By Capt. Geoffrey S. Utter and Capt. Sean W. ThomasOctober 1, 2019
Today's operational environment requires a shift in how sustainers prioritize training objectives for the next fight. We must adjust our approach to protection and communication planning to counter technological advances and additional threats recently posed by other domains such as cyber and electromagnetic warfare. Incorporating the following insights observed at the Joint Multinational Readiness Training Center (JMRC) into the unit training plan will help prepare logisticians to prevail in multi-domain operations.
Sustainment units at brigade level and below typically do not adapt to protection considerations in an operating environment relative to large-scale combat operations (LSCO). At the company and battalion level, leaders neglect survivability considerations during mission analysis for base support area (BSA) site selection. Long-range precision fires present a significant threat to traditional BSAs, which are typically concentrated and have limited mobility. Observer coach/trainer (OC/T) teams at the JMRC, located in Hohenfels, Germany, regularly observe rotational training units (RTU) employ large, consolidated exposed footprints that do not mitigate vulnerability to enemy fires. Observations indicate RTUs tend to favor a BSA composition based on ease of sustainment over other warfighting functions. BSBs generally establish their BSA in close proximity to main supply routes and have failed to fully utilize camouflage netting for parked vehicles, sleeping areas, and tactical operations center (TOC) locations. This makes BSAs easily identifiable and prime targets for indirect fire attacks, chemical attack, and special purpose forces operating in the brigade rear area.
One of the best practices identified during a recent JMRC rotation was a BSB's innovative employment of base defense clusters to disperse assets and reduce the risk of enemy detection. Dispersal, a key survival technique, creates a smaller target mass for enemy sensors and weapons systems. Proper dispersal reduces casualties and losses in the event of an attack and makes enemy detection efforts more difficult. Rather than one consolidated base site, units should consider establishing a base support cluster (BSC), a collection of bases, geographically grouped for mutual protection and ease of command and control (JP 2280 3-10, Joint Security Operations in Theater).
BSCs allow for a unit's personnel and assets to be spread throughout numerous locations and therefore mitigate some of the threat from massing of fires from enemy artillery. Less effort is also typically required to conceal BSCs due to their decreased size. Smaller, concealed footprints are less susceptible to enemy observation and indirect fires. Traditional consolidated BSAs typically require additional manning for security requirements compared to smaller BSCs. Conducting a dispersed base cluster does warrant challenges. Coordinating fires, concealment, equipment readiness, and proper individual training are paramount to the success of establishing a BSC. Sustainment units rarely demonstrate proper use of claymores and obstacles. Individual, hasty, and deliberate fighting positions are not built to standard. Many BSBs do not utilize their authorized Ravens for early warning or area reconnaissance and are not authorized anti-armor capability. Fiscal Year 19 Standards in Training Commission (STRAC) does authorize the ammunition for sustainment gunnery, however, most sustainment units are unaware of this update, which has caused "ammunition harvesting" within the brigade to facilitate training. Training Circular 4-11.46, Convoy Protection Platform (CPP) Collective Live Fire Exercises, references cross-leveling from other training events to allocate ammunition for sustainment gunnery. This consequently leads to insufficient qualified CPP for convoy security, or CPPs are prioritized for base defense resulting in capture or destruction of logistics packages. These issues are compounded when portions of the formation lack a full understanding of the enemy and friendly situation within the rear area and brigade area of operation.
These shortcomings reinforce the need for survivability training as well as warrior tasks and drills. Refinement of BSB tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) and knowledge should cover:
BSA/BSC site selection and identifiable terrain that is suitable for cover/concealment and ease of access
BSA/BSC displacement procedures
Properly camouflaging equipment and foot prints to avoid enemy unmanned aerial reconnaissance; leveraging natural cover and concealment
Maintaining light discipline and operating in blackout conditions
Decreasing TOC's digital signature; placing OE-254s away from TOCs and command posts, at least a terrain feature away when possible
BSAs developing internal quick reaction forces (QRF) into their base defense plans; rehearse movement-to-contact
Proficiency at conducting call for fire and identifying in company sector sketches grid coordinates possible enemy positions
Mastering command and control of forward logistics element (FLE) operations while supporting the brigade's maneuver forces
Training and qualification with assigned weapon systems (M4, M240B, M2)
Proficiency with communication assets Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radio (MBITR), RT-1523 radios, joint capabilities release (JCR) force tracking systems; units should be well versed in analog systems--recommend using analog as primary and digital as secondary; establishing appropriate PACE plans by Warfighting Function, reverse PACE (ECAP) and add to TACSOPs
Knowledge of employing obstacles and early warning devices (claymores, trip flares)
Proficiency with communication equipment is equally crucial between BSC sites separated by terrain features in an environment often contested by enemy electronic warfare capability. While command post nodes (CPN) or tactical communications nodes (TCN) JCRs emit lower signatures, they can be jammed and are still vulnerable in a near-peer threat environment. Higher emissions from FM radios can be diminished with frequency hopping, reducing transmissions and spacing units across clusters.
Further, FM jamming and compromise can be mitigated below the brigade level through use of signal operating instructions (SOI), which are predefined countermeasures to facilitate continued use of FM networks when compromise occurs. Ultimately, redundant communications provide leaders a wide array of options to meet requirements.
To effectively compete against near-peer competitors, company and field grade sustainers must ensure survivability of their formations. During CTC rotations, forward support companies (FSC) possess the potential to counter the effects of degraded direct support assets in the short term. However, persistent loss of BSB assets in a sustained campaign can pose significant degradation to brigade combat effectiveness. Staffs need to prioritize fires, communication, and protection planning on par with sustainment, rather than as an afterthought. Trends at JMRC indicate several advantages employing BSCs during LSCO based on terrain and near-peer capabilities. Reversing the atrophy of traditional warrior tasks will also greatly increase chances of survivability. The intensity of LSCO requires a shift in all aspects of warfighting to meet the threat of near-peer adversaries. Significant work is still required to train sustainment personnel at the tactical level to meet these challenges.
Capt. Geoffrey S. Utter is the Brigade Support Battalion S3 OC/T for the Adler Sustainment Team at the JMRC in Hohenfels, Germany. He holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Creighton University at Omaha, Nebraska and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic and Logistics Captain's Career Courses.
Capt. Sean W. Thomas serves as the Brigade Sustainment OC/T with the Mustang Team at the JMRC in Hohenfels, Germany. He holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Illinois State University, is a graduate of Ordnance Basic Officer Leaders Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and will complete his master's degree at Georgetown University as an FY20 JCS/OSD/ARSTAF Intern.
This article appears in the October-December 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.