Preparing for a Regionally Aligned Force Deployment: the Raider Brigade’s Perspective

The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) Raiders, 4th Infantry Division, deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, in support of Operation Spartan Shield in February 2013. Although not designated as a regionally aligned force (RAF), the BCT approached the mission set in a way that may be of interest to an RAF-assigned unit.

In the lead-up to the deployment, the BCT looked at the variety of mission requirements and devised an approach to meet them. In a broad sense, the BCT was tasked with security operations, bilateral defense preparations, developing relationships, ensuring strategic access and serving as the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) combatant commander’s theater reserve. The Raider Brigade approached our planning efforts by adapting the standard ABCT and subordinate-unit mission-essential task list (METL), developing persistent relationships and then building partner capacities.

Organizing for mission

Immediately following the 13-02 rotation to the National Training Center (NTC), the Raider Brigade shifted planning focus to the upcoming deployment. An analysis of the standard ABCT METL revealed some necessary changes, the most significant of which came at the combined-arms battalion (CAB) level. A mechanized force does not often train for air-assault operations and very rarely considers air-assault a METL task. However, given the theater-reserve and security-mission requirements, the 1-22 Infantry CAB added air-assault to its METL and, in coordination with the combat-aviation brigade co-located at Camp Buehring, began an intensive training effort in-theater.

The theater-reserve aspect of the mission required exercising the brigade’s rapid-response capability to a broad spectrum of contingencies. To meet these requirements, the Raiders developed force packages that were defined as “scalable, tailorable and rapidly deployable” anywhere within the CENTCOM area. The packages spanned the range of possibilities from high-intensity conflict to fixed-site security to humanitarian-aid distribution. In short, the BCT leveraged nearly every capability within the ABCT into tailored force packages to support the emerging needs of the CENTCOM and U.S. Army Central Command (ARCENT) commanders. Once force packages were developed, each was put through a proof-of-concept and an emergency deployment readiness exercise. Using other ARCENT and CENTCOM assets in Kuwait, the Raiders’ force packages were proven ready to deploy by land, air or sea to any contingency.

In the lead-up to the deployment, the BCT commander and select staff officers visited ARCENT headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, SC. Meetings and briefings were held to discuss operational requirements, mission goals and objectives, and the capabilities of partners in the region. The Raider Brigade’s commander, COL Joel Tyler, was able to meet with the ARCENT commander, LTG Vincent Brooks, in which LTG Brooks specified one of the brigade’s goals as finding ways to “export professionalism.” The ways to achieving that goal became an attitude of persistent presence with our host-nation counterparts in the Kuwait Ministry of Defense and Land Forces.

Building relationships

The Raiders seized on an opportunity to expand the U.S. Army’s relationship with the Kuwait Land Forces (KLF). Besides the Republic of Korea, there are few locations where the U.S. Army maintains maneuver brigades forward-deployed alongside bilateral defense partners on a semi-permanent or consistently rotating basis. Kuwait has hosted a BCT for more than 20 years, but with the U.S. Army’s focus of operations on Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years, the quality of engagements with the KLF have unfortunately dwindled. The Raiders saw an opportunity to reverse that trend through persistent presence with our host-nation counterparts. The BCT aligned our partnership relationships with KLF in a “one-up” model – our battalions partnered with Kuwaiti brigades and the Raider Brigade command team and staff partnered with KLF headquarters.

At first, the relationships were tenuous – or, at best, mixed – with officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) on each side unsure of where the partnerships should go. It has been said that you can only communicate when you have mutual respect and a mutual purpose. Following some small-unit level tactical exchanges and discussions of common goals, the relationships began to blossom and real communication occurred. Many KLF officers commented on how glad they were to experience the Raider Brigade engagements and share lessons-learned from the past decade or more of sustained conflict. They began to inquire about different aspects of American military life and about how to incorporate some of our lessons-learned into their own formations.

The idea of persistent presence follows a model similar to the military transition team (MTT) or the advise-and-assist team most recently used in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Raiders endeavored to maintain constant contact when the relationship permitted and, with one unit, the BCT was able to embed Soldiers from both nations in with the other during a small-unit collective-training period. Furthermore, the BCT insisted the partnerships go beyond military-to-military engagements and include cultural exchanges. On many occasions, the BCT invited our counterparts for dinner or social events, and they did the same for our troops. This expansion beyond the key-leader-engagement model produced deeper relationships that opened more doors, allowing units to demonstrate our professionalism to our partners.

