Establishing the Optimal CSS Tactical Operations Center

by Captain Michael J. Kunzer

    The late 1990s saw monumental advances in information management and computer capabilities. New technologies have made their way into the defense community and are affecting the way tactical commanders fight battles. Now, these technologies have worked their way into the combat service support (CSS) community. Today's CSS commanders must embrace these emerging technologies so they can support the combat forces better. The Army also is becoming a rapidly deployable force, with a requirement to have forces on the ground in 96 hours. An easily deployable CSS force thus is needed to support a rapidly deploying combat force. In view of these technological and deployability changes, a new, more mobile CSS tactical operations center (TOC) is needed to manage and control CSS units and to track the combat force's requirements.

TOC Design Limitations

In considering the design of a more mobile CSS TOC, we must remember that the Department of the Army has placed limitations on the design of TOCs. The Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has developed additional guidelines and requirements for TOC development. Two of the major parameters placed on TOC design and development are—

        Procurement. No new equipment will be purchased. Current equipment or equipment currently in the acquisition process must be used to build and equip the TOC.

        Personnel. No personnel should be added to the TOC. Any additional personnel required for the TOC must be taken from another unit's strength.

TOC Design

    With the vast amount of equipment in the Army's inventory, many options present themselves for the design of a more mobile CSS TOC. Some of the ideas for TOC design include using a standard integrated command post (SICP); tracked vehicles; high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs); International Organization for Standards (ISO) 20-foot containers; 5-ton expansible vans (expando vans); and fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

    The TOC's requirement to be able to move quickly and use current technology eliminates some of these design possibilities. SICPs require too much time to set up and break down. Also, more trucks are needed to carry the SICPs, radios, computers, tables, chairs, and other TOC equipment than are practical. HMMWVs have high mobility, but they are too small to act as a TOC. Fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft are not practical because of their maintenance costs and their limited numbers. Their use also is restricted by weather, the number of hours they can be airborne, and the possible absence of air superiority. Aircraft are far more useful elsewhere on the battlefield.

    With the TOC design limitations is mind, two good possibilities for creating a new CSS TOC present themselves. The first is using two 20-foot ISO containers that can be moved around by palletized load systems (PLSs), and the second is using two 5-ton expando vans.

    Based on current Army doctrine and future requirements and using the 20-foot ISO containers, the following equipment and configurations are recommended for the future CSS TOC—

        One power generator.

        Four desks.

        Four Combat Service Support Control System (CSSCS) computers.


        Mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) or digital nonsecure voice terminal (DNVT) phones.

        Video projection system.


        Climate-control system.

    All the equipment will be fixed in place to enable the TOC to be moved and established quickly. This also allows for "on-the-move" operations. The container also should come with an SICP that can be set up, if needed, to expand the size of the TOC.

    If an expando van is used, most equipment must be movable so it can be moved to the van's center when the van's sides are collapsed for moving. Movable equipment will include two double desks, CSSCS computers, radios, MSE or DNVT phones, a video projection system, and a power generator (towed by the van). Fixed equipment will include lights and the climate-control system.


    TOC personnel are the key to the success of any operation. During operations, the TOC needs two working cells—a planning cell for future operations and an operations cell to track the current operation. Thus, the TOC needs two containers or vans—one for each cell.

    Currently, 19 personnel work in a CSS TOC. Of those personnel, 13 are assigned to the TOC and 6 are from the brigade S1 and S4 shops. The technology used in the new TOC will enable the number of personnel to be reduced from 19 to 16. The table below shows the personnel needed in the TOC for operating 24 hours a day.

    TOC offices situated in either the vans or the containers can support the needed personnel. Each van or container will contain one office composed of four workstations. One office will be for the planning cell and the other for the current operations cell.

    Using either the van or the containerized TOC design reduces the size of the rear command post because the brigade S4 and S1 will not need a separate TOC vehicle. The support operations officer, battalion S3, brigade S4, and brigade S1 occupy one office; this would be the planning side of the TOC. The battle captain, battalion S2, supply and services officer, and maintenance officer track and report on the status of the operation in the other office. Either TOC vehicle can meet the needs of these personnel. Neither has an advantage over the other since both have the same capabilities to meet the needs of the mission.

TOC Personnel

Planning Cell

Support operations officer

Support operations non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC)

Support battalion S3

Battalion operation sergeant

Brigade S4

Brigade S4 NCOIC

Brigade S1

Brigade S1 NCOIC

Current Operations Cell

Maintenance officer

Maintenance NCO

Supply and services officer

Movement control NCO

Battalion S2

Communications NCO

Battle captain

Battalion nuclear, biological, and chemical NCO


    When deciding whether to use the container or the expando van to house the TOC, deployability, mobility, versatility, ease of setup and breakdown, site layout, interior layout, communications and computer systems, and ability to operate on the move should be considered.

    Deployability. The CSS TOC must be capable of deploying to the theater by several methods. Currently, the Army deploys by four different methods: air, sea, rail, and road. All the Army's equipment can easily by deployed by sea, rail, and road. With the requirement for units to be more deployable in less time, it becomes necessary for equipment to be airmobile as well. Therefore, air deployability becomes a factor in the design of the TOC.

    Since only a few aircraft are available in the Air Force's inventory for equipment transport, the most common cargo aircraft, the C-130, is most likely to be used to deploy forces. While most equipment will fit in a C-17 or a C-5, the C-130 is the primary aircraft for deployment and has the smallest cargo space. A TOC design should be C-130 deployable; this would enable the TOC to deploy using any of the Air Force's cargo aircraft. The maximum height and width a C-130 can accommodate are 96 inches and 104 inches respectively. The expando van cannot be deployed on a C-130 or a C-141 because it is too tall. It can, however, be deployed by C-17 and C-5. The 20-foot container could fit easily into a C-130 or any other cargo aircraft. This gives the container a significant advantage over the expando van.

