Establishing a survivable brigade support area (BSA) defense during large-scale combat operations (LSCO) is critical for the brigade support battalion (BSB) as it enables direct support logistics, field maintenance, and echeloned force health protection support to the armored brigade combat team (ABCT). The combat power and operational reach of the ABCT are dependent on the BSA’s survivability while enabling sustainment responsiveness and continuity, as the 101st BSB experienced at Combined Resolve XVI. Combined Resolve XVI is a decisive action training exercise held at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany, where units must simultaneously execute offensive, defensive, and stability operations against a near-peer and hybrid threat. The exercise focuses on the ability of units to execute unified land operations with NATO allies and coalition partners. The 101st BSB deployed to Hohenfels training area (HTA) via rail and commercial line haul to join more than 4,600 troops from Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States at Combined Resolve XVI, which strengthened interoperability and multinational cooperation in a combined decisive action operational environment. The 101st BSB organically deployed and redeployed more than 330 Soldiers and 400 pieces of equipment from its Operation Atlantic Resolve forward operating site in Poland to Combined Resolve XVI from Nov. 17, 2021, to Dec. 20, 2021.
Upon arrival to HTA, the BSB supported the 1st ABCT, 1st Infantry Division build-up of combat power in the area of operations (AO). The BSB’s closed phase training module included a BSA defense module consisting of level one attacks on the BSA by irregular forces and active surveillance by civilians. The 101st BSB’s training objectives during Combined Resolve XVI were to conduct base defense, provide uninterrupted sustainment to the brigade, and ensure all Soldiers made incremental improvements to master fundamentals in assigned positions. These training objectives were exercised during the transition to open phase training as the BSB conducted a tactical displacement to ensure survivability and increase responsiveness to the brigade’s support requirements. The BSB conducted distribution operations to deliver critical commodities to supported units. While conducting daily logistics synchronization meetings with supported battalions, the BSB provided continuous medical and logistic support as the battalions transitioned through their respective training modules. The BSB provided sustainment support to the 1st ABCT and multinational units attached to the task force. The brigade’s task organization consisted of one U.S. maneuver battalion, one Slovakian mechanized battalion, one cavalry squadron, one Italian tank platoon, one Bulgarian mechanized company, one Greek reconnaissance platoon, one U.S. engineer battalion, one U.S. field artillery battalion, one U.S. brigade support battalion, and one U.S. combat aviation squadron. The 721st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion provided division-level sustainment support.
Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 4-90, Brigade Support Battalion, identifies LSCO and BSA survivability as top challenges to the ABCT to sustain itself via the BSB as the operational tempo and lethality, which create significantly higher supply consumption and maintenance requirements, place extreme demands on sustainment organizations. The BCT will move rapidly over extended distances, especially during offensive operations. The BSA will displace frequently and must keep pace with the BCT while simultaneously executing required sustainment support. Further, ATP 4-90 highlights the importance of BSA survivability during LSCO as there is no sanctuary area within the BCT or division area of operations. The enemy can target the BSA and sustainment units throughout the depth of the AO with direct and indirect fires to cause BCTs to culminate. BSBs should assume that they are under observation and plan to displace, disperse, and react to all eight forms of contact during operations. 1st ABCT's 1st ID’s successful execution of the Combined Resolve XVI force-on-force portion at JMRC from Dec. 3-15, 2021, highlighted several BSA survivability challenges and lessons learned as the brigade trained to validate its ability to conduct multinational operations in a multi-domain battlespace.
BSA Site Selection Lessons Learned
Overall, the 101st BSB leveraged its validated tactical standard operating procedure (TACSOP) and the military decision-making process (MDMP) to select suitable BSA locations during Combined Resolve XVI with several lessons learned. First, the 101st BSB sought to choose a BSA site that provided prolonged endurance, which is the ability to organize, protect, and sustain the 1st ABCT regardless of the distance from its base and environmental austerity while ensuring operational reach and freedom of action. Operational reach describes the distance and duration across which the 1st ABCT can successfully employ military capabilities. Freedom of action describes the ability to achieve initiative, maintain tempo by planning, and execute sustainment to support a maximum number of courses of action (COAs) for the supported commander.
The 101st BSB displaced to two sites (BSA 1 and 2) within HTA with selection criteria based on MDMP and the battalion’s TACSOP. The sites were each established by priorities of work and capabilities force flow package. The selection criteria are critical to the success of establishing an effective BSA. For example, during MDMP, the BSB prioritized survivability based on the assessment that the BSB could not support the brigade in a critically degraded state. Initially, BSA 1 seemed to be an ideal location and fit within the BSB’s primary selection criteria that provided survivability and enabled support. However, adverse weather and terrain degradation became a major problem immediately after establishment, which limited the BSB’s ability to support the ABCT and sustain critical supply commodities at the BSA. BSA 1 was well defended against a direct attack, but the site lacked overhead concealment. The BSB mitigated this shortfall by leveraging aerial surveillance and attack assets while distributing critical mobile and static defensive positions along the tree line while using distance to protect command nodes.
