By Dr. John M. MenterMarch 28, 2019
The 25th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) warfighter exercise had gone fairly well 30 hours into the operation. The ABCT had moved out of its tactical assembly area and lumbered into the enemy's disruption zone. By hour 40, its combat power was worn down to approximately 65 percent, especially its major weapons systems, making a wet gap crossing operation problematic to practically impossible.
The commander, concerned about his rapidly depleting combat power, told the brigade S-4 that the ABCT needed to reconstitute before attempting the crossing. After talking with the local Joint Combat and Tactical Simulation interactor, he explained the ABCT's diminishing combat power to the Joint Deployment Logistics Module observer, coach, trainer. After a couple of phone calls, the BCT's M1A2s Abrams tanks and M2A3s Bradley fighting vehicles were magically restored to full status within minutes, complete with fresh crews and full unit basic loads. When the commander and the executive officer returned to the BCT's command post, both immediately greeted the brigade S-4 with "good job," as they turned their attention to their next tactical challenge.
Anyone who has participated in a division or brigade warfighter exercise within the past five to 10 years has experienced the above situation of rebuilding combat power. In the commander's mind, reconstitution has been accomplished. The brigade S-4, not completely understanding what exactly "reconstitution" is, does what he has always done. He has a senior exercise controller set the unit back to an arbitrary level, usually between 85 and 100 percent strength, in an attempt to replicate a successful resupply and restoration action.
Reconstitution is much talked about by senior leaders as an action to be taken. But reconstitution is rarely understood for what it really is, much less planned for.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The process of reconstitution and rebuilding a nation's army is as old as warfare. With the advent of raising large armies came the need to rebuild them, especially after extensive and costly operations.
One example is the German Wehrmacht of World War II. Extensive operations on the eastern front required units to be continually rebuilt, especially after they broke out of Soviet encirclement operations. The 6th Army, destroyed during the Battle of Stalingrad, was reconstituted and nearly destroyed a second time before the war ended. From March 1942 to May 1943, the Wehrmacht rebuilt 61 infantry divisions, 10 Panzer divisions, 10 corps headquarters, and three army headquarters.
During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese army successfully rebuilt 10 divisions immediately following the infamous 1968 Tet Offensive and the 1972 Easter Offensive. This made North Vietnam units available for operations to defeat the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, which led to the downfall of South Vietnam.
For all the discussion during command post exercises about conducting reconstitution, the last time the U.S. Army conducted such an operation while in contact was during World War II, when the 28th Infantry Division was recovering from extensive combat operations conducted in the Hurtgen Woods. The key words are "while in contact," since normal reconstitution operations in both the European and Pacific theaters called for units to be pulled back for a time to absorb and train replacements.
Much of the forces projected for use in the invasion of Japan were in the final stages of reconstitution operations in both the Philippines and Okinawa. It is doubtful that they would have been up to their full combat potential had the invasion happened on Nov. 1, 1944, as projected.
Similarly, during the Korean War, divisions and regimental combat teams rotated off of the front lines to absorb and train replacements. As long as the Army has had the draft, coupled with an impressive industrial supply complex capable of mass producing any required military equipment, reconstitution after extensive combat operations has been a relatively turnkey operation.
With the advent of the volunteer army in 1973, the substantial stream of individual replacements available to senior leaders in prior wars dried up. Concurrently, the Army renewed its focus on NATO, operational warfare, and the defense of West Germany with the advent of a potential Soviet invasion.
The Yom Kippur War of 1973 had demonstrated that modern mobile warfare was capable of carrying out immense lethality. During the war, Israeli units fought tank battles, in many cases outnumbered 10 to 1. Through improvised methods and sheer determination, "scratch" tank companies were immediately organized from remnant mechanized and tank brigades and rushed into critical gaps. Through immediate unit reorganization and cross-leveling of personnel, Israeli combat power was rapidly regenerated.
In the mid 1980s, the U.S. Army developed and published its AirLand Battle doctrine, an answer to the question of to how to defend against West Germany without the use of nuclear weaponry. Coupled with this doctrine was the need to develop a method to quickly rebuild the combat power of the two pre-positioned Army corps (V Corps and VII Corps) and their two respective armored cavalry regiments (ACRs). The 2nd ACR in Nuremburg and the 11th ACR in Fulda were estimated to last no longer than 48 hours in sustained combat.
This concern rose to such a level that during Exercise REFORGER '85, a reconstitution task force was identified and stood up by the 3rd Support Command. The mission of the task force was to reconstitute the 1st Squadron of the 11th ACR.
As the Cold War played out in the late 1980s, so did the need to develop a reconstitution doctrine. In 1990, with the commitment of U.S. forces in support of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, Army planners envisioned heavy casualties. This concern was largely born out of lessons from the recently concluded war between Iraq and Iran, where tens of thousands of casualties were incurred in what was viewed a as a modern day replay of World War I.
