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Back to the Future: Relearning Sustainment and Force Protection for Full-Spectrum Operations

The 3d Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division, deployed to the Joint Readiness Training Center and conducted a forced-entry airborne exercise to test current logistics doctrine and formations in full-spectrum operations.

Since 2003, the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and the other combat training centers (CTCs) have focused almost exclusively on mission rehearsal exercises (MRXs) to train units for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. After 2004, the MRXs became centered on counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. Focusing MRXs on COIN means that the new generation of Soldiers lacks experience in full-spectrum operations (FSO) as laid out in the June 2001 version of Field Manual 3–0, Operations.

Pre-Modular FSO
The 2001 version of Field Manual (FM) 3–0, Operations, stated—

Full Spectrum Operations include offensive, defensive, stability, and support operations . . . . Missions in any environment require Army forces prepared to conduct any combination of these operations:

  • Offensive operations aim at destroying or defeating an enemy. Their purpose is to impose US will on the enemy and achieve decisive victory.
  • Defensive operations defeat an enemy attack, buy time, economize forces, or develop conditions favorable for offensive operations. Defensive operations alone normally cannot achieve a decision. Their purpose is to create conditions for a counteroffensive that allows Army forces to regain the initiative.
  • Stability operations promote and protect US national interests by influencing the threat, political, and information dimensions of the operational environment through a combination of peacetime developmental, cooperative activities and coercive actions in response to crisis. Regional security is supported by a balanced approach that enhances regional stability and economic prosperity simultaneously. Army force presence promotes a stable environment.
  • Support operations employ Army forces to assist civil authorities, foreign or domestic, as they prepare for or respond to crisis and relieve suffering. Domestically, Army forces respond only when the NCA [national command authorities] direct. Army forces operate under the lead federal agency and comply with provisions of US law, to include the Posse Comitatus and Stafford Acts

It is important to remember that in 2001 the division remained the centerpiece of Army operations. The 2001 FM 3–0 stated, in essence, that larger units will naturally conduct FSO, often as part of a joint force. Still, the Army had attempted brigade-level operations before. From the late 1990s, JRTC had served as the Army's laboratory to hone and perfect a light combat brigade's execution of FSO. Justifiably, an airborne or light brigade was the most likely formation to deploy abroad for a forced-entry mission or as part of a joint task force.

For forced-entry rotations at JRTC, an airborne brigade combat team (BCT) conducted airborne and airland operations to secure an airhead and expand lodgment. Follow-on forces then continued to build sufficient combat power. Logisticians simultaneously executed initial arrival/departure airfield control group operations, established a brigade support area (BSA) to sustain the BCT, and conducted defense and force protection. This all could best be described as pre-modular FSO.

Transformation and Modularity
In 2003, with the completion of Force XXI, the Army transformed to the modular BCT concept. This meant that the tools to execute independent FSO shifted from the division to the almost completely redesigned modular BCT.

Sustainment was also affected. The division support commands, with their forward support battalions and main support battalions, were dissolved. In their place, newly formed brigade support battalions (BSBs) stood up as the logistics formation organic to the BCT. The old support platoons located in the maneuver battalions became the BSB's forward support companies (FSCs).

By 2005, the Army was developing a modular force, transforming units as they prepared to deploy in what were becoming COIN-centric campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, the Army's central warfighting doctrine for FSO remained division-centric. It worked well in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which were developed theaters with established networks of forward operating bases (FOBs) and combat outposts. Tests run on new modular BCTs at JRTC in the fall of 2004 reflected this reality.

FSO Version 2008
By 2008, units, leaders, and Soldiers were engaged in a FOB-sustained, COIN-centric fight and the Army acknowledged the loss of some skills across those same formations. The Army issued a new FM 3–0, which described "an operational concept where commanders employ offensive, defensive, and stability or civil support operations simultaneously as part of an interdependent joint force to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative, accepting prudent risk to create opportunities to achieve decisive results."

The manual's foreword continues, "Just as the 1976 edition of FM 100–5 began to take the Army from the rice paddies of Vietnam to the battlefield of Western Europe, this edition will take us into the 21st century urban battlefields among the people without losing our capabilities to dominate the higher conventional end of the spectrum of conflict."

Most importantly, the new FM marries the FSO concept to the modular force—an "FSO Version 2008" concept. In contrast to the 2001 version, FSO Version 2008 has the BCT commander rather than the division commander serve as the central conductor for the symphony of FSO. The Army began to plan FSO rotations at the CTCs to refresh the critical combat skills of units, leaders, and Soldiers. JRTC was tasked to execute the first modular FSO rotation in late 2010.

The 3d BCT's JRTC Rotation
In October 2010, the 3d BCT, 82d Airborne Division, deployed to JRTC. The rotation marked many firsts. It was the first FSO rotation in over 8 years and the first application of FSO Version 2008. It was the first forced-entry airborne operation by a modular airborne BCT to test current logistics doctrine with current logistics formations in an FSO.

The 3d BCT planners embraced the unique challenges of the FSO rotation. The BCT executed a brigade combined arms rehearsal followed by a brigade sustainment rehearsal.

