Future Operating Environment

Specialist Troop Mobility and Sustainability Support to the Multi-National Joint Task Force

By Joseph Sorrensen December 16, 2019


“To develop such a futuristic force may be an immense task, but it’s attainable, and it’s a mission we share with our allies around the world. After all, cooperation is the soul of multi-domain operations and transforming our future fighting forces.”

Lockheed Martin Corp., 2017

Introduction

This article articulates how Specialist Troop’s niche capabilities can provide mobility and sustainability support to the Multi-National Joint Task Force (JTF) within a multi domain operational environment. Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) - as we understand it today - consists of five warfighting domains: land, maritime, air, space and cyber.[1] When linked, actions in these five domains seek to gain an advantage over a near peer adversary (or enemy) in any of the five phases of the operation – compete, penetrate, dis-integrate, exploit and re-compete.

MDO is considered to be linked to joint operations, which the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is very familiar with, however is conceptually different.[2] The ADF, specifically the Australian Army, seeks to integrate a mobile reinforced Combat Brigade into a Multi-National JTF as part of a larger US formation: the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF). For this to be successful, the Army must not only have a clear understanding and continuity of joint operations internally and with our allies, but also have an understanding of how to synchronise effects within the multi-domain environment. Eventually, all services will operate across all domains. However, currently it is evident that command and control (C2) elements at the operational and strategic levels are primarily focussed on the air, space and cyber domains while tactical manoeuvre elements remain focussed on the familiar land, air and sea battles.

Combat Engineers play a key role within the Combat Support (CS) component of the joint land battle and will remain to do so as the Australian Army transitions to these new warfighting concepts (including the Australian Army’s Accelerated Warfare concept). Therefore, it is imperative to catch up to new emerging warfighting technologies and understand how we will train and operate conventionally and unconventionally in a post-Afghanistan era.

Multi Domain Operations

The US currently defines MDO as: ‘Operations conducted across multiple domains and contested spaces to overcome an adversary’s (or enemy’s) strengths by presenting them with several operational and/or tactical dilemmas through the combined application of calibrated force posture; employment of multi-domain formations; and convergence of capabilities across domains, environments, and functions in time and spaces to achieve operational and tactical objectives.’[3] The MDO concept is aimed at the 2025 to 2045 timeframe, with a key concept the integration of a MDTF consisting of task-organised formations from multinational and joint forces to deter and defeat near peer adversaries at the earliest operational phase possible, thus retaining the advantage.

The Australian Army’s contribution to this MDTF is likely to be a reinforced Combat Brigade, integrated within a Multi-National JTF. This task-organised force will be provided with sufficient scale of force and range of capabilities to allow decisive manoeuvre tactics. Although this task force will be integrated within MDO, it is important for tactical commanders to not be overwhelmed by elements of MDO, specifically anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems within the air, space and cyber components. These components are primarily focussed at the operational and strategic levels of war. [4]

So how will the Australian Army raise, train and sustain such a change in direction and concept? The answers lie in Accelerated Warfare.

Accelerated Warfare

Accelerated Warfare is the Australian Army’s response to the rapidly changing way of warfighting and the competitive nature of our near-peer adversaries within the region. in essence is about ‘future-proofing’ the Army.[5] The response is in line with the US MDO concept as Australia, geographically and strategically, provides a significant footprint and lever to the South-West Pacific region. Accelerated Warfare in a MDO capability context is described by MAJGEN (Ret’d) Gus McLaughlan as: “Army’s response to the ADF’s journey to develop an 'internet of things' approach to data-gathering nodes across the services, like Navy’s Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) and Air Force’s F-35s, and then Army being able to provide a shooting solution, should it be required.”[6] This statement implies that the Australian Army will always be required to conduct our ‘typical business’ of manoeuvre operations, with the addition of enhanced Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), long range missile systems and air support, in order to maintain favourable conditions on the battlefield, prior to ‘storming the beach’.

Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Burr, describes Accelerated Warfare as our ability to “own the speed of initiative to outpace, out-manoeuvre and out-think conventional and unconventional threats. It requires excellence in the art and science of decision making as well as deep thinking about the Army’s role in understanding, shaping and influencing the environment.”[7] This statement implies that the Australian Army, in a Combat Brigade structure, will manoeuvre on the future battlefield with lethality, pace and momentum in order to maintain the initiative while integrating multi-domain systems to degrade and deceive enemy ISR through A2/AD methods from all levels of war. Key evidence of this shift is in the ADF’s acquisition of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV), Joint Strike Fighter, High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and increasing use of unmanned aerial and ground systems.

