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The Dying Art of Battle Rhythm

by LTC Gene C. Kamena, Timberwolf O7, CMTC
The commander returned to the TOC at 0300, exhausted from the day's activities. After the battalion rehearsal broke up at 1730, the commander visited each company battle position to assess engagement area preparations. Satisfied that the defensive preparations were proceeding on schedule, the commander spent several hours with his counter-reconnaissance company commander to supervise the counter-reconnaissance effort and to refine the plan to reposition the counter-reconnaissance company. At 2300, the commander parted company with the counter-reconnaissance commander and drove to the unit maintenance collection point. There he met up with the battalion XO to discuss efforts to repair two M1 tanks down for parts. The commander departed the UMCP at 0100 and headed to the TOC. He radioed the night shift battle captain and directed him to wake the S3 and have him standing by in the TOC for an update on the revised repositioning plan. After two frustrating hours attempting to locate the command post in near zero, lunar illumination, the commander finally arrived at the well-concealed TOC.

Upon entering the TOC, the commander found the S3 standing in front of the operations map board. The two men discussed the changes to the plan, and the S3 immediately prepared a FRAGO for issue to the companies. Directing the TOC NCOIC to wake him at 0500, the commander went to his tent, removed his LBE and boots, and laid down for an hour and a half of much-needed sleep. As sleep was about to settle in, an RTO whispered into the commander's tent, "Sir, the brigade commander wants you to give him a call and update him." As the commander rolled over and slid on his boots, he mumbled to himself, "It's only the 4th day into the exercise. How am I going to keep this up?"

Our Army, with cross-hairs fixed on the year 2010, is losing its ability to achieve and sustain battle rhythm (extended-continuous operations). This flaw is evident during Combat Training Center (CTC) rotations.

Units arrive at CTCs somewhat prepared and trained for the two- or three-day Command Post Exercise (CPX) or at best, a week-long Field Training Exercise (FTX). The length of a CTC rotation and the associated stress send many units into shock. Personnel turbulence, reduced training dollars, extremely high operations and personnel tempos and a near "zero-defect" environment all contribute to the confusion. Additionally, as technology advances, the amount of information available to commanders and staffs increases; thus, decisionmakers have more information to synthesize, and then synchronize.

These factors inhibit our ability to establish a battle rhythm. Furthermore, seemingly benign factors, such as higher headquarters' inconsistent participation in training, can affect battle rhythm. At the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC), brigades are not consistent players. When they enter the fight, they add another layer of friction. The norm at CMTC is for brigade headquarters to actively participate for two or three days during a rotation. Typically, the brigade headquarters has only one battalion in the maneuver box on which to focus its help. Without having to contend with terrain management, the deep fight, several simultaneous close fights or other tactical considerations, this temporary insertion of dedicated brigade involvement in the middle of a fight further frustrates a task force's efforts to establish a battle rhythm.

Without battle rhythm -- or more accurately the procedures to establish battle rhythm -- leaders and units reach a point of diminished returns. This typically occurs between 72-96 hours of operations. As leader fatigue sets in, information flow, the planning process and execution suffer.

Symptoms of diminished battle rhythm include:

  • Disjointed time lines between various levels of command.
  • Leader fatigue.
  • Leaders who are not fully aware of critical decision points.
  • Leaders who are not available at critical decision points.

RESULTS:

  • Wasted time.
  • Unnecessary friction.

What can we do about it? The first step in fixing the battle rhythm challenge is to define battle rhythm, its components, and describe how battle rhythm affects operations.

Current Army doctrine does not provide a definition for battle rhythm. Therefore, to provide a common reference point, I propose the following definition:

Battle rhythm is the combination and interaction of procedures, processes, leader and individual actions at soldier, staff section, command node and unit levels to facilitate extended-continuous operations.

Battle rhythm allows units and leaders to function at a sustained level of efficiency for extended periods. Effective battle rhythm permits an acceptable level of leadership at all times while retaining the capability to focus leadership at critical points in the fight or during particular events. Battle rhythm is a multifaceted concept that includes the following elements:

  • Sleep/rest plans.
  • Synchronized multi-echelon timelines.
  • Trained second- and third-tier leadership in command posts (CPs).
  • Established processes and SOPs.

Procedures and processes that facilitate efficient decisionmaking and parallel planning are critical to achieving battle rhythm. Every component of battle rhythm makes unique contributions to sustained operations. Let's take a closer look at how these components interact.

ELEMENTS OF BATTLE RHYTHM

Established processes and standing operating procedures (SOPs) relieve many antagonistic effects of extended operations. SOPs that establish and maintain battle rhythm by facilitating routine decisions and operations are a step in the right direction. The primary benefit is soldiers that are trained to do the right things in the absence of leaders or orders.

EXAMPLES:

1. Battle summaries and updates during a fight.
2. Intelligence updates before, during and after a battle.
3. Commander updates.
4. Shift-change briefings.

Trained TOC crews: Do not overlook the individuals who perform these functions. They are as important as the functions themselves.

