Let's get our Volcano systems into the fight.
Another challenge not seen in the train-up was the failure of the situational-awareness system. The NCOIC said that something was wrong with the satellite, so the company set up local repeaters. Two of the five sites had been overrun the first night. Thirty of Rogers' 135 warriors had been detached to protect one of the remaining sites.
Captain Rogers was finally able to slip away for some sleep. With all that was going on, he hadn't slept in more than 72 hours. Almost, it seemed, before he closed his eyes, he was roughly shaken awake. It was the first sergeant, who reported some activity on the southern side of their position. Rogers gave orders for Situation Charlie--Ruff Rider talk for 100 percent security--and to lock and load all systems. Local sensors identified a number of dismounts and IS vehicles approaching. They were represented by red icons, so they had to be the enemy
Captain Rogers directed that the new standoff antitank weapons engage the vehicles and the new standoff antipersonnel systems engage the dismounts. The system operators pushed their "execute" buttons and received a "Code 6" error This meant that a commander higher in the chain of command had overridden his systems with a nonengagement order He called his next higher commander--the brigade commander--who said that he had no enemy showing on his display; thus, he hadn't released engagement authority. After a heated discussion, the brigade commander said he would contact the corps for guidance. The corps commander was adamant that he couldn't release engagement authority. His information flow and display showed no enemy anywhere near the Ruff Riders.
As the brigade commander attempted to get engagement authority from the corps, Captain Rogers rushed to assess the developing situation on the southern part of his position. By the sounds of it--a crescendo of small arms with machine guns, mortars, and an occasional main gun--Rogers figured he was getting hit by a company-sized unit supported by up to 15 tanks. Tanks hadn't shown up on his order-of battle display He guessed that they didn't show up on the brigade or corps commander display either The standoff fight never occurred; close combat was the order of the day.
This scenario may sound outlandish, but we have the same problem today. Higher commanders are the emplacement authority for the scatterable mine systems in our inventory. According to FM 20-32, Mine/Countermine Operations, obstacle emplacement authority is the jurisdiction that a unit commander has to emplace tactical obstacles. In a theater of operations, theater commanders have the authority to emplace obstacles. In most cases, they delegate this authority to corps commanders, who further delegate it to division commanders. Division commanders then have obstacle emplacement authority in their area of operations, unless authority is withheld or restricted by a higher commander. Commanders subordinate to the corps and division do not have the authority to emplace obstacles unless the higher commander delegates authority for a current operation.
During my time as a combat engineer commander and staff member, I had difficulty in getting authority for using our organic Volcano systems. Often we could get authority for 4-hour-duration mines. The problem came when we requested 48-hour- or 15-day-duration mines. I occasionally received 48-hour permission, but I never received 15-day permission. At the same time, I had permission to emplace conventional handemplaced mines that didn't have a self-destruct capability. They are armed and deadly until removed or destroyed.
Why will permission to use a temporary mine be denied while permission to use a permanent mine be routinely allowed? The usual reasons that I received for denial were concerns about fratricide and constraints on future maneuverability. Both of these concerns can be mitigated. Before any land Volcano system can be used to emplace a minefield, fratricide fences must be erected, just like those used for conventional handemplaced minefields. The concern about future maneuverability can be mitigated with the use of lanes, which can be left in the Volcano minefield. They can be closed with Modular Pack Mine Systems (MOPMSs). They can also be opened with the self-destruct feature of the MOPMS.
As we move to the future, we have to get used to replacing conventional hand-emplaced mines with scatterable mines. We need to do this for three primary reasons: much reduced logistical requirements, much faster emplacement times, and much smaller manpower requirements. In the logistical arena, a Volcano antitank mine weighs about 4 pounds versus about 30 pounds for a conventional M15 antitank mine. This is more than an 85 percent reduction in weight for countermobility logistical requirements. Two soldiers with one vehicle can emplace a 1,000-meter minefield in about 10 minutes versus the 10 hours it takes an engineer platoon to emplace a surface-laid conventional minefield of the same length. This is extremely significant when you consider the significant reduction of sappers in combat engineer companies.
As a company commander, my company had nine 10-man sapper squads. As a brigade commander, my companies had six 8-man squads. The last version of future divisional engineer companies that I saw had four 8-man squads. We have a reduction from 90 sappers to 32 in combat engineer companies. This greatly reduces the ability to hand-emplace mines in a time-constrained situation. We have to depend on scatterable mines emplaced by the Volcano system.
We need to routinely use the Volcano as we would conventional mines. We need to let people know it's all right to use them in the 15-day mode if the situation dictates. I found that the brigade commanders I supported didn't routinely plan 15-day Volcano minefields, because they couldn't count on getting the required authority. Instead their fallback/default was to depend on conventional mines.
We have an Army based on decentralized mission command, but we routinely restrict the use of the Volcano. The same commanders who impose these restrictions don't think twice about delegating conventional mine-emplacement authority to the battalion level. What's wrong with this picture? They are very concerned about scatterable mines that will never last longer than 15 days but will use conventional mines that last for years without a second thought.
My message to commanders is this: Don't tie the hands of subordinate commanders. Don't routinely withhold authority for using the Volcano. Only withhold the authority as you would for conventional mines. Don't restrict commanders from bringing all their combat multiplier systems into the fight. Let your commanders know what their Volcano assets are and allow them to use these assets. Use specific and not blanket restrictions. A commander would never assign a defend-in-sector mission to a subordinate commander and withhold the use of organic weapons. They need to do the same for the Volcano. If not, this valuable tool will never be used to its potential to make up for the lack of sapper manpower and reduce the logistical requirement for tactical obstacles.
I recommend the following to commanders:
* Use specific obstacle restrictions for specific reasons rather than simply using blanket restrictions because "that's the way we've always done it" or "that's the way we did it at NTC."
* Allow people on the ground to determine the best way to fight their ground, especially if they are assigned a defendin-sector mission.
* Use the Volcano to make up for reduced sapper manpower, provide faster obstacle emplacement, and reduce the obstacle logistics.
* Develop unit rapid mine teams and drills using the Volcano.
* Mitigate fratricide concerns with fratricide fences.
* Mitigate future maneuverability concerns with lanes and closure with the MOPMS.
Appropriate use of the Volcano system won't get better until maneuver commanders demand it. Plan it, and do it. Don't stand for being limited any more than you would with your main weapon systems.
Colonel Littlefield (now retired) was assigned to the US. Army War College Department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations when he wrote this article. He previously commanded the 2d Infantry Division s Engineer Brigade. A graduate of the United States Military Academy, COL Littlefield holds a master in operations research/systems analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School. He was a joint specialty officer and is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. He is now a contractor for Sonalysts, Inc., working in joint experimentation.
Note: A variation of this article was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Infantry.
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|Author:||Littlefield, Thomas K., Jr.|
|Publication:||Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2002|
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