Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 7 – Section I – Introduction to Offensive Operations

Section I — Introduction to offensive operations

7-1.        Infantry platoon offensive actions can occur during all types of full spectrum operations. The enemy situation affects the type of operation conducted. METT-TC influences the actions of leaders and options available to them.

7-2.        The outcome of decisive combat derives from offensive operations. The platoon can best close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver to destroy or capture him, repel his assault by fire, engage in close combat, or counterattack through offensive operations. While tactical considerations call for the platoon to execute defensive operations for a period of time, defeating the enemy requires a shift to offensive operations. This is also true in stability operations in which transitions to the offense can occur suddenly and unexpectedly. To ensure the success of the attack, the platoon leader must understand the following fundamentals of offensive operations and apply the TLP during the operations process. (For a discussion on the TLP operations process, refer to Chapter 5.) A sound doctrinal foundation during offensive planning assists the platoon leader in capitalizing on the tactical employment of the Infantry platoon.


7-3.        Surprise, concentration, tempo, and audacity characterize all offensive operations. To maximize the value of these characteristics, platoon leaders must apply the following considerations.


7-4.        Platoons achieve surprise by attacking the enemy at a time or place he does not expect or in a manner for which he is unprepared. Unpredictability and boldness, within the scope of the commander’s intent, help the platoon gain surprise. Total surprise is rarely essential; simply delaying or disrupting the enemy’s reaction is usually effective. Surprise also stresses the enemy’s command and control and induces psychological shock in his Soldiers and leaders. The platoon’s ability to infiltrate during limited visibility and to attack are often key to achieving surprise.


7-5.        Platoons achieve concentration by massing the effects of their weapons systems and rifle squads to achieve a single purpose. Massing effects does not require all elements of the platoon to be co-located; it simply requires the effects of the weapons systems to be applied at the right place and time. Because the attacker moves across terrain the enemy has prepared, he may expose himself to the enemy’s fires. By concentrating combat power, the attacker can reduce the effectiveness of enemy fires and the amount of time he is exposed to those fires. Modern navigation tools such as global positioning systems (GPSs) allow the platoon leader to disperse, while retaining the ability to quickly mass the effects of the platoon’s weapons systems whenever necessary.


7-6.        Tempo is the rate of speed of military action. Controlling or altering that rate is essential for maintaining the initiative. While a fast tempo is preferred, the platoon leader must remember that synchronization sets the stage for successful accomplishment of the platoon’s mission. To support the commander’s intent, the platoon leader must ensure his platoon’s movement is synchronized with the company’s movement and with the other platoons. If the platoon is forced to slow down because of terrain or enemy resistance, the commander can alter the tempo of company movement to maintain synchronization. The tempo may change many times during an offensive operation. The platoon leader must remember that it is more important to move using covered and concealed routes (from which he can mass the effects of direct fires), than it is to maintain precise formations and predetermined speeds.


7-7.        Audacity is a simple plan of action, boldly executed. It is the willingness to risk bold action to achieve positive results. Knowledge of the commander’s intent one and two levels up allows the platoon leader to take advantage of battlefield opportunities whenever they present themselves. Audacity enhances the effectiveness of the platoon’s support for the entire offensive operation. Marked by disciplined initiative, audacity also inspires Soldiers to overcome adversity and danger.


7-8.        The four types of offensive operations, described in FM 3-90, are movement to contact, attack, exploitation, and pursuit. Companies can execute movements to contact and attacks. Platoons generally conduct these forms of the offense as part of a company. Companies and platoons participate in an exploitation or pursuit as part of a larger force. The nature of these operations depends largely on the amount of time and enemy information available during the planning and preparation for the operation phases. All involve designating decisive points, maintaining mutual support, gaining fire superiority over the enemy, and seizing positions of advantage without prohibitive interference by the enemy.

Movement to Contact

7-9.        Movement to contact is a type of offensive operation designed to develop the situation and establish or regain contact. The platoon will likely conduct a movement to contact as part of a company when the enemy situation is vague or not specific enough to conduct an attack. For a detailed discussion of movement to contact, refer to Section V.


7-10.     An attack is an offensive operation that destroys enemy forces, seizes, or secures terrain. An attack differs from a movement to contact because the enemy disposition is at least partially known. Movement supported by fires characterizes an attack. The platoon will likely participate in a synchronized company attack. However, the platoon may conduct a special purpose attack as part of or separate from a company offensive or defensive operation. Special purpose attacks consist of ambush, spoiling attack, counterattack, raid, feint, and demonstration. For a detailed discussion of attack and special purpose attacks, refer to Section VI.


