Making the Forward Support Company Work

by Lieutenant Colonel Kevin D. Poling

The author proposes some ways to improve the expertise of FSC officers and the critical relationship between the FSC and its maneuver battalion.

    I read with great interest Major Darrel G. Larson's article, "FSC Staffing and Training Needs," in the January-February 2001 issue of Army Logistician. I believe that he raises some legitimate questions about the experience levels of the personnel who will fill critical support positions under the conservative heavy division (CHD) redesign for combat service support (CSS). I also am concerned about how our doctrinal literature addresses the relationship between the forward support company (FSC) and the maneuver battalion it is assigned to support and the effect on planning, preparing for, and executing tactical missions. I would like to offer some thoughts on these issues, tempered by my observations of two rotations of digitized battalions at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California.

              When everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.

               —General George S. Patton

Under the CHD redesign, the logistics elements of maneuver battalions (except for the medical platoon) have been taken out of those battalions and consolidated in FSCs. These FSCs now support each maneuver battalion in a brigade combat team (BCT). The FSCs are composed of the maintenance and support platoons that were part of the headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) of an Army of Excellence (AOE) battalion. The platoons now work in a direct support role to the CHD maneuver battalion as part of the FSC. The FSC is assigned to the brigade's forward support battalion (FSB), which serves as its parent headquarters. The FSB also has undergone changes to complement the FSCs and better support the BCT as a whole. In sum, the entire logistics system is moving to a distribution-based and efficient-delivery-based system through the use of improved technologies that produce better CSS situational awareness.

Personnel Experience Levels

    The first aspect of the CHD CSS redesign that has raised some concerns is the experience of the key leaders manning the FSC as compared to the leaders of the old HHC and the impact of their perceived lack of experience on mission execution. The units once led by combat arms officers intimately familiar with the supported unit now are supported by outside units led by CSS officers, although the functions and tasks performed by each have remained relatively the same. See the chart on page 27 for a comparison. A quick review shows that the FSC has less experienced personnel than its HHC counterpart.

    No matter how much technology we inject into the support process, these companies always will be charged with conducting—

        Effective and timely company movement.

        Efficient site occupation.

        Local security and force protection.

        Logistics package (LOGPAC) and maintenance operations to sustain the            maneuver unit.

        Efficient reverse logistics release point (LRP) operations to restore unit basic loads (UBLs) to the company.

    

AOE HHC (Assigned to the battalion)

   HHC commander (Captain) 

-Normally a second command and the most 

experienced captain in the battalion.  

-Fully understands the technical and  tactical 

requirements of the battalion.

-Runs the field trains command post 

logistics troubleshooter and is the executor 

for the battalion in the brigade support area.

HHC XO (Senior first lieutenant)

  -Normally a second XO position and

   one of the most experienced lieutenants in the battalion

  -Has experience in a maneuver company and 

   possibly a specialty platoon 

CHD FSC (Direct support to the battalion)

FSC commander (Captain)

    -Can the same be said?

   

   -Can the same be said?

   

   -Runs the battalion/task force support area and is the single

logistics operator for the battalion

 

FSC XO (Senior first lieutenant)

     -Can the same be said?

    

    -Technical knowledge of the supported unit?

 

Battalion Support Platoon

Support Platoon leader (Senior first lieutenant)

-Normally one of the best and most experienced lieutenants in the  battalion who is the main logistics executor supporting the unit  

-Understands the technical and tactical employment considerations 

 for the maneuver battalion

FSC Supply & Transport Platoon

Supply & Transport Platoon leader (Lieutenant) 

-A new lieutenant just out of the Transportation Officer Basic Course?

 

-Can the same be said?

Battalion Maintenance Platoon

Battalion maintenance officer (Captain)

 

     -Normally an Advanced Course graduate

    -If not, then one of the most experienced lieutenants in the battalion who has been a maneuver company XO and has technical familiarity with the unitís combat systems  

SC Maintenance Platoon

Maintenance control officer (Lieutenant)

Maintenance Platoon officer (Lieutenant)

-Both new lieutenants out of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course?

                                                                                                                                                                                             

No Equivalent                       

FSC Support Operations Section

Support operations officer (Lieutenant) 

-A new lieutenant just out of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course?

 

A comparison of personnel experience levels in the Army of Excellence headquarters and headquarters company and the conservative heavy division forward support company.

