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BCTP full spectrum exercises: observations of an observer/trainer.

The purpose of this article is to identify fundamental training opportunities and keys to success when conducting a brigade full spectrum exercise with the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP). While this article specifically focuses on battalion commanders and staffs, it has application for brigade commanders and staffs as well.

In the past few years, Operations Group Charlie (OPSGRP-C) of the BCTP has transitioned its focus for full spectrum exercises (FSX) away from primarily National Guard units, and has taken a whole-army approach to conducting these training events with a renewed emphasis on active component units. These days it is common in OPSGSRP-C for more than two-thirds of a year's exercises to be active component brigade and regimental combat teams. As more and more active component units conduct the full spectrum exercise, formerly known as warfighter exercise (WFX), many commanders and staffs remain unfamiliar with the opportunities available to them during this training event.

As units prepare to execute their full spectrum exercise, competing requirements often pull them in multiple directions both in the field and in garrison. This creates a challenge for commanders and staffs to allocate significant time and resources into adequately preparing for their FSX. A battalion commander does not have many opportunities to conduct a collective training event where the brigade headquarters is manned, passing and receiving information, and integrating all digital systems. Not capitalizing on this training opportunity is a failure of leadership and often attributed to a lack of understanding as to what the FSX offers.

It is important to understand that the BCTP typically conducts FSXs for brigade combat teams early in the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle and prior to deployment to any other combat training center (CTC). Generally, a brigade will conduct their FSX prior to their leaders training program (LTP) and dirt rotation at the National Training Center (NTC), Joint Readiness Training Center (7RTC), or Joint Military Readiness Center (JMRC). Young staffs with limited to no experience working with each other typically execute the FSX. This is not to say that the staffs do not have experience. On the contrary, battalion staffs typically have a significant amount of operational experience. My boss likes to say, "It's new people on a new team doing new things with new stuff."

There are the four fundamental areas that battalion commanders and staffs can focus their efforts to maximize their participation in a full spectrum exercise. These include:

(1) Validate and refine the tactical standard operating procedure (TSOP), the tactical operations center standard operating procedure (TOCSOP), and plans standard operating procedure (PLANSOP) as applicable;

(2) Establish a tactical operations center;

(3) Conduct the military decision-making process (MDMP) in accordance with (IAW) FM 5-0, The Operations Process; and

(4) Exercise mission command.

Validate and Refine the TSOP, TOCSOP, and PLANSOP as Applicable

Although somewhat self-explanatory, this is one of the greatest challenges observed during my time at BCTP and NTC. Oftentimes, units do not have standard operating procedures (SOP) or have them, but are unfamiliar with their content. This is understandable. New staffs are being formed, new commanders at all levels may be coming on board, and new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) are learned on a regular basis. The best thing a unit can do is start with something and use it as the basis for refinement. I recommend the staff print at least one hard copy to post in the tactical operations center (TOC) and refer to, make changes to, or add to the document throughout every training event and exercise. This is one easy way to capture lessons learned and carry them over from one training event to another. The commander must insist that his staff--throughout the exercise--identify, validate, or refine a baseline SOP.

Establish a Tactical Operations Center

First and foremost, the TOC (or command post) should be set up IAW the unit's SOP. If the SOP does not describe the components and ergonomics of the operations center, then capture them in the SOP once an initial standard is established. The definition of a command post is "a unit headquarters where the commander and staff perform their activities," but a TOC is much more than this simple definition portrays. It is the nerve center of a unit. For a battalion or squadron, it is the lowest level at which a full staff exists to conduct planning and synchronization for combat operations. A company/troop has nowhere near the capabilities or resources as a battalion/squadron staff, which is significantly limited compared to a brigade or higher headquarters.

Early in my career, I learned six functions of a command post: receive information, distribute information, analyze information, submit recommendations, integrate resources, and synchronize resources. While rather simplistic, they are still very applicable. Oftentimes, executive officers or S3s will state that their TOC set up for the FSX is different from their expected TOC set up for NTC that is different from their expected TOC set up once they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. My response is: I do not care. I am less interested in how you will display information and more interested in what information you will display. Understanding what to display is still a struggle for many units. There is later discussion, in this article, as it relates to developing a common operational picture (COP). Having a fully established and operational TOC during the FSX allows the commander the ability to assess whether the TOC is able to function as he requires and whether the staff is creating options, preserving options, or forfeiting options based on the set-up and functionality of the TOC. The commander must insist that his TOC set up and configuration is exactly as they intend on deploying and fighting.

