Keys to a Successful NTC Rotation
by Captain Frederic P. Filbert
During my tenure as a battalion S2, the Brigade S2 tasked me to brief Major General Paul E. Menoher, Jr., then Commander of the Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I was to brief how the S2 section prepared for our National Training Center (NTC) rotation and how we executed a specific battle during that rotation. This article is intended to disseminate the preparations for our rotation to the MI community.
Preparation of Personnel
Preparation for the upcoming rotation was multifaceted. Home station preparation began with platoon- to battalion-level combined arms and staff evaluations of Task Force 3-37 Armor. Interspersed with the evaluations, the S2 section participated in an NTC workshop conducted and evaluated by the 1st Infantry Division (1st ID) G2 Training Section. The workshop emphasized training in intelligence-related tasks for the soldiers without the added stress of a commander or S3 being present. The workshop required the soldiers to develop intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) templates under the guidance of the assistant S2 (Tactical Intelligence Officer or TIO). The S2 acted as the observer/controller (O/C) and let the section do their work. After completing their planning, they communicated battle information by FM radio. The section was required to track the information as if they were at the NTC. After a few hours, the end of the exercise was called, and an after-action review (AAR) followed. The initial AAR comments focused on our exercise; then we viewed NTC AAR tapes showing how a unit at the NTC conducted their IPB for the same mission. The soldiers enjoyed this intense training and looked forward to the NTC rotation to test themselves.
At the battalion staff level, the Task Force (TF) Commander, Operations Officer, and I attended the U.S. Forces Command Leaders Training Program (FLTP) at the NTC. Through classroom instruction and observation of battles in progress, this week-long training program gave us a perspective on how the "Krasnovian" opposing forces (OPFOR) fought. Additionally, I used the trip to take photographs of vehicles and terrain, and interviewed personnel who worked at the NTC. I planned to create a Krasnovian database upon my return to home station.
In the effort to get as many of the intelligence soldiers to the NTC before the rotation as possible, I sent my TIO on a TF tactical exercise without troops to become familiar with the terrain. Fortunately, I had already been to the NTC for the FLTP course and had lived at the NTC for two years. My NCOIC had already been through an NTC rotation and was familiar with Fort Irwin, California. Our familiarity with the terrain proved beneficial to thorough operational planning during the TF's rotation.
After attending the FLTP, I had the opportunity to attend an OPFOR mobile training team program that the 1st ID G2 hosted at Fort Riley, Kansas. I attended this course along with the battalion's scout platoon leader. The class was a modified version of the one taught at the NTC OPFOR Academy. Russian doctrine, and vehicle usage was stressed. We were also evaluated on our ability to prepare for an operation at the NTC using Russian doctrine and graphics.
Krasnovian Database and Battle Book
Simultaneous to unit preparation, the S2 section prepared a database on the Krasnovian OPFOR and the area of operations. The NCOIC started the Krasnovian database by developing a 35-mm slide presentation for the companies in the TF. This helped in identifying Krasnovian vehicles and their Russian counterparts. Also included were slides of the NTC terrain and basic Krasnovian doctrine. Along with the slide classes, we disseminated fact sheet updates to increase the soldiers' knowledge of OPFOR doctrine and vehicle disposition. We also created an NTC OPFOR battle book.
Since enemy doctrine had been changing so dramatically, attempting to continuously update the book would have been difficult. For this reason, the battle book omitted doctrine.
The battle book contained three sections:
The battle book also included information on the Pahrumpian guerrillas. All pictures and maps were in color so that soldiers viewing the book could see vehicles and terrain; images that are not as clear in black-and-white pictures. The book took two months to complete, with the help of the Division's 548th Engineer Detachment (Terrain) and telephone conversations with NTC staff. To make up for the lack of doctrine in the battle book, I maintained a copy of the NTC Tactical Reference Guide produced by the 1st ID G2 training section. The guide contained OPFOR doctrine and information in sufficient detail to allow us to concentrate on the other areas covered in the battle book.
The section used many sources in creating the database for this rotation. Among the sources used were-
- NTC maps with pictures of key terrain pasted on the other side.
- Pictures and descriptions of all visually modified (VISMODs) vehicles and actual Russian vehicles used at the NTC.
- Descriptions of the units, drawings of their crests and patches, and pictures of uniforms and badges, and a map and description of the fictitious island continent where the Krasnovians lived.
We then disseminated this information to both the TF and to other units in the division that would be going to NTC within a few months of our return.
- Pictures from previous rotations.
- Former OPFOR soldiers now assigned to our task force.
- Weekly phone calls to the NTC.
- Information from other 1st ID units preparing to go to the NTC.
