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News | June 14, 2021

Kill Box Update

By By Col (Ret) David Neuenswander, USAF, Mr Bo Bielinski, Col (Ret) Russ Smith, USAF Air Land Sea Application Center

Article Originally Published in September 2008

Although kill boxes have been employed using various procedures since Desert Storm, recent attempts to refine kill box tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) may have generated confusion within the Services and the joint community.  At the July 2008 Air Land Sea Application (ALSA) Center Joint Working Group (JWG) conducted to revise Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (MTTP) for Kill Box Employment, senior US Army and US Air Force doctrine representatives agreed to write this article to clarify the way ahead for this publication.  This discussion outlines a brief history of kill boxes, an explanation of the Joint Fires Area (JFA) concept, and the way forward for the Kill Box MTTP publication revision.

During Desert Storm the air component employed kill boxes as a way to conduct air interdiction against enemy ground forces and mobile targets beyond the fire support coordination line (FSCL).  Kill boxes were defined as 30 degree by 30 degree grids on the map, which translated to 30 NM in length and something slightly less in width depending on how far north or south of the equator the kill box was located.  Kill boxes primarily served as airspace coordinating measures (ACMs) to deconflict and control aircraft conducting air interdiction.  US Air Force killer scouts provided target information and deconflicted aircraft assigned to specific kill boxes.  In the absence of a theater-wide area reference system, kill boxes were often employed to expedite aircraft from one area to another beyond the FSCL.

Kill boxes remained 30 by 30 grids during operations in Kosovo and during the initial operations in Afghanistan.  In 2002, United States Central Command Air Forces (USCENTAF) created Kill Box Interdiction-Close Air Support (KICAS) procedures prior to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF).  KICAS procedures labeled all 30 by 30 grids in the joint operations area (JOA) as kill boxes.  For the first time, these kill boxes could be further subdivided into nine 10 NM by 10 NM keypads.  In the KICAS TTP, air interdiction was conducted in an “open” kill box.  When a kill box was “open” the land component would not allow surface-to-surface indirect fires into the area above a previously coordinated altitude.  If a kill box was not open, it could be used for any type of activity.  Since all 30 by 30 grids were called kill boxes, a kill box became a defacto area reference system.

During numerous post-OIF after-action conferences and reports, the joint community developed a number of recommendations for the future employment of kill boxes.  Some of the major recommendations were:

  1. A kill box should be defined as a fire support coordination measure (FSCM) rather than an ACM.
  2. Kill boxes should only be employed for interdiction and not as an area reference system (e.g., don’t send an aircraft to a kill box unless they are supposed to kill something).
  3. A separate area reference system should be developed to assist the joint force with FSCMs and ACMs and the reference system should allow areas with smaller divisions than 10 NM by 10 NM.
  4. There should be two types of kill boxes: one which integrates air-to-surface fires with surface-to-surface indirect fires and one which only allows air-to-surface fires.
  5. There was discussion that the term “kill box” was too barbaric and that the Department of Defense should develop another term. Ultimately, the subject matter experts attending the Kill Box JWGs pressed on with kill box as the accepted term.

ALSA sponsored the Kill Box TTP development process resulting in the initial publication of the Kill Box MTTP in June 2005.  This new publication included the following major concepts:

  1. For the first time, kill boxes were identified as FSCMs.
  2. Kill boxes are established and adjusted by component commanders in consultation with superior, subordinate, supporting, and affected commanders, and they are an extension of existing support relationships established by the joint force commander.
  3. There were two types of kill boxes, blue and purple.
    1. Blue kill boxes permitted air-to-surface fires in the kill box without further coordination with the establishing headquarters.
    2. Purple kill boxes integrated air-to-surface fires in the kill box (usually with an altitude restriction) with surface-to-surface indirect fires (usually with a maximum ordnance defined) without further coordination with the establishing headquarters.
  4. For the first time, kill boxes were separated from the area reference system.
    1. Kill boxes would no longer be used as an area reference system.
    2. Kill box boundaries normally would be defined using an area reference system (e.g., Appendix E, Common Geographic Reference System [CGRS]), but could follow well-defined terrain features or may be located by grid coordinates or by a radius from a center point.
    3. The only time aircraft would be sent to a kill box was to perform air interdiction.
    4. Air battle management functions that previously used kill boxes as a reference system (e.g., “ Lancer 1, proceed to kill box 18I for refueling”) would now use CGRS for ACM functions not involving air interdiction (e.g., “Lancer 1, proceed to cell 18I for air refueling”).

In February 2005, while the Kill Box MTTP publication entered the final stages of development, the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation initiated the Joint Fires Coordination Measures (JFCM) Joint Test & Evaluation (JT&E) with the task to investigate, evaluate, and make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of kill boxes by standardizing TTP at the operational level.  The JFCM JT&E research effort focus eventually shifted to creating and developing the JFA concept.

After several years of testing, the JFCM JT&E published a draft JFA TTP document.  This TTP manual contained approximately 85% of the information from the 2005 Kill Box MTTP publication and it amplified details on coordinator duties, establishing authority, control of assets, and deconfliction requirements relative to each joint force component’s command and control responsibilities.  In addition, the JFA TTP updated the reference system to include the new Global Area Reference System (GARS).  One major point of departure for the JFA TTP involved the absence of colorized containers; JFAs represented only the intended effects area and the airspace needed for deconfliction vice blue and purple designations.  Furthermore, the area reference system choice was delineated as a separate ACM function not tied to the establishment of a JFA FSCM.

The JFCM JT&E recommended that JFA TTP be incorporated (in its entirety) into the next revision of the ALSA Kill Box MTTP publication and into joint doctrine as appropriate.  However, full implementation of the JFA TTP requires the development and fielding of a new software program entitled the JFA Manager (JFAM).  This software is a specific tool which is planned to reside within the Joint Automated Deep Operations Control System command and control software program.  Unfortunately, the JFAM software is not scheduled for release until CY 2009.

Concurrent with the JFCM joint test, US Forces Korea (USFK) modified the draft JFA TTP into the JFA-K (JFA-Korea TTP).  The JFA-K was a significant modification of the original JFA TTP, though it worked well for the specific challenges on the Korean Peninsula.  JFA-K TTP involves multiple layers of different colored JFAs, with each color corresponding to a specific altitude deconfliction level vice integration.

When the first ALSA Kill Box JWG met in May 2008 to revise the publication, they reviewed the JFA TTP for inclusion.  Subject matter experts at the JWG contemplated replacing the term kill box with JFA; however, the JFA TTP could not be fully implemented as designed without the JFAM, and the JFAM would not be ready for implementation until well after the Kill Box MTTP revision’s release date.  Additionally, it was decided to not base the revised TTP on an untried and untested future software version (the JFAM) which may or may not meet the needs of the warfighter.  Lastly, it was decided to maintain the original kill box color delineations.

With respect to the JFA TTP concept, the Service subject matter experts attending the May 2008 JWG chose the following courses of action:

  1. Implement best practices from the JFA TTP but not use the name JFA until the JFAM software is available (potentially during a future ALSA Kill Box MTTP revision).
  2. Retain the purple and blue kill boxes.
  3. Recommend GARS rather than CGRS as the reference system of choice.

NOTE:  USFK representatives advised the working group that Korea will retain the JFA-K TTP rather than use the term kill box.

To date, ALSA has conducted two kill box JWGs to revise the publications and it will be released early in CY 2009.  Thanks to the efforts of the JFCM JT&E and their work on the JFA TTP, the new Kill Box MTTP publication will be much improved over the original.

Originally released September 2008

Kill Box MTTP