that artillery systems are prepared to provide support before maneuver units move inside the effective range of enemy direct-fire weapon systems. The commander keeps attacking artillery forces out of enemy artillery range as long as possible. The existence of enemy artillery systems that have a longer range than fielded U.S. artillery systems complicates this process. The commander uses fires delivered from fixed- and rotary-wing systems and the autonomous operation capabilities of modernized artillery systems to help counter any enemy range advantage.

3-88. If the commander expects to make enemy contact at or shortly beyond the LD, the unit deploys so as to maintain maximum firepower against the enemy’s known positions. The commander selects the combat formation that best balances firepower, tempo, security, and control in the specific situation. The commander has the option of deploying a security force in front of the attacking unit. The commander may also employ a flank or rear security force if required by the enemy situation. The commander may not want to change formations during the attack because of potential loss of momentum resulting from such changes. If the commander finds it necessary to transition from one combat formation to another, that transition should be based on thoroughly trained drills. Once enemy contact is expected, the force transitions to the bounding overwatch technique of movement. (FM 3-90-2 addresses movement techniques.)

3-89. Between the LD and the PLD, the attacker seizes intermediate objectives only to eliminate enemy positions or bring additional suppressive fires to bear. Artillery, rocket, electronic warfare (EW), and aerial assets engage targets of opportunity. The commander uses CAS and artillery to destroy enemy security forces. As the unit approaches suspected enemy positions or danger areas, the commander directs subordinate forces to occupy pre-designated support by fire positions. Lethal fires, suppression, and obscuration enable attacking forces to occupy these positions. The commander uses direct-fires from these positions to suppress enemy forces while other portions of the unit continue their advance toward the objective.

3-90. The commander engages known enemy forces with the maximum possible combat power to overwhelm them as quickly as possible. An attacking unit that encounters small enemy units on the way to the objective either quickly overruns or bypasses them, if they meet the bypass criteria. The attacking unit then reports the location of bypassed enemy elements to its higher headquarters and maintains contact until

they can be handed off to follow and support forces. The commander uses minimal force to maintain that contact to avoid significantly weakening the force conducting the unit’s decisive operation.


3-91. The attacking unit maintains the pace of its advance as it approaches its PLD. (See figure 3-3.) The commander divides the attacking unit into one or more assault and support forces either before or upon reaching the PLD. At the PLD infantry Soldiers dismount from their combat vehicles, if necessary. All forces supporting the assault force should be set in their support by fire positions before the assault force crosses the PLD. The commander synchronizes the occupation of these support by fire positions with the maneuver of the supported attacking unit to limit the vulnerability of the forces occupying these positions. The commander uses unit tactical SOPs, battle drills, prearranged signals, engagement areas (EAs), and target reference points (TRPs) to control the direct fires from these supporting positions. A commander normally employs restrictive fire lines between converging forces.


3-92. The PLD can be co-located with the assault position. (See figure 3-3.) The commander ensures that the final preparations of the breach force in an assault position do not delay its maneuver to the breach point as soon as the conditions are set. Whenever possible, the assault force rapidly passes through the assault position. It may have to halt in the assault position while fires are lifted and shifted. In this case, if the enemy anticipates the assault, the assault force deploys into covered positions, screens its positions with smoke, and waits for the order to assault. As long as the assault force remains in the assault position, support forces continue their suppressive fires on the objective.

3-93. Once the support force sets the conditions, the breach force reduces, proofs, and marks the required number of lanes through the enemy’s tactical obstacles to support the maneuver of the assault force. To avoid confusion, the commander clearly identifies the conditions that allow the breach force to proceed. From the PLD, the assault force maneuvers against or around the enemy to take advantage of the support force’s efforts to suppress the targeted enemy positions. The support force employs direct and indirect fires against the selected enemy positions to destroy, suppress, obscure, or neutralize enemy weapons and cover the assault force’s movement. The assault force must closely follow these supporting fires to gain ground that offers positional advantage. This COA normally results in the fewest casualties.

3-94. The key to forward movement when the assault force is under enemy direct fire is to return effective fire, which prevents the enemy from firing effectively at the moving assault force. Destructive or suppressive fires are most effective when fired by the stationary support force. These fires prevent the enemy from firing effectively at the moving assault force. Once the support force is in position and the assault force is prepared to move, the support force places a heavy volume of fires on the enemy forces to destroy, neutralize, or suppress them. The ability of the support force to move to advantageous terrain is critical to accomplishing its purpose of ensuring the assault force’s success. Once it suppresses the enemy position, it reduces its rate of fire to sustainable levels to conserve ammunition as the assault force closes on the objective to ensure that it has enough to support the assault. When the assault force nears its objective, the support force increases its rate of fire to ensure the continued suppression of the enemy. This allows the assault force to assault the position before the enemy can react. Either on signal or when the assault begins, the support force ceases fire, shifts its fire to another target area, or walks its fire across the objective in front of the assault force.

3-95. The commander uses smoke to help conceal units and individual weapons. It degrades enemy laser designators, range finders, and directed energy weapons. When planning to employ smoke, the commander remembers that smoke can have the same effects on friendly and enemy forces. During the assault, the commander uses obscuration to blind the enemy and screen friendly movement onto the objective if possible. Obscuration is placed in front of enemy positions, on the far side of obstacles, and in areas that restrict maneuver. The commander may use a smoke haze over the echelon support area to limit enemy observation. The neutralization of enemy thermal viewers requires the use of multispectral smoke.


