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"A Graduated Response"
in Military Operations Other Than War

by SFC John Williams, SETAF Lion Bde Fire Support NCO

Situation: The country of Coriland has been going through civil unrest for the past four months. Guerrilla forces have taken three major cities and are now attacking the seat of government. An Airborne Infantry company has been deployed to conduct a noncombatant evacuation operation in a possible hostile environment at the request of the U.S. Ambassador. The company has just landed on the landing zone (LZ) and has begun movement toward the U.S. Embassy. Along the route, the lead platoon encounters a crowd of demonstrators numbering well over 300.

The platoon leader immediately directs his attached tactical psychological operations (PSYOP) team (TPT) to broadcast the U.S. intent and approved psychological message to the crowd. The crowd begins to yell louder and move toward the platoon. Realizing that the situation is beginning to escalate and that the crowd now has become a threat to his mission, the platoon leader directs his men to place their weapons at the ready and has the lead squad chamber a round.

The TPT immediately escalates its message to warnings. The warnings inform the crowd that U.S. forces will use whatever force necessary to accomplish their mission and defend themselves. An attached interpreter is finally able to start a conversation with the apparent leader of the crowd. The leader makes it clear that his people will not clear the way. They have no intention of letting the U.S. force pass. They fear that if the Americans are evacuated, their government will collapse and they will be left fearing for their lives from the guerillas.

Twenty or so demonstrators from the crowd form a line in front of the U.S. force. They are carrying axes, machetes, and clubs. The platoon leader has been constantly reporting to his higher headquarters. Higher headquarters dispatches a UH60 with an airborne loud speaker (ALS) to the scene. The UH60 hovers over the crowd. The ALS broadcasts a warning to the crowd. It is specifically directed at the armed civilians. The crowd wavers, but does not disperse.

By this time, the company commander is on site. In conjunction with the interpreter and TPT, he decides to demonstrate his company's capability. He uses a non-infrared (ir) laser pointer to place a spot on a vehicle away from civilians.

He has the interpreter direct the crowd's attention toward the vehicle and orders his sniper to shoot at the laser spot. The crowd immediately relents. The commander directs his force to move forward in "crowd control" wedge formation. The force eventually makes it to the objective with no loss of life or hostile situation.

The increase in conducting operations other than war (OOTW), such as stability operations in Bosnia, noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) in Africa, and humanitarian assistance in Haiti, has identified a need to establish procedures for graduating military responses to situations which threaten mission accomplishment. Numerous graduated response matrices (GRMs) and other products exist throughout the military community. These products graphically portray available responses in a graduated manner. Their intent is to give "on-site" commanders a list of options to diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand. There are numerous hostile and non-hostile threats in the military operations other than war (MOOTW) environment. Most can be eliminated without loss of life or collateral damage by effectively applying the resources available.

The Southern European Task Force's Lion Brigade (SLB) has developed a graduated response matrix (GRM) that could be very beneficial to other military units facing OOTW missions. It is unique because it effectively integrates non-lethal and lethal responses in a graduated manner, all in accordance with the rules of engagement. This article will show the requirements for a GRM, how the SLB developed its GRM, a discussion of each category and response, and how to use the GRM to conduct graduated response training.



Step 1. Identify the need for a GRM. This is done during the mission analysis portion of the military decisionmaking process (MDMP). Missions that require soldiers and units to enforce treaties or accords, protect the lives of civilians in uncertain to hostile environments (such as NEO), or provide large-scale humanitarian assistance will probably require some sort of graduated response to maintain order and prevent uncertain environments from becoming hostile. Not all missions will require a GRM. The decision to use a GRM requires careful consideration. Once the staff has agreed that a GRM will be necessary, it requires guidance from the commander regarding response options available. The appropriate responses are determined based on the facts, assumptions, and constraints or limitations identified during mission analysis.

Planners (staff) must clearly agree on the intent of the GRM. The GRM can be used as a training and rehearsal tool. It provides leaders with "most likely" vignettes that can be incorporated into course-of-action analyses, pre-deployment training, and rehearsals. The GRM is also an important reference during situations which require graduated or escalated responses.

