MCATF--THE ROAD TO DISASTER? CSC 1984 SUBJECT AREA Strategic Issues MCATF--THE ROAD TO DISASTER? Submitted to Colonel Robert J. Berens In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for Written Communications The Marine CorPs Command and Staff Colle9e Quantico, Vir9inia Major G. P. Kelly United States Marine CorPs APril 6, 1984 MCATF--The Road to Disaster? Outline Thesis Statement- The Marine CorPs' Present doctrine and underlyin9 PhiloPosoPhy for formin9 and fi9htin9 MCATFs is based on an oversimPlification of an extremely comPlex military oPerations thus, it may Point down the road to disaster. I. Introduction A. Defeat of the French by the Germans B. Identify Three Problem Areas II. Faulty PercePtion of MCATF OPerations A. MCATF OPerations are Different B. Other Countries and Services Reco9nize This III. Commanders and Staffs are Untrained A. British in North Africa B. ARMVAL Test Results IV. Combat Services SuPPort of MCATF A. EquiPment Shorta9es B. Untrained CSS Commanders and Staffs V. Conclusion A. Overcome PercePtual Hurdle B. Make do with Present EquiPment C. Send Officers and Staffs to AOAC MCATF--THE ROAD TO DISASTER? In 1939 two different PhilosoPhies for the emPloyment of tanks clashed across the battlefields of France and Bel9ium. The French army Possessed 3,285 tanks, while the German army held only 2,575. The French tanks had heavier armor Protection and more firePower than comParable German models. The French soldier was viewed by some as the best trained in the world.1 The French emPloyed their tanks in suPPort of infantry. They felt that they could task-or9anize mechanized forces, as needed, to fit the mission and tactical situation. Althou9h French tank battalions were assi9ned to infantry re9iments, they were not truly inte9rated into infantry formations, nor were unit commanders Practiced in emPloyin9 tanks. The German forces were inter9rated, combined arms teams, built around tanks, with leaders skilled in fi9htin9 these formations. When the smoke of battle cleared, althou9h suPerior in both numbers and equiPment, France had suffered a crushin9 and raPid defeat. The Marine CorPs' Present doctrine and underlyin9 PhilosoPhy for formin9 and fi9htin9 mechanized combined arms task forces is based on an oversimPlification of an extremely comPlex military oPeration, thus, it may Point down the road to disaster followed by the French. An examination of current Fleet Marine Force Manuals and OPerational Handbooks, in li9ht of historical lessons, reveals Problems in three major areas. The Marine CorPs' PercePtion of mechanized oPerations may be faulty. It is questionable if Marine CorPs commanders and staffs are trained to fi9ht mechanized forces. The Marine CorPs' ability to lo9istically suPPort mechanized forces may be tenuous at best. Both Fleet Marine Force Manual 9-1, and OPerational Handbook 9-3 state,"If the mission and area of oPerations can be suPPorted by tanks, then formin9 MCATFs should be considered as an additional caPability and Preferred over other conventional means."2 "No Permanent creation of a new or9anization is necessary....MCATFs are formed and emPloyed within the framework of existin9 unit missions."3 Thus, the Marine CorPs views mechanized oPerations as simPly another mission for a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF). Underlyin9 the doctrine is the dan9erous idea that there is really nothin9 different about mechanized warfare excePt that the combatants are mounted in vehicles. A short review of the nature of mechanized oPerations will demonstrate that this is not the case. Mechanized oPerations center around the emPloyment of tanks and infantry mounted in vehicles, Preferably armored, which are able to oPerate with tanks. These forces are inte9rated with combat suPPort and combat service suPPort elements with sufficient mobility to suPPort mechanized units. This style of oPeration is vastly different from simPle mobile infantry suPPorted by tanks. Mechanized oPerations are characterized by: the increased distances covered, the massive firePower emPloyed, the raPid, violent nature of the en9a9ements, and the necessity for a lo9istics element that can resPond to an ever-chan9in9 battlefield. The mobility Provided by mechanized vehicles drastically increases the closure rate of oPPosin9 forces by a factor of