Doctrine developers began work on a reconstitution reference that would eventually become Field Manual 100-9, Reconstitution. It was published in January 1992, nearly a year after the conclusion of Desert Storm and just as the Army was starting to downsize. The last unit to conduct reconstitution under the auspices of FM 100-9 as an Army of Excellence unit was the 10th Mountain Division, which executed a four-day, four-phase exercise in conjunction with its 10 day Army Training and Evaluation Program event in 1998.
In the early 2000s, the Army opted to reorganize its forces into a modular structure through which, in theory, worn out operational-level units could be replaced by similar units in a plug-and-play manner. Divisional brigades were reorganized into brigade combat teams (BCTs), primarily heavy (armored), infantry, and new Stryker-equipped brigades, each with a significantly enhanced maintenance and supply capabilities.
Technically, BCTs were designed to conduct up to three days of sustained offensive operations before either being withdrawn or receiving major replenishment, which would enable the unit to continue its mission. Other Army of Excellence divisional and corps structures were flattened or transformed to create modular support brigades, designed to support BCTs.
During development this sounded fine, but the onset of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom did not give this doctrine a chance to function. In both cases, BCTs and support brigades were deployed for a period rarely exceeding one year and operated from either a forward operating base or a logistics support area. At those locations, equipment and personnel losses were easy to manage at the company and battalion levels. At the conclusion of the deployment, the unit returned stateside were serious reorganization and refit in lieu of reconstitution occurred--a term now referred to as reset.
The Army's Force Generation Model had active component units deploying every three years and reserve units deploying every five years, a practice that soon became more theory than practice. Yet, the issue of reconstitution could not be ignored as demonstrated by the numerous divisional and brigade warfighter exercises conducted as the Army's doctrine and operations evolved from counterinsurgency operations to decisive action with emphasis again on full-spectrum operations--offensive, defensive, stability, and civil support. Within a short time, as units underwent such exercises, they incurred losses that exceeded the capabilities to self-recover.
WHAT IS RECONSTITUTION?
Ask senior officers to define reconstitution and the answer can be elusive. As originally published, reconstitution was defined in FM 100-93 as, "Extraordinary action that commanders plan and implement to restore units to a desired level of combat effectiveness commensurate with mission requirements and available resources. It transcends normal day-to-day force sustainment actions. However, it uses existing systems and units to do so. No resources exist solely to perform reconstitution."
As the Army of Excellence gave way to modularity, much of the Army's doctrinal universe was rewritten under the auspices of unified land operations. FM 100-9 was rescinded in the mid 2000s, and reconstitution largely disappeared as a restoration process.
Moving forward, this much talked about term is difficult to define. Neither Army Doctrine Reference Publication 4-0 nor FM 4-0, Sustainment, define reconstitution. The closest approach is found in FM 4-95, Logistics Operations, where reconstitution is now framed as "in-theater reconstitution" with a definition that is largely a rewrite of the FM 100-9 definition for reconstitution. In-theater reconstitution is defined as "extraordinary actions that commanders take to restore degraded units to combat effectiveness commensurate with mission requirements and available resources. In-theater reconstitution should be considered when the operational tempo, mission, or time, does not allow for replacements by an available unit. Reconstitution requires both generating and operating force involvement."
FM 4-95 goes on to say, "The combat readiness of the unit, mission requirements, risk, and the availability of a replacement unit are the keys for considering reconstitution operations. Commanders must closely evaluate the combat worthiness of a unit to determine whether a reconstitution operation should be ordered. Commanders must also decide what type of reconstitution effort would be best for the organization based on METT-TC [mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available, and civil considerations] factors."
The operative wording is "extraordinary actions that commanders take." Thus primary planning guidance must come from the commander. Reconstitution actions must start with the commander, and thus this becomes an operation as opposed to solely a logistics function.
THE THREE ELEMENTS OF RECONSTITUTION
The three elements of reconstitution are reorganization, regeneration, and rehabilitation. The first and most immediate aspect of the reconstitution process is reorganization. Reorganization is the action to shift resources within a degraded unit, regardless of echelon or size, to increase its combat effectiveness and survivability. Commanders of at all echelons may conduct reorganization.
Per FM 4-95, reorganization can be either immediate or deliberate. Immediate or "hasty" reorganization is the quick and usually temporary restoring of degraded units to minimum levels of effectiveness. Normally, the commander implements immediate reorganization in the combat position or as close to that site as possible to meet near-term needs. Immediate reorganization consists of cross-leveling personnel and equipment, matching weapon systems to crews, or forming composite units (joining two or more exhausted units to form a single mission-capable unit).
Deliberate reorganization is conducted when more time and resources are available. It usually occurs farther away from hostile activity than immediate reorganization. Procedures are similar to those for immediate reorganization. However, some replacement resources may be available. Also, equipment repair is more intensive and more extensive cross-leveling is possible. This is the process American forces used following a major battles and operations in both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II and the Korean War.