Step 2. Establish a team to develop the GRM. In a recent Joint Task Force training exercise, the SLB established a team. It was headed by the Fire Support Element (FSE). It included the Brigade Legal Officer, a PSYOP representative, and a Land Information Warfare or Information Operations Officer. This team composition allows for target selection, application of the rules of engagement, and attack using both lethal and non-lethal means.

Step 3. Develop Targets. The FSE, in conjunction with the S2 section, develops targets for both lethal and non-lethal attack. In the case of stability operations, these targets are usually not the conventional specific point or piece of equipment on the ground. They are more situational than specific. The GRM team must identify situations or acts that subordinate elements could face during the mission. The example GRM (Figure 1, page 6) shows three possible situations or "acts" that on-site commanders could expect to encounter. From the targeting standpoint, these are groups of more specific targets.

During mission analysis, the fire support officer (FSO) identifies both non-lethal and lethal assets available to his unit. A TPT attached to the unit is an example of a non-lethal attack asset which is often overlooked. Some examples of what the FSO should be looking for are:

  • Riot control agents (RCAs)
  • TPTs
  • EW assets
  • Civil Affairs (CA) Team
  • Information Operations (IO) Team
  • Artillery smoke rounds
  • Aircraft (AH-64s, OH-58Ds, AC130)
  • Mortars

The lethal assets described could very well execute a non-lethal show of force or demonstration and diffuse a situation before it requires a lethal attack. The critical element of this mission analysis by the FSO is not to focus solely on lethal attack assets. In stability operations, it is to prevent acts of hostility first, and then to be prepared to execute a lethal attack if the situation arises.

The FSO will then use the planning guidance given at the end of the mission analysis brief and list his responses at the top of the form (Figure 1). Responses can graduate from command presence through show of force, demonstration, and the use of RCA agents and techniques to lethal attack using snipers, small arms, AC130, and indirect fires.

Step 4. Staff Coordination. This is the point where the rest of the GRM team comes together to complete the escalation sequence for each response. PSYOP and legal representatives are critical attendees during the escalation sequencing process. In the area of PSYOP, the TPT must exploit the effects of all responses.

EXAMPLE: A crowd gathers in front of U.S. forces conducting an operation. The on-site commander, in conjunction with the TPT, sends a message to the crowd that is consistent with the IO campaign. This does not work. The unit then distributes information handbills or leaflets in the native language. The TPT then exploits those messages and reinforces with another pre-planned message. (Task Force Eagle (TFE) applied this type of non-lethal response to the riot at Lukavak during Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR.) The TFE leadership on the ground became involved in a situation where approximately 100 personnel, many holding sticks and rocks, were blocking a convoy route. By effectively using a Civil Affairs Team, an interpreter, and the local police, the TFE leadership was able to prevent escalated violence and, above all, accomplish their mission. The tactics, techniques, and procedures of face-to-face communication, use of a loud speaker system, and clear message content are clearly the first steps in preventing situations from turning hostile and endangering the mission.

The legal officer evaluates each escalation option and response to ensure it is consistent with the ROE. The GRM must be designed to recommend applications of force consistent with the ROE, yet not limit the leader or individual soldier's right to self-defense. The SLB graduated response matrix shows clearly that if hostile intent or a hostile act occurs, lethal options will be first and foremost.

In the case of lethal responses, the commander's guidance must again be applied. In the example, lethal responses were only allowed in self-defense. Additionally, there were five conditions that had to be met for release of lethal AC130 or indirect fires. In all lethal responses the use of the TPT and PSYOP message to exploit the effects of the lethal attack was critical in trying to get the situation back to the non-lethal or less threatening side.

Step 5. Wargame. Once the escalations for each response are determined and annotated, the GRM must then be wargamed. The staff must walk through each act or situation from the on-site commander's standpoint.

