Tactics 101 104 – Bradley Platoon Defense
Bradley Platoon Defense
A view from the Platoon Leader’s Foxhole/Cupola
“Little minds try to defend everything at once, but sensible people look at the main point only; they parry the worst blows and stand a little hurt if thereby they avoid a greater one, if you try to hold everything, you hold nothing.”
In our last article, we put ourselves in the mind of LT Duffer. As a young Bradley Platoon Leader, there is obviously quite a bit going on in there. We walked you through the thought process of LT Duffer as he planned and prepared for an offensive mission. We believe the article re-empathized the criticality of understanding yourself, the enemy, and the terrain when planning for a mission. Not only is this important for planning; but you must strive to achieve this throughout the execution of a mission. As we have mentioned numerous times, these variables are continually changing. What you know as truth at one moment; can and will change quickly. LT Duffer found that out the hard way in training, but he learned some valuable lessons. He took stock in these lessons when he led his platoon in combat.
In this month’s article, we will continue to follow LT Duffer as he leads his Soldiers in combat. We will shift focus and turn to the defense. Again, we will key on the thought process of LT Duffer as he plans his platoon defense. LT Duffer has some options and we will look at each of them. Of course, each of his options must be feasible and achieve the purpose and task given to him by his Company Commander. His focus must be on achieving his purpose. His task may change depending on the variables, but it must always be able to accomplish the purpose.
LET’S GO BACK …
The attack on Objective Red went extremely well. Lieutenant Duffer’s platoon destroyed the combat outpost and held the gap allowing the Company to destroy the security zone platoon. The cascading success continued when the Battalion seized the motorized rifle company battle position on the flank of an enemy battalion battle position. Morale was high in the Company and the Platoon. The best part of the mission was that no casualties were suffered. A few close calls that shook up some Soldiers, but no one suffered any combat injuries.
The Battalion attack was successful, but they needed to regroup before continuing the attack south. It was time to transition. In the aftermath of a tough, but successful fight, it is often necessary to hunker down for a while to consolidate your gains, resupply, fix vehicles, and rearm. This prevents the unit from going beyond its culmination point when your ability to continue the attack successfully begins to decline. As we addressed in an earlier article, there is clearly an art and science to determining this transition point. Decide too early or too late and the results could be disastrous.
Another reason to pause is the likelihood of a counter attack. Whenever possible, the defender will launch a counter attack before the attacker consolidates in the hopes of regaining lost ground. It is said that the moment of greatest vulnerability for the attacker is the moment of success.
With that in mind, the Battalion Commander decided to order a hasty defense to buy time for consolidation and reorganization. The ground he chose was good. The choke point would allow the Battalion to fend off a potential counter attack with a minimum of force. One Company could hold the narrow choke point while the rest of the Battalion prepared for the next attack from battle positions in depth. If the Company allowed a penetration, the Battalion would be positioned in depth to destroy anyone who managed to make it to them.
The question was who to send forward to stop the counter attack? The answer was obvious…the winner was Bravo Company. Bravo had taken on the security zone in the last attack and had not taken any losses; they were the most fit.
The ground offers the enemy three Avenues of Approach (AA); one major and two minor. The main AA was up the middle, through the gap and it could accommodate a battalion-size attack. To the west of the main AA was a small trail over a saddle that could handle a platoon and to the east was a small valley that could host a company. The Battalion would close the platoon AA so Bravo could focus on defending AA 1 and 2.
Understanding Yourself, The Enemy, and The Terrain/Time
Lieutenant Duffer received his mission and began his assessment. He began with a quick METT-TC analysis.
Mission: The Battalion blocks enemy attacks north of the pass in order to allow the Brigade to prepare for the next attack. Bravo Co, Battalion main effort, destroys enemy forces in the pass in order to prevent any force larger than an organized MRC from advancing north and disrupting the Battalion mission. 3rd Platoon blocks AA2 in order to prevent the envelopment or bypass of Bravo Company.
Enemy: The enemy consists of a Motorized Rifle Battalion at 60% strength. They lost the defense and morale is low, but they are expected to counter attack in order to disrupt and delay our forces to allow reinforcements to arrive. 3rd Platoon will face a MRC on AA2 trying to bypass the main pass to the southwest.
Troops: BFV Platoon with a Sapper Squad
Terrain: The ground is open except for the mountains which offer three passes; a platoon size pass to the west, a battalion size pass in the center and a company size pass to the east. The ground slopes slightly upward to a high ground where the Battalion is deployed in the defense. The east side of the valley is walled in by mountains.
Time: The defense must be ready in 48 hours technically giving Duffer 16 hours to plan and the platoon 32 hours to rehearse and prepare the defense. Duffer knew the troops needed time to dig in, emplace obstacles, stake out their engagement areas and rehearse. He’d limit himself to 9 hours and give his troops 39. The Company Commander trusted LT Duffer and the Third Herd. He gave Duffer full discretion to shut down AA2 any way he wanted to. Bravo Company, minus 3rd Platoon, was going to defend AA1 from the reverse slope. The enemy would have to squeeze through the gap and into Bravo’s engagement area.
