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

Military

CONVOY DEFENSE
AT THE NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER

by CPT Bill Bardon, SECOPS, NTC
2LT Smith gazed out over the hood of his HMMWV at the desert landscape. Behind him, 20 assorted trucks chugged along the dusty road. The supplies they carried meant the difference between life and death for the soldiers of First Brigade, 52d Infantry Division. This convoy had it all -- food, water, fuel, lubricants, ammunition, and repair parts. Ahead of 2LT Smith was 30 kilometers of main supply route; every dune and wadi a potential hiding place for an attacker. He hoped that his convoy was prepared. . .

I. A SUPPLY CONVOY IS A HIGH VALUE TARGET FOR THE ENEMY.

The reason why is obvious:

Taking out a unit's support assets reduces the combat power of the maneuver forces.

The supplies carried on convoys are essential to maintaining the combat power of the forward units. Every drop of fuel, every round of ammunition, every repair part represents an increment of combat power. Without a steady flow of fuel and ammunition, a combat brigade can become combat ineffective very quickly. Without replenishment, they will run out of fuel and ammunition in a day or two of heavy fighting. So, a smart enemy might ambush a convoy to deprive the Brigade Combat Team of supplies in anticipation of an upcoming battle, thereby tipping the scales in their favor.

II. WOULD AN ENEMY CHOOSE TO ATTACK A CONVOY RATHER THAN THE BRIGADE SUPPORT AREA (BSA) OR THE COMBAT TRAINS?

YES!

a. The BSA and the Combat Trains are fixed locations. Although they move frequently, they still are required to establish defensive perimeters. To penetrate a BSA or a Task Force's Field Trains, the enemy must employ significant amounts of his rear area forces and expose them to risk of capture or destruction.

b. A convoy, on the other hand, must move to accomplish its mission. On the road between the Division Support Area and the BSA, a convoy is open and exposed. Convoys travel relatively slowly and generate significant noise and dust to announce their presence. Convoys tend to follow a limited selection of routes, since their heavy loads do not permit them to go across rough terrain. Convoys are easy to find and can be easy to hurt. The frame of a truck does not offer much protection compared to a foxhole or an armored vehicle. A small, lightly armed force can cause significant damage to a convoy with little risk to themselves.

c. An enemy does not need to destroy a convoy to cause a reduction in the BCT's combat power. Even delaying the convoy can disrupt a timeline for resupply and render the unit combat ineffective.

III. HOW MIGHT AN ENEMY ATTACK A CONVOY?

a. In a 360-degree nonlinear battlefield, we cannot expect to have complete control of the terrain outside of defensive perimeters. In Bosnia, a major threat to UN aid convoys was snipers. A single individual with a long-range rifle can effectively terrorize a main supply route. While very few were actually hit, the constant threat of attack forced drivers to take precautions, which reduced the flow of supplies. Cargo trucks do not offer much protection from any direction, especially overhead. The constant threat adds stress for the drivers as well.

b. If an enemy force has mortars or anti-tank weapons, the danger is increased.

c. Mines or sabotage to the road can simply block a convoy or halt it in preparation for an ambush.

d. The situation may vary, but a guerrilla threat in the rear area can be devastating to support convoys.

IV. HOW CAN WE BE PREPARED?

a. Preparation for countering this rear area threat must begin with Home-Station training. Reaction to a convoy attack is an essential battle drill for all drivers. Drivers include not only the MOS 88Ms, who are dedicated to driving full time, but also to anyone whose duties may require them to take part in convoy operations. This includes fuel and water handlers who drive tankers, ammunition handlers driving PLSs, medics in ambulances, and mechanics in wreckers.

b. The enemy does not discriminate when firing on a convoy. The best reference for convoy reaction training is ARTEP 55-158-30-DRILL, Battle Drills for the Transportation Motor Transport Company, Supply and Transportation Battalion, Airborne, Air Assault, and Light Divisions. This is a good reference for all types of units. Drivers must train reaction drills over and over, so that they do not require conscious thought.

If drivers have to think about what to do, they will probably die in place.

c. Before each convoy, the Convoy Commander should get a threat assessment briefing from the S2. The S2 should have a summary of recent rear area activities by enemy forces, an estimate of enemy strength, equipment, and capabilities, and an analysis of potential danger areas on the MSR. The convoy commander will need this information to formulate a convoy protection plan.

d. Based on the mission and the enemy situation, the convoy commander has several options that can reduce the threat to the convoy:

(1) In general, night convoys are safer than daylight convoys. Drivers operating with night-vision devices are almost as effective as drivers in daylight, with the benefit of darkness masking the signature of the convoy. In daylight, convoys are easy to spot from far away, giving enemy forces time to prepare and coordinate snipers, mortars, and anti-tank weapons. With clear vision, weapons can be employed at their maximum effective ranges, bringing death and destruction on convoys with no warning. At night, engagement ranges are reduced, and a convoy using blackout drive is harder to spot. This forces the enemy to get closer to the kill zone and exposes the enemy to a more aggressive counterattack. However, darkness also gives the enemy cover for indirect attacks such as mines and sabotage of the roadway. Deciding when to conduct a convoy depends on careful analysis of the situation using the factors of METT-T.

