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Providing S–2 Support for a Brigade Support Battalion

During her deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom, the author learned the importance of intelligence information to logisticians.

“You’re the BSB S–2? What do you do all day?” When I took over the position of brigade support battalion (BSB) S–2 officer in charge, I believed in the stereotype that the support battalion S–2 job was not a desirable position. Most of the support S–2 shops I had known in my career were staffed by a lieutenant or by a noncommissioned officer (NCO) and one or two junior enlisted intelligence analysts. I was to learn over the course of the next year that the BSB S–2 section fills a very important role for the many Soldiers and leaders it supports.

From Forward Support Battalion to BSB

Before Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the force modernization era, the division-and-below support units were the forward support battalion and the division support command. The modification tables of organization and equipment (MTOEs) and doctrine for these units reflected a hypothetical force-on-force battlefield and assumed support elements would operate in a very secure rear area, where the greatest threat would be artillery or chemical attack. The MTOE for the intelligence section was based on an assumption of a very limited threat. The following excerpt from Field Manual 63–20, Forward Support Battalion, demonstrates the complete paradigm shift between the Soviet-era support fight and the counterinsurgency battlefield we face today: “If there is no open, secure line of communication, self-sustainment will be required. CSS [combat service support] will be limited to what the brigade can carry with it or forage.” This quote may as well refer to a Civil War-era mule train as to modern sustainment operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, logistics units on the battlefield continually travel over routes that may not be secure, and the status of those routes can change on an hourly basis.

Today’s Army logisticians tread the same ground as their combat arms brethren and are likely to fight many of the same fights. Their leaders need to understand the dynamic threat environment to be able to make decisions about not only which route to take but also when to take it and what additional equipment may be needed to get there effectively. Brigade logistics planners must understand where the next fight is and what the nature of it will be in order to forecast the brigade’s logistics needs and avoid shortfalls for the combat arms units.

This paradigm shift from the forward support battalion of yesterday to the BSB of today created a need for a change in the battalion S–2 shop MTOE. A BSB is now authorized one career field 35D (military intelligence [MI]) captain, one military occupational specialty (MOS) 96B (intelligence analyst) E–5, and one MOS 96B E–4. This allocation gives the shop an MI officer who has likely served as an S–2 before, an NCO with some analytical experience, and one analyst to train in logistics-specific intelligence.

Intelligence Priorities for the Logistics Fight

What enemy information is important to logisticians? How do they want to see the battlefield? To answer those questions, I had to see things through the logisticians’ eyes. Good intelligence officers understand the role, mission, and tactical operations of the unit they support, and they understand the enemy. When they understand both, they can figure out what enemy activity and trends are important in accomplishing the unit’s mission.

I started by asking my fellow officers, most of whom were combat veterans, what was important to them as logisticians and as intelligence customers. A common response was, “You need to be looking at the routes.” Main supply route (MSR) and alternate supply route (ASR) systems were the primary means for transporting supplies to the customer units. If the routes were impassable, we would be out of a job. But what specific conditions would limit our movement and our ability to support the brigade?

Many logisticians do not know about the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability available to them in the brigade combat team. I believe this is because, in the past, limited intelligence support was available in the forward support battalion. Before the Global War on Terrorism, and even immediately after it began, the BSB S–2 position had been filled by inexperienced officers. I found that many of the logistics leaders I worked with had never had quality intelligence support for their missions, and as a result, they did not understand what intelligence capabilities were available to them and had limited expectations.

Supporting the Commander’s Priorities

Knowing that the brigade combat team would deploy within 18 months but not knowing the location or mission, I started with the basics. I trained my Soldiers to capture debrief data from our convoys, understand the commander’s priority intelligence requirements, and understand the broad influences of the Global War on Terrorism on our mission.

Rotations at the Joint Readiness Training Center Leadership Training Program at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, had given me a fundamental understanding of the BSB mission and of what my commander’s priority intelligence requirements would be. When we deployed to Iraq, we edited and made additions to those requirements from time to time, but for the most part, my commander’s priorities remained force protection of our Soldiers and assets, force protection of convoys, and route trafficability.

Force protection of our Soldiers and assets. What are the indicators of indirect fire attack or ground attack on BSB assets? When will these attacks occur, and how can we mitigate them? These questions gained greater emphasis when we learned that the unit occupying our future forward operating base (FOB) had lost its ammunition transfer and holding point (ATHP) when it was hit by multiple indirect fire rounds. The nature of the ATHP and the fuel system supply point makes them more vulnerable to indirect fire effects than other FOB resources. By understanding the capabilities of enemy weapon systems and alerting ourselves to indicators of pending indirect fire attacks, we could better protect our Soldiers and resources, ensuring continued support. We sent four Soldiers to Raven unmanned aerial vehicle training so we could use this short-range asset to investigate historic indirect fire points of origin. We also used it to get a bird’s-eye view of the area around the FOB and monitor civilian activity in the area.

Force protection of convoys. The threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), precision small-arms fire, and rocket-propelled grenades made convoys our most dangerous missions in Iraq. Finding the optimal routes and times for convoy travel required a constant assessment of when attacks occurred. The IED “hot spots” and attack engagement areas changed constantly, and so did our preferred routes and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP).

Route trafficability. Civilian activity, fallen or low overpasses, and many other factors affect the logistician’s ability to provide support. More than any other factor, the geographic and political expanse of the logistics area of interest makes the intelligence support that logisticians require different from that required by the maneuver battalion. When an overpass on a corps MSR was damaged by a vehicle-borne IED, I realized the true nature of our area of interest; an event that occurred outside of our division boundary was directly affecting our ability to support customer units. So, I trained my shop to be constantly aware of events throughout the Iraqi theater of operations—including political changes, attack trends, spectacular bridge attacks, and dust storms—that could slow the speed at which we received supplies.

