Indirect Fire in a Counter Insurgency Environment. Part 2- Counter Measures

As discussed in the first part of this article Indirect Fire is a preferred weapon and tactic of insurgent groups and due to the presence of the necessary weapon systems and the operational system is coming into further prevalence in the North East Nigeria/ Lake Chad operational area.

Enemy IDF weapon systems were identified as;

Ser Weapon Type Max Range Ammunition Carriage
1 OTO Melara 105mm Light Gun Artillery piece 10,0000m HE, Smoke, Illum Vehicle, pack animal, man pack (in pieces)
2 81mm mortar Mortar 5,600m HE, Smoke, Illum Vehicle, pack animal, man pack
3 60mm mortar Mortar 3,800m HE, Smoke, Illum Vehicle, pack animal, man pack
4 T55 Main Battle Tank 2,500m AT, HE, Smoke, Illum Self propelled
5 Vickers Eagle Mk3 Main Battle Tank  4,000m AT, HE, AP, Smoke, Canister, Illum Self propelled
6 ERC 90 Sagaie AFV Armoured Fighting Vehicle 1,660m HE, AT, AP Self propelled
7 23-4 AAA Gun Anti Aircraft 7,000m HE, AP Vehicle mounted
8 14.5mm AAA gun Anti Aircraft 4,000m Ball, Tracer Vehicle mounted
9 12.7mm DshK Heavy Machine Gun 2,500m Ball, Tracer Vehicle mounted, pack animal, man pack
10 40mm Handheld Automatic Grenade Launcher Grenade launcher 400m HE, AP, Smoke Vehicle, pack animal, man pack
11 RPG7 Grenade launcher 900m HE, AT, AP Vehicle, pack animal, man pack
12 Improvised indirect fire weapons systems Not known Not known Not known


Military: military targets include bases, checkpoints, fighting positions, vehicles and lines of communication

Civilian: targets include built up areas, bridges and markets

Tactics and procedures: there is insufficient public information to assess

Stages of an IDF Attack

Preparation: involves Target selection, reconnaissance of target and firing point and weapon and ammunition preparation.

The Approach: involves moving the weapons system, personnel and ammunition from storage or laying up point to the firing point.

Deployment: involves preparing a weapon for firing.

The Attack: involves firing the weapon at the target.

Break down: involves preparing the weapon for transportation.

Withdrawal: involves moving the weapon system from the firing point to storage (or another firing point)

Storage: involves concealing the weapon from discovery in preparation for future use.

Counter IDF Measures

Countering indirect fire is like countering IEDs and can be categorised by the following stages

  • Prediction
  • Detection
  • Protection
  • Reaction
  • Exploitation

Prediction: the ability to predict if an IDF attack is likely, the type and location will significantly aid the counter IDF effort. This is an intelligence led effort with various streams such as:

Weapons Intelligence: this involves establishing the enemies IDF capabilities, such as type and quantity of weapon systems, availability of ammunition, availability of skilled/ trained operators, the mobility of system, the enemies’ ability to maintain/ repair the weapon system.

Enemy analysis: it is important to have an understanding of the enemy. If IDF is used or strategic attacks then that helps inform targeting, if it is considered a prestige weapon it is unlikely to be used without a higher enemy commander’s permission or only when he is presents

Threat analysis: the likelihood of an IDF attack can be assessed by analysing likely targets, ease and manner of attack and likely outcomes.

Terrain analysis: as in all aspects of combat the ground dictates a lot of factors. Roads, rivers, bridges, forests, hills etc are all useful from an IDF point of view. Artillery and mortars can be fired from behind hills, forests can be used to screen firing points, caves can be used to store weapons or ammunition, roads (and their motor ability) determine which type of vehicle, or weapons can be transported on them.

Enemy communications: the presence of certain IDF weapons system such as MBTs, 105s, Shilkas etc could be considered prestige weapons which the enemy would either boast about or else try and maintain tight control thus increasing radio or phone traffic, use of unfamiliar code words and so on.

Equipment loss: after any action honest reports about enemy actions, including the capture of weapons and ammunition, direction of travel etc are necessary. The sooner these reports are prioritised and passed up the chain of command, the better understanding there will be of the enemies’ capabilities. It is also important that the information is shared down the chain as well so other friendly commanders can react. A doctrine of either destroying or denying equipment that has to be abandoned or else immediately following up with air strikes or artillery on bases that have been over run would also prevent more weapons falling into enemy hands.

Damage assessment: after any IDF attack a thorough analysis of the impact site will help ascertain the type of weapon and ammunition used which in turn helps improve enemy weapons intelligence.