Manoeuvre elements are more protected and mobile than ever, with higher lethality and less risk to personnel. With this comes a challenge to the Combat Support (CS) and Combat Service Support (CSS) elements of the battle. Artillery, as part of the CS piece, have a clear path of where they are heading with the integration of joint fires and long-range missile systems in support of the MDTF, such as the HIMARS and the self-propelled howitzer system under the LAND 8112 project. The remainder of this article will identify how the Combat Engineer Regiment, within the reinforced Combat Brigade, will support the Multi-National JTF in the next 20 years. It will focus on two of its primary functions: mobility and sustainability – specifically the new LAND 155 Dry Support Bridge (DSB), and a conceptual upgrade to the current Australian Protected Route Clearance Capability (APRCC) and Water Purification and Desalination System (WPDS).

Mobility Support – Dry Support Bridge

The Dry Support Bridge (DSB) is the newest rapidly-deployable tactical military bridge acquired by the Australian Army as part of the LAND 155 – Enhanced Gap Crossing Capability Project.[8] With the ability to span either a 46 metre gap or two 22 metre gaps with only eight soldiers and a single launch vehicle (45M), it is a niche capability that has struck many current and previous serving personnel on just how simple, yet capable, this system is in comparison to other in-service bridging systems. The DSB has the capacity to traffic up to 120 tonnes with a primary role of providing temporary infrastructure within both CS and Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.

Although the DSB is considered a tactical bridge, it is essential for all tactical commanders to understand that this new system is certainly not tactical in the form commonly understood by most – reduced noise, little ground footprint, concealment, etc. The DSB has a large footprint (up to nine LAND 121 platforms not including the 45M launch vehicle required), large noise and dust signature, and takes a significant time to construct and recover (up to six hours each way). Army’s Land Trial 02/18 saw the DSB complete its final operational test and evaluation integrated with other systems such as the PMV-L (Hawkei), Black Hornet UAS and the updated Battlefield Management System (BMS) within a Combat Team (CT) tactical field environment. The trial tested all aspects of employment of the bridge, from conducting a crossing site recon utilising the Black Hornet UAS, transport to an RV, conducting a dismounted detailed reconnaissance, site set out, bridge construction, trafficking a mounted CT (by day and night) and bridge recovery. Throughout the construction of the bridge, a dismounted infantry reconnaissance team occupied an observation post (OP) within 5km of the crossing site and was able to identify the high value target solely by the significant dust signature without the enhancement of the Black Hornet UAS. When operating against new capabilities such as long range reconnaissance, precision strike weapons and nano-UAV systems, it is evident that a large signature will be picked up with ease. Where is signature at less risk of being identified? In the rear echelons along lines of communication (LoC). LoC between our logistic nodes are becoming more complex with the requirement to remain open (clear) to allow for rapid push and pull distribution to and from the fighting echelons (F Ech).

The sustainment of the Multi-National JTF is evidently becoming more complex with the necessity to ensure logistic nodes are able to keep up with the forward line of troops (FLOT), while not being vulnerable to artillery, ISR and long-range precision missiles. One way this realisation is being conceptualised is to test whether we necessitate larger forward logistics elements, without becoming a liability on manoeuvre, or establish multiple defensive staging bases throughout the battlespace to achieve projection of power.[9] Key considerations for this concept include the reduction of the logistic footprint, increasing survivability through firepower and force protection, and the ability to sustain a highly mobile force in line with the Australian Army’s Accelerated Warfare concept.[10]

The DSB is one of the Multi-National Joint Task Force’s (AUS, UK, US, Swiss and Turkish Armies) methods to opening those essential lines of communication, enabling the logistic elements freedom of movement and to identify additional route options – whether it be bridging an unsealed gap or an existing damaged bridge (overbridge). The DSB will be expected to remain in a rear echelon engineer equipment park before being called forward when necessary. The challenge faced, by both the logistic and engineer tactical commanders, is prioritising routes and ensuring sufficient protection is available while maintaining a low detection. Another challenge exists when Specialist Troop is required to build two bridges (up to 22 metres each) with one launch vehicle. Which is to be built first with what additional support?

With all this said, the DSB is certainly a valued bridging asset within the Combat Brigade, providing a rapidly-deployable gap crossing solution and allowing LoC to remain open in order to support forward echelons’ maintenance of momentum and combat fighting power – significant components of all MDO tenets[11].

Mobility Support – Australian Protected Route Clearance Capability

The Australian Protected Route Clearance Capability (APRCC) was acquired by the ADF in 2011 under Project NINGAUI in response to Coalition casualties caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in the Middle East. The APRCC suite consists of two HUSKY Mark III Ground Penetrating Radars (GPR), one HUSKY Mark III Interrogation Arm (IA), two Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMV) mounted with SPARKS II mine rollers and two High Mobility Engineer Excavators (HMEE). The APRCC incorporates both mounted and dismounted route clearance methods. Dismounted route search, arguably, should not be as required in the future as enemy capability is becoming more lethal and intelligent, presenting unnecessary risk to searchers. [12] However, it is important to note Head of Army’s Land Capability, MAJGEN Toohey’s statement regarding the human aspect of war: “Despite all of our technical advances, the profession of arms remains an inherently human one. Whether at peace, in competition or conflict, humans wage war, not machines. Similarly, humans make peace. They support others in times of need and work together in periods of competition to shape or set conditions for the achievement of mutual interests.”[13] This statement implies that although we are becoming more reliant on technological advances and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the judgement of a human being should always remain when making tactical decisions. So how can this concept be employed within mobile search operations at high pace and momentum?

