The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW




Chapter 3:  Training
Table of Contents
Chapter 5:  Organization

Now the issue becomes, how do you fight with this new organization, empowered by information technology? This is clearly a challenge in view of "we don't know what we don't know." We can hypothesize that "maybe we would fight like this," but we find that our thoughts generated while working in an air-conditioned office don't work when applied in the field. Specifically, what's the doctrine, what are the TTPs that will allow us to capitalize on this advanced technology?

Spiral development here is essential:

  • Get the technology in the hands of the user as soon as possible.
  • Give him some generic concept, a starting point, on how to fight with these new systems. And then turn him loose.
  • Watch carefully what he does.
  • Focus on what worked, and what didn't.
  • Then take these ideas back into the doctrine-writing business to refine the concept.

The key piece is developing a system where these lessons learned are captured and institutionalized. Routinely at Fort Hood we were too busy to stop and codify what we did--we simply moved on to the next major event. Someone at the institutional level must capture lessons learned and disseminate them across the force.

We must continue thinking "out of the box." Information technology properly applied does indeed increase our lethality, our survivability, and our ability to manage the tempo of the battle. As difficult as it is, we must ensure that our thought processes aren't hamstrung by "the way we used to do business." Routinely, the 1BCT would be given a new piece of "kit" along with someone's ideas of how to best use it. After just a couple of iterations, we soon found ourselves using the kit totally different from it was originally intended. Allow me to take some time to share some lessons learned on "how to fight" with information technology.

First, it is critical that leaders who intend to use the technology trust the technology. To make sound tactical decisions in a timely fashion, you must believe that the icon you see on the screen truly represents the location of the friendly or enemy unit identified. If you spend time questioning the technology, or hesitate to make a decision based on the fact that you don't trust the technology, you have already degraded its potential to help you fight.

Battlespace has indeed increased--as well it should have. The normal battlespace for a 1BCT using information technology is 30 to 45 kilometers wide and 40 to 60 kilometers deep (about three times what the 1BCT used to control). That's good stuff--gives us plenty of room to maneuver. We have the ability to expand our battlespace directly as a result of our increased situational awareness. If we know where we are, and where all of our friendly forces are, we can disperse our forces over a wider area and then concentrate them at the right place, at the right time, to kill the enemy.

This is a key point: When we say that information technology allows us to manage the tempo of the battle, this doesn't imply that we do everything faster. It means that given situational understanding across the force, we can choose to engage the enemy at the time and place of our choosing, and at conditions that are to our advantage--not his.

Given the expanded battlespace, the key element is first answering three questions:

  • How do I communicate over these large distances?
  • How can I sustain myself over these large distances?
  • How do I protect key high-value assets (HVAs) throughout my battlespace?

Answers to these questions will enable you do determine what's feasible, given current conditions. Think about the enemy's intentions, capabilities, and vulnerabilities. Then--and only then--should you start developing a maneuver plan to support your concept of the operation.

How do I communicate over large distances?

Communicating over expanded distances is hard. It is hard when you are trying to transmit only voice. It is even more difficult when you are trying to transmit digital information. The communications backbone to support your operation must be planned first. Given the terrain in the area of operations, where do you need to position your communication assets to provide yourself with the ability to communicate?

The digital 1BCT uses many means of communication to transmit information. Single-Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS), Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE), and Near-Term Digital Radios (NTDRs) are all critical, and must be included in the plans. Once acquired, they must be positioned and protected.

How can I sustain myself over large distances?

The next issue, given the expanded battlespace of the digital brigade combat team, is sustainment. The Conservative Heavy Design for our divisions has redistributed the majority of Combat Service Support (CSS) to the Forward Support Battalion (FSB). Maneuver battalions no longer have internal mechanics, fuelers, ammunition transport vehicles, or cooks. All of these assets reside in the FSB. Forward Support Companies (FSCs) are formed to support each of the maneuver task forces.

This design demands careful planning on the part of everyone on the team. The maneuver task force commander must maneuver his FSC just as he does his maneuver companies. He must plan for the proper positioning of logistics assets throughout his battlespace, and once again plan on how he is going to protect those assets. He no longer has the latitude to "hand wave" the logistics planning to support his operation. He must make planning for resupply a priority. Because he no longer directly controls his mechanics, his fuelers, and his ammunition vehicles, he must plan for the proper linkup of CSS assets with maneuver assets at the right place, at the right time. Difficult, but critical, stuff.

