by Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey S. Wilson
Forward support battalion commanders have a difficult battle command challenge during combat operations because of their physical location on the battlefield and their place in brigade and division information networks. The forward support battalion (FSB) is located about 25 kilometers from the forward line of own troops and receives most critical information indirectly and passively over FM radio. What the FSB commander cannot glean from radio traffic, he must ask for directly, in the form of regular updates or reports, from forward-positioned FSB elements or from maneuver unit logisticians (commonly provided through the brigade S4). He does this knowing that he is distracting those farther forward from their primary focus: the battle itself.
The FSB commander’s challenge is to maintain the maximum level of situational awareness in the least intrusive manner. He must be sensitive to tactical and environmental battlefield conditions so he can make cogent decisions about deploying and managing logistics resources.
The FSB commander can best acquire and maintain the level of battlefield sensitivity he needs by establishing and maintaining efficient and effective battle tracking, focused and evolving commander’s critical information requirements, representation at the decisive points of brigade planning, and aggressive local reconnaissance. The following suggestions are based on doctrine and on empirical data gained during 15 rotations as an FSB logistics observer-controller at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. Though the suggestions focus on the FSB, main support battalion (MSB) or corps support battalion (CSB) leaders can benefit as well by adapting each suggestion to their particular situations.
Although the major events in the concept of support most often occur between battles, the battle itself influences the FSB commander’s decisionmaking about combat service support (CSS) posturing for future operations. Battle tracking is the centerpiece of situational awareness during combat operations.
However, battle tracking is an art that is not taught as a separate subject at service schools. There is a lack of battle staff-qualified sergeants in FSB S3 shops. This deficiency is reinforced by the fact that most FSB S2 personnel are junior soldiers holding military occupational specialty 96B (intelligence analyst), and they tend to work under the supervision of an S3 who, more often than not, is a precommand captain and an S3 NCO in charge who may be a recently transferred automotive shop foreman. To overcome these impediments to effective battle tracking, the FSB commander can establish systems within the tactical operations center (TOC) that will enable even inexperienced people to manage information and facilitate decisionmaking effectively.
The FSB TOC should monitor the brigade command net and operations and intelligence net in addition to the FSB command net. The FSB commander also must have immediate access to the brigade administrative and logistics net, either through the support operations section or the brigade administrative and logistics operations center (ALOC). Because the FM radio is the primary conduit for information during combat, the commander must train TOC personnel to know what information is critical and what they ought to do with it once it is received.
Home-station field training exercises and command post exercises should feature an indepth focus on the roles and missions of each person in the TOC. Standing operating procedures (SOPs) should feature information management battle drills that new personnel can refer to so they will know what is expected of them. In order for soldiers to update the situation map effectively, the radio operators must understand how to keep an accurate message log and the battle captain must understand how to disseminate information in the TOC. FSB commanders who use the expertise of the combat arms officers and NCOs in the brigade ALOC in battle tracking will find that they are a resource that should be integrated fully into the TOC manning plan.
The FSB TOC is the cornerstone of the brigade rear command post; the other component is the brigade ALOC. Often the engineer battalion ALOC is integrated into the FSB TOC. This can increase the tendency to compartmentalize to the point where the only common thread among the FSB S3, FSB support operations officer (SPO), ALOC, and engineer ALOC is the fact that they are under the same camouflage net. An insistence on regular battle update briefs, with full participation by all major entities under the net, significantly enhances overall situational awareness and sensitivity to battlefield conditions. Knowing that they are directly responsible to the FSB commander for presenting a given set of data elements at defined intervals also enhances the motivation of the FSB S3, the FSB SPO, the brigade S1 and S4, and the engineer battalion S4 to interact and share information with one another.
Commander’s Critical Information Requirements
No matter how good the information management systems in the TOC are, the FSB commander’s situational awareness will be less than the best if he fails to articulate his information priorities clearly in the form of clearcut and evolving commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR). CCIR are often vague, and even those commanders who start their NTC rotations with a solid set of CCIR often fail to make sure those CCIR evolve as the campaign evolves. Good FSB commanders realize that unaltered and unrefined CCIR diminish the effectiveness of even the best staffs. So they use brigade CCIR as touchstones for developing FSB CCIR during mission analysis and issue them as part of the commander’s guidance to the staff as each new mission is received.
Another issue is CCIR dissemination, which is often uneven, with company command post personnel unaware of what constitutes battalion CCIR. The commander can use orders briefs and tenant meetings to reinforce CCIR to subordinate elements.
Representation at Brigade Planning
There is no set formula for determining the optimal level of direct FSB participation in brigade planning, and there are myriad opinions on what that level should be. However, this is certain: the more voice the FSB has in the actual crafting of the brigade plan, the better it can support that plan in actuality. The higher the level of inprocess dialog among the brigade S1 and S4, the FSB SPO, the FSB executive officer, and the supporting MSB or CSB SPO, the lower will be the frequency of unforeseen logistics emergencies during combat
If the FSB commander clearly delineates to the SPO the level of direct involvement he expects to have in the brigade’s military decisionmaking process (MDMP), the FSB operation order for the next mission can be over halfway to completion by the time the FSB commander attends the brigade commander’s orders brief. If the FSB commander expects the SPO to focus on the next mission, the commander must ensure that the SPO shop has adequate personnel to manage current operations smoothly.
Many FSBs position a liaison officer at the brigade TOC to relay information and participate to some degree in the MDMP. NTC observations indicate that these liaison officers generally are ineffective because they lack both technical and tactical logistics expertise and because they have no personal credibility with brigade planners. The FSB commander and SPO must agree on what the decisive points of brigade planning are, and they must agree to accept whatever risks to current operations might result from SPO absences from the FSB TOC. When these agreements exist, the FSB truly becomes a player in the crafting of the brigade plan, and both situational awareness and anticipatory logistics capabilities increase.
Aggressive Local Reconnaissance
Because brigade-level reconnaissance and security assets, such as military police, are scarce, the FSB commander often must use internal brigade support area (BSA) resources to acquire and maintain situational awareness within the brigade rear area. The ability to support depends on the ability to survive, and threats to the BSA obviously affect the FSB commander’s decisions on positioning CSS assets. Deploying forward logistics elements exacerbates physical security dilemmas. Reconnaissance and security planning must begin early in the process of developing courses of action for the FSB order.
Most FSBs at the NTC have trained on reconnaissance and security tasks before they arrive, and, in fact, they do set out observation posts, engage in patrolling, and allocate assets to a quick reaction force. However, most FSB S3s do not know how to unite the assets at their disposal into a coherent reconnaissance and security plan that is both active and passive, proactive and reactive. Too often, the FSB S3 makes two mistakes. First, he allows patrols to report through their parent company command post to the TOC, rather than controlling the patrols directly. Second, he neglects to integrate tenant units fully into the overall reconnaissance and security plan and fails to enforce perimeter security and communications SOPs. Consequently, tenant units often fail in defending the BSA during enemy attacks because they cannot communicate or format reports correctly.
Situational awareness is the key to effective battle command. The FSB commander can acquire and maintain sensitivity to battlefield conditions by establishing and maintaining efficient and effective battle tracking, focused and evolutionary CCIR, representation at the decisive points of brigade planning, and aggressive local reconnaissance. Implementing these suggestions will increase the FSB commander’s ability to provide timely and competent CSS across the length and breadth of the battlefield, today and tomorrow. ALOG
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey S. Wilson is an observer-controller at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. He holds an M.A. degree in philosophy from the University of Illinois and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and the Army Command and General Staff College.