3-96. The commander employs overwhelming and simultaneous fire, movement, and shock action during the final assault. This violent assault destroys, defeats, or drives the enemy from the objective area. Small units conduct the final assault while operating under the control of the appropriate echelon command post. Armored forces have the option of conducting this final assault in either a mounted or dismounted configuration.

3-97. The commander employs all fire support means to destroy and suppress the enemy and sustain the momentum of the attack. By carefully synchronizing the effects of indirect-fire systems and available CAS, the commander improves the likelihood of success. The commander plans fires in series or groups to support maneuver against enemy forces on or near the geographical objective. As the commander shifts artillery fires and obscurants from the objective to other targets, the assault element moves rapidly across the objective. The support elements must maintain suppressive fires to isolate the objective and prevent the enemy from reinforcing or counterattacking. They also destroy escaping enemy forces and systems. The commander employs joint information operations and Army information tasks, such as electronic warfare, to attack enemy command and control information systems as part of this effort.

3-98. Supporting artillery may need to displace forward during the attack to ensure maximum support is available for the assault. However, changes in position are limited because they reduce the volume of available fires. The commander balances the need to maintain that amount of artillery support against the enemy’s counterfire capabilities with the need to provide continued coverage as the attacking unit continues to move forward. Supporting artillery, rocket, and mortar assets move into their new positions one subordinate unit at a time, by echelon, to maintain support throughout the attack. The commander can use any available CAS to provide supporting fires while artillery batteries displace.

3-99. Small enemy units moving toward the penetrated area can disrupt the synchronization of this final assault. As small units and weapon systems crews become engaged, they tend to focus on their immediate opponent rather than the overall situation. Loss of situational understanding, combined with the enemy’s more detailed knowledge of the terrain, allows small enemy forces to inflict a great deal of damage on the attacking force. The attacking unit’s leaders must understand the flow of combat and retain the capability to engage these enemy forces before they can alter the outcome of the assault. The commander can commit the echelon reserve to maintain the attack momentum and keep relentless pressure on the enemy. This also hinders enemy attempts to stabilize the situation.

3-100. Against a well-prepared, integrated enemy defense, the commander must isolate and destroy portions of the enemy defense in sequence. (See figures 3-4 and 3-5.) Friendly forces must isolate, suppress, obscure, and bypass selected enemy positions. For example, smoke delivered by field artillery and mortars in front of the objective—between the force and the enemy—screens friendly movement and obscures the enemy’s weapon systems. Fires placed on and beyond the flanks of the objective isolate the enemy’s position. These fires include smoke, high explosives, improved conventional munitions, and precision-guided munitions delivered by a mix of field artillery, fixed-wing aviation assets, and attack helicopters conducting close combat attack. In addition, the commander may employ short-duration scatterable mines in conjunction with terminally guided munitions to help isolate and impair the enemy’s ability to counterattack. (Their use must not impede the commander’s conduct of exploitation and pursuit operations.) Jamming can be used to cut information system links between the enemy’s maneuver force and its supporting artillery. The commander can also use available CAS to accomplish these tasks.

3-101. The commander masses overwhelming combat power in sequence against isolated centers of resistance. The assault element commander can task organize the element to assault one portion of the objective at a time. For example, within the assault company of a battalion-level attack, two platoons may suppress while one platoon seizes a portion of the company objective. This initial platoon, having seized a foothold, then suppresses to allow a second platoon to continue the assault. The third platoon may have a third portion of the objective assigned to it to seize in turn. The enemy may attempt to reinforce its defending forces or counterattack during the friendly force’s attack. Once the attacking force reaches the far side of the objective, selected elements clear remaining pockets of resistance while the bulk of the assault force prepares for a possible enemy counterattack. After the assault force reaches the objective, the support force leaves its support by fire position and rejoins the assault force or moves to a blocking position to counter possible enemy counterattacks.

Mounted Assault

3-102. In determining whether to conduct a mounted or dismounted attack, the commander considers the primary mission variables of the terrain, obstacles, and the strength of enemy anti-armor defenses. Mounted assaults accelerate the execution of the operation by allowing the greatest speed and shock action and providing the best protection against small arms and indirect fires while conserving the strength of the infantry Soldiers conducting the assault.


Figure 3-4. Attack of an objective: the breach


Figure 3-5. Attack of an objective: the assault

3-103. When facing weak, hastily prepared, disorganized resistance, or when attacking with overwhelming combat power, an armored or Stryker-equipped force commander can conduct a mounted assault. The commander conducting a mounted assault concentrates all supporting fires to destroy and neutralize the enemy and fix local reserves. Tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and amphibious assault carriers use their cannons and machineguns to engage targets for as long as possible. As the fires from one type of weapon are lifted or shifted, other weapons increase their rate of fire. The assault force advances close to its objective under the cover of these supporting fires.

3-104. The assault force attacks using shock action and firepower to rapidly overrun the enemy position as soon as the commander shifts supporting fires beyond the objective. Mechanized infantry elements move as close as possible to the objective while remaining mounted in their combat vehicles. When the danger to the mounted infantry elements exceeds the protection offered by their combat vehicle, the commander gives the order for infantry elements to dismount from their carriers.

3-105. The following technique for securing an objective applies to an armored or Stryker equipped force assigned the mission of rapidly clearing an objective against an enemy that does not have a robust anti-armor capability. First, the force overruns the objective. Then, the accompanying mechanized infantry Soldiers dismount from their combat vehicles on the far side of the objective and sweep the objective from the far side back to the near side to clear any remaining pockets of resistance. The ability of armored and Stryker forces to closely follow friendly mortar and artillery fires, as they shift across the objective, is a major advantage. The commander secures the objective immediately after supporting fires are shifted to deny the enemy time to move from protective to firing positions.

