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Tactical Convoy Planning for Sustainers

Throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operations, distribution is the key to keeping coalition forces sustained with supplies and equipment. To conduct distribution operations in these nonlinear and often noncontiguous battlefields, logisticians combine transportation assets and security escort forces into tactical convoys that are capable of defending themselves from ambushes and other threats.

Before the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Army transportation units trained for combat using doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) found in Army manuals that were written in a peacetime training environment. Once OIF was underway, it became obvious that the training and TTP available at that time were inadequate in the current combat environment. In his paper “Circle the Wagons: The History of US Army Convoy Security,” Richard E. Killbane wrote:

After the successful liberation of Iraq from the totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) from 20 March to 1 May 2003, the former Iraqi army soldiers and Fedayeen militia loyal to the Hussein regime resurfaced as insurgents. They began attacking convoys in June 2003 with very simple improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or direct-fire weapons on single vehicles. From that time on, the American convoys came under an increasing number of attacks by guerrilla forces.

Many transportation units in Iraq soon realized the enemy selectively honed in on specific targets. While foreign terrorists had arrived in country fully prepared to die for their cause, the home-grown Iraqi insurgents preferred to live to fight another day. Hence, they selected targets that would enable them to escape. The units that armed their trucks discovered the enemy would let their convoys pass to attack the weaker-looking ones following behind. In time, transportation units realized the enemy tended to target unprotected convoys and isolated vehicles. Units then began to armor and arm their trucks with machine guns and MK–19 grenade launchers.

Based on the new tactical environment, the Army developed a theory that all logistics convoys should be treated as combat missions and have security escorts (gun trucks) embedded in them. This concept led to the birth of the term “combat logistics patrol” (CLP), but the Army Combined Arms Support Command recently stated that the term CLP is nondoctrinal and can cause confusion. Units, combat training centers, and Army Training and Doctrine Command schools should instead use the proper doctrinal term “convoy” to describe the movement of supplies and materiel across the battlefield, whether the convoy is accompanied by a security escort or not.

Convoy Definitions

Although “CLP” is out and “convoy” is back in, another term, “tactical convoy,” is currently used in a Department of the Army publication and describes in even better detail how the Army is moving supplies across a hostile battlefield. The newly released Field Manual (FM) 4–01.45, Tactical Convoy Ops: Multi-service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Tactical Convoy Operations, defines a tactical convoy as “a deliberately planned combat operation to move personnel and or cargo via a group of ground transportation assets in a secure manner to or from a target destination under the control of a single commander in a permissive, uncertain, or hostile environment.”

No doctrinal definitions exist for “nontactical convoy” or “administrative convoy.” But “administrative movement” is an actual doctrinal term defined in Joint Publication 1–02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, as “a movement in which troops and vehicles are arranged to expedite their movement and conserve time and energy when no enemy interference, except by air, is anticipated.” The key difference between the terms tactical convoy and administrative movement is whether or not enemy contact is expected. If there is, then the cargo needs to be moved in a secure manner by tactical convoy.

Secure Movement

The technique used to move cargo in a secure manner can be best described as the “hardened convoy concept.” First developed and championed by the 8th Transportation Group in Vietnam, the hardened convoy concept rests on two tenets: the armoring or up-armoring of vehicles to protect drivers and crew members and the use of dedicated firing platforms in the form of armored gun trucks embedded as part of the convoy.

Based on the requirement to move cargo in a secure manner, a tactical convoy can be organized into two basic components. The first is the transportation element, which carries the supplies and equipment and executes the actual distribution mission. The second is the security escort, whose mission is to protect the transportation element.

Transportation assets are categorized as either green or white. Green transportation assets are military vehicles and personnel, and white transportation assets are civilian or contractor vehicles and personnel. White assets can also be divided into subcategories depending on who is driving the truck. For example, trucks driven by U.S. contractors can serve in different types of white convoys than those driven by foreign nationals.

The security escort accomplishes its mission by remaining focused on the transportation element at all times and not driving off in pursuit of attackers. According to FM 4–01.45, a gun truck is “a vehicle where the primary weapon system is a crew-served weapon with a 360-degree field of fire capability and usually hardened for protection of vehicle and crew.” Many types of vehicles can be used as gun trucks, but the most commonly used are the M1114 up-armored high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle and the M1117 armored security vehicle. Up-armored M900-series 5-ton cargo trucks and light medium tactical vehicles have also been put into service as gun trucks.

