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Logistics Convoys and the Intelligence Mission

During its 15-month tour of duty, the 3d Sustainment Brigade relied on logistics convoys to gather intelligence on some of the most dangerous supply routes in Iraq.

Envision a logistics convoy in Iraq. While driving down a remote supply route, the convoy recognizes likely indicators of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), halts, and sets up a cordon to prevent civilian traffic from inadvertently setting off explosions. While awaiting an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team, the convoy conducts further checks of the area to ensure that no secondary devices are emplaced on the road and no snipers are concealed in the wadi, the dry riverbed next to the road.

After conducting these checks, the convoy commander interviews the local nationals who are pulling security on a nearby checkpoint. These tribesmen indicate that there has been a recent increase in traffic just off the route. The convoy commander quickly assesses the validity of this information and leads a team in an investigation of the site. Using this human intelligence, terrain analysis, and their understanding of historical patterns of activity in the area, the convoy soon discovers an enemy fighting position and a significant IED cache. The convoy secures the cache until the EOD team arrives to destroy it.
Immediately after arriving at the nearest forward operating base, the convoy commander passes everything he has learned about the site to the maneuver unit that controls the battlespace. Thanks to the cache discovery, IED activity along the supply route is reduced for weeks to come. This is logistics intelligence at work.

Logistics Convoys Gathering Intelligence

Before the 3d Infantry Division deployed in 2007, its commander, Major General Rick Lynch, asserted on his “Preparation for Victory” signs that were posted throughout Fort Stewart, Georgia, that “Intelligence drives everything.” This proved to be especially true for the 3d Sustainment Brigade, which supported both the 25th Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division in Multi-National Division-North during its deployment in 2007 and 2008.

Brigade combat teams (BCTs) can rely on traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to complete their missions. However, in the sustainment brigade, logistics convoys literally drive intelligence. The sustainment brigade’s S–2 (intelligence) section mission centers on the convoy as both a producer and a consumer of logistics intelligence.

The sustainment brigade’s S–2 section differs from a BCT’s S–2 section in that it does not conduct lethal targeting or own organic ISR assets. Nonetheless, logistics convoys function as some of the best intelligence collectors on the battlefield. Logistics convoys can exploit the parts of the battlespace where few maneuver patrols frequently travel. Convoys also detect changes on these routes. They drive the same roads every day and are successful at finding IEDs in part because they notice both physical and environmental differences in their surroundings.

Logistics convoys can also note the locations of suspicious activity and take photos of possible fighting positions and enemy infiltration and exfiltration routes—all without leaving the road. In addition to providing this information to the sustainment brigade S–2, convoys can augment the maneuver BCT’s intelligence collection plan. In these ways, the sustainment brigade can be established as a producer—not just a consumer—of intelligence.

Leveraging ISR Support for Logistics Convoys

Although logistics convoys inherently are intelligence collectors, they also require external, overhead ISR support to assist in the counter-IED fight. With a little creative thinking, a sustainment brigade S–2 section can leverage ISR in support of logistics convoys.

The best ISR assets to leverage in support of convoy operations are those that can either communicate directly with the convoy on the road or provide near-real-time analysis of route threats to the brigade tactical operations center (TOC). In northern Iraq, this asset came in the form of a nontraditional intelligence asset: attack surveillance aviation. The 3d Sustainment Brigade’s combat sustainment support battalions were successful in requesting and receiving scout weapons teams to fly in support of their convoys. These helicopters made outstanding ISR assets that assisted the convoy in identifying IED emplacers and triggermen and also used their arsenals to respond to possible IEDs and troops-in-contact.

While the 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2 aggressively pursued direct support ISR coverage for its convoys and often received assets for its hotspots and operational moves, the brigade was not always the top priority for corps, division, or BCT collection assets. In these instances, convoys took advantage of peripheral coverage on their routes.

For example, even when the 3d Sustainment Brigade was not the supported unit, the brigade S–2 section continuously monitored the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) video downlink in the brigade TOC and communicated with analysts in relevant chat rooms to ensure that convoys were aware of threats that the UAV had identified on their routes. The brigade also coordinated for battlespace assets, including sniper teams, to provide additional coverage in IED hotspots on convoy routes. In instances when direct ISR asset-to-convoy communication was unavailable, the brigade TOC radio and telephone operator would use Blue Force Tracker to immediately notify the convoy of the location of the identified threats.

