HQ on the Move: Battalion Develops a More Nimble Command Post
A principle of the philosophy of Mission Command is the exercise of disciplined initiative with adaptive, bold, audacious and imaginative leaders. The “Red Warriors” of the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are empowered to exercise this philosophy and find solutions.
The battalion, based at Fort Carson, Colo., needed a solution for an expeditionary platform during collective training in preparation for a year’s culminating training event at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, La. During counterinsurgency operations of the past 16-plus years, battalion tactical operations centers (TOCs) have grown large and cumbersome. The modern battlefield requires a headquarters that is small and can move quickly. After we confirmed what we thought was the best size, we realized that with additional money and resources, we could make a better one.
Adapting to the Battlefield
In ancient Rome, a soldier carried his weapons, sustained himself with his pack and fought in violent and personal encounters. Two millennia later, soldiers during World War II experienced the same violence but with an increase in capacity of their enemy, and adapted to the changes of the battlefield of 1945.
The modern soldier continues to fight violently, and survivability is still measured against the enemy’s capability and speed. The 2014 Grad rocket attack near Zelenopillya, a small Ukrainian village 9 kilometers from the Russian border, is an example of enemy tactical evolution in the decisive action fight.
During the Russian military incursion, Ukrainian forces suffered heavy casualties when Russian forces fired upon a halted Ukrainian column. The Russians took advantage of the Ukrainian static position and the vulnerability of such a large signature. The Ukrainian position presented an advantageous opportunity for Russian forces. They used drones for lethal targeting, combined with a mixed cocktail of munitions, to devastating effect. This caught the eye of U.S. military leadership. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, then commanding general of the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center and later national security advisor, launched the Russia New Generation Warfare study to see how near-peer capability might influence the modern battlefield.
According to McMaster, the Russians have superior artillery firepower and better combat vehicles, and have learned sophisticated use of unmanned aerial vehicles for tactical effect. Should U.S. forces find themselves in a land war with Russia, they would be in for a rude awakening.
This type of engagement started a conversation within the 1st Battalion: What is the optimal battalion headquarters element for an expeditionary platform within a decisive action environment? JRTC would give us an external evaluation in such an environment, providing an objective review of the mobile TOC concept with immediate feedback from observer-controllers and role-players.
Finding a Suitable Platform
The classic TOC centered on multiple large and small tents, numerous generators, cumbersome antennas and the tendency to establish in open areas before JRTC Rotation 18-02 in October and November. When soldiers erect and maintain this large command center, it does not increase the commander’s ability to execute Mission Command. We searched to find a suitable platform to be set up quickly, transport soldiers and equipment, and break down fast as a roll-on and roll-off solution.
The first step was finding a self-contained answer within the Modified Table of Organization and Equipment of a light infantry battalion. The most capable platform was the M1087 Expandable Van, a version of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles. The Expandable Van offered a capability in a small package that, besides expandability, included blackout lights, maneuverability, ability to tow adequate power generation, ability to mount a turret and machine gun, and versatility to mount antennas and other supporting equipment. We challenged ourselves to balance security, setup and initial Mission Command requirements while having an agile and self-contained platform.
In the past, the TOC consisted of a cross-section of soldiers of every warfighting function. The soldiers devoted most of their time to initial setup, resulting in the potential of a reduced security posture due to the number of soldiers committed. Also, the TOC was limited to location and was subject to all forms of contact due to a large signature. Our approach identified the needs, identified the manning and resources, and codified a battle drill to displace when required.
Mission Command Capabilities
The battalion tested ideas under simulated combat conditions at the JRTC. The battalion commander needed the TOC to enable communication of intent up and down, not require combat power from maneuver companies, and support with resources organic to the organization. The battalion faced constraints of available mobile workspace, technical infrastructure needs and limited power generation required to support communication platforms given the needs of the warfighting function.
NCOs offered solutions to some constraints by locally manufacturing mission-enhancing equipment. They built Quick Erecting Antenna Mast mounts to erect and lower in five minutes versus 30 minutes; a purpose-built table installed semipermanently that housed all computer work-stations, voice communications, and associated cable and supporting equipment; and analog trackers affixed quickly for battle tracking and removed just as quickly for transfer to the Tactical Command Post without loss of awareness.
