Command Post of the Future

The Armored Battalion of the Future and Armored Cavalry Squadron of the Future are powerful, versatile units for the modern battlefield. For the US Army to unleash the full potential of these units, the Battalion and Squadron both must have a Command Post of the Future to ensure mission command. Today we are going to tour the command post of the future.

The Mission Command elements of an armored formation is broken down into three major components – the TOC, TAC, and CTCP. Moving into the future, these three components are unlikely to change as the concept is proven. The TOC, or Tactical Operations Center is the primary command center for the unit. The most battle tracking and planning capability resides in this node. The TAC is the forward command post, allowing the commander to lead from the front during the execution phase of an operation. There is no substitute for a commander’s eyes and ears on the battlefield. The CTCP, or Combat Trains Command Post, is the hub of logistical planning and execution.

The battalion or squadron commander has an M1A2 Abrams. The S3 (Operations Officer) also has an Abrams. For those who are skeptical about the ability to battle track in a tank, I can personally assure you it is very doable, especially in those Abrams fielded during the last decade or so. The survivability and capability to fight out of an ambush makes the Abrams vital for the commander. The Command Sergeant Major has a M2A3 Bradley, which carries a sergeant first class and a lieutenant. These two provide dedicated battle tracking.

The TOC is the primary command post, supervised by the Executive Officer (XO). The XO must have a fighting vehicle in case the XO must assume command of the battalion or squadron. The M2A3 Bradley provides a potent weapon system for security of the TOC. The S6 (Signal Officer) has a place in the Bradley, underscoring the importance of reliable comms for mission command. Another sergeant first class battle tracks current operations from the back of the Bradley.

The S3’s Plans shop has a M1286 Command Post track. The Plans shops is precisely what it sounds like, it focuses on future operations. The S3’s Fires section does both current operations and future operations, integrating indirect fires and air assets with the battalion or squadron’s scheme of maneuver. The Fires Section has its own M1286.

The S2 (Intelligence Officer) has a M1286 for the intelligence section. The section’s focus on the enemy, as part of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield, is an important piece of the staff’s planning process.

The TOC’s fourth M1286 is the Headquarters Company/Troop’s (HHC or HHT). The HHC, if you remember is the host of the staff, but also the parent company of the combat enabler specialty platoons in the battalion or squadron. Because the specialty platoons are integrated operationally at the battalion level instead of the company, the headquarters company commander is thoroughly integrated with the staff. The HHC’s M1286 also serves as a protected meeting space.

The final vehicle of the TOC is the SMART-T. This is merely a communications link node that allows the TOC to connect in with other command posts. The SMART-T must have ruggedized cable to pay out if the threat situation requires placing the electronic signature of the TOC farther away, but also can connect in close.

One item currently found in US Army command posts that is notably excluded from the Command Post of the Future is the tent. The Armored Battalion and Armored Cavalry Squadron are designed to move rapidly and fight on the modern battlefield. In today’s threat environment, peer and near-peer adversaries have the capability of rapidly finding and targeting command posts. Long range artillery and aircraft are a serious threat to the staff. This is the very reason for armored vehicles. As such, the staff must be comfortable operating from INSIDE the vehicle instead moving out into a tent.

In the pre-COIN days, marked by established Taj Mahal TOCs in buildings, complete with flat screen TVs and air conditioning, a mechanized force had a standard for jumping TOC in under 30 minutes. “Jumping TOC” means moving to a new location. A more mobile mindset is necessary in the age of drones. Still, there are times when meeting in shade outside of the vehicle lends to more efficiency and effectiveness. The answer to this balance is a simple tarp. Stretching a tarp between vehicles can create such a shady oasis for planning. A simple centerline rope can create a pitched roofline for precipitation draining.

By using 80 lbs breakaway cord to connect the tarp and rope to all but one vehicles can allow the vehicles to scatter in an emergency without completely ripping the tarp to shreds. (Though the choice between a tarp and lives is an easy one.) To protect this tarped area, parking the vehicles close creates an armored box, shielding against all but a very close airburst hit or direct hit. The close parking also allows rapid concealment with netting. Conversely, in a threat environment that perhaps calls for dispersion, closed loop data and voice lines can connect dispersed vehicles, allowing the staff to function together without transmitting even more radio communications.

The next component is the CTCP (Combat Trains Command Post). The CTCP generally located away from the TOC, and as the name implies, often located with the trains. The trains are the support vehicles that enable the logistical upkeep of the combat forces. The trains form an assembly area to operate from, and at the battalion level, this often requires a bit of real estate. The Forward Support Company/Troop is the host element for the assembly area. As such, the company command post is part of the CTCP, with the S1 (personnel officer) and S4 (supply officer) having the other two command post vehicles.

Note that the CTCP uses the Styker M1130 Command Vehicle instead of the tracked vehicles found in the TOC. Being farther to the rear decreases the armor and mobility requirements. As the combat trains are made up mainly by large trucks, wheeled command vehicles are able to easily keep pace. Tracked vehicles in an assembly area of wheeled vehicles is more likely to stand out and attract enemy attention. The chaplain also makes his home with the CTCP, despite being a bit of a free spirit on the battlefield who can roam widely. Near the CTCP will be the battalion aid station and the chaplain’s work is closely intertwined with the aid station.

The final piece of the battalion staff is the liaison sections. The LNO (liaison officer) serves as a runner for transporting documents, but also as an element to help movement of the battalion (think traffic cop at a critical intersection), or someone to sit in at higher headquarters to expedite information flow down. In the past, the LNO has simply a single young officer and a driver. In the modern battlefield, this won’t work. Two vehicles, with complete crews and crew served weapons, is the absolute bare minimum for cruising around the battlefield alone. The Battalion needs a pair of sections. The secondary use for the LNO sections is to allow the commander means for moving around in wheeled vehicles when tracked vehicles aren’t the best choice. When not in use elsewhere, the LNO sections assist in TOC security.

The Command Post of the Future is heavier on higher ranks, and lighter on junior enlisted ranks, than current Command Posts. The staff has a captain and three lieutenants, as well as a pair of sergeants first class and four staff sergeants that are specifically ready to step up and fill the spots in the line platoons vacated by casualties. Combat experience across the ages shows these are the ranks that are most vulnerable due to their leadership roles. The Combat Post of the Future is designed to allow the rapid replacements from those who will be fairly knowledgeable in the battalion’s operations. The prepared leaders will have more success stepping forward into line platoons, which creates a layer of risk mitigation for future operations.

The most important element of the Command Post of the Future is not whatever the latest buzz word in software acronyms is, or the vehicle hardware, but rather the mindset of the staff and the commander. The Armored Battalion and Armored Cavalry Squadron are armored formations – a mix of firepower, armor and mobility. A command post must utilize their given armor and mobility to keep situational awareness without wasting time setting up a new Taj Mahal. The staff must embrace mission tactics and the concept of battle tracking or planning while on the move.

In the age of drones and long range weapons, the command post that can rapidly displace inside of the enemy targeting cycle is the command post that lives to see the next day. The command post that is capable of mission command while on the move is the command post that will enable operations without loss in situational awareness.

Strike Hard. Expect No Mercy.

– Galen d. Peterson

Courtesy US Army: M1283 with and without overhead supports.

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