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Military

Chapter 3
Strategic and Operational March

CONTENTS

PREPARATION
Mobilization, Concentration, and Deployment
Planning
Priority in Movement
Information Warfare Support to the March
ROAD MARCHES
Rate of March
Ensuring Combat Capability After March
March Routes
Organization of March
Space Occupied by March Columns
March Support
RAIL MARCHES
Advantages
Disadvantages
COMBINED ROAD AND RAIL MARCHES
AIR AND SEA MOVEMENT

The objective of the strategic and operational march is to insure that the military forces designated for specific operations arrive on time, intact and combat-ready, at the appropriate location. The three doctrinal imperatives for successful strategic and operational march are speed, security, and surprise. To achieve these ends, the General Staff (and theater CINCs, where applicable) focus on measures to ensure timeliness and the use of all available means of movement.

PREPARATION

Before war begins, most or all of the OPFOR's strategic and operational first echelons occupy positions within the State, perhaps hundreds of km from the border. In order to build a strong strategic grouping to mount an offensive in one theater or to ensure defense of a threatened theater, the General Staff must mobilize and redeploy forces from one or more other theaters. A timely decision to begin mobilization and strategic redeployment is critical. Once a decision is made, rapid mobilization and movement of units assumes primary importance. Whether the OPFOR plans offensive or defensive operations, unit march capabilities affect the OPFOR's ability to accomplish goals.

Mobilization, Concentration, and Deployment

The outcome of initial operations, which can shape the rest of a war, usually depends on which side wins the race to mobilize its forces, concentrate them in the area of conflict, and deploy them for battle. If both sides adopt an offensive strategy, the winner seizes the initiative, with his opponent being caught off balance. If one side opts for the strategic defensive and wins the race, it can face the enemy with a dense defense in prepared positions, backed by strong operational reserves. This is a formidable prospect for the attacker, especially if the defender has nuclear and/or precision weapons.1 On the other hand, should the attacker win the race, he can prevent the creation of prepared defenses. The attacker may find gaps or weak spots in the defender's combat formation, and use preemptive attack to avoid the need to expend precious time and resources for a penetrating operation.

Planning

Planners at the General Staff (and theater headquarters, where created) prepare in advance for strategic movement. Preparations include the following:

  • The decision to move by land, sea, or air.
  • The allocation of march zones and axes.
  • The preparation of alternative march plans.
  • The establishment of dumps of POL and other materiel reserves.
  • The preparation of the road and rail net, bridges, and bypasses around major junctions and administrative centers.
  • The selection of crossing sites, including reserve sites, on important rivers.
  • The deception activities supporting movement.

Planners should take full advantage of the march capabilities of units, as well as the transportation infrastructure in the area of the march. When planning combined rail and road marches, planners must closely coordinate the movement of heavy equipment by rail with road columns.

Priority in Movement

In preparation for a strategic operation, top priority goes to the deployment of ground elements of aviation units, long-range missile units, air defense units, and key combat service support elements. The OPFOR needs to hold these at constant readiness to execute important tasks, starting with the long-range fire strike. Next in priority is ground maneuver forces, artillery forces, key engineer units, and communications assets. The engineer units are needed to prepare for movement. Following these in priority are medical support units, other engineer assets, and theater reserves of all types.

Information Warfare Support to the March

The primary goal of information warfare (IW) activities during the march is to minimize the enemy's ability to collect information and analyze the OPFOR's force structure, movement, and objectives. Another goal is to reduce or negate the enemy's ability to disrupt or delay the movement.

Beginning prior to the initiation of hostilities, the OPFOR continuously conducts offensive and defensive IW activities throughout the duration of a march. Specific emphasis shifts as OPFOR units prepare for their initial movement, and as they transition between movement and halts. Prior to hostilities, the emphasis is on providing a false or misleading picture to the enemy. Once hostilities begin, the emphasis is on minimizing the available picture.

Perception management efforts are most critical prior to hostilities. The OPFOR recognizes that it will not be able to hide the large-scale mobilization and movement of its forces. The enemy may detect movement in the operational and strategic depth of the OPFOR, given the quality and variety of sensors available to him. Therefore, the OPFOR attempts to conceal the true purpose of the movement. The OPFOR describes initial movement as routine internal redeployment or exercise activity, supported by public pronouncements and diplomatic communications.

