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Deliberate River-Crossing Operations: Focus on the Fundamentals.

Combined-arms river crossings are complicated and difficult operations that require the commitment of substantial resources and a high degree of synchronization to be successful. This may be one of the reasons that maneuver forces infrequently train for river-crossing operations.

During its recent Warfighter Exercise, the 1st Cavalry Division (1CD)--with operational control of the 937th Engineer Group (Combat)--planned and executed a deliberate river crossing in a Korean scenario. In the process, both units thoroughly reviewed river-crossing doctrine as outlined in Field Manual (FM) 90-13, River-Crossing Operations, and developed useful tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for executing and controlling division river-crossing operations. In the process, the lCD combined-arms team reaffirmed the importance of the river-crossing fundamentals.


The lCD began preparing for the river crossing in early November 1999 during its Warfighter Seminar at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. A major focus of this seminar was a doctrinal discussion of river-crossing operations by the division commanders and battlefield-operating-system chiefs. Additionally, the assistant division engineer, lCD Engineer Brigade S3, and the 937th Engineer Group S3 compared and synchronized the tools that the division and group would use to plan and control the crossing operation. Foremost among these tools was a simple matrix (Figure 1) for tracking the progress of the crossing at each site.

In addition to tracking planned and actual crossing times, the matrix allowed the division and group to track the status of key bridging assets at each crossing site. The lCD assistant division engineer developed a simple Microsoft[R] Excel program for calculating the engineer/bridging equipment and forces required to support a crossing operation. This program also calculated crossing times for both rafting and bridging, based on the number of vehicles to be crossed.

In December, the staff of the 937th Engineer Group deployed from Fort Riley, Kansas, to Fort Hood, Texas, to participate in a lCD command post exercise (CPX). Before the CPX began, the 937th's staff conducted professional-development instruction on river-crossing operations by attending the III Corps training exercise "Road Runner 2000." A critical event during this exercise was the deliberate river crossing of Corps assets across Belton Lake, located adjacent to Fort Hood. The 62d Engineer Battalion commander and crossing force engineer (CFE) instructed the 937th's staff in the crossing area. Group officers conducted a terrain walk of the staging area, call-forward area, and engineer equipment park. The 74th Engineer Company (Multirole Bridge Company) emplaced the 120-meter assault-float ribbon bridge, and members of the 937th were able to walk across the bridge and learn the proper techniques of proofing the bridge before actually crossing as part of III Corps.

This river-crossing exercise provided excellent situational awareness for the 937th's staff and significantly enhanced their ability to plan and execute river crossings. During the December CPX, the lCD and 937th planned a deliberate river-crossing operation. This crossing was not actually executed because the crossing force was able to execute a hasty crossing using numerous ford sites. Despite this, the exercise provided valuable training for the staffs of the 1CD, the Engineer Brigade, and the 937th on river-crossing planning.

The 937th's headquarters returned to Fort Hood in late January 2000 for the lCD Warfighter ramp-up CPX. During this exercise, the LCD and the 937th conducted detailed planning for a deliberate crossing of the Yesong River in Korea, but once again did not execute a deliberate crossing. The opposing force (OPFOR) failed to destroy the bridge over the Yesong River, and the LCD was able to cross the river over existing bridges. The division would not be so lucky when fighting the "world-class" OPFOR.

Planning and Rehearsals

On 22 February 2000, the 937th Engineer Group deployed to Fort Hood for the third and final time to support the 1CD during its Warfighter Exercise. Training objectives for this exercise were focused on the integration of the 937th into the lCD, the development of plans and orders to fight in a Korean scenario, and command and control of engineers in support of a deliberate river crossing. The 1CD Warfighter scenario had the division attacking north into "Orangeland" on the Korean peninsula as the supporting effort of the U.S. III Corps. A major obstacle in the 1CD's zone was the Yesong River, which was 200 to 240 meters wide and fordable only in the eastern 25 percent of the division's zone. To support a deliberate crossing of the Yesong, III Corps allocated the 937th Engineer Group two corps combat-engineer battalions (one wheeled and one mechanized) and four bridge companies (one assault-float-bridge company and three multirole bridge companies) to the 1CD.

