Infantry Drills

FM 3-21.8 – Chapter 7 – Section V – Other Offensive Operations

Section V – Other Offensive Operations

7-72.     This section focuses on offensive operations of movement to contact, exploitation, and pursuit the platoon normally conducts as part of an Infantry company or larger element:


7-73.     Platoons and squads participate in a movement to contact as part of a company using movement formations and techniques explained in Chapter 4. A company generally conducts a movement to contact when it must gain or maintain contact with the enemy, or when it lacks sufficient time to gain intelligence or make extensive plans to defeat the enemy (Figure 7-8). Higher intelligence assets should attempt to find the enemy through reconnaissance and surveillance. Battalions may task or allow companies to gather intelligence through reconnaissance and surveillance if the company commander needs to further develop the intelligence picture. In this case, the company tasks a platoon or squad to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance, or both.

Figure 7-8. Movement to contact framework.

7-74.     The movement to contact results in a meeting engagement. A meeting engagement is the combat action that occurs when a moving element engages a stationary or moving enemy at an unexpected time and place. Meeting engagements are characterized by—

– Limited knowledge of the enemy.

– Minimum time available for the leader to conduct actions on contact.

– Rapidly changing situation.

– Rapid execution of battle and crew drills.

Planning Considerations

7-75.     The company commander will not have a complete visualization of the situation. The leader’s role is to gain as much firsthand information as possible. Combined with information on the enemy and the terrain, firsthand information provides knowledge and understanding necessary to respond to the enemy. However, if the enemy situation remains vague, the platoon must be prepared to act in any situation. This is accomplished through proper planning, appropriate movement formations and techniques, fire control measures, platoon SOPs, engagement criteria, and studying the terrain before and during movement to anticipate likely enemy locations. While moving, all leaders study the terrain and anticipate enemy contact. Based on these terrain studies, leaders should avoid likely areas of enemy ambush or areas that expose their platoons to long-range observation and fires. If the enemy is a conventional force, his units may use a doctrinal approach to their disposition, making it easier to find them. If faced with an asymmetric threat, there may be no doctrinal template for the enemy. In this instance, the leader must look for historical patterns in the enemy’s operations. In both cases, the leader has to analyze how the enemy fights, how he uses terrain, and what he hopes to accomplish against friendly elements.


7-76.     A movement to contact is conducted using one of two techniques: approach march, or search and attack (Table 7-3). The approach march technique is used when the enemy is expected to deploy using relatively fixed offensive or defensive formations, and the situation remains vague. The search and attack technique is used when the enemy is dispersed, when he is expected to avoid contact or quickly disengage and withdraw, or when the higher unit needs to deny him movement in an area of operation.

Table 7-3. The two types of movement to contact.

Approach march is best used when the—

Search and attack is best used when the—

·      Enemy force is more conventional in nature.

·      Enemy force follows a more structured order of battle and is more predictable.

·      Enemy force is more centrally located.

·      Enemy conducts more centralized operations.

·      Enemy conducts operations over a very large area in a dispersed manner, forcing friendly units to disperse to locate him.

·      Enemy forces and operations are unconventional or guerilla in nature.

·      Enemy typically operates in small teams and only makes contact when he feels he has the advantage.

Command and Control

7-77.     The company commander will dictate a number of command and control techniques for the unit to employ. The platoon leader, within the scope of the commander’s intent and guidance and the factors of METT-TC, may modify these techniques to better control his sections and squads. The platoon leader will tell the company commander of any additional graphic control measures he builds into his plan. Some examples of command and control techniques are discussed below.

Graphic Control Measures

7-78.     The company commander will normally assign lines of departure, phase lines, checkpoints, and GPS waypoints to control the forward movement of the platoon. The platoon does not stop at a phase line unless told to do so. If necessary, the platoon leader designates additional phase lines, checkpoints, or waypoints for use within the platoon to reduce the number and length of radio transmissions used to control movement.

Fire Control Measures

7-79.     The platoon uses boundaries, direct fire plans, pyrotechnics, signals, and FRAGOs for direct fire control and distribution. (For a detailed discussion of direct fire control and distribution, refer to Chapter 2.) The variety of weapons in the Infantry platoon makes it critical for all squads to understand the observation plan and the designated sectors of fire during a movement to contact. This takes on importance because of the scarcity of information about the enemy.