Detection: there are a wide variety of methods by which indirect fire can be detected, these include:

Acoustic location: this involves identifying the IDF firing point from the sound of the weapons system firing. This involves an array of microphones several metres (or kilometres) apart, which detect the sound of the weapon firing, the difference in time taken for the same sound to reach the microphones can be used to calculate the range and bearing of the enemy weapon system. This system has the advantage of being cheap, passive and difficult to detect. However it’s accuracy is affected by with wind, temperature, altitude, fog/ dust storms, and geographical features such as valleys, forests and hills which affect sound waves, it is purely reactionary, working only when the enemy fires the weapon system. The connection between the microphones and receiver/ processor if wired or wireless is subject to interference or damage. Although supplanted by radar, modern systems can accurately identify weapons firing up to 15km away.

Aerial reconnaissance: manned or unmanned aircraft can be used to identify IDF weapon systems at all stages of the IDF firing process. As well as the human eye a wide variety of sensors from cameras (thermal, infra red, still, video) to radar can be used to simultaneously scan a wide area.

This is one of the most useful tools for detecting IDF as aircraft can not only carry a wide array of sensors and cover a large area, but can also carry weapons thus armed aircraft can detect and attack IDF weapon systems or firing positions immediately they are identified, even unarmed aircraft can call in fires or guide ground troops to destroy or interdict an IDF weapon system. However all aircraft are expensive to operate and are vulnerable to being shot down or damaged. It is possible to defeat most sensors, even very sophisticated ones using very basic substances such as mud, alternative heat sources etc.

Sensors: The use of remote sensors such as cameras mounted on balloons, retractable poles, remote infra red, acoustic or thermal sensors. Remote sensors can be placed several kilometres from the receiver, providing early warning to operators whilst, cameras high above bases or vulnerable points provide constant overwatch. These systems range in price and efficiency but are a useful way of detecting IDF.

Flash spotting: This is the most basic method of detection and involves spotting the muzzle flash, smoke or dust cloud produced by firing the weapon and taking a compass bearing to it to calculate where it is and also timing how long it takes between spotting the flash and hearing the sound (to calculate range) for improved accuracy this should be done from more than one position, so an intersection of various points can be derived. This is a cheap and easy method that can be used by an ordinary soldier as well as civilians.

Radar: radar is used to detect incoming projectiles and can be used to calculate the projectiles launch point. These systems detect the projectile and the processors calculate the likely launch point. Systems can detect IDF up to 40km away. As they are actively generating radio waves they can be easily detected by any force with a moderate electronic warfare capability, however this is not really issue in a COIN environment. Although there are lightweight, man portable variants the longer range ones are heavy, vehicle mounted or towed and require a well trained crew to operate and maintain them. They also only work when the weapon system has actually fired, however they are the most accurate way of detecting IDF.

Observation Posts (OPs): observation posts can either consist of overt fortified structures within friendly territory or covert, camouflaged hides in contested or enemy territory. The latter would deploy as small long range patrols using stealth, darkness and skill to infiltrate deep into enemy areas, dig in and observe. These patrols will be looking for firing points, weapons caches, ammunition caches, enemy communications, commanders, supply routes etc, using binoculars, thermal or night vision devices, cameras etc. The information they pass back can be used to build up an intelligence picture, prepare defences and counter measures as well as call in air or artillery strikes on firing positions or weapons caches or guide in ground troops for an assault. OPs can be used to penetrate difficult terrain where aerial surveillance or remote sensors are not successful such as towns, swamps, forests, hills and mountains, this method is relatively cheap but still resource intensive as long range recce troops need to be specially trained and need dedicated resources to sustain them in the field.

Protection: once an IDF threat is identified then steps must be taken to reduce the damage or casualties an attack can cause. The level of protection depends on the target and likelihood of attack. Two elements to consider in protecting a target against IDF are Deterrence and Hardening.

Deterrence: aggressive patrols around the target area as far as the maximum range of the suspected weapon system are key to deterring an IDF attack. These patrols can include OPs and standing patrols to observe likely firing points or approach routes, ambushes against likely firing points or approach routes, fighting patrols to destroy IDF teams and weapons caches, aerial patrols to provide observation and remote sensing to detect the weapons system or firers. The more aggressive and robust a counter IDF patrol matrix is the more likely the firers will observe this on their own recce (or be deterred, killed or captured). Unless that target is key to their operations it is likely they would minimise their risk of failure and seek other targets.

