Tactical and Technical

The Battlefield Clearance Team

By Matthew Johnson April 15, 2019


The battlefield clearance team (BCT) is a prime example of how different combat services support (CSS) elements can coordinate under a single command and control structure outside that usually utilised by the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME), Royal Australian Corps of Transport (RACT) and Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC).

During Exercise Talisman Sabre 17, MAJ Royce Pearson, 6th Transport Sqn (6 Tpt Sqn), commanded a BCT heavy, while the 6 Tpt Sqn SSM, WO2 Greg Orlicki, commanded a BCT light[1]. The purpose of these teams was to act as a CSS quick reaction force. One BCT was allocated to each of the two brigade lines of effort along Shoal Water Bay Training Area. They coordinated with the Battle Groups (BGs) prior to conducting their attacks and moved into a hide location to the rear of the BG.

Once the clearance was complete and the reorg conducted, the BG BSM called forward the BCT from their hide location with details of the logistic support they required. This coordination between combat forces and CSS elements has often been observed to be lacking in 3 Brigade during its exercises[2]. Although this is a step towards improving coordination between combat and CSS elements, it could be further developed. Despite its success in both Combined Arms Training Activity 17 (also known as Exercise Brolga Strike 17) and Exercise Talisman Sabre 17, the idea has yet to be distilled into 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion’s (CSSB) SOPs.

Based on these lessons learned on these exercises, this article following suggests how CSS elements can be integrated as a BCT to coordinate closely with fighting elements in order to efficiently relieve the logistic burden of both the fighting elements and the Brigade Support Group (BSG).  

Royal Australian Corps of Transport elements are able to provide both the cargo and personnel lift platforms for movement of many of the BCT elements, as well as provide a level of integral security through PMVs or the L121 fleet. As the recently converted mechanised and motorised battalions are highly reliant on fuel, Tank and Pump Assembly (TPA)s can provide a quick refuel in location for a BG’s vehicles, which reduces the burden on the A2 Echelon and reduces rearwards movement to distribution point (DP) locations to refuel. PMV-C vehicles have also proved ideal command vehicles for the BCT, and may be replaced by the PMV-L once it enters CSSBs.

Royal Australian Army Ordinance Corps elements work closely with their RACT counterparts to resupply the BCT with stock to issue to BGs. They are able to remedy unplanned use and subsequent shortage of stores after BG attacks. This relieves the already overtasked BSG of needing to conduct endless DPs. The morgue capabilities within RAAOC also contribute to the BCT, reducing the immediate burden that comes as a by-product of the reorg, friendly and enemy KIA. These can be relieved from BGs as soon as the BCT arrives, allowing the BG to focus on preparing for their next movement instead of being bogged down in the aftermath of the attack. While this is a realistic eventuality of the attack, the BCT of Exercise Talisman Sabre 17 found that many reported KIA were ‘revived’ (i.e., brought back to life) by the Observer Trainers (OT) before backload could occur. While this improved the flow of the exercise, it did not test the logistic chain which is also assessed during the Brigade Assessment.

The Royal Australian Army Medical Corps has a vital role to play within the BCT and often found itself as the busiest element within the BCT. However, it found itself with similar problems to the morgue specialists: WIA were not as numerous as first reported due to OT intervention. Their contribution to the BCT had the benefits of relieving BG medics in a timely fashion by reacting from a nearby location. They were also able to move casualties to Brigade medical facilities quicker than they would otherwise have been moved by the PMVs located in the BSG. This meant the '10-1-2 rule' was much more easily met.

Australian Army Intelligence Corps intelligence exploitation teams were also attached to the BCT, which meant that this asset was far enough from the attack to mitigate the risk of losing a Brigade asset, yet close enough to identify and facilitate quick movement of ‘High Value Individuals’ from the location of the attack to the theatre exploitation facilities. As enemy intelligence is highly time sensitive, quick movement of these individuals for enhanced interrogation was essential, and the BCT enabled this to occur.

The Royal Australian Corps of Military Police element within the BCT operated out of PMVs. They conducted processing and handling of captured personnel (CPERS) post HOTO from combat teams and BGs, backloading of CPERS to the internment and detention facility within the Brigade Maintenance Area (BMA), security escort tasks of CPERS designated as ‘High Value Individuals’ and supplemented BG-level BCTs during surge periods to provide increased CPERS processing and handling capability. A detailed evaluation of their contribution to the BCT is provided by LT Lee Hardstaff.[3]

Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineer elements provide two key functions to the BCT: the recovery asset and the General Maintenance Vehicle (GMV). This allows for recovery of bogged vehicles and quick repair of slightly damaged vehicles. This will prove particularly useful in post–Plan KEOGH combat brigades. The GMV could be replaced by the PMV-GMV variant as this vehicle provides greater protection for RAEME personnel and an elevated platform for mechanics to operate from.

The Royal Australian Engineers’ firefighting vehicle is the final element of the BCT. This proved valuable in extinguishing no-duff fires throughout the training area. It has the potential to save an exercise from a ‘pause ex’ by reacting quickly to any fires in the training area.

Conclusion The BCT demonstrates how CSS elements can be task-organised to suit the mission in a similar manner to combat elements. This acts as a force multiplier, and creates an effective, responsive CSS group able to react to a BG’s logistics requirements after an attack, which are often unpredictable. The range of capabilities also adds a level of flexibility which would otherwise take hours for a BSG to organise and force a BG to focus on their logistic burden instead of focusing on their own security and next movement.   

Notes:

[1] Due to the two lines of effort in the 3 Bde offensive, the BCT was split into 2 groups. Light and heavy were used to delineate between the two groups as BCT Heavy has a couple more vehicles.

[2] Glover, A, 'Skipping Leg Day', The Cove, 04 September 2017, https://www.cove.org.au/breakin/article-skipping-leg-day/.

[3] Hardstaff, L, ‘Military Police and the Battlefield Clearance Team’, The Cove, 15 August 2017, https://www.cove.org.au/trenchline/cove-competition-honourable-mention-military-police-and-the-battlefield-clearance-team/.


Portrait

Biography

Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson is an officer in the Royal Australian Corps of Transport, currently serving as PMV Troop Commander, 9th Transport Squadron, 3rd Combat Service Support Battalion. He previously served as the OpsO of a Battlefield Clearance Team while OpsO of 6th Transport Squadron.

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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