Defence manufacturing companies are currently developing new and improved route clearance packages with emphasis on optimum protection. These new subsystems will enable reliable detection, verification and clearing of explosive devices while being user-friendly, particularly in high-stress environments. In one example, the unmanned light tracked platform has a ground surveillance radar with an integrated metal detector, remote control unit and manipulator arm capable of rescuing wounded soldiers and interrogating suspected explosive devices - all controlled by two workstations inside a highly mobile and armoured vehicle. [14] Human controlled, unmanned route clearance technology is critical to protecting lives on the battlefield. It is expedient and highly mobile, allowing the Multi-National JTF to maintain momentum along cleared routes. Working hand-in-hand with ground-based surveillance/clearance, Specialist Troop should consider employing aerial surveillance/clearance systems to enable Combat Engineers to identify disturbances in the ground well ahead of the convoy. With the ability to fit in a map pocket, and equipped with sensors similar to that of the ground-based vehicles, the system will be networked with a command vehicle, enhancing situational awareness to the convoy commander and the Combat Engineers supporting the convoy.[15] This allows flexibility in planning alternate routes, bypassing and explosive reduction all while on the move - an essential consideration for frequent logistic and tactical movements within future MDO environments where time and space is constantly contested.

Sustainability Support – Water Purification and Desalination System

The most commonly known sustainment support Combat Engineers provide in Specialist Troop is the Water Purification and Desalination System (WPDS). Currently, the system consists of a Water Purification Unit (WPU), Reverse-Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) and an Equipment Storage Unit (ESU), contained in a TRICON sized container each, transportable on a HX77 and ILHS trailer. Current procedures of employing the WPDS on warfighting exercises can be a burden on Brigade logistic movements due to time and space required for set-up, production, health testing and re-deployment. For Specialist Troop to be postured ready to provide the Brigade with purified drinking water, it takes 72 hours from time of reconnaissance. To refurbish and be postured to move again takes at least 48 hours – meaning the unit is immobile once established and requires significant notice prior to collapsing the water point. As identified previously, for the reinforced Combat Brigade to operate effectively within a Multi-National JTF, it must be highly mobile and ready to deploy and re-deploy at short notice. A solution to this could be for Army Reserve units to employ the current in-service WPDS unit (or a similar system) in support of the B echelon on a push system, while smaller A2, A1 echelons and/or Specialist Troop employ a more expedient system closer to the fight, remaining mobile.

2nd Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) recently trialled a new condensed and more mobile system, able to fit directly onto a 6x6 G-Wagon and 1250kg trailer. Consisting of a reverse-osmosis (RO) system, four filters with micro-filtration and powered by a 16kVa, it has capacity to produce 10,000L/day with less chemicals and deploy on a C-130 aircraft or Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) to anywhere in the world at short notice. This new systems will ensure that water production remains achievable at the A2 or A1 echelons, operated by Specialist Troop, in a highly contested environment with the ability to re-deploy at short notice. Options exist to store water in onion tanks on a trailer or to supply water directly from the system (jerry can fillers, etc.). For Combat Engineer troops supporting the Combat Teams (CT), versatile man-portable RO systems capable of connecting to a garden hose and small electric pump should be employed for expedient and/or emergency drinking water up to 300L/day in the case resupply elements are targeted or a Chemical, Biological, Radioactive or Nuclear (CBRN) attack has occurred.[16] To compliment this niche capability, soldiers should be issued (as part of their Soldier Combat Ensemble) a straw capable of purifying contaminated water in order to ‘survive the surprise and manoeuvre’ at the individual level without relying on Combat Engineers to purify bulk water in such a challenging environment.