Hardening: involves making structures more difficult to destroy or damage with IDF. This involves burying vulnerable stores like fuel, gas, ammunition or other explosive or flammable substances underground with reinforced overhead protection, ensuring high value weapons systems such as artillery, aircraft, tanks etc are widely dispersed when parked and/ under hard cover or underground. Ensuring that all buildings have bomb shelters which can resist a direct hit, trenches are dug in zig zags so that the effect of a shell bursting in the trench is restricted. This can also extend to ensuring troops only travel in armoured vehicles when in areas of high IDF threat. For civilians similar measures can be imposed in high IDF risk areas such as ensuring every house has a trench or bomb shelter, public buildings such as schools, offices, hospitals etc. have large bomb shelters and run regular evacuation drills, fuel, gas and other flammables are stored below ground, fire fighting equipment is easily to hand.

Reaction: once a target comes under IDF attack, it is important people know how to react. Running around aimlessly simply presents more targets. Generally there are a few seconds warning of an IDF attack from the sound of the shell ripping through the air or the sound of the weapon itself. A warning should be given and everyone gets into some form of shelter. If there is insufficient time to get into a shelter then the least worst alternative is to lie face down, flat on the ground covering head with arms. For soldiers in a high risk area, it should be Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to always have helmet and body armour to hand at all time, for civilians in a high risk area, they must practice reactions and be confident with what to do. For military targets those soldiers unfortunate enough to be on guard duty will need to try and identify the firing point (flash spotting as above), where the shells fall and how many. If civilians are trained to try and identify firing points by simple reference points, then useful post attack intelligence can be derived.

Exploitation: retaliating against IDF attacks makes the cost of initiating them worse than the benefits. This can be done by:

Counter bombardment: an immediate counter strike on known or suspected firing points will ensure that when the enemy attacks they will try to do so as quickly as possible. This need for haste will mean they fire less rounds, are generally less accurate (as they can’t spend a long time adjusting fire) and are more likely to make mistakes or leave clues. Counter bombardment is only useful if the firing point is known and hit while the enemy is there. Insurgents can counter this tactic firing a few rounds and changing position or leaving, firing from populated areas or using timed or remotely operated IDF weapon systems.

Follow up: involves an immediate follow up of an IDF attack by air or ground forces against the firing point or withdrawal route. Even if the attackers escape tracking them relentlessly again with air or ground forces might cause them to either abandon the weapon and flee or turn and fight and thus be destroyed.

Site analysis: a proper follow up includes treating the firing points like a crime scene and looking for clues. Intelligence gathered and fed back to the intelligence cell, aids the prediction stage which in turn helps resources to be used more efficiently. Nothing left on site by the enemy is too mundane to be considered.


The enemy had a potent IDF capability a lot of which has been destroyed or captured, whilst they had it they did not demonstrate any particular pattern of use, using them to support attacks or as a terror weapon against peaceful civilians or for harassing fire against military positions.

Despite losing most of their artillery, MBTs, AAA weapons and mortars the enemy still has the capability to mount IDF attacks as well as the motivation as it loses territory and seeks weak points to strike back at.

Although the most deadly and long range weapons in the enemy’s armoury were the 105mm OTO Meleras, MBTs and AFV’s, these weapons were always a finite and diminishing resource as the struggle to obtain fuel, lubricant, spares and ammunition for these weapon systems would render them large chunks of pointless metal.

This leaves the DshKs, RPGs and mortars. All these weapons are common enough for ammunition to be purchased in the arms market or captured in combat. They are small, light and portable, meaning they can be rapidly deployed, used and hidden.

If we use this theory we can assume that most attacks will take place within 500m to 6,000m from the target, can be sustained and could make use of the portability of the weapon to use multiple firing points.

To defeat this threat requires an intense intelligence effort to enable Prediction of enemy capabilities and intentions in order to defeat them at the Preparation and Approach stage of the IDF cycle.

The products from the Prediction phase will help identify which targets need to be Protected and how to best direct deterrent actions.

If the enemy manages to launch an attack then it is important that the firing points are detected quickly and accurately, the nature of the threat does not require complex expensive equipment, for major installations that are threatened by IDF could have counter IDF radar or acoustic locators, however against a mobile enemy with portable weapon systems, patrols and OPs are an effective counter.


Indirect fire weapons have featured in all Nigerian conflicts and this one is no exception. The enemies’ use of the weapon was not pernicious or innovative when they occupied territory and felt they were in the ascendant.

In the current operational environment where the enemy is seeking to inflict casualties particularly against civilians and achieve easy victories, IDF could become increasingly important to the enemy, it is thus imperative that counter measures are lined up in preparation.


About peccavi

A Nigerian with interests in defence, security, geopolitics, the military particularly small unit tactics, COIN, stabilisation and asymmetric warfare
This entry was posted in Counter insurgency, Defence, Nigeria Defence, Nigeria Strategy, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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