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Are You a Main Effort, a Supporting Effort, or a Wasted Effort?*

by LTC Michael Shields

*The target audience for this article is task force planners and company commanders.

Nested concepts is not clearly understood at the tactical level and, as a result, units are having difficulty focusing combat power and getting every asset to contribute to the main effort's success. What is meant by nested concepts? It is difficult to find doctrine to back up the concept. It is often disguised in other terms (i.e., unity of effort). Nested concepts is much more than the linkage between subordinate unit task/purpose with the task force (TF) main effort's task/purpose. It also includes the integration of all the battlefield operating systems (BOSs) (i.e., concept of fires/obstacle integration/concept of support and the task/purpose of combat support and combat service support units) during the course-of-action development process. For the purpose of this article, a TF defensive concept/scheme of maneuver and steps to building a TF defense are used to illustrate the main points.

The most definitive reference available for nested concepts is General William E. DuPuy's article in Army, August 1988, page 31, "Concepts of Operation: The Heart of Command, The Tool of Doctrine", which states:

Cascading concepts carry the top commander's intentions to the lowest levels, and the nesting of those concepts traces the critical path of concentration and priorities. This is the phenomenon the Germans called schwerpunkt. The concepts are nested like mixing bowls in a kitchen. Each must fit within the confines of the larger and accommodate the next smaller and so on down to the squad, the tank, and the brave soldier himself. It is the only method by which the talent and initiative of commanders and troops at every level can be engaged and exploited.

FM 100-5, the Army's capstone manual, addresses unity of effort as a principle of war and details the importance of initiative as a tenet of Army Operations. FM 7-20 and FM 7-10 mention mission-oriented C2and mission-type orders. The bottom line is that the commander's intent must be clear and understood two levels down. Subordinate commanders and BOS representatives must understand how they fit within the framework of their higher commander's concept and intent (their unique contribution to the fight) within the construct of nested concepts.

One problem that contributes to the inability of a TF to achieve nested concepts, is that often, units do not understand the course-of-action (COA) development process. Doctrinally, there is a method for COA development found in FM 101-5 and several publications with tactics, techniques, and procedures such as the CALL Newsletter No. 95-12 Update, May 97, Military Decision Making. The common guidance is that after options/conceptual possibilities have been identified and forces arrayed (platoon level), the main effort and supporting effort's purposes and tasks must be designated, ensuring that supporting efforts are linked to the main effort. Planners need to ensure that units are appropriately weighted with combat power/resources/priorities to accomplish their assigned task and purpose. During COA development, BOS integration is required to achieve nested concepts and synchronization (refined during COA analysis) within the TF. Nested concepts should be evident following Step 4 of the COA development process, Develop the Scheme of Maneuver. This process includes development of the concept for reconnaissance and security operations, maneuver concept, concept of fires, integration of obstacle effects with maneuver and fires, air defense, combat support/combat service support (CSS), and C2. Figure 1 demonstrates how selected TF BOS are linked to the TF task and purpose.

Figure 1

If the TF staff does not address these issues, they fail in developing a course of action and are not prepared for wargaming (particularly important when only developing one COA). Time spent wargaming will digress into developing the TF course of action instead of synchronizing the TF fight (wargaming will probably occur during the TF Rockdrill or not at all).

The following discussion uses elements of the BOS to demonstrate "a way" to achieve nested concepts. The examples of nested concepts by BOS in the article are not prescriptive. The concept sketches under each BOS are included to assist in the visualization of the narrative. They do not represent an actual TF plan during a rotation. Throughout the concept sketches, the seven steps to building the TF defense are addressed:

1. Know the enemy and visualize how he will fight.

2. Select where and determine how to kill the enemy.

3. Position obstacle groups to support direct fires.

4. Plan indirect fires to support direct fires and obstacles.

5. Position forces to kill him with direct fires.

6. Complete the plan.

7. Rehearse.

Note. Tactical tasks used in this article are extracted from FM 101-5 but are not the focus in terms of nested concepts. Purposes are much more important.

Intelligence. When developing the concept for reconnaissance and surveillance operations (R&S), consideration should be given to brigade combat team (BCT) assets task and purpose and TF assets task and purpose. The TF must carefully analyze the requirements from the BCT and its own internally generated intelligence requirements, specifically the priority information requirements (PIR) that must be answered and what assets are available to answer the PIR. TF R&S efforts should be focused on answering PIR tied to decision points and where to focus combat power/fires to destroy the enemy. Some R&S assets may be covering an exposed flank, potential enemy LZ, or an infantry infiltration lane. Even if assets are covering an NAI where the TF has assumed risk, they still have a unique contribution to the TF fight and its ability to achieve its task and purpose. The following examples demonstrates a link between reconnaissance assets task/purpose and the TF task/purpose and what it could look like. (See Figures 2 and 3.)

