Sustaining joint forcible entry operations

By Lt. Col. Michael F. LaBrecque, Maj. Ronald McGurk, and Maj. Ryan SwedlowOctober 4, 2018

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Soldiers with Company A, 113th Support Battalion and Battery B, 1st Battalion, 163rd Field Artillery, both with the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, prepare a package for sling-load operations at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Multi-Domain Battle concept describes a future operational environment in which a joint force must create windows of opportunity to employ assets, such as ground forces, to create conditions that allow further exploitation, even into other domains. This must take into account enemy integrated air defense systems, long-range precision-guided munitions, and landing zone and drop zone denial capabilities.

Adversaries will exploit perceived U.S. weaknesses, such as time for force deployment and distance to logistics nodes, thereby degrading U.S. Soldiers' ability to sustain forward elements in the close area. These factors combine to limit the reach and endurance of ground forces and creates immense challenges to sustainment organization's ability to enable ground forces to meet the commander's intent.

At the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana, one of the most difficult missions a brigade combat team (BCT) faces is the forcible entry operation. Joint Publication 3-18, Joint Forcible Entry Operations, defines a forcible entry operation as an operation meant to seize and hold a lodgment against armed opposition.

The greatest challenge facing the brigade is sustaining a force without secured ground lines of communication (LOCs) as the element works to expand the lodgment, open the aerial port, and secure a foothold for follow-on forces. This can occur only during limited windows of opportunity achieved by the convergence of joint and partner capabilities.

Additionally, BCT planners often underestimate the time required to move commodities from division support areas to the forward line of troops because of a lack of detailed sustainment planning and synchronization across warfighting functions at echelon.

Three key elements allow sustainers to successfully sustain a joint forcible entry (JFE) operation:

• Understanding the BCT fight and establishing roles and responsibilities.

• Operationalizing the reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSOI) process.

• Using the full complement of mission command systems in order to maintain the situational awareness to respond to enemy actions and changing conditions.


Common issues that preclude successful BCT level planning for the JFE are a lack of understanding of key roles and responsibilities at echelon and failing to enable each entity to manage its fight as it relates to the sustainment warfighting function. Planning to sustain a JFE begins with mission analysis and a scientific approach to defining the ground force's task organization, requirements, sustainment capabilities, and shortfalls. Vulnerabilities should be addressed using echelons-above-brigade (EAB) assets or joint partners.

While logistics estimation tools do exist, historical data is normally a more accurate source of information. Most formations do not possesses this data because of their training methods at home station. The execution of a JFE operation is normally limited to 24 to 48 hours at home station, which prevents units from truly testing the ability to sustain forces in a decisive action scenario for an extended period of time. Lack of sufficient aircraft also prevents units from verifying that their distribution methods extend the endurance and reach of the ground force.

This approach requires sustainment planners, specifically the brigade S-4 and the support operations officer (SPO), to be fully nested with brigade S-3 planners as they develop the ground tactical plan to meet the maneuver commander's intent.

As planners develop the operational synchronization matrix, the sustainment synchronization matrix must mirror the required construct and tempo in order to forecast and account for time delays in delivering key commodities. This effort will also identify possible culmination points as well as key transitions between operational phases and will ensure the formation achieves the necessary sustainment conditions to enable the next phase of the operation.

The brigade must also consider the security of LOCs and the survivability of sustainment formations as they operate in the tactical support and close areas following the initial expansion of the lodgment. While most sustainment formations can secure themselves against level I threats, they cannot secure routes for extended periods of time. The enemy's ability to interdict LOCs can keep a maneuver formation from maintaining endurance and regenerating combat power.

Ultimately, the BCT must embrace sustainment as a brigade-level fight, understand its importance, and fully integrate all sustainment formations in order to achieve reliable and redundant systems capable of supporting subordinate formations as prioritized by the commander.

