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The complete tactical guide to exploiting the enemy after a combat operations attack (tactical and offense series).

Soldiers tactical movement across terrain


An exploitation takes full advantage of offensive success, following up initial gains, and making permanent the temporary effects already achieved. Commanders at all echelons exploit successful offensive actions. Attacks that succeed in annihilating a defending enemy are rare. Failure to aggressively exploit success at every turn may give the enemy time to reconstitute an effective defense by shifting forces or by regaining the initiative through a counterattack. Therefore, every offensive action not restricted by higher authority or lack of resources should be followed without delay by bold exploitation. The commander designs the exploitation to maintain pressure on the enemy, compound and take advantage of the enemy’s disorganization, shatter the enemy’s will to resist, and seize decisive or key terrain.


4-1. Exploitation is the primary means of translating tactical success into operational advantage. It reinforces enemy force disorganization and confusion in the enemy’s command and control (C2) system caused by tactical defeat. It is an integral part of the concept of the offense. The psychological effect of tactical defeat creates confusion and apprehension throughout the enemy C2 structure and reduces the enemy’s ability to react. Exploitation takes advantage of this reduction in enemy capabilities to make permanent what would be only a temporary tactical effect if exploitation were not conducted. Exploitation may be decisive.

4-2. Exploitation can occur regardless of the operational theme or point along the range of operations in which the exploitation occurs. All units, regardless of their size, conduct exploitation, although the discussion in this article tends to focus on the activities of large units during conduct of major combat operations. Small tactical units also conduct exploitations. For example, during counterinsurgency operations, a company could conduct a raid on an particular civilian residence during the night to exploit the information and intelligence gathered during its conduct of a cordon and search operation that occurred earlier in the day. In this example, effective search procedures, tactical site exploitation, tactical questioning, and the use of reconnaissance and surveillance assets are keys to the company being able to effectively conduct exploitation.

4-3. Those plan, prepare, execute, and assess concepts discussed in ADRP 5-0 apply during an exploitation. The commander modifies these concepts as necessary to reflect the specific existing mission variables of mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations (METT-TC). The five step sequence for executing offensive actions described in the introduction of this publication is used to discuss the execution of an exploitation. The first three steps are shaping operations and the last two constitute the decisive operation.

4-4. Local exploitation by the committed force follows a successful attack. A unit conducts a local exploitation when it capitalizes on whatever tactical opportunities it creates in the course of accomplishing its offensive mission. Whenever possible, the lead attacking unit transitions directly to the exploitation after accomplishing its mission in a local exploitation. If this is not feasible, the commander can pass fresh forces (follow and assume) into the lead. The commander acts quickly to capitalize on local successes. Although such local exploitations may appear insignificant, their cumulative effects can be decisive. Subordinate commanders, working within their higher commander’s intent, use their initiative to launch exploitations. When initiating a local exploitation, the commander informs higher headquarters. This prevents disruption of the higher echelon’s battle or campaign and allows the higher headquarters to assess the possibility of general collapse and to initiate pursuit operations.

4-5. Conduct of a major exploitation is a specific contingency mission assigned to a large unit in anticipation of offensive success by another unit of equivalent size. Divisions and brigade combat teams (BCTs) are the echelons that typically conduct a major exploitation, although a corps can conduct a major exploitation as part of a multi-corps operation.


4-6. The forces conducting an attack are also the forces that initially exploit that attack’s success. Typically, the commander does not assign a subordinate unit the mission of exploitation before starting a movement to contact or an attack. The commander reorganizes internally to reflect the existing mission variables of METT-TC when the opportunity to exploit success occurs. The commander then uses fragmentary orders (FRAGORDs) to conduct actions on contact. (See chapter 2 for a discussion of actions on contact.) If a commander needs additional resources to support the exploitation, they are requested from the appropriate headquarters. The additional resources may include reconnaissance and surveillance assets to help identify targets for attack, as well as attack helicopters and controlled munitions, such as the Army tactical missile system rockets, to attack identified targets. Each exploitation force should be large enough to defend itself from those enemy forces it expects to encounter. It should also be a reasonably self-sufficient combined arms force capable of operations beyond the supporting range of the main body.

