Tactical and Technical

Control and Conquer

By Christopher Hughes December 11, 2018


In this second article from the Company Headquarters (CHQ) of Combat Team Bandit, 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Christopher Hughes discusses how best to exercise control and structure a Combat Team Command Post (CP).

In part 1 MAJ Zimmerlie gave his reflections on command, and in part 3 (coming soon!!) the Company Sergeant Major will give his thoughts on the Battlefield Clearance Team.

Throughout the first half of 2018 as part of its tour as the Ready Combat Team, Combat Team Bandit (based on Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment) engaged in simulated conventional warfare exercised on a Combat Training Centre Warfighter (CTC WFX), and 3 Brigade's Exercise BROLGA SPRINT. It was the author’s experience, and anecdotally that of many of his peers, that on assuming the roles of Company Second in Command (2IC) he had been poorly prepared to take control of a Combat Team Command Post (CP) in a tactical setting. As with so many things in Army, ‘learning on the job’ was the order of the day. This article will make a modest attempt at providing some very broad advice for those about to assume Combat Team 2ICs/ Operations Officer (OPSO) roles in the hope they can ‘learn before the job’.

Role of the CP

The role of the CP, first and foremost, is to exercise control on behalf of the Commander. Post H-hour the Officer Commander (OC) & Company Sergeant Major (CSM) will normally be located forward with the main effort. This allows them to focus their efforts at key points of friction and transition, but often results in the 2IC in the CP being best placed to conduct deconfliction, focus on enabling actions and oversee the finer points of coordination.

Combat Team orders

Control by Digital Systems 

Digital systems should be used in a way that maximises their strengths and avoids their inherent shortfalls. Digital systems are ideally suited to sending written orders and operations overlays to dislocated subordinate callsigns, and for control prior to H hour. One key advantage post H hour is to allow for battle tracking without having to distract the call sign that is forward in contact. At this point in its development, however, battle management system (BMS) has more limited utility when trying to actively exercise control post H hour at Combat Team and below. Platoon Commanders, and likely the Company Commander, will be trying to understand the progress of the battle visually, and through radio reporting. This is especially true if they dismount from their vehicles. Consequently even with the battle management system - dismounted (BMS-D) nearing a workable solution, breaking this concentration to look at screens, no matter how light and compact is potentially dangerous. Communicating by voice, either directly or over the radio, will remain far more timely and ultimately less distracting than communicating by text. Voice, supplemented by data only where expedient, should be the primary means of control employed at the Combat Team level when engaged in close combat.[1]

Control by Radio

It is a mistake to think that control entails constantly being on the radio, indeed, this can be expressly unhelpful. Everything going well, the CP should for the most part be acknowledging communications from subordinate callsigns and ensuring the next set of actions on the execution checklist are carried out. Chasing information immediately when a subordinate callsign gains contact is both unrealistic and distracting. Even the best platoon or section commander needs a few minutes to gain sufficient situational awareness and control before they are able to report useful details to their higher headquarters. Give them the time they need. If the CP cannot add value to a situation out on the ground then it is best to stay off the net until enough information is at hand to begin reallocating resources.

Platoon commander confirms his arcs and tasks with the OC

The Human facet of Control

During the Rehearsal of Concept Drill, it is good practice for the 2IC to explain the scheme of manoeuvre, by phase, on behalf of the commander to both confirm the plan is understood, and to synchronise subordinate commanders’ contributions. Armed with this intimate understanding most 2ICs should be able to visualise the progress of a battle simply listening to radio traffic. It is an easy mistake to rely on this ability alone, however: during high-tempo operations a CP will quickly deteriorate into all communications being centralised on the 2IC, resulting in a potentially overwhelming situation. The question which arises is therefore: how can a 2IC best structure his team to support him in exercising control on behalf of the commander?

The Team 

Ideally, within every sub-unit CP, the 2IC should be assisted by at least one highly-capable non-commissioned officer (NCO). This NCO acts as the watchkeeper during periods of lower tempo when the 2IC may be engaged in rest or planning with the OC. Their title will vary between organisations. In some companies he will be the OPS CPL/SGT; in other instances the Signals Detachment Commander. Their rank and title is less important than intellect and experience.

The Company Clerk is an often underutilised force multiplier that, with coaching, can contribute strongly to the OPS Team. Specifically they should be tasked with tracking and submitting manning states to higher headquarters, drafting reinforcement demands and battle tracking the progress of casualties; all while being supervised by the 2IC or watchkeeper.

The Signals Detachment are technically-capable and should work tirelessly to gain and maintain communications upwards to battlegroup and downwards to the platoons. Early liaison is required to ensure that the communications plan supports the commander's intent and that key limitations, particularly in terms of range are identified early to inform his planning. Of specific interest to the Signals Detachment Commander will be a net diagram that depicts what he will be required to construct. Spare platoon and section nets build flexibility into the communications plan and are invaluable in allowing combined arms specialists to be attached at short notice.