The TOC is manned by soldiers and leaders from the entire staff and is responsible for the execution of Mission Command across the battalion. To place as much combat power forward as possible, security for the mobile TOC was taken only from Headquarters and Headquarters Company. The 1st Battalion experienced manning at 78 percent of the current Modified Table of Organization and Equipment of a light infantry battalion tactical staff (minus paralegal, chaplain, etc.). The day and night shift consisted of 11 soldiers representative of all warfighting functions.
The security forces that rotated between the TOC and the tactical analysis center consisted of 12 additional soldiers and leaders.
The mobile TOC needed to be ready to move within 15 minutes given the enemy’s ability to conduct operations beyond the forward line of troops. The battalion developed a battle drill to displace, exclusive of whether the tactical analysis center was present or detached. The battle drill addressed the identification of the new location, setup, operation and teardown. Identification of the location started with a map reconnaissance, driven by advantageous locations from previous engagements or from reports from patrolling or forward elements.
The operations sergeant major organized a quartering party consisting of eight soldiers to establish initial security, and one soldier identified as the communications operations specialist to confirm a clear skyward azimuth for the Satellite Transportable Terminal. The area had to be large enough to establish the TOC within a covered and concealed location and within tolerance for the Tactical Communications Node higher transmitting element.
The mobile system required only eight soldiers to achieve full mission capability versus the old 24-plus soldier method for tents. The battle drill followed a format familiar to all soldiers:
CONDITIONS: The unit has determined reposition of the TOC is necessary for survival or to provide increased Mission Command abilities.
CUE: This drill begins when the battalion commander or executive officer orders the TOC to be moved based on current threat.
STANDARDS: The TOC is task-organized as day- and night-shift TOC personnel, a security element and, on order, a tactical analysis center organized from organic elements for enduring Mission Command. The senior officer orders the TOC to move due to a predetermined set of conditions met or an immediate requirement. Headquarters establishes the TOC without impact to battle-tracking or situational awareness.
Soldiers across the Army are familiar with the format of a battle drill designed for rapid-reaction situations without the application of a deliberate decision-making process. The battalion capitalized on the familiarity of the sequence of conditions, cue, standards and performance measures for ease of understanding and learning.
Following are the performance measures we used to confirm security, establishment of all systems, and the ability to ensure Mission Command and that leaders could easily teach:
1. A map reconnaissance is conducted to confirm a new location. The intelligence officer confirms suitability and routes. The tactical analysis center is notified to be ready to move in five minutes.
2. The operations sergeant major organizes a quartering party consisting of three vehicles and eight personnel, one of whom is a Satellite Transportable Terminal-informed operator.
3. The quartering party arrives at the templated position, is prepared for a deliberate occupation and executes a hasty occupation based on the current situation.
4. The quartering party marks the location day and night for the TOC and components of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical. The quartering party ensures the satellite terminal has a clear azimuth and conducts equipment checks of lower technical infrastructure equipment and organic Joint Capabilities Release.
5. The quartering party communicates to the TOC that the selected site is suitable.
6. The tactical analysis center is operational and begins to break down components, ensuring lower technical infrastructure equipment is maintained until ready to move in 15 minutes.
7. The tactical analysis center can stay with the TOC or move to a suitable location to maintain tactical command of the battlefield.
8. The TOC provides internal front and rear security during movement to the new location.
9. The quartering party guides the arriving TOC and tactical analysis center upon arrival.
10. Lower technical infrastructure equipment is established within 15 minutes and the TOC is fully operational within 35 minutes.
11. Provide fully established Mission Command handoff between the tactical analysis center and TOC at 60 minutes.
The codified battle drill and confirmation of the concept of a mobile TOC concluded the 1st Battalion’s collective training before deploying to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. If provided additional funds or unlimited resources and constrained to organic equipment, we would have explored a second Expandable Van for redundancy of systems, mounting of weapon systems, and all without a loss of the expeditionary capability.
If not constrained, we would look to a platform purpose-built to address increased protection and concealment. We could have added hooks to hang ballistic blankets for tailorable protection and permanently applied camouflage netting to the exterior to further reduce the timeline and have an instant reduced signature.
The end state is soldiers exercising Mission Command at echelon and soldiers protected to the best of our abilities. Just like the legionnaires of ancient Rome and the GIs of World War II recognized innovative thought that enabled units to exploit the initiative, the U.S. Army continues to encourage these attributes, find solutions and win.