4-7. The units that create an opportunity to exploit should not be expected to continue the exploitation to an extended depth. If the commander plans to exploit with a specific subordinate unit, the commander specifies the degree of damage or risk to that force the commander is willing to accept during the operation. If the initially attacking units incur significant losses of combat power, the commander replaces them as soon as possible. When the exploiting force’s combat power weakens because of fatigue, disorganization, or attrition, or when it must hold ground or resupply, the commander should continue the exploitation with a fresh force. In both cases, the replacement force should have a high degree of tactical mobility, so it can conduct the exploitation.

4-8. The exploitation may be more effective if the commander can commit additional forces and assign them the task of either follow and support or follow and assume. The commander assigns follow and support missions to units designated to assist exploiting forces by relieving them of tasks that would slow their advances. The lead unit and any follow and assume or follow and support units exchange liaison teams to facilitate the transfer of responsibilities. Units designated to follow and assume conduct a forward passage of lines and replace the initial exploiting forces when they approach their culminating point. Normally, the next higher commander retains control of the forces performing the tasks of follow and support or follow and assume. (Appendix B expands the discussion of these tasks.) When possible, units assigned these tasks should possess mobility equal to that of the exploiting unit or receive additional engineers and transportation assets to provide the necessary mobility. Once organized, they are committed forces and should receive habitually associated artillery, air defense, engineer, and other functional and multifunctional support and sustainment forces in accordance with the mission variables of METT-TC. In an exploitation operation projected to cross significant distances, the commander may attach elements of a follow and support unit to the exploiting force to ensure unity of command and effort.

4-9. Since the force conducting an exploitation operation typically covers a wider front than an attacking force, fire support assets may find their supported elements operating outside normal supporting ranges. They must displace forward to ensure the continued provision of fires on and beyond enemy formations, which may cause some difficulty in supporting the exploiting force’s flank elements. To provide the required support, these fire support units, as well as independently operating assets, can be attached to subordinate elements of the exploiting force. Otherwise, the commander can move additional reinforcing fire support elements forward to fill the void. The commander can use available air interdiction and close air support (CAS) by fixed-wing aircraft to augment or replace Army fire support assets during exploitation.

4-10. The joint air and missile defense (AMD) coverage for the initial attack is likely to remain effective throughout the exploitation. However, when a tactical commander accepts the risks involved and extends subordinate formations and assets to cover more area, the AMD coverage probably becomes less effective. The commander needs to consider the risks associated with moving out from under the AMD umbrella provided by the Army air and missile defense command (AAMDC) or Army air defense artillery brigade supporting the joint force commander. The commander can request adjustments in that coverage to conform to the unit’s tactical maneuvers. Counterair operations conducted by Air Force and Navy assets and anti-air warfare conducted by Marine Corps assets may provide the desired degree of AMD protection.

4-11. The exploitation mission demands a force with a significant mobility advantage over the enemy. This mobility advantage may be provided by forces with tracked or wheeled armored combat vehicles. Attack helicopters and air assault assets may constitute a portion of the exploiting force’s combat power. They are extremely useful in seizing defiles, crossing obstacles, and otherwise capitalizing on their mobility to attack and cut off disorganized enemy elements. They can also seize or control key terrain such as important river-crossing sites or vital enemy transportation nodes along the exploiting force’s route of advance into and through the enemy’s support areas. The commander integrates combat engineers into the exploiting force to help breach obstacles, keep ground forces maneuvering, and provide countermobility protection to the flanks. Typical problems that degrade an exploiting force’s mobility are minefields and other obstacles. The commander also uses engineers to keep the force’s supply routes open.

4-12. The commander retains only those reserves necessary to ensure flexibility of operation, continued momentum in the advance, and likely enemy responses to the exploitation. (Chapter 3 discusses employment considerations for the reserve.)


4-13. When a commander initiates an exploitation operation, the exact enemy situation may not be clear. The commander orders one or more subordinates to conduct reconnaissance to gain and maintain enemy contact. Those forces conducting reconnaissance also provide a degree of security. The reconnaissance effort is complemented with sensors and surveillance assets and intelligence products produced by adjacent, higher, and lower echelons to maintain the commander’s situational understanding of the strength, dispositions, capabilities, and intentions of all significant enemy elements within the area of interest. The commander normally emphasizes reconnaissance more than security operations when conducting exploitation. Nevertheless, since forces exploiting success tend to move independently, the overall commander addresses the total force’s security needs.