Two-Team Planning Concept
Before deploying to the NTC, the TF commander levied two requirements related to two-team planning and situation template validation. The first requirement was to develop a TF "1st team-2nd team" concept to take advantage of the five- to six-hour time lag between change of mission and the beginning of the AAR. This was a requirement for the executive officer (XO) and staff. We tested the concept designed during the TF evaluation, and then executed it at the NTC.
The concept worked as follows: upon completion of the brigade orders brief, the fire support officer (FSO) returned to the TF Tactical Operations Center (TOC) with a copy of the operations order to start the planning process. The orders group, consisting of the commander, S3, and S2 designated the 1st teammet with the company and team commanders and issued a warning order for the new mission. Meanwhile, the 2nd team, consisting of the TIO, S3 Air, Engineer, FSO, and other staff members, began work on the TF order. When the 1st team returned to the TOC, a second warning order was issued with the basic TF plan. By the time the primary staff and commanders departed for the AAR, further guidance had been issued to the 2nd team for planning purposes. After the AAR was over, 70 to 80 percent of the plan was completed; modifications to complete the plan were made when the 1st team arrived back at the TOC. This process worked well and allowed the company and teams more time to create their plans.
To assist the team commanders in planning, we designed a concise, one-page intelligence annex (Annex B) (see the sidebar on the next page). During the course of several field exercises, we discussed exactly what intelligence the company and team commanders wanted and began shaping the annex based on their recommendations. With the addition of a one-page reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) plan, a situational overlay, and an R&S overlay, the annex was short and to the point. The whole idea behind a small annex was to be specific and to ensure that the annex would be read by the commanders. Concise documents will be read, and maximize planning time at all levels, thus maintaining the one-third to two-thirds planning rule. Additionally, the commanders could brief their platoon leaders directly from the situation template that the TF commander used to create his plan.
The intelligence annex consisted of five paragraphs
In the limited time available, it was more important to get specific information to the commanders on the estimated most likely enemy COA, based on current intelligence and mission, enemy, terrain, troops and time available (METT-T), than on doctrinal "this is what he normally does."
FM 34-80, Brigade and Battalion Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Operations, states that the intelligence annex should be as brief as possible. This is not always the case. During most field exercises, the annex ends up very long to write, brief, and disseminate to the company and teams. With short planning time, following doctrine by drawing conclusions for three COAs, briefing a long terrain assessment, and making a conclusion is not possible. The majority of the planning occurred in my head. To decrease wasted planning time, I combined current intelligence, knowledge acquired from training, and the most likely enemy COA to create my analysis. This approach may not work with all commanders. Each commander is different some may want to see the entire intelligence process to gauge how the S2 formulated the basis for the assessment. In the end, do not spew doctrine, present information.
Do not overlook terrain. Detailed knowledge and analysis of terrain must be stressed to accomplish combined staff planning. Bypass routes and ways to "move up" on the enemy may become readily apparent through detailed terrain analysis. The engineer attached to the TOC is critical in this aspect and his capacity to provide this analysis is often overlooked. Engineer preparation of the battlefield is an important aspect of the total IPB process.
- Weather and light data.
- Enemy situation.
- Most likely enemy course of action (COA).
- TF commander's priority intelligence requirements.
Situation Template Validation
The second requirement levied by the commander tasked me, the S2, to develop a method for confirming or validating the situation template. The result of this was twofold. First, with intelligence dumps directly over the TF command net, analyzed intelligence was rapidly passed to all elements of the task force. This alerted everyone to the most current intelligence, analysis of enemy actions and, in a few cases, allowed some units to move from under an artillery barrage. The use of current intelligence in such a direct mode contributed to the decreased size of the intelligence annex by providing up-to-date intelligence. This rapid dissemination of intelligence assisted in validating the situation template by confirming, or denying, enemy operations. Modifications to the plan were then issued by the TF commander based upon new intelligence.
The second part of this validation was the creation of a "Real-Time Event Template." All the spot reports, higher-echelon intelligence, and adjacent-unit intelligence were integrated on an overlay to create a graphic picture of the most current intelligence. This gave the TF commander an up-to-date, accurate picture. The overlay was later used in planning future operations. As we made more overlays, an enemy operational database developed; it assisted in developing future situation templates.
The intelligence collection process did not end upon arrival at the NTC. I walked all over post interviewing soldiers, staff, civilians from the different units, and civilian contractors, and took more pictures to update our threat database. These pictures included new VISMODs under development and additional terrain pictures. Face-to-face information-gathering works well at any level. Additionally, establishing a series of contacts aids in preparation for multiple NTC rotations.