Tactical Convoys in Doctrine

Since June 2003, the Army has conducted tens of thousands of tactical convoys, and units from all branches of the Army have executed tactical convoys at the company level. These operations have provided a large historical database of proven TTP for the planning and execution of tactical convoys, and the TTP have, in turn, been transformed into FM 4–01.45. This FM is an excellent unclassified source for TTP and troop-leading procedures for company- and platoon-sized formations of any branch tasked to conduct tactical convoys.

At the organizational level, brigade support battalions, combat sustainment support battalions, and sustainment brigades are the formations that plan tactical convoys to support distribution operations. But before FM 4–01.45 was developed, the only doctrinal publications that discussed convoy escort were published by combat arms or combat support proponents, such as FM 17–95, Cavalry Operations, and FM 3–19.1, Military Police Operations. In these manuals, convoy escort is addressed as simply another tactical combat mission that combat and combat support units are expected to plan and execute. But these publications do not address how to incorporate transportation assets into a tactical convoy.

Most sustainment FMs do not address the security escort mission for tactical convoys conducting distribution operations. For example, FM 55–50, Army Motor Transport Units and Operations, discusses in detail how to organize convoys and provides some TTP for various scenarios involving ambushes and indirect fire. But it does not address how to incorporate a security escort into a convoy, coordinate with other organizations to support tactical convoys, or incorporate the intelligence process as part of tactical convoy planning and operations. Before the recent release of FM 4–01.45, no approved doctrinal publications existed to provide guidance for the tactical planning of tactical convoys.

As a result, sustainment organizations have had difficulty training for this aspect of their missions. For the most part, they do not receive the required training until they are in theater conducting a relief in place with their predecessors. However, considering the database of historical TTP of the tens of thousands of tactical convoys that have been conducted, we can assume that some best practices have been passed verbally among sustainment organizations.

Tactical Convoy Enablers

Sustainment organizations do not conduct tactical convoys in a vacuum; they rely on others to enable the successful execution of their convoys. Three major players at the brigade level and below enable a tactical convoy: the maneuver unit (most likely the brigade combat team) that owns the area of operations that the convoy transits, the engineer brigade, and the combat aviation brigade (CAB).

Maneuver unit. The maneuver unit provides support to tactical convoys by providing quick reaction forces and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams to react when the tactical convoy has any contact with the enemy. The maneuver unit also conducts operations against those enemy forces to prevent attacks from occurring.

Engineer brigade. The engineer brigade enables a tactical convoy before the convoy’s execution by—

  • Conducting route clearance to remove IEDs, mines, and other explosive hazards.
  • Conducting route repair to maintain route traffic-ability
  • Executing route sanitation (such as clearing brush and garbage from the route) to prevent the enemy from having cover and concealment while launching attacks against tactical convoys.

CAB. The CAB provides four important enabling functions:

  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support (sometimes in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles).
  • Increased security for critical or priority convoys in the form of air weapons teams (AWTs) flying overhead.
  • Fire support from AWTs (close air support) for tactical convoys in contact with the enemy.
  • Medical evacuation (MEDEVAC).

Coordinating With Enabling Units

When coordinating with the units that enable tactical convoys, sustainers need to provide them with the following information (at minimum):

  • Radio frequencies.
  • Call signs.
  • Blue Force Tracker identification numbers.
  • Mobile Transportation System identification numbers.
  • Start point times.
  • Routes.
  • Identification of the cargo as critical or priority, if applicable.

Much of this information is already on the sustainment organization’s movement program. A recommended procedure is to send the movement program by email through the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network to the tactical convoy’s enabling units.

Coordinating With Maneuver Units

When coordinating with a maneuver unit in particular, sustainers need to receive, as a minimum, the following information from the maneuver unit:

  • Radio frequencies.
  • Unit call signs.
  • Quick reaction force availability and contact information.
  • EOD support availability and contact information.
  • Types of MEDEVAC and casualty evacuation available and contact information.
  • Details of other simultaneous operations that could affect the tactical convoy.

Sustainers may want to look for this information first on the Command Post of the Future (a command and control software system that many units use to post this type of knowledge) and then at the maneuver unit’s battle desk to get any more specific information that is required. Posting this information to the sustainment organization’s battle book would also be an easy way to disseminate the information to other units that need it.

In addition to providing the standard information found on the movement program, sustainers need to keep the maneuver units informed of the specific times and locations of attacks on tactical convoys. This will provide intelligence to the maneuver units so they can conduct operations against the attackers.