Dismounted Assault

3-106. An armored or Stryker equipped force commander usually conducts a dismounted assault when any of the following conditions apply:

  • Terrain favors dismounted operations.
  • The enemy is in prepared positions.
  • The enemy has a strong anti-armor capability.
  • Tanks are not available to lead the assault even though the mission variables of METT-TC favor their employment.
  • Obstacles prevent maneuver across the objective.
  • Stealth is required to close on the objective.
  • A mounted assault stalls on or short of the objective.

The commander determines if, when, and where any mechanized infantry forces will dismount from their combat vehicles based on analysis of the mission variables of METT-TC and the degree of acceptable risk.

3-107. An attacking force should consider advancing beyond the geographical boundaries of enemy defensive positions whenever possible before stoping to consolidate and reorganize when attacking enemies with considerable artillery and mortar capabilities. This is because enemies with these indirect fire capabilities are likely to have developed preplanned targets on those positions for rapid engagement in case of their loss and to support enemy counterattacks.


3-108. Once an attacking force takes an enemy position, it consolidates on that position if doing so is tactically necessary or advantageous. Consolidation is organizing and strengthening a newly captured position so that it can be used against the enemy. Normally, the attacking unit tries to exploit its success; however, in some situations the unit may have to pause to consolidate its gains. Consolidation may vary from a rapid repositioning of forces and security elements on the objective, to a reorganization of the attacking force, to the organization and detailed improvement of the position for defense. Actions taken to consolidate gains include—

  • Conducting reconnaissance.
  • Establishing security.
  • Eliminating enemy pockets of resistance.
  • Positioning forces to enable them to conduct a hasty defense by blocking possible enemy counterattacks.
  • Adjusting the fire planning.
  • Preparing for potential additional missions.

3-109. Immediately after the assault, the commander must maintain contact with those enemy forces that have abandoned the objective. If the attacking force has destroyed all enemy forces on the objective, the commander takes those actions necessary to regain contact with the enemy. Patrols are sent in any direction required to maintain or regain contact with the enemy within the unit’s AO. Higher echelon commanders reposition their intelligence collection assets and adjust their missions as necessary to maintain that contact.

3-110. The commander also dispatches patrols to ensure contact with any adjacent friendly units. A unit is normally responsible for establishing contact with the units to its front and right as defined by the direction to the enemy. The unit commander also establishes contact with friendly units to the left and rear, unless those units are preparing to establish contact. Otherwise, a dangerous gap could occur, which the enemy could exploit during a counterattack.

3-111. As soon as the attacking force occupies the objective it establishes security. Each subordinate element establishes observation posts (OPs) that monitor likely enemy avenues of approach and conduct

other security operations. Units must remain aware that the enemy will have defensive fires planned on these formerly occupied positions, including headquarters bunkers and supply caches.

3-112. Once subordinate units seize the objective, they clear it of enemy forces. They then occupy firing positions to prepare for an enemy counterattack. Normally, an attacking unit does not occupy vacated enemy positions because the enemy is familiar with and normally targets them. Therefore, the attacking unit should position itself away from established enemy positions, usually on the next defensible piece of terrain. This positioning is also important because the unit needs to orient on different avenues of approach and in a different direction. The commander positions armored and antitank systems in overwatch to cover likely enemy mounted avenues of approach. Mechanized infantry forces normally dismount and orient along likely dismounted and mounted avenues of approach. Mortars, command posts, and sustainment assets move forward to assist in the consolidation.

3-113. The commander should preplan the location and future missions of each element. Artillery and other fire support systems mass fires on enemy assembly areas and troops forming for counterattacks. The commander may alert the reserve to protect the flanks of the attacking units, hold ground seized by them, or counter an enemy counterattack. The commander may use antitank minefields or other obstacles to cover likely enemy avenues of approach. As the unit has time and resources, it improves these obstacles and defensive positions.

3-114. The commander normally designates TRPs, final protective fires, engagement areas, and other direct- and indirect-fire control measures as part of the consolidation process. Once in position, subordinate elements modify preplanned measures and improve defensive capabilities as required. As local security is being established, the commander directs subordinate elements to conduct mounted or dismounted patrols along likely enemy avenues of approach. The echelon scout or cavalry unit deploys beyond these local security patrols to conduct its reconnaissance or security mission.


3-115. Reorganization includes all measures taken by the commander to maintain unit combat effectiveness or return it to a specified level of combat capability. Commanders of all types of units at each echelon conduct reorganization. Any reorganization actions not completed when conducting the attack are accomplished during consolidation. These actions include—

  • Redistributing or cross-leveling supplies, ammunition, and equipment as necessary.
  • Matching operational weapon systems with crews.
  • Forming composite units by joining two or more attrited units to form a single, mission-capable unit.
  • Replacing key personnel lost before or during the battle.
  • Reporting unit location and status to keep the next higher commander informed; digitized units can do this automatically.
  • Recovering, treating, and evacuating casualties, prisoners of war, and damaged equipment in accordance with its SOP.
  • Resupplying basic loads of ammunition, fuel, and repair parts.
  • Integrating replacement Soldiers and systems into the unit.
  • Revising communication plans as required.
  • Placing the unit’s command posts in position to conduct further operations and control the consolidation.
  • Reestablishing unit cohesion.
  • Conducting essential training, such as training replacements on the unit’s SOP.


