By Lt. Col. Mike HammondJuly 18, 2019
The flow of sustainment and critical classes of supply to the most forward locations on a distributed battlefield requires an integrated system to support the linkage of sustainment to the operational scheme of maneuver. Army Field Manual 3-96, Brigade Combat Team, states that the brigade support battalion (BSB) commander is the brigade combat team's (BCTs) senior logistician, responsible for planning, synchronization, and execution across the BCT area of operations. The field manual also charges the BSB commander to retain the authority to mass, surge, and reallocate logistics capabilities to support the BCT commander's intent and concept of the operations.
This basic task to synchronize logistics and sustainment efforts is difficult to accomplish and requires detailed planning. Synchronized tactical logistics is imperative to underwrite the BSB commander's ability to apply sustainment to assigned tactical tasks for up to six or more maneuver battalions executing simultaneous combat operations in a decisive action environment.
Implementing and executing effective field trains command post (FTCP) and combat trains command post (CTCP) operations, focused on capabilities that support combat operations forward of the brigade support area (BSA), will allow the BSB commander to effectively mass, surge, and reallocate logistics capabilities on a distributed battlefield.
BCTs training at the National Training Center (NTC), at Fort Irwin, California, struggle to build and emplace sustainable FTCPs and CTCPs that can facilitate tactical logistics distribution. Maneuver commanders further complicate this effort by retaining most of their forward support company (FSC) capabilities in the CTCP and splitting CTCP nodes to create a unit maintenance collection point (UMCP) and two separate locations for role I medical care. What remains is a reduced CTCP that is unable to support the tactical distribution of sustainment forward of company trains.
Likewise, the FTCP usually contains a liaison capability without the mission command systems and leaders needed to understand the scheme of maneuver. There is typically very little understanding of requirements and consumption by class of supply.
Army doctrine is somewhat unclear about the recommended composition and resourcing of CTCPs and FTCPs. This article recommends a solution that centers on the capabilities of each sustainment node. Using the described method, the right leader with a clearly defined task and purpose will be able to support tactical sustainment distribution to the right location, at the right time, with the right quantity, and in a synchronized fashion.
Achieving capabilities at each node becomes extremely important when considering combat operations against a near-peer enemy with cyber capabilities. The right leader at the right sustainment node, and empowered to make decisions, can overcome battlefield friction and achieve these capabilities when mission command systems are denied by enemy cyber activity.
It is imperative for logistics planners and commanders to understand the battlefield geometry for implementing FTCP and CTCP operations that support synchronized tactical logistics. Before Army transformation and modular BCTs, commanders overcame these challenges by selecting their headquarters and headquarter company (HHC) commander, normally on their second company command. They were resourced by the best platoon leaders in the battalion, serving as the support platoon leader and maintenance officer.
The HHC commander and support platoon leader were habitually located the FTCP in the BSA, while the battalion S-4 and battalion maintenance officer were located in the CTCP. Moving sustainment and logistics forward of the BSA and to the CTCP remained difficult but was significantly simplified under the construct.
The Army added another layer of complexity by creating the FSC. Logistics planners and commanders must now contend with an additional logistics company headquarters and capabilities that complicate the tactical distribution of critical commodities. The BSB provides sustainment support to the BCT through its FSC. It resources the FSC to set the logistics conditions necessary to extend operational reach, prolong the endurance of maneuver forces, and ensure freedom of action in the BCT area of operations.
Synchronization of logistics, described in Army Training Publication 4-90, Brigade Support Battalion as "the arrangement of actions in time, space, and purpose," requires continuous planning and accurate visibility of consumption rates by maneuver units. Building and executing FTCP and CTCP operations that support synchronization and the integration of tactical sustainment are critical.
The primary task of the FTCP is to coordinate with the BSB because the CTCP is frequently displaced during combat operations. The FTCP is the primary link between the maneuver battalion commander and the BSB.
Units training at the NTC achieve greater synchronization of logistics when the FTCP co-locates with the BSB inside of the BSA. This builds and maintains visibility of maneuver battalion planning, operations, and sustainment consumption rates.
The FTCP should coordinate the following capabilities: the building of distribution logistics packages (LOGPACs) and mission configured loads, personnel replacement and human resource operations, liaison officer support to the BSB support operations (SPO) section, class IX (repair parts) distribution, planning for decontamination operations, and the receiving and processing of information from the CTCP.
Having the right leaders present at this critical node ensures the capabilities required for successful FTCP operations. Commanders assume significant risk when the right leader is not present at each node to ensure that the distribution of sustainment continues. Placing an FSC commander and a distribution platoon leader at the FTCP will ensure that BSB SPO planners understand the tactical requirements and apply the right sustainment to set conditions for the maneuver commander to accomplish his assigned task.
The FSC commander must be present in the FTCP while planning and preparations are happening for upcoming missions. The battalion maintenance control officer, with oversight from the senior maintenance warrant officer, supports the FSC commander's efforts to build class IX LOGPACs with other commodities through effective coordination with their counterparts in the BSB.