A recommended procedure is to provide this knowledge in a “target package.” The package should include a storyboard outlining attack locations, dates, and times, groups of attacks, directions the convoys were traveling at the time of the attacks (such as northbound or southbound), and if any specific vehicles are continuously being targeted (such as fuel tankers or the fifth vehicle in the order of march).

The target package should also include the results of an ISR request for Ground Moving Target Indicator support for the same date, time, group, and location as the attacks to help show the maneuver unit where the attackers are coming from.

Coordinating With the Engineer Brigade

When coordinating with engineers, sustainers need to receive the following information from them:

  • Time and location of route clearance sweeps.
  • Unit call signs, radio frequencies, and Blue Force Tracker and Movement Tracking System numbers for route clearance patrols.
  • Locations of route repair and route sanitation projects.

To help the engineers enable tactical convoys, the sustainers need to provide them with the 8-digit grid coordinates of where route repair must occur (to maintain trafficability of supply routes and prevent IED emplacement in craters and potholes), where route sanitation must occur (to prevent convoy attackers from hiding along the route in brush, vegetation, or garbage), and where convoys are being attacked.
Then the engineers can focus the route clearance efforts on those locations.

By providing the engineers its movement program, the sustainment unit allows the engineers to schedule route clearance around convoy times rather than vice versa. Tactical convoys may be restricted to movement windows, but route clearance patrols most likely will not.

Coordinating With the CAB

When coordinating with the CAB, sustainers require the following information from them:

  • Schedules and locations of any air assets flying over the convoy route.
  • Call signs and radio frequencies of those assets. (Some aviation units may request that sustainers contact the aircraft through their supported maneuver unit instead of directly. In this case, the sustainment unit must ask the CAB for the proper procedures.)
  • The CAB’s ISR capabilities.
  • Procedures for obtaining MEDEVAC support.

It is imperative for sustainers to learn the procedures for requesting air support. Air support is a huge enabler for tactical convoys, and it is a requirement for moving some critical and priority convoys.

Intelligence and Tactical Convoy Operations

When executing the intelligence process for tactical convoy operations, sustainers need to concentrate on five focus areas:

  • Battlefield geometry.
  • Enemy analysis.
  • Friendly-force analysis.
  • Mission-specific intelligence.
  • Intelligence gathering.

The first three focus areas in the intelligence process provide the common operational picture (COP) for a sustainment organization. They are the backdrop and foundation for all planning for tactical convoys.

Battlefield geometry. The battlefield geometry includes the physical environment (both natural and manmade), route intelligence, and the human environment. The battlefield geometry is found by gathering and analyzing intelligence to define the operational environment. Battlefield geometry is the cornerstone of the sustainment organization’s COP.

When analyzing the natural physical environment, the following information, as a minimum, should be gathered, analyzed (paying particular attention to the effect on convoy operations), and disseminated:

  • Weather patterns.
  • Types of terrain (such as mountainous, desert, or jungle).
  • Locations of major terrain features (such as rivers, swamps, and mountain passes).

When analyzing the manmade physical environment, the sustainer must, at a minimum, be familiar with and understand the effects on convoy operations of the following information:

  • Locations and sizes of cities and towns.
  • Locations, weight-bearing capabilities, and the general condition of bridges.
  • Locations of railroads and railroad crossings and whether or not a railroad is currently being used.
  • Locations of canals and their depths and crossings.

Route intelligence. Route intelligence should include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Types of roads (such as four lanes or two lanes, raised road, shoulders or ditches, asphalt or dirt).
  • Types of terrain immediately around the route (within small-arms fire distance).
  • Locations of intersections, cloverleaf interchanges, overpasses, and bridges.

Sustainers must also be aware of the human environment of the areas of operation they transit. Knowing the human environment is essentially discerning the difference between transiting friendly areas and hostile areas. The sustainment unit must know the demographics and political leanings of the populations in the lands they traverse and understand what effect they have on operations.

Enemy analysis. Sustainers must know who the enemies are and where they reside. Enemies establish patterns in how they conduct operations. With proper analysis, sustainers can recognize trends, TTP, and areas of concentrated enemy activity, keeping in mind at all times what effects they have on operations.

Friendly-force analysis. Friendly-force analysis requires knowing the locations of friendly units and their capabilities, which is especially important when coordinating with tactical convoy enablers. It includes knowing what operations friendly forces are conducting and how they affect tactical convoy operations.

