A U.S. Soldier of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Combat Division moves across his area of operation during Combined Resolve XI at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 5, 2018.
A U.S. Soldier of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Combat Division moves across his area of operation during Combined Resolve XI at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 5, 2018. (Photo Credit: Photo by Spc. Zachery Perkins) VIEW ORIGINAL

Sustainment operations determine the endurance, tempo, and operational reach for a maneuver force. A maneuver battalion forward support company’s (FSC) ability to forecast and match sustainment requirements to capabilities is critical to a unit’s tactical success. The Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), provides a realistic near-peer threat to a brigade combat team (BCT). This near-peer threat presents a myriad of challenges for FSCs that are hard to train at home station. This article provides a description of those challenges and trends observed of FSCs during decisive action rotations at JMRC and recommendations for sustainment leaders to consider or implement.

Logistics Planning

It is challenging for FSC commanders to balance command responsibilities while simultaneously assisting the battalion S4 with logistics planning. Field Manual (FM) 3-96, Brigade Combat Teams, outlines one of the responsibilities of a FSC commander is to assist the battalion S4 in logistics planning throughout the military decision-making process. FSC commanders feel it is their sole responsibility to do this planning, since the S4 is typically not a logistics officer. When doing so, FSC commanders’ risk neglecting their company’s troop leading procedures in the process.

Throughout five rotations to include infantry, Stryker, and armored BCTs, all five FSCs’ commanders failed to produce a Logistics Synchronization Matrix (LOG SYNCMATRIX) as well as violated or did not produce a company operations order (OPORD) in three of the five cases. An observed best practice is to bring the key subject matter experts within the company to assist in the development of logistics (LOG) estimates. By dividing this responsibility amongst several different stakeholders, the commander gets critical time back for the development of the company OPORD. The ultimate goal of this effort is to produce a LOG SYNCMATRIX that is nested with the scheme of maneuver and published in the battalion OPORD. However, most FSCs struggle with the timely production of the LOG SYNCMATRIX.

In all five rotations, this product was published last minute to the battalion crossing the line of departure. The LOG SYNCMATRIX must be validated at the battalion combined arms rehearsal and sustainment rehearsal to ensure it is nested with the maneuver plan. Additionally, the LOG SYNCMATRIX is the fighting product for the FSC. It provides predictability to the FSC platoons and allows the company to de-conflict requirements for personnel and equipment. Often, FSCs create a LOG SYNCMATRIX and only utilize it for the first 72 hours of an operation. Throughout the course of five rotations, not one FSC updated their LOGSYNC MATRIX after the first 72 hours. This resulted in the battalion and the company forecasting requirements 12 hours versus 72 hours out. FSCs need to continually update the product through daily sync meetings internally to the company. Without this meeting, the company cannot capture accurate consumption rates, which in turn leads to internal problems. One example of such an internal problem is the inability of the distribution platoon to forecast convoy operations which inhibits their work rest cycle. This in turn also hinders the company first sergeant from de-conflicting the defense of the company with the personnel to run logistics packages (LOGPACs). This lack of predictability hinders the company’s ability to conduct mission planning and preparations. Additionally, without capturing accurate consumption rates or attempting to forecast, the FSC cannot provide the necessary inputs with battalion battle rhythm events such as the operations synchronization, logistics synchronization (LOGSYNC), and maintenance meetings.

Logistics Synchronization

FSCs also struggle with the makeup of the field trains command post (FTCP) and their combat trains command post (CTCP). FM 4-0 Sustainment states that the CTCP must be lean and displaced often. Typically, FSCs place too much capability forward with a small liaison officer team within the brigade support area (BSA) to serve as the FTCP. This heavy forward concept causes the CTCP to become a bigger target and further complicates displacement of the CTCP. Throughout five rotations, an average displacement time of eight hours and fifteen hours was observed, due to this heavy footprint. As an alternative, FSCs should look to place more capability in the FTCP.

By distributing assets, the FSC can now have a lighter footprint as well as facilitate the repair of equipment through multiple echelons (field maintenance team, CTCP, FTCP). Divesting assets across the battlefield the FSC can displace quicker without violating single mobility lift or have a backlog of non-mission capable (NMC) pieces at the CTCP. Another cascading challenge with logistics synchronization stems from the interaction and synchronization between the FTCP, CTCP, BSA, and company trains. Since there is no established battle rhythm between the FTCP and CTCP, the FSC executive officers (XOs) go into the brigade LOGSYNC with outdated or irrelevant information. Due to the FSC XO’s inability to articulate the needs of their battalion, critical assets or commodities either go to another battalion or are taken away from a battalion who has more of a need for those items. The FSC XO and commander must actively engage in synchronization efforts prior to the XO going into the brigade LOGSYNC to discuss on hand commodities and anticipated requirements. This meeting can be done through Joint Battle Command-Platform or over Voice Over Internet Protocol phone utilizing the FTCP Combat Service Support Automated Information System Interface and CTCP Very Small Aperture Terminal During this synchronization, the FSC commander and XO at a minimum need to review the status of maintenance slants, battalion scheme of maneuver, battalion SYNC MAT, current O/H status of commodities, and LOGSYNC MATRIX in order to ensure accuracy in requests.