3-116. After seizing the objective, the commander has two alternatives: exploit success and continue the attack or terminate the offense. After seizing an objective, the most likely on-order mission is to continue the attack. By continuing the attack the commander seeks to achieve a breakthrough that can be turned into an exploitation or a pursuit. A breakthrough is a rupturing of the enemy’s forward defense that occurs as a result of a penetration. A breakthrough permits the passage of an exploitation force. At BCT echelon and below, the unit maintains contact and attempts to exploit its success. Normally, an intermediate tactical commander, such as a division or corps commander, makes the decision regarding whether to initiate a general—as opposed to local—exploitation or pursuit or terminate offensive actions.

3-117. During consolidation, the unit commander and staff continue troop leading procedures in preparation for any on-order missions. They use available combat information and intelligence products to adjust contingency plans. The commander redirects the unit’s intelligence collection effort to support the next mission.

3-118. Fire support assets move quickly to take advantage of the natural reduction in support requirements that occurs when a position is taken. Field artillery units reposition to where they can support a renewed attack when ammunition supply and enemy action permit. Attacks by rotary- and fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft can provide support while artillery systems reposition. Road conditions, such as destroyed bridges or large numbers of dislocated civilians, and the unit’s cross-country mobility will affect the exact time of repositioning.

3-119. The commander attempts to exploit the deterioration of the enemy position by administering quick and powerful blows before the enemy can reconstitute an effective defense. The commander’s employment of precision-guided munitions, combined with the action of large, armored or Styker formations and air support, may achieve decisive results.

3-120. Ordinarily, a defending enemy force will attempt to hold a position until nightfall to be able to complete its withdrawal under the cover of darkness. The attacking unit maintains relentless pressure, continuing the attack at night. Through these attacks, the unit maintains contact with the enemy, keeps the enemy off balance, and makes the enemy force’s withdrawal from action extremely difficult. If the enemy tries to delay, the unit continues its attack, concentrating its efforts on enveloping or encircling the retrograding enemy force, if the enemy is too strong to overrun. An attack aggressively pushed through the hostile front may isolate major elements and force the enemy force to evacuate the entire defensive position before it can construct a viable fall-back position.

3-121. When conducting a successful penetration, attacking units penetrate deeply into the hostile position to attack enemy reserves, artillery, command and control nodes, and lines of communication. Either the assault or a support unit attacks the enemy’s newly exposed flanks to widen the gap. The commander sends forces through the gap that have a high degree of tactical mobility to exploit the penetration, attack the enemy from the rear, and prevent the enemy’s escape. At this time, the commander’s force multipliers— such as fixed-wing aviation assets—concentrate on supporting the ground force exploiting the penetration.

3-122. The commander plans logical sequels to the attack as part of the follow through. Attacking forces plan for exploitation. Exploiting forces plan for the pursuit of a defeated enemy. Furthermore, the commander must use subordinate forces without overextending their sustainment capabilities. The commander must plan to have fresh units pass around or through forward units to sustain the momentum of the attack. These fresh units may be assigned the task of follow and support or follow and assume in an effort to maintain the attack’s tempo. (Appendix B discusses both tactical mission tasks.) A commander of any unit conducting any offensive task envisions how, under what conditions, where, and when that unit will need to transition to the defense, based on possible enemy countermoves and other events.

3-123. If the attacking unit transitions to a pursuit or exploitation, it may have to bypass enemy units to maintain the tempo. Units bypass enemy forces according to previously established bypass criteria. As a minimum, the bypassed force remains under observation or fixed in place by other units.

3-124. If the enemy succeeds in withdrawing major forces from action, the commander intensifies reconnaissance to obtain the information necessary to decide on a COA. Aggressive action may prevent the enemy from reconstituting an effective defense in a rearward position. The commander may have to delay the renewal of the attack until completing additional reconnaissance, so a tactically sound plan can be formulated if the enemy succeeds in occupying new defensive positions.


3-125. The commander can launch an attack to achieve various results or for special purposes. These subordinate attack tasks include the—

  • Ambush.
  • Counterattack.
  • Demonstration.
  • Feint.
  • Raid.
  • Spoiling attack.

3-126. The commander’s intent and mission variables of METT-TC determine the specific attack form. As subordinate attack tasks, they share many of the planning, preparation, and execution considerations of the attack. This section discusses the unique considerations of each subordinate attack task. Demonstrations and feints, while forms of attack, are also associated with the conduct of military deception operations. (See JP 3-13.)


3-127. An ambush is an attack by fire or other destructive means from concealed positions on a moving or temporarily halted enemy. An ambush stops, denies, or destroys enemy forces by maximizing the element of surprise. Ambushes can employ direct fire systems as well as other destructive means, such as command-detonated mines, indirect fires, and supporting nonlethal effects. They may include an assault to close with and destroy enemy forces. In an ambush, ground objectives do not have to be seized and held.

3-128. The three forms of an ambush are the point ambush, the area ambush, and the anti-armor ambush. In a point ambush, a unit deploys to attack a single kill zone. In an area ambush, a unit deploys into two or more related point ambushes. A unit smaller than a platoon does not normally conduct an area ambush.


Anti-armor ambushes focus on moving or temporarily halted enemy armored vehicles.

3-129. Ambushes are categorized as hasty or deliberate but take place along a continuum. A hasty ambush is an immediate reaction to an unexpected opportunity conducted using SOPs and battle drill. A deliberate ambush is planned as a specific action against a specific target. Detailed information about the target; such as size, organization, and weapons and equipment carried, route and direction of movement, and times the target will reach or pass certain points on its route, may be available. All forces may conduct an ambush. There are no ambush specific control measures. (Figure 3-6 shows the ambush tactical mission graphic.) Doctrine also categorizes ambushes as near or far ambushes, based on the proximity of the friendly force to the enemy.

