MAGTF Battlefield Success: Synchronization And
SUBJECT AREA Warfighting
Title: MAGTF Battlefield Success: Synchronization and
Author: Major T. E. Sittnick, United States Army
Thesis: The present rapid planning model offered by
FMFM 3-1 is inadequate to match the tempo of the modern
Background: Modern technology has significantly increased
the tempo of combat on the battlefield. Decision making time has
been dramatically reduced as new weapons systems become more
sophisticated and can be employed faster, with more lethal
effects and greater maneuver speeds. These technological improve-
ments have greatly reduced the amount of planning, preparation,
reaction, and execution time available to the commander and his
Recommendation: The Marine Corps adapt tbe synchronization
and execution matrix system into their rapid planning and orders
MAGTF BATTLEFIELD SUCCESS:
SYNCHRONIZATION AND EXECUTION MATRICES
Thesis Statement. The present rapid planning model offered by
FMFM 3-1 is inadequate to match the tempo of the modern battle-
I. The challenges of the modern battlefield
A. Technology of weapons systems
B. The National Training Center model
l. Establish the conditions and the environment
2. Discover the deficiencies
3. Introduce solution: Matrices
II. The staff process begins
A. Mission analysis
B. Intelligence preparation of the battlefield
C. Commander's intent
III. Synchronization Matrix
A. Basic construction of the Synchronization Matrix
B. How to complete the matrix
C. Final product
IV. Execution Matrix
A. Transition from wargaming to order preparation
B. Basic construction of the Execution Matrix
C. Transfer of information from the Synchronization Matrix
A. System validation during peacetime and war
B. Applicable to all levels of the MAGTF
MAGTF BATTLEFIELD SUCCESS:
SYNCHRONIZATION AND EXECUION MATRICES
If I am able to determine the enemy's disposition
while at the same time conceal my own, then I can con-
centrate while he divides; I can use my entire strength
to attack a fraction of his. There, I will be numerically
superior. Then, if I am able to use many to strike few
at the selected point, those I deal with will be in
That is precisely the challenge facing the MAGTF commander. He
and his staff must achieve mass at the critical time and place
because it is timing that will allow the combat multipliers to be
brought to bear on the enemy at the critical juncture on the battle-
field. The MAGTF commander has the unique ability and means with his
organic air and ground elements to accomplish that task by synchro-
nizing their inherent battlefield operating systems. Unfortunately,
the present rapid planning process model offered by Fleet Marine
Field Manual 3-1, Staff Actions, for conducting the synchroni-
zation of MAGTF combat power, the MAGTF orders preparation, and
the execution of MAGTF battlefield activities is too cumbersome
and lengthy to match the tempo of the modern battlefield.
Modern technology has significantly increased the tempo of combat
and has multiplied the lethality of the battlefield through increased
weapon ranges and vastly improved munitions. Decision making
time has been dramatically reduced as these new weapons systems
become more sophisticated and can be employed faster, with more
lethal effects, and greater maneuver speeds. These technological
improvements have greatly reduced the amount of planning,
preparation, reaction, and execution time available to the commander
and his staff.
In 1982, the United States Army established the National Training
Center (NTC) at Ft. Irwin, California. Its purpose was to create an
environment which would replicate, as closely as possible, the combat
realism, tempo and confusion of the modern battlefield. Then, having
designed such an environment, battalion and brigade units would
rotate through the training center in order to introduce them to the
complexities of the battlefield and improve their overall combat
readiness. The NTC has done just that. In fact, the results have
far exceeded all expectations. The NTC has been extremely successful
in exercising and evaluating the unit commander and his staff's
ability to fight on the modern battlefield.
In the past ten years, over 150 battalion and brigade units have
conducted training rotations through the NTC. Every unit is
thoroughly evaluated and the results are carefully examined to not
only identify shortfalls of the unit, but also to look for systemic
problems Army-wide. As a result of analyzing the performance of
each unit rotation, the Army senior leadership identified two
recurring major deficiencies. First, commanders demonstrated
significant difficulty in synchronizing all the elements of combat
power available to them. Second, commanders and their staff
displayed difficulty in mastering the art of rapid planning and
Following the root cause and effect methodology, it was estab-
lished that perhaps the Army staff action planning process did not
really facilitate rapid-planning and synchronization of battlefield
activities. Coincidentally, but not surprisingly, the Marine model
for rapid-planning is very similar to the U.S. Army model. Recog-
nizing this problem, tremendous effort was devoted by U.S. Army
Training and Doctrine Command, as well as tactical field units in
developing a solution. The result has been a series of synchroni-
zation and execution models which have proven to be invaluable to
the commander in rapidly turning out an order which has properly
synchronized all of his available combat power. These models,
better known as matrices, allow the commander and his staff to
master time and space on the battlefield.