Another major issue for BCT sustainment in decisive action is the timeliness of logistics convoys. Army Training Publication 4-90 states that the distribution company conducts replenishment operations in two ways: through supply point distribution, in which the FSC comes to the supply support activity to receive supplies, and unit distribution (or LOGPACs), where the distribution company delivers supplies to the FSCs.
The issue of limited distribution throughout the BCT is exacerbated during decisive action at the NTC because the distribution platoon of the BSB's Alpha Distribution Company (ADC) now carries the BCT's common authorized stockage list. The speed of the decisive action rotation and the complexity of the environment is causing BCTs to revert back to Army of Excellence modes of distribution by locating all FSC distribution platoons in the FTCP, which is co-located with the BSA. While this expands the BSA in size, it simplifies the concept of support and reduces the maneuver task force's CTCP, which is under constant attack during decisive action.
Resourcing the FTCP with the proper mission command systems enables FTCP personnel to communicate with the CTCP and strengthens the linkage between maneuver commanders and the BSB. The BSB can provide upper tactical internet for the secure transfer of information. The very small-aperture terminals (VSATs) from the combined arms battalions and the reconnaissance squadron should be located at their units respective FTCPs in the BSA to facilitate their maintenance operations. Locating these VSATs at the FTCPs will mitigate interruptions of maintenance operations, repair parts, and the distribution of supplies.
The FTCP should track the battle and consumption rates. BSB planners and FTCP representatives can properly plan and execute sustainment operations forward of the BSA if mission command systems provided by the maneuver battalion and the BSB are present.
Assessment of the BCT's sustainment posture is a critical part of planning, and failure to conduct this assessment will affect the execution of tactical logistics. Assessments allows the BSB commander to determine if the concept of support requires adjustments.
Arguably the CTCP is the most important sustainment node forward of the BSA. If the right leaders are present and the capabilities of the CTCP are enforced, then the BCT and BSB commanders can continuously monitor the battlefield to apply sustainment against tactical tasks.
The most important task of the CTCP is to execute the distribution of sustainment in support of its battalion. Sustainment planners must acknowledge that sustainment moves forward on the battlefield. The BSB's ADC is the lynchpin in distributing logistics to CTCP nodes and is often underutilized. This forces the FSC's distribution platoon, if it is not located in the FTCP, to return to the BSA for sustainment replenishment. This can negatively affect the tempo of an operation. The FSC distribution platoon is better utilized to conduct LOGPAC operations to logistics release points forward of the company trains.
The CTCP should include the following capabilities: assets to conduct maintenance operations, the distribution of critical supplies, role I medical operations, and class V (ammunition) resupply with mission configured loads that are preconfigured. The CTCP should remain mobile and austere to facilitate frequent displacement and contain critical assets, such as a portion of the FSC distribution platoon, to conduct emergency LOGPAC operations to company trains areas.
The FSC commander is the maneuver battalion commander's senior logistician and, in conjunction with battalion S-4, develops sustainment requirements at the FTCP. He can operate from the CTCP during combat operations, but generally, he should remain at the FTCP and coordinate sustainment activities with the BSB commander and BCT SPO.
The HHC commander and executive officer can provide the tactical expertise in the area of protection, and the battalion maintenance warrant officer manages UMCP operations. The HHC commander, as the senior company commander in the battalion, co-locates with the battalion S-1 and S-4 at the administrative/logistics operations center and provides support to the battalion specialty platoons, such as the battalion medical, mortar, and scout platoons. Likewise, medical providers treat casualties and the medical platoon leader conducts casualty evacuation to the role II facility, which is located in the BSA.
Mission command systems support the ability of leaders in the CTCP to conduct necessary assessments of the sustainment posture of each maneuver battalion. The tactical task and conditions on the battlefield drive changes to the concept of sustainment. Commanders must resource this important sustainment node with mission command systems that support the CTCP's situational awareness during combat operations to enable the anticipation of sustainment requirements as the scheme of maneuver changes or the BCT achieves catastrophic success against enemy forces.
Effective FTCP and CTCP sustainment nodes must contain the capabilities described to assist in the tactical distribution of sustainment to maneuver units. The right leader at the right location, empowered to make decisions and cognizant of the scheme of maneuver, is needed to achieve these capabilities.
The FTCP and CTCP nodes should function as command posts and use mission command systems that support the assessment required to apply the correct level of sustainment to maneuver battalion's tactical tasks.
Functioning FTCPs and CTCPs underwrite the tempo of combat operations and can only increase the commander's operational reach when the right leaders are present to ensure the synchronization of sustainment operations is achieved through the capabilities of each node.
Lt. Col. Mike Hammond is the senior sustainment trainer at the NTC. He holds a master's degree in advanced military science from the School of Advanced Military Studies and a master's degree in military transportation from North Dakota State University.
This article appears in the July-September 2019 issue of Army Sustainment