Clearly, not every RAF situation will allow nine months of persistent presence, but whenever the opportunity for extended engagements presents itself, units should maximize their participation and make as many Soldiers as possible available to your partners.

Doing ‘homework’

Units may prepare for this persistent presence by first understanding the structure of the partner nation’s armed forces. The Raider Brigade used multiple open sources to find information on the KLF’s history, culture and structure. This helped the Raiders begin to understand our partners even before the BCT deployed. The Leader Development and Education for Sustained Peace Program (LDESP) in Monterey, CA, is an excellent source to “provide regional, geopolitical and cultural framework for understanding the challenges of conducting full-spectrum operations in unique and rapidly changing environments” (LDESP Website). The Raiders hosted a week-long conference to discuss issues and opportunities emerging in the Middle East. Leaders across the brigade found this program to be informative, enlightening and instructive to our mission.

Once relationships were established and common goals were envisioned, the Raiders began working to build our partner units’ capacities and capabilities. Persistent engagements helped us understand the KLF brigades’ strengths. The senior leadership of KLF units have served most of their careers under threat from outside invasion forces, while most of those in the ranks of lieutenant colonel and above served during the Iraq invasion in 1990. The BCT found officers and NCOs to be well versed in tactics and doctrine, with a great majority of them having attended staff colleges, war colleges and many other professional-military education courses in the United States and in other partnered and allied countries. What most officers engaged their Raider counterparts about was the U.S. Army’s ability to sustain operations over long periods of time and about our bilateral-defense-planning efforts.

The Raiders continued the “one-up” relationship model and began exchange events and planning sessions with our partners. Within the battalion-to-brigade partnerships, units exchanged field-training tactics, techniques and procedures; developed combined-task-force maneuver plans under a unified mission command; and shared training plans and techniques, while the BCT staff led an effort to expanded bilateral-defense-planning efforts.

Unit exchanges and exercises

The 1st Special Troops Battalion enjoyed some of the BCT’s earliest success with 94th Mechanized Infantry Brigade. Soon after arriving in Kuwait, Soldiers, NCOs and officers of the Phoenix Battalion began exchanging small-unit-level experiences with 94th Brigade soldiers, spanning the range of training events from small-arms ranges, shoothouses and rehearsals, to platoon and company training management.

It was through these persistent lower-level engagements the BCTs began to fully understand our partnership. Kuwaiti and U.S. Soldiers each developed a better understanding of how our respective units operate and the methodology through which the BCTs approach our problem-solving. The Kuwaiti approach is more commander-centric, relying on “green tab” leaders to make even routine decisions in day-to-day operations. This makes sense for units that are comprised of both volunteers and conscripts, especially when the conscripts are of various nationalities and not citizens of Kuwait. Our own philosophy of mission command is commander-centric as well, but U.S. commanders rely on decentralized execution and trust junior and subordinates’ initiative and decision-making to operate within the commander’s mission, intent and guidance.

Understanding these differences helped further the relationships. Partners were better able to align the proper officer-to-officer contacts and support common goals and objectives with less interference and frustration by engaging the right persons for necessary decisions.

At the CAB level, 1-22 Infantry worked closely with three maneuver brigades. In May 2012, 6th Armored Brigade conducted a combined-arms live-fire exercise (CALFEX), which incorporated a combined mission-command structure. This enabled U.S. and Kuwaiti battalion commanders to make decisions in parallel, ensuring a unity of command and synchronicity of the operation.

In early April, the Raiders began the planning efforts for a CALFEX. The BCT understood the Kuwaiti collective-training period would wind down as summer and Ramadan approached. The BCT commander wanted to maximize our ability to demonstrate combined-arms maneuver (CAM) and mission command in a live training environment at the combined, bilateral level. The Kuwaitis – having just come off a large multinational Gulf Cooperation Council military exercise – and the Raiders – having just come out of an NTC rotation – were each at the peak of collective training. It was clear each battalion knew the basic tenets of CAM. The overall training objective was to incorporate both trained units into a combined mission-command structure, unified through a common objective, mission, intent and guidance. The staff of both battalions worked for weeks developing the structure under which the units would operate and the mission orders that would convey the exercise’s plan.

