Tactics 101: 017 – Breaching Operations
"Natural hazards, however formidable, are inherently less dangerous and less uncertain than fighting hazards. All conditions are more calculable, all obstacles more surmountable, than those of human resistance. By reasoned calculation and preparation they can be overcome almost to timetable. While Napoleon was able to cross the Alps in 1800 “according to plan”, the little fort of Bard could interfere so seriously with the movement of his army as to endanger his whole plan." Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart
Most of have seen or unfortunately been part of the following scenario: A unit is executing a deliberate attack and things are going just as planned (of course, it never goes exactly as planned). The maneuver formation is disciplined, security is excellent, and it is maneuvering with momentum towards their objective. Suddenly, the unit comes upon an obstacle. In no time, indecision and chaos run rampant throughout the unit. The forward elements come to a screeching halt and the eerie feeling that something bad is going to take place soon radiates over the formation. One obstacle has stopped the momentum of the attack and the initiative that was so much in the unit’s hands is quickly slipping away. One obstacle!!
So why does a single obstacle so many times stall an attack that began with such promise? There are several contributing factors. First, is a lack of training within the unit in breaching operations. This training deficiency leads directly to a lack of confidence amongst the unit in their ability to breach an obstacle. Second, is a unit’s inability to organize their assets to accomplish a breach. In essence, they have planned for failure. Finally, and related to training, is the inability of leaders to make timely and accurate decisions once their unit encounters an obstacle.
Before we discuss the above and begin to dissect breaching operations; let’s ensure we all understand one point. Breaching operations is not an ends in itself. They are merely an intermediate action that must be accomplished in order for you to achieve your ultimate objective and mission. If you focus all your energy and resources on the breach, you will have nothing left when it matters most. With that said, let’s get into particulars.
In this month’s article we will address the following subjects: types of breaches, breaching terminology, organizing a unit to conduct a breach, planning a breaching operation, executing breaching operations, how to use your assets to facilitate a breach, leader’s decisions at an obstacle.
TYPES OF BREACHES
There are two basic types of breaching operations. These are the in-stride breach and the deliberate breach. An in-stride breach is conducted on an unexpected obstacle or one that is very lightly defended. This breach is normally conducted at the small unit level with the force not requiring additional assistance from their higher headquarters. A good unit will always be prepared to conduct an in-stride breach. In contrast, the deliberate breach is conducted against an obstacle system where there is generally significant knowledge of its existence and its composition. A deliberate breach usually follows detailed reconnaissance and rehearsals. Since this is a significant event, there may be several levels of command coordinating the breach.
Obstacle. An obstacle is any obstruction that is designed or employed to disrupt, fix, turn, or block the movement of an enemy and to impose additional losses in personnel, time, and equipment on them. Obstacles can exist naturally (existing), be man-made (reinforcing), or be a combination of both (usually the most effective). A complex obstacle is a combination of different types of individual obstacles that requires more than one reduction technique (explosive, mechanical, manual) to create a lane through the obstacle. A reinforcing obstacle is an obstacle that is specifically constructed, emplaced, or detonated through military effort.
Lane. A lane is a route through, over, or around an obstacle providing safe passage of a passing force. The route may be reduced and proofed as part of a breaching operation, be constructed as part of the obstacle, or be marked as a bypass.
Reduction. This is a task to create and mark lanes through, over, or around an obstacle to allow the attacking force to accomplish its mission. Normally, engineers and reduction assets are used to reduce an obstacle.
Proofing. Proofing verifies that a lane is free of mines and that the width and trafficability of the point of breach are suitable for the assault force. Proofing can be conducted visually (against surface-laid minefields), electronically (mine detectors), or mechanically (mine-clearing rollers). Proofing is conducted when the risk of live mines remaining in the lane exceeds the risk of loss (lives and equipment) to enemy fires while waiting to complete proofing. Proofing is vitally important, considering the vast variety of mines in use. It should always be planned for a breaching operation; however, the time available, the threat, or the mission may dictate that proofing not be done.
Clearing. This is the total elimination or neutralization of an obstacle or a portion of the obstacle. Clearing operations are not conducted under fire and are usually performed by follow-on engineer forces.
Breach area. The breach area is established and fully defined by the higher headquarters of the unit conducting breaching operations. It is the area where a breaching operation occurs. The area must be large enough to allow the attacking unit to deploy its support force and extend far enough on the far side of the obstacle to allow follow-on forces to deploy before leaving the breach area. One technique is to establish the breach area using phase lines or unit boundaries. The phase line defining the far side of the breach area may be established as a battle handover line.
Farside objective. The farside objective is the immediate objective of the attacking unit’s assault force, and it may be oriented by the terrain or the enemy force. The higher HQ assigns the objective; however, the attacking unit normally subdivides the objective into smaller objectives to assign responsibilities and to control and focus the assault of subordinate forces. When breaching as part of a larger force, seizing the farside objective provides the necessary maneuver space for the higher unit’s follow-on forces to move securely through the lanes, assemble or deploy, and continue the attack without enemy interference.
Bypass. A bypass is a tactical task that involves maneuvering around an obstacle, a position, or an enemy force to maintain the momentum of advance. When a unit bypasses an obstacle, it physically changes the direction of movement to avoid the obstacle. This must be done with caution because it might play into the enemy’s hand. Always report bypassed obstacles to your higher HQ so your fellow units know this information.
Point of penetration. This is the location, which is identified on the ground, where the commander concentrates his efforts at the enemy’s weakest point to seize a foothold on the farside objective. This is achieved along a narrow front through maneuver and direct and indirect fires that are accurately placed against enemy forces. A commander conducting a breaching operation establishes a point of penetration that supports planning locations for the reduction area and the seizure of the farside objective.
Reduction area. This is a number of adjacent points of breach that are under the control of the breaching commander. The commander conducting the attack determines the size and location of the reduction area that supports the seizure of a point of penetration
Point of breach. This is the location at an obstacle where the creation of a lane is being attempted. Initially, points of breach are planned locations only. Normally, the breach force determines the actual points of breach during the breaching operation.
Terminology Graphically Shown
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