The next aspect, regeneration, is the rebuilding of a unit. This action requires large-scale replacement of personnel, equipment, and supplies. Regeneration involves reestablishing or replacing the chain of command and conducting mission essential task training to standard for the regenerated unit.
Finally, rehabilitation is the process where units or individuals recently withdrawn from combat or arduous duty recondition their equipment and are rested, furnished special facilities, replacements, replacement supplies, and equipment, given training, and generally made ready for employment in future operations.
WHERE DOES THE COMMANDER START?
Reconstitution operations need to be planned in advance of tactical operations. While the S-4/G-4 determine the overall materiel and personnel requirements, in coordination with the S-1/G-1, it ultimately becomes an S-3/G-3 responsibility, especially if land is required for the regeneration process to take place.
The following planning criteria must be considered:
• Where will the reconstitution site be? More than likely, this will take place within the division or corps consolidation area. Supplies should be stocked prior to the unit's arrival.
• What replacements are available? Are they newly arrived or medically returned to duty?
• What is the condition of the unit to be rebuilt?
• What is the terrain and weather like?
• What is the condition of the unit's equipment and supply statuses?
• What subsequent missions will be assigned to the force?
• Is it feasible to establish a multifunctional logistics reconstitution task force? (A combat sustainment support battalion would work nicely.)
• What resources are available (time, materiel, personnel, and training)?
As a unit is identified for possible reconstitution, the commander conducts his own damage assessment or estimates whether sufficient combat power is available to continue the mission. Figure 1-1 from FM 100-9 provides the commander with a road map of questions to ask regarding whether the unit requires sustainment replenishment or reconstitution.
Much like a unit status report, the commander's damage assessment needs to address the following:
• Mission command and senior leader availability.
• Personnel and crews for key weapon systems.
• Equipment available and on hand.
• Supply status.
• The training status of the remainder of unit.
At the division or joint task force level, the operation requires constant and aggressive management to ensure timelines and rebuild milestones are met. Today, the support area command post in conjunction with the division's supporting sustainment brigade, as well as the expeditionary sustainment command's distribution management center and Army field support brigade, are ideally suited for this role. The support area command post also keeps the division main command post aware of the process against the operational timeline so that the reconstituted unit can be included in BCT or higher future plans.
In the case of units composed of systems, such as armored, mechanized, or aviation assets, a technique from the past was to conduct weapon system replacement operations. Those operations can take place in one of two modes: ready for issue or ready for fight. Regardless of the mode used, a link up takes place within the consolidation area with a trained crew to assume control of the system, where it in-turn is sent to its respective brigade support area via distribution operations.
A ready-to-issue weapon, as the name implies, is simply a weapons system that has been removed from its previous storage condition of preservation for shipment and made mechanically operable. This is typical of equipment found within Army pre-positioned stocks (APS). All ancillary equipment, such as fire control, machine guns, radio mounts, radios, and any mission command systems, are installed. The vehicle is fully fueled, and basic issue items are onboard in boxes. There is no ammunition on board.
A ready-to-fight weapon means the system is crewed, fully loaded with fuel, basic issue items, and ammunition. The system is boresighted, if required, and verified ready to fight.
Today, reconstitution is only found within FM 4-95 and is a far cry from the in-depth detail found within FM 100-9. While the method "looks good, briefs well," as noted during a 2017 general officer steering committee brief, today's Army is simply not optimized to conduct reconstitution operations during large-scale combat operations.
This study also illustrated that "reconstitution doctrine, policies, procedures and principles, as well as the Army's force structure itself have changed over the past 25 since FM 100-9, which have drastically impacted the restoration of combat power on the battlefield."
This was amply demonstrated with just personnel replacement operations during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, especially with Army Reserve and National Guard units operating within a counterinsurgency environment. Large-scale combat operations will simply overwhelm this one aspect alone, as demonstrated during the numerous warfighter exercises held annually.
So what is the answer? As mentioned above, a general officer steering committee is looking into this issue in order to identify a policy (and procedure) to reconstitute, at a minimum, a brigade-sized combat force in theater.
Right or wrong, the answer is not found in conducting "magic fairy dust" reconstitution at major command post computer-based exercises, creating the impression for one and all that reconstitution is simply a "reboot of the computer database" with no thought or planning required.
Dr. John M. Menter is a retired Army colonel and a doctrinal training team lead for the Mission Command Training Support Program's Doctrine Training Team 6, based out of the Mission Training Complex at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. He holds an MBA with a concentration in leadership and a doctorate in history and from the University of La Verne. He is a certified Professional Logistician, has written a number of articles for Army Sustainment, and is the author of the book, "The Sustainment Battle Staff & Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) Guide: For Brigade Support Battalions, Sustainment Brigades, and Combat Sustainment Support Battalions."
This article is an Army Sustainment product.