Early in May, the units began two days of dry iterations, refining the plan and exercising the combined mission command. Officers from 6th Brigade established primary staff positions within 1-22 Infantry’s tactical-operations center. These were not traditional liaison officers, but rather were the S-3, battle captains and other staff key to conveying mission orders during the CALFEX.

The exercise very successfully proved that partner units could effectively operate under a combined mission-command structure with a clear mission and unified commanders’ intent.

In the area of small-unit training techniques, the 4-42 Field Artillery Straight Arrows initiated an exchange of Soldiers and NCOs with the KLF Field Artillery Regiment (KLFAR). Over the course of a few weeks, Straight Arrow Soldiers embedded and trained as cannon crewmembers on the Kuwaiti PLZ-45 howitzers and, likewise, Kuwaiti “jundis” trained on the M109A6 Paladin. Both units found that although the equipment may be different, the tenants of field-artillery training remain fairly consistent and that each unit had strengths from which the other could learn. This led to a further sharing of training plans and training-management systems. The KLFAR invited Straight Arrow NCOs and officers to help with refinement of small-unit training management and develop better interoperability between our indirect-fire assets. The result was that both units better understood the other’s capabilities and training methods and, ultimately, were more prepared to provide fire support to any contingency within Kuwait.

Staff planning

While the BCT’s battalions were greatly improving the ability to execute tactical missions alongside our Kuwait partners, the BCT staff was busy engaging the KLF staff to ensure that mission orders were developed in a combined effort. In discussions with the KLF staff, it became apparent that both staffs needed to update bilateral defense plans. Neither American nor KLF officers understood the plans beyond the strategic and operational levels, and there was no combined tactical plan that sufficiently addressed the contemporary operating environment threats. With examples from around the greater Arab world making daily headlines, it was clear to both the U.S. and Kuwaiti staff that aspects of a hybrid threat must be considered in planning for the defense of Kuwait.

The effort to remedy the lack of a tactical plan began with an operational-planning team (OPT) established between the KLF staff and the Raider staff. Each side agreed to send representatives from critical staff sections and across the warfighting functions (WfF). The OPT began with briefings detailing the standing plans and the developing plans from higher echelons. Then WfF breakout working groups (WGs) were created to provide mission analysis through the lens of each function.

The intelligence WG began an in-depth analysis of threat activities in other countries available through open-source outlets. Of major concern were activities in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria – all of which provided examples of how an adversary may foment unrest within Kuwait.

The movement-and-maneuver WG analyzed the forces available and began to envision how to best task-organize the units in the field. The mission-command WG began an exhaustive study into how units across both countries would directly communicate. The sustainment WG explored where Kuwaiti and U.S. units had common logistical demands and assets, and developed ways to efficiently meet the needs of each unit. The fires WG examined the assets available, both joint and combined across each nation.

Once initial analysis was complete, each WfF delivered the results of their WG’s efforts and further developed the plan forward.

The first major challenge to overcome was the methodology with which to approach the planning effort. Although most Kuwaiti officers are well versed in the U.S. Army’s seven-step military decision-making process, the KLF’s doctrinal approach is the five-step British Combat Estimate model. It is advisable to understand what decision-making process any partner nation uses. Formal training on their process before arriving will lead to greater understanding and productivity. The OPT eventually settled on the process most familiar to the KLF and proceeded with the combat estimate as our planning model.

To ensure the plan met the combined commanders’ intent, several briefings were given to the KLF and BCT commanders. In each briefing, planning friction points were detailed, and the commanders deliberated and decided together how planning should proceed. The product was a KLF-centric plan to respond to contemporary threats that threatened Kuwait’s stability and security while U.S. forces provided enabling support.

Both sides were confident in the combined staff’s ability to plan a major operation and, in the process, learned a great deal about each other’s military culture and personal experiences. The capacity for planning was further developed on both sides, and each officer and NCO in the OPT left with great confidence in our abilities to conduct combined mission command and to rely on each other’s strengths.

The Raider Brigade’s experience in Kuwait may be distinctive to other RAF missions, but the broad principles are useful across any partnership mission. By analyzing the mission and refining unit METL, developing persistent relationships and building partner capacities, every unit may find success in the regional-alignment mission concept.