Using terrain products provided by the lCD's terrain team, the assistant division engineer identified 14 potential crossing sites over the Yesong River in the lCD attack zone: four fords, four fixed-bridge sites, two assault-float-bridge sites, and four rafting sites. The Yesong crossing sites are shown in Figure 2, page 30.

Working with the battle staff, the assistant division engineer developed a synchronized deliberate river-crossing plan with two crossing areas-the 2d Brigade Combat Team (2BCT) in the west and the 1BCT in the east. The division maneuver and fire-support plan detailed all four phases of the river crossing:

* Phase I. Advance to the river.

* Phase II. Assault across the river.

* Phase III. Advance from the exit bank.

* Phase IV. Secure the bridgehead line.

Although the lCD's engineer plan also focused on all four phases of the crossing, the division's river-crossing annex focused only on the first three phases. The plan called for two bridging sites--Arapaho in the west and Ottawa in the east. Because ford sites were located in the east, the 1BCT would conduct its assault crossing (Phase II) over the fords and secure both the near and far shores with heavy maneuver forces before commencing bridging operations at the Ottawa crossing site. Therefore, no rafting was planned at Ottawa. No ford sites were available in the 2BCT zone of attack, and the division planned to conduct the assault phase at the Arapaho crossing site using dismounted infantry in 15-person rubber boats (RB-15s). After securing the far shore from direct fire, engineers would construct rafts and raft a mechanized task force across the Yesong to build combat power, allow the 2BCT to eliminate observed indirect fire, and then allow the 937th to construct bridges. The 1CD designated the assistant division commander for maneuver (ADC-M) as the crossing-force commander and the 937th commander as the crossing-force engineer. Figure 3 shows a sketch of the crossing plan.

Also located in the 2BCT zone of attack was the Kaw crossing site, an existing fixed bridge over the Yesong River Dam. If Orangeland forces destroyed the dam, the river would drain and become fordable in several locations. If it wasn't severely damaged or destroyed, it provided a high-speed crossing. Thus, it was expected that Orangeland forces would attempt to damage, but not destroy, the dam and use chemicals to prevent the 1CD from using it. The division commander directed that the 937th be prepared to repair the roadway of the Kaw Dam.

After receiving the 1CD operations order, the 937th began to develop a detailed crossing plan to support the maneuver plan. Using the military decision-making process outlined in FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, the 937th's staff analyzed the mission, developed courses of action, conducted war gaming, and then compared courses of action. During its planning, the staff worked closely with the assistant division engineer and the 1CD Engineer Brigade staff. During its intelligence preparation of the battlefield, the 937th identified an additional crossing site just south of the Kaw Dam. Based on satellite imagery, it appeared to be a ford site. The 1CD Cavalry Squadron (1-7 Cavalry) was given the mission to reconnoiter this site. The 937th's plan refined and completed the initial division-crossing plan and was incorporated into the overall plan.

As part of the planning process, the division conducted a combined-arms synchronization drill and a detailed combined-arms rehearsal for the deliberate river crossing. A key element of both the synchronization drill and the rehearsal was the development of a battlefield-operating-system checklist (Figure 4, page 32) to ensure that the conditions for a deliberate crossing were set. This checklist used the principles of suppress, obscure, secure, and reduce to ensure that conditions were set before the river crossing began.

Suppress. During the advance to the river (Phase I), a two-hour preparation by the 1CD division artillery (DIVARTY) focused on key command-and-control elements, enemy forces at the river, and divisional and regimental artillery groups that could range the river.

Obscure. Smoke would be used in all four phases of the crossing. In addition to the BCTs' smoke assets, the 937th Engineer Group was allocated a dual-purpose chemical company to provide mechanical smoke for the movement to the river and the crossing operations. Although the 1CD did not plan a deception operation for the river crossing, a detailed smoke plan obscured the location of bridge assets during the advance to the river and obscured the location of actual assault, bridge, and raft sites during crossing operations.