With regard to sustainment task organization, most infantry BCTs observed at JRTC come to the rotation with forward support companies (FSC) operationally controlled by their supported battalions, without understanding the direct support relationship described in Army Techniques Publication 4-90, Brigade Support Battalion. Most of the time, this relationship is not the result of a conscious decision by the BCT commander but, rather, just the way it had always been done during recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Effective brigade support battalion (BSB) commanders make the most of this arrangement through interpersonal relationships with maneuver commanders and their respective FSC commanders. But the drawback to this relationship is that it limits the BSB commander's ability to sustain operations and weight the BCT main effort through the rapid reallocation of sustainment capabilities and commodities.

Without the command authorities to task organize support elements rapidly, the BSB commander is limited to managing the BCT's sustainment reserve in the distribution company and recovery assets in the field maintenance company. At JRTC, observer, coach, trainers (OCTs) recommend a doctrinal direct support relationship between FSCs and their respective supported battalions, which maximizes the BSB commander's flexibility in extending the BCT's operational reach based on the maneuver commander's priorities.


As observed at JRTC, the plan to conduct RSOI is usually lacking in detail, not rehearsed, and normally delegated to the BSB. As a result, units are not prepared to stage vehicles, equipment, or personnel for onward movement. Units tend not to treat RSOI as an operation, and therefore units struggle with tracking the buildup of combat power, which makes it difficult to project or provide critical information to unit commanders.

The Multi-Domain Battle concept states that most phases of RSOI in the future may have to occur within the strategic support area and that forces, equipment, and even munitions must be strategically maneuvered together and prepared for rapid employment.

Essential to the RSOI process is the management of the BCT's priority vehicle listing or force flow as the BCT builds combat power within the area of operations. A common observation at JRTC is that BCTs delegate this critical function to the BCT SPO or S-4 without providing a clear understanding of the BCT commander's priorities or scheme of maneuver.

This responsibility should fall under the purview of the BCT S-3, with representation from the BSB SPO and BCT S-4, as this is a movement and maneuver function as opposed to a sustainment function. Ideally this arrangement will enable these key players to synchronize the sustainment and movement and maneuver warfighting functions to extend the BCT's operational endurance upon seizure of the lodgment and to rapidly build combat power.

Integrated into the BCT's concept of maneuver, but free to plan and manage the brigade's concept of support, the SPO and BCT S-4 can request EAB sustainment capabilities, including troop transportation assets in case airborne or air assault operations are not feasible. The SPO and BCT S-4 should also leverage EAB distribution assets to move commodities into the lodgment, including air-land, airdrop, sling load, and ground assault convoy.

Additionally, BCT mobility personnel can facilitate the organization's ground movement by processing march unit requests through host-nation transportation agencies. This process normally is required days or weeks in advance of movement for oversized or overweight equipment and hazardous material loads. Understanding the commander's priority for movement and available air-land assets, BCT mobility personnel can also assist subordinate element unit movement officers in preparing their equipment for joint inspection with Air Force contingency response group personnel in order to reduce the rate of deficiencies, thereby increasing the flow of combat power into the lodgment.

As planners validate the priority vehicle listing and load plans across warfighting functions by phase, they must also prepare mission configured loads of critical commodities. These may include barrier equipment and ammunition for subsequent phases of the operation.

Under the supervision of the brigade fire support officer, Soldiers from across the brigade can begin to configure and palletize specialty munitions for a deliberate defense, such as family of scatterable mines, or for offensive breaching operations. This will decrease the time required for EAB sustainment assets to move these commodities to the BSA for onward movement to the firing batteries.

The fires battalion should also ensure each battery departs the intermediate staging base or aerial port of debarkation with one basic load while the supporting FSC departs with an additional basic load. The brigade engineer should plan and supervise the configuration of barrier materials into specified obstacle packages as approved by the maneuver commander. These configured loads will expedite loading and movement by EAB assets, which will facilitate the brigade's rapid transition to defensive operations and associated engagement area development.