Integrate Army Battle Command Systems (ABCS) across all warfighting functions. Seldom do units have the ability to set up and employ all their ABCS in a training environment that fully exercises the digital architecture. Oftentimes, the full spectrum exercise is the first time a brigade/regiment will establish ABCS connectivity across the brigade. Integrating ABCS across the brigade is the equivalent of the signal officer's Tank Table XII. Do it right and do it early, or the entire exercise will suffer. Too often, staffs rely on the old PowerPoint stand-by for mission analysis (MA) and course of action (COA) development because it is what they are familiar with. It is inefficient and adds significantly more time to the planning and execution process. While one could write an entire article on the merits of using ABCS, units typically resort to PowerPoint due to a lack of understanding of the capabilities provided by ABCS. The commander must insist that all Army Battle Command Systems are set up, configured, able to "talk to each other" as designed, and understood by the primary staff.

Develop and maintain a COP. As previously mentioned, the TOC serves as the nerve center of a unit. It is a critical source of information management for the commander, higher headquarters, and subordinate units. FM 3-0 defines a common operational picture as a "single display of relevant information within a commander's area of interest tailored to the user's requirements and based on common data and information shared by more than one command." While the definition states that a COP is a "single display" it arguably can be better described as a "display" of products consisting of multiple screens, maps, and printouts that allow a commander to gain situational understanding. An effective COP will differ for each individual. I often describe the ideal COP this way: a commander walks into his TOC with coffee cup in hand, looks around at all the products (both digital and analog), and achieves an 85-90 percent understanding of everything that is happening in his area of responsibility. A few pointed, direct questions should get him to the 100-percent solution. If the commander has to spend more time interpreting the information portrayed, then it is not an effective COP. The commander must insist that his staff establish and maintain an effective COP throughout the exercise, and then capture how to portray the COP in the unit SOP.


Manage information horizontally and vertically (force reporting). The FSX provides a great opportunity for commanders and staffs to begin developing or validating their knowledge management plan. One of the greatest challenges that battalions/squadrons address is how to determine what information is important and how to transfer information between FM radio, command post of the future (CPOF), and blue force tracker (BFT) as well as all the other forms of information dissemination (e-mail, chat, phone calls, etc.). The commander addresses this in a unit SOP and exercises it whenever the opportunity arises. Additionally, most battalions will not conduct routine reporting (such as a sensitive items reporting or personnel status reporting) during an FSX. The FSX is one of the easiest opportunities to conduct these reports (no sensitive items are actually issued and the computer generates the personnel numbers), yet units do not execute this standard reporting requirement. These reports force the staff and TOC personnel to "battle track" simple reporting requirements based on an established battle rhythm and demonstrate how to process the multitude of other reports. The commander must insist that his staff exercise their knowledge management plan and force reporting across all echelons.

Execute battle drills IAW SOP. Battle drills are "the general and detailed methods used by troops and commanders to perform assigned missions and functions." In a TOC, these battle drills may consist of a counter-fire drill, a downed aircraft (UAV) drill, or a "blue-on-green" battle drill. Battle drills are only effective when they are understood and rehearsed. A technique for executing TOC battle drills is to post the drill on a screen and have the battle captain or battle NCO walk the TOC personnel through the drill. The other option is to have a "battle book" in each section that contains the battle drills. Again, the battle captain or battle NCO is responsible for leading the TOC personnel through these drills. The FSX provides a great opportunity to execute battle drills and if the commander and staff do not conduct them in conjunction with the exercise, they should conduct them as rehearsals. At a minimum, a TOC should conduct two-to-three battle drills per hour (either "real world" in conjunction with the exercise or as a rehearsal). The XO or S3 should provide the results to the commander in his daily update. Another opportunity to exercise battle drills is during the "Mini-Ex" conducted two days prior to actual mission execution when all systems are up and running (theoretically) and TOC personnel are available to make adjustments prior to the actual conduct of operations. The commander must insist that his TOC exercise a set number of battle drills over a specified period throughout the FSX.