Besides creating a Krasnovian database, I had my TIO develop a continuous R&S plan. During constant operations, this would provide a basic plan for all R&S assets to execute during offensive and defensive operations. Modifications, when required, would then be issued over the radio net. A complete R&S plan followed the initial plan when the operations order was given. This plan worked well as our TF's rotation began with four days of continuous contingency operations.
Our Preparations Led to a Successful Battle
The fifth battle of our rotation truly demonstrates the effect of predeployment preparations on the success of operations. TF 3-37 Armor had just completed four days of continuous contingency operations with four other battalion TFs. Now we were to begin the force-on-force phase of the rotation. The first battle of this phase was an attack on the Brown-Debham pass complex. It turned out to be one of the most successful battles the TF fought. The S2 section correctly templated the enemy to within 90 percent or greater accuracy. As a result, the enemy was all but destroyed when a change of mission was received in the TOC.
We were able to template the enemy with such accuracy by using several well-trained assets. Initially, the TIO and the section NCOIC worked together to develop the brigade situation template and modify it for the terrain. The TIO generated an initial R&S plan for the scout platoon's execution and the delta team had a covering force mission forward of the TF. Once the initial situation template was complete, the TIO and I, using information from the scout platoon and the covering force team, worked the template to produce a completed product. We then briefed this template, along with a specific R&S plan, to the TF.
Once we completed the operations order, it was important to disseminate a copy of the annex, R&S plan and overlay, and situation template to critical members of the TF. Critical members included the company and team commanders, the scout and mortar platoon leaders, and the Administrative-Logistics Operations Center or alternate TOC. Not only did this information provide them the commander's intent, the R&S plan, and the most likely enemy COA, it also allowed the team commanders to focus on the operations order brief rather than half listening and attempting to copy overlay information and thus missing the briefing. A copy of the situation template also gave the commanders the ability to plan with an accurate intelligence product rather than a hastily copied one. The other staff elements, engineer, FSO, and air defense officer received a copy of these products if time permitted. Otherwise they worked from the S2 or S3 copy in the TOC.
Disseminating the situation template to the team commanders was an attempt to "kill two birds with one stone." Not only would they get the most likely COA in graphic form, but the inclusion of highlighted intervisibility lines└"└which is key terrain at the NTC└"allowed them to better plan their scheme of maneuver. With the addition of individual enemy weapon's range arcs, and dead space on the terrain, the enemy kill sacks were more clearly defined.
Figure 1 is an example of the situation template I briefed for the attack. It incorporated the enemy situation with intervisibility lines in the TF sector. We included the intervisibility lines to give the commanders in the TF a perspective of the terrain. The intervisibility lines were colored blue, the enemy red, obstacles green, and possible contaminated areas were yellow.
Due to the time constraints at the NTC, rehearsals and proper asset tasking of the R&S plan became key. Initially, no rehearsal was done and Murphy's Law began to take over. During an earlier mission, the R&S plan was given out, and the scout platoon leader was to execute the plan without having participated in the TF rehearsal. Although the plan appeared sound, there were not enough assets to execute it and large holes appeared in the task force's intelligence. Corrective action included incorporating the R&S rehearsal in the beginning of the TF rehearsal. Although this sounds like common sense, too often it is not done. The rehearsal added synchronization to the plan, laid the plan out to the TF and detailed where the R&S assets would be.
A key point that goes hand-in-hand with the rehearsal is knowing what assets are available for tasking. Before this mission, the R&S plan tasked the scouts and ground surveillance radars (GSRs) to operate five observation posts and screen two specific areas with GSRs. The problem was that only one scout Bradley and one GSR were available to execute the plan. Somehow, the tracking of deadlined vehicles had become the XO's problem and not an important element of the staff planning procedure. During the attack on Brown-Debham Pass, the R&S plan had been revised to task the scouts and GSRs with the assets they currently had, not with what they normally had. Also, I noted an unexpected asset while at the NTC that I had not focused on at our home station. Since the TF had two armor and two infantry companies assigned, the number of dismounted patrols conducted could significantly increase. We expanded the R&S plan to include six dismounted infantry platoons from the two infantry companies. We incorporated these assets into the continuous R&S plan for our future use at later NTC rotations and home-station field exercises. Knowing and tracking the current R&S asset status helped to create a viable R&S plan that was effective and reduced the amount of changes needed in the plan. The TIO tracked the operational status of TF R&S assets to insure accurate knowledge of all assets available. This allowed the section to maintain an accurate status on vehicles available for use in future R&S planning.
