Lethal and Non-Lethal Fires: Historical Case Studies of Converging Cross-Domain Fires in Large-Scale Combat Operations

By Bradbeer, Lt Col Thomas G. | Military Review, September/October 2018 | Go to article overview

Lethal and Non-Lethal Fires: Historical Case Studies of Converging Cross-Domain Fires in Large-Scale Combat Operations


Bradbeer, Lt Col Thomas G., Military Review


The Russian rocket attack on Ukrainian forces at Zelenopillya on 11 July 2014 was the first example of Russia's contemporary reconnaissance-strike model on display. The strike targeted a large Ukrainian assembly area where Ukrainian forces were preparing to uncoil and conduct an offensive. At approximately 0400 on 11 July, drones were heard overhead; at around the same time, Ukrainian forces lost the ability to communicate over their tactical radio network. A few minutes later a bevy of rockets and artillery fell on the assembly area. The result was carnage-upwards of thirty Ukrainian soldiers were killed and dozens were severely wounded, while more than two battalions' worth of combat power was destroyed.

-Maj. Amos C. Fox and Maj. Andrew J. Rossow

According to Army doctrine, the word fires describes the use of weapon systems to create a specific lethal or non-lethal effect on a target.1 Similarly, the fires warfighting function, which evolved from the fire support battlefield operating system less than a decade ago, specifically deals with the related tasks and systems that collectively provide coordinated use of Army indirect fires, air and missile defense, and joint fires through the targeting process. Army fires systems are tasked to deliver fires in support of offensive and defensive operations to create specific lethal and non-lethal effects. To accomplish this, the fires warfighting function must accomplish three critical tasks: deliver fires; integrate all forms of Army, joint, and multinational fires; and, conduct targeting.2 Furthermore, fires assists operational forces in "seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative ... and enhanc[ing] freedom of action and the movement and maneuver of ground forces"3

From the evolution of artillery systems such as the catapult and ballista used by the Roman legions to present-day cannons, missiles, and rockets, the purpose of fires has remained constant: to be the maneuver commander's most responsive combat arm and by doing so assist the other arms in accomplishing their battlefield missions. As the Army prepares for the possibility of conducting large-scale ground combat operations (LSCO) against a peer or near-peer adversary, it must confront the likelihood that U.S. Army and joint fires-especially cannon, rocket, and missile artillery-will be vastly outnumbered and outranged. Additionally, for the first time in nearly seventy years, U.S. and allied air and naval forces may not have air superiority-let alone air supremacy-during the opening engagements and battles of the war. To ensure U.S. and Allied forces do not suffer the same fate experienced by the Ukrainian army in July 2014, we must take advantage of our intellectual capital throughout the Army and our military to make up for our potential technological disadvantages in weapons systems if we are to be successful on tomorrow's battlefields.

Precision and near-precision munitions with standoff capability are at risk of losing effectiveness against adversaries that contest our hegemony in the space domain, across the electromagnetic spectrum, and through anti-access/area denial capability.4 Our ability to provide flexible response and deterrent options to combatant commanders rests in the aggregated efforts of the greater fires community across the land, air, and maritime components-with varying levels of buy-in from host-nation, regional, and allied partners.

Given these challenges, volume number three of the LSCO series, Lethal and Non-Lethal Fires: Historical Case Studies of Converging Cross-Domain Fires in Large-Scale Combat Operations, provides a collection of ten historical case studies written by different authors involving lethal and non-lethal fires from the period 1917 through 1991 with lessons for military professionals who will be engaged in future LSCO. The collection provides three chapters focusing on battles from the First World War, three on battles and campaigns from the Second World War, and one each on the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli Wars, and the First Gulf War. …

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