4-14. The commander assigns the appropriate security missions to appropriate subordinates in the same way they are for a movement to contact. (See chapter 2.) An exploiting corps or division commander typically organizes the forward-most security element into a covering force to protect the main body’s movement and develop the situation before the commander commits the main body. These security elements respond directly to the overall commander.

4-15. If an exploiting force is unable to resource a covering force for independent operations, it may use an advance guard in place of a covering force. This is typical for a BCT conducting exploitation on its own. In some cases when the higher echelon (corps or division) creates a covering force, a BCT subordinate to that corps or division may still push out its own advance guard behind the covering force. This normally occurs when subordinate exploiting units advance in multiple parallel columns.


4-16. Functional and multifunctional sustainment arrangements must be extremely flexible during exploitation operations. In the conduct of major exploitation operations directed against uncommitted enemy forces or in exploitation operations directed along diverging lines of advance, the tactical commander commonly attaches functional and multifunctional sustainment units to the exploiting maneuver force. This changes the normal support relationship between the two forces to a command relationship for the duration of the operation. At a minimum that command relationship should be operational control (OPCON) for positioning, movement, and defense since the sustainment unit will be a tenant unit within the tactical commander’s area of operations (AO). Alternatively, the supporting sustainment assets can follow the exploiting force in an echeloned manner along main supply routes (MSRs). Transportation and supplies to sustain the force become increasingly important as the exploitation

progresses. As supply lines lengthen, the condition of lines of communications and the conduct of route and convoy security can become problems. The largest possible stocks of fuel, spare parts, and ammunition should accompany the force so that it does not lose momentum because of a lack of support.

4-17. The exploitation effort may be limited more by vehicle mechanical failures and the need for fuel than by combat losses or a lack of ammunition. Therefore, at the low tactical level a field maintenance team from the brigade support battalion (BSB) should accompany each exploiting company to assess problems and repair disabled vehicles quickly or evacuate them to maintenance collection points for repair or evacuation by the BSB’s field maintenance company. The commander may use utility and cargo helicopters to move critical supplies forward during the exploitation.


4-18. Exploitation uses fewer control measures than many other operations because of the uncertain enemy situation and the need to provide subordinate commanders with the maximum flexibility to take advantage of fleeting opportunities. (See figure 4-1 for an example of control measures for a major exploitation. See figure 4-2 for an example of control measures for a local exploitation.) Planners develop control measures as part of the planning process. The commander issues these control measures as part of the attack order to facilitate mission command when the force transitions to exploitation.


Figure 4-1. Control measures for a major exploitation

4-19. A unit conducting exploitation normally operates in the same AO it was assigned for the attack. The exploiting unit assigns subordinate units their own AOs. Boundaries between subordinate units may change often to take advantage of opportunities. Since an exploiting unit deploys reconnaissance and security forces, the commander must rapidly adjust boundaries as the exploiting force advances. The commander designates obstacle-restricted areas to prevent friendly obstacles from hindering the movement of the exploiting force. The commander designates obstacle zones on the flanks of the exploiting force’s mobility corridors to enhance security. The commander uses phase lines and subsequent objectives to control the conduct of the exploitation. The commander uses objectives to orient the movement of exploiting forces. Although exploitation may result in taking a terrain objective, the primary focus should be on completing the destruction of the enemy force. The commander may establish a limit of advance if a culminating point can be anticipated or some other restriction, such as political considerations regarding an international border, requires its establishment.


Figure 4-2. Control measures for a local exploitation

4-20. A commander normally employs permissive fire support coordination measures during exploitation. A coordinated fire line (CFL) ensures rapid response. Movement of the CFL is particularly important to provide adequate support as the force continues to advance. Even if the culmination of the exploitation is not anticipated, establishing a forward boundary is important to facilitate operations beyond that boundary by a higher headquarters. The commander can use additional control measures, such as targets and checkpoints, as required.


4-21. The commander’s ability to deny the enemy options by proactive use of the warfighting functions is critical to a successful exploitation. This is done by arranging the warfighting functions within the opponent’s time and space relationship in accordance with the mission variables of METT-TC. This applies whether conducting a local or a major exploitation.