How do I protect key HVAs throughout my battlespace?

The next major consideration on the part of the commander of the digital 1BCT is how is he going to protect all of his HVAs over this expanded battlespace. Because elements are now widely dispersed over a sector 30 kms in width, how do you ensure that your HVAs are protected. Ask yourself:

  • What are your capabilities,vulnerabilities, and intentions?
  • What assets do you have that are so critical to your operation, that if you lose them, your chances of victory are severely degraded?

These assets become your HVAs, and you must protect them. In addition, the Division Commander may have placed some of his HVAs in your sector, and you must protect them as well. Examples of HVAs include counterfire radars (Q36, Q37), critical intelligence assets, artillery units, logistics elements, and air defense radars (Sentinels). You must make planning for their protection a priority.

You must pick up the red pen first. You must think like the enemy. What's he trying to do? What are his capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions?

Too many times we allow the intelligence officers to develop what they believe to be the "most likely enemy course of action" and we develop our concept of operations against that enemy plan. We don't take the time to step away from the map board and think:

  • What does the enemy want to do?
  • What's the correlation of forces between what he has and what I have?
  • What's he going to try and strip away from me?

Thinking like the enemy drives all subsequent activity. Primarily, it drives development of PIRs, those things that we must know about the enemy so we can kill him. These PIRs, in turn, drive positioning of assets to cover named areas of interest (NAIs).

Fighting on the digital battlefield is 10-percent planning and 90-percent execution. We must retain flexibility and agility to take advantage of the improved lethality, survivability and ability to manage the tempo of the battle provided to us by information technology. Too many times we develop a plan (again based on what the S2 tells us in the most likely enemy course of action), and then we fight that plan, regardless of what the enemy is doing -- all wrong. That isn't to say we shouldn't waste our time developing a plan. We must continue to do that. We just must acknowledge that the enemy is probably going to do something different than we anticipate, so we must remain flexible. Our planning staffs should spend a large portion of their time developing branches and sequels to our original plan, the "What if's." What if the enemy does this--then we'll do that. And on and on. Planning never stops. It is easier to issue a fragmentary order off of a plan if that fragmentary order was developed before the bullets started flying.

We must continue to develop the paradigm of "See them deep--kill them deep." Ideally, the only direct fire engagements we have will be with their supply convoys. This is the true advantage of information technology. Kill the enemy before he gets to friendly forces. Using JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), Army aviation, Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS), and cannon artillery--combined with a maneuver force that positions and protects HVAs and fixes the enemy force--is an effective way of fighting. We must work to place our sensors (ground and air, electronic, manned, unmanned) as deep as possible.

Remember we have a wide variety of sensors at our disposal. Ground reconnaissance assets are essential to our operation. However, if you put all your eggs in some "high-tech basket" (such as JSTARS or UAVs), and that technology fails you right when you need it, you are out of luck. You are now dispersed over a wide area with no idea where the enemy is. He can attack you one piece at a time and destroy your forces at his leisure. He now has the advantage.

Under the Conservative Heavy Design, each maneuver brigade has its own reconnaissance troop. This Brigade Reconnaissance Troop (BRT) proved to be the most reliable, the most dependable, the most flexible reconnaissance asset at my disposal. Proper initial positioning is critical. Put your reconnaissance troop where you believe the enemy is coming, based on having "thought like the enemy." Position NAIs in areas where the enemy must travel through, and then position reconnaissance troop assets to cover those NAIs. Importantly, place a Targeted Area of Interest (TAI) in proximity to the NAI covered by the reconnaissance troop. Knowing the location of the enemy is only part of the equation. Killing him is what it is all about. Because your reconnaissance troop has been able to find the enemy, a TAI allows for an efficient method to kill him. Plan fires (rocket, artillery and attack aviation) on that TAI, and work the sensor-to-shooter link very hard in rehearsals.

A drill that we developed in III Corps that worked very well (given improved situational awareness and understanding) is called "pen-box operations." We can use pen-box operations to defeat the enemy at any point of penetration, regardless of whether it is a minefield breach, a river-crossing operation, or anything that causes us to channel our forces through a concentrated area.

The TTPs are relatively simple, all based on three phases of fire (which I will describe in a moment). Once a determination is made as to where the penetration will take place (utilizing all types of reconnaissance assets available), the zone of penetration is determined. This is defined as the zone around the point of penetration in which enemy forces can influence our operation.