Part of friendly-force awareness must include knowing not only where the unit boundaries are drawn on the map but also the actual locations of unit areas of operation. In a nonlinear, noncontiguous battlefield, gaps and seams often exist in the operational environment as combat forces focus their efforts on areas where they wish to achieve an effect. This leaves other areas covered by limited assets or perhaps not covered at all. Sustainers must be aware of these areas because sometimes the tactical convoys will be the only U.S. forces traversing them on a habitual basis. If an uncovered area is also an area where the local population is hostile or where convoys have been habitually attacked, the sustainer must plan mitigation measures.

Mission-specific intelligence. Mission-specific intelligence is the knowledge required to conduct a specific tactical convoy at a specific time on a specific route. To generate mission-specific intelligence, a planner starts with the knowledge from the COP, updates it for the mission, and condenses it into an easily understood, concise format that aids mission planning. Mission-specific intelligence should include the following as a minimum:

  • Types of roads to be traveled.
  • Conditions of roads, bridges, and cloverleaf interchanges.
  • Locations and types of recent enemy activity.
  • Recent trends of enemy activity along the route to be traveled.
  • Recent activity of friendly forces along the route to be traveled.

Intelligence gathering. Sustainers must gather intelligence in order to maintain an updated COP. Sustainers cannot assume ISR assets and intelligence reports will automatically come their way; they must aggressively gather intelligence for their tactical convoy operations in the same way that maneuver units gather intelligence for their operations. Intelligence gathering has four components: identifying and activating named areas of interest (NAIs), using tactical convoys as ISR assets, requesting external ISR assets, and reading draft intelligence information reports.

Identifying and activating NAIs is an important part of intelligence gathering. No one knows the routes better than the units traversing them. When updating the COP, certain areas on routes will stand out as trouble spots warranting extra “eyes on.” Using NAIs allows sustainers to focus the intelligence-gathering process.

Tactical convoys should be used as ISR assets. As tactical convoys travel their routes, a sustainment organization can activate NAIs and have the tactical convoys report what they see as part of their after-action reviews. A recommended way to do this is to provide convoy personnel with a worksheet that asks questions about that specific NAI. Sustainers should also request external ISR assets. They should again use the NAIs to determine where and when external ISR assets are most needed.

Sustainers should read draft intelligence information reports. Learning from the drafts requires a lot of reading and sifting through many reports to find those that pertain to the sustainment organization, but it is an imperative task.

The intelligence process is ongoing and never-ending. If conducted properly, it will result in a constantly refreshed COP that provides situational awareness and understanding across the formation, which in turn provides timely and accurate intelligence in support of tactical convoy operations.

Named Operations

An effective way sustainers can help bring the whole tactical planning process together is to take the routes and missions their tactical convoys drive and turn them into named operations; this is similar to how maneuver units and other formations use naming conventions for their operations. When putting a named operation together, in addition to writing fragmentary or operation orders, the sustainer should build a storyboard for easy dissemination.

A named operation provides a few benefits for a sustainment organization. First, a named operation puts the sustainment unit in its enablers’ COPs. By notifying other units of the sustainment organization’s activity through a medium that the enablers themselves use, the sustainers are speaking the enablers’ language. The sustainers provide enablers with situational awareness and understanding of their tactical convoys by sending them their movement programs and storyboards of named operations.

The second benefit of named operations is that they provide a frame of reference and clarity to the sustainment organization’s COP by providing names for specific tactical convoys transiting specific routes on specific missions. Third, a named operation provides a frame of reference and clarity to the sustainment organization’s higher headquarters’ COP. Finally, named operations give a sustainment unit priority when requesting resources, especially ISR assets, in support of tactical convoys. In an always resource-constrained environment, priority of resource allocation normally goes first to named operations. By naming its tactical convoy operations, sustainers have a “foot in the door” for resources.

In today’s operational environment, sustainers must think tactically as well as technically when it comes to executing distribution operations. When planning tactical convoys, a sustainer must think not only like a transporter but also like a warfighter. This requires sustainers to understand the FM 3–0 (operations) series of manuals in addition to the FM 4–0 (sustainment) series. Sustainers must learn new skills and ways of thinking; the conditions on today’s battlefields demand it.

Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Peterson is the commander of the Echelons-Above-Brigade Support Battalion at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College’s School of Advanced Military Studies.

 
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