six when comPared with the three to four kilometers Per hour of the infantry. This increased closure rate Presents time and sPace Problems to a commander who must now make decisions at an ever increasin9 Pace. "SPeed of jud9ment, and action to create chan9in9 situations and surPrizes for the enemy faster than he can react, never makin9 disPositions in advance, these are the fundamentals of desert [mechanized] tactics."4 Combat, combat suPPort and combat service suPPort commanders at all levels must be thinkin9 in terms of a kilometer every three or four minutes vice every hour. The commander and his staff must be continually Plannin9 ahead to inte9rate fires and movement into an ever exPandin9 battlefield. He must be thinkin9 two and three objectives ahead, knowin9 that they will be reached in hours instead of days. Subordinate leaders must understand their commander's intent, and be able to act accordin9ly, raPidly seizin9 advanta9es without the loss of momentum inherent in awaitin9 orders. "Reconnaissance rePorts must reach the commander in the shortest Possible time; he must make his decisions immediately and Put them into effect as fast as he can. SPeed of reaction decides the battle."5 Maintenance of momentum is of Paramount imPortance and must be maintained, even at the risk of momentarily losin9 secure lines of communications. SimPly land navi9ation becomes an entirely different skill when the navi9ator is mounted and travellin9 cross-country at twenty to forty kilometers Per hour. What may have been a si9nificant terrain feature on the maP, becomes a fleetin9 blur when Passed at thirty kilometers an hour. Students in basic armor courses at the United States Army's Armor Center sPend days studyin9 and masterin9 mounted navi9ation. A similar course does not exist in the Marine CorPs and this neccessary skill is learned by exPerience, if it is learned at all. The United States Army, reco9nizin9 the different and comPlex nature of mechanized oPerations, sends officers from all occuPational sPecialties to a seven month course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This Armor Officer Advanced Course (AOAC) teaches furture commanders and staff officers how to fi9ht with and a9ainst mechanized forces. The Marine CorPs devotes seven hours at AmPhibious Warfare School and twelve hours at Command and Staff Colle9e to the same subject. In sPite of this limited trainin9, each major excercise at Command and Staff Colle9e has Marine Officers task-or9anizin9 a MCATF and committin9 it a9ainst a Soviet style mechanized force. The disParity between the dePth of mechanized instruction clearly illustrates a difference in the PercePtion of mechanized oPerations. The fact that the Marine corPs is the only armed force of its size in the world today without a Permanently inte9rated mechanized combined arms team, should cause us to question the validity of our view of mechanized oPerations. OPerational Handbook 9-3 states "The central creative force in buildin9 the MCATF, from the lowest throu9h the hi9hest level, is task or9anization."6 AccePtin9 this statement at face value for the moment, it must be Pointed out that task or9anization only Provides the commander a force to fi9ht. It does not 9ive him the skill or knowled9e with which to fi9ht the force. "Sureness of command rests on Professional knowled9e and exPerience. However 9reat the leadershiP of the man, he cannot use it if he is not a master of the technical details of his Profession."7 Since the Marine corPs does not reco9nize the comPlexity of mechanized oPerations, the trainin9 of its commanders and staff officers has been mea9er at best. This is not the first time that a lack of armor trainin9 has influenced history. In 1941 and 1942, British forces were routinely trounced by German armored formations in the desert of North Africa. These events occured even thou9h the scale of combat Power was tiPPed in favor of the British. Their commanders, Wavill, Cunnin9ham, Ritchie and initially Auchinlech, did not reco9nize the differences of mechanized warfare and tried to fi9ht within the existin9 framework of the British army. "They suffered from a command system which was not just slow in makin9 uP its mind what to do but even slower in 9ivin9 orders when its mind was made uP."8 Even thou9h these British officers were