Protection and security measures are critical during the march. Accurate and complete reconnaissance is imperative. The reconnaissance effort must provide the OPFOR with the required knowledge of march routes, enemy forces, and obstacles to forward movement. At the same time, counterreconnaissance activities attempt to disrupt, destroy, or at the least deceive the enemy's reconnaissance plan. Units continuously dedicate time for the effective use of cover, concealment, and camouflage during movement and at halts. In addition, the OPFOR undertakes a number of operational security measures to reduce the amount of information the enemy may gather, such as--

  • Avoiding population centers when possible.
  • Limiting movement to nighttime.
  • Restricting the information regarding march routes, assembly, and rest areas. (This includes OPFOR division commanders, who receive no more information than the next day's movement.)

The OPFOR conducts deception activities to conceal the exact composition and routes of the force. Radar corner reflectors and deception jammers target enemy airborne and ground-based radars. These deception systems provide the false signatures of additional vehicles or columns, thereby concealing the true size and location of OPFOR units, as well as the actual march routes. They also provide the additional benefit of targeting airborne radar-aided bombing and navigation systems, supporting force protection efforts. In order to successfully mislead enemy intelligence analysts and planners, false targets must be consistent with associated norms, such as false movement rates, column intervals, and the locations of rest areas. Enemy analysts look for such "norms", and are more easily deceived by a false pattern that meets those expectations. Deception efforts must target multiple sensor types. Deceptive communications traffic emanating from the areas of the false units and routes, along with simulated thermal signatures, can contribute greatly to the impression the false OPFOR units are real.

While the OPFOR continues the attempt to mislead the enemy as to its intentions, as commitment approaches the emphasis shifts towards force protection and increased use of cover, concealment, and camouflage to deceive him. The OPFOR recognizes the inherent uncertainty of deception operations. However, sufficient time may allow the OPFOR to analyze enemy activities to determine whether or not the deception efforts have succeeded. Shortened timelines resulting from closure with the enemy do not allow for this in most cases.

Electromagnetic spectrum operations (ESO) conducted by the marching unit are primarily passive during movement. The OPFOR conducts signals reconnaissance as part of the electronic combat2 plan (which is the primary component of ESO). The focus is on identifying the composition and intentions of enemy units along or near the route of advance. The OPFOR conducts little or no active jamming (other than the deception jammers), in order to minimize indicators of OPFOR locations and intentions. Activities supporting deception, such as radar corner reflectors, deception jammers, and dummy radio nets also contribute to the ESO counterreconnaissance effort. Rigid adherence to signals security procedures and the proper use of communications security (COMSEC) equipment and techniques will minimize information the enemy may collect through signals intelligence. Active measures increase as the commitment of the OPFOR approaches.

Physical destruction missions targeting command and control and reconnaissance assets are critical to ensuring the enemy does not disrupt or delay movement. However, the OPFOR strikes these targets only at appropriate times and places on the battlefield. The enemy must not have sufficient time to reconstitute them with minimal interruption of his defense (or offense).

ROAD MARCHES

Road marches (with or without combination with rail marches) result in a more rapid concentration than pure rail moves, especially for distances under 100 km. However, the combined use of road and rail marches can offer the optimum solution as described later.

Rate of March

OPFOR divisions have the ability to cover 1,000 to 1,500 km over difficult march routes, with a daily march rate of from 300 to 350 km. It is the rule to conduct these marches at night for concealment. Figures 3-1 and 3-2 show the norms for the average speed of OPFOR columns and their expected daily performance. Travel in mountains, deserts, arctic, and marshy areas might reduce performance sharply.

 

Paved Roads

Dry, Dirt Roads

Muddy, Hilly,
Urban Roads

Column Type

Day

Night

Day

Night

Day

Night

Wheeled

30-40

25-30

20-25

18-20

10-15

8-12

Tracked/Mixed

20-30

15-20

15-20

12-15

10-12

8-10

Note: During fog, reduce day speed 25 to 30 percent.

