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Brigade and Battalion Staff Functions During Convoy Operations

Logistics convoys offer an enemy low-risk opportunities to attack with relatively high odds of causing American casualties and destroying critically needed supplies. Logistics convoys are tempting targets for insurgents because they often have insufficient quantities of weapons and communications equipment, vehicles that are hard to maneuver, and Soldiers who are inadequately schooled in squad- and platoon-level dismounted tactics.

Successfully protecting logistics convoys requires a combined arms approach. A tactical convoy is not simply a platoon- or even a company-level mission; it is a brigade-level operation. Commanders at the battalion, brigade, and division levels have assets that can increase the survivability and lethality of logistics convoys. Unfortunately, it is usually company commanders who are tasked to resource and execute logistics convoys. Combat service support (CSS) unit commanders and their platoon-level convoy commanders try to execute assigned convoys, even though they do not have all of the assets they need. This article will examine what higher level commanders and staffs can do to help ensure successful convoy operations in combat.

Battalion Commander Responsibilities

To be successful, a battalion commander must ensure that everyone involved in an upcoming logistics convoy knows what “right” looks like. To do that, he must—

  • Determine the numbers and types of weapons and the minimum quantities of ammunition needed by each Soldier in the convoy, the number of radios required and the appropriate nets to monitor, the number of Warlock (remote-detonation-jamming) or CREW (counter remote-controlled improvised explosive device warfare) systems available, and the medical capabilities needed.
  • Specify the required training level of gunners, radio operators, combat lifesavers, and dismounted security teams and stipulate what each Soldier in the convoy must know about the convoy mission.
  • Indicate the desired configuration of gun trucks in the convoy. To be effective, each gun truck must have a crew-served weapon with a 360-degree firing radius and provide armor protection for its gunner and crew. Communications equipment should permit the crew to monitor multiple radio nets, and the driver and gunner must be able to communicate with each other and with other gun trucks, the convoy commander, and dismounted Soldiers. The gun trucks also must be capable of being driven off road to shield dismounted Soldiers or aid in evacuating casualties.
  • Stipulate the generic configuration of the convoy, including the positioning of the convoy scout truck, the convoy commander’s vehicle, wreckers, spare “bobtails” (M931 trucks), gun trucks, communications assets, and electronic jammers. Convoy planning software can be used to help position Warlock and CREW devices and minimize their effect on communications.
  • Observe and approve the battalion’s battle drills, including the use of pyrotechnics (signal, smoke, illumination, and marking devices).
  • Prescribe the required content of convoy briefings.
  • Specify the “not later than” (NLT) time for adding vehicles and Soldiers to a convoy. This prevents “mission creep” for the convoy commander.
  • Approve the criteria that determine when a convoy is justified in missing its planned start time or when it is appropriate to abort a convoy mission altogether.

Company Commander Responsibilities

To help ensure the success of a convoy, a company commander must—

  • Develop ways to track the training status of all Soldiers and the location of truck driver crews, combat lifesavers, medics, and convoy assets such as weapons, gun trucks, and radios.
  • Train convoy commanders and noncommissioned officers to coordinate a convoy mission.
  • Obtain the battalion commander’s approval of convoy battle drills and train all Soldiers and civilian passengers in those drills.
  • Specify the protective gear that each Soldier must wear.

Staff Responsibilities

After the battalion and company commanders have clarified their intent, the brigade and battalion staffs must step up and provide the information and assets that convoys need to complete the mission. Here is a list of staff members and the tasks they should execute when a subordinate unit is conducting convoys.

Brigade S–3—

  • Designate the brigade combat team’s (BCT’s) main supply route (MSR) security procedures and allocate units to this task.
  • Include in the BCT standing operating procedure techniques for battle hand-off from a convoy in contact with the enemy to a BCT maneuver element.
  • Track convoy movement through the BCT’s battlespace, including convoys from organizations outside of the BCT.
  • Allocate unmanned aerial vehicles to scan the route ahead of CSS convoys.
  • Provide the brigade S­4 and support battalion support operations officer (SPO) with the brigade engineer’s plan for clearing the route of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
  • Prepare and coordinate a recovery plan for search and recovery of personnel or convoys that are overdue, missing, or captured.
  • Maintain a master route status chart that displays trafficability, civilian activity, congestion, and enemy activity along the MSR. An overall route condition color code is inadequate for convoy decisions because each of these factors requires different countermeasures.
  • Designate a test-fire area for crew-served weapons and establish test-fire notification procedures for units at the forward operating base.