Every operation has constraints to overcome and realities to face. For the 3d BCT, allocated airframes were the primary constraint in planning the forced entry. This dilemma is succinctly expressed in the recently published FM 3–35, Army Deployment and Redeployment:

The commander's planning and operational dilemma is balancing the need for early deployment of combat forces against the requirement to deploy tailored logistical units that maximize throughput of sustainable combat forces. To resolve this dilemma, the commander must have the ability to see, understand, and balance the flow. The combatant commander defines force requirements in terms of size, location, and time while the TPFDD [time-phased force and deployment data] defines the force flow needed to meet these requirements. Knowledge of the RSOI [reception, staging, onward movement, and integration] infrastructure present in the theater, coupled with assets arriving via the TPFDD, is critical to understanding the flow.

After the BCT secured the drop zone, no FOB had been established and no unit was waiting to conduct a relief in place/transfer of authority. The 82d BSB, the 3d BCT's support battalion, began to establish the BSA, which is no easy feat and one that most BSBs have not executed recently. In fact, this BSA was the first one established at JRTC in 8 years. Most BSBs have been providing FOB-centric logistics for numerous rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 82d BSB used Appendix B, BSA Layout and Protection, from FM 4–90, Brigade Support Battalion, as a reference for completing this task.

When establishing a BSA, the BSB must overcome the challenges of terrain, available infrastructure, logistics resources and their locations, and enemy activity. The BSB commander must always balance the BSA's security requirements with its ability to conduct logistics operations. The balancing act is further complicated by the constant flux of BSA tenant units, which depart and enter the perimeter based on their logistics requirements.

Establishing the BSA
Ideally, the BCT commander and the BSB commander already have a well-rehearsed plan for establishing, managing, and securing the BSA. That plan must be discussed in detail during the sustainment and health service support rehearsals. During the BCT combined arms rehearsal, the BSB commander should discuss the BSA establishment timeline, including initial operational capability and full operational capability, external support, BSA tenant requirements, and force protection for the BSA.

To develop a protection plan for the BSA, the 82d BSB staff incorporated protection lessons learned from their collective deployment experiences and then coupled that knowledge with the doctrine in FM 3–37, Protection. The base defense plan consisted of passive and active measures that included—

  • Establishing a base defense operations center.
  • Establishing individual and crew-served fighting positions.
  • Erecting triple standard concertina wire and other barriers.
  • Conducting reconnaissance and security patrols.
  • Emplacing chemical alarms.

The BSA commander and staff should coordinate for external assets from the brigade for BSA protection support. These assets could include aviation, air defense, military police, engineer, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear units to augment the protective capabilities of the BSA.

The first requirement for a BSA is to establish security against key threats on a bare piece of ground. In the years before 9/11, BSA establishment was the culminating event during the brigade and battalion field training exercise. Just getting to that point was the result of long hours of individual and small-unit collective training.

The BSA's foundation was first formed during long hours of sergeant's time training on Soldier skills. These events would stair-step to collective tasks through squad, section, and platoon collective training. Then each company commander and first sergeant would tie it all together during a company field training exercise while establishing a company perimeter with interlocking fields of fire and a company command post.

Inherent to a night airborne operation are the challenges of accounting for personnel and equipment, establishing communications (out of a rucksack), and gaining situational awareness. The BSB had to establish local security, an arrival/departure airfield control group, and advanced trauma life support.

Using the FSCs
FM 4–90 states, "While normally under the command of the BSB, an FSC may be placed in either a command or support relationship with its supported battalion. Command relationships . . . are generally limited in duration and focused on the completion of a particular task or mission." The 3d BCT validated that concept during the rotation. With the FSCs initially colocated in the BSA, the BSB was able to provide the FSCs with greater technical oversight and sustainment synchronization.

The FSCs need to remain synchronized with the maneuver battalion tactical operations center and the administrative and logistics operation center (ALOC). This is best achieved by locating the FSC executive officer in the combat trains command post with the maneuver battalion ALOC. The FSC can still maintain a presence in the BSA by utilizing a field trains. This allows the FSCs to interact with both their supported maneuver battalion and the BSB.

Maneuver battalions should remember to include their FSC commander in the battalion military decision making process. As stated in FM 4–90, the FSC commander serves as the senior logistics adviser to the battalion commander and staff, just as the BSB commander is the senior logistics adviser to the BCT commander and staff.

A benefit of the FSCs' collaboration with the BSB manifested itself in convoy operations. By having immediate access to the BSB S–2, the FSCs were better prepared to provide their own security during convoy operations. It is worth noting that at JRTC before 9/11, opposing force interdiction of convoy operations often shut down a brigade's logistics support. Eight years of combat convoy operations have provided enduring lessons that apply to FSO.

As the Army begins to increase its focus on FSO, units will have to relearn doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures that have gone out of practice with current operations. BSBs will not only have to learn how to establish a BSA but also be able to "jump" the BSA to best support maneuver operations. BSBs currently secure their convoys, but they will also have to secure their perimeters. The use of "soft-skinned" equipment from the modified table of organization and equipment rather than up-armored theater-provided equipment will force changes in training. Regaining FSO proficiency will result in skilled units able to accomplish any mission.

Captain Daniel Holland is the Joint Readiness Training Center Brigade Support Battalion Medical Planner Observer/Controller. He is a graduate of the Medical Service Corps Officer Basic and Captains Career Courses and the Medical Logistics Course.

Captain Louis J. Jackson is the S–4 of the 1st Battalion, 509th Airborne Infantry, at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, Unit Movement Officer Course, Battle Command Sustainment Support System Course, and Casualty Notification/Assistance Course.


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