Figure 3-6. Ambush tactical mission graphic

3-130. The normal goal of an ambush is the death or capture of all enemy personnel located within the kill zone. Another goal could be to destroy certain designated vehicles, such as all missile transporter-erector launchers. Ideally, the ambush force can destroy the ambushed enemy so quickly that enemy personnel within the kill zone cannot to report the engagement while the ambush force accomplishes its mission.

Organization of Forces

3-131. A typical ambush is organized into three elements: assault, support, and security. The assault element fires into the kill zone. Its goal is to destroy the enemy force. When used, the assault force attacks into and clears the kill zone and may be assigned additional tasks, to include searching for items of intelligence value, capturing prisoners, and completing the destruction of enemy equipment to preclude its

immediate reuse. The support element supports the assault element by firing into and around the kill zone, and it provides the ambush’s primary killing power. The support element attempts to destroy the majority of enemy combat power before the assault element moves into the objective or kill zone. The security element isolates the kill zone, provides early warning of the arrival of any enemy relief force, and provides security for the assault and support elements. It secures the objective rally point and blocks enemy avenues of approach into and out of the ambush site, which prevents the enemy from entering or leaving.

Planning an Ambush

3-132. During terrain analysis, leaders identify at least four different locations: the ambush site, the kill zone, security positions, and rally points. As far as possible, so-called “ideal” ambush sites should be avoided because alert enemies avoid them if possible and increase their vigilance and security when they must be entered. Therefore, surprise is difficult to achieve. Instead, unlikely sites should be chosen when possible. Other planning considerations for an ambush include—

  • A “no-later-than” time to establish the ambush.
  • A tentative ambush formation or, for an area ambush, element locations.
  • Insertion and exit routes.
  • A forward passage of lines and movement to the ambush site in tactical formation.
  • Actions if the ambush is prematurely detected.
  • A scheme of maneuver that maximizes engagement of the enemy’s flank or rear, provides early warning of target approach, includes assault element actions in the kill zone, and details how the ambush element displaces from the ambush site.
  • Actions at the objective.
  • Obstacles to augment the effects of the friendly fire.
  • A fire support plan that integrates the direct fire and obstacle plans, which results in the enemy’s isolation, inflicts maximum damage, and also supports forces in the rally point.
  • The criteria for initiating the ambush; for example, units only engage enemy formations of the same or smaller size and withhold fire until the target moves into the kill zone.
  • Any required changes to the ambushing unit’s fire distribution SOP.
  • Rear security measures.

3-133. A point ambush usually employs a linear or an L-shaped formation. The names of these formations describe deployment of the support element around the kill zone. The kill zone is that part of an ambush site where fires are concentrated to isolate, fix, and destroy the enemy. The ambush formation is important because it determines whether a point ambush can deliver the heavy volume of fire necessary to isolate and destroy the target. The commander determines the formation to use based on the advantages and disadvantages of each formation in relation to the mission variables of METT-TC.

3-134. The assault and support elements generally deploy parallel to the target’s route of movement—the long axis of the kill zone—which subjects the target to flanking fire in the line formation. (See figure 3-7.) The security element positions itself where it can best provide security to the assault and support elements. The size of the target that can be trapped in the kill zone is limited by the size of the area that can be covered by the support element’s weapons. Natural, man-made, and military obstacles—reinforced with tactical obstacles integrated with direct and indirect fires—trap the target in the kill zone. A disadvantage of the line formation is that the target may be so dispersed that it is larger than the kill zone.

3-135. The linear ambush formation is effective in close terrain, which restricts the target’s movement, and in open terrain where one flank is blocked by existing or reinforcing obstacles. The commander may place similar obstacles between the assault and support elements and the kill zone to protect the ambush force from the target’s counter-ambush drills. When the ambush force deploys in a line formation, it leaves access lanes through these protective obstacles so that it can assault the target. An advantage of the line formation is that it is relatively easy to control under all conditions of visibility.

3-136. The L-shaped formation is a variation of the line formation. (See figure 3-8.) The long leg of the “L” (assault element) is parallel to the kill zone and provides flanking fire. An advantage of the “L” formation is that the short leg (support element) is at the end of the kill zone and at a right angle to it and blocks the enemy’s forward movement. It also provides enfilading fire that interlocks with fire from the other leg. The commander can employ an L-shaped formation on a straight stretch of trail, road, stream, or at a sharp bend.

3-137. An area ambush is most effective when enemy movement is largely re- stricted to trails or roads. The area should offer several suitable point ambush sites. The commander selects a central ambush site around which the commander can organize outlying ambushes. Once the site is selected, the commander must determine the enemy’s possible avenues of approach and escape routes. Outlying point ambush sites are assigned to subordinates to cover these avenues. Once they occupy these sites, they report all enemy traffic going toward or away from the central ambush site to the commander. These outlying ambushes allow the enemy to pass through their kill zones until the commander initiates the central ambush. Once the central ambush begins, the out-lying ambushes prevent enemy troops from escaping or entering the area. (See figure 3-9.)

3-138. The ambush unit commander normally specifies the signals required to control the ambush. Changes to the meaning of audible and visual signals are made frequently to avoid setting patterns that the enemy can recognize. Otherwise, the enemy might recognize a signal and react in time to avoid the full effects of the ambush. For example, if a white star cluster is always used to signal withdrawal in a night ambush, an alert enemy might fire one and cause the ambush force to withdraw prematurely. The subordinate elements of the ambush unit must receive communications—in the form of signals—that relay the following information:

  • Target approaching, normally given by a member of the security team to warn theimage

    Figure 3-7. Linear ambush


    Figure 3-8. L-shaped ambush


    Figure 3-9. Area ambush

    ambush commander and the ambush elements of the target’s progress.