Secure. Before the assault crossing, the near shore must be secured. The 1CD planned to accomplished this with a mechanized task force. Dismounted infantrymen would then assault across the river in RB-15s to secure and clear the far shore (Phase II). Additionally, air-defense-artillery coverage was required. The 937th Engineer Group was task-organized with an Avenger battery to provide short-range air defense. Patriots from III Corps (general support to the 1CD) were to provide high-to-medium-altitude air defense (HIMAD). Critical friendly zones were also established over the crossing area.

Reduce. Once the threat of direct fire was eliminated, bridge companies would move forward to construct six-bay rafts, with local security provided by infantrymen. Rafts would then move combat vehicles across the river to secure the far-shore objective and eliminate the threat of observed indirect fire. Once the threat of observed indirect fire was eliminated, bridging could begin. The crossing-area engineers (14th Engineer Battalion [Combat] [W] in the west and 875th Engineer Battalion [Combat] [M] in the east) would establish the crossing areas to support rafting and bridging operations. Chemical-decontamination sites and a 13th Corps Support Command forward logistics element were planned to support the crossing.

The river-crossing-conditions checklist was used by the crossing-force commander in the division tactical command post (DTAC) and the BCT and 937th command posts.


The division crossed the line of departure at H-hour (292000 February) with the 1BCT (main effort in the east) and the 2BCT (supporting effort in the west) attacking to destroy Orangeland forces in the zone. The 3BCT mission was to follow the lBCT and, on order, assume its mission. The 1-7 Cavalry was forward conducting zone reconnaissance to identify the 1st tactical echelon's main defenses and allow the lead BCTs to retain combat power. The 937th Engineer Group was divided into two task forces (Pioneer West and East) to support the crossings at Arapaho and Ottawa respectively. These task forces were under operations control for movement of the two lead BCTs. Based on the war gaming, the river crossing at Arapaho was expected to occur at H+36.

Based on a clearer picture of the Orangeland force's dispositions and obstacles along the high-speed avenue of approach leading to Arapaho crossing site, the 937th commander and the lCD division engineer (DIVEN) commander discussed alternatives for the 2BCT's crossing site in the west. The 1-7 Cavalry reported that the bridge over the dam at Kaw had been damaged and confirmed that the sites south of the dam could be used for rafting and bridging operations. In addition, Orangeland forces in that area appeared to be vulnerable, since they were massing their defense in the center and east. A crossing south of Kaw would surprise the OPFOR. The lCD DIVEN commander recommended to the ADC-M at approximately H+26 that the 2BCT cross at the site south of Kaw; this recommendation was approved. That evening, the DIVEN S3 and the S3 of the 937th helped write a lCD fragmentary order that directed the 2BCT to cross at Kaw and provided new crossing control measures.

The 2BCT received the 1CD fragmentary order on the move and prepared to cross at the new site, which demonstrated a high degree of flexibility. The 937th's liaison officer to the 2BCT proved invaluable at this point by helping to adjust the plan. The 2BCT arrived at the river at H+36 and reported that the near shore was secure. At the same time, the lCD DIVARTY executed preparatory fires and reported that critical friendly zones were established over the crossing area. After the DTAC received reports that all crossing conditions were set, the crossing-force commander directed the 2BCT to conduct the assault crossing.

When the far shore was reported secured, Task Force Pioneer West moved to the river, began to construct six-bay rafts, and then began to raft tanks and Bradleys to the far shore. Due to a report that Orangeland's tank forces were preparing to counterattack the crossing area, the decision was made to transition to bridging early to build combat power on the far shore quicker. Emphasizing the fundamental of speed, Task Force Pioneer West rapidly built a ribbon bridge, while continuing rafting operations at the Kaw site, and crossed two task forces before the OPFOR destroyed the bridge with massed rocket artillery and close air support.

A bypassed Orangeland special-forces team on the near shore observed and directed accurate artillery and close air support to destroy the bridge. During the after-action review, it was determined that the critical friendly zones had not been set properly and that the HIMAD coverage was inadequate. This action demonstrated that clearing the near- and far-shore lodgments is a tenuous and difficult task. One lone OPFOR with a radio is the most dangerous person in the crossing area. In an effort to take advantage of the surprise created by the virtually unopposed crossing at Kaw, the division accepted risk by not absolutely ensuring that the crossing site was secure from observed indirect fire before beginning bridging operations. This allowed the division to quickly cross two mechanized task forces but left the ribbon bridge at Kaw vulnerable. Although the OPFOR destroyed this bridge. Task Force Pioneer West salvaged enough bridge assets to continue rafting until both near and far shores were fully secure and t he threat of direct and observed indirect fire was eliminated. Crossing operations at Kaw were disrupted and delayed, but they were not eliminated. The 2BCT continued to build combat power on the far shore and eventually secured the bridgehead line.


