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A change-challenge: the fire-support coordination "box". (Vortices).

Fire and maneuver win battles. The purpose of movement is to get fires in a more advantageous place to play on the enemy. [To this end] Air and Ground commanders must be constantly on the alert to devise and use new methods of cooperation... for there can never be too many projectiles in a battle.

Gen George S. Patton Jr., USA

JOINT DOCTRINE is in a catch-up mode with modern war-fighting tactics. Specifically, joint doctrine has difficulty keeping pace with the integration of fire support in the airland battle space. The fire-support coordinating measures (FSCM) postulated in Joint Publication (Pub) 3-09, Doctrine for Joint Fire Support, for instance, have needed a doctrinal push for quite some time. (1) Manned and unmanned air weapon systems are extremely precise and lethal; we can use them nearly anywhere on Earth. Army weapons such as the Apache Longbow (AH-64D) and the Army Tactical Missile System project fires over 300 kilometers and locate their targets by using acoustic and infrared sensors. Similarly, the Navy's Tomahawk Land Attack Missile provides a very accurate, long-range standoff capability that has added another dimension to battlefield fires. These ever-evolving capabilities significantly enhance a theater commander's ability to prosecute a deep battle. Consequently, battlefield lines and restrictive fire measures a re moving toward a more dynamic fires process that incorporates airborne command and control ([C.sup.2]), navigation/positioning aided by the Global Positioning System (GPS), and a joint-/combined-fires viewpoint.

Traditionally, the geographically based fire-support coordination line (FSCL) has served as an airland-operations fire-control measure that follows well-defined terrain features. Mountain ridges, lakes, streams, roads, and tails demarcate the traditional FSCL. Some of the problems associated with using geography to define the FSCL include the following: (1) inaccurate identification of war-fighter terrain, (2) inability to locate the FSCL at night, and (3) the time required (up to six hours) to change and promulgate a new FSCL. The sometimes-contentious terrain-based FSCL needs a technical facelift. Although the traditional FSCL has lost its ability to "facilitate the expeditious attack of targets of opportunity beyond the coordination measure," (2) the opening and closing of a longitude-/latitude-based grid box can prove very dynamic during the prosecution of a war plan and just as reactive if one needs to change air-ground areas of operations. United States Pacific Command and United States Central Command (CENTCOM) complement the FSCL concept with longitude-/latitude-based three-dimensional grid-box systems, resulting in novel but functional modifications to contemporary FSCMs.

In the battle space, one can use grid boxes for restrictive-fire areas, no-fire areas, air-to-air kill areas, and combat search and rescue areas, to name a few. CENTCOM outlines one example of a three-dimensional grid-box scheme for the battlefield in its USCENTCOM Concept of Operations for Joint Fires, validated during various exercises, Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, and, most recently, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. These codified close air support (CAS) and air interdiction (AI) grid-box procedures have resulted in more permissive air fires, allowed rapid ground maneuver across a three-dimensional battlefield, reduced the chance of fratricide, and muted the service-parochial FSCL by minimizing the overlap of battle-space fires and clearly defining the supported/supporting relationships in the ground commander's area of operations. (3) This article, however, makes a case for using the leading edge of CAS/AI grid boxes controlled by the ground commander as an evolutionary FSCL.

Deep and Shallow FSCLs

I had trouble with the Fire Support Coordination Line placement.... At one point after the ground war started [in the Gulf War of 1991], the FSCL [moved to a position] well north of the Tigris River, yet all the Iraqi army was on the interstate highway between Kuwait City and Basrah approaching the river from the south, making the river an ideal FSCL.... The Iraqi army was getting across the river, giving them a free ride since we [air component forces] had to attack under close air support rules with no [forward air controllers] in the area.

Lt Gen Charles "Chuck" Homer, USAF

Desert Storm Air Component Commander

According to Joint Pub 3-09, joint lethal and nonlethal weapon systems are meant to support the regional combatant commander's efforts to disrupt, divert, delay, and/or destroy the capabilities of the enemy's air, sea, and land forces before he can use them effectively against friendly forces. Additionally, joint-fires procedures should reduce redundancy, integrate and deconflict component fires, maximize both effects and utilization of resources, and help eliminate fratricide. If joint fires are integrated correctly, they will complement and reinforce each other, resulting in synergistic combat power applied at the decisive point in a manner consistent with the combatant commander's priorities and concept of operations.

GAS/AI coordination issues in recent war-fighting history continue to address the "deep" versus "shallow" FSCL. In the twenty-first-century battle space, ground commanders plan on maneuver speeds, which require fire-support systems that quickly detect and engage enemy forces deep in the area of operations. High-tempo offensive maneuvers by the ground component; precise, quick target acquisition; and the reach and lethality of weapon systems exacerbate the FSCM dilemma. Correspondingly, commanders must place FSCLs farther forward, adjust and/or simplify them more often, and initially establish them significantly deeper within the ground commander's area of operations.