The purpose of this paper is to propose that the Marine Corp
can greatly benefit from the errors uncovered by the Army at the
NTC and in their inability to synchronize and conduct rapid planning.
I propose that the matrix synchronization and execution models
designed by the U.S. Army will provide the MAGTF Commander
with a better method for synchronizing, directing, and applying
his combat power-on the modern battlefield.
I will demonstrate how, through the use of these matrices,
combined with overlays, the MAGTF commander can better facilitate
synchronization of MAGTF operations and significantly reduce the
time required for orders preparation and distribution. The two
matrices I will discuss have been tested and validated by Army
units in day-to-day training, at the NTC, and in combat during
Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm. These models haven proven
to be invaluable to commanders in significantly reducing the time
required to prepare and distribute an operation order, and
allowed them to more effectively employ all their available combat
power at the decisive moment and place on the battlefield to
defeat the enemy.
THE STAFF PROCESS BEGINS
By its unique design, the MAGTF comes to the battlefield with all
of the battlefield operation systems (BOS) inherent in its organi-
zation. The BOS, as described by TRADOC PAM 11-9, Blueprint of the
Battlefield, consists of seven operating systems: Maneuver; Fire
Support; Air Defense; Command and Control; Intelligence; Mobility and
Survivability; and Combat Service Support.(2) Marine doctrine
recognizes an eighth system - Air. By definition, BOS is defined as
battlefield functions which serve as a common base for grouping of
subordinate combat activities. The BOS provides the commander and
his staff with a methodical, comprehensive and standardized process
of considering all the combat multipliers available to them; combat,
combat support, and combat service support.
Upon receipt of the mission, the staff immediately begins the
staff process with its mission analysis and intelligence
preparation of the battlefield (IPB). As described by U.S. Army
CGSC Student Text 100-9, "IPB is a systemic and continuous process
of analyzing the enemy, weather, and terrain in a specific
geographic area. The approach integrates enemy doctrine with
weather and terrain, the mission, and the specific battlefield
environment. IPB helps determine and evaluate enemy capabilities
The intelligence officer depicts the enemy s possible and
probable courses of action on a map or in sketches.
Properly time-phased over the battlefield terrain, the commander
can now visualize the enemy and consider how to apply his forces
and assets to defeat him. in short, it allows the MAGTF commander
to get inside the enemy's time-line and plan.
"The commander is the critical participant in the
synchronization process because he must provide focus for
the staff in the synchronization effort. When the
commander receives the mission, he will analyze the
situation and time available. Combined with the IPB, the
commander can form a concept of operation based on his
knowledge of the situation and will issue planning
guidance to the staff along with his initial concept.
This critical step will speed the synchornization process
because it immediately focuses the effort of the entire
staff who are working to minimize the amount of time
required for planning so more time can be devoted to
preparation and execution."(4)
The most important outcome of this step is the MAGTF
commander's ability to develop his intent and concept of operation.
He explains his vision of the battle and how he wants it to unfold.
The staff can now begin the process of considering the enemy's.
actions at precise moments in time and can begin to synchronize
and apply the BOS to achieve maximum success.
Synchronization is the arrangement of battlefield
activities in time, space, and purpose to produce
maximum relative combat power at the decisive point.
Synchronization is both a process and a result.
Commanders synchronize activities; they thereby produce
Synchronization includes but is not limited to the
actual concentration of forces and fires at the point
of decision. Some of the activities which must be
synchronized in an operation - interdiction with
maneuver, for example, or the shifting of reserves with
the rearrangement of air defense - must occur before
the decisive moment, and may take place at locations
far distant from each other. While themselves separated
in time and space, however, these activities are
synchronized if their combined consequences are felt at
the decisive time and place.(5)
By using the synchronization model at Figure 1, and breaking
the battle down in specific bites of time, the staff considers
each of the battlefield operating systems and determine what assets
may be applied at that particular time to achieve optimal results.