4-22. The commander must plan for decentralized execution during the conduct of an exploitation. The commander’s intent is especially important because subordinates must be able to exercise initiative in a rapidly changing situation. The commander must state the purpose of the exploitation, which may be to force the retrograde of enemy forces from an area, encircle enemy forces so they cannot withdraw, or destroy enemy artillery and other fire support systems. The intent must describe the desired end state. That intent will also determine the force’s decisive and shaping operations and guide the designation of the main effort.

4-23. A clear commander’s intent provides subordinates with guidance on integrating their operations into the overall operations of the higher headquarters. Subordinates act quickly to seize all opportunities to damage the enemy or accelerate the tempo of operations. Commanders place minimal restrictions on subordinates. These may include clear instructions regarding the seizure of key terrain and the size of enemy forces that may be bypassed. Reliable, secure communications between the exploiting force, the follow and support force, and the commander facilitate coordination that can maximize the impact of the exploitation. However, all subordinates should have a clear picture of the desired end state to conduct operations that support it, even if communications are lost.

4-24. Exploitation planning begins during the preparation phase of all offensive actions. To avoid losing critical time during the transition from a movement to contact or an attack to exploitation, the commander tentatively identifies forces, objectives, and AOs for subordinate units before the offensive task begins. The defeat of these enemy forces and the seizure of these objectives deny the enemy routes of escape, result in the encirclement of selected enemy forces, and destroy enemy command and control nodes and the enemy’s sustainment facilities. When the opportunity to exploit occurs, BCT and higher-echelon commanders initiate the exploitation either as a branch of or a sequel to the existing operation. Commanders may direct that lower tactical commanders immediately exploit the local successes of their units. However, the commander avoids driving the enemy back towards the enemy’s sustaining base.

4-25. During exploitation planning and execution, the commander balances the force conducting the exploitation’s need for speed and momentum against its need for security as it begins to move beyond supporting range of the rest of the force. The commander must be careful not to allow a force conducting exploitation to move outside of supporting distance of the main body. Determining the supporting distance requires some knowledge of the enemy’s remaining capabilities. Generally, the commander should approach exploitation planning with a sense of guarded optimism. It is an excellent opportunity to shatter enemy cohesion and gain a position of advantage over the enemy. However, the commander cannot allow the exploiting force to fall into an enemy trap where it could be drawn into a salient and destroyed in detail.

4-26. The exploitation may take the form of a movement to contact with a series of hasty attacks. The commander usually issues a series of FRAGORDs that designate—

  • Movement formation.
  • The position of each major element within the formation of the force conducting the exploitation.
  • Any required modifications to task organization.
  • Bypass criteria.
  • Revised or new control measures that assist with the maneuver, such as objectives, boundary changes, a limit of advance (LOA), and fire support coordination measures (FSCMs).

4-27. Forces conducting exploitation normally maneuver on a wide front and on at least two axes. The forces on each axis are capable of independent action, depending on the mobility of the force, the road net, and other aspects of the terrain. In some cases, rather than assigning subordinates their own AOs, the commander may designate a movement formation for the entire unit to concentrate all combat power against a specific enemy element. In this case, the commander normally adopts a variation of the column, line, or vee formation. (Chapter 1 discusses combat formations.) (Figure 4-3 shows an armored brigade combat team [ABCT] conducting exploitation with its battalions in column.) Movement on parallel routes is preferred; however, the terrain and the enemy situation may cause the force to advance in a

Figure 4-3. Brigade exploitation: battalions in column formation column formation. Generally, using a column in the exploitation emphasizes flexibility at the expense of placing maximum firepower forward.

4-28. In exceptional circumstances, when the enemy is clearly incapable of effectively resisting, the commander can choose temporarily not to retain a reserve but to commit all forces to the exploitation. The commander may employ a line formation with two or more elements abreast without a reserve when the approach to the objective must be made on as wide a front as possible. For example, a commander could use this formation when attempting to secure crossing sites over a major river. (See figure 4-4 on page 4-7.)

The commander could also employ this formation against sporadic and weakening resistance when the enemy lacks a significant counterattack capability or when the counterattack can be blocked by means other than employing the reserve. Despite the lack of a constituted reserve, other actions, such as the effective employment of massed indirect fires, can provide the commander with the flexibility usually provided by the reserve for influencing actions during exploitation.