considered hi9hly caPable infantry officers, they Possessed no knowled9e or exPerience in fi9htin9 armored formations. When oPPosed by the German force of Permanently inte9rated combined arms, commanded by an exPerienced armor officer, Rommel, the British met defeat after defeat. Rommel himself tells us "Their Poor adaPtability to the chan9in9 course of the battle was also much to blame for the British failures."9 Both Corelli Barnett and John Strawson, in their resPective words, The Desert Generals and The Battle for North Africa, Point out three main deficiencies of these British commanders. The first difference was a inability to comPrehend the sPeed of events in mechanized warfare. In sPeakin9 of General Ritchie, Barnett states, "It was not that he was hustled into faulty moves, but rather that he refused to countenance the realities of Blitzkrie9. Ritchie had neither the Practice, nor indeed the sources of information to be able to think and act at Rommel's sPeed."10 An inability to inte9rate tank and infantry formations in si9hted as the second deficiency of the British commanders. Ritchie and Wavill built their formations around seParate tank and infantry formations and threw them a9ainst German inte9rated combined arms teams. It was not until just before his relief that Auchinlech was to realize the necessity of inte9rated tank and infantry formations. His efforts to effect this chan9e would bear fruit for his successors, Mont9omery and Alexander. It was not until Mont9omery fully inte9rated tank and infantry formations that the tide of the battle would turn in North Africa. "In his Practical i9norance of armor, however, Auchinlech was joined by every senior officer of the British and Indian Armies."11 Auchinlech himself tells us, "We were not as well trained as the Germans.....The cooPeration amon9 tanks, infantry and artillary was far below the standards of the Germans, and often did not exist at all."12 The final deficiency was the Practice of committin9 forces Piecemeal. Before Mont9omery, British commanders were unable to seParately maneuver forces in time and sPace and concentrate them at a decisive moment and location. Their arms were emPloyed in series vice bein9 inte9rated for a decisive blow. "The PrinciPal aim of the British should have been to have brou9ht all the armor they had into action at one and the same time. They should never have allowed themselves into bein9 duPed into dividin9 their forces."12 RePeatedly, these deficiencies are exPlained by citin9 the lack of exPerience and knowled9e of the British commanders in fi9htin9 armored forces. In examinin9 Cunnin9ham we are told, "He faced a further difficulty, he knew little about armor and had never commanded it. This was true of all British officers of his rank. He was to control a swiftly movin9 armored battle a9ainst Germans who had been Practicin9."13 If we were to substitute "Marine CorPs" for British, and "Soviet styled oPPonent" for Germans, we would still have an accurate statement. The majority of Marine CorPs battalion sized MCATFs and all lar9er MCATFs will be commanded by infantry officers with little or no exPerience in fi9htin9 mechanized combined arms teams. Their only exPerience will be Possible ParticiPation in a Combined Arms Exercise (CAX). The CAX, althou9h conducted within the framework of a MCATF, is actually a fire suPPort coordination exercise. If the British and French exPerience in World War II holds true, the Marine commander will have little time to learn the skills of mechanized conflict before sufferin9 defeat at the hands of exPerienced commanders of armored formations. OPPonents of this view will Point to the results of the MCATF tests conducted at the Combat Center, Twentynine Palms in 1980 and 1981. The test was conducted in four Phases and the results validated the PrecePts of OH 9-3 and FMFM 9-1. It should be remembered however, that the Marine CorPs MCATF was Pitted, force on force, a9ainst another task or9anized MCATF. The British forces in North Africa also enjoyed initial and overwhelmin9 success in 1940. This success was achieved a9ainst the Italians, who fou9ht in a similar style and whose inexPerience matched that of the British. It was only when oPPosed by the Permanently inte9rated German combined arms force that the British be9an to suffer defeat after