Figure 3-1. Average speeds of march columns (km/hr).

Column Type

Paved Roads

Dry, Dirt Roads

Muddy, Hilly,
Urban Roads

Wheeled

250-480

180-300

80-180

Tracked/Mixed

150-350

120-240

80-140

Figure 3-2. Daily march performance (km).

Daily march performance calculations assume that units march from 10 to 12 hours of each day. The remaining 12 to 14 hours are spent as follows:

  • Maintenance: 3 to 4 hours.
  • Deployment and camouflage: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Movement to start line: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Rest: 4 to 8 hours.
  • Hot meal: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

During a march of over 1,000 km, there is likely to be at least one rest day, for essential repair and maintenance work.

Ensuring Combat Capability After March

Long road marches impose considerable wear and tear on tracked and heavy equipment. The problem is most acute in the case of tanks and, to a lesser extent, self-propelled artillery and infantry combat vehicles. The OPFOR expects a fall-out rate of only from 1 to 2 percent of vehicles per day. One way to solve this problem is to transport tanks and other tracked and heavy equipment on heavy equipment transporters (HETs), at least to the final assembly area. If, for example, the OPFOR had about 500 HETs available, it could move approximately 10 tank or BMP battalions or a combination thereof simultaneously. Of course, the use of HETs limits the number of usable routes. Adverse weather may make unpaved roads unsuitable. Also, HETs need bridges with a load capacity of 80 to 100 metric tons to cross rivers.

March Routes

The OPFOR concept of a usable route for a march, even with tanks, is not the same as that in the U.S. During a march from the depth to the final assembly area, an army allocates from two to four routes to each division and one to the remaining army troops. Thus, with only five routes available, an army can move with only two divisions in its first echelon. With seven, it can deploy three divisions in the first echelon. The latter is preferable, since it is desirable to have a strong first echelon in going over to the attack. For the same reason, it is desirable to have three routes per first-echelon division in the march from the final assembly area to the line of commitment to the tactical area.

Organization of March

The OPFOR uses two types of march columns--administrative march columns and tactical march columns. Figure 3-3 illustrates the march routes and stages of an army in an administrative march. The OPFOR uses administrative march columns when the chance of contact with the enemy is nil, or at least confined to airborne or heliborne forces. Tactical march columns are used when moving into or through a battle area.

Figure 3-3. Army administrative march (example).

Administrative March Columns

The OPFOR typically deploys march security elements, even in the depth of friendly territory, since diversionary, airborne, and heliborne threats are always present. However, the acceptable size of such security elements is generally smaller than in the forward area.

The main purpose for moving in columns at this point is administrative convenience. Thus, vehicles of similar type, speed, and cross-country capability may move together in packets rather than mixed with other vehicles as they are when prepared for combined arms combat. Tracked vehicles, and heavy equipment such as SSM launchers, usually move on one route (preferably paved), while wheeled vehicles move on another route (possibly an unimproved dirt road). Figure 3-4 illustrates the typical march columns of a first- and second-echelon division and other army elements. There can, of course be many variations on this theme.

Figure 3-4. Army administrative march from the strategic rear (example).

Tactical March Columns

The OPFOR is keenly aware of the importance of tempo and the likelihood of meeting engagements (battles) on the modern battlefield. Therefore, it emphasizes that, when contact becomes possible, march organization must reflect the desired organization for combat. There is no time to stop in assembly areas to marry up battle groups.3 Units must flow smoothly and quickly from the march into battle in preformed groupings tailored for combat against the expected enemy in the terrain where battle might or will take place. This can help to beat the enemy to the punch in a meeting engagement and to surprise a defending enemy through the speed with which the OPFOR can mount an attack.