The selection process for BSA 2 leveraged the lessons learned at BSA 1 as the selection criteria shifted to responsiveness to build redundancy of supply commodities within 1st ABCT while focusing on supportability and maintaining echelons above brigade supply lines to the BSA. BSA 2 was selected on the premise of drive-through logistics, which allows a constant flow of customers to receive commodities quickly and efficiently. However, the disadvantages of BSA 2 included the ability to secure it without attached assets from across the ABCT, while the mountainous topography limited tactical frequency modulation communications with adjacent units. BSA 2 was set in a valley against a hillside, which provided some protection against indirect fires, but it was highly vulnerable to direct and aerial attacks. Furthermore, it was an easily observed location by any enemy forces on the adjacent high ground. Although the attack risk was significantly higher, the reward of fast and effective sustainment to the supported battalions was paramount during this portion of the rotation in HTA. The weather conditions and impacts on route trafficability continued to be a tough adversary in both locations and should be factored into COA development and weighted heavily as COA selection criteria.
BSA Survivability Lessons Learned
The 101st BSB learned that listening and observation posts, close air support (CAS), and fire support are critical planning considerations early in the MDMP process. According to ATP 4-90, the BSB S-2 plans the reconnaissance and surveillance portion to facilitate the BSA’s survivability. This requires coordination and unanimity from the BSB command sergeant major, S-3, and companies to trust that the plan created is the one that will enable BSA survivability while understanding that it is subject to operational adaptations. Further, building more robust external and internal relationships while garnering credibility through intensive training repetition before the deployment into the training area would have alleviated BSA survivability ownership friction points at each site. The BSB learned that defensive positions in the BSA must be complemented with regular roving patrols and tactical unmanned aircraft systems to expand observational reach and deterrence. The BSB excelled at establishing fighting positions and emplacing obstacles, but layered defensive position refinement slowed as time passed with impacts from the weather, terrain, and operational exhaustion.
BSA defense ownership ambiguity within the organization slowed continuous defense refinement coupled with the fog and friction of the operational realities during the rotation. For example, the BSB struggled to consolidate updated sector sketch cards with the BSB S-3 for a holistic defensive analysis while establishing clear ownership of the quick reaction force were lessons learned. Each company had a different standard for security posture while minimal engagement area development occurred, leading to security gaps. Furthermore, the Charlie Medical Company was on the perimeter at both BSA sites, closest to a main supply route and within hand grenade range from the tree line, which was not ideal. The 101st BSB remained challenged to coordinate and synchronize the defense of the BSA at both sites during the exercise. A lack of understanding and the slowed execution of basic Soldier tasks across the battalion prevented the organization from reaching a fully cohesive defensive plan. Finally, the BSA defense lacked pre-planned fires targets given to the BSB from its higher headquarters. Incorporating final protective fires targets and two-three predesignated targets in support of the BSA defense before operational execution would assist the BSB in layering effects for any decisive threat, bypassing the forward line of troops.
The BSB must continue to incorporate and practice Mission Essential Task (MET) 63-BN-4885, Conduct Actions Associated with Area Defense, to better understand the supporting and individual tasks. The BSB must supplement Army Doctrine Publication 3-90, Offense and Defense, with ATP 3-21, chapter 3, section V, for engagement area development while ensuring all Soldiers understand how to use their capabilities, such as AN/PAS-13 thermals, night vision devices, and tripods. Executing a base defense squad tactical exercise or live fire to test progression on this MET would pay dividends. Full utilization of a base defense operations cell (BDOC) in union with the TACSOP will provide a defense common operational picture to the BSA.
Establishing Pre-Planned Protective Fires
The BSB did not utilize pre-planned fires in defense planning or execution of the BSA protection during Combined Resolve XVI. BSBs must have planned fires points coordinated on avenues of approach, potential enemy observation points, and final protective fires in the event of a perimeter breach. The BSB learned that training on call for fire and planned fires point planning should be conducted and integrated into BDOC operations. The battalion TACSOP must outline pre-planned fires planning and CAS.
Intelligence Integration and Dissemination
The BSB learned the importance of intelligence integration into the trip ticket process, which would allow the BSB S-2 to have a platform to relay ground-level intelligence to convoy leadership. This intelligence was often not integrated into convoy briefs and disseminated to the lowest level by convoy commanders. The BSB S-2 analyst must be present and brief during all convoy briefs leaving the immediate battlespace. At the same time, the BSB S-3 must enforce a standard of updated intelligence briefs within two hours of planned convoy movement times.
Tactical Convoy Operations
Convoy commanders and sub-ordinates in the BSB often struggled with all the supporting and individual tasks associated with convoy operations during Combines Resolve XVI. The BSB learned the importance of incorporating MET task 63-BN-4033, Coordinate Distribution Support, in future training events through the BSB’s training glide path. All movement operations must be a training opportunity to allow young leaders to get multi-purpose training. Companies must focus on ten-level tasks such as convoy briefs, rehearsals, and convoy movements to build confidence and proficiency in their abilities.
Maj. Matthew N. Mayor currently serves as the battalion executive officer for the 101st Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kansas. He holds two bachelor’s degrees in criminology and philosophy from Marquette University in Wisconsin. He also holds a Master of Business Administration from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University in Illinois, a master’s degree in Operational Studies from the Command and General Staff College (CGSC), and a master’s degree in Management and Leadership from Webster University in Missouri.
Capt. Charles R. Bransom currently serves as the battalion operations officer for the 101st Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kansas. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering and Industrial Technologies from Sam Houston State University in Texas.
Capt. Karlos Febustraphagen is a U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer currently serving as the battalion S-2 for the 101st Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kansas. He has served in the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade (Theater), and 1st Cavalry Division. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the United States Military Academy.
This article was published in the Summer 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.