Conduct the MDMP IAW FM 5-0

Too often, staffs attempt to conduct the MDMP without using a reference to ensure they address all of the MDMP steps. A pilot would never fly an aircraft without conducting pre-flight checks using a checklist, so why would a staff plan complex combat operations without using a checklist? With the recent (26 March 10) publication of the new FM 5-0, it is even more important to include this reference into all MDMP steps to ensure all new concepts and ideas are integrated into the process throughout. Regardless of how much a staff "knows" about MDMP, how comfortable they are with each other or how condensed their time frame is, they should always use a checklist from FM 5-0 or one of the many available "smart books."

Develop, update, and use running estimates. FM 2-01.3, Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, defines running estimate as "the continuous assessment of the current situation used to determine if the current operation is proceeding according to the commander's intent and if planned future operations are supportable. The commander and each staff section maintain a running estimate." In their running estimates, the commander and each staff section continuously consider the effects of new information and update the following: facts, assumptions, friendly force status, enemy activities and capabilities, civil considerations, and conclusions and recommendations. Although current doctrine is replete with the term "running estimate," generally if you ask a primary staff officer what his running estimate consists of or looks like he cannot tell you. The commander must insist that his staff develop, update, and use running estimates throughout the FSX, then capture the running estimates in the SOP.

Conduct staff-integrated intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) integrating civil considerations. In my opinion, IPB is the most important portion of the MDMP. It identifies whom we are operating with and against as well as where we are operating. The staff builds the rest of the MDMP upon this fundamental framework. FM 3-0 defines IPB as a "systematic process of analyzing and visualizing the portions of the mission variables of threat, terrain, weather, and civil considerations in a specific area of interest and for a specific mission." IPB consists of four steps: define the operational environment, describe environmental effects on operations, evaluate the threat, and determine threat courses of action. While the definition of threat is "nation states, organizations, people, groups, conditions, or natural phenomena able to damage or destroy life, vital resources, or institutions," it is often relegated to just the enemy. More often than not, the S2 has sole responsibility for developing the IPB. This often results in an enemy-centric IPB that minimizes or negates all together the civil considerations that may even be more important than the enemy assessment. An incomplete IPB can derail progress within the MDMP. IPB is so important, I believe it is one component of the MDMP in which the XO should personally be involved with and supervise. The commander must insist that his staff conduct a thorough staff-integrated IPB that fully integrates civil considerations and properly addresses all four steps of IPB.

Conduct MA brief, COA brief, and results of COA analysis brief. Forcing the staff to conduct these briefings allows the commander to assess the staff's performance throughout MDMP and provides better situational understanding throughout the organization. Typically, all staffs conduct a mission analysis brief. Because most commanders direct a single course of action (which is generally recommended for a time-constrained FSX), many units do not conduct a complete COA brief. The commander misses an opportunity to ensure the entire staff fully understands his concept of operations and intent. Unfortunately, many staffs do not conduct adequate course of action analysis (war game), which is arguably one of the most important steps of the MDMP (possibly second only to completing a thorough IPB as part of mission analysis). Staffs must commit a significant amount of time to the war game. This allows them to identify the additional decision points the commander may need to be aware of, problem areas, and planning gaps. Because the war game component is so important, it requires the XO's intimate involvement. The commander must insist that his staff conduct these three briefings to the entire staff to ensure situational awareness and understanding throughout the organization and to allow the commander to assess the performance of his staff throughout the MDMP as well as to gauge their understanding of his intent.

Develop a complete operation order (OPORD) and issue brief to subordinate units. During the time-constrained FSX, many staffs are still able to analyze and work through the slides and briefings associated with the MDMP to include an OPORD briefing (typically a conglomeration of slides from mission analysis and course of action development with a few additions). What staffs typically struggle to accomplish is the completion of a complete written operation order for subordinate commanders. This is too easy to "hand wave" when company commanders do not have to actually develop their own company plan and issue their own OPORD due to the nature of the FSX, so it allows the staff a "freebie" when they should be required to complete this critical step. Additionally, while competing requirements may limit the availability of actual company commanders to participate in the FSX it is truly value-added to have them receive the operations order briefing. It is one opportunity the subordinate commanders have to shape the staff who will be directing them in the future. They should ask the tough questions that force the staff to be thorough and analytical in their planning. The commander must insist that his staff develop a complete operations order in addition to issuing an operations order briefing to subordinate commanders.