Once in the combat zone, the OPFOR deploys stronger march security, especially on any open or threatened flank. It may form forward detachments in readiness to conduct deep battle. Movement support detachments (MSDs, see Chapter 12), tailored to the terrain and the degree of enemy route-denial effort, follow immediately behind the forward security element or possibly behind advance guard battalions. If the OPFOR anticipates a meeting engagement (battle), an attack against an ill-prepared or overextended enemy, or a pursuit, the first echelon is normally tank-heavy at both tactical and operational levels, and forward detachments can probe ahead. The army artillery group (AAG) usually moves in the first echelon so its deployment is unhampered and timely; in the same way, the division artillery group (DAG) often moves at the front of a division's main body. However, artillery groups might not always move as a single march unit. They may be dispersed in smaller groupings throughout a march column. This dispersion reduces vulnerability to enemy attack and also increases the area covered by responsive fire support. At both operational and tactical levels, antitank reserves and mobile obstacle detachments (MODs, see Chapter 12) move on a threatened flank or forward within the main body and to be ready to deploy to either flank. Second echelons and CPs normally move on the main axis at either level. Figure 3-5 illustrates a tank division and other army elements moving in a variant of tactical march formation.

Figure 3-5. Army tactical march (example).

Space Occupied by March Columns

The column lengths and intervals depicted in Figures 3-4 and 3-5 are examples for "typical" situations. In actual practice, these distances can vary depending on the makeup of the marching forces, the routes available, and other circumstances.

Administrative Marches

As seen in Figure 3-4, a division on two routes is about 100 km deep (exclusive of march security elements). Thus, the length of the army's first-echelon columns, including forward-deployed combat and logistic support elements, is about 150 km. An interval of from 80 to 100 km separates first- and second-echelon divisions; however, reconnaissance patrols and advance guards from a second-echelon division may move within that interval. A second-echelon division on three routes is about 80 km deep. Thus, the total length of an army's columns marching in seven routes may be about 300 km. If only five routes are available, the depth of the army may extend from 500 to 600 km. The army's width may be from 150 to 200 km.

Tactical Marches

Moving from the final assembly area to the line of commitment, first-echelon divisions can spread out more to observe proper tactical intervals (see Figure 3-5). Intervals between brigades grow from 5 to 10 km, with about 5 km between battalions. However, the divisions may now move on three routes each, if possible; thus their depth remains about the same. The 80- to 100-km interval between first- and second-echelon divisions also remains constant. Such a spacing would allow for any necessary maneuver or dispersion, yet ensures timely commitment.

March Support

The successful execution of a march depends on several support measures. Traffic control and constant cover against air attack are essential, especially at obstacle crossings and chokepoints and in assembly areas. The constant supply of materiel reserves, especially POL, is also vital. Troop control must be flexible and continuous.

Commandant's Service

An important part of the C2 system is the commandant's service, defined as the system of measures organized and executed to--

  • Ensure organized and undetected movement, concentration, and deployment of troops.
  • Maintain general order in troop dispositions and areas of activity.
  • Monitor the observance of operational security and regulation of movement.

The troops that perform these services have the primary, but not exclusive mission to regulate and control movement. The commandant's service is an instrumental organ for the commander's maintenance of C2. It organizes traffic control along march routes, in assembly areas, in troop disposition and combat areas, and at chokepoints. Elements of the commandant's service also help to establish and move command posts (CPs).

The OPFOR establishes traffic control posts at start lines, obstacle crossings, road junction, crossroads, bypasses around population centers, and areas surrounding employed CPs. Within the wide area of responsibility (termed the commandant's area), the OPFOR creates specific sectors extending 100 km along a march route, with several traffic control posts deployed at the aforementioned critical locations. OPFOR standards do not require traffic control posts if the march route is less than 100 km long. In this instance, there is a single march route commandant appointed to control and regulate movement. Units from the marching forces can also perform traffic control functions, when necessary.

Air Defense

Army and divisional air defenders move and deploy in accordance with an overall air defense plan. The plan stresses universal, overlapping and redundant coverage. In general, army group, army, and corps assets provide early warning to subordinate air defense units. Highest priority for protection goes to the first echelon, the SSM brigade and its missile technical battalion, and army, corps, and division CPs.

Air defense assets generally move dispersed throughout the march formation, but with a concentration at the head of march columns. Some elements may leapfrog ahead to defend obstacle crossings and choke points. The advancing unit must coordinate carefully with air defense and air forces through which it is passing in a march from the strategic or operational depth. Such forces may have primary responsibility for combating the air threat to the advancing unit and for the defense of critical points, including assembly and rest areas.