Figure 3

Maneuver. Once the commander has visualized how the enemy will fight, where/how to kill the enemy and how to get him there, he develops a scheme of maneuver that positions forces to destroy the enemy with direct fires (Step 5, Building the TF Defense). Achieving nested concepts ensures that the TF supporting efforts contribute to the main effort accomplishing the mission. That is not to say that a supporting effort can't achieve the TF purpose but by operational design, the main effort accomplishes the TF mission at the decisive point.

Units use a variety of tools during the planning process to track task/purpose and nested concepts (i.e., task/purpose trees). Most task forces, however, do not understand the concept (and to a degree COA development) and the tools are not as effective as they could be. Figure 4 shows an actual example of a TF tactical operations center (TOC) chart scaled down to maneuver units, used to track nested concepts during a rotation. The chart was ineffective because the company tasks and purposes are all the same. Specialty platoons task and purpose have not been addressed.

Figure 4

A further indicator that there is a problem is the maneuver paragraph of the base order, which also failed to link supporting effort's task and purpose and the main effort's task and purpose. The following questions should be asked: 1) Why are the CO/TM tasks and purposes the same? 2) How do the supporting efforts enable the main effort to achieve its task and purpose? 3) What is the link between the main effort's task and purpose and the TF task and purpose? If a reserve is designated, what are the priorities for planning? (See Figures 5, 6, and 7.)

Figure 5

Mobility/Countermobility/Survivability. The concept of engineer support should be integrated with maneuver and fires during COA development. Consideration must be given to the task and purpose of engineer assets as they relate to countermobility, mobility, and survivability and how they are linked to the scheme of maneuver/fires (Step 3, Building the TF Defense). Obstacle intent must articulate and visualize how the TF commander wants to use tactical obstacles. For countermobility, the TF commander considers the task and purpose of reinforcing tactical obstacles, such as directed obstacles (consider obstacle group effects: turn/block/fix/disrupt, and relative location), situational obstacles (executed as need identified), and reserve obstacles (execution authority restricted). Tactical obstacles and direct/indirect fires manipulate the enemy in a way that supports the commander's intent and scheme of maneuver. Obstacle effects drive the integration of indirect fires and direct fires. Protective obstacles (hasty and deliberate) and individual obstacles (up to the imagination of the soldier) are planned/executed at company and platoon levels and contribute to the CO/TM and TF achieving their task and purpose (consider use of tactical, protective, and supplementary wire). The diagrams below illustrate what the link between the countermobility effort and the TF task and purpose could look like.

Figure 8

Figure 9

Fire Support. Fire support plans that are not integrated with the maneuver concept, direct fire plan, and countermobility concept, result in unsuccessful fires in support of the operation (Step 4, Building the TF Defense). The intent of this article is not to address the targeting process at TF level. It is worth noting that the targeting process, in whatever forum/time during the military decision making process (MDMP), is a way to ensure that maneuver and fires are integrated in the concept of the operation. It is critical that the fire support plan is integrated with the R&S plan (detect phase of the targeting process). The TF fire support officer (FSO) begins fire support planning (read parallel planning with the BCT) at receipt of the mission. During the mission analysis briefing, the FSO recommends essential fire support tasks (EFST) and purposes as part of the EFST for fire support. The commander accepts, modifies, rejects, or creates new EFSTs in his guidance for COA development. The next step is to identify the method for accomplishing the EFST (allocate observers/assets, develop plan to attack, and integrate triggers with maneuver planning), then the commander and staff must quantify the endstate of the fire support task. Often the endstate will be an assumption (watch out for an overly optimistic endstate) used when wargaming the COA. The endstate must be specific. For example: the TF mortar platoon destroys two enemy squads attempting to conduct a manual breach at the block obstacle in the west. The TF now has a basic concept of fires. A detailed scheme of fires will be developed during COA analysis (wargaming). The diagrams below illustrate what a link between the concept of fires and the TF task and purpose could look like. When properly integrated with the concept for R&S, maneuver, and countermobility, the concept of fires contribute to the TF achieving its task and purpose (see Fire Support Planning for the Brigade and Below White Paper from the Field Artillery School).

