From his vantage point on top of a low hill, the Task Force Fire Support Officer (FSO) could see the engineer breach force moving forward toward the location where they would begin breaching their lane. The steady radio conversation told the FSO that the assault force is delayed, perhaps as much as 10 minutes. The Task Force Commander was on the net trying to adjust his assault force timing so that there would not be an unnecessary and costly delay.
The FSO picks up the artillery battalion command fire 1 net and calls for the battalion fire direction officer (FDO). "Gunner 32, this is Gator 27. The breach may be delayed about 10 minutes because the assault force is being delayed by terrain." "Roger Gator 27, how's the smoke look?" The FSO takes a quick glance again and tells the FDO it is getting thin due to the gusting winds. The FDO assures the FSO that he will adjust the fire order to compensate.
Fifteen minutes later the Task Force Commander orders the breach force to begin their assault. The FSO immediately begins executing a target series to suppress enemy positions on the objective. Thirty minutes later, the FSO realizes the artillery smoke is dissipating. The radio begins to carry the frantic transmissions of the assault force being decimated by some unseen, unsuppressed enemy, and the curses of the Task Force Commander. The FSO spends the rest of the fight trying to get the artillery battalion to reinitiate the smoke mission. Finally, he hears the call for all direct and indirect fire systems to go to "green and clear," and he receives change-of-mission instructions. "Thank God, it's the National Training Center (NTC) and not real," he thinks to himself.
Why did this happen? In this battle, smoke as a Critical Fire Support Task (CFST) was not adequately resourced. The battery responsible for executing the obscuration mission was inadequately resourced to compensate for the delay of the assault force. At first glance, it may have seemed that they had sufficient quantities of smoke on hand from the wargaming process. The battalion S-3 had even designated a backup shooter. At the point in the battle where the FSO adjusted the smoke and notified the FDO of the delay, no one realized the significance of the sudden increase in smoke round expenditures. The S-3's first course of action, to rely on a backup shooter, was foiled by enemy counterfire that forced the battery to execute an unplanned displacement. Only when the S-3 realized that the primary shooter was down to its last shells did instructions go out for the ammunition platoon to resupply as soon as possible. This action highlights the second critical flaw in Combat Service Support (CSS) planning and preparing. The S-4 and battalion ammunition officer (BAO) could not quickly determine which ammunition trucks needed to be sent forward. After a 15-minute delay, the truck was finally dispatched. Once the ammunition truck arrived at the smoke battery, personnel found that it was carrying noncompatible fuses.
The wargaming and planning process had not included a scenario where the backup shooter was out of action and emergency resupply would be required. Even though the S4, BAO, and FDO were consulted for specific data concerning ammunition availability and anticipated expenditures, they received no tasking to create a resupply plan. The CSS planners were not adequately planning resources and resupply actions. At the FA battalion rehearsal, the S4 and BAO were not required to brief a resupply plan which included the location of ammunition by type, lot, and the triggers to execute timely resupply.
HOW TO DO IT BETTER
In detail, let's look at some planning considerations for firing units to be adequately resourced, a method to anticipate future requirements, and some ammunition handling imperatives.
Resourcing a CFST goes beyond simply pushing all required ammunition to the gun line or prepositioned at the battery. Battalion FDOs should compute ammunition quantities for expected mission requirements. Next, war game the "what ifs" (i.e., maneuver needs an additional 30 to 60 minutes of smoke, or we need the flexibility to shift critical ammunition between firing units quickly). One option would be to switch primary smoke shooters once the initial firing element expends its on-hand munitions. This requires detailed rehearsing to prevent lag times and the necessity to rebuild the smoke screen. Let's assume, through wargaming, we expect Alpha Battery to be moving and Charlie Battery to be tied up with another CFST. (We know there will be several CFSTs executed simultaneously.) At this point, coordination between the S3, S4, and BAO is critical. We identify ammunition requirements by type and lot to meet the CFSTs and the what ifs. The S4 then publishes critical ammunition information in paragraph 4 of the Field Artillery Support Plan (FASP). Specifically, he provides the total rounds each unit must have on hand, the resupply times and locations, the rounds available in the ammunition platoon, and the plan for emergency resupply. (Use the execution matrix to reflect this plan.) At this point, we can develop specific guidance for the BAO. Once the BAO knows the ammunition requirements by type and lot, he can begin the next critical preparation step.
