Base defense is always highlighted as an issue when the Combat Training Centers (CTCs) release their top 10 sustainment trends each year. Highly trained opposing forces (OPFOR) can consistently disrupt sustainment formations. Simply, we do not receive the training repetitions or have the experience that the average infantry Soldier does. Collective base defense is trained once or twice a year and nowhere near the standard needed during large-scale combat operations (LSCO) or what a CTC will prepare units for. Many combat sustainment support battalions come together piecemeal from active duty, Army Reserve, and National Guard, forming an ad hoc organization that has not trained together before hitting the ground in wartime or at a CTC. How can sustainment headquarters rapidly assess and communicate the situation to marshal collective action over a support area that could be more than half a mile in diameter?
The current modified table of organizational equipment (MTOE) for sustainment battalions does not have enough individual communication devices for mass distribution, such as the multi-band Army/Navy Portable Radio for two-way Communication (AN/PR-152s). While Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems, such as the RT-1523, can be used as manpacks, they are predominantly used for vehicles. Often, Soldiers are spread out between fighting positions, commodity areas, field maintenance sites, and sleeping tents when an attack on the division support area (DSA) or brigade support area (BSA) occurs. Alerting the formation to defend the perimeter before the threat is inside the wire is challenging. There is no quick mechanism to inform en masse the type of threat: direct fire (DF) or indirect fire (IDF); Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear; and others, as well as the immediate actions to take against the threat. Providing situational awareness with speed is pivotal to success in LSCO and CTCs.
This article proposes two solutions to enhance the sustainment battalion’s capability to rapidly identify, assess, and communicate threats to the support area. The 13th CSSB “Pioneers” nicknamed them Pioneer Eye, a base defense operations center (BDOC) camera, and Pioneer Voice, a loudspeaker system with pre-programmed alerts.
Many bases had access to Lockheed Martin’s Persistent Threat Detection System in Iraq and Afghanistan. This giant helium balloon provided long-range intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. Some small outposts or units were enabled with Teledyne FLIR’s Cerberus cameras—a trailer-mounted, 360-
degree camera. This equipment significantly increased survivability through enhanced threat detection, yet the Army never codified these capabilities on an MTOE. In LSCO, our sustainment battalions are likely to be under-protected or on their own. Maneuver commanders prioritize combat power toward maneuver objectives, leaving sustainers to defend themselves. Bypassed enemy forces ranging from single vehicles to entire companies alongside irregular forces are consistent threats to sustainment formations. Imagine if you could identify an enemy vehicle or squad a mile out. Even one minute of advanced notice can enable a more effective defense.
Why shouldn’t the BDOC or Tactical Operations Center (TOC) have a capability that constantly scans the perimeter, locating any movement to alert the staff? Many initial spot reports lack accuracy and timeliness. When a fighting position reports enemy forces skirting the perimeter, a BDOC camera can quickly scan the area to get an accurate account of the threat.
As the 13th CSSB trained base defense before its National Training Center (NTC) 22-03 rotation, we recognized the threat detection gap and remedied it through a commercial off-the-shelf solution–the Pioneer Eye. Pioneer Eye is a Montevue 8MP 4K Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera with 25x zoom, auto-tracking, and 500 feet of starlight infrared (IR) night vision. It was selected based on its affordability and capability. It enables a live view of inside and outside the DSA/BSA. This camera enabled the 13th CSSB’s TOC and BDOC to view the entire perimeter. We often viewed the attack’s live feed to clear the confusion, request support earlier, and provide eyes on the threat. The 500 feet starlight IR emits no IR signature and extends the detection range at night. The 25x zoom and 4k picture quality enable a clear live picture of what is happening.
The camera automatically tracks and follows humans and vehicles while alerting camera operators. It simultaneously records and takes snapshots of the alert as well. This feeds intelligence reporting by taking pictures of the enemy and attaching them to reports. Anyone within the network can be granted access through a username and password to view or control the camera. Multiple cameras can be tied together to form a video wall for the BDOC or TOC to view or control all cameras from a central location.
Employing Pioneer Eye at NTC
The entry control point reported a dust cloud in the distance with what appeared to be two vehicles. The 25x zoom capability enabled the unit to see that those vehicles were with range control, preventing an unnecessary elevation of force protection conditions (FPCON). If the protection levels were raised without need, our convoys would lose essential preparation time and potentially miss their starting point time while simultaneously reducing our maintenance posture in favor of security. In the fog of battle, threat assessments can sometimes take up to two hours, losing valuable time; a threat detection system can prevent this loss of time.