TROOP LEADING PROCEDURES
- Receive the Mission
- Issue the Warning Order
- Start Necessary Movement
- Conduct Reconnaissance
- Complete the Plan
- Issue the Operation Order
Duffer’s 3rd Platoon is expected to hold off a Motorized Rifle Company trying to flank the main defense. Two more MRC’s would head into the gap while a platoon would probably probe the goat trail to the east. The enemy would open up with a heavy artillery barrage designed to remove the infantry from the mountains where they could employ Anti-tank weapons and snipers. The vehicles would have to force the passes and their infantry could not climb the mountains without being compromised.
As always, Duffer assessed his platoon. He still had his four Bradleys and three infantry squads.
The Brads had long range weapons with excellent thermal night vision, but the infantry squads were the ones who would provide security and early warning. They would patrol the high ground and keep enemy infantry from getting above the Bradleys. They would over watch the obstacles and would call for artillery fires when the enemy approached.
He’d get artillery, mortars, close air, air defense and engineer support this time. They would be a significant addition! He also had flares and star clusters. His troops carried Claymore Mines and there would be obstacles to hinder movement—wire and mines. All weapon systems would have range cards and Target Reference Points (TRPs) would be registered and visible. The defender gets to prepare; it’s his advantage against the attacker’s numbers and control of timing.
His weapons capabilities stats include:
- 25-mm chain gun: 2,500 meters.
- TOW: 3,750 meters.
- The dismounted Javelin: 2,000 meters.
- SAW and M60 reaching out to 1 kilometer.
- Infantry small arms reaching out to 400 meters.
- Grenades; HE, smoke, and incendiary
The Battalion fire and obstacle plan was already laid in. Bravo Company was given the latitude to make their own plans. The Battalion would support anything the Company needed since they were the main effort. Duffer’s concern was AA2 on the Company left flank.
The Battalion built a three Company engagement area—Brigade provided a reserve tank Company so that the entire Battalion could get into the fight. The obstacles on the flanks of the engagement area would turn the enemy into it. The obstacles out front would disrupt his formations, causing him to zig-zag while taking flank shots and artillery all the way. If they were lucky enough to make it through all that; they’d hit blocking obstacles head on while in range of just about every weapon in the Battalion. It was a lead gauntlet for anyone able to get by Bravo.
Bravo would destroy at least two of the three attacking companies making the final suicide attack for the survivors.
Duffer’s plan came last. He needed to see where and how the rest of the Company was defending in order to decide how best to secure their flank. Bravo would be behind the gap. There would be wire and mines to force the enemy to breach. Infantry would flank the gap in dug in positions.
Duffer could defend reverse slope like the company, forward slope, or in the gap. Before he decided, he had to go through his combat power by the numbers.
– Maneuver. There would be no counterattack from 3rd Platoon during the defense. His maneuver advantage would come from initial positioning and preplanned fires.
– Firepower. Aside from artillery and mortars Duffer had 25mm guns, TOW’s, Javelins…the whole kit. The key was focus. He would need to build an engagement area. They’d rehearse it and everyone would make their range cards…every shot needed to count since he’d be outnumbered 3 to 1, normal in the defense. Every minute of prep not used by the defender benefits the attacker. Duffer knew the rule.
– Protection. Aside from the armor protection the crews had, the troops would have to dig in and build overhead cover. They’d dig foxholes and place plywood boards on top with layer upon layer of sandbags. A properly prepared foxhole can take a direct hit from a 122 arty round. The NCOs would have to supervise and double check on the troops.
– Leadership. Speaking of NCO’s, Duffer had the full complement and an excellent lot they were. Like all American units, he had the benefit of a highly professional NCO Corps who could run things on their own. They’d supervise prep and the fight. No problem here.
– Information. The key in the defense was to see the enemy coming and hit them enroute; keep hitting them and make them absorb losses before they even closed on the defensive positions. It was also important to deny their scouts from seeing you and to avoid getting caught in your holes during arty prep. The latter meant hide positions for the Brads.
- Effective synergy between BFVs and rifle squads.
- Use 25-mm and 7.62-mm Coax to engage light armor and infantry
- Infantry to block dismounted avenues of approach.
- The ability to retain key and decisive terrain.
- Conduct mounted or dismounted patrols in support of security.
- Establish strong points.
- Over watch and secure obstacles.
- Repel enemy attacks.
- Destroy light armor vehicles with BFV and AT.
Duffer knew the limitations of the BFV platoon
– BFVs are vulnerable to AT and Tank main gun fire.
– Rifle squads are vulnerable to small arms and indirect fire.
The mounted element consists of four BFVs in two sections (A and B) with two BFV’s each; the PL and wingman and the PSG and wingman.
