Washington Army National Guard Soldiers, assigned to India Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, pull security while transporting supplies to the forward operating base in “The Box”—a massive training area within the National Training Center—on Fort Irwin, California, March 13. India Co. is the forward support company responsible for providing resupply, equipment maintenance, and food service to companies at the front line during combat missions.
Washington Army National Guard Soldiers, assigned to India Company, 3rd Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, pull security while transporting supplies to the forward operating base in “The Box”—a massive training area within the National Training Center—on Fort Irwin, California, March 13. India Co. is the forward support company responsible for providing resupply, equipment maintenance, and food service to companies at the front line during combat missions. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Adeline Witherspoon) VIEW ORIGINAL

During 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 1st Armored Division’s recent National Training Center (NTC) rotation in November 2020, sustainment leaders learned that there is a significant capability gap in the forward support company’s (FSC) ability to conduct survivability in a 21st-century large-scale combat operations (LSCO) with near-peer adversaries.

In the fall of 2019, Delta FSC began its training cycle in preparation for 3rd ABCT’s NTC rotation the following year. One of the conversations held among company leaders at the time was how the company would train and employ its security assets against a most likely enemy course of action (MLECOA) and a most dangerous enemy course of action (MDECOA). The case was made that the MLECOA would be a small-arms near enemy ambush or an interaction with light enemy armor, for which the company’s assigned M240B medium machine guns and M2 .50 caliber machine guns were suited. When considering options to defend against the MDECOA, unanimously decided as a decisive engagement with enemy armor, there was no weapon system authorized or in the arms room effective against tanks or armored personnel carriers. Leaders pondered over the next year if an FSC would withstand the MDECOA, and if not, how would it impact sustainment operations?

Delta FSC was shown just how lethal and disrupting enemy armor could be to sustainment operations during their NTC rotation in the fall of 2020. The first discovery of this capability gap occurred on training day four of the force-on-force training. 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment’s combat trains command post (CTCP) was situated approximately seven kilometers from the brigade’s front-line trace, with a ridgeline obscuring the northern and western avenues of approach, and a pass that led directly from the opposing force’s (OPFOR) area of operations to an open plain behind the brigade’s echelon trains. One of the cavalry squadron scout troops were tasked with over-watch and securing this pass. After a decisive engagement with OPFOR armor, a lone enemy infantry fighting vehicle, a Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty (BMP), survived. That BMP was able to make its way through the pass and assault the CTCP. Soldier’s scrambled to fighting positions and crew-served weapons, but M240Bs and M2 .50 caliber machine guns cannot penetrate the BMP’s 35mm of armor. With no anti-tank capabilities present, the sustainers and support staff there suffered one-hundred percent notional casualties within minutes of being engaged by the lone BMP. In a similar real-world scenario, this could significantly affect the squadron’s prolonged endurance and could force adjacent sustainment units to take on additional requirements.

The second discovery of this capability gap occurred on training day six. The distribution platoon logistics package (LOGPAC) convoyed to a scheduled logistics release point (LRP) to deliver Class I food and water, Class III bulk petroleum, and Class V ammunition to another one of the cavalry squadron’s scout troops. The squadron S-4 had coordinated the LRP to occur during an hour of the day that was known to be a lull in the battle period, to best mitigate threats to the LOGPAC. However, the enemy gets a vote. As the convoy reached its objective, OPFOR employed a simulated chemical attack on the LRP. Before the scout troop or the squadron tactical operations center could be notified, a brigade staff officer found the convoy and informed them that the OPFOR initiated a large-scale counter-attack with armored columns and the convoy was in the middle of their objective. The convoy had no capability to defend itself from armor, and it could not move to nearby alternate LRP sites without knowing where the enemy limit of advance would be. With no immediate guidance from higher echelons, the convoy decided to return to the CTCP before it could resupply the scout troop. In split-second moments on the battlefield, when battalion- or brigade-level sensors cannot communicate the presence of enemy threats to vulnerable units in time, sustainers have to execute disciplined initiative to prevent disruption to sustainment capabilities.

In both of these scenarios, anti-tank weapon systems would have provided Delta FSC with the capability to ensure their survivability on the battlefield and to have more decision points to execute from. In the first scenario, the CTCP would have been secured from direct enemy armor threats and potentially won a decisive engagement. In the second scenario, the LOGPAC convoy could have suppressed the enemy while bounding back to an alternate LRP and secure from there. The FSC is not optimized to engage enemy threats decisively, however, anti-tank weapons allow sustainment elements to suppress and break contact. Both alternate outcomes would have provided Delta FSC the opportunity to continue their mission and provide uninterrupted logistical support.

