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FORWARD LOGISTICS ELEMENT (FLE)

by MAJ Jim Gaffney

This article clearly defines an FLE and provides information for planning the employment of an FLE.

What is a forward logistics element (FLE)? Ask anyone this question. I'll bet you get a different answer every time. The lack of a common understanding of an FLE hampers logistics planners' and executors' efforts to properly plan and employ an FLE on the battlefield. Units use the term to describe everything from the normal echelonment of the FSB/BSA assets forward to an FSB (-) in the brigade rear area. They even use it to refer to the positioning of logistic assets midway between the BSA and the forward line of own troops (FLOT) of a brigade's area of operation.

To answer this question correctly, you need more than an understanding of the definition. You have to understand the description as well. The following examples illustrate this.

Example 1:

The brigade XO arrives at the FLE's location. He tells an O/C: "I am here to find out about this FLE. I don't know what it is, what it does, or why it's located here. So what can you tell me?"

Example 2:

In operations, when the combat arms soldier is asked what comes to mind when someone says "movement to contact," he can quickly form a very clear mental picture. He immediately knows that it is a form of the offense: You are not in contact with the enemy and the most likely movement technique in conducting this type of mission is traveling overwatch.

The first example demonstrates how important a definition is. Yet it is incomplete without the word picture description in Example 2. It illustrates how the military vernacular paints very specific word pictures. The word pictures serve as a common departure point for conducting military business. It does not matter whether a soldier is in the combat arms, combat service support, or combat support profession. As commanders and staffs attempt to communicate instructions to subordinates, the improper use of operational terms often creates misunderstanding.

Doctrine

FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics, defines a forward logistics element as:

A multifunctional forward logistics element task-organized to support fast moving offensive operations, early phases of contingency operations, and units geographically separated from the normal support channels.

But as we have already seen, the definition is only part of the equation. FM 100-10, Combat Service Support, describes the FLE. The key words FM 100-10 uses are critical capabilities and located near supported unit when fast paced operations or security considerations extended distances between the BSA and supported unit. You must consider this description in conjunction with the definition from FM 101-5-1 when planning an FLE.

Grasping the concept of an FLE to get a clear word picture begins and ends with FM 101-5-1. You must understand the meaning of the phrase task organized:

1. A temporary grouping of forces designed to accomplish a specific mission.

2. The process of allocating available assets to subordinate commanders and establishing/determining their command and support relations.

Does this call to mind a formalized command and control structure with a specific mission?

When you tie this all together, the word picture for an FLE looks like this:

  • A company commander from the FSB leading a CSS element.
  • A multifunctional CSS unit.
  • Element performing more than one critical logistics function for a specified time and mission.
  • Located close to the supported unit.
  • Working for the BDE, FSB, or TF commander.

Observation

The most commonly observed trends are listed below. Almost all units experience these difficulties.

ISSUE: FSBs generally do not integrate the planning and execution of an FLE into the brigade operation.

PROBLEM: FSBs are not directly involved in the brigade's MDMP.

RESULTS:

1. No clear task and purpose for the FLE.

2. Undefined command relationship for C2 and FLE CSS operations.

3. FLE location not represented on the brigade's maneuver and CSS graphics.

4. BDE TOC unaware of the FLE's location or disposition.

In most units the battalion TACSOP delineates the use and composition of an FLE. The FSB staff uses this as a "cookie cutter" approach to conducting FLE operations. It is an easy way to reduce decision-making and mission planning when employing an FLE. The FSB's decision to employ an FLE is not based on doctrine. The battalion does not conduct any formalized planning process, and the FSB S2/S3 and SPO do not perform any detailed planning to define the mission requirements in terms of the FSB's capabilities.

So, what happens? A portion of the FSB's assets, personnel, and equipment are forward of the BSA with an unclear mission statement, fending for themselves. These elements cannot properly conduct life support operations nor defend themselves.

Why? No specified or implied tasks were developed for the FLE. Consequently, a troop to task was not done to ensure there are enough soldiers to perform the mission.

TECHNIQUES for successful FLE operations:

  • FLE requires a specific mission for a specific period of time.
  • Tailor FLE operations and associated CSS functions to the BCT's mission.
  • Plan how to use the DS logistics assets.
  • Bring only the CSS functions the mission requires.
  • Staff the FLE C2 node with enough soldiers to operate the CP for 24-hour operations.
  • Ensure CP operations are prepared to maintain situational awareness of the enemy, friendly and logistics fight.
  • Bring sufficient communications equipment to conduct the mission.
  • Analyze the threat and bring the right firepower.
  • Bring sufficient soldiers to perform life support and force protection requirements.
  • Assign sufficient NCOs to the FLE to perform the CSS missions.
  • Assign a Field 1SG who knows how to take care of soldiers and enforce standards.
  • Bring sufficient equipment to sustain the FLE for life support (tents, stoves, Class I operations, internal maintenance, and medical).
  • Conduct troop-leading procedures and rehearsals; develop priorities of work or enforce standards.
  • Develop battle drills (air defense, NBC, ADC, medical evac).
  • Develop a defensive plan for the forward logistics base.

Conclusion

FLE operations are an essential element to CSS support of a BCT. The FLE is responsive. It provides continuous logistics support custom tailored to the BCT's needs. The command and control node enables the FLE to maintain the fight with time on target. Composition and function of the node sets the conditions for success or failure. The criteria for employing an FLE must include security, but the distance exceeded or extended beyond the normal capability of the DS and the organizational CSS assets of the supported brigade must also be considered. Finally, all DS logisticians should review page 8-20 in FM 71-3, The Armored and Mechanized Infantry Brigade, to gain an understanding of how the Killers view their support.


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