Between 2017 and 2020, the Army set up six security force assistance brigades (SFABs) designed to advise, assist, and accompany Afghan, Iraqi, and Peshmerga security forces. The Army reorganized the SFABs in 2019 and aligned each of the five active duty SFABs with a combatant command (CCMD). Now, the SFABs give the CCMDs the persistent capability to train, advise, and assist during competition in their respective region. The SFABs also provide the CCMDs access, presence, and influence, consistently improving interoperability with allied and partner forces. More importantly, the SFABs provide the joint force with the capability to advise, support, liaise, and assist those same allied and partner forces in any theater when a crisis or conflict emerges. The latter was and has continued to be tested during U.S. European Command and NATO’s assure and deter operations in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the SFABs prepare to execute potential missions during crisis and conflict, the focus of SFAB training has shifted from competition to supporting allies and partners and integrating with U.S. forces during large-scale combat operations (LSCO). To validate SFAB advisor teams’ abilities to accomplish this, SFABs have begun participating in combat training center (CTC) rotations at both the National Training Center (NTC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). There has also been considerable effort put toward updating doctrine, specifically Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 3-96.1, Security Force Assistance Brigade, which describes how an SFAB operates across the spectrum of conflict. The mission of the SFAB has also been codified in Field Manual 3-0, Operations, which states, “Advisor teams from the theater-aligned security force assistance brigade (SFAB) may embed alongside threatened partners, providing real-time tactical intelligence and access to U.S. capabilities.”
Many questions remain about how an SFAB operates in LSCO while in a contested environment. One of those questions is how the SFAB teams will be supported in the contested environment. To address that question fully, one must first understand how the SFAB operates. An SFAB usually deploys to a specific theater as a task force comprising a command-and-control element and multiple advisor teams. The type of advisor teams assigned to the task force depends on the mission, likely including not only maneuver advising teams but also fires, engineer, and logistics advising teams. In most cases, advisor teams are paired with allied or partner forces and are widely dispersed across the battlefield to meet the needs of the mission. That dispersion often means the advisor teams are far from other U.S. forces and somewhat more exposed to the enemy. The allied or partner force an advisor team is paired with could be from a battalion up through a corps headquarters. The specific level of advising depends on many things, including the type of operation and the partner’s capability.
Conventional wisdom may lead one to believe an SFAB can support itself during LSCO in a contested environment. After all, SFABs were initially built under the same construct as an infantry brigade combat team and include a brigade support battalion (BSB) with maintenance and distribution capability. However, SFAB advisor teams are often co-located with a partner force and spread out across the battlefield, making that a challenging and highly unlikely configuration. In addition, the SFAB’s limited distribution assets and relatively non-existent security platforms make providing internal support to advisor teams in a contested environment even more difficult. Nonetheless, recent CTC rotations have allowed SFABs to test support options. This article discusses how those options played out in two particular CTC rotations, the pros and cons, and potential solutions to the problem set going forward.
ATP 3-96.1 states, “The primary two functions of the SFAB BSB are coordinating sustainment support between the advisor teams and the theater support structure and providing advisor teams to develop the sustainment capability and capacity of the foreign security forces.” The ATP goes on to say the BSB can provide “limited distribution operations, field-level maintenance, and enhanced Role 1 medical care.” The reality is the SFAB BSB can do one or the other very well but struggles to fulfill both roles simultaneously. Despite that challenge, there is no question it is the responsibility of the SFAB BSB, in conjunction with the task force S-4, to figure out how to support advisor teams in an LSCO environment regardless of the battalion’s overall mission.
Sustainment of the SFAB is further complicated because of the SFAB’s unique mission and the fact it is often likely to operate outside of a combatant commander’s joint operations area. When that occurs, the Army sustainment infrastructure does not exist for the SFAB to tap into. ATP 3-96.1 addresses this situation and says when SFABs do not have access to the traditional Army sustainment systems, they “must coordinate sustainment support through their higher headquarters to access contracting support, host nation support, or support from the Defense Logistics Agency, embassy, or the ASCC (Army service component command) for their location.”
In January 2023, the 2nd SFAB deployed a task force to participate in NTC 23-04. In this scenario, the 2nd SFAB advisor teams operated in an area where traditional Army sustainment systems did not exist. Because of that, it was decided the partner forces would support the teams. In addition, to streamline reporting and ensure the partner force provided the necessary support in a timely manner, the task force commander aligned a captain-led logistics advisor team (LAT) to the partner force support platoon. All advisor teams sent their logistics status report (LOGSTAT) to the task force S-4, who compiled the reports and sent a consolidated LOGSTAT to the LAT. The LAT then worked with the partner forces to plan and execute resupply operations across the battlefield.