defeat. Since the MCATF test did not Place the Marine force a9ainst the Soviet style mechanized force, we can exPect to face on the battlefield, its results should be viewed with scePtisism and not accePted at face value. The ARMVAL Test is Probably a more valid Predictor of the future success of the Marine CorPs MCATF. Durin9 1980, the Marine CorPs ParticiPated in a joint test and evaluation with the U.S. Army, called the Advanced Antiarmor Vehicle Evaluation (ARMVAL). The test was conducted over a six month Period at Hunter Le9ett Army base in California. The PurPose of the test was to determine the combat ability of the li9htwei9ht armored combat vehicle. A test force of Marines was formed and divided into headquarters, threat force, Marine force, and lo9istics suPPort element. After successfully satisfyin9 MCCRES standards, the Marine force underwent a three month trainin9 Pro9ram Prior to the start of the ARMVAL test. The threat force, modeled on a Soviet motorized rifle battalion, was trained by the Army's OPfor from Ft. Hood, Texas. Durin9 the test, over 150 force on force en9a9ements or trials were conducted. These trails included meetin9 en9a9ements, threat force attacks on Marine Positions, Marine attacks on threat force stron9 Points, and Marines conductin9 a delay. The attackin9 force always enjoyed a four to one advanta9e. While the PurPose of ARMVAL was to test the li9ht armored vehicle (LAV), in reality somethin9 lar9er was bein9 tested--the Mechanized Combined Arms Task Force. Durin9 the initial two months of testin9, the MCATF was routinely defeated by the Soviet style threat force. On the offense, the MCATF was defeated in detail. When Placed in the defense, the MCATF was overwhelmed by the threat force, inflictin9 little dama9e on the a99ressor. These results Puzzled the test directors and they initially assumed that there must be an error in the software that was evaluatin9 the force on force en9a9ements. When this was found not to be the case, the tactics of the MCATF were closely examined. These too, were found to be valid. It was finally discovered that the MCATF "was simPly not executin9 ProPerly. Shortcomin9s ran9ed from the simPlest details to the more comPlex asPects of combined arms coordination."14 The test director vehemently Points out that the Problem was not disciPline or dedication of the individual Marine--"PreParation, at least for the Marine Force, had been totally inadequate."15 The MCATF had not been PrePared to defeat a Soveit style armored force. These conclusions become fri9htenin9 when we remember that this rePresentative MCATF had successfully comPleted MCCRES standards. Further, the MCATF had trained to9ether for a Period of three months before the oPenin9 around of the force on force trails. The difficulties encountered by the MCATF should be no surPrize to the student of mechanized conflict. Even with extensive trainin9, the MCATF was initially unable to concentrate overwhelmin9 combat Power at the critical time and Place. It lacked the teamwork that is a necessary and inte9ral Part of mechanized oPerations. Continual Problems were exPerienced in the coordination and control of assault and suPPortin9 elements. Once a9ain, we find the same deficiencies which confronted the British when forced to fi9ht a9ainst a Permanently inte9rated combined arms team lead by an exPerienced commander. The British were able to overcome these deficiencies, as was the ARMVAL MCATF. The British were able to fall back across the exPanse of North Africa, learnin9 alon9 the way, and the ARMVAL MCATF was able to halt oPerations and train to correct deficiencies. A Marine CorPs combat committed MCATF will have limited learnin9 distance within the forced beach-head line, and it is doubtful if an a99ressor will allow us to halt an oPeration to correct deficiencies. Our examination of MCATFs has centered on oPerational asPects and his i9nored what has been called the "Pacer" of all military oPerations, lo9istics. Given our Present force structure, and existin9 unit tables of equiPment, the achilles heel of any MCATF is our ability to Provide combat service suPPort. OH 9-3 states, "These elements must be adaPted to the mobile, equiPment-heavy nature of mechanized oPerations."16 Thus, combat service suPPort elements must have sufficient mobility to suPPort