These fundamental operations at the HHC and FSC levels must be mastered by tacticians and logisticians alike, no matter the organization or the technology. In a way, the company-grade logistician supporting a heavy maneuver battalion (in other words, manning the FSC) must be a better tactician than ever before, because he has more in common with his counterpart in the AOE HHC than he does with his counterpart in the AOE FSB. The CSS redesign has not changed the fundamental mission of the maneuver battalion's support company and its tasks, whether that company is an AOE HHC or a CHD FSC.

    Are we now prepared to execute support under the redesign? I would say no. Major Larson's thoughts on improving the preparation CSS lieutenants receive before assignment to a CHD FSC or FSB are sound. Any schoolhouse effort to put better prepared officers in the field to serve in FSCs and FSBs deserves to be implemented. Initial training, however, only goes so far in compensating for lack of experience, as Major Larson pointed out.

    Where I strongly disagree with Major Larson is with his basic recommendation on how to remedy this situation, which is to upgrade the rank structure of FSC commanders from captain to major and of support operations officers (SPOs) from lieutenant to captain to provide greater experience in these positions. Why do I think this course of action is neither feasible nor suitable? To stay within force levels, it would require an increase in the number of logistics majors in the force and a corresponding reduction in the number of logistics lieutenants. I assume that the number of captains would remain the same because captain modification table of organization and equipment slots would convert from FSC commander to FSC SPO. Major Larson's solution would require an increase of 63 logistics majors and a reduction of 63 logistics lieutenants, which would turn Officer Personnel Management System XXI on its head by requiring more transfers of combat arms lieutenants to logistics branches as captains in order to feed the needed increase in field-grade logisticians. Do we really want to return to this old system? Do we need majors in command of these FSCs, which have only two line platoons and a headquarters platoon? This solution also reflects a misunderstanding of how the FSC and maneuver battalion actually function in conducting CSS operations.

    I think there are several other ways to address the inexperience of officers slotted into FSCs. One involves the normal progression of lieutenants and captains within the FSB. As much as possible, we should place new lieutenants, fresh out of officer basic courses, in the FSB's headquarters and distribution company and brigade support company so they become familiar with their operating environment and gain experience in supporting a heavy BCT. As much as possible, experienced lieutenants then should be slotted into the FSC's critical support positions.

    The same can be said for the FSC command slotting process. If an advanced-course-graduate captain comes into an FSB possessing a heavy FSC background, then he most probably is better prepared to assume command of an FSC than his counterpart who possesses a light background. Heavy maneuver battalions deal with this issue on a recurring basis as advanced-course-graduate captains with light infantry and light cavalry backgrounds are assigned to heavy brigades and require some acclimatization. Shouldn't our future FSC commanders get the same benefit in adjusting to a heavy environment? How we select FSC commanders, and who we select, not only will affect the ability of FSCs to support maneuver battalions but also will serve to mitigate the lack of experience of lieutenants in FSCs.

    There are numerous methods available to ensure that we place the most experienced personnel possible in critical FSC positions. Certainly, revising entry-level officer training to produce more multifunctional logisticians would increase the focus and preparation of the officers who will man our FSCs and FSBs. As much as possible, officer basic courses should familiarize these tactical logisticians with the tactical employment and technical capabilities of the heavy maneuver battalion, while remembering the experience and skills of the combat arms officers whose roles they are assuming in sustaining the battalion. I also advocate a very detailed analysis of how we assign young officers to our FSBs and how we develop them once they are in the unit, in order to maximize the FSC's effectiveness.

Redesign Implications

    New pressure points have been created under the CSS CHD redesign. The maneuver battalion commander has not been relieved of accountability for the combat power status, operational readiness rate, and tactical mission accomplishment of his unit, but he has been relieved of the organic assets for sustaining his unit. Those assets now are within a different chain of command, and the relationship that is established between supported and supporting units will be critical to the battalion's mission accomplishment. Our current doctrine must address this critical relationship as well as take into account the inevitable impact of human nature upon it.