Both the deep and shallow FSCL approaches tend to inhibit overall joint effectiveness and limit potential success. In the deep approach, the ground commander places the FSCL at the maximum range of Army and Marine organic fires (fig. 1). The deep FSCL ensures that their effects always occur short of the line and eliminates the requirement to coordinate with the air commander. Unfortunately, this option places disproportionate restrictions on air assets operating inside this deep FSCL. Further, if the ground commander's long-range acquisition and attack assets cannot reach the deep FSCL, he or she inadvertently creates an enemy sanctuary, to which General Homer alluded above.

Conversely, a shallow FSCL--established close to friendly ground forces in the area of operations--tends to maximize the flexibility of the air component and the potential for quick air attacks. Uninhibited by extensive requirements for coordinating ground forces, the shallow FSCL allows air-component forces to engage the enemy with impunity. However, coordination restrictions associated with ground-component fires and maneuver beyond the shallow FSCL place unreasonable constraints on the maneuverability of ground forces, thus increasing the chance of fratricide (as has been the case historically).

USCENTCOM Concept of Operations for Joint Fires

When I became CINC I asked my component commanders to get together and start defining certain things, like joint fires.... They got together locked themselves in a back room with a lot of black eyes and bloody noses. I kept checking in asking, "Do I have to weigh-in?" They said, "Stay out of it." In the end, they produced [CENTCOM] joint fires standard operating procedures.

Gen Anthony C. Zinni, USMC

Commander, US Central Command

According to USCENTCOM Concept of Operations for Joint Fires, component commanders employ restrictive and permissive FSCMs that enhance the expeditious attack of targets; protect friendly forces, populations, critical pieces of infrastructure, and cultural or religious sites; deconflict fire-support activities; and set the stage for future operations. On the one hand, restrictive measures, such as no-fire areas and airspace-coordination areas, impose specific coordination requirements before one can prosecute any target engagement. Permissive measures, on the other hand, such as the coordinated fire line and FSCL, facilitate target attack without detailed coordination among component commanders. Joint task force or component commanders establish and adjust restrictive and permissive FSCMs consistent with the location of friendly forces, the combatant commander's operational concept, and anticipated enemy actions. Nevertheless, war fighting today requires more reactive and dynamic methods for coordinating fires.

Historically, frequent FSCL changes have made it difficult for combatant commanders to synchronize fires; they also limit their employment of combat power and increase the likelihood of fratricide near the FSCL. Within CENTCOM, subordinate commanders recommend the location of--or changes to--the FSCL to the land component commander via the daily air-component target guidance working group and daily joint coordination board. The land component commander coordinates with affected component commanders and recommends a consolidated, theaterwide FSCL to CENTCOM's director of operations (J-3) for the CENTCOM commander's approval. The commander of CENTCOM or the designated joint task force commander then establishes and adjusts the FSCL in consultation with subordinate and supporting commanders, using a specific code:

* Short of the FSCL, the appropriate ground or amphibious commander controls all air-to-ground and surface-to-surface attack operations.

* If forces attack targets beyond the FSCL, they must coordinate with all affected commanders in sufficient time to avoid fratricide.

* A published air tasking order (ATO) satisfies the requirement for coordinating deliberate operations beyond the FSCL.

* During ATO execution, fires between the FSCL and the ground commander's forward boundary are coordinated with either the ground component commander's deep-operations coordination center or a Marine fires-coordination center.

The cornerstone of CENTCOM's joint target planning, the joint coordination board--which resembles the joint targeting coordination board--serves as the command's forum for promulgating the CENTCOM commander's priorities and intent as well as refining the guidance for targeting and fires. (4) The deputy coalition/joint force commander chairs the board, whose members typically include the component and support deputy commanders, director of intelligence (J-2), J-3, and the branch chief of special technical operations. As the situation dictates, additional subject-matter experts and coalition members are invited to attend. During meetings of the board, the deputy coalition/joint force commander briefs the combatant commander's prioritized air objectives, which drive the air component commander's air-apportionment recommendation.

The joint coordination board discusses courses of action, changes in boundaries and FSCMs for future operations, and joint-fires considerations in order to develop a long-range targeting plan. In coordination with the component commanders, the J-3 develops proposed assignments in the areas of operations and submits them to the board for comment and coordination prior to the combatant commander's approval. When the combatant commander establishes the FSCL or changes an existing FSGL, the J-3 notifies all components and major subordinates as far in advance as possible, but no less than six hours before executing a change in the FSCL. Consistent with the operational situation, planned and projected modifications to the FSCL are then published in the ATO. CENTCOM's integration of the CAS/AI grid box as one FSCM, together with reducing reliance on the traditional FSCL, constitutes an evolutionary way to plan and think about battle-space geometry (e.g., FSCL, forward line of own troops [FLOT], restricted operations zone [ROZ], missile engagement zone [MEZ], etc.). That is, CENTCOM moves the GAS/AI grid boxes forward (after closing them to air attack) as the ground troops move forward, rather than moving a line (FSCL) on the ground.

