Future Ground Commanders' Close Support Needs and Desirable System Characteristics

By Bruce W. Don; John A. Friel et al. | Go to book overview

5.
Supporting Mechanized Offensive Operations

Since Vietnam, U.S. doctrine has moved to a fighting concept that calls for the engagement of enemy forces long before they come in contact with U.S. forces, thus reducing the need for close support. The technology the U.S. has already employed in combat has shown that it is practical to engage the enemy before being committed to close battle (for mechanized combat), but even when this capability has been effectively employed, a close combat phase may be required to decide the battle. Because of the high casualty potential of such operations, improvements addressing other shortfalls in close support capabilities (supporting allies, light infantry, and leading edge forces) would need to be developed in a manner that preserved (or even enhanced) the U.S. capability to support decisive operations in mechanized battle when the U.S. enjoyed the initiative. Although the U.S. relies on a doctrine that in the main would prefer more distant engagements, both battle experience and analysis indicate that close support will be the most effective way to shape battle outcomes at some times and places during the course of a conflict.

We have selected the Armored Force Meeting Engagement as a combat vignette typical of these situations.


Meeting Engagements

Meeting engagements take place when forces conduct offensive operations to establish or regain contact with an adversary who is likewise moving to contact. Often in a race to an objective or to occupy key terrain, forces make contact by chance while on the move. Sometimes, however, meeting engagements occur even when each opponent is aware of the other; both decide to attack without delay in an attempt to achieve a decisive advantage.

Commanders usually lead with self-contained forces that are capable of locating and fixing the enemy, holding back the bulk of their forces so that when the lead forces make contact they can maneuver the majority of their force without becoming decisively engaged until they choose to do so.

Meeting engagements usually transform themselves into two general categories of situations: When a force encounters a larger enemy or when the terrain offers an advantage, commanders may opt for a hasty defense to force the enemy to fight in the open.1 Alternatively, commanders may elect to conduct a hasty attack before the enemy is able to concentrate its forces or to establish a defense. In either case, the more closely maneuver and supporting elements can

____________________
1
The initial contact between the first companies inserted into LZ X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam (Bravo Company and Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry) and the lead battalions of the two North Vietnamese regiments operating in the area (the 9th Battalion, 33rd Regiment and the 7th Battalion, 66th Regiment) provides an apt historical example of meeting engagements and how they evolve into a hasty defense situation (Moore and Galloway, 1992).

-93-

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Future Ground Commanders' Close Support Needs and Desirable System Characteristics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures ix
  • Tables xiii
  • Summary xv
  • Glossary, List of Symbols, Etc xxv
  • 1 - The Problem and Approach 1
  • 2 - Augmenting Allies 21
  • 3 - Supporting Light Infantry 49
  • 4 - Handling “Leading Edge” Problems 69
  • 5 - Supporting Mechanized Offensive Operations 93
  • 6 - Implications for Future Close Support 107
  • Appendix A - Scenario Assessment 123
  • Appendix B - Rand's Tactical Combat Simulation Environment 139
  • Appendix C - Data for Systems, Units, and Vignettes 141
  • Bibliography 149
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