    Mobility. The new TOC must be capable of being moved over the different types of terrain that may be encountered while supporting a combat force. The TOC also must move with enough speed to keep pace with the combat forces.

    The expando van can be moved across the battlefield at a rate that would keep pace with the combat forces. The ISO container fits on a flatrack and is hauled by a heavy, expanded mobility, tactical truck-load handling system (HEMTT-LHS) or a PLS, thus giving the container the mobility needed to keep up with the forces. The HEMTT-LHS and PLS are more mobile than the expando van. A PLS with a trailer can haul two containers, or the entire battalion TOC, which gives the container TOC a slight advantage over the expando van TOC for mobility.

    Versatility. The TOC must be modular to meet changing Army missions. By standardizing the equipment inside a TOC module (one van or container), the TOC becomes a highly versatile element. Thus, all expando van TOCs will have the same capabilities, and all container TOCs will have the same capabilities. Designing the TOC in modules makes additions simple for both containers and vans. Having the battalion TOC consist of either two 20-foot containers or two 5-ton expando vans enables the CSS commander to split them to provide command and control support from different locations, run split-base operations, or move in echelons.

    Another capability that both modules have is to function for several different command and staff elements. A standardized TOC module with all the basic functions can be used for different elements such as the division support command, division materiel management center, corps, and theater units. These levels above the battalion only need to add more vans or containers to meet their command needs.

    Setup and breakdown. The ability to establish the TOC quickly is critical, as is the ability to break down the TOC quickly for relocation. The expando van requires more time to set up because the van must be expanded and leveled, and the equipment inside must be moved into place. Since all the equipment in the ISO container is locked in place inside the container, the TOC can be dropped from the truck and set up quickly. 

The expando van is self-mobile. However, the sides of the van must be expanded and the interior set up before a TOC can operate inside.

The expando van is self-mobile. However, the sides of the van must be expanded and the interior set up before a TOC can operate inside.


 To break down the expando van, the equipment must be packed up and moved to the center of the van so the sides can fold up. The container only needs to be closed and picked up by a truck. This gives the advantage to the containerized TOC over the expando van TOC.

    Site layout. The layout of the TOC's site can have several different configurations depending on the mission, terrain, time, commander's preference, and other factors. The TOC site layout should be as compact as possible so it will be a small, easy-to-defend target.

    A container placed on the ground creates a smaller target than an expando van, because the container is shorter and narrower than the van. If, however, the containers are left on the PLS or HEMTT_LHS, the expando van gains the advantage of being a shorter target. Overall, when more vans are added to the TOC, its size grows faster than the size of a TOC assembled from the same number of containers. Thus, containers placed on the ground have the advantage for site layout.

    Interior layout. The inside of any TOC should be configured for maximum use of space and efficiency. It should allow the commander to see and analyze the situation and make decisions. The container offers less workspace and less room for the commander to move around the TOC than does the van. The container allows for some area behind the workstations and provides a hallway-like area in which the commander can move and see what is happening. If SICPs are attached to the containers, the commander has more work area and more space to hold meetings if necessary. The expando van offers a larger area inside the van for the commander to move around. The van has the advantage for interior layout because of the ease in which people can move around inside the van.

    Communications and computer systems. Another essential part of any TOC is communications. The ability to talk to other elements on the battlefield is critical, both in receiving and sending information. Communications also are the key to keeping the computer systems "talking." The communications and computer systems need to be standardized in both TOCs because of their critical importance.

    The TOC should be equipped with four radio nets and MSE or DNVT phones. The computer system in the TOCs must be a hardened computer unit with the CSSCS software as prescribed by the Chief of Staff of the Army. Both types of TOCs are capable of supporting both the communications and the computer systems.

    On-the-move control. One critical factor in considering the best design for a TOC is how to maintain operations while on the move. The information coming from supported forces needs to be tracked and decisions need to be made while the TOC is in transit. Continuity of support to the combat forces must be maintained. Therefore, it is critical that the TOC have an on-the-move capability. The best solution would be to move one module of the TOC forward, then break down and move the remaining module. Another option would be to mount a CSSCS system in a HMMWV to act as the mobile TOC.

    One advantage the container system has is that it can operate while mobile. Since all its systems are fixed in place, the TOC can function while loaded on a moving PLS truck. Safety is an issue for anybody inside the container while it is moving, but bolting the chairs down and equipping them with seatbelts can minimize that risk. The expando van cannot operate while on the move. It must be expanded to be functional. The ability of the container to function while moving gives it a slight advantage over the expando van.

    The CSS TOC is a critical hub for supply information and requests. This center must be a functional facility that is deployable, mobile, versatile, and modular, and it must have a quick and efficient setup and breakdown process. Looking at the different systems in the Army's inventory, the 20-foot container offers the best solution. While the expando van has many good qualities, its inability to be C-130 mobile seriously restricts its ability to meet the requirements of a TOC. The container TOC is easier to set up and break down, presents a smaller target, and can operate while on the move.

Captain Michael J. Kunzer is currently a student at Florida Institute of Technology. He has a B.A. degree in physics from Western Maryland College and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Officers Advanced Course, Rigger School, and the Army Logistics Management College's Logistics Executive Development Course, for which he completed this article.