Brigade S–4 or executive officer—

  • Chair a CSS synchronization meeting. Deconflict desired quantities, delivery time windows, and routes based on transportation assets available, road conditions, IED sweeps, tactical operations, and civilian activities.
  • Compile the brigade logistics status (LOGSTAT) report and provide the SPO with a list of items and quantities needed by each supported battalion.
  • Specify the NLT time for battalion S–4s and other supported units to request movement of personnel and supplies on scheduled convoys.
  • Announce priorities for resupply of the supported units, by unit and commodity. This allows convoy commanders to adjust delivery plans when they encounter delays along the routes.

Brigade engineer—

  • Coordinate IED sweeps and route-clearing activities with convoy operations

Brigade S­6—

  • Identify frequency modulation (FM) radio blackout areas in the brigade’s area of operations.
  • Designate retransmission assets to ensure 100-percent radio coverage of routes.

Customer battalion S­4—

  • Know and report quantities of supplies on hand in the battalion.
  • Know planned maneuver operations 24, 48, and 72 hours in advance.
  • Forecast items and quantities on the LOGSTAT report based on expected consumption during upcoming operations 24 to 72 hours out.
  • Coordinate with the battalion S­3 to identify restricted routes and routes that complement the maneuver plan.
  • Specify desired delivery time windows for convoys to arrive in the battalion that allow resupply down to platoon level in support of the maneuver plan.
  • Backbrief the convoy reception plan. The plan must ensure a rapid turnaround so that the convoy can proceed to its next destination. The plan must include an intelligence update and procedures to be followed by gate security personnel, ground guides, forklift operators, and security escorts.

Support battalion SPO—

  • At the CSS synchronization meeting, propose convoy routes and delivery time windows from origin to each destination and deconflict routes and times with maneuver unit representatives. Routes contemplated must reflect truck availability versus required delivery times, road conditions, traffic congestion, enemy positions, friendly actions, the IED clearance schedule, and civilian activities.
  • Ensure that delivery time windows at each destination consider storage capacity at destination, transfer times, maneuver NLT resupply times to support tactical operations, and all subsequent deliveries at other locations scheduled for that convoy.
  • Discuss with the battalion commander the supply quantities, transportation assets, and delivery schedule for each day’s convoys.
  • Compile and provide a logistics synchronization matrix to all supported units. The matrix must specify quantities to be delivered to each unit and the delivery time window.

Support battalion S­2—

  • Provide a pattern analysis of enemy actions along the primary and alternate routes over the previous 7 days and the previous 24 hours and identify danger areas.
  • Contact the rear area operations center and the S­2 at customer locations for an updated intelligence picture.
  • Present information obtained from the most recent convoy debriefing on the selected primary and alternate routes. Route information should address road conditions, traffic congestion, civilian and religious activities, location of friendly outposts, and observed changes to landmarks in the last week.
  • Brief and show pictures of vehicles on the brigade’s and destination battalion’s “be on the lookout” (BOLO) lists.
  • For optimal effectiveness, brief all convoy Soldiers personally instead of relaying information through the convoy commander or NCO in charge.
  • Develop and continually update route strip maps that show the locations of landmarks, previous ambush zones, safe havens such as maneuver unit outposts, and other information of interest to drivers.
  • Debrief the Soldiers of returning convoys. Develop a list of questions to use in obtaining information from tired and hungry Soldiers.
  • Provide a daily intelligence summary to the brigade S­2 and designate named areas of interest based on observations of Soldiers in the convoys.

Support battalion S­3—

  • Recommend to the battalion commander a basic convoy configuration (the sequence of convoy assets as they roll down the road).
  • Propose standardized convoy battle drills and procedures for Soldiers who become separated or lost on the battlefield. After obtaining approval of the battalion commander, publish these battle drills and establish a training or verification plan to ensure that the drills are understood, rehearsed, and executed effectively.
  • Ensure that the battalion’s procedures for recovering isolated, missing, detained, or captured personnel are synchronized with the BCT’s personnel recovery plan.
  • Identify command-regulated items that are critical to convoy success, such as gun trucks and Warlock devices, and allocate and track them as needed for battalion missions.
  • Assign weapon teams, additional squad automatic weapon gunners, Warlocks, and radios as needed to provide each convoy with the communications and firepower it needs to survive and counterattack.
  • Develop and maintain a convoy planning and preparation checklist for each convoy to assist commanders in their “go, delay, or no go” decision.
  • Document the locations of friendly maneuver units along the route, their radio frequencies, and their call signs. Contact the S­3s of these units and provide the expected transit time windows and the routes of the convoys moving through their battlespace.
  • Determine and track the progress of task force operations that are scheduled to occur before and during the delivery time window that could affect the planned convoy route or assist the convoy with firepower or security.
  • Propose to the BCT S­3 a plan for unmanned aerial vehicles or helicopters to perform reconnaissance ahead of the convoy.
  • Coordinate for fixed-wing air support to be in the area.
  • Specify events that convoys must report to the tactical operations center, such as convoy departure, maintenance halts, and passes through checkpoints.
  • Continuously track the location of the battalion’s convoys along the routes.
  • Specify priorities of work for returning convoys, such as refueling, vehicle maintenance, S­2 debriefing, weapons maintenance, vehicle parking, and “chow.”
  • Attend the S­2 debriefing of the returning convoy.

