The ground assault convoy, or GAC, is an integral part of any air assault mission executed by the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The GAC may be an unfamiliar concept because it is not referenced in Field Manual 71-100-3, Air Assault Operations. This article defines the key components of the GAC and highlights its concepts and techniques.
The GAC is a convoy operation into potentially hostile territory, usually to link up with assault forces that have been deployed by air across the forward line of own troops to seize an objective. The convoy consists of vehicles and personnel that cannot be deployed by air, such as heavy team attachments or outsized equipment with secondary loads that cannot be moved easily by slingload.
Air assault operations are conducted in four phases: setting the condition, seizing the objective, expanding the lodgment, and preparing for future operations.
Setting the conditions. In this phase of the operation, the brigade or division focus is on ensuring that conditions are set to provide the highest probability of success. Prime targets during this phase are enemy air defenses, artillery, armor, and concentrations of infantry.
Seizing the objective. During this phase, combat arms troops seize and secure the objective. A forward logistics element may support the forward task force until the brigade support area can be established.
Expanding the lodgment. In this phase, combat arms troops continue to expand and secure the area surrounding the objective. The GAC moves forward and establishes the forward operating base.
Preparing for future operations. During this phase, the task force, which has closed on the forward operating base, builds combat power for future operations. Then the cycle begins again.
All assault operations are driven by the mission, enemy, time, troops, and terrain (METT-T). These factors represent a starting point from which the forward support battalion (FSB) develops concepts for commanding and controlling the GAC.
The GAC is a task-force-level combat operation that must be planned by the task force headquarters. Although the brigade headquarters focuses mainly on actions that must be taken to achieve the objective, the commander and staff also must consider the subsequent move of GAC elements to ensure the success of the operation. All task force battle operating systems must be resourced, synchronized, and distributed throughout the GAC. A movement matrix must be constructed that clearly defines which vehicles and units will move, in which serials (convoy subunits), and when. It is critical that this matrix be constructed according to priorities established by the brigade.
The FSB commander may be tasked to organize and control the GAC. If given this responsibility, the FSB commander must ensure that the battalion staff synchronizes planning efforts with the brigade task force staff.
The brigade S2 ensures that the GAC route is included in the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). The battalion S2 coordinates the GAC route and the brigade support area location with the IPB. The brigade S3 generates a priority listing of vehicles for air-land and GAC movement and tracks the battle throughout the operation. The battalion S3 coordinates with the brigade staff to produce orders and holds meetings and rehearsals in advance of the actual mission. The FSB support operations officer commands and controls the forward logistics element and provides necessary support before, during, and after the operation. The FSB support operations transportation officer builds the movement table in coordination with the brigade S3's priority vehicle listing and oversees the marshaling area.
The composition of the GAC depends on the nature of the mission and requires time-phased movement and organization to emplace each element at the right place at the right time. Examples of battlefield operating system elements include heavy team attachments; tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW)
missiles mounted on high-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs); Avenger weapon systems; engineer or military police vehicles; and any other vehicles with crew-served weapons mounted. Units must position their assets in various serials in the GAC to integrate the battlefield operating system concept fully and to mitigate the risk of losing an entire element should the enemy attack the convoy. Most of the combat power may be positioned in the advance guard.
A key component to ensuring the survivability of the GAC is force protection. The eight key elements of force protection are
· Maneuver. The GAC is a maneuver-based operation, so convoy elements may be required to move through occupied terrain. The advanced guard must be resourced and configured to clear and secure the route for following serials. For instance, dismounted infantry or roving military police must continue to observe cleared obstacles to prevent them from being replaced. To ensure force protection throughout the GAC (which could have over 700 vehicles), follow-on serials should have the ability to clear obstacles to prevent delays.
· Intelligence. The IPB for the GAC route and surrounding areas is an essential element of a successful operation. Key areas of interest are enemy air assaults, enemy threats (levels I through III), terrorist threats, enemy artillery, and the condition of the route. [Enemy threat levels are defined as follows: I-threats that can be defeated by base or base cluster self-defense measures; II-threats that are beyond base or base cluster self-defense capabilities but can be defeated by response forces, normally military police, with supporting fires; III-threats that require a command decision to commit a combined arms tactical combat force to defeat them.] Unmanned aerial vehicles and aviation reconnaissance flight videos are two examples of intelligence used during a GAC operation.
· Fire support. Target reference points must be planned and synchronized along the route to provide fire support to moving convoys. Convoy commanders may call for indirect fire to suppress an enemy ambush.