EXAMPLE: In the opening vignette, the SLB team ran across an issue with the use of riot control (RC) agents against armed groups with firearms. During the wargame, the SLB team decided that using RC agents against a well-armed threat could incite precisely the escalation in the situation it was trying to avoid, thereby violating the commander's guidance.

EXAMPLE: TFE soldiers reported that approximately 300 Muslims had gathered at a bridge near the town of Doboj. Several hundred Serbs, many armed with axes and knives, were also gathering. The Serbs intended to prevent the Muslims from entering the town. The crowds became hostile, particularly the Serbs. TFE soldiers were ordered to fire warning shots into the air. These shots had little to no effect. Previous or past tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) indicated that civilians in Bosnia were accustomed to weapons being fired in the air during celebrations. Shots fired safely on the ground in front of the hostile crowd (a demonstration of force) proved much more effective. Subsequently, TFE employed helicopters (rotor wash) to separate the crowds. This was a clear example of escalating non-lethal force to diffuse a potentially hostile situation.

Using the SLB method of wargaming the GRM, it is possible that the use of warning shots in the air would have been deemed ineffective and an alternative response could have been created (warning shots on the ground in front of crowds). This is only an example and is not intended to critique the TFE responses, but rather to build on previous TTP.

Step 6. Command Approval. Once the GRM is wargamed, it must be submitted to the commander for approval. This is the final check to ensure the GRM team has applied the commander's guidance correctly and met his intent.

Step 7. Distribution. The SOP dictates how the GRM is issued. The SLB issues the GRM as an appendix to the FS annex. The FSO briefs it during the operations order. The final product is also issued as a 5x8" (or smaller) card. The GRM is printed on one side and the ROE on the other. This provides leaders at all levels a pocket-sized reference. Use caution when producing the GRM cards to ensure that they are readable day and night (not too small).


GRM Training. Units should develop a GRM that covers any number of situations. It should include various responses and escalations for each response. The finished product should drive graduated response training at least down to squad level.

TECHNIQUE: Develop situational training exercises (STXs). STX lanes give leaders at all levels an opportunity to deal with OOTW situations. STX lanes teach leaders how to react to different situations in a graduated, or escalated, manner.

EXAMPLE: One platoon (or squad for platoon training) can serve as a hostile or non-hostile crowd, while the other two platoons deal with the situation IAW the GRM. This training should be integrated into the RAMP (Return fire, Anticipate attack, Measure your force, Protect only lives with deadly force) ROE training model (CALL Newsletter No. 96-6, May 96, ROE Training). The GRM becomes the tool to rehearse each of the RAMP rules.

This training also reduces reliance on the reference card. This, in turn, allows for more rapid responses IAW the commander's guidance. The fact is that if you do not train as you will be required to fight, you will suffer the consequences when "The Real Situation" occurs. For the infantry company or platoon, this type of training should be included as battle drill training. It is truly a battle drill that they will be required to execute in the OOTW environment.


Proper planning and preparation lead to successful execution. But staffs at all levels must not only understand the GRM. They must also anticipate requirements within the escalated response. For example, in the opening vignette, the UH60 airborne loudspeaker system (ALS) would have to be launched by the SLB during different periods of the operation. Anticipating this response by making sure the aircraft and crew are ready saves time for the on-site commander.


The graduated response matrix is clearly a valuable tool in stability and support operations. Units operating in OOTW environments must be able to employ effective non-lethal and lethal responses to control situations, maintain tactical initiative, and eliminate both hostile and non-hostile threats to the mission. Unit commanders should view this as a way to prevent unwanted hostile situations, save lives, and ultimately contribute to successful mission accomplishment.


Threat: Any person, group, action, or event that would cause a commander to fail to achieve the specified end state and, therefore, mission.

Show of Force: An operation, designed to demonstrate U.S. resolve, that involves increased visibility of U.S. deployed forces in an attempt to diffuse a specific situation which, if allowed to continue, may be detrimental to U.S. interests or national objectives.

Demonstration of Force: Stability and Support Operations ((SASO). An operation by military forces in sight of an actual or potential enemy to show military capabilities.

Figure 1