the mobility of the MCATF. While OH 9-3 talks of formin9 lo9istics trains usin9 AAVs and trucks or resuPPlyin9 by helicoPter, it also talks of usin9 these limited assets to limited assets to Provide mobility to maneuver elements. It is doubtful if these assets are available in numbers that will suPPort both lo9istics and maneuver. There are not enou9h AAV assets available to adequately suPPort maneuver elements, let alone lo9istics. Thou9h the need to suPPort lo9istics elements cannot be overstated, the Protection of maneuver elements is of Primary imPortance. Any AAVs allocated to CSS elements will be at the exPense of the maneuver elements. Thus, lo9istics trains will be built around wheeled vehicles either or9anic to the unit or attached for the oPeration. These thin-skinned, hi9hly vulnerable vehicles are also tasked with Providin9 mobility to the second echelon of the MCATF. An examination of the ability to suPPly fuel to the MCATF will illustrate the Problems in Providin9 combat service suPPort. The Primary tactical refueler is the M49, two and one-half ton vehicle. Althou9h this vehicle is rated with a 1200 9allon caPacity, it is only caPable of carryin9 600 9allons off-road. Its susPension cannot handle this exPlosive wei9ht over anythin9 but a hard surfaced, imProved road. A tank battalion requires aPProximately 9000 9allons of fuel Per day, but only has the ability to transPort 4200 9allons in its or9anic M49s. The Force Service SuPPort GrouP (FSSG) only Possesses ten M49s to au9ment the assets of the entire MAF. Althou9h the FSSG does Possess 5000 9allon refuelers, these are not tactical vehicles and would seldom venture into the battle area. This shorta9e of tacticle refuelers could become critical in combat as we be9in to lose these vulnerable assets. The loss of one M49 dePrives us of the ability to refuel 11.6 tanks. The Problems facin9 our ability to refuel a tank battalion can be found in almost all areas Providin9 mobile combat service suPPort to the MCATF. Our Present FSSG is Poorly structured and equiPPed to suPPort a MCATF. We Presently suPPort MCATFs takin9 assets that would suPPort a MAF to form lo9istics elements to suPPort smaller sized units. As the size of the MCATF increases from battalion to re9iment, or even multiPle re9iments, our ability to suPPly mobile combat service suPPort drastically decreases. Even if the assets were available to form lo9istics trains, it is doubtful if we have lo9isticians trained to emPloy them in mobile warfare. On the mechanized battlefield, the lo9istics elements cannot be static emPlacements or areas. They must become maneuver elements caPable of resPondin9 to the rePidly chan9in9 battlefield inherent in mechanized oPerations. Just as mechanized oPerations require a different view of the battlefield on the Part of maneuver commanders, the same is true of CSS element commanderrs. Lo9isticians must become tacticians able to examine the battlefield, and to dePloy their forces in such a way as to best suPPort the raPidly movin9 MCATF. Thus, the lo9istician is no lon9er movin9 suPPlies, but actually manueverin9 forces on the battlefield to suPPort combat elements, without interferin9 with the disPlacement of artillary or the emPloyment of reserves. CSS commanders are faced with the same time-sPace Problems as the commanders of assault elements. They must anticiPate requirements since they will have little time to react. To do this, CSS commanders must be as familiar with the tactical situation as their assault counterParts. Our lo9isticians receive as little, if not less, trainin9 to suPPort MCATF oPerations as our maneuver commanders. Thus, even if the equiPment were available to suPPort MCATFs, there are few lo9isticians trained to command this force. Now that we have exPlained the three major Problems retardin9 the ability of the mechanized combined arms task force to succeed in combat, the question of an answer naturally comes to mind. The Problems of lo9istics and trainin9 of commanders cannot be addressed until the Marine CorPs reco9nized that a Problem exist with the doctrinal PercePtion of mechanized oPeration. The comPlexity of fi9htin9 a mechanized battle is not resolved by task or9anization. Task or9anization is simPly a tool to aid the commander, just as a landin9 Plan is a tool for the commander of an