· Mobility, countermobility, and survivability. Engineer assets are critical in a GAC. Enemy minefields and roadblocks often are key threats to the GAC as it moves to the release point. If these threats are not eliminated quickly, the whole GAC becomes a stationary target for enemy air assaults and indirect fire.
· Air defense. Available air defense assets, such as Avengers and crew-served weapon systems, should be positioned to provide maximum protection against enemy air assaults throughout the GAC.
|A soldier from the 526th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), conducts flank security while his convoy is halted.|
Soldiers watch from a light medium tactical vehicle for any sign of the enemy.
· Combat service support. Forward elements in the initial air assault may need support and resupply before the main elements of the GAC arrive and set up. A forward logistics element may be sent with the initial air assault to support the forward task force until the main body of the GAC arrives. The forward logistics element should have the capability to receive slingloaded emergency resupply and to push supplies to the forward elements of the task force.
· Medical support. Medical assets such as field litter ambulances must be identified and spread throughout the whole GAC to treat and evacuate casualties. Primary and alternate litter teams must be identified in nonstandard casualty evacuation vehicles to assist in moving patients. Casualties should be treated and moved to coordinated casualty-collection points. Preplanned landing zones may be used as necessary for evacuating patients to the combat support hospital.
One of the greatest threats to the GAC is the presence of enemy minefields and obstacles. An obstacle that cannot be breached or bypassed quickly causes convoys to become sitting targets for enemy air and indirect fire. A trained team of engineers should be placed in lead and subsequent serials of the GAC to breach any enemy obstacles that are encountered. When an obstacle is found, the breach team should report, mark, and clear it while a security team secures it. A portion of the security team should be left in place at the obstacle site to ensure that the enemy cannot reestablish the obstacle for follow-on elements of the GAC. While the obstacle is being cleared, a security vehicle such as a gun truck or military police vehicle should circulate among stopped serials to prevent enemy movement between serials.
|A soldier prepares to throw a grappling hook to snag and clear an obstacle that stands in the way of his convoy.|
Achieving solid command and control of the GAC requires control nodes at three key areas and traffic control points.
The marshaling area controls and operates the intermediate staging base, tactical assembly area, or brigade support area. The marshaling area team supervises the organization of serials and monitors starting times. To do this, the team must have communication with the GAC commander and the call-forward area.
The call-forward area, in coordination with the GAC commander, controls the rate of movement into the forward operating base and halts or alters the movement plan based on enemy activity. This team also communicates with the marshaling area and may assist in battle tracking.
The forward command post is the advance party for the brigade support area or forward operating base and is responsible for preparing those areas to receive the main body of the GAC. The forward command post team can include personnel from the forward logistics element, or it can be a separate advance party led by the S3 or another staff officer. This team maintains communication with the call-forward area in order to control elements as they arrive at the new location and to track the battle in coordination with the brigade tactical operations center.
Military police or other appointed units should provide traffic control points along the route to monitor and control movement and to assist in relaying information. An intricate and well-rehearsed communications network is essential to the success of the GAC. Relays or retransmissions may be necessary to maintain communication if the GAC route is long. A tactical satellite may be used to expedite communications from the call-forward area to the marshaling area.
The release point should be manned by personnel from the call-forward area. It is critical that unit guides be on hand at the release point to lead serials to their final destination in the forward operating base. These guides must know the cleared routes and be prepared to assist in unit advance party tasks. Depending on the length of the GAC route, a refuel point can be set up immediately beyond the release point. Once units reach their final destination, they submit closure reports to the task force headquarters to track combat power.
The possibilities for planning and conducting a GAC are METT-T dependent and therefore are endless. However, the single most important principle that must be remembered in the execution of a GAC is that it is a combat operation. All battlefield operating systems must be considered, synchronized, and planned at the appropriate levels to implement a GAC successfully. ALOG
Captain Michael D. Hofmeister is the transportation officer in the Support Operations Section, 526th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He served previously as the G4 Materiel Readiness Officer of Task Force Falcon in Kosovo. He has a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Michigan Technological University and is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Strategic Deployability School.
Lieutenant Colonel Christine M. Gayagas serves as the inspector general for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Previously, she was the commander of the 526th Forward Support Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). She has a master's degree in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology. She is a graduate of the Transportation Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Army Command and General Staff College, and the Army Logistics Management College's Logistics Executive Development Course.