A Professional Warfighter for Any Platform

Commanders and units are often asked to accomplish more with less. It’s a timeless request, but as leaders, we must be creative to overcome our finite resources and accomplish the mission in spite of the immediate difficulties. The purpose for this article is to discuss an approach to training an armor company for both traditional combat on tanks and as a motorized, or truck, configuration to create more versatility with the same personnel and different equipment.

Armor companies adapted wheeled configurations to execute counterinsurgency-focused operations for most of the war on terrorism; however, the transformation often didn’t address supplemental tasks of wide-area security (WAS), stability and contingency missions. There are a number of challenges inherent in reconfiguring and reinventing an armor company, but the lessons are even more important now in an environment of fiscal and personnel constraints and challenges. The following emphases address themes of how to accomplish more with less, efficiency in training and generating versatility for an organization’s capabilities in tactical and operational employment.

Efficiency for armor-company training

There is little doubt that armored forces, with their speed and shock effect, will become antiquated and unwanted in future conflicts. In the meantime, however, armored formations must certainly continue to train core mission-essential task list (CMETL) tasks to develop and sustain proficiency; this must occur with the best management of time and resources.

To this purpose, the combined-arms breach task remains the standard for armored-warfare maneuverists to train. This task is an excellent training objective; it incorporates many supporting and collective tasks for the maneuvering platoons, attachments and enablers. Commanders can develop platoon collective-training strategies that emphasize the supporting collective tasks of the breach and see great payoff and efficiency of time and resources that indirectly support other company and platoon mission-essential tasks (MET).

An efficient scenario of a company could look like:

  • Company team conducts a movement-to-contact through an enemy disruption zone;
  • Team destroys security forces to accomplish a react-to-contact;
  • Team identifies a planned or suspected obstacle in the battle zone;
  • Team initiates and controls fires in preparation of the breach;
  • Team conducts the obstacle breach (augmented with engineer assets or not);
  • Team conducts the attack through the remaining battle zone; and
  • Team culminates with a defense established in the enemy support zone to defeat the counterattack.

This approach is linear on a training battlefield, progressive in difficulty and encompasses mostly all the standard armor-company METs, creating efficiency at the company level.

Also, the training concept can be exercised in digital environments and simulators during various phases of a training cycle. Commanders can prime platoons and sections with tactical scenarios from history and tactical-decision exercises to validate future company collective-training standards and forecast deficiencies in understanding early, possibly identifying necessary leader-development program topics. Revisiting the virtual environments (combat training centers or installation training areas) enables the certifying leadership to assess tactical understanding and mission-command proficiency while saving on unnecessary operational tempo (OPTEMPO), mileage and Class III, V and IX costs.

Understanding and using this approach allows development of a similarly efficient model for platoon training. Platoon training on offense tasks enables the best use of land and fuel resources. Collective tasks such as “conduct an attack” and movement-to-contact will test and develop the maneuver principles, such as tempo, that will pay off during company maneuver training or operational deployments. Platoons achieve high payoff with situational-training exercises (STX) that train land navigation, change-of-formations drills and transitions-of-movement techniques. These greatly support proficiency and can be increasingly effective with the integration of blank ammunition and the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System with a platoon force-on-force STX scenario.

Digital trainers like Virtual Battlespace 3 and Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT), or integrating a terrain walk, are best for developing a platoon- and company-defense training strategy. The fundaments of engagement-area development, trigger-based decisions and engagement criteria/techniques are maximized with these tools. The capability to create multiple environments can be used to confirm strengths and test weaknesses of defense plans, and they have a number of instant and complementary after-action-review capabilities for assessment and teaching. Integrating a sister company or platoon into the virtual fight can provide objective feedback for the training as well. TEWTs are another method that support training important defense concepts without incurring the consumption of resources and vehicle OPTEMPO.

Commanders and training planners can also achieve efficiency and resource conservation by training movement and maneuver techniques in humvees. This is an excellent training option to execute concurrently with a tank focus but also as a transitioning and familiarization event if the unit must operate in a motorized configuration for future missions.

Develop assigned METL

Armor companies may conduct an operational deployment with a requirement to operate on wheeled platforms (humvees or mine-resistant, ambushed-protected vehicles) exclusively or in addition to other vehicles. This scenario is very common and increasingly necessary, as commanders demand more options and capabilities from a slimming force – especially in stability environments where the psychological or environmental impact of armor is not conducive to operations. Armor leaders and their formations are well equipped to provide more capabilities.

The unit’s initial challenge is to identify the METL and collective tasks needed for its assigned mission or contingency requirements. A number of companies are motorized by an modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE), such as the infantry brigade combat team’s (BCT) Cavalry squadron; however, these troops are equipped with more personnel, anti-armor and surveillance equipment that will likely be unavailable for an armor company and therefore are not suitable for comparison. Also, these units have METLs for reconnaissance, offense and defense missions that may not necessarily be required of an ad hoc motorized armor company.

The company commander will need to establish an assigned METL (AMETL) based on the higher headquarters’ guidance. The AMETL crosswalks should build on the tasks that support WAS and stability operations.

Assuming proficiency is already achieved, or planned, through CMETL tasks, an example of WAS/stability METL and METs follows:

  • Conduct an attack;
  • Conduct area security;
  • Conduct stability tasks;
  • Perform basic tactical tasks;
  • Conduct a movement-to-contact;
  • Conduct a mounted roadmarch;
  • Secure civilians during operations;
  • Conduct a raid;
  • Conduct a cordon and search;
  • Secure a base camp;
  • Defend in an urban area; and
  • Secure routes.

Training and sustaining proficiency in the METs for platoons will likely require the same efficiency of time and conservation of resources as heavy-armor STXs. Initially, investing in high-quality training for individuals, small teams and sections will provide the greater return for platoons and companies’ collective-task training and will prepare platoons for decentralized operations. Many of the tasks and missions of WAS/stability require greater decentralization of control and more independent action at the section and crew levels. This is best to develop early for establishing confidence in junior leaders.

Close-quarters marksmanship and close-quarters battle are excellent primers that develop practical skills, lower-level teamwork and espirit de corps; instill confidence; and highlight talented junior leaders.

The next focus for progression and team/crew development is unstabilized gunnery. Unstabilized gunnery will enable more crew cohesion and confidence. If the material resources exist to field more than four guntrucks, a five-truck platoon configuration provides an opportunity to challenge upcoming leaders who have shown potential as vehicle commanders. Companies attempt to balance crew-served weapons, if resources permit, to achieve an even distribution of M2, MK-19 and M240B systems. This will provide greater options for escalating force and balancing ammunition’s penetrating effects and surface danger zones in urban population centers.

Offensive collective tasks such as “conduct a raid” are excellent for building a training scenario with complexity and integrating other individual, supporting and collective tasks. An ideal scenario can build from a short-notice alert of a quick-reaction force, requiring hasty troop-leading procedures (TLP) and the fragmentary-order process; this can progress into tactical movement, integrating ambushes with improvised explosive devices enroute, and culminate in a cordon and search/raid. This efficient scenario challenges platoons and easily accepts supplemental tasks like “treat a casualty” and “process detainees” for efficiency and complexity.

Tank-unit task organization

Potentially, the greatest challenge to reorganizing the tank platoon and company is task organization and personnel management. Of immediate concern is adapting the 16-Soldier MTOE manning force of a tank platoon into a unit that can operate mounted and dismounted, and have enough combat power to accomplish tasks without sacrificing force protection and sustainment. Commanders and platoon leaders will need to continuously assess mission requirements and conduct task organization as appropriate.

During operations for Spartan Shield (Kuwait), two distinct platoon configurations were organized and tested using five humvees per platoon. The first model emphasizes the maximum number of personnel for vehicle-dismounted operations when the commander has a greater need for personnel to interact with civilians, search buildings or operate in vehicle-restricted terrain.

The commander achieves this capability by organizing two platoons with a five-truck configuration and cross-leveling the third platoon as an infantry platoon, with a section to each of the motorized platoons. The commander can attached these third-platoon sections as combat-power multipliers to the platoon, or he can use the platoons to move the sections onto an objective or dismount point, and enable the sections to consolidate for their mission tasks as a maneuvering element.

Clear establishment of authority and responsibility for mission accomplishment ought to be developed during this model, especially when two platoon leaders are organized in the same formation.

The second model is a platoon “pure” organization consisting of platoons organized with four or five humvees. Equipping the platoons with five humvees is ideal; this provides better adaptability for accepting attachments and enablers, and for retrograding detainees/enemy prisoners of war. The platoon-pure model mirrors tank-platoon manning but provides another crew from a mature noncommissioned officer (NCO) – possibly the platoon leader/platoon sergeant gunner and loaders. This configuration can also condense to four vehicles to create more capacity for dismounting Soldiers for special teams and tasks.

This model better supports decentralized platoon missions such as patrolling, key-leader engagements, route reconnaissance and security.

The need and assignment of special teams, in either configuration, will quickly commit the combat power at the platoon level. This element of troops-to-tasks must be carefully considered for platoons conducting decentralized missions. Many Soldiers or sections will have to own multiple responsibilities – for example, “aid and litter” and site exploitation – therefore, prioritizing efforts during TLPs will be essential. Since executing special-team efforts simultaneously will not be likely, platoons will have to conduct these sequentially.

Training proficiency on searching techniques, detainee processes and casualty-evacuation tasks, for example, will become high payoff training and rehearsal foci for platoons. Soldiers will require the capacity to perform and rapidly transition among the tasks during missions to mitigate the limited combat power available.

Manning and value of CoIST

In addition to the special teams that enable mission execution and force protection of platoons, the company must organize and appropriate personnel to a company intelligence-support team (CoIST) to support intelligence processing, planning and targeting during WAS/stability operations. The armor company can build this team using the best common practices and tactics, techniques and procedures of the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operating Iraqi Freedom periods.

The company fire-support officer (FSO) is best suited to serve as company lead for the CoIST. The company’s targeting efforts and intelligence requirements will often be complementary or have commonality, and thus are well nested with the FSO.

The company’s fire-support team is likewise naturally well nested with the FSO; however, the team should also be fielded from analytic talent within the company. A composite of members from the platoons, at least one per platoon, with demonstrated cognitive and problem-solving skills (it is also beneficial if they have strong social skills for dialogue and street side engagements) should be identified and selected for the CoIST as habitual members. The selection and assignment of these personnel should be treated like an additional duty or crew stabilization. The Soldiers should not transition often so they can build familiarity with processes and analytical tools.

While wholly organic to the platoon, they become the primary candidates and recipients of specialized intelligence and language training. This approach allows the company to focus its efforts, resources and schooling allocations for building skills and proficiency at the level where the intelligence-collection effort will truly occur.

The platoon-developed approach also preserves the headquarters section’s manning and capabilities instead of attaching these Soldiers for each mission. Once trained on the CoIST’s principles and functions, these members become valuable assets to platoon leaders for analyzing missions, debriefing company and battalion intelligence estimates, and building platoon operations orders. Also, when selecting a NCO, this method develops a Soldier who can communicate priority intelligence requirements and interpret observations in an informal manner (common vernacular). This enhances “every Soldier a sensor” value and effectiveness.

Today’s armored warriors and organizations must continue to evolve beyond dependency on a single vehicle platform – for instance, tanks – and practice prudence with resource usage. Currently, the nation and Army can’t afford the luxury of a single-purpose tool; the need for multi-faceted and versatile units is great. Training and reconfiguration occur regularly across BCT formations; it is time to codify this in doctrine for application and common understanding for current and future leaders who will inherit our armored formations. The future U.S. Armor Corps should build doctrine and ethos for employing armored warfighters instead of tankers.

Cavalry scouts (19D military-occupation specialty (MOS)) who train using humvees, Strykers and Cavalry Fighting Vehicles (multiple platforms) serve as a model for versatility and capabilities. Broadening MOS 19K’s skills will increase utility to the force and preserve the meaningful presence of armored warfighters in MTOE organizations.