During Phase I fires, we first kill all enemy artillery (and observers) that is within range of our zone of penetration. This is a significant effort--it takes a lot of time and effort (and resources) to accomplish this phase of the operation, but it is worth the time. Sure beats having enemy artillery rain down on you right when you have massed your forces at the point of penetration.

During Phase II fires, we kill those enemy forces that can be used to counterattack us at the point of penetration, specifically those that are within the zone. This is pure planning calculus, given the position of our forces and the enemy counterattack forces, and deciding which ones can indeed influence our operation. We must reach out and attrit them during Phase II.

During Phase III fires, we will destroy those forces at the point of penetration. Then, and only then, do we move maneuver force through the penetration. Protect the force!

We can use JSTARS to queue the UAV. We found that routinely the UAV can give us targetable data. A decision has to be made early in the process whether we want to use our limited number of UAVs as a reconnaissance tool or as a targeting tool. In addition, there is a tendency to want to use the UAV to loiter to assess Battle Damage Assessment.

In the Division Advanced Warfighting Experiment, we had ground sensors, called Raptors, which were basically smart minefields with seismic and acoustic sensors. The same issue occurred as with the proper use of UAVs. We had to decide when to transition the Raptor from a set of "eyes" to a killing system.

We found collaborative planning tools to be absolutely essential in planning simultaneous, complex operations. The key is getting to the point when all commanders have the same "understanding" as to what's happening on the battlefield. This can only be accomplished by routine commander-to-commander dialogues. In the Division, we used collaborative planning tools extensively.

Routinely throughout the course of a fight, the Division staff would announce the Date-Time Group (DTG) of the next collaborative planning session. At the same time, the staff would announce what piece of the fight (what terrain, what degree of resolution and what graphical control measures) we would be observing. Staffs at all levels worked to ensure that a common operational picture was presented to commanders. At the designated time, the Division Commander would come on the collaborative planning net, and describe his view as to what was happening (both friendly and enemy operations, constraints and restrictions). He would use a "John Madden pen" to write on the screen, over the top of the posted map. Simultaneously, all of these subordinate commanders could hear the Division Commander's voice and see what he was writing on the screen. Then, in turn, each of the subordinate commanders would describe their piece of the fight, using their appointed color pen to highlight specific pieces of the operation. At the end of each session, the Division Commander would review the session and highlight for us all what he envisioned happening next.

All told, these collaborative planning sessions took about 30 minutes, but they took the place of hours of planning in the analog fashion. We all left these collaborative planning sessions with a common knowledge (and understanding) of current and future operations--a phenomenal capability.

It is essential that in fighting on a digital battlefield, you always maintain a reserve. I had one at the 1BCT level, and the Task Force Commanders created one at their level as well. You will never have perfect situational awareness. There will be enemy forces in your sector that you don't know about. The enemy will do something that you didn't expect. As a result of those unknowns, you must create something that will give you the ability to respond to the unexpected--a reserve.

Creating reserves under the Conservative Heavy Design is complicated, given the fact that each maneuver battalion only has three maneuver companies. And remember--you have already allocated some of your maneuver elements to protect HVAs, again generating a reserve more complicated. More complicated, but extremely essential.

At the 1BCT level, I always kept a two-company task force in reserve. I would identify the main effort, and weigh that main effort with additional assets (intelligence, fires, and maneuver). Normally, the main effort Task Force had four company teams.

At the Task Force level, maneuver commanders tried a variety of techniques to create a reserve element. The most successful was taking the Headquarters Company Commander and making him the commander of a reserve force. Based on the situation, take maneuver platoons away from the lead company teams and give them to the reserve. In this way, it was possible to create a fourth maneuver element (the Task Force reserve) that had one or two platoons attached -- very effective.

Finally, always remember Murphy's Law as it applies to advanced technology. All of these great information technology assets that we are developing are exciting and will be very useful on the battlefield. In the 1BCT, we developed our own view of advanced technology: "It's not IF the technology will fail you, but WHEN." You have to be prepared for the technology to fail you at the worst possible time: power sources go away, screens fail, soldiers plug in the wrong wire to the wrong outlet and the box stops working.

The moral of the story is that you must always have an analog backup to your digital operations. For example, a total reliance on aerial reconnaissance is riddled with potential disaster. During our NTC rotation, JSTARS was pulled to a more critical mission, UAV wings froze up, and other support disappeared. When I needed the aerial reconnaissance, it wasn't available.

Chapter 3:  Training
Table of Contents
Chapter 5:  Organization

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias