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  • Fire Superiority

    I watched a show on the military channel recently that was quite interesting on a number of points.

    The show described a firefight in Iraq in which an infantry platoon set out on foot from their base, an old Ottoman fortress, to patrol a hostile section of the town looking for insurgents.

    The action begins when the residents suddenly start going inside and shutting their doors. Sure enough, the patrol starts taking small arms fire.

    Some tosses a grenade over a wall and wounds one of the residents taking shots at them. When they move into the home attend to the insurgents wounds they searched the house and discovered a significant arms cache. All they need to do now is remove the wounded insurgent and the arms cache.

    Here is where things start going oddly.

    Insurgents start swarming to the fight (reminded me of Blackhawk down) and pin the platoon down at an intersection with fire along both streets. The soldiers can't cross either street and so the platoon is divided into three parts occupying buildings on each of three corners of the intersection.

    Additionally, insurgents are pressing in from the outside.

    The soldiers describe their situation as being pinned down by the hostile fire. In their divided situation they have lost fire superiority. They hardly dare to peer over the walls to fire back.

    Eventually a couple Kiowas come in and lay down some fire and a couple Bradleys help extract the prisoner and some wounded soldiers. But they have given up on removing the arm cache and just want to escape the trap, whcih they eventually do. Most of the platoon leg it back to the fortress.

    The two oddities of the situation that struck me are, 1) getting pinned down by innaccurate but heavy fire (fire superiority), and 2) escaping rather than entraping the insurgents.

    The first point is really a matter of human psychology (and, to a certain extent, perhaps the second as well). Who would want to risk their neck to shoot back when the bullets are flying?

    But I was particularly surprised by the decision to escape. One of the most difficult challenges in fighting an insurgency is separating insurgents from civilians. Smart insurgents inflict casualties and then blend back into the background to fight another day. Here you have scores presenting essentially a set piece battle, albeit in an urban environment. The insurgents are coming out of the woodwork to attack the platoon. Seems like a great opportunity to rack up the body count one way or another.

    And this seems like something I've seen a lot in reporting on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: a lot of firepower but not much maneuver.

    Strange.

  • #2
    Thanks. I didn't see the program but it, it sounds like you were witnessing what John Boyd would describe as 2nd generation warfare, as opposed to 3rd generation or maneuver warfare or what Bill Lind would describe as 4GW.

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    • #3
      Maybe they didn't have a big enough reaction force available.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by johns624 View Post
        Maybe they didn't have a big enough reaction force available.
        That would be my guess. If we can find a link there is probably more info available.
        Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

        Questions about our site? See the FAQ.

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        • #5
          I wish I could remember the name of the town or the name of the program.

          So here is another example (from another Military channel program):

          A scout platoon in 3 Hummers is leading a Iraqi Police unit to patrol an area near a lake. The Iraqis split into two columns and one column runs straight into an ambush at an AQ base camp.

          The Americans are with the other colum and they rush to the Iraqi police and help beat back the attack with their M2s while rescuing the wounded. They are too far from base to make radio contact so two of the Hummers break off and race back till they manage to make contact. Two Kiowas come to their aid. The two Hummers race back to reengage.

          The Kiowas can see that the AQs are maneuvering around the Americans and Iraqis to enfilade them and manage to shoot them up enough to hold them off.

          Here is what's strange: the three hummers sit in the kill zone the entire time (except for the brief time that two hummers withdrew to radio for help). The hummers never maneuvered against the AQs, say to find their flank.

          The program ens when the AQs jump in boats and race off while more aircraft join the fight.

          Comment


          • #6
            I think is part of the combat zone series on history or the military channel.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by ipser View Post
              I wish I could remember the name of the town or the name of the program.

              So here is another example (from another Military channel program):

              A scout platoon in 3 Hummers is leading a Iraqi Police unit to patrol an area near a lake. The Iraqis split into two columns and one column runs straight into an ambush at an AQ base camp.

              The Americans are with the other colum and they rush to the Iraqi police and help beat back the attack with their M2s while rescuing the wounded. They are too far from base to make radio contact so two of the Hummers break off and race back till they manage to make contact. Two Kiowas come to their aid. The two Hummers race back to reengage.

              The Kiowas can see that the AQs are maneuvering around the Americans and Iraqis to enfilade them and manage to shoot them up enough to hold them off.

              Here is what's strange: the three hummers sit in the kill zone the entire time (except for the brief time that two hummers withdrew to radio for help). The hummers never maneuvered against the AQs, say to find their flank.

              The program ens when the AQs jump in boats and race off while more aircraft join the fight.
              Hello Ipser. Does the series show USMC engagements, or just the army? Thanks

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
                Hello Ipser. Does the series show USMC engagements, or just the army? Thanks
                Both. In one episode it even goes over the SAS squad in 1991 that was stuck in Iraq. Andy McNabb (?) rings a bell.
                I am a simple man. I am by no means smarter than the average man. I am average...yet genius.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
                  Hello Ipser. Does the series show USMC engagements, or just the army? Thanks
                  Originally posted by comm. waffle View Post
                  Both. In one episode it even goes over the SAS squad in 1991 that was stuck in Iraq. Andy McNabb (?) rings a bell.
                  Ok, did some poking around on their website. It may have been the series "Combat Zone" or "Battlefield Diaries" but none of the listed episodes match what I recall. Can't figure out how to scroll to view previously aired episodes.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ipser View Post
                    I watched a show on the military channel recently that was quite interesting on a number of points.

                    The show described a firefight in Iraq in which an infantry platoon set out on foot from their base, an old Ottoman fortress, to patrol a hostile section of the town looking for insurgents.

                    The action begins when the residents suddenly start going inside and shutting their doors. Sure enough, the patrol starts taking small arms fire.

                    Some tosses a grenade over a wall and wounds one of the residents taking shots at them. When they move into the home attend to the insurgents wounds they searched the house and discovered a significant arms cache. All they need to do now is remove the wounded insurgent and the arms cache.

                    Here is where things start going oddly.

                    Insurgents start swarming to the fight (reminded me of Blackhawk down) and pin the platoon down at an intersection with fire along both streets. The soldiers can't cross either street and so the platoon is divided into three parts occupying buildings on each of three corners of the intersection.

                    Additionally, insurgents are pressing in from the outside.

                    The soldiers describe their situation as being pinned down by the hostile fire. In their divided situation they have lost fire superiority. They hardly dare to peer over the walls to fire back.

                    Eventually a couple Kiowas come in and lay down some fire and a couple Bradleys help extract the prisoner and some wounded soldiers. But they have given up on removing the arm cache and just want to escape the trap, whcih they eventually do. Most of the platoon leg it back to the fortress.

                    The two oddities of the situation that struck me are, 1) getting pinned down by innaccurate but heavy fire (fire superiority), and 2) escaping rather than entraping the insurgents.

                    The first point is really a matter of human psychology (and, to a certain extent, perhaps the second as well). Who would want to risk their neck to shoot back when the bullets are flying?

                    But I was particularly surprised by the decision to escape. One of the most difficult challenges in fighting an insurgency is separating insurgents from civilians. Smart insurgents inflict casualties and then blend back into the background to fight another day. Here you have scores presenting essentially a set piece battle, albeit in an urban environment. The insurgents are coming out of the woodwork to attack the platoon. Seems like a great opportunity to rack up the body count one way or another.

                    And this seems like something I've seen a lot in reporting on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: a lot of firepower but not much maneuver.

                    Strange.
                    I have fought in 'built up' areas, but our enemy has always been in uniform, it must be extremely difficult to fight an enemy that is dressed and is a normal civilian as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan. It must add to the normal 'firefight' problems and I would not condemn the handling of the situation related, having always maintained that you have to live it to know it!!
                    'By Horse by Tram'.


                    I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
                    " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      The confusion in a firefight can be overwhelming, specially if the troops are caught by surprise. What I find surprising is that the house with the significant arms cache wasn't targeted for an airstrike or destroyed by more conventional means.
                      "We have no white flag."

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                      • #12
                        Would it be unfair to suggest that the US Army is habituated to fire superiority? It's great when you have it but it's not always availabile.

                        Maneuver seems almost pointless when you have fire superiority. In Desert Storm there was this grand sweeping strategy but the Iraqis were so pulverized that they hardly put up any resistence and where they tried, the Americans simply rolled over them such as the tank battles with the Republican Guard.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ipser View Post
                          Would it be unfair to suggest that the US Army is habituated to fire superiority? It's great when you have it but it's not always availabile.

                          Maneuver seems almost pointless when you have fire superiority. In Desert Storm there was this grand sweeping strategy but the Iraqis were so pulverized that they hardly put up any resistence and where they tried, the Americans simply rolled over them such as the tank battles with the Republican Guard.
                          Maneuver is almost never pointless. Also, fire superiority doesn't necessarily the enemy is being destroyed, it means they're basically fixed and not wanting to stick their heads up because of the volume and accuracy of fire coming at them. If they are being killed at the same time so much the better, but that's not always the case. Maneuver allows a commander to place his units where their weapons can be brought to bear to the most effect, to cut off retreat, to deny terrain, etc.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by llkinak View Post
                            Maneuver is almost never pointless. Also, fire superiority doesn't necessarily the enemy is being destroyed, it means they're basically fixed and not wanting to stick their heads up because of the volume and accuracy of fire coming at them. If they are being killed at the same time so much the better, but that's not always the case. Maneuver allows a commander to place his units where their weapons can be brought to bear to the most effect, to cut off retreat, to deny terrain, etc.
                            All true but I'm not sure it contradicts my point. I don't know if the US Army still teaches it but they used to have a concept of maneuver by fire which is closely akin to your description of using fire superiority to suppress.

                            But one of they key things that fire supriority doesn't (by itself) accomplish is entrapment. This is what I noticed from the two examples I gave in this thread. (In fact, in the first, the Americans withdrew for lack of fire superiority. In the second example the Americans had a mobility advantage that they never really utilized.)

                            So two questions really arise: first, is maneuver by fire generally sufficient so that the task becomes one of simply a) moving units into a position to fire, and b) selecting the best targets to fire on at that instant? If so, then old fashioned maneuver by moving about on the battlefield (e.g. to find a flank or rear) becomes obsolete.

                            Is it possible that the success of the doctrine of manuver by fire has eroded important combat skills that might be important when the enemy is able to offer more resistence or even attack?

                            The recent Israeli experience in southern Lebanon against Hezbolah comes to mind, they had become so used to fighting guerillas that they were unprepared to meet a foe who stood his ground.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ipser View Post
                              Is it possible that the success of the doctrine of manuver by fire has eroded important combat skills that might be important when the enemy is able to offer more resistence or even attack?
                              No. It comes down to time available for training. Which scenario do you train for given budget (monetary and time) constraints. They are taught offense and defense, and learning how to flow with the battle is something that has to be learned with experience.

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