Across the top of the matrix, a Time-line is displayed which is
broken down into blocks which correspond to enemy or threat action.
However, the start point and end point of the Time-line must also
be based on the time available for planning and execution. For
instance, if your IPB enemy event template established that enemy
reconaissance elements will be in contact with your counter-recon
forces located in the security area within twenty-four hours,
then obviously your start point should not exceed twenty-four hours.
The Time-line extends from left to right and is further broken down
into time segments which correspond to the anticipated actions of
the forces. These segments can be depicted in hours or days,
depending on the situation.
Immediately below the Time-line, a short narrative or graphic
description of Threat Action block is provided which corresponds to
the Time-line. Using the example as stated above at H-24, threat
action would read, "Threat recon forces in contact with covering
force." This process is continued and extends throughout the entire
Next, under the Threat Action block is a block entitled Decision
Points. This block is designed to advise the commander of a critical
decision that must be made by him at a particular point in time if he
desires to affect an enemy action. For instance, if the intelligence
assets have been able to identify the second echelon division and the
commander wants to disrupt or delay their ability to reinforce the
enemy main effort, then perhaps the commander will attack deep and
employ attack air at that time.
Depicted down the left side of the matrix are the eight battle-
field operating systems. Continuing across the matrix from left to
right are vertical lines extending from the Time-line and corres-
ponding to each bite of time.
Each of the eight operating systems are further broken down
into sub-categories and/or specific concerns. Those listed are
not intended to be all-encompassing or absolutely essential.
it will depend upon the mission, situation, sub-systems available
and the commander's intent as to how-each BOS is sub-categorized.
As an example, considering that this example matrix is for a
defensive mission, the Maneuver block reflects the defensive
framework. Obviously, if this were an offensive mission. the
maneuver block would reflect the offensive framework, i.e.
main/supporting attack instead of main battle area (MBA).
Last, but not of least importance, a block is provided at
the bottom of the matrix for the Commander's Intent. As I have
already discussed in detail, this establishes the focus and direction
for the staff. Without this critical guidance, the efforts of the
staff will not be complimentary and synchronized.
One additional tool which has proven to be extremely beneficial
in helping the staff visualize the battlefield and synchronize their
efforts is a graphic portrayal of the concept of operation. This
can be accomplished by either a cartoon sketch (Figure 3) or on an
actual map overlay. With the Time-line, Threat Action, and
Commander's intent blocks filled in, the next step is to assemble
the staff and complete the matrix by going through the wargaming
process. The intelligence officer initiates the process by
quickly presenting the enemy situation and then discusses the
Intell block with regard to friendly intelligence actions being
taken. The operations officer then discusses the Maneuver block
and describes not only the friendly actions but in addition, where
the main effort is placed and what the commander hopes to accom-
plish. Each succeeding staff representative discusses the
activities of his battlefield operating system and how they can
support the commander's stated goal.
However, there are a couple of critical points that must be
remembered when you are going through this process: (l) you are
not confined to looking at the threat action only at that
particular time. For instance, consider the following. Your
enemy template has determined that at H-Hour the first echelon
units will be in contact along the FEBA. At H+6, the second
echelon units will be moving out of their assembly areas to begin
march formation. intelligence assets previously pin-pointed the
second echelon assembly areas. With that in mind, the commander
may decide to strike deep with his air and artillery against the
highly vulnerable second echelon in their assembly areas at
H-Hour. if successful, the commander will have accomplished
exactly what he wanted - disruption of the enemy Time-line and
plan. (2) Secondly, I want to stress that you move throught the
matrix quickly. Every block does not need to be filled in. You
are focusing on major activities and tasks that will have an
affect or impact.
Provided at Figure 2 is an example of a completed defensive
Synchronization Matrix. The scenario I considered in developing this
matrix depicts a Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) consisting of two
Marine divisions, one Marine air wing, and a Force Service Support
Group, defending against an enemy infantry corps. The MEF is
defending between two comparable size friendly forces. It is
anticipated that the enemy will begin offensive operations within -
the next twenty-four hours.