The BAO must construct Combat Configured Loads (CCLs) for the battalion's palletized loading system (PLS) or HEMTTs. These CCLs are directed to be completed by a specific time and are positioned according to METT-T. CCLs are a critical step to gain flexibility; they allow the BAO and S4 to quickly identify ammunition availability by type, lot, and vehicles carrying the ammunition by bumper number. The process requires ammunition platoon leaders to verify loads and compatibility of loaded components.
NOTE: Testing ammunition handlers on safe handling procedures and ammunition compatibility should be a continuous training requirement.
In the scenario mentioned at the beginning of this article, the S3 and S4 decided to preposition resupply PLSs at the combat trains during the wargaming process. The S3 and S4 then established a "trigger" to push the PLSs forward to the critical fire units. The S3 remembered the extra ammunition vehicles too late to respond. Ammunition resupply triggers must account for travel and download times, allowing for uninterrupted continuation of the missions. The BAO can provide these factors during the planning process. The FDO can provide a copy of the scheme of fires for use by the BAO and S4 during the fight to track ammunition use by target execution. Link ammunition triggers to the execution of target numbers. (Remember, the BAO's CCLs are built to support specific CFSTs.) The S4 and BAO should develop triggers within the CSS execution matrix to inform the S3 when it is time to resupply ammunition.
The S3 and the S4 must look beyond the current mission preparation and battle to the next expected mission as soon as possible. This is when the S3 and S4 revisit ammunition use for future operations. In this process, they compare the CSR with the current RSR and revise the RSR if needed. For example, the brigade warning order (WARNO) states that following an attack to clear the enemy in zone, the brigade will conduct a defense in sector mission. The brigade commander directs use of FASCAM minefields to protect flanks and reinforce obstacles and mass artillery fires on enemy formations at obstacles and on the regimental artillery group. This generates a change in the ammunition requirements to support these tasks. This predictive analysis allows time for the field trains commander and ammunition section chiefs at the ammunition transfer point (ATP) to configure PLS flat racks for the next reconstitution and preparation phase.
In summary, take a look at your unit's orders process and work CSS planners into the wargaming process early. Use your battalion executive officer (XO), S4, and BAO as the primary CSS wargammers. Make it the responsibility of all CSS leaders to update the XO and S4 on current supply and support activity status prior to the start of the orders process. Specify the critical information that CSS planners must bring to the planning process and the critical information they must derive from the wargaming process. The end products of the wargaming process are paragraph 4 of the FASP and the CSS execution matrix. These products should address how CSS activities will support CFSTs. Call these activities Critical Combat Service Support Tasks (CCSSTs). The FASP must address what ammunition they will receive and backup plans. Ensure CCLs have triggers to provide uninterrupted resupply during the fight.
Finally, develop a sound ammunition standing operating procedure (SOP) from the resupply methods addressed in FM 6-50, Chapter 12, and the Ammunition Imperatives in FM 6-20-1, Chapter 7. (Paladin Battalions should review the resupply methods for Armored/Mechanized Task Forces outlined in the FM 71-1 and 71-2 series publications.) Create challenging hand-on training for ammunition platoon soldiers to ensure they are proficient and safe in ammunition handling and compatibility. Once these fundamentals and imperatives are addressed and trained, planning and executing in support of battalion CFSTs will be successful.
A Preview of Upcoming Articles
Aviation Brigade S2 and FSO Integration in the Targeting Team
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