Fire Commands (US)

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Fire Commands as used by ground and infantry units of the US Army and other US Armed Forces, are the technical instructions used to initiate fires and can be used for individuals, crews, or units. Fire commands are used to initiate, control, and synchronize fires. The fire command procedure takes the principles of direct fire employment and puts them into a coherent, usable format.

There are two types of commands: initial fire commands (issued to commence firing); and subsequent fire commands (issued to change firing data and to cease firing). The elements of both commands follow the same sequence. Subsequent commands include only such elements that are changed. A correct fire command is brief, clear, and includes all the elements necessary for accomplishing the mission. Fire commands are sent to the firing unit or gunner by the best understood means (visually or vocally). To limit errors in transmission, the person receiving the commands repeats each element as it is received.

Fire commands for direct fire weapons consist of six elements: alert, location, target description, method of engagement, ammunition, and execution. When and how the leader issues a fire command is not as important as covering the information in the fire command with his subordinates. Frequently, especially at the fire team and crew-served weapon level, leaders use the elements of a fire command without adhering to a strict format. The point is not that the leader adheres to a format, but that he maintains positive control over his subordinates’ fires. However, using a more formal approach to fire commands usually provides more clarity and certainty for Soldiers and crews.

Elements of a Fire Command

Fire commands consist of:

  • Alert: The leader designates which weapon(s) is to fire by weapon type, Soldier’s position, or Soldier’s name.
  • Location: The leader guides the Soldier onto the target.
  • Target Description The leader identifies the target. For multiple targets, he also tells which target to engage first. If applicable this includes the range to target.
  • Method of Engagement: The leader tells the Soldier how to deliver the fire onto the target.
  • Ammunition: The leader tells the Soldier which ammunition to use if munitions are other than HE (this applies to M203 only) or when other weapon systems are used.
  • Execution (Time): The leader reconfirms that the target is hostile, then gives an execution command.

The full fire command is given when targets are not obvious and sufficient time is available to issue a full order. Brief fire commands are given when the target is obvious and time is limited. Delayed fire commands are used when the leader can anticipate what is going to happen. The Soldier or unit gets ready to fire but waits until the right moment before opening fire. Subsequent fire commands are used to make adjustments in direction and elevation, change rates of fire after a fire mission is in progress, interrupt fires, or to terminate the alert.

Terms and Techniques

The following list of terms and techniques clarify the different elements of the fire command.


Leaders can use one or more of the following methods to assist Soldiers in locating and distinguishing between targets:

  • Use of Laser/Tracer: (“On my laser/tracer.”) To prevent loss of surprise when using tracer to designate targets, the leader’s tracer fire becomes the last element of the fire command.
  • The Clock Method: An imaginary clock face is superimposed on the landscape with 12 o’clock being the direction of travel.
  • The TRP Method: The leader uses the closest, easily-recognizable point on the ground.
  • Cardinal Direction: Uses general compass directions (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, and NW).
  • Pointing: The leader points his finger or weapon in the general direction of the target.
  • Orally: The leader gives the direction to the target in relation to the Soldier’s position (for example, front, left front, right front).

In defensive operations, the team leader and weapons squad leader use existing features as TRPs, or they can emplace specially-made markers. The Soldier captures these TRPs and sectors on a range card. In offensive operations, leaders normally predetermine location for TRPs and sectors based on the scheme of maneuver of the platoon leader or commander. These TRPs and sectors are useful for planning. However, the team leader/weapons squad leader must confirm them once they actually get on the ground.

Target Description

The most natural way for a leader to control his subordinates’ fire when in contact is to simply describe the intended target(s). There are several terms used to shortcut the process, though leaders can use whatever means possible to ensure understanding. To shorten the target description, the team leader or weapons squad leader describes standard targets with standard procedure words.

Target Announced As
Tank or Tank-Like Target "TANK"
Unarmored Vehicle "TRUCK"
Personnel Carrier (PC) "PC"
Helicopter "CHOPPER"
Machine Gun "MACHINE GUN"
Sniper "SNIPER"
AT Gun or Missile "AT WEAPON"
RPG Gunner "RPG"
Trench "TRENCH"
Bunker "BUNKER"
Urban Structures "DOOR, WINDOW, ROOM"
Other Targets Use the briefest term possible to clearly describe the target to the firer.

Where applicable the estimated or determined range to target is announced after the description.

Method of Engagement

The leader uses control to convey how he wants the target attacked. Common forms of this element of the fire command are:

  • Rates of Fire: When changing rates, the leader needs only indicate rapid, sustained, or scan/watch and shoot.
  • Machine Gun Manipulation: Manipulation dictates the class of fire with respect to the weapon and is announced as FIXED, TRAVERSE, SEARCH, or TRAVERSE AND SEARCH.


The leader uses one of the following orders to initiate fires:

  • Fire: The default rate of fire is at the sustained rate. The command to fire can occur in more than one form, including:
    • Pre-arranged visual signal.
    • Pre-arranged event.
    • Pre-arranged audio signal.
  • Rapid Fire: Open fire at the rapid rate.
  • Watch and Shoot: Fire when targets appear in the designated sector.
  • At My Command: Be prepared to fire but do not initiate until the order to fire is given.


See Also

Reference & Links

  • FM 3-21.8 - The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad (2007)