Commentary

How small units can prepare for large-scale combat operations

As the 2018 National Security Strategy prioritizes its focus on preparing the nation for the Great Power Competition between the United States and its strategic competitors – namely China and Russia – the Army is transitioning from nearly two decades of counterinsurgency focus to Large-Scale Combat Operations, or LSCO.

While counterinsurgency operations centered on the employment and maneuver of company, platoon and squad sized units, LSCO focuses on the employment of divisions, corps and field armies. Although LSCO by definition focuses on these larger elements, there are a few key items that small units must focus on to ensure their readiness to deploy, fight and win against peer threats.

Equipment maintenance is key

In the middle and latter stages of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, service members were fortunate enough to have a “mature” theatre of operations with well-established service support from a host of contracting agencies for regular maintenance of equipment.

Units would sign for a multitude of up-armored vehicles that were not part of their organic Modified Table of Organization and Equipment, which required extensive contractor maintenance, minimizing the burden of individual soldiers and leaders to know, understand and implement proper maintenance procedures. Large-scale combat against a peer threat will involve many units rapidly deploying their organic home-station vehicles into a highly contested “immature” theatre.

Contractor support for vehicular maintenance will likely be non-existent, and units will rely on vehicle operators to thoroughly understand and execute the Army maintenance program. If a soldier does not understand how to conduct individual preventative maintenance, their vehicles and other vital equipment will likely become non-mission capable, degrading the ability of the platoon and company to fight effectively.

For soldiers new to the Army or to vehicular formations, the best place to learn maintenance begins with the Army Technical Manual. It describes the maintenance procedures and services required before, during, and after operations. Use the manual to guide you and your unit during every maintenance period, ensuring that you correctly fill out your DA Form 5988-E. Filling out the DA 5988-E correctly saves significant time for mechanics to properly diagnose equipment malfunctions, order the correct repair parts, and execute the proper maintenance procedures. Soldiers and units that maintain their equipment will be ready to deploy with all of their vehicles and equipment in working condition and will have the requisite discipline and training to properly maintain them in combat.

Communication, protection, and lethality

Enemy combatants during recent counterinsurgency operations had limited capability to disrupt U.S. and coalition battlefield communication capabilities, however, peer competitors such as Russia, China and others deploy significant electronic warfare capabilities that can disrupt, degrade, and deny many forms of tactical communication and GPS. Small units must train to master encrypting their equipment – namely, their radios, mounted GPS systems (JBC-P), and dismounted GPS (DAGR).

Platoons and companies that do not frequently train on encrypting and using their tactical communication and GPS systems may find themselves lost, confused, and unable to communicate with one another during highly contested large-scale combat operations. To train on these devices, small units should seek to enroll as many soldiers as possible into their installation signal universities as the training schedule will allow. This will build a pool of trained soldiers capable of instructing fellow squad/platoon members on how to properly encrypt and use their critical communication and GPS equipment.

Units can use maintenance Monday’s to conduct both maintenance and training on their communication equipment. Properly encrypted equipment in the hands of trained Soldiers maximize small unit’s situational awareness, coordination and large-scale combat capability.

Innovation

General James C. McConville is reinforcing that people are the centerpiece of the Army, and that we must innovate at all levels to provide the most relevant and capable force for today and tomorrow. At the small unit level, soldiers and junior leader’s can begin their innovation by reviewing the Company’s latest Tactical Operations Standing Operating Procedures (TACSOP). This product describes how the company will operate, fight, and win in an easily-read and understood format. As a general rule of thumb, companies should update their TACSOP at least once a year to adjust to new operating environments and lessons learned during training. Individual soldiers and junior leaders, as the unit’s tip of the spear, should take the time to provide recommendations to leadership for how to maximize the utility of the TACSOP.

While LSCO focuses on employing Army forces at the division level and above, small unit leaders and soldiers at the company level and below have many inherent responsibilities to prepare for this environment. By ensuring operator maintenance is performed correctly, communication systems are encrypted and understood, and TACSOPs are routinely updated, small units will be a few steps closer in their readiness to deploy, fight and win in large-scale combat operations.

Capt. Harrison (Brandon) Morgan is an active duty Army infantry officer. He commissioned from the United States Military Academy in May 2013 and served as an infantry weapons platoon leader in Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve and deployed to Europe with 2nd ABCT, 1st ID, where he served as the Atlantic Resolve Mission Command Element Liaison to Lithuania.

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