Support battalion S­4—

  • Provide, or direct the temporary loan or cross-leveling of, radios, tow bars, ammunition, weapon mounts, and electronic jammers as needed.

Radios in CSS units typically are mounted in vehicles. Dismounted operations require manpack radios, and swapping out radio installation kits between vehicles consumes too much time when a cargo truck is deadlined. Therefore, the battalion communications noncommissioned officer (NCO) and the S­4 must know the availability of all radios, manpacks, installation kits, and spare antennas that could be used to communicate. (“Manpack” is the common name for the AN/PRC-119A/D/F radio that is configured for a Soldier to carry.)

Tow bars are vital in a convoy. Each truck must be able to connect to a towing vehicle rapidly when under fire. Waiting for a tow bar to arrive from the rear of the convoy is not a good option. Tow bars are class IX (repair parts) items; they should be obtained in sufficient quantities to ensure their availability to convoy drivers as needed.

After the battalion commander defines the minimum amount of ammunition and pyrotechnics needed for a convoy, the battalion S–4 must work with the unit supply sergeants to ensure that Soldiers in the convoy have sufficient rounds for all of their weapons. They also must ensure that all authorized ring mounts are actually on hand and installed and that gun-mount assemblies have all of the components required to make them functional for all types of weapon systems. Availability of weapon mounts is typically the biggest limiting factor in determining the number of gun trucks a battalion can put on the road.

Because of the operating tempo and enemy activity, all of the staff preparatory tasks above may not be completed for every convoy. For example, aerial reconnaissance may not be available for a particular convoy. The decision to proceed with a convoy that has not been prepared fully rests with the battalion commander and the company commander charged with executing the convoy. The battalion S–3 is responsible for providing the battalion commander with the status of the preparatory events that have occurred and those that have not. The company commander must obtain the battalion commander’s approval of any convoy abort criteria ahead of time to avoid confusion and premature execution. The battalion command sergeant major plays a vital role in assessing the preparation and rehearsals for convoy missions and raising a red flag if things are not going well.

Assessing Battle Drills

Every deployed and returning unit has a list of battle drills that worked in a particular situation. For example, what works on the open terrain between Samarra and Tikrit would be completely impracticable on Baghdad’s urban terrain. The need to be aggressive and the ability to take the fight to the enemy are constants in all effective battle drills. Merely buttoning up and running away may minimize casualties, but, in the long run, leaving attackers alone will encourage them more and ultimately result in increased friendly casualties.

Commanders must decide which battle drills to execute in order to move their convoys successfully over the terrain or road conditions they face. Five basic principles provide a framework for evaluating which battle drills are suitable for a particular mission. Various tactical situations will drive their relative importance for each mission. An effective convoy battle drill is one that will, for a specific situation—

  1. Minimize friendly casualties.
  2. Maximize enemy casualties.
  3. Not create new enemies.
  4. Leave no abandoned equipment.
  5. Allow the convoy to accomplish its mission.

So which battle drills apply best to a particular mission? Some factors that influence the effectiveness of a particular battle drill are the following—

  • How many vehicles and Soldiers are in the convoy?
  • How many mounted and hand-carried automatic weapons are on hand?
  • Does the terrain allow both cargo trucks and gun trucks to drive off the paved surface?
  • Can convoy Soldiers communicate while dismounted?
  • Is the terrain flat and open, rolling hills, or urban?
  • How critical is it to the receiving unit that the supplies arrive on schedule?
  • Where along the route can the convoy call for help, and where are the communications dead spots?
  • How proficient are the Soldiers in their various battle drills?
  • How able are the leaders and Soldiers to recognize which battle drill they should execute in a particular situation?

As this list reveals, a convoy may have to execute three or four different battle drills to react to IED and small arms fire, depending on the conditions along its route.

Soldiers in a convoy must have a clear vision of the hazards they may encounter along the convoy route. The convoy commander must ensure that the Soldiers on the convoy know which battle drills will be applied and when each will be in effect. The commanders and their staffs must make sure that the Soldiers on the convoy have the knowledge and equipment they need to be successful. A coordinated brigade operation in which everyone is prepared to do his job offers the Soldiers in the convoy the best chance of success.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J. Wicker currently is a student at the Army War College. He has a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and a master’s degree in logistics management from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He commanded a battalion in Iraq and was the senior logistics trainer at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. He has completed basic parachutist and air training and is a former U.S. Marine.