Indirect Fire Plan

7-80.     The platoon leader must have a good indirect fire plan for his route to cover anticipated places of contact. These targets are a product of the platoon leader’s analysis of the factors of METT-TC and must be incorporated into the company indirect fire plan.

Developing the Situation

7-81.     Once the platoon makes contact with the enemy, it maintains contact until the commander orders otherwise. The platoon leader develops the situation based on the effectiveness of enemy fire, friendly casualties, size of enemy force, and freedom to maneuver. He gathers and reports critical information about the enemy and recommends a course of action. The platoon can bypass the enemy with permission from the commander, conduct an attack, fix the enemy so another platoon can conduct the assault, conduct a defense, establish an ambush, or break contact. The following guidelines apply for the platoon to develop the situation after making contact.

Defensive Considerations

7-82.     In some situations, a platoon conducting a movement to contact makes contact with a much larger and more powerful enemy force. If the platoon encounters a larger enemy force where the terrain gives the platoon an advantage, it should attempt to fix the enemy force. This allows the rest of the company to maneuver against the force. If the platoon cannot fix the enemy, it may have to assume a defensive posture (see Chapter 8) or break contact, but it should do so only if it is in danger of being overwhelmed. Surrendering the initiative to the enemy means the enemy has fixed the platoon in place. Exposed rifle squads are vulnerable to enemy indirect fires. If the platoon receives indirect fire during movement, it should attempt to move out of the area or find a covered position for the rifle squads. Once the indirect fires cease, the platoon prepares for an enemy assault. In the defense, the platoon leader—

– Keeps the company commander informed and continues to report on enemy strength, dispositions, and activities.

– Positions squads to cover dismounted avenues of approach in preparation for the enemy’s attack.

– Orients the weapons squad and their Javelins along mounted avenues of approach and establishes positions for the M240B machine guns.

– Establishes direct fire control and distribution measures.

– Calls for and adjusts indirect fires.

Approach March Technique

7-83.     The approach march advances a combat unit when direct contact with the enemy is intended. It can be performed dismounted, mounted, or a combination of the two. The concept behind the approach march as a technique for movement to contact is to make contact with the smallest enemy element. When executed effectively it allows the commander the flexibility of maneuvering or bypassing the enemy force. During an approach march, the company commander will organize his unit into two elements (advance guard, and main body). As part of a company using the approach march technique, platoons may act as the advance guard, the flank or rear guard, or may receive on-order missions as part of the main body.

Advance Guard

7-84.     The advance guard operates forward of the main body to ensure its uninterrupted advance. It protects the main body from surprise attack and fixes the enemy to protect the deployment of the main body. As the advance guard, the platoon finds the enemy and locates gaps, flanks, and weaknesses in his defense. The advance guard attempts to make contact on ground of its own choosing, to gain the advantage of surprise, and to develop the situation (either fight through or support the assault of all or part of the main body). The advance guard operates within the range of indirect fire support weapons. The platoon uses appropriate formations and movement techniques based on the factors of METT-TC.

7-85.     The advance guard is normally the most robust of the security elements. In addition to the general security measures described above, the advance guard and its sub elements—

– Preserve the main body’s freedom of maneuver.

– Prevent unnecessary delay in movement of the main body.

– Learn the whereabouts of the enemy.

– Develop intelligence about the terrain and the environment.

– Detect and overcome enemy security measures.

– Identify and disrupt enemy attempts to ambush the main body.

– Must be ready to gain fire superiority and fight any enemy forces encountered.

– Watch the enemy (if direct fire contact is not pending).

– Delay any enemy attacks to gain time for the main body to deploy.

Main Body

7-86.     When moving as part of the main body platoons may be tasked to assault, bypass, or fix an enemy force; or to seize, secure, or clear an assigned area. The platoon also may be detailed to provide squads as flank or rear guards, stay-behind ambushes, or additional security to the front. Platoons and squads use appropriate formations and movement, assault, and ambush techniques.