The 1CD Warfighter Exercise provided excellent training on planning and conducting river-crossing operations at the division level. The exercise also reinforced the crossing fundamentals outlined in FM 90-13.

Surprise. Because it planned a persistent chemical attack on the Kaw Dam, the OPFOR was not expecting a deliberate crossing in the vicinity. The 2BCT conducted a virtually unopposed crossing at Kaw (south of the chemically contaminated zone) and rapidly built combat power on the far shore by surprising the OPFOR.

Extensive Preparation. Preparation for crossing at Kaw began with the 1CD Warfighter Seminar in November and continued for four months. Preparation included assembling tools, developing TTP, analyzing intelligence, planning, and rehearsing. This preparation allowed the 1CD and the 937th to have a common and thorough understanding of river-crossing operations and execute them rapidly, even though the environment was confused and hostile.

Flexible Plan. The lCD crossing plan included all 14 potential crossing sites. Staging areas, call-forward areas, and routes were located to allow a rapid shifting of crossing assets from one site to another. This flexible plan allowed the division to shift its main crossing effort from the Arapaho to the Kaw site in less than 10 hours.

Traffic Control. An extensive traffic-control plan, which included military police to operate traffic-control points at all major intersections and all staging and call-forward areas, was incorporated into the 1CD crossing plan. The plan also included holding areas and extensive lateral routes to allow traffic to be shifted off congested routes.

Organization. The 1CD river crossing at the Kaw site was a combined-arms operation commanded and controlled by the ADC-M from the DTAC. The crossing force combined all battlefield-operating-system elements and focused its efforts on the enemy and tactical tasks on the far side of the river. All operations were synchronized at both the 2BCT tactical operations center (the crossing-area command headquarters) and the DTAC (the crossing-force command headquarters). The one asset not directly under division control was HIMAD coverage. The Patriot battery that was to provide this coverage was in general support to the division. This lack of control contributed to ineffective HIMAD coverage at the Kaw crossing site and the loss of a bridge.

Speed. The requirement to build combat power on the far shore is critical. In the case of the 1CD crossing at Kaw, however, the desire for speed caused the crossing force to lose tactical patience and transition to rafting and bridging before all conditions had been met. Most importantly, in the rush to get combat power across the river, critical friendly zones were not fully established over the crossing area (resulting in ineffective response to enemy rocket-artillery attacks), and all enemy artillery observers were not eliminated from the crossing area. The rush to transition to bridging resulted in the loss of numerous bridge assets that might have survived had rafting continued.

Combined-arms river crossings are complicated and difficult operations. Organizations that want to be proficient at river crossing must devote substantial training resources, most notably time, to ensure the high degree of synchronization required for success. The recent 1st Cavalry Division Warfighter Exercise provided both the division and the 937th Engineer Group (Combat) the opportunity to train extensively and develop useful TTP for executing and controlling crossing operations.

Lieutenant Colonel Kurka commands the 1st Engineer Battalion (Combat), Fort Riley, Kansas. He previously was the executive officer of the 937th Engineer Group (Combat) at Fort Riley, and commander of the 565th Engineer Battalion (Provisional) in Hanau, Germany. LTC Kurka is a graduate of the United States Militaty Academy, Central Michigan University and the Command and General Staff College.

Major Dosa is the XO of the 70th Engineer Battalion, Fort Riley, Kansas. He was previously the S3 of the 937th Engineer Group (Combat) at Fort Riley. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the Command and General Staff College and holds a master's degree in civil and environmental engineering from Cornell University MAJ Dosa is a professional engineer in Delaware and Pennsylvania.
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Article Details
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Author:Kurka, Miroslav P.; Dosa, Brian
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Next Article:TACOM Sets the DEUCE Loose.

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