A Guide for the Ground Assault Convoy: A Combined Arms Approach
by First Lieutenant Bradley L. Rees
The author presents the ground assault convoy as an example of how combat, combat support, and combat service support units can work together as a team.
Combined arms training is needed more today than ever. With the number of peacekeeping and force-protection missions on the rise, it is essential that combat, combat support, and combat service support units train together as a team. The old adage, "Train as you fight," says it all.
Having had the opportunity to serve in both an infantry battalion and a multifunctional corps support battalion, I have found that units want to train together as a combined arms team, but seldom do so because of conflicting training schedules or deployments. To fight effectively and win on today's battlefield, all units must receive combined arms training. One mission that demonstrates the need for combined arms cooperation is the ground assault convoy (GAC), or convoy escort.
Several combat service support (CSS) units conduct the GAC mission independent of military police (MP) or infantry units because it is one of their mission-essential tasks. Although the GAC is conducted to Army Training and Evaluation Plan (ARTEP) standards, incorporating combined arms assets, especially infantry units, would increase greatly the combat multipliers on the battlefield and add to the chances of mission success. The addition of infantry assets to the GAC also would introduce the CSS soldier to different tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP's) that would ensure greater survivability in combat.
In this article, I will discuss the TTP's of the GAC from an infantry point of view. It is not my intent to discourage CSS units from incorporating these TTP's into their own training plans. Instead, I hope this article will serve as a guide for the development of TTP's for both infantry and CSS units, thereby ensuring better combined arms training in the future.
Increased Use of Anti-Armor GAC's
The addition of the GAC to the mission-essential task lists (METL's) of many
light, airborne, and air assault
anti-armor companies reflects the needs of the Army today, even though ARTEP 7-91-MTP, Anti-armor Company, does not discuss convoy escorts. Anti-armor companies perform the GAC mission more today because of increased real-world peacekeeping and force-protection missions. The addition of the .50-caliber M2 machinegun and the MK19 automatic machinegun to the anti-armor table of organization and equipment also contributes to the increased use of the anti-armor GAC. Individual infantry battalions can perform security for their convoys and for vehicle movements of CSS units operating in the division area, and infantry battalions can maneuver near the forward line of own troops without relying on support from MP escort teams.
The increasing mobility of today's Army and the rapidly changing face of the modern battlefield increase demands for protection of supplies and sensitive cargoes in transit. The GAC routinely escorts convoys transporting key personnel (especially between tactical operations centers and brigade support areas [BSA's]), and such cargoes as ammunition and special equipment and supplies required by the maneuver commander. In the past, the units' locations on the battlefield and the availability of slice elements limited the use of convoy escorts. The anti-armor GAC eliminates these drawbacks. The security of the escort depends on the anti-armor element assigned to the area of operations. The anti-armor GAC provides 360-degree security during the entire convoy.
The success of the GAC depends on the preparations for and rehearsals of the actions that both the GAC element and the escorted vehicles would take in the event of enemy contact, especially near and far ambushes, the receipt of indirect fire, and obstacle breaching in stride.
The number of vehicles required for a GAC differs based on mission, enemy,
terrain, troops, and time avail
able (METT-T) and the size of the escort. However, the basic organization of the anti-armor GAC remains constant. Each element of the GAC has one vehicle but can request more if needed. The escorted vehicles are equipped with their own weapon systems. When available, air defense artillery (ADA) assets, infantry troops from the BSA security force or battalion reserve, and a scout section can augment a GAC. The ADA protects the GAC from enemy aircraft, while the infantry eliminates any enemy dismounts or a breach in stride.
The anti-armor section is the smallest element in an anti-armor company with the ability to perform a GAC. One M966 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) carrier travels in front of one to three vehicles as the lead element, while the other TOW carrier follows as the trail element. The platoon leader or the platoon sergeant follows behind the last escorted vehicle and controls the entire GAC.
Platoon GAC's escort four to nine vehicles. The placement of the escorted vehicles ultimately depends on METT-T, observation, avenues of approach, key terrain, obstacles, concealment, and the platoon leader's discretion. Organic platoons with attached anti-armor sections make up the team GAC. Team GAC's escort convoys of at least 6 but not more than 15 vehicles. One section from the organic platoon acts as the scout for the GAC, while the other section and the platoon leader make up the lead element. The platoon sergeant of the organic platoon and the attached section make up the trail element. In this configuration, the anti-armor company can field three separate team GAC's simultaneously if necessary. The section not used initially in the team GAC's acts as a reserve force or augments the scouts. The two headquarters elements not used initially help to plan and execute future missions and assist in the battle-tracking of ongoing GAC's. Cross-training throughout the entire company is needed for this task organization to work effectively.
Who's the Boss?
It is important to understand that the convoy commander is the tactical operator controlling the movement of the GAC. Even higher ranking officers accompanying the GAC must adhere to the directives and actions of the convoy commander.
The intelligence preparation of the battlefield by the battalion S2 and the careful consideration of the effects of METT-T, obstacles, and concealment on the military decision-making process help to determine the weapons configuration of the GAC. Then the convoy commander can use each weapon system in an anti-armor section, platoon, or company to its maximum capability.
The scout section travels 3 to 5 minutes ahead of the main body of the convoy to monitor enemy activity, relay road conditions to the convoy commander, and provide early warning for the convoy. The lead element maintains the speed of the convoy and monitors the space between vehicles. The convoy commander collocates himself with the lead element and uses secure communications to contact the fire direction center (FDC) for indirect fires or counter-battery fires, and to order close air support and medical evacuation vehicles. The trail element positions itself so it can respond immediately to enemy contact. If needed, the trail element also assists in evacuating casualties and securing the escorted vehicles. The platoon sergeant at the rear of the convoy monitors the overall movement of the convoy and controls vehicle recovery and casualty evacuation.