7-87.     The main body moves to reinforce any success achieved by the advance guard, flank the enemy position, or apply overwhelming combat power to seize the contested area. During the attack, the leader on the field takes care to isolate the objective by positioning the flank guard to prevent interdiction of enemy reinforcements into the engagement. The positioning of flank guard blocking positions must be far enough away from the area that no enemy weapons can bring fires to effect the attack by the main body.

Flank or Rear Guard

7-88.     The platoon will have the responsibilities of flank or rear guard when moving within the company main body. However, the platoon may act as the flank or rear guard for a battalion conducting a movement to contact using approach march technique. In either situation, the platoon—

– Moves using the appropriate formation and movement technique. (It must maintain the same momentum as the main body.)

– Provides early warning.

– Destroys enemy reconnaissance units.

– Prevents direct fires or observation of the main body.

Actions on Contact

7-89.     Once the advance guard makes contact, the main body’s leader conducts actions on contact to determine how the main body will fight the enemy. To facilitate this, the advance guard reports enemy contact or disruption. It also deploys and attempts to overcome enemy based on information from point patrol. If the advance guard is not able to overcome the enemy, it assumes a support-by-fire position to support maneuver of the remainder of the advance guard. The remainder of the advance guard attempts a close envelopment to defeat the enemy unless the enemy force is overwhelmingly superior. If successful, the advance guard reforms and resumes march or initiates pursuit. If unsuccessful, the advance guard holds its positions, blocks the enemy, and continues supporting the subsequent maneuver and attack of the main body.

Additional Approach March COAs

7-90.     There are several courses of action available to the leader when the advance guard comes into contact with a force that it cannot overcome with its organic forces. These courses of action include—

– Frontal attack.

– Fix and bypass.

– Fix, isolate, and attack.

– Oblique attack.

– Withdrawal.

Search and Attack Technique

7-91.     The search and attack is a technique conducted when the enemy is operating as small, dispersed elements, or when the task is to deny the enemy the ability to move within a given area of operations. The platoon will participate as part of company or battalion search and attack. A unit conducts a search and attack for one or more of the following reasons:

– Render the enemy in the area of operations combat-ineffective.

– Prevent the enemy from operating unhindered in a given area of operations.

– Prevent the enemy from massing to disrupt or destroy friendly military or civilian operations, equipment, or facilities.

– Gain information about the enemy and the terrain.

Organization of Elements

7-92.     The higher commander will task-organize the subordinate units into reconnaissance (finding, fixing, and finishing) elements. He will assign specific tasks and purposes to his search and attack elements. It is important to note that within the concept of find, fix, and finish, all platoons could be the reconnaissance element. Depending on the size of the enemy they find, they could end up executing a reconnaissance mission, become the fixing element, or find that they are able to finish the enemy. Planning considerations for organizing include—

– The factors of METT-TC.

– The requirement for decentralized execution.

– The requirement for mutual support. (The platoon leader must be able to respond to contact with his rifle squads or to mutually support another platoon within the company.)

– The Soldier’s load. (The leader should ask, “Does the Soldier carry his rucksack, cache it, or leave it at a central point? How will the rucksacks be linked up with the Soldier?”)

– Resupply and CASEVAC.

– The employment of key weapons.

– The requirement for patrol bases.

Find (Reconnaissance Element)

7-93.     The size and composition of the reconnaissance element is based on the available information on the size and activity of the enemy operating in the designated area of operations. The reconnaissance element typically consists of the battalion reconnaissance platoon plus other battalion and higher level assets. Reconnaissance operations are used to answer information requirements used for leader decisionmaking and are not normally followed immediately by a hasty attack. The find action of a search and attack is used to locate the enemy with the expressed intent of making a hasty attack as soon as possible with the main body. The platoon will reconnoiter named area(s) of interest (NAI) and other areas as designated. The platoon may find the enemy through zone reconnaissance, patrolling, and establishing observation posts.

7-94.     The task of the search element is to locate the enemy or information leading to the enemy. The techniques used to search are unique to the area of operations and should be developed and adapted to the specifics of the particular environment. What works in one location may not work in another.