For the team that works in a sub-unit CP the goal is shared consciousness. In addition to the friendly scheme of manoeuvre (SOM), execution checklists, most recent location, anticipated timings, command decision points, branch plans and key mission specific ‘actions-on’ should all be on display and close at hand. This material enables the team to triage information within their sphere of responsibility without constantly having to refer to the 2IC/watchkeeper. Crucially, even pre-H hour, it also allows a rapid transition to ‘analog’ in the event of technical failure or enemy disruption to the network. The consistent updating of this information imposes a cost for a small team, however, and care should be taken to discard any tools that do not inform control or decision making on a regular basis.[2]

Commander’s Update Brief (CUB) in the field

Physical Form & Scalability

Great care should be taken to consider the physical signature of the CP relative to the tactical situation and enemy capabilities. Due to the fluid nature of operations there is a requirement that Combat Team CPs are able to adjust their physical form in a scalable manner to exercise control on behalf of the commander without becoming cumbersome. Some broad options are as follows:

Major CP:   A static CP enhanced with IT equipment, a generator, and foldout furniture housed in tents will be clearly identifiable to enemy intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) as some kind of command and control (C2) node worth targeting. This shortfall is compounded because the tents will then prevent the CP from rapidly relocating, greatly reducing its survivability.[3] Consequently this option is only appropriate when the Combat Team Headquarters is likely to be static for a long period of time and is afforded a high degree of physical security against an enemy that lacks an ability to synchronise electronic warfare (EW) assets, drones or other ISR to coordinate offensive support against the CP.

Mobile CP:   The default option in a conventional environment should be a vehicle-mounted configuration. Set in a ‘crucifix’ formation, the Company Headquarters Main can quickly break hide and move to a rendezvous (RV). Careful consideration must be given to the seating plan within each vehicle that makes up the CP, be they Bushmaster or M113 APC. This is especially true when specialists such as a Joint Fires Team (JFT) or Engineer Troop are incorporated into the Combat Team.

Decentralised CP:   Similar to the Mobile CP but sees the vehicles split into two groups to enable a step up, improve communications over considerable distance, or decentralise the Combat Team’s command and control assets in a particularly high threat environment where the risk of compromise is acute.

Dismounted CP:   Used when the rest of the Combat Team is dismounted and there is a requirement for the CP to deploy with them, often for reasons of either terrain or signature management. In most instances the 2IC and two signallers suffice, leaving one of the JNCOs to command the vehicle-mounted element, relay messages as required and marry up with the remainder of the Combat Team at a later time. In future BMS-D will offer the ability to observe friendly dispositions as well as send and receive text messages potentially enhancing dismounted C2 to a considerable degree. Until this capability matures, however, this solution will remain analog. A single ‘battle board’ of A3 size can be made to fit in an assault bag or under the claymore pouch of a pack for use at opportune moments on short halts, in defensive positions or within the depth/reserve of Combat Team offensive actions.

A PMV mounted CP in action

Signature Management

Managing electronic signature is a key tactical consideration of 21st century warfare when fighting against peer adversaries.[4] Certain carriers/methods/wavelengths are less vulnerable to geolocation than others. The Battlegroup S6 will design the communications plan for a given operation with such considerations in mind. At the Combat Team level, the most effective methods of electronic signature management are passive measures that seek to mislead and conceal from the enemy our true intentions or dispositions, based on the necessary assumption that he can, at the very least, geolocate friendly radio traffic.

Sparing use of the radio may allow the use of a small number of code-words in an execution checklist to report only the key information required before committing the Combat Team to decisive action, for example: support by fire set, cut-off in place, H-hour. Combining this with a high level of radio traffic by demonstration or feint groups is an option. Such measures seek to mislead the enemy commander as to the location of the main effort, whose scant or non-existent radio traffic may be dismissed as supporting efforts of lesser importance.

Alternatively, reporting by exception is a method where subordinate callsigns only break radio silence if they have not met a key timing or pre-condition prior to H-hour. In the absence of this reporting the Commander assumes, based on rehearsed times, that the conditions are set for H-hour. The obvious risk to this method is lost communications preventing a subordinate callsign from requesting time extensions or reporting a key change to the situation, causing the rest of the Combat Team to commit to decisive action with disastrous results. For this reason it should only be employed over a short distance in terrain that is unlikely to hinder communications. A similar method may be employed with all reporting conducted by data on BMS prior to H-hour.

Combat Team Bandit's experience on the 3rd Brigade’s Exercise BROLGA SPRINT saw a number of these concepts validated by a detachment from 7 Signals Regiment acting in support of the Opposing Force. The Raven callsign reported they were unable to build up more than a fragmentary picture of friendly dispositions, much less any understanding of the friendly force scheme-of-manoeuvre prior to H-hour.

 Conclusion

A Command Post should never be a ‘template solution’. Their physical form, standard operating procedures, composition and battle rhythm should be adapted to support the type of organisation it enables, enemy capabilities and the nature of operations it is engaged in. Some trial and error will always be necessary to determine the optimal solution for a given circumstance. While the broad reflections contained within this article should come as no surprise to those who have already fulfilled the role of Company 2IC, it is hoped they may prove useful for junior officers required to exercise control at the Combat Team level during collective training or indeed on operations at some point in the future.

Notes:

[1] Storr, J., “Ten years observing command and control”, Military Operations, Vol .3 , No. 1, 2015, pp. 28 -31

[2] Storr, J., The Human Face of War, Birmingham War Studies, Continuum, 2011, p. 145

[3] Wavell Room, Future Deployable Headquarters – Small, Distributed & Dislocated, 26 Oct 18, https://wavellroom.com/2017/05/19/future-deployable-headquarters-small-d...

[4] See Sukhankin, S., Russian Electronic Warfare in Ukraine: Between real and imaginable, Eurasia Daily Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, Vol. 14, No. 71, 2017 & Regalado, D., et al, Behind the Syrian Conflict’s Digital Frontlines, Special Report, Fireeye Threat Intelligence, 2015


Portrait

Biography

Christopher Hughes

Christopher Hughes has been privileged to be the Company 2IC of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment during its time as Ready Combat Team. He has previously commanded at Platoon level.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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