Support

Measures such as reconnaissance; NBC defense; camouflage, concealment, and deception; engineer and topographical support; and logistics are generally the responsibility of the military districts, allied states, and army groups through which the march passes. This avoids depletion of resources the advancing units will need on commitment to combat. To solve the particularly difficult problems of fuel supply, it is necessary to establish depots beforehand to supply each daily march stage. For maintenance support, vehicles requiring medium repairs must go to damaged vehicle collection points for transfer to military district or army group repair centers.

Deployment of Command Posts

Continuity of C2 is fundamental. This means that a unit on the march must always have at least one CP deployed and in control. There are two methods for ensuring this. The least preferred option is to have an army forward CP move at the head of the first echelon throughout, with the main CP moving in the second echelon, a day's march behind. The preferred method is for the main CP to move with first-echelon combat forces. Whenever possible, the main CP moves on a route separate from the forward CP, while the forward CP exercises control from its position in the next daily rest area. When the army moves into that rest area, the forward CP moves on to the next one; this move may be wholly or in part by helicopter. (See Chapter 7 for more information.)

Communications

COMSEC is a priority, with radio transmissions kept to a minimum. Whenever possible, the OPFOR employs couriers. When radio communications are necessary, preferred systems are those providing line-of-sight and capable of transmitting at relatively low power. Army-level nets are used minimally, primarily for air and NBC warning. During extended halts, the OPFOR lays landline, and uses existing telephone networks and cellular systems whenever possible.

RAIL MARCHES

The OPFOR maintains that, especially for distances under 100 km, rail marches cannot concentrate forces as rapidly as road or combined road and rail marches. Moreover, whatever the relative time advantages of road or rail, the rail movement becomes unacceptably dangerous once hostilities have begun. Thus, deployment in peacetime may be by rail, but during combat the movement of units by rail would be rare, except in strategic depth, and used only in exceptional circumstances.

Advantages

Rail marches confer three benefits:

  • Combat vehicles conserve fuel and prolong engine and track life.
  • Personnel do not become exhausted by prolonged exertion and discomfort.
  • A high rate of movement is possible regardless of weather conditions.

On modern lines, a rail march can achieve from 600 to 1,000 km per day (including loading and unloading times, which may amount to over 50 percent of the total).

Disadvantages

There are two major drawbacks to rail movement. A scarcity of lines means that an army relying totally on rail requires a long time to deploy; the presence of nondeployment traffic on the lines can cause further delays. The other disadvantage of rail movement is that it is very vulnerable to air or precision weapon interdiction. Both the level of destruction and the delay and disruption that such attacks would cause are undesirable.

COMBINED ROAD AND RAIL MARCHES

Combined road and rail movement, with tracked and heavy equipment transported by rail and the rest traveling by road, is an optimum solution for distances under 100 km. A combined movement is economical in the use of transport resources and preserves both equipment and personnel. The price, of course, is the destruction of unit integrity and problems in C2. A severe disruption of either form of march might render a whole division or more ineffective. Thus, this sort of march, too, is better for prewar deployments.

AIR AND SEA MOVEMENT

While the deployment of whole mechanized infantry or tank divisions by air is not practical, the OPFOR may use air transport to deploy high-value items urgently needed forward: SSMs, SAMs, EC equipment, and headquarters elements. Air transport can also rapidly move large numbers of personnel. Preserved from the rigors of a long road march, these personnel could man prestocked sets of unit equipment or provide replacements of purely infantry units. Sea movement may be too slow and too vulnerable to interdiction to be practical during war.


1 Of course, dense OPFOR defenses (or concentrations for offensive actions) are also vulnerable to strikes from enemy nuclear or precision weapons.

2 Additional details are found in Chapter 13, Electronic Combat.

3 After completion of a long range (administrative) march, first-echelon forces might go from the start line (leaving the last rest area) to assembly areas. In these areas, they could reconfigure themselves from march formation into combat formation for the attack, while still beyond the range of enemy artillery. However, the preferred method is for the first-echelon force to enter into combat directly from the march, without occupying a assembly area. Once the operation has begun, even second-echelon and reserve forces generally remain on the move, rather than occupying prepared assembly areas.



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