7-95.     The security element has two tasks: early warning of approaching enemy and providing support forces to the search elements if in contact with the enemy. The purpose of the security element is to protect the search element allowing them to search. Security elements tasked to provide early warning must be able to observe avenues of approach into and out of the objective area. If the search element is compromised, the security element must be able to quickly support them. These positions must also be able to facilitate communication to higher as well as any supporting assets.

Fixing Element

7-96.     The fixing element must have sufficient combat power to isolate the enemy and develop the situation once the reconnaissance element finds him. When developing the situation, the fixing element either continues to maintain visual contact with the enemy until the finishing element arrives, or conducts an attack to physically fix the enemy until the finishing element arrives. The goal is to keep the enemy in a position in which he can be destroyed by the finishing element. Sometimes the fixing element may have sufficient combat power to destroy the enemy themselves. The platoon maintains visual contact to allow the reconnaissance element to continue to other NAIs and isolates the immediate area. The fixing element makes physical contact only if the enemy attempts to leave the area or other enemy elements enter the area. At all times after contact is made, the platoon integrates as many combat multipliers into the fight as possible. Examples include indirect fire support, attack aviation, close air support (CAS), and antiarmor sections or platoons, if they are available.

7-97.     The fix element can consist of maneuver elements, fire support assets, and aviation elements. To isolate the enemy, fixing elements normally establish a cordon of blocking positions on possible avenues of approach out of the engagement area. The fix element is also responsible for ensuring its own internal security, conducting link ups with the find/finish elements as required and coordinating fire support assets.

Finishing Element

7-98.     The finishing element must have sufficient combat power to destroy enemy forces located within the area of operations. The finishing element must be responsive enough to engage the enemy before he can break contact, yet patient enough not to rush to failure. A platoon, as the finishing element, may be tasked to—

– Destroy the enemy with an attack.

– Block enemy escape routes while another unit conducts the attack.

– Destroy the enemy with an ambush while the reconnaissance or fixing elements drive the enemy toward the ambush location.

– Not allow the enemy to break contact.

Control Measures

7-99.     The higher commander will define commander’s intent and establish control measures that allow for decentralized execution and platoon leader initiative to the greatest extent possible. The minimum control measures for a search and attack include—

– Areas of operation.

– Named areas of interest.

– Phase lines.

– TRPs.

– Objectives.

– Checkpoints.

– Contact points.

– GPS waypoints.

7-100.  An area of operation defines the location in which the subordinate units will conduct their searches. A technique called the “horse blanket” breaks the battalion and company area of operation into many named smaller areas of operation. Units remain in designated areas of operation as they conduct their missions. Battalion and higher reconnaissance assets might be used to observe areas of operation with no platoons in them, while platoons or companies provide their own reconnaissance in the AO. This command and control technique, along with TRPs, assists in avoiding fratricide in a noncontiguous environment. A TRP facilitates the responsiveness of the fixing and finishing elements once the reconnaissance element detects the enemy. Objectives and checkpoints guide the movement of subordinates and help leaders control their organizations. Contact points aid coordination among the units operating in adjacent areas.


7-101.  A platoon normally takes part in exploitations as part of a larger force. However, the platoon should exploit tactical success at the local level within the higher commanders’ concept of the operation and intent.


7-102.  The objective of the pursuit is the total destruction of the enemy force. Forces equally as or more mobile than the enemy normally conduct the pursuit. The platoon may take part in a pursuit after a successful hasty attack, as part of a company mission, or as part of a task-organized company acting as a designated pursuit element.


7-103.  Effective use of night vision device(s) (NVD) and thermal weapons site(s) (TWS) during limited visibility attacks enhance squad and platoon abilities to achieve surprise and cause panic in a lesser-equipped enemy. NVD enhancements allow the Infantry Soldier to see farther and with greater clarity and provide a marked advantage over the enemy.

7-104.  Leaders have an increased ability to control fires during limited visibility. The platoon has three types of enhancements for use in fire control: target designators (GCP-1 and AIM-1); aiming lights (AIM-1 and AN/PAQ-4B/C); and target illuminators designed for use with NVDs. These include infrared parachute flares, infrared trip flares, infrared 40-mm rounds, infrared mortar rounds, infrared bike lights, and remote black lights. These assets greatly aid in target acquisition and fire control. If the engagement becomes illuminated, there are a variety of target illuminators for the unaided eye.