The Grid Box

A CAS/AI grid-box reference system seeks to help coordinate, deconflict, and synchronize joint-fires operations as well as complement--rather than preclude or conflict with--other FSCMs. Grid boxes are based on a 30-by-30-minute grid system (in which the distance between each minute of latitude is equal to approximately one nautical mile [NM] and the distance between each minute of longitude is equal to approximately one NM times the cosine of the latitude), defined by the 00' and 30' latitudinal and longitudinal lines; altitude block; and assigned, coded identifiers for each grid (fig. 2). The three-dimensional grid boxes can be subdivided, and either ground or air forces can refer to them to facilitate target location, attack, and deconfliction. The 30-by-30-NM grid zones are often subdivided by magnetic direction into 15-by-15-NM quadrants (NW, NE, SW, SE) or 15-by-30-NM quadrants (N/S, E/W).

Typically, the combatant commander appoints a functional commander (normally the air component commander) to develop and code the GAS/AI grid-box reference system. A functional commander assigned by the combatant commander manages the boxes by opening and closing them to air component fires. The land component commander has responsibility for closed boxes within his/her area of operations, and the air component commander assumes responsibility for open AI grid boxes beyond the forward boundary of the land component commander's area of operations. The closing and opening of GAS/AI grid boxes on either side of the FSCL, however, rely upon coordination and process.

CAS/AI grid boxes short of the FSCL remain closed to air attack until opened by the land component commander. An open grid box short of the FSCL represents clearance from that commander for air component assets to fire on specified targets/target sets in accordance with the land commander's priorities without direct, positive terminal control. The land component commander closes a grid box short of the FSCL through coordination between his/her air support operations center and the air operations center. Ground troops cannot enter a newly closed grid box until the air support operations center uses airborne warning and control system (AWACS); joint surveillance, target attack radar system (JSTARS); or other airborne [C.sup.2] aircraft to confirm the cessation of air attacks in the grid box. Additionally, direct, positive control by a forward air controller or land component [C.sup.2] facility is required before air forces can expend ordnance in any closed CAS/AI grid box.

According to the USCENTCOM Concept of Operations for Joint Fires, CAS/AI grid boxes in the area beyond the FSCL and short of the land component's forward boundary are open for air attacks against targets in accordance with the land component's targeting priorities, unless the land component commander closes the boxes through the air operations center's combat-operations director. Normally, the air component commander's airborne [C.sup.2] platforms listed in the ATO and [C.sup.2] portion of the special instructions use the open grid boxes beyond the FSCL. Nevertheless, closing an AI grid box beyond the FSCL does not restrict the land component commander's organic assets unless it is designated a restrictive-fire area. (5) Air component assets may overfly any closed CAS/AI grid box. Generally, air assets cannot transit through or employ ordnance in a closed grid box unless it is deconflicted through the targeting or ATO development cycles. Even in time-critical situations, one must coordinate the employment of air-delivered ordnance into a closed grid box through the land component. The land commander opens or closes grid boxes beyond the FSCL either through the battlefield coordination detachment located in the air operations center or through the JSTARS, airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC), AWACS, or other theater air control systems. The land component's fire-support element processes immediate missions by coordinating with the air component for closure of the CAS/AI grid box(es) or applicable quadrants.

During mobile-target planning, aircraft designated to attack targets in a CAS/AI grid box are scheduled for the most likely locations, based upon a joint mobile-target list. The battlefield coordination detachment normally brings these target nominations of the ground component commander to mobile-target planning. In the execution phase, the ground component commander may divert these aircraft to higher-priority targets through the collocated air support operations center, which coordinates with the air operations center, JSTARS, and/or ABCCC, which in turn directs inbound aircraft to the land component commander's highest-priority target. The air support operations center may require radio relay through an Air Force ground-based theater air control system unit if it is located beyond line-of-sight radio range. This process allows the land component commander to divert dedicated CAS/AI grid-box aircraft from original target locations to the most current and highest-priority targets on a near-real-time basis.