As with any major field problem, the NTC brought out many lessons learned. A point that became glaringly obvious was that on-going operations require continuous IPB. Instead of beginning each planning session with receipt of the brigade order, the staff became adept at looking further ahead for future operations. What developed was the use of the S3 map as the current operations board and the S2 map as the future operations and planning board. As the TF TOC was on the move nearly all the time, the TIO updated the S3 map and rode in the S3 M577 with the TF XO. The S3 Air rode in the S2 M577 to assist in controlling the battle. This allowed a backup operational control system so that if either tracked vehicle was destroyed, the other could continue with an intelligence and an operations officer controlling the battle. During brief halts, the TIO and I would quickly update each other on the current situation and future enemy COAs to make sure we were both operating with the same information and providing the same assessment to the commander and S3.
The need for detailed reporting proved to be another lesson we learned. For example, spot reports sent to the TOC gave center-mass grids for obstacles. This gives a basic idea of what is out there, but nothing specific. With no follow-up reporting, changes to the plan and development of more accurate enemy assessments is harder to accomplish. Accurate reporting develops the situation and assists in modifying the plan for success. Detailed reports of actual size, direction, and left and right grid coordinates decrease major movement backups and maintains the flow of the battle.
One of the hardest things to do at the NTC, other than defeating the Krasnovians, was the night-shift sleep plan. This problem does not have an easy fix and requires planning before movement from the home station. Invariably the night shift would get little, if any, sleep. When they would normally be sleeping, the TOC was moving, executing battles, or attempting to set up not an environment conducive to sleep. We developed a fluid schedule to ensure everyone got at least four hours of sleep. Part of this schedule involved using the TIO as the day-shift leader and the intelligence analyst working in concert with him to receive information over the radio, plot the current enemy operations, and advise the S3 Air on planning during the absence of the 1st team. The NCOIC, with the S2 M577 track driver, acted as the night-shift team. When the TOC halted, the night shift immediately went to sleep and the shift changeover times were adjusted based on how the battle was going. The S2 was on a fluid schedule and was awake during the battle; the schedule allowed time for planning as well as briefing the TF Commander before he left the TOC.
A concept that became well defined at the NTC was cross talk. One of the reasons the previously discussed battle was so successful was that cross talk between the Engineer, Air Defense Officer, FSO, S3, and S2 during planning and execution was excellent. This sounds like common sense; however, meshing the staff is not an easy thing to do. Soldiers and officers leave and arrive and must constantly be trained in their jobs. Staff interaction is critical to mission success.
Even if it is pouring rain and the TOC extension leaks, continuation of cross talk is important so that the information flow does not stop. It would seem as part of the normal operation. However, actually doing it and just talking about it are two different things. Without a staff that can work together, planning suffers, the operation does not come together, and the OPFOR wins yet another battle.
The final lesson learned is knowledge of obstacles on the battlefield. This includes antitank ditches, wire, mines, and nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) strikes. Just because a battle is over does not mean that the obstacles go away as they do during computer exercises. Too often planning during computer exercises is done without consideration of obstacles' long-term effects. Obstacles and NBC strikes are hazards that remain on the real battlefield. Knowing where they are will assist in maintaining the momentum of the attack and ensures that a tank or Bradley will reach the objective.
As I learned from the O/C during the infamous AARs, many areas needing improvement will be highlighted. As it is impossible to fix all areas in time for the next battle, focus on fixing one or two major deficiencies at the NTC and fix the rest at the home station. Attempting to improve all inadequacies briefed will cause soldiers to become overwhelmed and mission performance will suffer.
The NTC rotation was an excellent vehicle for training and evaluation. Worries about performance and "have I prepared everything in sufficient detail?" increased as the rotation date approached; however, once in the desert, much of that tension and worry disappeared as the mission came to the forefront. Do not worry how you will do at the National Training Center; work to prepare and identify deficiencies at your home station, fix them through training, and continue the mission. Let the O/Cs tell you where you can improve that is their obligation to you in supporting your training event.
Battles do not start with the receipt of the first operations order. Plan for continuous operations and gather intelligence from as many sources as possible and disseminate it. Treat your NTC rotations as if they were real operations and not just another Army evaluation program the training value will be tremendous.
As an endnote, the officer that inherited my job as the TF S2 integrated the one-page Annex B and one-page R&S plan into a one-page matrix (see Figure 2). This decreased the overall size of the TF order and created a format that decreases writing time and increases planning time.
1. FM 34-80, Brigade and Battalion Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Operations, 1 April 1986.
Captain Filbert is Chief, Joint Reconnaissance Branch, Collection Management Division, J2, U.S. Forces Korea. He has served as a company commander, Chief of G2 Training, S2, Assistant S2, Assistant S3, and Platoon Leader. He has a bachelor of arts degree in History from the University of Hawaii-Monoa. Readers can contact Captain Filbert at E-mail FKJ2 [email protected]