Water purification has been, and will remain, an essential method of winning resources in support of manoeuvre elements. A potential concept the Australian Army may consider in the future, particularly within the south-west pacific region, is to employ a fully autonomous WPDS unit deployable on a ship-to-shore watercraft, with an ability to purify seawater from the shore, move at short notice, or remain concealed behind large cliff faces along the coast. This watercraft would be small and quiet, run by an electric power source – the ideal method for concealed movement, particularly along rivers and creek lines. This will allow the unit to marry-up with the F, A1 and A2 echelons at designated RV points along any water source. Not only could this be deployable on the water, but also on land. The land-based autonomous vehicle has four-axles and trailer, equipped with small water pods and tanks, off-road tyres and an electric motor able to run for up to one week, with a secondary solar recharge capability. The unit would be airdropped in the vicinity of the B echelon or remotely controlled in convoy and pushed forward where needed via satellite GPS without any personnel required to operate the system. The forward echelons would marry up with the unit and conduct rapid resupply after a health test is successfully internally run within the unit, ceasing the requirement for BLOWFLY (Royal Australian Army Medical Corps Environmental Health personnel) to conduct physical testing. In the case the unit must move on to support elsewhere, water pods or small 1200L tanks would be staged at designated positions to allow forward echelons to conduct integral resupply at CT level, without the need for Combat Engineers or logistical elements to be present. This reduces the amount of personnel in the AO. These water points would be designated and allocated to specific force elements on the BMS. Once the pods or tanks are either empty or in need of recovery, the rear echelons will refurbish the site, recharge the system and continue moving forward. This generic concept is directly relevant to the how the Multi-National JTF, specifically the Australian Army, will be operating in 20 years time under the Accelerated Warfare concept – with rapidity and decisiveness. Water purification, whether it be from raw, dirty water or salt water from the Pacific Ocean, must remain achievable on the modern battlefield to sustain the fighting and supporting forces while maintaining momentum and remaining mobile. Therefore, a clear balance between mobility and sustainability must be recognised, particularly within Specialist Troop in support of the reinforced Combat Brigade.

Conclusion

The Multi-National JTF, under the Multi Domain Task Force, is the US and Allied Force’s answer to the Multi Domain Operations concept – the way we will fight on the modern battlefield from 2025. The Australian Army’s response to the Multi-National JTF is Accelerated Warfare. Part of the Accelerated Warfare concept is a reinforced Combat Brigade responding to a threat anywhere in the world, with the expectation of decisively manoeuvring on the battlefield with pace, while maintaining the initiative. This means the ADF will be more mobile and lethal than ever, from the individual soldier though to the JTF, across all five domains. Within this, Combat Engineers, and in particular Specialist Troop, must rise to the challenge on how they will provide the essential Combat Support to manoeuvre and logistic elements on the battlefield. Specialist Troop, with the niche capabilities it will hold, must continue to provide integral mobility and sustainability support to the Combat Brigade through the employment of the Dry Support Bridge, a modernised and unmanned route clearance capability, and a more mobile, autonomous and tactical variant of the Water Purification and Desalination System from the rear echelons down through to the individual soldier. Being mobile, not providing target of opportunities to the enemy, having the ability to move at short notice, yet continuing to provide essential support, must be the primary focus of Specialist Troop in this new era of warfighting.

 

End Notes

[1] Lockheed Martin, The Future of War is Multidomain, Lockheed Martin Corporation website, dated 2017

[2] Will Spears, A Sailor’s Take on Multi-Domain Operations, War On The Rocks website, dated 21 May 19

[3] TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The US Army in Multi Domain Operations 2028, 06 December, p vii

[4] TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The US Army in Multi Domain Operations 2028, 06 Dec 18, p vii

[5] Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Accelerated Warfare – Futures Statement for an Army in Motion, 2018

[6] Stephen Kuper, Defence Connect - Plugging Australia’s multi-domain long-range strike ga, dated 08 Apr 19

[7] Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Accelerated Warfare – Futures Statement for an Army in Motion, 2018

[8] WFEL, WFEL completes Australian Land 155 first tranche Bridging delivery, WFEL–Rapidly Installed Military Bridges website, dated Mar 19

[9] Logistics In War, Sustaining the Multi-Domain Battle, Logistics In War – Military Logistics and Its Impact on Modern Warfare website, dated 06 Feb 17

[10] Logistics In War, Sustaining the Multi-Domain Battle, Logistics In War – Military Logistics and Its Impact on Modern Warfare website, dated 06 Feb 17

[11] TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The US Army in Multi Domain Operations 2028, 06 Dec 18, p 31-38

[12] Project NINGAUI, Modernisation Projects, Army.gov.au website, dated 10 Dec 16

[13] Sean Kimmons, Second Phase of Multi Domain task Force Pilot Headed to Europe, TRADOC website, dated 19 Oct 19

[14] Rheinmetall Defence, Route clearance package, Rheinmetall Defence website, dated 2019

[15] Matthew Beinart, Army New Pocket-Sized Drones That Can Fly For 90 Minutes, Rotor and Wing website, dated 05 Apr 19.

[16] Puretec – Perfecting Water, Portable RO System, 270 Litres Per Day, Puretec website, dated 2019


Portrait

Biography

Joseph Sorrensen

Joseph Sorrensen is the commander of the Specialist Troop in the Third Combat Engineer Regiment.

 

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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