4-29. A vee formation with two or more elements abreast and a reserve allows the unit to advance on a reasonably wide front with the bulk of the unit’s direct firepower oriented forward. This configuration helps when creating gaps in the enemy’s defenses. While the bulk of the unit is committed, the reserve is available to exploit the success of the attacking elements, assume the mission of the attacking elements, or counter enemy threats as they develop. (See figure 4-5 and figure 4-6 on page 4-8.)

4-30. Because of the need to rapidly transition from an attack to exploitation, exploitation fire planning must take place as part of the planning for the attack. The commander establishes links between military intelligence, reconnaissance, attack aviation, field artillery, electronic warfare, and supporting fixed-wing aviation assets to expedite the detection and delivery of effects against situationally dependent high-priority targets. The commander selects those targets regardless of their location within the enemy’s defensive area to support the exploitation. During the exploitation, there is little time to revise target lists. Target considerations are similar to those of a


Figure 4-4. Division exploitation: brigades abreast, no reserve


Figure 4-5. Brigade exploitation: two battalions forward, one in reserve movement to contact. In addition, the exploitation requires a flexible, responsive, and redundant fire control net that must be planned in advance. Coordination with the echelon intelligence officer is critical as the situation develops into exploitation. The exploiting force templates known enemy locations within its AO as danger areas and targets them.

4-31. The fire support plan includes allocating support for meeting engagements or hasty attacks that occur during the exploitation. The fire support coordinator (FSCOORD) plans targets beyond the projected locations of the exploiting maneuver forces to shield them from enemy counterattacks. The FSCOORD then addresses how to provide fire support to the force in its movement to the LOA and targets locations beyond the LOA to interdict the enemy’s lines of communication (LOCs).

4-32. The commander plans for artillery and mortar displacement as an integral part of the exploitation. These indirect fire assets must displace at a faster pace than during normal offensive actions, while maintaining the capability to provide accurate and lethal fires. The commander can normally plan on subordinate forces using less ammunition during an exploitation than in an attack because fleeing enemy forces are normally not in prepared positions, and thus are more vulnerable. The commander should also consider using close air support in the exploitation, especially to support those units moving beyond supporting range of the main body. Airborne forward air controllers can help identify and track high-payoff targets forward of the exploiting force.


Figure 4-6. Exploitation control measures for a combined arms battalion in a vee formation

4-33. The commander plans situational obstacles for each phase of the operation. For example, in accordance with the rules of engagement, the commander places scatterable minefields in those areas that could be used by an enemy counterattack force as friendly forces move forward.

4-34. The enemy may be willing to commit aircraft against a friendly exploitation that endangers the viability of the enemy’s defense, buying the enemy time to prepare a defense while weakening the friendly force. Enemy forces may have the ability to employ unmanned aircraft systems in reconnaissance and attack roles. The tactical commander plans a decision point to request through command channels that the joint force commander reposition joint air and missile defense assets to provide priority of protection to that part of the commander’s decisive operation that moves out from under the existing air and missile defense umbrella. Ideally, that existing defensive umbrella protects the commander’s tactical lines of communication from enemy air attack, thereby allowing supporting functional and multifunctional sustainment elements to keep pace with the operation. The commander must plan how to rapidly resupply air and missile defense missiles as they are used and protect launch locations from interference from enemy ground attack. The commander must also allow for adjustments in the priority of protection assigned to different elements during the exploitation.

4-35. The commander must anticipate the exploitation and ensure that the sustainment plan supports the force all the way to the LOA. Planning for sustainment in the exploitation includes designating future main supply routes (MSRs), logistics release points, maintenance collection points, casualty collection points, medical treatment facilities, ambulance exchange points, and prisoner of war collection points. In sustaining the exploitation, petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL) consumption and vehicle maintenance are primary concerns of sustainment planners. A significant factor is that an exploiting force tends to travel on a broad front, which may necessitate designating one or more lateral MSRs to handle the dispersion. Sustainment operators must be prepared to bound their sustainment assets farther forward and move them more often than in an attack. Commanders consider in their planning the amount of military logistics and health support needed by the civilian population of the AO beyond what the civilian sector can provide for itself during an exploitation. It is the commander’s decision, after being informed by the staff, as to how much the provision of such support should be allowed to impact on the conduct of the exploitation.