Lastly, key components of any unit's RSOI process are the testing and integration of logistics information systems and communications systems across the brigade and with higher and adjacent units. Observations at the JRTC indicate that units routinely fail to leverage very small aperture terminals for anything other than Global Combat Support System-Army activities.

Although unclassified, the very small aperture terminal merits inclusion into the BCT sustainment PACE [primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency] plan for logistics synchronization meetings and logistics status report submission because of its resilience and prevalence. Critical to the success of any operation is the ability to maintain shared understanding of available combat power and commodity management, and this is only possible during a JFE through effective use of analog and digital communications systems.


A JFE operation at the JRTC stresses all mission command systems in every organization. These mission command systems allow commanders to analyze, communicate, and battle track with efficiency as they maintain a common operational picture (COP). During the JFE, units often operate on separate communication platforms that may have limiting functions or are incapable of effectively communicating with other command systems.

At JRTC, OCTs coach units to manage this issue and develop and rehearse their PACE plans and their higher headquarters' PACE plans with necessary reporting formats for each communication network. Successful units will also monitor each mission command system listed on the PACE plan throughout the operation.

One of the many trends observed at the JRTC is that units become reliant on one mission command system (usually Joint Capabilities Release) and will not use all of the systems available to them to communicate with their elements, adjacent units, or higher headquarters. This can create a gap in accurately maintaining the COP and hinder processes as multiple sections fight over a single communication system.

Using and maintaining all available digital and analog mission command systems based on the unit's established PACE plans is the key to successfully sustaining a JFE. While conducting both individual and collective training, Soldiers must train with all available systems to build proficiency. During the RSOI process, the BSB should conduct a communications exercise with the brigade in order to validate and enable the full complement of mission command systems.

As the brigade and adjacent units depart the aerial port of debarkation to seize the initial objective during the JFE, the BSB is generally one of the last units to depart. As the BSB transitions from digital to analog functions while moving into the tactical support area, the brigade will transition from analog to digital functions.

This period of transition during the JFE will cause the BSB and brigade to operate and depend on different communication PACE plans and could degrade the BSB's situational awareness and reporting accuracy. Before the BSB transitions for the JFE, it needs to establish analog tracking that maintains its ability to obtain current and accurate information.

Updating trackers consistently, maintaining running estimates, validating information in logistics synchronization meetings, and posting a tracker for each commodity are opportunities for building analog products before executing the JFE. Establishing and using these analog systems before conducting the JFE will help maintain a functioning COP and enable a smoother transition when incorporating digital systems for the next phase of the operation.

As the operational environment continues to intensify and enemy capabilities evolve, sustainment leaders must establish processes and procedures with their maneuver units to integrate and anticipate requirements. Establishing roles and responsibilities that are fully understood and planned between sustainment leaders and maneuver elements is critical to sustaining operational requirements in the future.

The operationalization of the RSOI process needs to be clearly understood and enforced throughout the BCT. This process directly affects future phases of the operation and can quickly degrade maneuver elements' capabilities and threaten the successful accomplishment of the BCT mission.

Validating, rehearsing, and establishing available mission command systems will greatly contribute to obtaining current and critical information while transitioning mission command functions during all phases of the operation. These three key tasks will enable a BCT to achieve effective mission command of sustainment and the combat power flow into the area of operations during the JFE, thereby setting the conditions for successful follow-on operations.


Lt. Col. Michael LaBrecque is the senior logistics trainer at the JRTC. He holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the United States Military Academy and a master's degree in administration from Central Michigan University.

Maj. Ronald E. McGurk is the Task Force Sustainment SPO OCT at the JRTC. He is a native of San Diego, California, and was commissioned through the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration marketing from San Diego State University.

Maj. Ryan Swedlow is the brigade support battalion senior OCT at the JRTC. He is a native of Lynchburg, Virginia, and was commissioned a transportation officer in 2003. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Radford University and a master's degree in military operational art and science from the Air Command and Staff College.


This article is an Army Sustainment product.

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