7-11.     All commanders are expected to exploit successful attacks. In the exploitation, the attacker extends the destruction of the defending force by maintaining constant offensive pressure. Exploitations are conducted at all command levels, but divisions and brigades are the echelons that conduct major exploitation operations. The objective of exploitation is to disintegrate the enemy to the point where they have no alternative but surrender or fight following a successful attack. Indicators such as increased enemy prisoners of war (EPW), lack of organized defense, loss of enemy unit cohesion upon contact, and capture of enemy leaders indicate the opportunity to shift to an exploitation. Companies and platoons may conduct movements to contact or attacks as part of a higher unit’s exploitation.


7-12.     Pursuits are conducted at the company level and higher. A pursuit typically follows a successful exploitation. The pursuit is designed to prevent a fleeing enemy from escaping and to destroy him. Companies and platoons may conduct pursuits as part of a higher unit’s exploitation.


7-13.     In the typical offensive operations sequence (see Section II), the platoon maneuvers against the enemy in an area of operation. Maneuver places the enemy at a disadvantage through the application of friendly fires and movement. The five forms of maneuver are—

(1)     Envelopment.

(2)     Turning movement.

(3)     Infiltration.

(4)     Penetration.

(5)     Frontal attack.


7-14.     Envelopment (Figure 7-1) is a form of maneuver in which an attacking element seeks to avoid the principal enemy defenses by seizing objectives to the enemy flank or rear in order to destroy him in his current positions. Flank attacks are a variant of envelopment in which access to the enemy’s flank and rear results in enemy destruction or encirclement. A successful envelopment requires discovery or creation of an assailable flank. The envelopment is the preferred form of maneuver because the attacking element tends to suffer fewer casualties while having the most opportunities to destroy the enemy. A platoon may conduct the envelopment by itself or as part of the company’s attack. Envelopments focus on—

– Seizing terrain.

– Destroying specific enemy forces.

– Interdicting enemy withdrawal routes.

Figure 7-1. Envelopment.

Turning Movement

7-15.     The turning movement (Figure 7-2) is a form of maneuver in which the attacking element seeks to avoid the enemy’s principal defensive positions by seizing objectives to the enemy’s rear. This causes the enemy to move out of his current positions or to divert major forces to meet the threat. For a turning movement to be successful, the unit trying to turn the enemy must attack something the enemy will fight to save or that will cause him to move to avoid destruction. This may be a supply route, an artillery emplacement, or a headquarters. In addition to attacking a target that the enemy will fight to save, the attacking unit should be strong enough to pose a real threat. A platoon will likely conduct a turning movement as part of a company supporting a battalion attack.


NOTE: The turning movement is different from envelopment because the element conducting the turning movement seeks to make the enemy displace from his current location. An enveloping element seeks to engage the enemy in his current location from an unexpected direction.

Figure 7-2. Turning movement.


7-16.     Infiltration (Figure 7-3) is a form of maneuver in which an attacking element conducts undetected movement through or into an area occupied by enemy forces to gain a position of advantage in the enemy rear. When conducted efficiently only small elements will be exposed to enemy defensive fires. Moving and assembling forces covertly through enemy positions takes a considerable amount of time. A successful infiltration reaches the enemy’s rear without fighting through prepared positions. An infiltration is normally used in conjunction with and in support of a unit conducting another form of maneuver. A platoon may conduct an infiltration as part of a larger unit’s attack with the company employing another form of maneuver. A platoon may conduct an infiltration to—

– Attack enemy-held positions from an unexpected direction.

– Occupy a support-by-fire position to support an attack.

– Secure key terrain.

– Conduct ambushes and raids.

– Conduct a covert breach of an obstacle.


Figure 7-3. Infiltration.


7-17.     Penetration (Figure 7-4) is a form of maneuver in which an attacking element seeks to rupture enemy defenses on a narrow front to create both assailable flanks and access to the enemy’s rear. Penetration is used when enemy flanks are not assailable; when enemy defenses are overextended; when weak spots in the enemy defense are identified; and when time does not permit some other form of maneuver. A penetration normally consists of three steps: breach the enemy’s main defense positions, widen the gap created to secure flanks by enveloping one or both of the newly exposed flanks, and seize the objective. As part of a larger force penetration the platoon will normally isolate, suppress, fix, or destroy enemy forces; breach tactical or protective obstacles in the enemy’s main defense; secure the shoulders of the penetration; or seize key terrain. Similar to breaching obstacles, the platoon will be designated as a breach, support, or assault element. A company may also use the penetration to secure a foothold within a built-up area.

Figure 7-4. Penetration.

Frontal Attack

7-18.     Frontal attack (Figure 7-5) is a form of maneuver in which an attacking element seeks to destroy a weaker enemy force or fix a larger enemy force along a broad front. It is the least desirable form of maneuver because it exposes the attacker to the concentrated fire of the defender and limits the effectiveness of the attacker’s own fires. However, the frontal attack is often the best form of maneuver for an attack in which speed and simplicity are key. It is useful in overwhelming weak defenses, security outposts, or disorganized enemy forces, and is also often used when a unit conducts a reconnaissance in force.


Figure 7-5. Frontal attack.

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