  • Initiate the ambush, given by the ambush unit commander. (This signal should be a mass casualty-producing signal initiated by a reliable weapon system or explosive, such as a main gunround from a tank or infantry carrier, the detonation of mines or explosives, or other direct fire crew-served weapons that fire from a closed bolt.)
  • Lift or shift fire, given when the target is to be assaulted; all fires must stop or be shifted at once so that the assault element can attack before the target can react.
  • Assault, given when the assault force is to move into the kill zone and complete its activities.
  • Cease fire, given to cease all fires.
  • Withdraw from the kill zone or ambush site, given when the ambush is completed or an enemy relief force is approaching.

3-139. The commander uses a variety of signals to communicate this information, such as radio transmissions, voice commands, vehicle horns, whistles, or pyrotechnics. All signals must have at least one backup. For example, if the signal to shift fire fails, the assault element should not attack the target unless it receives the backup signal. Signals sent out before initiation of the ambush should not expose the ambush to detection by the enemy. The commander reviews SOP signals to see if they need to be revised or augmented to meet specific situational requirements.

Preparation for an Ambush

3-140. The keys to a successful ambush are surprise, coordinated fires, and control. Surprise allows the ambush force to seize control of the situation. If total surprise is not possible, it must be so nearly complete that the target does not expect the ambush until it is too late to react effectively. Thorough planning, preparation, and execution help achieve surprise.

3-141. The commander conducts a leader’s reconnaissance with key personnel to confirm or modify the plan. This reconnaissance should be covert to remain undetected and preclude alerting the enemy. If necessary, the commander modifies the ambush plan and immediately disseminates those changes to subordinate leaders and other affected organizations. The commander must maintain close control during movement to, occupation of, and withdrawal from the ambush site. Control is most critical when the ambush unit is approaching the target. Leaders enforce camouflage, noise, and light discipline. All elements of the ambush force reconnoiter their routes of withdrawal to the selected rally point. When possible, all Soldiers reconnoiter the routes they will use.

3-142. The ambush unit’s security element remains at full alert and uses all available observation devices to detect the enemy’s approach to the ambush site. Each Soldier’s duties within each element are rotated as necessary to maintain alertness.

3-143. The commander positions all weapons, including mines and demolitions, to obtain the maximum effectiveness against the target in the kill zone. All fires, including those of supporting artillery and mortars, are coordinated. The support element isolates the kill zone, prevents the target’s escape or reinforcement, and delivers a large volume of highly concentrated surprise fire into the kill zone. This fire must inflict maximum damage so the assault element can quickly assault and destroy the target.

Execution of an Ambush

3-144. Fire discipline is a key part of any ambush. Soldiers withhold fire until the ambush commander gives the signal to initiate the ambush. That signal should be fire from the most deadly and reliable weapon in the ambush. Once initiated, the ambush unit delivers its fires at the maximum rate possible given the need for accuracy. Otherwise, the assault could be delayed, giving the target time to react and increasing the possibility of fratricide. Accurate fires help achieve surprise as well as destroy the target. When it is necessary to assault the target, the lifting or shifting of fires must be precise. The assault element does not conduct its assault until enemy fires or resistance has been negated or eliminated.

3-145. If the ambush fails and the enemy pursues the ambush force, it may have to withdraw by bounds. It should use smoke to help conceal its withdrawal. Activating limited-duration minefields along the withdrawal routes after the passage of the withdrawing ambush force can help stop or delay enemy pursuit. The commander positions the support element to assist in the withdrawal of the assault element.

3-146. On the commander’s order, the ambush force withdraws to the rally point, reorganizes, and starts its return march. At a previously established location, it halts and disseminates any combat information obtained as a result of the ambush to all elements of the ambush force. However, if information systems are able to disseminate this information, the force does not need to halt.

3-147. Once the ambush force returns from conducting the ambush, the commander or a representative debriefs the ambush force to help identify enemy patterns of response, activities, and procedures, both inside and outside the ambush area. Patterns should be analyzed and reported to all appropriate organizations through intelligence channels. The commander adjusts the tactics, techniques, and procedures employed by the unit to account for these patterns. (For additional information on the conduct of ambushes see the Maneuver Center of Excellence Army techniques publication for the infantry rifle platoon and squad.)



3-148. A counterattack is an attack by part or all of a defending force against an enemy attacking force, for such specific purposes as regaining ground lost or cutting off or destroying enemy advance units, and with the general objective of denying to the enemy the attainment of the enemy’s purpose in attacking. In sustained defensive actions, it is undertaken to restore the battle position and is directed at limited objectives. The commander directs a counterattack—normally conducted from a defensive posture—to defeat or destroy enemy forces, exploit an enemy weakness, such as an exposed flank, or to regain control of terrain and facilities after an enemy success. A unit conducts a counterattack to seize the initiative from the enemy through offensive action. A counterattacking force maneuvers to isolate and destroy a designated enemy force. It can attack by fire into an engagement area to defeat or destroy an

Figure 3-10. Projected major counterattacks enemy force, restore the original position, or block an enemy penetration. Once launched, the counterattack normally becomes the commander’s decisive operation. (See figure 3-10.)

