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Division-Level Combined Arms Maneuver Lessons Learned.


Earlier this year, the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center (USACAC) announced the planned release of an update to FM 3-0, Operations, for October 2017. The USACAC states the primary purpose of the update is to describe how Army forces defeat a peer competitor. Inclusion of the division's role in large-scale combat operations against a regional peer competitor augments the assertion in FM 3-94, Theater Army, Corps and Division Operations, that the division is the Army's primary tactical warfighting headquarters for decisive action. The division's primary means of conducting decisive action is through the striking power concentrated in its brigade combat teams (BCTs). The division sets the conditions for BCT success by integrating joint and Army fires in the deep area. The success is inherently dependent upon the effectiveness of their reconnaissance and surveillance results.

To support the division and corps intelligence operations theme of this issue of Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, we combined our own lessons learned (LL) reporting with division-level lessons and best practices (L&BP) from recent combat training center (CTC) rotations, mission command simulations, advise and assist operations, and regionally aligned force deployments. We focused on summarizing the LL, which apply, or could be applied, to division-level combined arms maneuver. Many of the lessons involve the challenges division staffs experienced in looking deep enough in time and space (including the security area) to conduct shaping operations, which set and maintain the conditions for the success of the division's decisive operation. We retrieved L&BP from direct observations, interviews, and after action reports of U.S. Army, U.S. Forces Command, U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, and U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence personnel. Some of the generalizations made provide context for these lessons and best practices; these generalizations are illustrative and should not be misconstrued as a performance evaluation of any individual or unit.

Shaping Operation Trends

Multiple Army commanders and training center cadre offered their assessments that division and BCT staffs are unpracticed in planning shaping operations. Two major shaping operation trends emerged from observing echelon above brigade operations; division staffs are terrain-focused and locked on the close fight.

Lessons Learned reporting indicates a lack of commander involvement in integrating the full range of intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) products into the deliberate military decision-making process (MDMP) as a potential cause of division staffs focusing on the terrain with the unintended consequence of concentrating on the close fight.

Absent specific guidance from the commander, division staffs tend to view terrain only from the perspective of U.S. effects or application of capabilities within the area of operation (AO). In order to shape operations and set the conditions for success within their AO, the division must collect information or leverage the intelligence enterprise's capabilities, which range throughout the area of interest (AOI). An observer controller/trainer reported that the common experiences of division staff officers from Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in the misapplication of the successful counterinsurgency (COIN) concept--intelligence drives targeting, and targeting drives operations--during combined arms maneuver. When conducting large-scale combat operations, a more accurate conceptual approach is commanders drive intelligence, and intelligence drives decisive operations.

Course of action development left solely to the G-3 provides some evidence of commanders not driving operations or operational planning. Eliminating the issuance of planning guidance to the G-3 was a result of the myriad of tasks and responsibilities division commanders perform in leading the division during current operations (or training simulations). The Mission Command Center of Excellence (MCCoE) addressed this challenge in the Army Lessons Learned Forum (ALLF) earlier this year. The forum explains the problem as, "Commanders do not adequately drive the operations process by understanding, visualizing, and describing their operational environment; making and articulating decisions; and directing, leading, and assessing military operations. This results in a staff not generating the conceptual and detailed planning necessary for subordinate organizations to fully succeed in Unified Land Operations." The MCCoE further describes implementation of several mitigating and resolution strategies to address the concern.

Complementing the ALLF topic of the commander's role in driving operations, the USAICoE Commanding General's strategy, and remediation actions were already underway to emphasize to commanders that they must also drive the intelligence process. The intelligence process supports the operations process; commanders must drive both processes.

A symptom of the commander not driving the intelligence process is the G-2 developing and unilaterally selecting the priority intelligence requirements (PIR). As the G-3's terrain-based focus led to concentrating the division's planning effort on the close fight, so did the G-2's PIR. This deficiency also relegates the conduct of the division's counter-reconnaissance fight to be in the close, and not the deep, framework.

A "best practice" occurs when a division commander ensures or directs the G-3 to integrate intelligence products into the MDMP and orders production. An example of routine IPB products, which serve as a best practice, in supporting MDMP is using the event template and event matrix to identify decisive points at which division-level shaping operations, fires, and air-ground integration can disrupt the enemy's operation or preparations. Employing the event template and event matrix may also have the beneficial effect of causing the staff to be force oriented (on the enemy) throughout the AOI, and not simply focused on the terrain within the AO. Focusing on the AO, and not the AOI, invariably leads to the staff locking on the close fight.

Commander involvement is just as important to breaking the staff's lock on the close fight as it is in directing the focus on the enemy. A compounding condition, which unintentionally supports continued focus on the close fight, is the lack of training areas providing the distances (depth and width) at which shaping operations occur. Even the vastness of the National Training Center requires simulations to realistically replicate the distances tactical units can leverage joint/theater intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets or the intelligence enterprise can look throughout the AOI. The necessity of using simulation-based training to expose division staffs to the increased distances and speed at which large-scale combat operations will occur competes with their hard-earned COIN expertise and familiarity in using ISR assets.

Without the experiences strengthened through repetition, U.S. division and BCT staffs remain relatively unpracticed in planning shaping operations to support U.S. forces' combined arms maneuver in major training events. Without the familiarity gained by practice in looking deep with ISR assets, G-2 event templates do not routinely depicted the enemy at sufficient time or distances to support the division shaping operations tactical enabling task employment.

Conversely, the division must also collect information to support shaping operations in the division's security area in which enemy reconnaissance or special purpose forces will operate. Adding further complexity is the acknowledgement that cyber and space-based shaping operations may occur worldwide. The intelligence enterprise will need to address a potentially global AOI.


Hopefully, this column has been of some value in alerting you to challenges others have experienced. The Army is already addressing the challenges discussed in this column through updated doctrine and leader development opportunities. With practice will come increased familiarity and proficiency planning and executing shaping operations. We look forward to receiving any lessons and best practices you and your unit can provide.

To learn more visit the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) or USAICoE MI LL portal

by Mr. Chet Brown, Chief, Lessons Learned Branch
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Author:Brown, Chet
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 2017
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