7-105.  Soldiers carrying weapons with NVD enhancements have greater accuracy of fires during limited visibility. Each Soldier in the platoon is equipped with an AN/PAQ-4B/C aiming light for his individual weapon. The AN/PAQ-4B/C enables the rifleman to put infrared light on the target at the point of aim.

7-106.  Leaders can designate targets with greater precision using the PEQ-2. The PEQ-2 is an infrared laser pointer that uses an infrared light to designate targets and sectors of fire and to concentrate fire. The leader lazes a target and directs his Soldiers to place their fires on the target. Soldiers then use the aiming lights on their AN/PAQ-4B/Cs to engage the target.

7-107.  Leaders also can designate larger targets using target illuminators. Target illuminators are essentially infrared light sources that light the target, making it easier to acquire effectively. Target illuminators consist of infrared illumination rounds, infrared M203 40-mm rounds, infrared trip flares, and infrared parachute flares. Leaders and Soldiers use the infrared devices to identify enemy or friendly personnel and then engage targets using their aiming lights.

7-108.  The platoon leader and squad leaders follow tactical standing operating procedures (TSOP) and sound courses of action to synchronize the employment of infrared illumination devices, target designators, and aiming lights. This is done during their assault on the objective, while remaining prepared for a noninfrared illuminated attack.

7-109.  Leaders use luminous tape or chemical lights to mark assault personnel to prevent fratricide. The enemy must not be able to see the marking. Two techniques are to place tape on the back of the helmet or to use small infrared chemical lights (if the enemy has no NVDs). Supporting elements must know the location of the lead assault element.

7-110.  To reduce the risk to the assault element, the platoon leader may assign weapons control restrictions. For example, the squad on the right in the assault might be assigned weapons free to the right flank because no friendly Soldiers are there. The squad on the left may be assigned weapons tight or weapons hold, which means that another friendly unit is located there.

7-111.  The platoon leader may do the following to increase control during the assault:

– Avoid use of flares, grenades, or smoke on the objective.

– Allow only certain personnel with NVDs to engage targets on the objective.

– Use a magnetic azimuth for maintaining direction.

– Use mortar or artillery rounds to orient attacking units.

– Assign a base squad or fire team to pace and guide others.

– Reduce intervals between Soldiers and squads.

7-112.  As in daylight, mortar, artillery, and antiarmor fires are planned, but are not fired unless the platoon is detected or is ready to assault. Some weapons may fire before the attack and maintain a pattern to deceive the enemy or to help cover noise made by the platoon’s movement. This is not done if it will disclose the attack.

7-113.  Indirect fire is hard to adjust when visibility is poor. If the exact location of friendly units is not clearly known, indirect fire is directed first at enemy positions beyond the objective, then moved onto the objective.

7-114.  Illuminating rounds that are fired to burn on the ground can be used to mark objectives. This helps the platoon orient on the objective but may adversely affect NVDs.

7-115.  Smoke is planned to further reduce the enemy’s visibility, particularly if he has NVDs. The smoke is laid close to or on enemy positions so it does not restrict friendly movement or hinder the breaching of obstacles. Employing smoke on the objective during the assault may make it hard for assaulting Soldiers to find enemy fighting positions. If enough thermal sights are available, smoke on the objective may provide a decisive advantage for a well-trained platoon.

7-116.  Illumination is always planned for limited visibility attacks, giving the leader the option of calling for it. Battalion commanders normally control the use of conventional illumination, but may authorize the company commander to do so. If the commander decides to use conventional illumination, he should not call for it until the assault is initiated or the attack is detected. It should be placed on several locations over a wide area to confuse the enemy as to the exact place of the attack. Also, it should be placed beyond the objective to help assaulting Soldiers see and fire at withdrawing or counterattacking enemy Soldiers.


NOTE: If the enemy is equipped with NVDs, leaders must evaluate the risk of using each technique and ensure the mission is not compromised because the enemy can detect infrared light sources.

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