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Protecting Our Logistics Assets:
A Look to the (Near) Future

The Army is working to provide technologies that better protect Soldiers in the theater of operations. These new technologies will also help keep logistics Soldiers safe while conducting convoys.

In the spring of 2003, coalition forces were engaged in the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Units struggled to find ways to protect convoys as they moved supplies forward over sandy roads littered with destruction and debris and imperiled by improvised explosive devices and ambushes. The following vignette illustrates the dangers of logistics operations during those early months.

As the supply convoy rumbled down the road, Staff Sergeant Miller was apprehensive. He had been on the road for hours bringing fuel, ammunition, and other much-needed supplies to units deployed throughout the area of operations. The road was normally safe, but Miller knew that could change.

The attack began without warning. The forward and rear guard vehicles in the convoy were immediately disabled, as were air guards positioned throughout the convoy. Bullets were flying everywhere; it was hard to discern where to return fire. Convoy resupply vehicles unable to withstand even small-arms fire were quickly damaged. A few of the heavier vehicles were relatively intact but unable to bring coordinated covering fire, and what they could provide had minimal effect.

Miller grabbed the hand mike and immediately sent a contact report. Disregarding his personal safety, Miller moved through the convoy, helping where he could and trying to establish defensive fires. Suddenly, U.S. Apache attack helicopters appeared, delivering devastating fire on the enemy. The attackers disappeared, and Miller was able to catch his breath and take stock. A few of his men were wounded, although none seriously. Four vehicles were destroyed, and seven were badly damaged.

Reviewing the Lessons of Iraq

After-action reports generated from maneuver, support, and sustainment organizations providing support on the asymmetric battlefield revealed these common shortfalls—

  • Overextended lines of communication, with forward units running critically short of classes I (subsistence), III (petroleum, oils, and lubricants), and V (ammunition) supplies.
  • A long logistics tail and vulnerable supply lines. Light-skinned resupply vehicles with minimal weapons protection provided especially tempting targets for the enemy. The enemy quickly recognized supply lines as the Achilles’ heel of U.S. and coalition forces and developed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to exploit those vulnerabilities.
  • The inability of our lightly protected maneuver sustainment forces to bring a lethal overmatch of organic firepower to bear.

More than anything, OIF has reminded us that, on the asymmetric battlefield, everyone needs the best situational awareness, survivability, and combat responsiveness available. Consequently, as a primary target for insurgent attacks, sustainment units in general and convoys in particular should be given special consideration and priority for much-needed enhanced capabilities. Unfortunately, sustainment formations often are the last to get improved tactical capabilities. Clearly, the old way of doing logistics business will no longer work.

Examining Force Capabilities

In the past 5 years, the U.S. military has made significant progress in addressing the shortfalls revealed by our operations in Iraq. Units have moved out of large forward operating bases and now operate within cities, neighborhoods, and villages. This change in doctrine and TTP and the employment of more heavily armored and armed cargo transport vehicles with escorts have mitigated portions of the problem but do not address all of the issues.

One key element that must be addressed is the performance of vehicle protective weapon systems. When a vehicle comes under fire, it must not only protect the crew but also provide a means for the crew to fight its way out of the situation. After-action reports, primarily those out of OIF, showed that maneuver support and sustainment units were woefully under-armed and, in almost every case, were met with overwhelming enemy firepower when engaged. In engagements in which units with light-skinned tactical vehicles were successful in fighting their way out of an ambush, their ability to bring coordinated crew-served weapons fire to bear against the enemy played a pivotal role in their survival.

Doctrinal missions and collective tasks for sustainment organizations have long reflected the need to react to various threats, but a new and greater emphasis on dealing with threat forces now takes precedence in sustainment capability development. Although doctrinal and organizational changes have provided some relief, logisticians must identify and integrate emerging technologies that provide leap-ahead advantages.

Soldier Protection

Enhanced armor protection offers only a partial solution. Although an armored cargo vehicle (or even an up-armored high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle) is a step in the right direction, increased armor protection often merely precedes relatively simple advances in threat weapons. The key to protecting mounted Soldiers is that, once those Soldiers are engaged, the systems should not only protect the crew from the initial effects of combat but also enable the crew to fight out of harm’s way. To achieve this capability, the vehicle must have systems that provide improved situational awareness to the vehicle commander and drivers in addition to enhanced armor protection, resulting in more effective survivability and increased combat effectiveness.

In theater, the Army currently has units equipped with the Mounted Soldier System (MSS), which demonstrates how improved situational awareness is employed with enhanced armor protection. The first increment of MSS enables crews to integrate battle command functions, such as voice and data transmission, on combat platforms and among other vehicles in the formation. This shared situational awareness enables vehicle crews in the formation to engage targets using the Remote Weapons Station (RWS), thus maximizing the use of enhanced armor protection and limiting Soldier exposure. Both MSS and RWS are sponsored and supported by the Army Armor Center and the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier.

MSS. This system consists of lightweight, modular, mission-tailorable, integrated equipment and command and control information systems that mounted Soldiers use when conducting operations on and off of their assigned platforms or vehicles. The components include an improved combat-vehicle crewmember helmet with a “heads-up” display and an untethered communications system. Through the heads-up display, a crewman can see the battle command screen or the sight picture of the weapon on the common remotely operated weapon station (CROWS). These technologies ensure that all elements of the formation have a common operating picture. Soldiers are able to maintain continuous voice communication and receive situational awareness information to improve their mobility and survivability. The MSS capability development document was approved on 23 January 2007.