    The FSC-maneuver battalion relationship creates a challenge that is more comprehensive, and much more visible on a daily basis, than a normal direct support relationship between maneuver units and direct support units from other battlefield operating systems (BOSs). Why? Because the CSS BOS reaches into the very heart of the heavy maneuver battalion, affecting the importance, visibility, and timeliness of the sustainment mission while also reengineering what had been an organic maneuver-battalion task. The CSS redesign requires daily synchronization among units from different chains of command and at lower levels than we have experienced before in order to accomplish sustainment. In many ways, this redesign runs counter to the historical trend of permanently organizing combined arms units at lower and lower levels. One only has to look at the interim BCT initiative to see this theory being put into action.

    Chapter 1 of Field Manual (FM) 63-20-1 (final draft), Forward Support Battalion, notes that the new CSS redesign supports the theory of unity of command by putting one person in charge of CSS at each level. This argument rings hollow, both in terms of how people act and how we plan for, prepare for, and execute tactical missions. Field Artillery, Air Defense, Engineer, and other combat arms commanders are equipped with improved technologies to support the maneuver battalion's tactical mission and can be considered the single operators for their BOS assets. However, we as an Army do not advocate the maneuver battalion's refraining from participating in planning or preparing to use those assets. In fact, it is the responsibility of the maneuver battalion commander to synchronize his maneuver plan with battlefield assets and activities across the other BOSs. Why should CSS planning and operations be different? I believe the current version of FM 63-20-1 treats the CSS BOS differently from other BOSs in terms of maneuver plan synchronization.

    So, in effect, the FSC commander has two bosses—the FSB and the maneuver battalion commanders—who potentially could, and sometimes do, give conflicting guidance in garrison and during execution of the service support plan in tactical missions. I recommend that our doctrinal literature for the FSB and FSC (FM 63-20-1) give some guidance to our FSC and maneuver battalion personnel in the field on how to make the system work.

CSS Operations

    What guidance might we then include? In fact, the answer to this question lies in a further analysis of Major Larson's primary solution. Why do we need a captain SPO and a major commander in the FSC to address battalion CSS when we already have a captain and major who are charged with that mission? I refer to the maneuver battalion S4 and executive officer (XO). They are the two main players within the unit, designated as the chief logistics planner and chief logistics integrator and synchronizer, respectively.

    We do not need another major and captain injected into the process when we already have two officers who, if used properly in conjunction with the FSC, will serve to mitigate some of the inexperience of FSC leaders. The maneuver battalion S4 executes his role as the chief logistics planner for the unit, develops the CSS plan based on his analysis of the brigade's service support plan and the maneuver battalion's mission, and then executes his doctrinal role in the battalion's military decision-making process (MDMP). If we view the S4 and FSC SPO as working in tandem rather than as two separate entities, then the inexperience of the FSC SPO is compensated to some degree by the experience and skills of the maneuver battalion S4.

    The same argument holds for the maneuver battalion's combat trains command post (CTCP), which includes S1 and S4 personnel, and the FSC Support Operations Section, which is collocated with the CTCP. Instead of treating these sections as separate but collocated operations, as FM 63-20-1 does, our doctrine should advocate that these personnel work as a seamless team to monitor the maneuver battalion's CSS situation as a whole, plan for the next mission, and function as the battalion's command and control node for all CSS operations. In addition, the FSC maintenance platoon at the unit maintenance collection point should receive guidance from this combined operation so it can provide planning input to the S4 and FSC SPO on how best to provide recovery and maintenance support.

    The CTCP, manned by both FSC and maneuver battalion personnel, would serve as the primary command and control (C2) node for integrating CSS into the battalion's maneuver plan. It would work in close communication with the FSC commander in the task force support area (TFSA), the battalion's medical platoon leader, and the brigade S4 and FSB SPO in the brigade support area. However, FM 63-20-1 makes little mention of how and for what purpose the FSC interfaces with the maneuver battalion staff. I think it should. What better place to establish the link between maneuver battalion logisticians and FSC logisticians than this forward-located C2 node? Planning for the next mission will occur at the maneuver battalion's tactical operations center, which is in close proximity to the CTCP and will allow the S4 and FSC SPO to participate in the battalion's MDMP. The current plan for outfitting the CTCP and FSC SPO with digital CSS C2 systems supports this arrangement by maximizing the potential of the maneuver battalion-FSC relationship to provide CSS to the battalion.