Unfortunately, senior officers attempt to do too much in CPs, often missing the big picture. Key leaders' tendency to micro-manage causes them to reach physical burnout at an accelerated rate. In my experience, the average leader or soldier can manage about 72 hours of continuous operations before "hitting the wall." Too often, the continuous presence of senior officers in CPs is an attempt to offset the lack of SOPs, training and trust. During the planning process, units rarely give much thought to the question, "When do I need my senior decisionmakers, and what physical and mental condition must they be in?" This question gets to the heart of rest plans and synchronized time lines.

Look around your battalion TOC. If three field grade officers are present, that's usually two more than necessary.

CHALLENGE: Often noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and junior officers manning CPs are relegated to menial tasks, such as CP security and TOC set-up and tear-down; they contribute little to the tactical missions.

RESULTS:

1. Battle staff-trained NCOs fade into obscurity during operations.
2. Mal-utilization wastes assets.
3. Key leaders become exhausted.
4. The initiative of trained subordinates is stifled, and the incentive to train is diminished.

Techniques:

1. Get the ever-present field grade officer out of the business of taking spot reports, updating maps and manning the CP during non-critical times.

2. Assign these tasks to junior NCOs and specialists.

3. Do routine things routinely. Instill trust in the officers and confidence in junior NCOs and specialists by effective Home-Station training and SOPs.

Timelines for continuous operations. Most units establish timelines for the operation at hand without consideration for extended-continuous operations. These timelines are typically very narrowly focused on important events at the immediate level of command. Synchronized, multi-echelon timelines draw us closer to achieving battle rhythm. If units do not address critical events at least one level up and down, disruption will result. Units generally do well nesting (integrating and synchronizing) the commander's intent, higher and lower. They must also excel in nesting their timelines, higher and lower.

CHALLENGE: Unsynchronized timelines.

EXAMPLE: A task force rehearsal conflicts with company inspections or other events in their internal timeline.

RESULT: Lower echelon units seldom recover from a poor timeline directed by a higher headquarters.

Techniques:

1. Higher headquarters should be directive in the planning process.

2. Brigades and task forces should consider adding clarity to the planning process by directing "no later than times" or specifying exact times for events to occur.

BOTTOM LINE: Efficient, synchronized timelines are critical to unit success; without this, units cannot move to the next phase of battle rhythm development -- leader rest plans synchronized with timelines.

Sleep plans. Leaders must rest to maintain their effectiveness. At CTCs, units seldom develop detailed rest plans. The units that develop sleep plans rarely enforce them. Because a CTC rotation is probably the only opportunity for task force and company commanders to "fight" and maneuver their units during their command tenure, they attempt to get involved in every aspect of planning and execution. This phenomenon is also linked to trust and confidence building - it is just easier to do something yourself than it is to train someone else to do it. The Army cannot afford this mentality.

ISSUE: An integral part of the planning process is to determine when senior leader presence is required. It is just as important to identify when a leader's presence is not required.

Techniques:

1. Include sleep plans in the Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops and Time available (METT-T) analysis.

2. Make sure that leaders have confidence in the second and third echelon of leadership and their ability to make routine decisions.

3. Instill trust in the officers and confidence in junior NCOs and specialists by effective Home-Station training and SOPs.

4. Consider contingencies -- establish criteria for waking leaders.

5. Post sleep plans in CPs.

6. Synchronize sleep plans with higher and subordinate headquarters.

Timeline with the Leader's Rest Plan

Battle Rhythm Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

1. Lay a foundation for battle rhythm before deploying:

  • Ensure the second and third echelons of leadership in CPs are well trained.

  • Establish processes and SOPs that facilitate making routine actions routine. This will free senior officers from the routine business of CPs.

  • Ensure standard CP SOPs, drills and briefings facilitate battle rhythm.

  • Work toward parallel planning, not sequential planning. For instance, units move to new locations while commanders conduct reconnaissance and the staff is conducting initial planning. These actions can be accomplished while the task force is waiting for an AAR from the previous mission.

2. Nest higher and lower timelines:

  • Must be top-driven.

  • Requires constant attention and frequent updating.

  • Should be posted in a prominent location in the CP.

  • Allow for travel time to events. Travel to and from in daylight takes one half or less of the time to accomplish same at night.

  • Incorporate AARs and CSS events into timelines.

  • Designate a leader in the CP to monitor and enforce the timeline. The timeline and changes must be briefed during updates and shift-change briefings.

3. Establish rest and sleep plans for senior leaders:

  • Establish windows for leaders to rest and sleep based on METT-T analysis, in-depth wargaming and the nested timeline.

  • Allow for "overlap" of senior leaders between rest periods.

  • Have a plan to update senior leaders after rest periods - Intelligence briefings or commander updates by the staff.

  • Establish criteria to wake senior leaders when their presence is required as circumstances change.

4. When senior commanders collocate with the main CP during the planning process to reduce travel time, they should keep some personal distance to prevent the commander from becoming another staff officer.

In working toward battle rhythm, little things make a big difference. The process for establishing battle rhythm must be holistic and realistic. The battle rhythm challenge is multi-faceted. The solution is equally complex. Individual, staff section and CP node battle rhythms interact to create a synergistic unit battle rhythm; thus, the answer transcends rank and echelons of command. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to establish a battle rhythm while simultaneously conducting operations. Only prior planning makes it happen. Expending the energy to plan, prepare and train at Home Station lays a solid foundation for a viable battle rhythm during operations.

HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR BATTLE RHYTHM LATELY?

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