The improved situational awareness provided by MSS allows mounted Soldiers greater mission flexibility by improving Soldier-to-platform or Soldier-to-vehicle communication capability. MSS improves force protection by providing enhanced protection against ballistic, environmental, flash, flame, heat, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazards. Future capabilities will provide an untethered communication capability that works off of the platform for up to 500 meters.

CROWS II. This is a lighter version RWS that provides a stabilized, shoot-on-the-move, remote vehicle-mounting system that, with a ballistic computer, can be integrated with the MK19, M2, M240, and M249 machineguns. This system can be mounted on any tactical wheeled or tracked vehicle. CROWS II allows the operator to remain under armor (the armor protection provided by the vehicle) by providing enhanced target acquisition, identification, and engagement capabilities to nonturreted, light-skinned or -armored vehicles in units whose missions place unprotected gunners at high risk. Specific capabilities of the system include—

  • A sensor suite that permits target engagement under limited visibility conditions.
  • A three-axis stabilized mount.
  • A laser rangefinder.
  • Fire control software that allows on-the-move target acquisition and first-round burst target engagement and can track targets in elevation independently of gun motion.

CROWS II is exactly the leap-ahead technology needed to increase the combat capability of our mounted Soldiers, especially those in the logistics arena. The CROWS II capability production document was approved on 1 August 2005.

Future CROWS II capabilities will provide Army and joint forces with enhanced survivability, lethality, and situational awareness. CROWS II will provide vehicle-mounted machineguns with the capability for automated fire control and stabilization for shoot-on-the-move engagements. It also will have improved optical devices to permit target surveillance at greater distances. Currently, the gunner is exposed when firing the weapon; the first increment of CROWS II will mitigate this vulnerability. Future increments will integrate additional capabilities, such as automatic threat fires detection and targeting to rapidly pinpoint incoming fire locations and cooperative target identification (CTI) technologies. Net-ready capabilities will also be available to send threat-location, targeting, and engagement information rapidly to higher headquarters and adjacent units.

Technological Integration Possibilities

The technological improvements found in MSS and RWS can be provided to logisticians. The integration of MSS and CROWS II would exponentially increase the lethality and survivability of logisticians on the asymmetrical battlefield. Crewmembers of support platforms with access to a battle command system would have situational awareness of their formation and their immediate battlespace. Overlays could be posted on the battle command system, allowing logisticians to track their progress along the route to their release point.

By using the heads-up display, Soldiers can stay under armor and use thermal sights to scan their sectors of responsibility. The fire detection capability allows crewmen to rapidly locate enemy fire and return accurate first-round bursts on the target while under armor. They can lase targets to populate the battle command systems that provide critical situational awareness to leaders and more Soldiers in the formation. Using the CTI capability, crewmen can query the target area to confirm that no friendly forces are in the area, thus mitigating the danger of fratricide. The voice-activated communications of MSS allow Soldiers to immediately send contact reports or issue orders, hands free, using the integrated communications capability built into their helmets. Integrating MSS and CROWS II provides a quantum leap forward in protection, survivability, and lethality for logisticians.

Now envision the original scenario in the near future and follow Staff Sergeant Miller as he and his Soldiers execute the same mission over the same terrain, facing the same ambush. By combining these technologies as we move toward the objective requirements for both systems, we can improve the outcome for Miller.

As the supply convoy rumbles down the road, Staff Sergeant Miller is apprehensive but confident. Although he has been on the road for hours with his logistics convoy, he knows he is ready for anything the enemy might attempt. Sensors in the area have previously populated the battle command system with suspicious unknown formations, and MSS provided Miller with situational awareness, alerting him to possible ambush sites. Based on this information, he has changed his route twice to avert likely ambushes.

Even though he has received intelligence updates on his battle command system, an ambush begins with almost no warning. The forward and rear guard vehicles in the convoy are immediately hit, but because the crewmembers are under armor, they suffer no casualties. Miller’s CROWS II threat fire detection capability immediately slues the gun toward the location of the enemy positions he observes through his heads-up display. Using his voice-activated communications, he sends an immediate contact report and, after lasing the target, populates the battle command screen. This provides everyone, including his chain of command, with the location of the contact. 

Staff Sergeant Miller instantly confirms that no friendly forces are in the area through his battle command system and, using the CTI, engages the target with accurate and lethal first-round bursts, all while under armor protection. He quickly coordinates follow-on actions, enhancing unit survivability and success. Even though his actions have already blunted the enemies’ intent, he knows the quick reaction force or attack aviation assets are alerted and can be dispatched to an accurate grid location of the enemy contact through the battle command system. With minimal damage to his vehicles and no injuries, Miller is able to continue immediately on his mission.

As the Army works to proliferate and integrate emerging technologies into a coordinated system across the distributed battlespace, increased situational awareness, survivability, and effective combat responsiveness are keys to success for all of our current and future forces, regardless of their primary mission.

Lieutenant Colonel Scott A. Rew is the materiel branch chief for combat development at the Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree from St. Ambrose University. He is a graduate of the Air Defense Artillery Officer Basic Course, Ordnance Officer Transition Course, Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, Materiel Acquisition Basic Course, and the Army Command and General Staff College. He holds a Level III Certification in Program Management from the Defense Acquisition University.