Typically, attack-helicopter operations beyond the FSCL continue to evolve up to the go/no-go brief, four hours before execution. Due to the intricacies involved and the likelihood that the attack is oriented on a mobile target, location of the specific target and aircraft attack positions may not be completely resolved prior to ATO distribution. Thus, in early planning stages, attack-helicopter units establish "place holders" on the ATO, with time-on-target windows, intended target, and estimated grid-box quadrant(s) for the attack. This process provides air component planners the minimum information required for ATO development. From an air component's perspective, it also reduces the likelihood of fratricide due to the distinct identification-friend-or-foe codes associated with every Army aviation unit in the area of responsibility, in accordance with the airspace control order and/or special instructions. Closure of the required CAS/AI grid box quadrant(s) and the coordinating altitude further deconflict the airspace. Under certain circumstances, attack-helicopter units are employed beyond the FSCL in a reactive mode to prevent defeat or exploit success. The fire-support element coordinates closure of the required CAS/AI grid box(es) and/or quadrants, either through the battlefield coordination detachment or airborne [C.sup.2] elements.

The Change-Challenge

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old system as his enemies, and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new system.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Even the most marvelous technology, perfectly written doctrine, and fully integrated battle space will have to contend with what Clausewitz called the "friction" and "fog of war." Although CENTCOM continues to refer to the FSCL, theater war fighters have demonstrated in various exercises that the coordination of joint fires does not have to depend upon visual or topographical battlefield lines. In fact, as part of a targeting and coordinating process during Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, CAS/AI grid boxes proved their worth as a more dynamic and flexible battle-space fire-support measure.

Functionally, the leading edge of a grid-box lattice closed to air attack acts as the FSCL and moves with the opening and closing process with consequential results (fig. 3). Instead of the typical four-to-six-hour FSCL movement-coordination process, grid boxes are opened and closed in minutes. Additionally, three-dimensional CAS/AI grid boxes limit enemy sanctuaries, give battle-space freedom above closed grid boxes to the air component, maximize the application of fires, and reduce the chance of fratricide.

Opening or closing a CAS/AI grid box without moving the FSCL follows a process similar to that of the CENTCOM model. The significant differences include reduced coordination time and a common, all-weather, day-or-night reference system for all friendly forces. A CAS/AI grid box can close after all of the following occur: (1) the land component commander or air support operations center coordinates through the battlefield coordination detachment, (2) the air operations center contacts the airborne [C.sup.2] platform controlling the grid box, (3) the airborne [C.sup.2] agency directs aircraft clear of the grid box, and (4) the information makes it back to the land component commander or air support operations center. The coordination process for opening or closing a CAS/AI grid box may take up to 20-30 minutes--much faster than the present four to six hours required to change the FSCL. Moreover, the dynamic coordination required for opening and closing CAS/AI grid boxes offers functional components the new abil ity to quickly move the battle space in order to prosecute the fast-moving ground-to-ground battle without inhibiting air-to-ground support.


If recent history is any indication, joint doctrine will continue in a catch-up mode with modern war-fighting technology, and [C.sup.2] capabilities will not keep pace with the integration of airland fires. What was once considered the "deep battle" is now the "close battle," and systems growth indicates that the trend will continue. The precision, range, speed, and lethality of the battle space and the evolution of nonlethal weapons will result in designs and applications that today's war fighter can only imagine. Consequently, battlefield geometry and coordination boundaries will have to become more reactive, incorporating contemporary [C.sup.2] based in the air and space; GPS-aided navigation/positioning; and a joint-/combined-fires viewpoint.

The three-dimensional grid-box scheme provides a catalyst for doctrinal change that favors more reactive and functional FSCM. Codified CAS and AI grid-box procedures result in more permissive air fires, allow rapid ground maneuver across a three-dimensional battlefield, reduce the chance of fratricide, and mute parochial FSCL fights among the services by minimizing the overlap of battle-space fires and clearly defining the supported/supporting relationships in the ground commander's areas of operations. The next doctrinal step, however, calls for the joint community to examine more closely the use of a longitude-/latitude-based grid box's forward borders as a fire-coordination boundary. The community must then institute a quick and complete coordination and dissemination process within all joint and coalition battle-space units, whether ground, maritime, or air and space.

Robins AFB, Georgia


(1.) See Joint Pub 3-09, Doctrine for Joint Fire Support, 12 May 1998, passim.

(2.) Ibid., A-2.

(3.) USCENTCOM Concept of Operations for Joint Fires, 10 November 1999, on-line, Internet, 15 May 2002, available from

(4.) A joint targeting coordination board is "a group formed by the joint force commander to accomplish broad targeting oversight functions that may include but are not limited to coordinating targeting information, providing targeting guidance and priorities, and refining the joint integrated prioritized target list." Joint Pub 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 12 April 2001, 240, on-line, Internet, 15 May 2002, available from

(5.) A restrictive fire area is one "in which specific restrictions are imposed and into which fires that exceed those restrictions will not be delivered without coordination with the establishing headquarters." Ibid., 376.


* Colonel Quintrall is director of operations and JSTARS mission crew commander for the 93d Operations Support Squadron, Robins AFB, Georgia.
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Author:Quintrall, Mick
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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