(2) Get help in protecting the convoy. This requires planning and coordination before the convoy departs.

(a) While military police cannot continuously secure a road network, they can conduct periodic sweeps to discourage enemy activity.

(b) The BSA can provide reaction forces, such as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) or MPs, or the Brigade might send a Tactical Combat Force (TCF) to respond to an emergency on the MSR.

(c) Whenever the assets are available, support units should put guntrucks into their convoys. Guntrucks can provide suppressive fire to allow the convoy to escape a kill zone, as well as scouting potential ambush sites (e.g., known checkpoints).

(3) Within the convoy, there are several things that can be done to increase the chances for mission success:

(a) Disperse critical commodities throughout the convoy. This reduces the chances that if an enemy knocks out a portion of a convoy, the entire shipment of a particular commodity might be eliminated. Fuel tankers, for example, could ignite and explode. With all the fuel tankers kept together, a single tanker exploding could ignite a chain reaction.

(b) Maintain vehicle spacing, even at the halt. With vehicles spaced 100 meters apart, a convoy would take up over a kilometer of road space. With the larger spacing, fewer convoy vehicles might get caught in a kill zone. Again, this ensures that the majority of the convoy is outside the kill zone and able to react effectively.

(c) Convoy Commanders need to establish alternative means of communication for the convoy. Most cargo vehicles do not have radios. Dispersed over a kilometer or more of road space, most drivers would not be able to see an attack in another portion of the convoy. The convoy commander must be able to tell the drivers the location and type of enemy activity so they can react properly. Signals should be both audible and visual to carry the length of the convoy in both day and night situations.

(d) The convoy commander should designate rally positions along the route where separated elements can gather to establish a defensive perimeter and regain accountability before continuing the mission.

e. Once the convoy passes its SP, the time for planning and preparation is over. The convoy must depend on its equipment and training to overcome any potential attack. ARTEP 55-158-30-DRILL sets a standard of 10 seconds for the convoy to recognize an attack and to react appropriately.

(1) Each type of attack requires a different response and the location of a vehicle relative to the kill zone also affects the reaction. The key to remember is: A convoy is most vulnerable when it stops.

If a convoy can get past the kill zone or if it can avoid entering the kill zone, then it should be safe.

(2) The convoy commander should direct guntrucks or other escort vehicles to deliver suppressive fires on the ambushing forces while vehicles in the kill zone leave it as quickly as possible.

(3) The convoy commander should notify the BSA and the DSA of the attack and request reinforcements as quickly as possible.

(4) Soldiers trapped in the kill zone should dismount from the side of the vehicle opposite the enemy and take up defensive positions at least 10 meters away from the vehicle. For them, the battle is now a matter of dismounted infantry tactics.

f. If an enemy is determined to destroy a convoy and commits heavy forces to do so, there is not much that a convoy can do to prevent it. This assumes that an enemy is willing to penetrate deep into the rear with a heavily armed force, using a significant investment in combat resources. Only rarely would this be the case. More typically, a convoy is a target of opportunity or a supporting effort for a much larger conventional attack. As such, the enemy will attempt to destroy a few vehicles, force the convoy to turn around, and then eliminate anything left in the kill zone. If a convoy can respond aggressively, then it stands a good chance of evacuating the kill zone, or of holding off the enemy until reinforcements can arrive.

As 2LT Smith approached the Whale Gap, his two guntrucks began moving up to the front of the convoy. Having marked the gap as a possible ambush site, he placed one guntruck in the lead of the convoy and positioned the other on high ground adjacent to the MSR where it had a clear field of fire through the gap. The vehicles of the convoy moved through the gap smoothly, maintaining their hundred-meter spacing. As the third vehicle, a fuel tanker, drove through the gap, an anti-tank rocket struck it, and it burst into flames. The vehicles in front of the tanker continued down the road. The convoy commander immediately sent out three messages -- one informing the trail what had happened, one to the DSA informing them, and one to the BSA informing them and requesting reinforcements and medical evacuation. The guntrucks immediately began placing suppressive fire on the hill mass where the rocket had originated. The vehicle following the fuel tanker, a water tanker, pulled off to the opposite side of the road 100 meters behind the fuel tanker. The driver and assistant jumped out the driver's door, opposite the enemy position, and took up prone positions in the sand 10 meters off the road. The remaining vehicles turned around and headed back to a predetermined rally point three kilometers back. Within 15 minutes, four MP HMMWVs arrived and rapidly assaulted the guerrilla position on the hill mass. The results -- four guerrillas dead or captured, two friendly casualties, and one fuel tanker with 3,800 gallons of fuel lost. Aside from the initial attack, the convoy had suffered no further casualties because of its rapid and correct reaction to the attack.

2LT Smith's convoy was prepared.



Company Casualty Evacuation: Planning for Success
Danger: Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list


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