(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL


“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.” Sun Tzu The Art of War

Vignette: National Training Center, Present Day

Six days into a 14-day rotation at the National Training Center, the battalion had just completed its second force-on-force: A deliberate attack, breach, and assault. It had been a rough day.

The battalion commander made his way back to the tactical operations center, with his mission and the day replaying in his head: Clear Objective Omaha to facilitate the passage of an Armor Battalion Task Force in order to complete the brigade combat team’s seizure of Objective Nebraska.

When the commander entered the tactical operations center, the S-3 was already back. The staff was around the map and the executive officer (XO) was thinking aloud. “The course of action (COA) had seemed simple enough, and the wargame had been a breeze.”

The commander took off his helmet and sat down on a steel folding chair, sighing heavily. “That was ugly. It seemed almost from the beginning we were chasing the day.”

The S-3 began to explain, “Yes sir, at about one kilometer across Phase Line Sprint, Alpha Company’s (A Co’s) lead platoon took two volleys of enemy tank fire, disabling two tanks and destroying one Bradley. That was a surprise. I was not sure where it was coming from. Then, we could see it was from Support by Fire (SBF) 1. SBF1 was just out of our range, so I set the section of mortars with us and put some suppression on it so A Co could begin bounding; they had to fight for the position.”

“It seemed to be going okay, then one of the mortar tracks was hit with antitank fire. It looked like the enemy was pulling off the rise and A Co picked up its movement. As A Co occupied SBF1, its combat power was down to six M1s and three M2s. Mortar Section 1, down one track, was still en route to its position. Once on SBF1, we were fighting in two directions. It took us forever to gain any effects needed to launch the breach and I’m not sure we ever did. The enemy was more determined than in our wargame, and on top of that, made us fight for SBF1. We did not see that during the wargame, but we tried to address it during the combined arms rehearsal (CAR).”

The commander sat up. “Ok, one of the problems is right there. We have to get away from wargaming events at the CAR.”

The XO nodded in agreement before picking up the explanation. “I was on the radio with the S-3 and the mortars used half their basic load and were down one tube. They were black on high explosives. A Co’s expenditure of ammunition was higher than we wargamed. It forced us to shift some of the artillery fire to suppress the far right enemy platoon. That delayed the buildup of smoke on the main objective by about 40 minutes, or maybe longer.”

The fire support officer muttered, “I am sure they will tell us in the after action review (AAR).”

The commander sighed, “How did that even happen?”

The XO continued, “Our wargame did not include the movement, just the actions at the objective. I was trying to save time so we could get the order out quicker. We assumed A Co could move rapidly to SBF1. Speed was one of our criteria, and we did not visualize the enemy forward of the obstacle. As a result, the enemy engaged A Co earlier, which caused A Co to occupy SBF1 with less combat power and without mortar support. A Co also lacked the ammunition to sustain direct fires that could destroy enough of the enemy on Objective Omaha.”

The commander walked over to the map, “There is a second issue we cannot just wave off: the enemy. We have to assume it will fight, is free thinking, determined, and will try to surprise us and throw us off. That is what we have to wargame. Visualize the what-ifs.”

The S-3 responded, “Yes sir, and from that event on, our timing was off. Shifting some of our artillery from the breach to compensate affected the high explosives and smoke supporting the breach. The smoke was dissipating when the breach was still ongoing and the enemy was not suppressed. We were losing tanks, and at that time, we had Bravo Company (B Co) send its tank platoon to reinforce Delta Company (D Co), and we had to commit Mortar Section 2 to support the breach instead of the assault. Our coefficient of forces, with one tank company and 45 minutes of artillery suppression and obscuration, won this in the wargame, but the enemy had voted and not in our favor!”

The XO thought to himself, “Our wargame just consisted of filling in the events on the synchronization matrix, and a review of the decision support matrix. Everything we did was perfect. The enemy died where and when we wanted it to. We thought if we missed something, we could catch it at the CAR.”

The 3-291 Combined Arms Battalion (CAB) cleared Objective Omaha, but it was at a heavy cost. At the AAR that night, the cause and effect traced directly back to insufficient wargaming. The commander stood up and stressed what he saw as shortfalls in the wargame, saying, “We need to improve on the following: better understanding by the staff of its warfighting function, visualizing the fight with realistic adjudication of a thinking enemy, planning for and anticipating outcomes, synchronizing events and not just filling in a matrix, and finally, the CAR cannot be where we wargame.”

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