“The only thing more accurate than enemy fire is friendly fire” – Murphy’s Laws
At the buddy team level, fire control measures are as simple as “don’t flag your buddy” and ” always keep your fire at least one meter ahead of your buddy’s muzzle.” It really is that simple.
When you are a squad leader, and have two fire teams, you can control your squads fire and maneuver by visually setting left and right limits. You can do this with tracers or smoke grenades, or even keeping your teams within visual range of each other and following the “don’t shoot your buddy” big boy rules.
When you get to a Platoon size operation, that is no longer desireable. You have to pre-plan left and right limits for fires, what the “lift and shift” signals will be to clear an area of fires so a maneuver element can move in and occupy/clear, and cease fire signals.
The best fire control measures are ones that exist both on the map and on the ground. A grid line on the map is fine for a checkpoint or phase line for a fully digitized tank company, but completely useless to a light infantry element. Pick things like streams, roads, and hilltops, which are easily planned on a map, and easily seen on the ground. Things that are linear, like roads and streams, make good phase lines. Things that are easily identifiable points, like road intersections, bridges over streams, and prominent hilltops, make good target reference points.
When you start naming phase lines, be smart and use a logical sequence such as “Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Edmonton, Flagstaff, Galvaston, Hampton, Indianapolis, Jacksonville” which is an alphabetical list of cities. You can use women’s names “Abby, Beth, Charlene, Debby, Edith, Florence, Gertrude, Helga, Ilsa,” or you can use geographic relationships “Washington, Idaho, Montana, Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania” if you were going from West to East. Doesn’t matter how you use it, as long as it make sense to you and your unit. Target referrence points really just need to be an alpha numeric number.
In an urban environment you have lots of roads and buildings. You need to label them (if they aren’t already labeled). Some units like to label the “back of a building is black, green is the left side, red is the right side, and white is the front side” based on the position of attack. Other units use “North/South/East/West” that align with the compass directions. It doesn’t matter what technique you use as long as everyone understands it. On a multi story building there are different labeling techniquese, you can go “read right then up” like a map and use letters for windows and numbers for floors, or vice versa. “Johny, put a grenade through A3” would mean first window on the third floor if you “read right and up.” Doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it is consistent.
You use these fire control measures to set areas for fires, and areas for maneuver. You use the lift and shift fire signals to transition an area from a fire area to a no fire area so a maneuver element can move in. This ain’t rocket surgery, but it is something a lot of young leaders screw up in planning. So now we will talk about lift and shift signals.
The other part of control measures are signals, these tell the support by fire position to stop shooting in one area. A shift fire signal can be pyro (star cluster/flare/smoke grenade), radio call, a signal flag or panel, a chemlight broken in the darkness, a set number of pulses from a flashlight, whatever you can come up with. Once again, it doesn’t matter what you use, as long as everyone is on the same sheet of music, and your signals are redundant. If the radio call fails, go to a signal panel, if that fails, try a star cluster or smoke grenade.
Say you have four squads. An assault squad, a support by fire squad, one squad broken into two security teams to isolate the objective, and one squad in reserve. You have to make the security teams a “no fire area” and let the everyone know not to shoot in their direction, and you need to let the security teams know where the rest of the platoon is to not shoot in those directions. Plot the points on a map, pull out your compass, and give visual referrence points to go along with the azimuths to give everyone their left and right limits as far as the security elements are concerned. Then you have the objective, cut it up into slices for the support by fire position, so that as the assault element advances the SBF can turn off slices ahead of the assault element.
When you start doing this with larger and larger elements, you will find that your fire control measures become more and more linear as the impact zones for weapon systems get more and more croweded on the battlefield. That is ok, there is nothing wrong with having everyone point their weapons in the same direction as long as it is safe.
Now, a big operation will have lots of phase lines, lots of target reference points, lots of rally points, lots of no fire areas. This is why some staff officers call it the “horse blanket” because it ends up looking like a colorful collection of stripes and dots. But if you keep it organized by actual terrain, it will be meaningful to the guys on the ground and it will help them not shoot each other.
Remember another one of Murphy’s laws, “Friendly fire – isn’t.”