Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Army's Fantasy Combat System (FCS)

A mega-billion dollars are being spent for the Army’s FCS (Fantasy Combat Systems) equipped BCTs (Modular Brigade Combat Teams). The Army has been disassembling the Field Army, Corps, and Division structure into Modular BCTs and privatizing or civilianizing the combat support and combat service support that feeds, fuels, fixes, and moves the combat units. Watch the Military Channel for details the Pentagon wants you to see.

This concept is being developed without regard to the shape of the battlefield in terms of the mission, enemy and terrain, but solely with regard to what troops they want to field, in short order and with the hottest technology money can buy. As such it is strategically, operationally, and tactically unsound in theory and disregarded by the troops in the field.

In short, the Modular brigade (Infantry, Airborne, and Heavy) have two maneuver battalions according to published sources. The Stryker brigade has three maneuver battalions, which is the traditional minimum. I have heard of efforts to add a third maneuver battalion to the other types.

Three subordinate maneuver elements at any maneuver unit level, from platoon to field army is considered the minimum for effective operations given the default deployment of two units forward, and one in reserve. Should the third element be transferred elsewhere, it is standard practice to form a reserve from within existing resources.

This usually means taking at least two sub elements two levels down, one from each unit, to form the reserve. At battalion, this means that a reserve of two platoons is put under battalion control reinforced by elements of the headquarters company, often the recon platoon. This deployment weakens the flexibility of the lower units.

This form of detachment and attachment is part and parcel of what is called “task organization” and depends also on what the mission, enemy and terrain allows. In addition, maneuver elements are deployed on the avenues of approach that favors their type. We call that “infantry in the green, tanks in the white” alluding to the colors used on a map to denote woods versus open fields.

Likewise the shape of the little brown lines that show the shape of the land impacts on the allocation of troops. Lay your hand on a flat surface and note the five types of terrain: fingers, ridges on the fingers, valleys between the fingers, hilltops on the knuckles, and between the knuckles are passes. The fifth type of terrain is a hole in the ground which you get by doing the “A-Ok” sign

There are five ways to cross the terrain:
1. Cross corridor – across the ridges and valleys (cross finger)
2. High ground – up the finger
3. Low ground – up the space between the fingers.
4. Through the Pass – between the knuckles.
5. Running from peak to peak- across the knuckles on highest ground. (Korea)

There are three kinds of slopes on the hand:
1. Flat – on the table
2. Convex – Palm down, hand curled
3. Concave – Palm up, hand curled.

Against movement fires are applied to deny the enemy to move any of the five ways. Fires are classified in two ways:

1. Grazing – flat across relatively level terrain.
2. Plunging – It’s convex

The trick is to use grazing fires from knuckles down the fingers and sides of fingers and to the rear across the back of the hand. Plunging fires are used in the valleys controlled from the knuckles.

The tricky part of terrain analysis is to match green and white to the hands above to determine what used to be called COCOA:

1. Critical terrain – knuckles that can fire on lines of communication or maneuver as above.
2. Observation – where you can see and control fires – knuckles also
3. Cover and Concealment – Use valleys out of the line of sight of knuckles and the use of lots of green.
4. Obstacles: Wiggly brown lines bunched up to show steepness, water (put hand in a half inch of water and you get the idea), or some serious green stuff.
5. Avenues of approach – That which you can use to approach critical terrain at maximum speed and/or survivability. Green for the infantry, white of the tanks.

Principles of ground combat, the 4 F’s

1. Find them
2. Fix them
3. Fight them
4. Follow up

The fix and fight parts are also called fire and maneuver – fires are used to “fix” or pin down the enemy, while maneuver elements close with the enemy to destroy the force and/or secure the terrain. Rommel and Patton both said it was “hold them by the nose and kick them in the ass”.

The Modular brigade, according to the dogma passed out to the military public is task organized by Table of Organization (TOE) without regard to the niceties of handy tactics. It was sold as a way to save deployment time by cutting out the task organization time to meet mission, enemy or terrain. Fortunately, no one outside the Transformation process is that dumb, not even Regulars. In fact, if someone were to tell a combat commander in Iraq not to change the task organization, that someone would either be committed or incarcerated.

FCS is sold and the “Future” combat system, and is based on supporting and enabling the modular brigade in an imaginary battlefield not known in current military writings, past experience, or history, hence the nickname “Fantasy Combat System”. To the extent that FCS is based on the eventuality of the Fantasy battle, the entire budget is about the same as whizzing in the wind.

Fortunately, while the Whitehalls, Kremlins, and Pentagons of the world are normally wrong on the shape of things to come, the troops will take what they get and make it work in ways not envisioned by higher ups:

The USAAF didn’t want radial engines in their fighters, unlike the Navy, but found the P-47 more than useful, The USAAF built the B-17 to sink battleships which they couldn’t hit, but proved to be a great smasher of cities, factories, and lines of communication. The P-39 rear engine fighter was Zero bait, but the Soviets used it as a great ground attack fighter.

Both the M113 and the UH-1 started out as ambulances for the Medical Corps. The M-16 was rejected by the Army in favor of the M-14. Army Aviation insisted that helicopters should not be armed for air-to-air combat until the Hind showed up.

Of the elements of the FCS that is hyped as the wave of the future, the networked command and control system is not dependent on the task organization of troops in the field. Likewise, precision guided munitions isn’ t exactly new.

The highly touted UGS (unattended ground systems) were fielded in Vietnam and was responsible for effective targeting of the NVA in the siege of Khe Sanh, every move they made was telegraphed to targeting cells who unleashed waves of B-52’s. Chopper Pilots told me that they preferred to go over 2.000 feet to avoid the smell of death. I taught the use of UGS at Ft, Huachuca in early Seventies, and was dismayed that the testing at Ft Hood of the system couldn’t figure out how to use them and they were dropped from the Army inventory.

Go figure

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