Exercise Mission Command

"The Army's preferred method of exercising command and control is mission command. Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission, within the commander's intent" (FM 1-02, Operational Terms and Graphics). Oftentimes, the FSX- is a battalion/squadron commander's first opportunity to deploy his entire TOC with primary staff to conduct the MDMP and exercise mission command in a tactical environment with multiple sources of information flowing both vertically and horizontally. Commanders must emphasize to their staff the importance of this training event and capitalize on this unique opportunity to train in a tactical environment with all "systems" established and utilized.

Develop and maintain situational awareness and understanding within the TOC. This is easy to say, but hard to do. This is a function of how the TOC is set up and how information is managed within the TOC. Fortunately, the design of the FSX is deliberately simplistic to allow commanders and staffs the opportunity to begin establishing how the TOC will function during both the MDMP and mission command to ensure the achievement of situational understanding early and throughout the exercise. A key contributor to achieving situational awareness and understanding is the common operational picture as previously described. The commander must insist that his or her staff employ the tools and systems available to develop and maintain situational awareness and understanding within the TOC for the duration of the FSX.

Employ all ABCS. Critical to exercising mission command is the ability of a commander to harness all available Army Battle Command Systems to assist in the command and control of his formation. As mentioned previously, ABCS design makes mission command easier and more efficient. The FSX is typically the first opportunity when all systems are employed. Staffs need to maximize the opportunity. If a system is not working, the S6 should be scrambling to find the field service representatives and insist they bring the systems online. The XO and staff conduct briefings such as staff update briefs or commander update briefs through ABCS. Any PowerPoint briefings should be "returned to sender" with the expectation that ABCS is the primary method for briefing inside the TOC. If the commander does not force the issue early on, the staff will continue to fall back to the less effective and less efficient means with which they are comfortable. The commander must insist that all ABCS are set up; configured; able to "talk to each other" as designed; understood by the primary staff; and employed in the exercise of mission command.

Develop and use adequate graphic control measures via ABCS. Graphic control measures are "graphic directives given by a commander to subordinate commanders to assign responsibilities, coordinate fire and maneuver, and control combat operations." Generally developed during course of action development, the commander uses them "to convey and enhance the understanding of the concept of operations, prevent fratricide, and clarify the task and purpose of the main effort." The use of ABCS early in the MDMP allows for the building, across multiple echelons, of easily shared graphics. More often than not, staffs do not develop adequate graphic control measures to assist subordinate units in execution or TOC personnel in effectively "directing" the fight. The commander must insist that his or her staff develop and use adequate graphic control measures via ABCS throughout the MDMP and into mission execution.

Synchronize and effectively employ all available assets/capabilities. There are generally two overarching challenges associated with synchronizing and employing assets and capabilities: knowing what is available and knowing when they are available! Commanders and staffs are typically very comfortable with their organic or habitual assets and capabilities. What they struggle with arc the attachments or the "unconventional" assets and capabilities such as host nation security forces, non-governmental organizations, interagency liaisons, and provincial reconstruction teams. Additionally, the battalion/squadron may have a higher-level asset such as a Shadow or an air or scout weapons team, but have no method to effectively track when they "own" the asset or what their capabilities are. A technique is to have a constant "asset tracker" posted in the TOC that shows all assets (internal and external to the unit) currently available. When an entity such as an air weapons team moves to another area of responsibility, update this move on the "asset tracker" so at any given time the commander can see what assets he can tap into.

Oftentimes, the "combat power tracker" in the TOC is an outdated maintenance status of all organic assets and does not adequately depict the assets and capabilities available to allow the commander to conduct the fight. The definition of combat power is "the total means of destructive, constructive, and information capabilities that a military unit/formation can apply at a given time" (FM 3-0). Therefore, a combat power tracker should somehow portray to the commander all the assets and capabilities within the eight elements of combat power (leadership, information, movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment, command and control, and protection) available at any given time. The commander must insist that his staff fully understand all available assets and capabilities available at any given time that provide combat power to the organization.


Conduct regular TOC update, staff update, and commander's update briefs. The FSX provides significant opportunities for commanders and staffs to share information vertically and horizontally. At a minimum, the battalion/squadron conduct regular TOC update, staff update, and commander's update briefs. TOC personnel should conduct regular TOC update briefs (typically every two hours) which are simply a quick update "around-the-horn" by warfighting function of what is currently going on throughout the area of responsibility. The battle captain/ NCO should conduct the TOC update brief for TOC personnel. The staff update brief provides an opportunity for the battalion/ squadron staff to provide an update to the commander on activity throughout the area of responsibility and for the commander to provide additional guidance and direction to his or her staff. The staff update brief should be lead by the executive officer. The commander's update brief provides an opportunity for the battalion/squadron staff to provide an update to the subordinate commanders on activity throughout the area of responsibility, for the subordinate commanders to provide the commander an update on activity throughout their area of responsibility, and for the commander to provide additional guidance and direction. The commander's update brief should be led by the executive officer.