    Under this arrangement, the FSC SPO and his section can better perform the tasks assigned to them. They can leverage the tactical and technical experience of the maneuver battalion S1 and S4 sections and then integrate the FSC commander's guidance and the overall brigade CSS situation into the running logistics estimate maintained by the FSC SPO and the maneuver battalion S4. The result should produce both better situational awareness and situational knowledge than would be obtained by executing operations separately from the maneuver battalion's logisticians. Combined with entry-level officer basic course training and FSB assignment progressions, the potential inexperience of the FSC SPO can be heavily mitigated, much to the benefit of both the FSC and the supported maneuver battalion.

    As doctrine should be reexamined to address the relationship of maneuver battalion S4 and FSC operations, so should doctrine also address the relationship between the maneuver battalion XO and FSC operations. We do not need another major injected into the equation; that is because we have the maneuver battalion XO functioning as the officer charged with ensuring that CSS, along with the other BOS, is integrated with the battalion maneuver plan and that CSS activities are synchronized to best support the tactical mission. Who can better perform this role than the maneuver battalion XO, who is the person who supervises the battalion's MDMP?

    Redefining roles is necessary because what I propose conflicts directly with FM 63-20-1's pronouncement that the FSC commander is the "single CSS operator at maneuver BN/TF [battalion/task force] level." I believe that the FM is saying that the FSC commander should be the sole CSS planner and executor for the maneuver battalion, based on his situational awareness and guidance from the FSB commander and staff. His plan, based on the FSB operation order, should become the maneuver battalion's service support plan. Chapter 6 of the FM, which addresses the specifics of FSC operations, does not state or imply anything to the contrary.

    I believe that the FSC commander might have better situational awareness and visibility of the technical aspects of the CSS situation through input from his digital C2 systems and an understanding of the FSB's sustainment situation. But he cannot fully understand how CSS will be integrated and synchronized with the maneuver battalion's plan until he either receives the unit's operation order or participates in the battalion's planning process. The FSC commander is fully engaged in executing his fundamental tasks, and, based on my observations at the NTC, I do not believe he could participate in the unit's MDMP while also performing his basic role as company commander. Because of his physical location on the battlefield in the TFSA and his critical mission, the FSC commander is engaged fully as a logistics executor and troubleshooter to ensure that both his company and the maneuver battalion it supports are prepared to accomplish their missions. He could not function as the CSS planner and be present at the maneuver battalion's MDMP while also executing his missions in and around the TFSA. No digital C2 systems currently being fielded will allow the FSC commander to be both CSS planner and CSS executor.

    If the FSC commander cannot be both CSS planner and executor, who performs this mission? I believe that the battalion S4 and FSC SPO are the primary players in developing the maneuver battalion's CSS plan, with input from the FSC commander, medical platoon leader, S1, and maintenance control officer. The battalion XO then ensures that the CSS plan is integrated and synchronized with the maneuver plan, while the CTCP functions as the primary C2 node for controlling CSS assets during the battle. The XO retains his role of ensuring that all BOS, including CSS, are integrated into battalion maneuver plans. Therefore, we do not need a major as the FSC commander.

Solutions

    I believe a clear definition of roles and responsibilities should be codified in FM 63-20-1 so that the supporting unit (the FSC) can interface with the supported unit (the maneuver battalion) to provide CSS in a timely and efficient manner. In addition, FM 63-20-1 should mirror FM 3-91.2 (formerly FM 71-2), The Tank and Mechanized Infantry Battalion Task Force in CSS Operations.

    Maneuver battalion and FSC personnel need straightforward doctrinal language to guide the building of the new, comprehensive direct-support relationship, nurture the extremely important human dimensions of this relationship, and fully maximize the potential of digital C2 systems. My recommendations also are supported by the doctrinal definition of direct support and the actions that the parent and supported units can take. In terms of a direct support relationship, the supported unit (the maneuver battalion) is the one that positions assets and sets the priorities of the direct support unit (the FSC), and I believe my recommendations support this existing guidance.

    In addition, our doctrinal language should not be so rigid as to decree that direct support is the one and only relationship that can exist between these two units. Our doctrine writers should explore the benefits and implications of using differing command and support relationships to give units in the field varying options based on their situations. The other BOS have done this, and the CSS BOS should do so as well. As an example, I know of many AOE heavy maneuver battalions that did not retain the centralized structure of the battalion maintenance platoon within the HHC; instead, they permanently attached the line company maintenance teams (now called combat repair teams under CHD) to the line maneuver companies. Why? These battalions made an assessment that the benefits of team building and small unit cohesion created by this arrangement outweighed the benefits of centralized support. Doctrine should provide the force with the pros and cons of differing command and support relationships in order to increase unit flexibility.