4-36. Selecting a flexible MSR is critical because it must be able to respond to changes in the direction of the exploitation. Maintaining the MSR is a responsibility of the force engineers. During planning, the commander must specifically address the control of sustainment unit positioning and convoys. The tactical commander calls supporting as well as organic sustainment units forward and redirects them as needed. Low tactical echelon commanders may have to plan for guides to assist the movement of these sustainment assets around bypassed enemy positions and obstacles. The commander may assign some maneuver elements from the reserve an “on-order” mission to conduct echelon support area security to help protect echelon sustainment and other supporting elements or secure the MSR. The commander must also ensure adequate plans exist for controlling displaced civilians on the battlefield, so that they do not interfere with follow-on maneuver and support assets. This is a critical stability task that impacts exploitation operations.


4-37. An exploitation may be initiated on order or on reaching prescribed objectives or phase lines. Local and major exploitations require physical and mental aggressiveness to combat the friction of limited visibility, fatigue, bad weather, fratricide dangers, and the exhaustion associated with extended operations. An exploitation requires bold and aggressive reconnaissance, prompt use of firepower, and rapid employment of previously uncommitted units. Exploiting forces maneuver swiftly toward their objectives, sever enemy escape routes, and strike at enemy command posts, communications nodes, reserves, artillery, and functional and multifunctional support units to prevent the enemy from reorganizing an effective defense. Exploiting forces should be able to change direction on short notice. The commander supports exploiting forces with tactical air support, attack aviation, artillery fires, and electronic warfare. Units participating in exploitation apply the doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures appropriate for a unit of their size conducting a movement to contact and an attack.

4-38. To maintain sufficient forces to conduct exploitation, the commander must ensure that subordinates focus on the commander’s intent. They should not dissipate their combat power by seeking minor tactical successes or reducing inconsequential enemy forces. The aim is to reach the final objective with the maximum possible strength as rapidly as possible. The commander must provide exploiting forces with mobile sustainment, including air resupply, to move emergency lifts of POL and ammunition.

4-39. The transition from attack to exploitation may be so gradual that it is hardly distinguishable; it may also be abrupt. The abrupt transition may occur when a force uses large numbers of precision munitions, achieves surprise, or overwhelms a much weaker enemy force. Normally, the commander orders an exploitation after the force seizes or secures its objective. With adequate support, the commander can launch the exploitation with the initial assault or at any time after that, depending on the effects of the fires and the commander’s desires.

4-40. Since the exploitation takes advantage of previous success, forces previously allocated toward attacking enemy forces normally continue their ongoing activities. These activities include—

  • Attrition or defeat of enemy reserves before their commitment.
  • Destruction of enemy countermobility assets before their employment on a friendly avenue of advance for the exploiting force.
  • Disruption of enemy units attempting to reestablish a coherent defense.
  • Disruption of enemy sustaining operations.

This assumes the commander has accurate and timely intelligence to target these enemy actions.

4-41. Generally, as one part of the attacking force finishes clearing an objective, the commander orders the remaining elements to exploit that success. To accomplish this with minimal confusion, the commander must know where each subordinate and supporting element is and what combat formation each has adopted. If the commander has previously trained and rehearsed the force to change rapidly from one combat formation to another, to change missions, and to change the direction of advance, the commander can time the execution of such changes to maintain the initiative over an enemy.

4-42. The commander can also initiate exploitation upon the realization that the enemy force is having difficulty maintaining its position or cohesion. Updated intelligence is crucial to the commander, since it is difficult to accurately predict the exact conditions required to transition from an attack to exploitation. Therefore, the commander and subordinates watch the enemy’s defenses for indications of disintegration that may signal the opportunity to transition to exploitation. Such indicators include the following:

  • The threat or use of weapons of mass destruction by enemy forces, despite the probable U.S. retaliation, may signal impending enemy collapse.
  • Enemy reconnaissance intensifies.
  • Rearward movement increases, especially by fire support and reserves.
  • The enemy prepares to demolish or destroy facilities, installations, equipment, and supply stockpiles.
  • Various units intermix their vehicles and personnel in combat formations or march columns.
  • The number of prisoners captured increases significantly.
  • Enemy fire decreases in intensity and effectiveness.
  • Fires increase in one or more individual sectors of the front that do not appear to be synchronized with the developing situation and at a time when the amount of defensive fires appears to be decreasing.
  • Enemy resistance decreases considerably, or the enemy lacks any type of organized defense.
  • The amount of abandoned enemy war materiel encountered increases significantly.
  • Reports confirm the capture or absence of enemy leaders.
  • Friendly forces overrun enemy artillery, C2 facilities, and supply points.
  • Enemy units disintegrate and friendly companies and battalions can defeat enemy battalion- and brigade-sized units, respectively.

