By Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clinton CoonceOctober 1, 2019
In support of the Army Materiel Command's (AMC) efforts to support combatant command operational plans, United States Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command's G-3 planners and enterprise stakeholders have prepared a deployable capabilities planner's guide in order to identify planning data, considerations, and limitations when establishing the forward repair activity (FRA). Tasked organizations will conduct assessments and quarterly inventories of identified deployable capabilities and FRAs via readiness reporting in order to validate requirements to support wartime theater requirements. When deployed, the FRA will be under the operational control (OPCON) of the Army field support brigade (AFSB) in theater.
The FRA concept of operation is to provide key details on all capabilities residing within the activity. There are six readiness factors attributing to whether or not an FRA is set to move forward like any other unit: core fuctions, battle roster, personnel readiness, equipment-on-hand readiness, equipment readiness data and training data. The first four levels can be seen within the FRA planner's guide.
An overseas FRA may be established by AMC when it has been determined, in coordination with the appropriate theater commander, that forward depot support by depot personnel or by contractor logistic support operations is needed to sustain mission critical systems or components. The sustainment maintenance capability an FRA would bring to the fight would be instrumental to winning our nation's wars and sustaining combat power on the battle field.
An FRA is AMC-resourced, directed and controlled activity operated by contractors or organic personnel that provides sustainment level support forward of the depot. During War Fighter Exercise 19-4, the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command support operations materiel readiness branch's main focus was on reconstitution of combat power on the battlefield. As the Army moves from counterinsurgency operations to large-scale combat operations (LSCO), the FRA was a primary area of focus in efforts to regenerate combat power within a short period of time. For training purposes, the timeline was every 12 hours, so many variants of combat platforms would become fully-mission capable. The catch was there had to be many battle loss or battle damaged equipment at the FRA for repair or overhaul.
Looking at the dymanics and makeup of the FRA, it is comprised of teams from Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois; Red River Army Depot, Texas; Sierra Army Depot, California; Anniston Army Depot, Alabama; Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems; Program Executive Office Combat Support & Combat Service Support; Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense; and Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, which are the main contributors to the success of reconstitution of combat platforms. Ultimately, the FRA is there for sustainment-level maintenance but it has the ability to provide field level maintenance as well. These support teams also have the ability to regenerate combat power on ground versus sending equipment stateside which would ultimately take the equipment out of the fight for an extended period of time.
A Stryker sustainment forward support team can reconstitute six vehicles per month but requires 28 vehicles in the distribution pipeline and at least 12 at the repair facility. This is all proposed as an example and shouldn't be taken as a guarantee because it is all dependent on the availability of parts. The tracked vehicle forward depot support team is OPCON to the AFSB. This team can perform minor repairs and 11 major repairs within seven days. Though this may seem easy, it requires a lot of resources.
The requirements to have an FRA on ground during LSCO are extensive. The ability for the FRA to reconstitute equipment relies on the ability of the corps support area (CSA) and theater support area to be able to provide all the enablers necessary such as power, water, lift capability, storage, and hard structure work space. All these factors have to be taken into consideration when securing an area.
If you look at the dynamics of what levels of maintenance are available from as far forward as the forward support company all the way back to the CSA, there is no sustainment support at the brigade support area or division support area. This could all be remedied by placing elements of the FRA as far forward as the division support area (DSA). Doctrine doesn't specify where on the battlefield the FRA has to be located, so placement of the FRA in the DSA would allow sustainment level maintenance to be conducted far forward of the CSA and would allow a quicker turn-around time on non-mission capable equipment.
The FRA is designed to reconstitute combat power by conducting an overhaul on battled-damaged or battle-lost equipment. In reality, this could take anywhere from four to six months to get one combat platform back into the fight. This may seem like a long period of time, but consider the alterative: placing the BL equipment on a ship for return back to the depot, having it overhauled, and then placed back on a ship for return. Providing the overhaul capability on the battlefield saves the warfighter and combatant commanders more than two months of transit time.
FRAs are authorized at the AMC major subordinate command commander's discretion to facilitate information technology (IT) repairs by the warranty vendors. FRAs should take action to become original equipment manufacturer certified warranty providers. Field maintenance will be performed on automation systems hardware when it does not violate the warranty. The FRA capabilities of providing IT repairs and sustainment maintenance save valuable time and resources so that equipment can be returned to the fighter without delay.
One aspect of the FRA that was not covered is addressing where all the contractors or organic personnel will come from. The FRA requires 391 personnel, based on the planner's guide. If a war was to kick off today with a near-peer adversary, are there 391 contractors or personnel ready to get their hands dirty on foreign soil and in an extremely hostile environment? This is something that would have to be addressed in contracts before the hiring process where there is currently no enforcing method to compel contractors to deploy as part of their duties.
WFX 19-4 provided the following dilemma: if a brigade combat team loses more than half of its main battle tanks, what are the mechanics working on? These mechanics can be sent to the FRA to help support the reconstitution effort until combat power is regenerated to where they can be utilized within their own unit. Having more mechanics does not always equal more output. There are always factors, such as bay space and lift capabilities, preventing additional equipment from being worked on at a given time. If mechanics were sent to the FRA, they could be utilized to pull serviceable line-replaceable units or parts from battle loss or battle-damaged equipment, which would speed up the process for the contractors.
Imagine hundreds of battle loss main combat platforms and other equipment, sitting at a maintenance collection point totally destroyed and the Combatant Command commander demanding combat platforms worldwide. The Army only has so many of these combat platforms so the only way to get more is to repair the damaged ones to combat readiness state.
The FRA is the solution to sustainment maintenance on the battlefield. This element is going to build combat power. The FRA and the individuals within that structure are going to be the ones who contribute greatly to successful LSCO.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clinton Coonce is currently assigned to the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. He works as an electronic missile maintenance technician.
This article appears in the October-December 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.