The BDOC received initial reports from multiple fighting positions with different numbers of OPFOR vehicles and personnel attacking the perimeter. Another report of an enemy breaching the perimeter came in without location data, so radio communication did not paint an accurate picture of the threat to provide the location(s) to surge quick reaction forces (QRF). Pioneer Eye performed a quick perimeter scan, enabling the BDOC to channel resources toward the enemy and counter the threat. The enemy then moved toward the aviation element in a base cluster nearby. The unit used the Pioneer Eye to monitor the aviation element’s perimeter and pushed reports to their TOC through a joint battle command platform and frequency modulation communication devices to aid their base defense.
Threat detection is only half the battle. Pioneer Eye provides clarity to command posts, but the challenge of getting all Soldiers to respond quickly to the threat remains. Most veterans are intimately familiar with the sound of the siren indicating indirect fire is incoming. All Soldiers overseas knew to move to bunkers and wait for an all-clear to begin getting accountability. Today, junior Soldiers that have not served in a theater of war do not share these same experiences. The size of a DSA could be up to a mile across when deployed in its entirety. Yelling out instructions or guidance is not feasible. How does a sustainment headquarters quickly communicate instructions given the lack of communications devices by MTOE?
The 13th CSSB remedied this through an Algo 8196 IP PoE+ Horn Speaker with three Algo 1196 speakers. Selected for affordability and compatibility, the system created a 360-degree sound projection public announcement system. Sound files were recorded of various alerts for IDF, DF, and gas. Additionally, the BDOC is hard-wired into the public address (PA) system, enabling users to broadcast additional instructions like FPCON changes, test fire notifications, or other pertinent information.
Using Pioneer Voice
The DSA took IDF early in the morning. It turned out to be a cyanide gas attack. The battalion TOC turned on the “Gas, Gas, Gas” alarm, followed by the required mission-oriented protective posture level. This allowed everyone on the DSA to react instantly to the threat.
Pioneer Eye picked up OPFOR in the distance. They had not attacked yet, but we needed to raise the FPCON level to Delta quickly. Instead of using a siren alert, we simply utilized our PA system to quickly get Soldiers into an elevated threat level to prepare for contact.
To use Pioneer Eye and Voice, units need a Windows 10 computer. The S6 shop can then enable the Windows 10 built-in feature Hyper-V to serve as a call manager for the voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) phones. Any dynamic host configuration protocol device (routers/switches) can manage the network’s Internet Protocol (IP) space and assign static IPs as required. Units will need to ensure the devices are compatible with one another. The system is scalable with additional equipment—cameras and speakers, VOIPs, switches, etc. The system is operated on an internal network and thus hard to penetrate with a cyber-attack.
A peer security pole designed for individual companies can also be created with less cost by reducing the switch, VOIPs phones, and some speakers from the root security pole. This enables individual companies to have similar capabilities and enhance detection and communications for the collective footprint.
Units who want these capabilities must order them through their government purchase card (GPC) at their local base supply center (BSC). The BSC will acquire the three quotes and return the single-page quote to the GPC holder. Additionally, local BSCs can special order equipment, not on the catalog. A single GPC Request Form with a BSC quote is all that is usually required for the S-4 or G-8.
Sustainment battalion head-quarters have no MTOE threat identification capabilities, nor do they have mass communications capabilities. In a LSCO fight, any sustainment headquarters separated from protected nodes that do not make the defended asset list will face increased threats. This is replicated through CTCs, where sustainment headquarters often fight on their own. CTC’s top 10 trends always indicate sustainment units need more help with base defense. Any additional ability to increase protection and respond quickly to the enemy will pay dividends to Army units. This is a capability that can improve survivability on the battlefield.
The 13th CSSB developed a solution that enabled better protection. The observer coach/trainers at NTC had not seen such an innovative capability to assist with base protection. Sustainment battalions should purchase these commercial off-the-shelf products for the battalion and companies to facilitate increased survivability. Combined Arms Support Command should identify any protection gap in sustainment headquarters and seek to develop a capability to serve as a program of record and codify a solution for sustainment MTOEs. Pioneer Eye and Pioneer Voice were utilized heavily during our NTC rotation and generated faster threat assessments and information dissemination. They were crucial to executing a collective base defense and winning at NTC and will help save lives in a future conflict.
Maj. Alex Brubaker currently serves as the support operations officer for the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. He received his commission from the University of Michigan, and Command and General Staff College. He holds a master’s degree in supply chain management from Kansas University and a master’s degree in operational studies from CGSC.
1st Lt. Kevin Rutherford currently serves as the S-6 for the 13th CSSB. He achieved the rank of sergeant first class before commissioning as a Signal Officer from Cameron University ROTC in May 2020. He holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership and completing a master’s degree in information technology. He holds industry certifications for CompTIA Security+ and Cyber Security Analyst.
This article was published in the Summer 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.