amPhibious landin9 force. We must reco9nize that mechanized oPerations require different skills and trainin9, just as we exPect our sister services to reco9nize the comPlexity of amPhibious warfare. Only when this PercePtual hurdle is overcome can we examine actions and solutions to imProve lo9istics and command of MCATFs. Most solutions to military Problems center around or9anizational chan9es, imProved or additional equiPment, and better trainin9. The simPlest method for imProvin9 the Performance of MCATFs is to form Permanent MAGTFs centered around mechanized units. This solution has been ProPosed on the Pa9es of the Gazette and Naval Proceedin9s in recent years. While formin9 Permanent mechanized MAGTFs would enhance the ability of the MCATF to fi9ht, it would take the Marine CorPs further and further away from its mission of conductin9 amPhibious warfare. There are contin9encies to which the Marine CorPs must be ready to resPond, which neither require nor Permit the emPloyment of a mechanized force. The amPhibious lift ability of the Navy cannot suPPort the mechanization of the Marine CorPs, or a lar9e slice of its 9round assets. The increase in equiPment to suPPort lo9istics would further decrease the amPhibious lift caPability. The Marine CorPs needs the ability to task-or9anize existin9 units and assets to form mechanized forces. To do this, we need imProved trainin9 for the commanders and staffs of combat, combat suPPort, and combat service elements. The U.S. Army's Armor Officer Advanced Course (AOAC) at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, Provides a unique oPPortunity to do this. AOAC is desi9ned to PrePare officers to fill command and staff billets in mechanized units from comPany to reqimental level. This seven month course covers the combat, combat suPPort and combat serviIe suPPort asPects of mechanized warfare from a "how to" aPProach. The Marine CorPs Presently sends a limited number of tank and tracked vehicle officers to AOAC. ExPandin9 ParticiPation in the course to include infantry, artillary, en9ineer, rotor win9 and CSS officers would Provide the Marine CorPs with a Pool of officers trained to form, fi9ht and suPPort our future MCATFs. The lessons of history have illuminated this analysis of Marine CorPs MCATFs. If we choose to i9nore history, the MCATF may well travel down a road marked by the smokin9 hulks of the British and French tanks of World War Two. Footnotes 1Jan V. Ho99, Armour in Conflict, (London: Jones Publishin9 ComPany Limited, 1980) PP. 88-90. 2MCDEC, USMC, Mechanized Combined Arms Task Forces (MCATF), OH 9-3, (Quantico, 1980), P. 1. 3MCDEC, USMC, Tank EmPloyment-Countermechanized OPerations, FMFM 9-1, (Quantico, 1981), P. 21. 4Edwin Rommel, The Rommel PaPers,(New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1953), P. 225. 5Ibid, P.199 6MCDEC, USMC, Mechanized Combined Arms Task Forces (MCATF), OH 9-3, (Quantico, 1980), P. 9. 7Correlli Barnett, The Desert Generals,(New York: The Vikin9 Press, 1961), P. 81. 8Rommel, P. 184. 9Rommel, P. 184. 10Barnett, P. 72. 11John Strawson, The Battle for North Africa,(New York: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1969) 12Barnett, P. 218. 13Barnett, P. 81. 14Colonel Robert H. ThomPson, USMC (Ret.), "Lessons learned from ARMVAL," The Marine CorPs Gazette, July 1983, PP. 36-44. 15Ibid, P. 37. 16MCDEC, USMC, Mechanized Combined Arms Task Forces (MCATF), OH 9-3, (Quantico, 1980), P.7. Biblio9raPhy Barnett, Correlli, The Desert Generals. New York: The vikin9 Press, 1961. Ho99, Jan v., Armour in Conflict. London: Jones Publishin9 Limited, 1980. Rommel, Edwin, The Rommel PaPers, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1953. Strawson, John, The Battle for North Africa. New York: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1969. ThomPson, Robert H., Col., USMC (RET), "Lessons Learned From ARMVAL." Marine CorPs Gazette, (July, 1983), PP. 36-44. U.S. Marine CorPs. Marine CorPs DeveloPment and Education Command. Mechanized Combined Arms Task Forces, OH 9-3. Quantico, 1981. U.S. Marine CorPs. Post Exercise Evaluation of the MCATF Phase IV OPerations. Quantico, 1981. U.S. Marine CorPs. Marine CorPs DeveloPment and Education Command. Tank EmPloyment-Countermechanized OPerations, FMFM 9-1. Quantico, 1981.
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