One last comment concerning the size of the actual matrix. The
battalion I was in designed a matrix which was approximately 36" by
36". Once the basic model was drafted, we made copies of it on
the diazo copy machine. We then built a board out of plywood
which we could hang in the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) along-
side the battle map. We could then post a blank matrix on the
board, assemble the staff and quickly go through the wargaming
Strategy is the art of making use of time and space.
I am in less charge of the latter than the former. Space
we can recover, lost time never.(6)
Now that the commander and staff have wargamed the selected
course of action and determined how to best apply and synchronize the
available combat power, it must be quickly translated into an order
and issued to his subordinate commanders.
I will now demonstrate how the information on the synchronization
matrix can be quickly transferred to an execution matrix. The basic
model I will describe is a modification of one designed by the U.S.
Army, as taken from FM 71-2, The Tank and Mechanized infantry
Battalion Task Force, September l988.(7)
Across the top of the execution matrix minimum essential basic
heading information is listed; issuing unit, operation order number,
date-time group of the order, and copy number. Immediately under
the heading information, the Mission and Commander's intent is stated.
The commander's intent can be abbreviated to reduce space; however,
this should only be done if the subordinate commanders and staff
are intimately familiar with their commander's intent.
Next, listed under Task Organization, from left to right, are the
major subordinate elements. Remember that the Ground Combat Element,
Air Combat Element, and Combat Service Support Element may not be the
only major subordinate elements (MSE) in the MAGTF that exist and
must be addressed.
Adjacent to the first MSE is a block entitled Event.
Vertically listed underneath that block are the events, stages
or phases of the operation. At this point, vertical and horizontal
lines are extended creating empty blocks.
At the bottom of the page, the Concept of Operation is described
in narrative form. However, if space becomes a premium due to the
number of events listed, this block can be eliminated, particularly
if the execution matrix is accompanied with an operation overlay.
Now, it is simply a process of referring back to the Synchroni-
zation Matrix and then assigning those tasks indicated to the appro-
priate NSE as they correspond to the event/phase of the operation.
An example of a blank Execution Matrix is at Figure 4. Also,
using the Synchronization Matrix at Figure 2, I have completed an
Execution Matrix with accompanying operation overlays which are
shown at Figures 5, 6 and 7.
As I mentioned with the Synchronization Matrix, our battalion
followed the similar procedure of enlarging the Execution Matrix.
it was also 36" by 36" in size and could be placed alongside the
Synchronization Matrix and battle map. This made the process very
easy to transfer information and complete the order. While the
information was filled in on the large matrices, a smaller matrix
was also completed. This enabled us to quickly reproduce the
finished product and immediately disseminate it to the staff and
subordinate commanders, thus significantly reducing the orders
The tempo of the battlefield, coupled with time,space and
lethality require a commander to act fast, be decisive, and to
thoroughly synchronize all of his available combat power if he
expects to survive. As demonstrated during Operation Desert
Storm, battalions, brigades, divisions, and even corps were
required to drastically change directions and their focus of
effort with minimum warning and reaction time, There was no time
for lengthy planning or detailed orders. More times than not, a
mission, a series of checkpoints, verbal commander's guidance,
and order of movement became the norm.
In our battalion task force-and brigade combat team, the matrix
rapid-planning and orders generation process I have described
was routinely practiced in our daily training exercises, as well
as three NTC rotations, and was thoroughly understood and
internalized by commanders and staff alike. As a result, following
the same formula in combat, we were able to quickly develop,
organize, and execute a plan which synchronized all our combat
power, and employ it at the decisive moment on the ground to
soundly defeat the enemy.
The strength of this process is that it causes and requires the
commander and staff to work together in training and to learn that
each activity is related to all others. The end result is that the
staff no longer thinks and works in isolation but truly becomes an
effective combat team.
My examples have been focused primarily at the MEF level;
however, this process is equally applicable at the Marine
Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) and Marine Expeditionary Unit -
Special Operations Capable (MEU-SOC) level. In fact, an argument
can perhaps be made that it is more applicable at the MEU and MEB
level because of the smaller and less experienced staffs.
