Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 2 – Section I – Considerations for Employing and Controlling Fire

Section I – Considerations for Employing and Controlling Fire

2-1.        When planning and executing fires, Infantry leaders must know how to apply several fundamental principles. The purpose of these principles is not to restrict the actions of subordinates. They are intended to help the platoon accomplish its primary goal in any engagement (acquire first, shoot first, and hit first) while giving subordinates the freedom to act quickly upon acquisition of the enemy. The principles of fire control are—

– Command and control.

– Mass the effects of fire.

– Destroy the greatest threat first.

– Avoid target overkill.

– Employ the best weapon for the target.

– Minimize friendly exposure (protection).

– Prevent fratricide.

– Plan for limited visibility conditions.

– Develop contingencies for diminished capabilities.

Command and Control

2-2.        Every time a Soldier fires a weapon or requests indirect fire, he does so with the intent to kill or destroy an enemy target. He may also affect an enemy target through nonlethal means such as smoke, illumination, or nonlethal fires. Platoon and squad leaders are the first leaders in the chain of command who are legally and morally responsible for the fires and effects produced by their subordinates.

2-3.        Exercising control of the direct fires is founded upon the concept of authority. When given a mission, leaders are given the authority they need to accomplish the mission. This non-negotiable responsibility includes the need to fire weapons, move units, and conduct military actions. Leaders and their subordinates are accountable for carrying out these duties in a legal, moral, and competent manner.

2-4.        Tactical reasons to exercise control include, combining weapons to achieve complementary and reinforcing effects, preventing fratricide on another unit, achieving a particular tempo, achieving surprise, and preventing detection. Technical reasons to exercise control include limited ammunition quantities, deconflicting fires, and managing surface danger zones (SDZs.)

2-5.        Leaders must balance the need to personally control their subordinate’s fires with the need for their units to be responsive to procedural control. The surest way for a leader to control his subordinate’s fires is to withhold that authority to his level. The surest way to ensure his subordinates have maximum freedom of action is to provide them with rules and conditions to guide their personal fire decisions. These rules can be issued in the unit’s TSOP, rules of engagement (ROE), and mission briefs.


2-6.        Infantry units must mass the effects of fires to achieve decisive results. Leaders achieve fire superiority by concentrating all available fires. Massing involves focusing fires at critical points, distributing the effects, and shifting to new critical points as they appear. There are many ways to achieve fire superiority. They include:

– Using combinations of weapons and munitions.

– Applying the appropriate volume and accuracy of fire at enemy point and area targets.

– Establishing engagement criteria and engagement priorities.

– Assigning Soldiers mutually supporting positions and overlapping sectors of fire.

– Focusing fires on enemy vulnerabilities.

2-7.        Concentration of fires, both preparatory and supporting, is necessary to gain and maintain fire superiority. Fires from weapons not organic to the platoon or squad are coordinated by the unit leader or his next higher headquarters. Artillery, tanks, and tactical air may be available to take part in the penetration and reduction of enemy prepared defenses. Fire superiority is particularly important while attacking when Infantry units begin breaching protective enemy obstacles and assaulting the enemy position itself. When defending, fire superiority defeats the enemy’s attack, enabling the defender to transition to the offense by counterattacking.

2-8.        Every tactical plan the leader develops (for both offense and defense) must have a concept of fires. (For example, how the platoon will gain and maintain fire superiority.) The plan to achieve fire superiority includes initiation, adjustments, and ceasing fire. Because the effects of fire tend to diminish as the enemy becomes accustomed to it, fires should initially be intense. Delivery of large volumes of concentrated fires into a specified area inflicts maximum damage and shock. Properly timed and delivered fires contribute to the achievement of surprise, and to the destruction of the enemy. Shifting and ceasing fires should be planned and executed with equal precision. If not, the complementary movement to positions of advantage is delayed, and the enemy could have an opportunity to recover and react.

2-9.        Leaders concentrate the effects of combat power at the decisive place. First, leaders develop targets, target reference points (TRPs), and sectors of fire to integrate the effects of fires and maneuver with the terrain. Second, they select positions that maximize cover and concealment and emplace security elements to enhance protection. Third, they seek information from reconnaissance and surveillance elements to determine enemy dispositions and intentions. Finally, they exercise battlefield leadership before and after contact by making bold decisions and synchronizing other elements of combat power.

2-10.     The fire plan is developed concurrently with the leader’s scheme of maneuver, in as much detail as time will allow. When developing his fire plan, the leader considers—

– The use of all available assets.

– The enemy situation, disposition, and terrain.

– The nature of targets and the effects desired.

– The availability of ammunition and Soldier’s combat load.

– Time of fire (initiation of fires, duration and rate, and cease fires).

– Scheduled and on-call fires.

– Use of smoke and illumination.

– Means of communication.


2-11.     The platoon engages targets in direct relation to the danger they present. If two or more targets of equal threat present themselves, the platoon should engage the closest target first. The platoon marks the defense engagement area (EA) so it can determine when to engage various targets, then plans these ranges on sketches and range cards. For example, the platoon should mark the EA at the Javelin maximum engagement distance (2,000 meters) to ensure gunners do not waste missiles.