Disseminating Intelligence

One of our most important challenges was packaging intelligence so that logisticians could see how it was relevant to their operations. Once we arrived in Baghdad, I was able to borrow and modify some tools in order to develop our own unique perspective of our area of operations. The tools I used included the weekly route analysis beyond green-amber-red, an IED threat trend slide, and convoy briefings.

Weekly route analysis beyond green-amber-red. The BSB whose area of operations (AO) we fell in on gave us the idea of doing a weekly route analysis to identify trends on the major MSRs and ASRs within our brigade AO. The route analysis was similar to the “trail book” concept that is popular for theater support units. This analysis tool showed the attacks by location and type on a particular route and compared them to attacks from the previous week.

Over time, my analysts improved and enhanced the route analysis tool. By reviewing the recent activity on our routes, we could identify shifts in enemy TTP and changes in the locations of activity hot spots. We plotted every attack on a map of each route in our AO. The key was that we always plotted every route whether there was significant activity or not—even if we had not used that route in months. This forced the analysts to review all the information on each significant activity and identify trends in the type of attacks that were occurring across the AO. We then made a chart showing the attack times during the past week and compared them to the current week. As unpredictable as an insurgency can be, insurgents are still human beings, and humans are fundamentally creatures of habit. Although not infallible, using the trends in attack times on a particular route to identify optimal movement times proved to be successful.

Many logistics units assumed that the lowest level of enemy activity occurred during the hours of darkness because of the civilian vehicle ban from 0001 to 0500. After researching past activity, we found that on at least one of our often-used routes, the risk of daylight attacks was actually minimal. We were able to use this information to our advantage. Having one route for daytime missions and one for nighttime meant that we could roll whenever required.

When a vital intersection saw continued IED activity, we identified which shoulder the attacks came from and which emplacement techniques that particular IED cell used. Because the attacks consistently occurred on the southern side of the interchange, our convoys rerouted themselves to the northern section. The bypass added a few kilometers to their route, but the convoys were never engaged, even when daily IED attacks were occurring elsewhere.

The tool also allowed us to do quick assessments when unplanned support missions arose. By including the time analysis and reviewing the types of IEDs or attacks on a route, we were able to recommend preferred start times or suggest alternate routes when the support operations officer had an urgent mission. Having this information readily available in the weekly intelligence product, rather than having to create a tailored product on the spot, meant less time between when the battalion received the mission and when the company received a route and timeline. Ultimately, it gave the platoon leaders more planning time and greater predictability for their missions.

IED threat trend slide. Another tool we produced weekly was a slide that depicted the geographic location of each IED emplacement (found or detonated) in the past week. The IEDs were color-coded by type, such as explosively formed projectile, buried, or surface laid, and by initiator type, such as victim operated, command wired, or radio controlled. This tool allowed us to identify areas of historic use of a particular type of device and track the changes in trends as they occurred. It was a valuable tool for demonstrating to our customers the most likely IED threat on a particular route. It was also a good tool to give personnel who were unfamiliar with our AO because it provided them a quick look at areas of historic IED use and showed the types of devices most commonly used in those areas.

Convoy briefings. For every off-the-FOB transportation mission conducted by our battalion, my shop briefed the patrol leader and crews on the route status and the historical trends in enemy activity. We focused on threat times and engagement areas, highlighted recent attacks, and focused on providing diagrams of previous attacks and IED indicators. Much of this information was gleaned from weapons intelligence team reports or combined explosives exploitation cell reports, which showed initiators and IED emplacements from previous attacks.

Although IED cells tend to use similar devices in similar locations, the IED threat varied greatly from one area to another. Displaying these pictures and walking through previous attacks enhanced our Soldiers’ awareness and focused them on finding the IEDs before they could be detonated.

Route Experts

Although the maneuver task force S–2s focused on targeting, we were known as the BCT route experts. We worked closely with the brigade route clearance planner, providing him information and expertise. As a result, we were often called on to do assessments for other units. We made tailored products for military police and military transition teams moving to our sector from the other end of the division AO. When one of our forward support companies needed to pick up equipment from a FOB out of sector, they turned to us for a route assessment. Using historical analysis, area unit intelligence summaries, and weapons intelligence team and combined explosives exploitation cell reports, we determined the ideal route for the unit and identified potential hotspots for enemy activity.

The BSB S–2, S–3, and support operations battle captain were colocated in the tactical operations center, which proved to be a valuable asset to the entire battalion. Together, we were able to assess the mission requirements and enemy situation quickly and give the company the complete mission up front. This fusion proved especially vital during recovery missions for vehicles that had been catastrophically damaged. I could immediately provide information from sensitive reports about IEDs en route to the recovery site, and we could recommend an alternate route to the security mission commander within the time it took to stand up the service and recovery team.

We were ultimately successful by focusing on our commander’s priorities and making the S–2 team the subject-matter experts on route and IED data. Our time in Iraq proved to be an outstanding, fulfilling learning experience. In contrast to the military intelligence schoolhouse focus on targeting and analysis for maneuver units, I learned about how logisticians affect and are affected by the battlefield and the enemy. The importance of intelligence support to logistics units, especially at the BCT and below, cannot be overlooked.

Captain Mary K. Kahler was the S–2 for the 610th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, when she wrote this article. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University and is a graduate of the Military Intelligence Officer Basic and Captains Career Courses.