In any case, the commander ruthlessly exploits vulnerable enemy forces after weighing and accommodating the risks.

4-43. The commander has two general methods to exploit the unit’s battlefield success. The commander rapidly implements the method chosen. The first method is to exploit with committed forces. In this method, forces are committed to exploit their own success. This is extremely common at low tactical echelons, such as the battalion and below, at all points along the range of operations. This method is generally indicated when the attacking unit has accomplished its mission with minimum loss and is the force most readily available to continue the advance. It may become necessary to reorganize and resupply these forces while they are still moving to maintain the momentum of the exploitation.

4-44. The second method is to exploit with forces other than the unit that achieved the initial battlefield success. This other force may be the echelon reserve or specifically designated follow-and-support or follow-and-assume forces. In this method, this other force is committed by passing around, over, or through the forces that achieved the initial success. This method is generally indicated when the attacking echelon still has essential tasks to accomplish, is still actively engaged with enemy forces, or will require reorganization before it can continue the advance. This commonly occurs in exploitations by brigades and larger units.


4-45. The exploiting force must gain and maintain contact with the enemy. This is a critical aspect of local and major exploitations, since the enemy may be trying to break contact and distance itself from the friendly force to give enemy units time to recover. After a successful attack, the exploiting force must perform aggressive reconnaissance to both its front and flanks. The commander’s intent determines how much contact is required to maintain pressure on the enemy, compound the enemy’s disorganization, shatter the enemy’s will, and seize key or decisive terrain. As discussed in chapter 3, this reconnaissance effort must start almost immediately after an attacking unit seizes its objective. If the commander has dedicated reconnaissance assets, they are used to maintain enemy contact, observe the enemy’s movements, and search for weakly defended enemy positions. If those assets are not available, other maneuver units perform those reconnaissance tasks. While maintaining contact with the enemy, the reconnaissance force tries to locate enemy reserves, uncommitted forces, and blocking positions. This effort helps the exploiting force avoid being led into ambushes as the enemy seeks to recover the initiative by counterattacking.

4-46. When the previously assigned offensive mission is accomplished, units at all echelons push out their reconnaissance and security forces to discover whether the opportunity exists to initiate exploitation. At BCT and battalion echelons, these reconnaissance and security forces must gain and maintain enemy contact while remaining within the supporting range of their parent brigade or battalion.

4-47. The commander uses air reconnaissance to augment ground reconnaissance. The commander can employ aerial sensors, such as manned and unmanned aircraft systems, in advance of ground maneuver reconnaissance. This allows aerial observation of named and targeted areas of interest that facilitate the unit’s movement and cue the attack of high-payoff targets. Armed manned and unmanned aircraft can locate enemy positions and engage the enemy to disrupt the enemy’s movement and preparations. Aviation assets maintain constant contact and pressure on the enemy.


4-48. The commander’s decision to exploit presumes that the enemy has already been somewhat disrupted. The commander exploits to maintain or increase this disruption by preventing the enemy from reconstituting an effective defense. At the division and corps levels, the commander combines the effects of operations against enemy reserves and uncommitted forces with the rapid maneuver of ground maneuver forces to maintain this disruption. Attack helicopters can maneuver in front of exploiting ground maneuver forces to destroy high-payoff targets. The commander integrates fixed-wing aircraft into the fire plan for attacking these targets. Rapid advances by the exploiting force keep the enemy force off balance and degrade enemy intelligence and surveillance capabilities, thus providing some security from attack. The commander uses all available resources to maintain pressure on the enemy, using both overwhelming combat power and asymmetric weapon systems. The commander never allows the enemy an opportunity to recover from the initial blow. The exploiting force’s fire support system must deliver massed fires quickly to respond to any contingencies that arise during the exploitation.