Logistics Tracking

As with logistics synchronization, FSCs struggle with logistics tracking. Throughout rotations, Observer Coach Trainers (OC/Ts) observed FSCs that did not utilize some form of a tracking board within the command post to provide visibility of on hand commodities and battalion combat power. Without a clear way to communicate on hand commodities, FSCs misalign LOGPACs or generate emergency LOGPACs.

Along with tracking commodities, FSC commanders should establish a battle rhythm event at the CTCP to review the tracking mechanism, update the LOG SYNCMATRIX, and plan the convoys for the next 24 to 72 hour period. This allows the FSC to place the ownership of updating the tracking mechanism on the perspective platoons, as well as creates shared understanding within the company. It further allows for better predictability for platoons and enables them to better prepare and execute missions while simultaneously permitting the Battalion to project out beyond 24 hours. This further enables the FSC to create/maintain an accurate LOGCOP by utilizing graphic overlays that outline the maneuver scheme in conjunction with the location of key LOG assets (adjacent unit CTCPs, Role I, et).

Tactical Operations

Finally, FSCs struggle with establishing a unit defense utilizing engagement area development (EA DEV) principles, hasty convoy planning, and displacement of the CTCP. Often at home station training, FSCs are not able to train these tactical functions and struggle to execute them in a decisive action environment. When developing a base defense of the CTCP, FSCs don’t understand or utilize engagement area development principles. Although EA DEV is utilized in larger operations, those principles can assist with establishing a cohesive defense of the CTCP. FM 90-7, describes the seven steps of EA DEV: identification of likely enemy avenues of approach, determine likely enemy scheme of maneuver, determine where to kill the enemy, emplace weapons systems, plan and integrate obstacles, plan and integrate indirect fires, and rehearse. Typically, FSCs often assign a base defense NCO, to create and develop the defense of the CTCP. This delegation to one single point of failure, often doesn’t pay dividends for the FSC. Over the course of five rotations, five FSC have attempted this method of organizing a base defense. In all five cases, the CTCP was overrun by the opposing force in a matter of minutes and did not successfully defend the terrain they held. Alternatively, FSCs should assign that task to platoons and allow them to build engagement areas as well as platoon sectors. By assigning it to platoons, FSCs now have a shared responsibility of base defense of the company, making it easier to manage and coordinate.

Additionally, FSCs do not conduct displacement planning until they are engaged by the enemy or are forced to displace by their battalion. Displacement planning is often rushed, with no process to tie the operation together. Displacement planning should commence as soon as the FSC establishes its position. FSCs need to think through terrain analysis, alternative site locations, leader’s recons, and order of march prior to the need to displace. This process should be codified through an order such as a fragmentary order to ensure all Soldiers within the company understand the plan. Contingency planning significantly cuts down the amount of time it takes the FSC to displace and allows them to quickly achieve an operating capacity. Another best practice observed is the utilization of a displacement checklist. This standard operating procedure serves as a way to provide priorities of work to the lowest level, and decrease the amount of idle time.

Providing a guideline to displacement allows the company to execute their assigned priority of work, while minimizing the impacts on supporting the battalion. This same mentality should be applied to hasty convoy planning. When planning for un-forecasted or emergency convoys, the distribution platoon or recovery section, simply fails to issue a convoy brief. By providing time for these elements to conduct a rehearsal, conduct hasty planning, and preparation, it allows them to smoothly execute their assigned mission. Rushing to failure, FSCs are committing critical assets that are at risk of being captured or destroyed by the enemy.

Success in a decisive action environment depends on the ability of the FSC to execute these critical functions. Enabling operational reach, prolonged endurance, and tempo requires the FSC to be able to execute LOGPLANNING, LOGSYNC, and its tactical operations flawlessly.

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Capt. David Peplinski is the Brigade Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company Observer Controller Trainer assigned to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland College Park and a master’s degree in integrated supply chain management from the University of Wisconsin Platteville. He is a graduate of the Logistics Captains Career Course.

Master Sgt. Jaime Mastache is a Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Brigade Engineer Battalion Forward Support Company Observer Controller Trainer assigned to Hohenfels Germany, as He is a graduate of the Master Leaders course.

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This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.

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