Enemy air capabilities pose the same kinds of threats that enemy armor does to ill-equipped sustainment units. Further, the ABCT FSC is not authorized anti-air capability. During Delta FSC’s NTC rotation, friendly air assets and air defense artillery were available nearby and often. If, however, they were defeated or not present, sustainment units would be continuously vulnerable to enemy air threats.

Brigade support areas (BSA), primarily secured by the brigade support battalion (BSB), face similar threats and challenges in LSCO environments as the FSC. Near-peer enemy armor and air pose significant dangers to brigade-echelon sustainment functions located in the BSA. The BSB is not properly equipped to deal with these threats, similar in the way the FSC is not. While additional attachments to the BSA can provide a wider selection of security assets, this topic merits further exploration into how to organically equip an ABCT BSB to secure the BSA from enemy armor and air threats.

History is full of examples of Fabian warfare, in which the enemy exploits logistical vulnerabilities to disrupt offensive or defensive capabilities. Most notable was the British and French armies’ use of irregular or guerrilla warfare to disrupt each other’s supply trains moving between forts deep in the wilderness during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Regular sustainment forces of both armies who were not accustomed to the North American frontier tactics were unprepared and defenseless against raids and ambushes along rocky and foliaged terrain. Native Americans and colonial militias would wield these tactics to affect confidence in sustainment capabilities on the battlefield directly. Such tactics would then directly influence Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. As long as ground forces have the capability to penetrate and deliver deep strikes against supply lines, there will be a need to aggressively secure logistical nodes and trains.

The sixth principle of sustainment laid out in the 2019 publication of FM 4-0, Sustainment Operations, is Survivability: “A quality or capability of military forces to avoid or withstand hostile actions or environmental conditions while retaining the ability to fulfill their primary mission ... Hostile actions and environmental conditions can disrupt the flow of sustainment and significantly degrade forces’ ability to conduct and sustain operations.”

Per the fiscal 2020 modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE), an ABCT’s cavalry squadron forward support company is authorized 21 M2 .50 caliber machine guns, two Mk19 grenade launchers, eight M240B medium machine guns, four M320 grenade launchers, and 18 M249 squad automatic weapons. All other FSCs in an ABCT have MTOE authorizations that are nearly identical.

The FSCs in an ABCT are not authorized anti-tank weapon system capabilities. Unless they are provided these capabilities from the line companies, they must operate and self-secure in a LSCO with near-peer adversaries, where enemy armor is likely to be present.

As demonstrated by the vignettes above, it is clear FSCs suffer from shortfalls in anti-armor capabilities in LSCO with near-peer threats. Future Army equipping discussions should strongly consider integrating into the ABCT FSC, at a minimum, two M98 Javelins, two AT4s, two FIM92 Stingers, and two vehicle-mounted M41 TOW-ITAS systems with accompanied M1167 or joint light tactical vehicle gun platforms. This will effectively give the FSC the ability to protect its LOGPACs and command post elements simultaneously from potential enemy armor and air threats, thus achieving the sixth principle of sustainment, survivability.

Knowing that the timeline for procuring and distributing new equipment to units will be unspecified, the following is recommended to ABCT FSCs that are on the glide-path to their next combat training center rotation: Train and utilize any anti-tank capabilities that may already be available and liberally employ them at the CTCP and on LOGPACs. Battalion planners should consider options that would dedicate excess anti-tank capabilities from their line companies to their FSCs, if so available. According to task numbers 071-060-0003 through -0007, the training requirements for a M98A2 Javelin include approximately one day of preliminary knowledge and skills tasks and one day of simulator or live-fire training. The return on investment will reveal itself during the battle when line companies will not need to request emergency resupplies because their regularly scheduled and dedicated echelon trains have been cut off.

If the brigade support area is the heart of the brigade, and the line companies are the muscle, then the FSCs are the arteries that deliver the much-needed blood and nutrients to continue the fight. If one is severed, it will strain and weaken the redundant support systems in place. If multiple FSCs are taken out of the fight Soldiers will not eat, tanks will not have fuel, and bullets will not fly. As the forward-most sustainers on the battlefield, FSCs must have the organic capabilities to fight and protect themselves so that they may continue their mission and provide operational reach, freedom of action, and prolonged endurance to U.S. ground forces.

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Capt. Nicholas DeLissio is currently attending the Logistics Captains Career Course at Fort Lee, VA. He is a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor's degree in international politics, and pursuing graduate coursework in supply chain management.

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This article was published in the July-Sept 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.

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