4-49. As part of its shaping operations, an exploiting force has three goals in fixing an enemy force. First, it tries to break down the enemy’s combined arms organization by fixing enemy units in positions out of supporting distance of each other. This allows the exploiting force to defeat the enemy in detail. Second, the commander attacks out-of-contact enemy forces before they can adversely affect the exploitation. By attacking these enemy forces, the commander seeks to fix them in their current positions or force them to move to locations where they can be harmlessly contained until the exploiting force or a follow and support force can engage and defeat them. Third, it achieves a specific targeting effect—such as causing 15-percent casualties—that disrupts the enemy commander’s plan.


4-50. During an exploitation, the exploiting force maneuvers to maintain pressure on the enemy. Swift raids, thrusts, and envelopments prevent enemy reorganization. The commander can use any armored, Stryker, and mobile light infantry forces, such as airborne or air assault elements, to secure terrain objectives or choke points critical to the advance and to cut enemy lines of escape. The commander takes advantage of vertical envelopment capabilities to secure objectives critical to the advance and to cut enemy lines of escape. The exploiting force clears only enough of its AO to permit its advance. It cuts through enemy logistics units and lines of communications to seize objectives vital to the enemy’s defense. It attacks from the march to overrun weak enemy formations. In accordance with the bypass criteria, the exploiting force can contain and bypass those enemy pockets of resistance too small to jeopardize the mission while its commander reports these enemy forces to adjacent units, following units, and higher headquarters.

4-51. If an enemy unit is too strong for the leading elements of the exploiting force to overrun and destroy, succeeding elements of the force conduct a hasty attack based on the combat information provided by its leading elements. Such enemy forces are rarely attacked frontally. In almost all cases, the commander uses another form of maneuver to produce faster and better results with fewer casualties. While the exploiting force is seeking one or more assailable flanks, available fire support systems continue to engage the enemy to divert attention from the attempted envelopment and destroy as much enemy combat power as possible.

4-52. The exploiting force may face prepared belts of defensive positions in depth when it is exploiting the initial success of the attack. Therefore, the exploiting force must move rapidly to attack and destroy the enemy before enemy defending forces can settle into subsequent or supplemental positions. The faster the exploiting force moves, the less likely it is that succeeding defensive lines will be fully prepared and the less effort it will take to penetrate each successive defensive position. The exploiting force attacks and maneuvers as many times as necessary until it breaks completely through the enemy’s defenses.

4-53. The commander’s primary concern when initiating an exploitation resulting from a successful attack is to shift the force into the appropriate combat formation and task-organize it with additional capabilities and resources to take advantage of a short window of opportunity. The commander must control the formation as it moves and prevent its overextension. The commander must anticipate the enemy’s reactions to friendly actions. The real danger to the exploiting force is not the immediate enemy, but the enemy not yet engaged. Overextension is a risk inherent in exploitation. While commanders avoid overextension, they must also guard against being overcautious.

4-54. During an exploitation, the commander often surrounds or bypasses enemy units. Surrender appeals and ultimatums are particularly effective when directed against enemy units that have been surrounded, isolated, or bypassed. JP 3-13.2 and FM 3-53 detail ways for communicating with the enemy.

4-55. While the exploiting force is conducting its operations, the follow and support force, if available—

  • Widens or secures the shoulders of a penetration.
  • Destroys bypassed enemy units.
  • Relieves supported units that have halted to contain enemy forces.
  • Blocks the movement of enemy reinforcements.
  • Opens and secures lines of communications.
  • Guards prisoners, key areas, seized enemy bases and installations, and lines of communication.
  • Controls dislocated civilians.


4-56. Once the exploitation begins, friendly forces quickly move to attack enemy forces. The exploitation continues around the clock, so the enemy cannot escape the relentless offensive pressure. The exploiting force retains terrain only as necessary to accomplish its mission. The commander must be careful not to dissipate combat power to achieve minor tactical successes or to reduce small enemy forces. Once the exploiting force reaches the LOA, the commander quickly shifts attention to reconnaissance and surveillance, countermobility, and protection because of the possibility of an enemy counterattack.

4-57. At some point a unit conducting an exploitation reaches a culminating point or transitions to a pursuit. Culmination can occur for a variety of reasons, such as friendly losses or the enemy’s commitment of a reserve. The commander, when making an assessment that the force is approaching culmination, should transition to another type of operation. For example, a pursuit enables the commander to complete the enemy’s destruction.

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