2-12.     The Infantry platoon strives to avoid engaging a target with more than one weapon system at a time. To avoid target overkill, the platoon can divide EAs into sectors or quadrants of fire to better distribute direct fire among the platoon. The platoon can use many techniques to mark the EA. The platoon and company should develop a TSOP that divides the EA with both infrared and thermal TRPs to enable good distribution of fires within the EA. Squads and platoons should mark EAs with infrared devices for engagements during limited visibility. Thermal sights on the command launch unit (CLU) of the Javelin cannot detect infrared sources. Therefore, the EA must also be marked with thermal devices. The platoon can burn a mixture of rocks, sand, and diesel fuel inside a fuel drum, ammunition can, or bucket shortly before dusk to give off a heat source for most of the night.

2-13.     The platoon leader may also designate rates of fire, by weapon system, to avoid target overkill. Predetermining the rates of fire and length of firing time allows the platoon leader to plan for sufficient ammunition needed for desired effect. The rates of fire are cyclic, rapid, and sustained.

2-14.     In offensive operations, avoid overkill by—

– Establishing weapon system priorities to engage targets and distribute fires. The platoon leader may establish that a Javelin team engages a tank on the objective while the other Javelin team engages a bunker.

– Having the weapons squad leader control the support-by-fire element to prevent needless ammunition expenditure.

– Having the platoon leader use direct fire control measures as discussed in Section IV of this chapter.


2-15.     Enemy target type, range, and exposure are key factors in determining the friendly weapon and munitions that should be employed for the desired target effects. Using the appropriate weapon against the enemy target increases the probability of its rapid destruction or suppression. The platoon leader task organizes and arrays his forces based on the terrain, enemy, and desired fires effects.

2-16.     Weapons and munitions are designed with specifications that enable their effects to be forecasted with some degree of accuracy before being fired. They are also designed for a specific range versus specific targets. Platoon and squad Infantry leaders must have an intimate understanding of their organic and supporting weapons and munitions to include the following:

– Weapon characteristics, ranges, and optimal use.

– Munition characteristics, lethality, and optimal use (such as how to achieve intended effects and avoid unintended effects).

– Procedures to request, control, and adjust fires from other agencies.

2-17.     Infantry platoon and squad leaders must ensure that they focus the fires of their weapons systems on targets their weapon systems are designed to engage (Figure 2-1). For example, CCMS are used against armored targets at ranges of up to 2,000 meters for stand-off protection. However, medium machine guns are used to destroy enemy unarmored vehicles and dismounted Infantry at ranges within 1,000 meters. Leaders plan and execute fires throughout the depth of the AO, engaging enemy targets early and continuously IAW weapon capabilities and standoff. The principle of depth enables Infantry units to achieve and maintain fire superiority. By engaging the enemy early, leaders disrupt the enemy’s plans, forcing him to seek cover. To apply this principle, leaders are required to know weapon systems at their effective ranges as well as the movement rates of Soldiers and equipment. When moving, the friendly force echelons its fires in front of the friendly attacking force. This allows unhindered movement. When the friendly force defends, they echelon their forces against the approaching enemy force.



Figure 2-1. Weapon ranges.


2-18.     Units increase their survivability by exposing themselves to the enemy only when necessary to engage him with effective fires. Natural or man-made defilade provides the best cover. Infantry units minimize their exposure by constantly seeking available cover, attempting to engage the enemy from the flank, remaining dispersed, firing from multiple positions, and limiting engagement exposure times.


2-19.     Leaders must be proactive in reducing the risk of fratricide, especially when it concerns their Infantry platoon or squad on the multi-dimensional battlefield. There are numerous tools to assist them in fratricide avoidance. By monitoring unit locations, leaders at all levels can ensure that they know the precise locations of their own and other elements and can control their fires accordingly. Infantry leaders must know the location of each of the squads.

2-20.     The platoon can use infrared and thermal marking techniques to ensure that adjacent units do not mistakenly fire at friendly forces during limited visibility. The assault element can use the infrared chemical lights, blacklight tube lights tied to poles, and many other methods to mark the assault element’s progress. Leaders must ensure that the enemy does not have night vision capability before marking their Soldiers’ progress with infrared marking devices. For a detailed discussion of fratricide avoidance, refer to Section III of this chapter.


2-21.     Dense fog, rain, heavy smoke, blowing sand, and the enemy’s use of smoke may significantly reduce the leader’s ability to control direct fires of the platoon. Therefore, Infantry units are equipped with thermal sights and night vision systems that allow squads to engage the enemy during limited visibility at nearly the same ranges normally engaged during the day.


2-22.     A platoon leader usually develops a plan based on having all of his assets available and makes alternate plans to account for the loss of equipment or Soldiers. The platoon leader should develop a plan that maximizes his unit’s capabilities while addressing the most probable occurrence. He should then factor in redundancy within the platoon. For example, he may designate alternate sectors of fire for the squads that provide him the means of shifting fires if one squad has been rendered ineffective. These contingencies may become items within a unit SOP.


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