The GAC operation is divided into five phases: planning, staging, loading, movement, and offloading. As with any successful mission, troop-leading procedures must be followed. Receiving the mission and issuing a warning order are standard. However, a basic knowledge of the GAC concept is essential to planning an effective GAC mission.
A tentative weapons configuration, task organization, terrain analysis, and coordination with the augmenting slice can be completed during the planning stage. Tentative indirect fire targets can be plotted and forwarded to the FDC to be placed on the fire-support matrix. It is important to pay close attention to terrain and vegetation when discussing fire support. Even though the FDC ultimately decides what munitions they will deliver, environmental observations along the route help in their analysis.
Tentative casualty plans for the primary and alternate routes should be established, and casualty pickup zones, phase lines, checkpoints, rally points, suspected or known ambush sites, obstacles, and "no-go," "slow-go," and "go" terrain should be plotted the modified-combined obstacle overlay.
Initial convoy movement and route reconnaissance should be plotted first on a map. If aircraft are available, an overflight of the route by the convoy commander is recommended. Aerial photographs from air reconnaissance should be used if they are available, along with any other intelligence information the S2 can offer. The convoy commander should meet with battalion scouts to see if the routes have been inspected recently and to get an update of enemy activity in the battalion area of operations.
If time permits, a route reconnaissance should be conducted by the scout element to help in the planning process. The remainder of the GAC element should move to the initial staging area and establish a linkup point. If there is not enough time for a full route reconnaissance, the accumulated information from the battalion scouts, S2, and observation by air should be used for completing the order.
The staging area should be centrally located and well suited for disseminating the GAC operations order. The operations order should place a heavy emphasis on the overall concept of the operation, fire support, combined arms support, casualty evacuation, and obstacle-breaching plans (conducted by either engineer support, infantry troops from the BSA security force or battalion reserve, or GAC personnel). Likewise, the march order, primary and alternate routes, convoy speed and vehicle distance, checkpoints, phase lines, rally points, actions on contact, and time schedule should be stressed.
The staging area also offers secure areas for rehearsals and pre-combat inspection of vehicles and personnel. Vehicle windshields should be lowered or removed, shatterproofed, and secured to the hoods of the vehicles with cargo straps. Vehicles also should be prepared for survivability by sandbagging the floors and sides of each to protect the occupants from mines and small-arms fire. While the vehicles are in the staging area, the weapons configuration on each should be checked to see that the weapons function properly. Likewise, personnel should be checked to make sure they have the proper ammunition and night-vision goggles. A communication exercise should be conducted in the staging area by the GAC element before the escorted vehicles arrive and again after they arrive. Also, it is vital that all key leaders and drivers of the GAC and escorted vehicles conduct react-to-contact drills in the staging area.
The loading phase of the GAC is a small piece of the operation, but it is still vital to the mission. The convoy commander verifies the order of march and coordinates with the escorted vehicles' point of contact on the placement of all vehicles in the convoy. The squad leader, platoon sergeant, or company first sergeant ensures that all personnel and equipment are accounted for and that personnel are loaded in vehicles in a way that allows them to dismount quickly in the event of enemy contact. It is a good idea for the BSA security force or battalion reserve and the escorted vehicle personnel to load all vehicles in the same manner, keeping squad integrity of vehicles and cross-loading key leaders and machinegun crews.
As the GAC crosses the line of departure and begins its movement along the
route, all vehicle drivers must monitor their radio nets for information
from the convoy commander. In the event the convoy is ordered to halt
unexpectedly, the vehicles should be prepared to assume a herringbone formation.
(In a herringbone formation, vehicles are arranged at left and right angles
to the line of march used to establish security during an unscheduled halt.)
If enemy forces are known to mine or booby-trap the sides of roads, the
herringbone technique must be executed with precision. The convoy commander
will direct the convoy to reposition itself if needed. If a halt lasts longer
than 1 minute, gunners on the TOW carriers will maintain 360-degree security
while drivers dismount and position themselves to ensure rear security of
their vehicles. Passengers will dismount when ordered by their element leaders.
If the convoy comes in contact with the enemy, it is vital that each element
follows all commands from its leader. After enemy contact, the GAC will
reorganize and continue the mission.
As the GAC nears its release point, the convoy commander will use proper far and near recognition signals with the receiving unit and perform link-up operations. After the GAC element delivers the escorted vehicles, the convoy commander will assemble all GAC elements to conduct an outbrief and issue fragmentary orders or initiate a return to the company area of operations by an alternate route. This is essential for the safety of the GAC.
I hope this article will be useful to units that are developing their own
SOP's for the GAC mission. Summaries of ground assault convoy operations
are found in a number of field manuals, including FM 17-95, Cavalry Operations;
FM 17-98, Scout Platoon; FM 19-4, Military Police Battlefield Circulation
Control, Area Security, and Enemy Prisoner of War Operations, and FM 71-1,
Tank and Mechanized Infantry Company Team. ALOG
First Lieutenant Bradley L. Rees is the supply and services officer, 561st Corps Support Battalion, 101st Corps Support Group, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He served previously as a rifle platoon leader and an anti-armor platoon leader in the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He has a B.A. degree from Virginia Military Institute and has attended Airborne and Air Assault Schools, as well as the Infantry Officer Basic, Aerial Delivery and Materiel Officer, Supply and Services Management Officer, and Support Operations Courses.