Sustainment Survivability | Incorporating Deception at the Tactical Level in the Brigade Support Area

By Capt. Brian StrohmaierAugust 1, 2023

(Photo Credit: Sarah Lancia) VIEW ORIGINAL

Logistics hubs’ vital roles in modern warfare have been exhibited in real-time in Ukraine. Russia’s initial failed invasion of Ukraine was primarily due to an overextension of the Russian logistics trains, which were poorly equipped and hastily trained. The ensuing calamity that followed allowed thousands of Russian vehicles to fall into the hands of the Ukrainians during their counterattack. The significance logistics hubs play in combat operations has been fully displayed in a real-world conflict.

What is different about the Ukraine conflict is the reliance on long-range fires using ballistic missiles, rockets, and one-way attack drones. Russian doctrine has always favored the use of artillery, explaining Russia’s insatiable consumption of artillery rounds, rockets, and short- or close-range missiles. With the forward line of own troops (FLOT) resorting to World War I trench-style warfare, the expectation is that long-range fires will play an increasingly important role in the conflict.

Whether a brigade support area (BSA), division support area, or other support echelons, the target potential for striking such a location is high. The physical distance of a BSA from the FLOT can range from 10 to 30 kilometers, depending on the element supported and a unit’s standard operating procedures. With our adversaries increasing their ballistic missile arsenals, their potential to target a BSA and attempt to cut off the brigade from supply raises the danger for logistics units everywhere. The use of close-range ballistic missiles, guided multiple-launch rocket systems, and other missile and artillery systems dramatically increases the distance the enemy can close and attack allied forces. With the importance of logistics shown in Ukraine, the logistics community must adapt to counter the increased threat posed by enemy artillery and missiles.

U.S. forces have become so used to operating in an environment where the BSA is unlikely to take constant indirect fire salvos. Yet, as witnessed in Ukraine, logistics nodes are the prime targets of Russian and Ukrainian long-range fires. The effectiveness of a brigade support battalion (BSB) to establish a BSA and be able to displace rapidly varies depending on the unit’s level of training, whether it is an armored/mechanized brigade or a light infantry brigade combat team. Army Technical Publication 4-90, Brigade Support Battalion, emphasizes the need for BSBs to utilize rapid displacement in large-scale combat operations. Being expeditionary should be the goal of all sustainment units, stressing the ability to pick up and move immediately. The days of a massive battalion/brigade tactical operations center are in the past, and senior commanders need to understand the importance of rapid redeployment.

Modern artillery systems can fire salvos within minutes of each other, realistically giving a BSB 10-15 minutes at most before artillery is ready. In 15 minutes, no BSA can pack up and displace. The sheer size of vehicles and systems across the BSA makes it challenging to pick up and move immediately. Simply loading a load-handling system takes 5-10 minutes, even with a skilled crew. The flurry of movement and chatter would undoubtedly draw attention from observers, who increasingly turn to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to find enemies from afar.

The rapid rise in UAVs as spotters has allowed artillery batteries to find targets and engage more accurately and rapidly. UAVs play vital roles in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), but they likely will seek more key logistics hubs for artillery to target. In addition, UAVs are modernized with more advanced camera systems, allowing them to see farther and more clearly. Combined with a high reliance on overhead satellite coverage for imagery support, UAVs make long-range fires a nasty threat to any logistics hub.

How do we combat it and increase survivability, allowing uninterrupted sustainment support?

There is always a human element. In everything we do in our daily lives, a decision is made, often many decisions in a single day. The process by which individuals choose to act is based on fact and reason. Disrupt this process, and the individual begins making wrong decisions they perceive to be correct. Society has increased the reliance on computers to do our jobs for us, but even in combat, there is still a human at the monitor or screen deciding whether to press the button. On today’s battlefield, a human operating the UAV identifies the targets themselves. The identifying skills of the individual or system will undoubtedly change, but simple deception could save an entire brigade and allow the continued resupply of friendly forces.

Decoys have long been a valued asset in history. From the Trojan horse to the inflatable tanks positioned at Dover to fool the Germans into thinking the Normandy invasion would occur at Calais in World War II, decoys have targeted human error in the decision-making tree and led to strategic victories for those who successfully employ them. Utilizing decoys can fool a forward observer into targeting the wrong site, allowing time to pack up and relocate to safety. While there are not enough personnel in the Army to dedicate to designing, planning, and executing the use of decoys, it is incumbent on logistics Soldiers and logistics commanders to get creative with solutions with equipment already on hand.

At the planning stage, potential BSA sites need to be large enough to facilitate extra decoy space. Inherently, this means balancing the perimeter size and sustainment functions with the personnel in a BSB, which is a significant struggle for most battalions. The possibility of creating a false maintenance collection point (MCP) or ammunition holding area just outside the barbed wire is not out of the realm of possibility. Proper coordination with other brigade units is necessary to ensure no security gaps, whether using military police or a platoon of infantry to augment BSA security. The staff’s planning before setup mitigates the likelihood of units establishing company areas on top of each other. Allowing units to plan for decoys will enable them to build them into their load plans and account for them in layouts.

There are no bounds to the limits of the actual decoys. From a fake ammunition supply point to a decoy fuel point to a motor pool of decoys awaiting repairs at a false MCP, the creativity of the decoys should come from within a company. Camouflage nets are abundant in most units and underutilized. Soldiers should have the utmost leeway in designing decoys that redirect long-range fires away from vital storage sites or personnel quarters. The supply support activity usually has a large inventory of various wooden box sizes that can build up a decoy site or a false vehicle.

The importance of deception is a long-forgotten art that only recently became more relevant. Decoys aim to make an adversary waste an expensive missile or rocket on an inexpensive target. Modern warfare shows that the costliest missiles or weapon systems do not win wars. Instead, it is the ability to direct enemy munitions at low-cost decoys. Often the munitions are multiple millions of dollars, while an effective decoy may cost a couple hundred dollars and save hundreds of lives. Creating decoys in layers enhances a unit’s survivability. Placing a fake decoy next to something that looks more realistic is a brilliant way to fool an adversary. So, creating a low-quality, hasty decoy next to something more fabricated, perhaps with metal, lights, or a heating element, can easily fool an observer, directing enemy fire away from key logistical nodes.

The logistics community needs to incorporate deception principles into field exercises in preparation for a conventional war to increase survivability. The threat of long-range fires puts all logistics hubs at risk. Without moving the BSA further to the rear and severely extending logistics trains, decoys are the most cost-effective way to continue supporting the front lines. Increasing the survivability of our logistics corps allows our allied long-range systems to find, fix, and finish the enemy artillery platforms.


Capt. Brian Strohmaier is the logistics officer for the National Ground Intelligence Center. He has a Master of Arts in international relations from American University, Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor of Arts in history from Norwich University, Vermont. He served as a maintenance company commander in an infantry brigade combat team.


This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.


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