3-149. The commander plans and conducts a counterattack to attack the enemy when and where the enemy is most vulnerable, which is when the enemy is attempting to overcome friendly defensive positions. Normally, the commander attempts to retain a reserve or striking force to conduct a decisive counterattack once the enemy main force commits to the attack. The commander assigns objectives to counterattacking forces when they are intended to assault the enemy. The commander normally assigns attack by fire positions when counterattacking using primarily direct and indirect fires.

3-150. The two levels of counterattacks are major and local counterattacks. In both cases, waiting for the enemy to act first may reveal the enemy’s main effort and create an assailable flank to exploit. A defending unit conducts a major counterattack to seize the initiative from the enemy through offensive action after an enemy launches an attack. A commander also conducts major counterattacks to defeat or block an enemy penetration that endangers the integrity of the entire defense, or to attrit the enemy by the defeat or destruction of an isolated portion of the attacking enemy.

Organization of Forces

3-151. The commander of a major counterattack force typically organizes available combined arms assets into security, reconnaissance, main body, and reserve forces. Those defending forces already in contact with the enemy are used to fix or contain those same enemy forces. The commander may use a force committed to the counterattack, such as the striking force in a mobile defense, the reserve, another echelon’s reserve, or designate any other force deemed appropriate to be the counterattack force. The commander completes changes in task organization in time to allow units to conduct rehearsals with their attached or supporting elements.

3-152. A commander conducts a local counterattack with whatever forces are immediately available to retake positions lost to enemy action or to exploit a target of opportunity. The forces often consist of the reserves of subordinates and defending forces that survive after completing their withdrawal from lost positions. While it is unlikely that the commander changes the task organization of the forces conducting a local counterattack, the commander organizes the force into a security force and a main body. The commander may be able to designate an element to conduct reconnaissance.

3-153. The counterattack force is a committed force from the beginning of the defense if the commander’s defensive scheme hinges on a counterattack to destroy, dislocate, disintegrate, or isolate the attacking enemy force, such as the strike force in a mobile defense. In this case, the commander should designate another force as the reserve.

Planning a Counterattack

3-154. The commander plans to counterattack the enemy force when it is vulnerable. As the enemy force advances, the defense may create gaps between enemy units, exposing the flanks and rear of elements of the attacking force. Immediately after an enemy force occupies a defended position, it is often disorganized and ill prepared to meet a sudden counterattack. Opportunities for effective counterattacks are usually brief; the commander must assess the situation rapidly, and the force must execute the counterattack swiftly. The commander assigns objectives or attack by fire positions to counterattacking forces, depending on whether the counterattacking force is intended to close with and assault the enemy.

3-155. Major counterattack plans are normally developed as a branch or sequel to the main defensive plan. A major counterattack may achieve surprise when it strikes the enemy from an unanticipated direction. For that reason the force directed to conduct a major counterattack, such as the strike force in a mobile defense, should be involved in developing those plans as well as any plans to exploit potential success. Local counterattacks may or may not be the result of previous deliberate planning.

Preparing a Counterattack

3-156. The keys to a successful counterattack are surprise, control, and coordinated fires. Surprise allows the counterattacking force to seize control of the situation. If total surprise is not possible, it must be so nearly complete that the targeted enemy force does not expect the attack until it is too late to react effectively. Thorough planning and preparation help achieve surprise. The commander adjusts the positioning of reconnaissance and surveillance assets and the taskings given those assets so as to determine the location and targets for the counterattack.

3-157. Control of a counterattack begins with the commander’s plan. The commander conducts a leader’s reconnaissance with key personnel to confirm or modify the counterattack plan. If necessary, the commander modifies the plan and disseminates those changes to subordinate leaders and other affected organizations. Each element of the counterattack force reconnoiters its planned axis of advance and the routes it will take, if possible. The commander maintains close control during movement to and occupation of hide positions and this reconnaissance process so the enemy does not detect the counterattack force before initiating the counterattack. Leaders enforce camouflage, noise, and light discipline.

3-158. The commander coordinates fires by adjusting the planned positions of weapon systems to obtain maximum effectiveness against targets in the planned engagement area. The commander coordinates all fires, including those of supporting artillery and mortars. The commander uses these fires to isolate the targeted enemy force in the planned engagement area while preventing the target’s escape or reinforcement. These fires must inflict maximum damage quickly before the enemy can respond to the counterattack.

Executing a Counterattack

3-159. A commander should not counterattack unless there is a reasonable chance of success. The commander attempts to retain a reserve to counterattack the enemy force after it reveals its main effort by committing the majority of its combat power. If the commander orders the reserve to conduct a planned counterattack, the reserve becomes a committed force and the commander should take measures to designate or reconstitute a new reserve.

3-160. The commander conducts the counterattack in the same manner in which any other attack is conducted. The commander shifts priorities of support and fire and designates targets to be engaged by electronic warfare systems. The counterattack force also performs those activities discussed in paragraphs 3-61 to 3-124.

3-161. Subordinate commanders initiate local counterattacks with the forces on hand when it fits within the higher commander’s intent. The conduct of a local counterattack should be swift and violent. Commanders exploit enemy disorganization, such as the confusion that temporarily exists in an attacking force after it seizes a defended position. A rapidly mounted local counterattack may yield better results than a more deliberate counterattack executed by a higher echelon because of the speed at which it can be launched.

3-162. In the face of a strong enemy penetration, a commander may conduct local counterattacks to retain or seize positions on the shoulders of the enemy’s penetration. This prevents the enemy from widening the penetration while forces from other defending units engage the penetrating enemy forces. Holding the shoulders can also prevent the sacrifice of positional depth because the limited gap in the defensive position prevents an attacking enemy force from fully exploiting its success.