Synchronization With Enablers

The sustainment brigade S–2 section functions primarily as a fusion cell. Understanding the routes that logistics convoys travel and the battlespace they transit is critical to facilitating the brigade commander’s decisionmaking process. Establishing dialog and credibility with maneuver S–2s, as well as with critical enablers like EOD and route clearance teams, greatly assists the sustainment brigade S–2 in compiling a more complete, better-informed assessment.

The best way to facilitate dialog is by establishing a push-pull relationship based on information sharing and trust. For example, S–2s should share the intelligence that logistics convoys provide about the far reaches of the battlespace owner’s area of operations. They should inform the route clearance S–2s about the tactics, techniques, and procedures of logistics convoys so they can better conduct assessments. The sustainment brigade S–2 section should be established as a contributor of intelligence and insight, and forums should be created for critical players to synchronize their information. The 3d Sustainment Brigade hosted or participated in several of these weekly sessions, each with a different focus. Some of the most significant were the brigade counter-IED working group, the forward operating base S–2 meeting, and the Iraqi Army G–2 meeting.

Nurturing relationships with fellow S–2s by providing as much support as possible is also an important part of being synchronized with enablers. As a component of this, the 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2 section adopted four military training teams (MiTTs) located across northern Iraq and provided them with intelligence and security support. In exchange, these MiTTs provided the S–2 with intelligence about the rural areas that logistics convoys transited almost daily.

To extend the reach of all of the units involved, the 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2 gathered detailed intelligence on out-of-sector missions from other sustainment brigade S–2 sections across Iraq and, in return, provided them with route assessments for their missions into the 3d Sustainment Brigade’s area of operations. The 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2 also provided security support to local civilian agencies. This further broadened its scope.

Another way the 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2 leveraged critical enablers was by participating in intelligence synchronization working groups with the G–2s of the 25th Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division, and the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. These weekly sessions not only gave the division G–2s and BCT S–2s a chance to present their focus areas but also provided an opportunity for the 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2 to raise concerns to the highest levels about enemy activity on supply routes, pass on logistics intelligence, and share collection management assets. Among the most beneficial results of these intelligence synchronization working groups were additional ISR support for logistics convoys, targeted battlespace operations focused on 3d Sustainment Brigade hot spots, and improved coordination between logistics and maneuver intelligence sections.

Providing Area-Specific Intelligence

Each 3d Sustainment Brigade logistics convoy covered routes with vastly different threat characteristics. Understanding the routes’ demographics, attack trends, and terrain analysis on the microlevel enabled convoys to discover more IEDs than ever before. Soldiers clearly understood where history, nature, and intelligence analysis dictated that IEDs would be emplaced on their routes. They also received the latest threat updates and information on emerging enemy tactics.

The 3d Sustainment Brigade’s convoy readiness center was the locus for intelligence dissemination to convoys. Before heading out on a mission, the convoy commander would verbally walk his Soldiers down the route they were about to travel and brief the convoy on the latest intelligence prepared by the combat sustainment support battalion’s S–2. Making the convoy commander the intelligence briefer empowered him to “own” the intelligence and ensured that he was fully aware of the threat situation. The convoy readiness center intelligence brief was area-specific. Each Soldier understood that the threat could be very different 50 miles down the road. This understanding helped ensure that logistics convoys did not become unnecessarily aggressive in friendly areas but still maintained their defensive posture in high threat zones.

Engaging the Nonlethal Fight

Because the sustainment brigade’s primary mission is not to kill or capture the enemy, the S–2 must take a nontraditional approach to shaping the battlefield, such as conducting regular nonlethal targeting meetings with battlespace owners and making specific recommendations for humanitarian efforts and economic support. The targeting conducted by the sustainment brigade S–2 is based far more on attack trends and atmospherics than it is on high-value targets. Developing long-term relationships with villages in areas that formerly facilitated insurgent activity proved to be helpful not only in mitigating attacks against logistics convoys but also in underscoring the importance of the mission of 3d Sustainment Brigade Soldiers in Iraq.

Logistics convoys are intelligence-gathering assets, but they are not one of the usual tools military intelligence Soldiers learn about in the schoolhouse. Logistics intelligence requires a little bit of creative thinking, a lot of team building, and plenty of willingness to take a nontraditional approach to solving targeting and ISR-resourcing problem sets. The sustainment brigade S–2 is successful when the brigade’s Soldiers make it home and logistics convoys have been acknowledged as producers—not just consumers—of intelligence.

Captain Jennifer Hurrle is the 3d Sustainment Brigade S–2. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the University of Michigan and an M.S. degree in strategic intelligence from the American Military University. She is a graduate of the Air Defense Artillery Officer Basic Course and the Military Intelligence Captains Career Course.