    As I have outlined my observations and recommendations, I have been careful to restrict them to the FSC-maneuver battalion relationship, because it is at this level, I believe, that the Revolution in Military Logistics is least evident. The "old" fundamentals still apply at this level, whether we execute them with an AOE HHC or a CHD FSC. To use a football analogy, the larger game has changed, but the basics of blocking and tackling still apply along the line of scrimmage and are just as important to a team's success as they were decades ago. I certainly believe this truth applies to CSS at the maneuver battalion level.

    One of the most critical aspects of the relationship between the maneuver brigade's logisticians and FSB leaders is how the brigade's CSS plan is conveyed to the brigade as a whole. I recommend that paragraph 4 of the brigade's operation order be used to outline and explain the brigade's service support plan. Close cooperation among the brigade logisticians (S1 and S4) and the FSB planners (FSB SPO and Support Operations Section), with guidance from the FSB commander and brigade XO, are critical to ensuring that the brigade CSS plan supports not only the brigade's maneuver plan but also sets conditions for the maneuver battalions and FSCs to develop their own service support plans successfully. Using the brigade's paragraph 4 will help to ensure that the CSS plan is integrated with the brigade's maneuver plan.

    The worst scenario for the maneuver battalion-FSC relationship is that the service support plan published in the brigade operation order is not the same plan prepared by the FSB. Such a disconnect in the brigade's service support plan puts pressure on the FSC commander. The FSC commander then is given two conflicting plans to support, one from the maneuver battalion commander that is based upon the brigade operation order and one from his FSB commander.

    A prime example of this disconnect is the synchronization of maneuver battalion LOCPAC delivery and turn-around (which is based on the battalion's maneuver plan) with reverse LRP (which is needed to ensure that FSCs are restored to full UBLs). The reverse LRP is executed through a combination of supply-point distribution from either corps-level assets or the FSB's Headquarters and Distribution Company. If these operations are not synchronized across the brigade and in the maneuver battalions, the FSC will execute LOGPAC operations at a time and place that will not allow it to meet the reverse LRP time window and restore its UBL. This situation will cause the CSS system to become "reactive" rather than "proactive," as the FSC commander scrambles to sustain his company in order to execute LOGPAC operations for the next time window.

    Many of my recommendations at the FSC-battalion level certainly can be applied to the FSB-brigade relationship for planning and preparing to accomplish the brigade's tactical mission. What we say in FM 63-20-1 about the FSB should mirror what we say in FM 3-91.3, The Armored and Mechanized Infantry Brigade. The tenor of the relationship established at home station also has an impact on how well units execute CSS operations during training events. I suggest that we organize home-station activities and schedules to facilitate team-building between the maneuver battalions and their FSCs in order to make the transition to field and deployment activities seamless.

    Laying out major training events, maintenance and recovery periods, and vehicle service schedules for the training year would provide a useful foundation for synchronizing battalion and FSC calendars. That would allow each unit to understand when and where direct support and integration occur at home station. Representatives of maneuver battalions and the FSB could attend each other's battalion-level training meetings to maintain visibility of training events, schedules, and calendars. Any creative method that fosters and maintains the maneuver battalion-FSC relationship in the conduct of home-station activities would have great benefits when that relationship transitions to the rigors of major training events and deployments.

    The tactical mission success of our heavy maneuver battalions under the CHD design rests squarely on how well the FSC performs and executes its sustainment mission. I hope my thoughts will assist personnel in the field and writers of doctrine in shaping the relationship between the FSC and its supported maneuver battalion as more divisions convert to the CHD design. This relationship is critical to sustaining the legacy force as well as fostering the necessary team-building and small-unit cohesion necessary to win decisively on the next battlefield.   ALOG

    Lieutenant Colonel Kevin D. Poling is the Brigade Executive Officer Trainer for the Brigade Training Team at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. He previously was the Battalion Executive Officer Trainer for the Armor Task Force and Cavalry Squadron Training Team. He holds a B.A. degree in international relations from the University of Notre Dame and an M.A. degree in American history from Rutgers University. He is a graduate of the Armored Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Combined Arms and Services Staff School, and the Army Command and General Staff College.