3-163. In military deception, a demonstration is a show of force in an area where a decision is not sought that is made to deceive an adversary. It is similar to a feint but no actual contact with the adversary is intended (JP 3-13.4). A feint in military deception is an offensive action involving contact with the adversary conducted for the purpose of deceiving the adversary as to the location and/or time of the actual main offensive action (JP 3-13.4). A commander uses demonstrations and feints in conjunction with other military deception activities. They generally attempt to deceive the enemy and induce the enemy commander to move reserves and shift fire support assets to locations where they cannot immediately impact the friendly decisive operation or take other actions not conducive to the enemy’s best interests during the defense. Both forms are always shaping operations. The commander must synchronize the conduct of these forms of attack with higher and lower echelon plans and operations to prevent inadvertently placing another unit at risk.

3-164. The principal difference between these forms of attack is that in a feint the commander assigns the force an objective limited in size, scope, or some other measure. Forces conducting a feint make direct fire contact with the enemy but avoid decisive engagement. Forces conducting a demonstration do not seek contact with the enemy. The planning, preparing, and executing considerations for demonstrations and feints are the same as for the other forms of attack.


3-165. A raid is an operation to temporarily seize an area in order to secure information, confuse an adversary, capture personnel or equipment, or to destroy a capability culminating in a planned withdrawal (JP 3-0). Raids are usually small, involving battalion-sized or smaller forces. Raids are normally conducted in five phases, as shown in figure 3-11 on page 3-30. In the first phase the raiding force inserts or infiltrates into the objective area. In the second phase the objective area is then sealed off from outside support or reinforcement, to include enemy air assets. In phase three any enemy forces at or near the objective are overcome in a violently executed surprise attack using all available firepower for shock effect. In phase four the force seizes the objective and accomplishes its assigned task quickly before any surviving enemy in the objective area can recover or be reinforced. Lastly in phase five the raiding force withdraws from the objective area and is extracted usually using a different route than what was used for movement to the objective. Operations designed to rescue and recover individuals and equipment in danger of capture are normally conducted as raids.


Figure 3-11. Five phases of a raid

3-166. A simplified raid chain of command is an essential organizational requirement. A raid usually requires a force carefully tailored to neutralize specific enemy forces operating in the vicinity of the objective and to perform whatever additional functions are required to accomplish the objective of the raid. These additional functions can consist of the demolition of bridges over major water obstacles or the recovery of an attack helicopter pilot shot down forward of the forward line of own troops (FLOT). The commander incorporates any necessary support specialists during the initial planning stage of the operation.

3-167. When a unit’s commander and staff plan a raid, they develop COAs that meet ethical, legal, political, and technical feasibility criteria. Planners require precise, time-sensitive, all-source intelligence. The planning process determines how mission command, sustainment, target acquisition and target servicing will occur during the raid. Techniques and procedures for conducting operations across the FLOT are also developed, given the specific mission variables of METT-TC expected to exist during the conduct of the raid. The commander and staff develop as many alternative COAs as time and the situation permit. They carefully weigh each alternative. In addition to those planning considerations associated with other offensive actions, they must determine the risks associated with conducting the mission and possible repercussions.

3-168. All elements involved in a raid fully rehearse their functions, if time permits. The key elements in determining the level of detail and the opportunities for rehearsal before mission execution are time, OPSEC, and military deception requirements. (See Maneuver Center of Excellence Army techniques publications discussing the infantry rifle company, platoon, and squad for additional information on the conduct of raids.)


3-169. A spoiling attack is a tactical maneuver employed to seriously impair a hostile attack while the enemy is in the process of forming or assembling for an attack. The objective of a spoiling attack is to disrupt the enemy’s offensive capabilities and timelines while destroying targeted enemy personnel and equipment, not to seize terrain and other physical objectives. (See figure 3-12.) A commander conducts a spoiling attack whenever possible during the conduct of friendly defensive tasks to strike an enemy force


while it is in assembly areas or attack positions preparing for its own offensive operation or is temporarily stopped. A spoiling attack usually employs armored, attack helicopter, or fire support elements to attack enemy assembly positions in front of the friendly commander’s main line of resistance or battle positions.

3-170. A commander conducts a spoiling attack to—

  • Disrupt the enemy’s offensive preparations.
  • Destroy key assets that the enemy requires to attack, such as fire support systems, fuel and ammunition stocks, and bridging equipment.
  • Gain additional time for the defending force to prepare its positions.
  • Reduce the enemy’s current advantage in the correlation of forces.

The commander synchronizes the conduct of the spoiling attack with other defensive actions.

3-171. The commander can employ reserve forces in a spoiling attack to throw the enemy’s offensive preparations off stride. The commander assumes the risk of not having a reserve or designates another force as the echelon reserve in this case. The following considerations affect the spoiling attack:

  • The commander may want to limit the size of the force used in executing the spoiling attack.
  • Spoiling attacks are not conducted if the loss or destruction of the friendly attacking force would jeopardize the commander’s ability to accomplish the defensive mission.
  • The mobility of the force available for the spoiling attack should be equal to or greater than that of the targeted enemy force.
  • Operations by artillery or aviation systems to prevent enemy elements not in contact from interfering with the spoiling attack are necessary to ensure the success of the operation.3-172. There are two conditions that must be met to conduct a successful and survivable spoiling attack:
  • The spoiling attack’s objective must be obtainable before the enemy is able to respond to the attack in a synchronized and coordinated manner.
  • The commander must prevent the force conducting the spoiling attack from becoming overextended.If the spoiling attack fails to meet both conditions, it will likely fail, with grave consequences to the defense.