Air defense. Air defense (passive and active) is a TF responsibility and must be integrated in the TF scheme of maneuver. Air defense considerations include dedicated air defense artillery (ADA) assets such as the Linebacker, Bradley Stinger Fighting Vehicle (BSFV), Avenger, stingers, and Light/Special Division Interim Sensor (LSDIS)/Ground Base Sensor (GBS)/Sentinel systems. Non-dedicated systems (combined arms for air defense/CAFADs) include systems such as the 25mm chain gun, M2 MG, and the 120mm main gun. Particular consideration must be made to weapons capabilities and how they can best support the TF. For example, if Avengers and stinger teams are within the task organization of the TF, consider employing stinger teams forward in the security zone for the counter-reconnaissance fight and employing Avengers with their night-capable forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR) to destroy enemy air assault forces to the flanks/rear of the main battle area (MBA). Linebackers and BSFVs are ideally suited to the MBA fight because of armor protection and unique weapon systems capabilities. The stinger team can dismount from the BSFV and position on high ground to the rear of their BSFV allowing the crew to engage with stinger, 25mm and TOW simultaneously from separate locations. Bottom line is the air defense concept should articulate the task and purpose for each air defense weapons system and how it contributes to the success of the TF. The diagram below illustrates what the link between air defense and the TF task and purpose could look like.

Combat Service Support. The concept of support is the "glue" that holds together the scheme of maneuver. Without prioritization of limited assets for rearming, refueling, and fixing, the TF will not be able to accomplish its task and purpose. The concept of support is the mechanism for ensuring that maneuver and combat support units are resourced and supported in accordance with their assigned task and purpose. For example, if the ME (+) is assigned the task of destroying two MRBs, does the unit have the appropriate CL V on hand to accomplish its task and purpose? In the defense, CSS assets (i.e., medical, maintenance, fuelers) may be positioned forward to support the security zone fight (initial ME?), then positioned back to support the MBA fight. Main battle area forces may be resourced with greater amounts of ammunition to allow pre-stocking. The engineers may receive priority of maintenance support during preparation of the defense.

Command and control. Nested concepts may brief well during confirmation briefs (immediately following the TF operations order (OPORD) and backbriefs (scheduled as required), but how do the TF commander and S3 ensure that all TF supporting efforts are linked to the main effort achieving its task and purpose? A way is nested rehearsals (Step 6, Building the TF Defense). Nested rehearsals ensure that rehearsals are prioritized and resourced at all echelons. The process is directive in nature with the subordinate rehearsal time dictated in the TF OPORD (some flexibility is required based on company status). Higher rehearsals are conducted last. The requirement is that platoon battledrills are rehearsed before issuance of the company OPORD. Company combined arms rehearsals are completed before the TF EA rehearsal, and the TF combined arms EA rehearsal is completed before the BCT rehearsal. Nested rehearsals require the TF to meet its timeline set in the OPORD (bde time management critical). Battlefield circulation by the TF commander, S3, XO, and CSM is critical to the success of nested rehearsals. The TF commander attends the ME rehearsal and the S3/XO/CSM attend the supporting efforts' rehearsals (focus on maneuver units). This process is passive. Attendees of subordinate rehearsals are not participants. The TF commander/S3/XO/CSM listen to ensure that the company scheme of maneuver fits within the TF and BCT framework and contributes to the success of the main effort. This process allows the TF CDR/S3/XO to identify areas which were not synchronized well during wargaming, to crosstalk with the TOC for direct coordination of issues, and provides the battlestaff a window of opportunity to correct shortcomings/issues, prior to the TF combined arms rehearsal. Nested rehearsals help ensure that tasks and purposes are linked from platoon (two levels down/target of TF commanders intent) through task force level. They also allow the commander to see if subordinate units understand the TF fire plan (direct and indirect) to include triggers, engagement criteria and engagement priorities (see Engagement Area Rehearsals in FM 71-1). The chart below (Figure 13) illustrates what a graphic portrayal of the TF concept could look like.


Nested concepts is more than the linkage between supporting maneuver units and the TF main effort. It includes a linkage between the ME and SEs and BOS integration within the TF. It begins with the receipt of the mission and is further developed and refined during COA development. A fully developed COA should result in the following products (not all-inclusive): concept for R&S, maneuver concept, concept of fires, mobility/countermobility concept and concept of support. There should be a direct link between the task and purpose of subordinate units and fires and the task force main effort's task and purpose. If the direct link is not established, the TF has failed to achieve unity of effort. Company commanders and specialty platoon leaders should ask themselves this question: What is my unique contribution to the TF fight and the main effort's success? If you cannot determine your role, you are the wasted effort!

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