The figure on the right gives simple keys to success that a battalion/squadron staff can focus on to assist in progressing through a full spectrum exercise. While all are relatively intuitive and self-explanatory, they would not be on the list if the majority of units conducting their FSX did not struggle with most if not all of these.

Are any of these recommendations earth shattering? Of course not. Are they going to get my name on a building? Not likely. The fact that both active and National Guard brigade and battalion staffs continue to struggle with many if not all of these arguably fundamental components of brigade and battalion collective training should cause all leaders to take pause and determine how to ensure success in their full spectrum exercise. Measuring success in a full spectrum exercise is simple: Are we better at the end of the exercise than we were on day one? It docs not matter if the objective is seized, all key infrastructure secured or the enemy is defeated. The full spectrum exercise is the beginning of a critically important training methodology that will generally take a unit into their mission rehearsal exercise and onto a future deployment. The amount of learning that takes place is proportionate to the amount of preparation and commitment that goes into the exercise. Commanders, staffs, and leaders at all levels owe it to the subordinate units and each other to maximize this critical opportunity and take the necessary steps to ensure they walk away from their full spectrum exercise much better than when they started and more confident in their ability to function as an effective organization. That is the mark of true success in a full spectrum exercise.


* Develop and stick to a timeline.

* Use a checklist to conduct the MDMP to standard (FM 5-0, Battle Staff SMARTBook, SOP).

* Identify what is expected in a running estimate.

* Directed COA is generally best in this time-constrained environment.

* War gaming is critical (integrate key players when possible: OPS SGM, battle captains, host nation security forces, provincial reconstruction team [PRT], and etc.).

* Always brief civil considerations as a component of IPB.

* Identify a staff officer to serve as the "voice of the people" to focus on civil considerations during all steps of the MDMP.

* Ensure civil considerations are integrated into MA, war gaming, rehearsals, and briefs.

* Integrate all assets and capabilities into planning considerations (host nation, non-governmental organization, PRT, interagency, etc.).

* Integrate consequence management into all aspects of planning.

* Consider the "information aspect" of all activity.

* Develop graphic control measures in ABCS from the beginning.

* Plan for controlling the fight in urban terrain when applicable.

* Plan for and war game actions on the objective.

TOC Operations and Mission Command

* TOC ergonomics are critical to effective command and control.

* Employ an OPSCHED; synchronize and effectively employ all available assets and capabilities.

* Decision support matrix and associated PIR and NAIs are briefed to and understood by radio telephone operators (RTOs), battle captain/NCO, etc.

* Use graphic control measures to force subordinate units to push information (i.e., phase lines).

* Use this opportunity to exercise/rehearse TOC battle drills (recommend clearance of fires, duty status - whereabouts unknown, mass casualty, blue-on-green, and downed aircraft; minimum of 2-3 per hour).

Information Management/Command and Control

* Use your SOP as the foundation and always build on it; have a copy in the TOC to annotate changes/updates.

* How do we transfer information between RTO, CPOF, and FBCB2/BFT (generally will not get to FBCB2/BFT in FSX, but needs consideration).

* Conduct a regular (every 2-4 hours) TOC update for all players "fighting the fight "in the TOC.

* Identify specific reporting requirements for troops (recommend Green 2, personnel status, logistics status, commander's situation report).

MAJ Keith W. Wilson is currently attending Intermediate Level Education at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. His previous assignments include serving as movement and maneuver trainer and senior nonlethal trainer, BCTP OPSGRP-C, Fort Leavenworth; chief of current operations, Information Operations Cell, Multi-National Corps - Iraq; senior nonlethal trainer and senior operations analyst, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.; commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company and D Company, 1st Battalion, 72nd (1-72) Armor, Camp Casey, Korea; tank platoon leader and executive officer, C Company, 1st Battalion, 34th (1-34) Armor, Fort Riley, Kan.
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Title Annotation:Training Notes
Author:Wilson, Keith W.
Publication:Infantry Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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