Click here to view image
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AA assembly area
ACE air combat element
ADA air defense artillery
BHO battle handover
BHOL battle handover line
BOS battlefield operating system
C2 command and control
CBT SPT combat support
CGSC Command and General Staff College
CSS combat services support
CSSE combat service support element
EA engagement area
EEI essential element of information
FEBA forward edge of the battle area
FLOT forward line of troop
F/S fire support
F/W fixed wing
GCE ground combat element
HELO ATh attack helicopter, AH-lH, AH-64
HELO SPT support helicopter, UH-lH, CH-46, CH-53
I&J intercept and jamming
IPB intelligence preparation of the battlefield
MAGTF Marine air-ground task force
MARDIV Marine division
MAW Marine air wing
MBA main battle area
MCSSD mobile combat service support detachment
MEF Marine Expeditionary Force
NAI named area of interest
NGF naval gunfire
NTC National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California
OIR other information requirements
PL phase line
RAOC rear area operation center
RP release point
SEAD suppression of enemy air defense
SP start point
SRIG Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Intelligence Group
TAI tactical area of interest
TCF tactical combat force (rear area reaction force)
TRADOC U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command
1. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, (London: Ford University Press, 1963), 98.
2. Department of the Army, TRADOC Pamphlet 11-9 (Draft), Blueprint of
the Battlefield, (Fort Monroe, Virginia: U.S. Training and Doctrine
Command, 1989), 4-12-4-14.
3. Command and General Staff College, Student Text 100-9, Techniques
and Procedures for Tactical Decision making, (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas:
Center for Army Tactics, 1988), 7-2.
4. Clyde L. Long, MAJ, USA, Svnchronization of Combat Power at the
Task Force Level: Defining a Planning Methodology, (Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1989), 50.
5. Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5, Operations,
(Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 1986), 17.
6. David G. Chandler, Campaigns of Napoleon, (New York: The MacMillan
Company, 1966), 67.
7. Department of the Army, Field Manual 71-2, The Tank and Mechanized
Infantry Battalion Task Force, (Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department
of the Army, 1988), B-42.
Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York:
The MacMillan Company, 1966.
Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Princeton, New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 1976.
Howard, Michael. C1ausewitz. New York: Oxford University
Jomini, Henri. Art of War. Westport, Connecticut:
Greenwood Publishers, 1862.
Tzu, Sun, The Art of War. London: Oxford University Press,
Department of the Army. Field Manual 34-100. Intelligence
Preparation of the Battlefield. Washington, D.C.:
Headquarters, Department of the Army, July, 1987.
Department of the Army. Field Manual 71-2. The Tank and
Mechanized Infantry Battalion Task. Washington, D.C.:
Headquarters, Department of the Army, September, 1988.
Department of the Army. Field Manual 71-3. Armored and
Mechanized Infantry Brigade. Washington, D.C.:
Headquarters, Department of the Army, May, 1988.
Department of the Army. Field Manual 71-100. Division
Operations. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department
of the Army, November, 1988.
Department of the Army. Field Manual 100-5. Operations.
Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army,
Department of the Army. Field Manual 100-15. Corps
Operations. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters, Department
of the Army, September, 1989.
Department of the Army. Field Manual 101-5. Staff Organization
and Operations. Washington- D.C.: Headquarters, Department
of the Army, May, 1984.
Department of the Army. TRADOC Pamphlet 11-9. Army Programs
B1ueprint of the Battlefield. (Draft) Fort Monroe,
Virginia: Headquarters, Training and Doctrine Command,
Department of the Army. ST 100-9. Techniques and Procedures
for Tactical Decisionmaking. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas:
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, July, 1991.
Department of the Navy. Fleet Marine Force Manual 3-1.
Command and Staff Action. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters,
United States Marine Corps, July, 1986.
Clarke, Bruce B.G. COL, USA., Klement, Steven S. CPT, USA.
Infantry. The Synchronization of the Brigade Fight.
Fort Benning, Georgia: U.S. Army Infantry School,
STUDENT PAPERS AND THESES
Becker, Patrick J. (MAJ, USA). "What is an Adequate Decision
Support System for the Operational Level of War?"
(A Master's Monograph). Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: The
School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and
General Staff College, 1990.
Crain, William F. (MAJ, USA). "Battle Staff Operations:
Synchronization of Planning at the Battalion and Brigade
Level." (A Master's Thesis). Fort Leavenworth, Kansas:
The School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command
and General Staff College, 1989.
Long, Clyde L. (MAJ, USA) "Synchronization of Combat Power
at the Task Force Level: Defining a Planning Methodology."
(A Master's Thesis). Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: The School
of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and
General Staff College, 1989.
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