Three nine-man rifle squads make up the dismounted Infantry. The squad has two, four-man fire teams and a squad leader. Each squad has an AT weapon and a SAW.
Rifleman. Each squad has two riflemen equipped with an M16A2 or M4. One rifleman is designated as the antiarmor specialist. The other is assigned the M240B.
Antiarmor Specialist. The designated Javelin and AT4 gunner provides lethal fire-and-forget, man-portable, top attack anti-armor capability to defeat enemy main battle tanks during day, night, and adverse weather conditions.
Grenadier. The grenadier has an M203 which consists of an M16 with attached 40-mm grenade launcher. The M203 gives the fire team indirect-fire out to 350 meters. He can fire high-explosive (HE) or can employ smoke to screen and cover his movement, fire, and maneuver. He can fire illumination rounds to increase visibility and mark enemy or friendly positions.
Automatic Rifleman. Each squad has two automatic weapons. The automatic rifleman mainly uses the M249 squad automatic weapon. The M249 gives the squad a high volume of sustained, long-range, suppressive, or lethal fires far beyond the range of the M16 or M4 rifle. The automatic rifleman uses the M249 to suppress enemy infantry and destroy enemy automatic rifle and antitank teams.
Inventory complete; how could the unit be best put to use? The way Duffer saw it; he could defend reverse slope, strongpoint in the gap or forward slope. Let’s review his options below:
– It forces the enemy to fight their way out of the key terrain
– It provides the defender with the ability to fire from maximum range
– It denies the enemy maximum range and dispersion
– It is difficult for enemy recon to find
– It complicates enemy artillery fire since they have to fire over terrain
– Reduces direct fire versus the enemy approach to the key terrain
– It physically places the platoon on the key terrain.
– It forces the enemy to fight for physical control of the terrain
– It concentrates forces and firepower
–It takes more resources and preparation
–It is more vulnerable to artillery fire
–It is easier for enemy recon to find
–Allows direct engagement at maximum range in front of the key terrain
–Makes the calling for and shifting of indirect fires easier
–Allows the defender to track the enemy throughout his approach
– Provides the enemy with maneuver space
–Eases enemy recon and employment of indirect fire
All three plans had their merits and demerits and LT Duffer war-gamed them all. It seemed to him that the best use of his Platoon was to defend reverse slope. This gave him the most security and made the problem the most difficult for the enemy. The Platoon Sergeant took charge of two infantry squads, reinforced with the third squad’s Javelins, south of the gap in BATTLE POSITION 32. Their mission was to block infantry infiltration along the ridgeline to prevent bypass of the gap or pre-breaching of obstacles. They would focus their AT fires into Engagement Area Axe to attrite the enemy armor and IFVs. The third squad (-) was placed in a security position north of the gap to secure the left flank. They had the best observation from the high ground so they would direct artillery and close air support. The four Bradleys of the mounted element defended BATTLE POSITION 30 from the reverse slope of the gap. They would destroy enemy in Engagement Area Shield to prevent the envelopment of BATTLE POSITION 20, the right flank of the Bravo Company defense blocking the main pass.
The enemy motorized rifle battalion was at 60% strength when they attacked. They tried to bypass B Co by sending an infantry company infiltration towards BATTLE POSITION 32 followed by a MRC (-) attempting to force the northern pass. The infantry were decimated by artillery and machine gun fire directed from BATTLE POSITION 32 while the MRC lost several vehicles in EA Axe and was stopped dead in EA Shield.
Once the attempt to open up the northern pass failed; the enemy sent two MRCs (-) and a tank company (-) towards the southern pass. The attack was furious and desperate, bolstered with artillery and close air support, but it also failed.
Overall, the enemy lost better than 75% of their combat power trying to press through the two passes. Bravo Company and LT Duffer’s third platoon had succeeded. The Battalion and Brigade had been given the time needed to consolidate, reorganize and plan the follow on attack. Bravo Company kept its attached tank platoon and four platoon configuration for the next mission. They were assigned the mission of the Battalion reserve to follow and support the Battalion attack.
Duffer had won his first two battles; one offense and one defense. The experience reinforced his training. He followed METT-TC and the troop leading procedures as closely as possible and, most importantly, he catalogued his platoons capabilities and limitations. “I guess Sun TSU was right”.
In the past two articles, we put ourselves in the mind of LT Duffer. We watched him plan an offense and a defense. In combat, you grew up very quickly. That was certainly the case with LT Duffer. He entered the battlefield as a green LT, who knew his doctrine and had been trained in the most realistic training environments. However, the optimum word was training. After two successful combat missions, LT Duffer was now beaming with confidence and more importantly, he has the confidence of his men. The key to Duffer’s success: HE KNEW HIMSELF, HIS ENEMY, AND THE TERRAIN.
In our next article, we will move from the Bradley Platoon to the Bradley Company. We will first discuss the organization of the Company. The Company has a tremendous amount of combat power available to it. Obviously, you must understand how to utilize it and synchronize it. In future articles we will address it.