By and large, the concept of having the partner forces support the advisor teams worked well. In addition to the partner forces’ familiarity with the area of operations, the placement of the LAT with the partner force support platoon played a significant role in that success. The LAT was familiar with the advisor teams’ needs, could communicate directly with the teams and the task force S-4, and brought additional expertise to the partner forces for planning and executing distribution operations. Had the LAT not been aligned with the partner force support platoon, there could have been additional hurdles to overcome, such as understanding the teams’ requirements, communicating and coordinating with the teams, and understanding how to properly plan, prepare, resource, and execute distribution operations. The placement of the LAT is a tactic, technique, and procedure (TTP) to emulate in the future.
The fact that a U.S. support platoon replicated the partner force support platoon also created an artificial sense of security regarding resupply operations. For one, there was no concern about a partner force having the types or amount of needed commodities on hand. The teams and the partner forces used the same fuel and ammunition, but that won’t always happen. It’s more likely a partner force would use different fuel, ammunition, and other supplies. In addition, there was never any concern about a partner force having to prioritize supporting the U.S. advisor teams versus their units. The prioritization of support could be a significant friction point if and when partner force commodities on hand become limited or if there is a decision to be made about who gets support first. All these potential scenarios need to be considered when choosing to use a partner force to support an advisor team in LSCO.
In July 2023, the 2nd SFAB deployed a task force to participate in JRTC 23-08.5. In this scenario, a U.S. unit provided support for advisor teams. All advisor teams sent their LOGSTAT to the task force S-4, who compiled the reports and sent them to the U.S. higher headquarters, to which the task force was assigned. The higher headquarters then tasked a subordinate U.S. sustainment unit to conduct the resupply operations. In this training environment, the resupply operations were conducted by a backside support element of the SFAB that was not part of the training scenario. This created some artificiality, but it still gave the SFAB an idea of what support by another U.S. unit would look like.
This concept of support worked fairly well. Once some initial reporting issues were resolved, the task force could accurately convey the needs of the advisor teams to its higher headquarters and request the needed resupply. The support came from a U.S. unit familiar with the SFAB mission, utilizing the same type of commodities and operating on the same communications platforms, which helped immensely. The only drawback was that an SFAB element did the actual execution with no other customers, so there were no issues with priority of support or priority of supply. There would be challenges with either or both if a unit providing area support had to contend with other customer requirements, finite distribution platforms, and limited commodities.
Another point worth discussing is the distribution methods used at both NTC and JRTC. At NTC, the partner force support platoon conducted tailgate distribution, delivering supplies directly to the advisor teams at their respective locations across the battlefield. This was time and labor-intensive for the support platoon and took some detailed coordination between the LAT and the advisor teams to ensure the partner force knew where each team was located at any given time. Still, it made life much easier for the advisor teams, who didn’t have to travel anywhere or worry about losing advisors to conduct link-up and resupply operations at another location. On the flip side, at JRTC, the U.S. unit used the supply point distribution method. This required all advisor teams to come to one location at a specific time and get their needed supplies. This method was more accessible on the U.S. unit and required much less coordination between the U.S. unit and advisor teams. Still, this method stressed the advisor teams much more, requiring teams to allocate time and personnel to travel to the supply point location to retrieve supplies. Advisor teams are already small, and taking multiple advisors away to conduct resupply operations could hurt advising operations and the team’s security.
As the SFAB moves forward with additional CTC rotations and begins to plan for advising in real-world crises and conflicts, the support of advisor teams on the battlefield must remain a significant consideration. The SFAB should continue to stress the support to advisor teams and make it a specific training objective during CTC rotations to which task forces must give credence. The recent experiences at NTC and JRTC proved that support provided by either a partner force or U.S. unit is feasible and acceptable. Both come with advantages and disadvantages, and the ultimate decision will likely come down to the specifics of the mission. Support provided by a U.S. unit is probably the preferred course of action if a choice exists simply because of similar commodities, similar communications platforms, and a shared understanding of TTPs. Although support provided by a partner force can work, the challenges created by potentially different commodities, different communications platforms, conflicting priorities, and different TTPs could create unnecessary challenges that affect the primary mission of the advisor teams. In addition, the method of distribution to advisor teams should be tailgate. This method may be more challenging and time-consuming for the executing unit, but it limits the disruption to advisor teams and allows them to remain engaged with their partners.
Col. Aaron Cornett is currently the commander of 6th Battalion, 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade, at Fort Liberty, North Carolina. He previously served as the commander of 53rd Transportation Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He is a graduate of the Army’s Command and General Staff College, Kansas, and holds a master’s degree in journalism and strategic communication from the University of Kansas.
This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.