Field Artillery cannon battalion combat configured loads - (cont.)
Field Artillery cannon battalion combat configured loads – A sustainment perspective and best practices from JRTC
By CPT Russell Vickers
Combat configured loads (CCL) can create a dramatically more linear sustainment effort of Class V for a Field Artillery (FA) cannon battalion. A CCL is a pre-designated allotment of ammunition that can be built and delivered by sustainment assets on a sustainment platform such as a container roll-on/off-platform (CROP). A CCL eliminates the need to list individual amounts of ammunition by replacing the extensive lists with a single name or identification for a set. By flattening the logistical request process it alleviates confusion created between the gun line needs versus supply chain capabilities. This flattening allows for earlier and more accurate feedback on what is available to supply a battery before a designated operation or fire mission. The accurate feedback and logistical readiness grants tactical commanders the ability to make decisions based on facts concerning ammunition availability rather than assumptions. The key to this benefit is creating the correct CCL for your organization.
One of the most frequent, and most avoidable, complications in the request and distribution of FA ammunition is the language barrier between fire supporters and logisticians in regards to Class V. The breakdown in understanding can come as easily as confusing the Department of Defense Identification Code (DODIC) which is used by logisticians for accountability and nomenclature which is used by fire supporters. A CCL must delineate the exact ammunition desired. A clear, shared understanding of what munitions are intended for each CCL must be provided to each echelon of support from the battery and forward support company (FSC) commanders, to the battalion S4, brigade support battalion (BSB) support operations officer (SPO) and supporting combat service support battalion (CSSB). By clearly establishing each CCL, a brigade combat team (BCT) can effectively leverage its resources and capabilities to succinctly move artillery munitions around the battlefield. This process begins with the CSSB moving ammunition from the division support area (DSA) forward to the brigade support area (BSA). This laborious process can be shortened significantly with already built configured loads and by clearly defined anticipated configured loads. It will also prevent the prevalent receipt of incorrect munitions or munitions in quantities other than what was desired. Both mishaps can lead to the inability of a battery to conduct specified fire missions. Beyond the enigmatic language barriers during an operation a CCL must be designed to support both the FA battalion while remaining within the limitations of sustainment.
An effective CCL immediately invokes three of the eight principles of sustainment: simplicity, responsiveness and economy. Responsiveness begins with limiting alterations to designated CCLs. Whether a cannon battalion decides to create only a few, broad CCLs or a score of highly detailed CCLs, the configuration must be understood by all units involved. This starts with the aforementioned language disambiguation and continues to include committing to those designations to maintain responsiveness. The expectation of a battery or a cannon battalion to alter the predetermined configurations and force the slower moving sustainment warfighting function to alter its configuration eliminates responsiveness and is not sustainable in large scale combat operations. To prevent these alterations, a significant amount of planning and decision making must be made by a combination of the staff, primarily the fire direction officer (FDO), S4, and commanders within a canon battalion. By understanding and planning for the fight and following pre-determined standard operating procedures (SOP) generated within the battalion, a commander can commit to the CCLs already established. This will ensure that responsiveness can be maintained with the desired ammunition. This planning must include the sustainment warfighting function to ensure the desired results from the chosen munitions. Part of the planning must involve the haul capacity and capabilities of the FSC among many other considerations of the sustainment warfighting function to include compatibility, weight limits, convoy size and a myriad of other limiting factors. The limiting factors for the movement of ammunition must also include the capabilities at the battery level to move the received ammunition. To ensure requested CCLs are manageable for the battery, the battery commanders need to also be involved with the planning of the CCLs. It is the battery commanders who will ultimately use the ammunition supplied by the sustainment unit and therefore must be ready to receive, store, move and use that ammunition. Without key input from the battery commanders they will be unable to design the fight to meet the expected enemy strategy. These capabilities will drive what can be requested for an individual, or multiple, CCLs and revolves around the economic principle of sustainment.
As it relates to sustainment, economy is likely the primary outcome that a unit is striving to achieve when using CCLs. The economy of sustainment is the ability to provide the prioritized resources in an efficient manner to the greatest effect possible. The configuration of CCLs must help limit wasted movements, space and time. A proper CCL will help achieve these things as long as the unit adheres to three important planning considerations. These three considerations are ammunition compatibility requirements, weight restrictions, and perhaps most importantly, maximizing available CROP space. When space is maximized it prevents unnecessary movements which decreases time on the road and allows for smaller convoy sizes for the supporting logistical units. These limitation factors must be present in planning not only at the FA battalion level but also taking into consideration the capabilities and availability of BSB and CSSB assets. The availability of these assets can vary greatly depending on the priority of support and priority of the commodity established by the brigade and the BSB. As the shape of the battlefield continues to grow increasingly complex, a driving force for successful operations, including the use of CCL, is the simplicity of its use.
Creating a shared understanding from the FA cannon battalion concerning the use of CCLs is the first step to ensure the use of CCLs is simplified to a reasonable extent. The relay of information concerning what exactly constitutes a CCL, how and when they will be used, and ensuring the information for the timelines of their use is vital to this step. In a protracted conflict no unit will ever have the time needed to build a sufficient quantity of CCLs before their push into the area of operation. This means the reliance for their construction will be placed on non-fires warfighting function personnel, namely sustainment personnel working in the DSA or the theater ammunition transfer and holding point. Simplistic CCLs need to be clearly explained and understood by these sustainers to be effective. CCLs have seen an increasing emphasis at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and their utilization creates a positive impact on the BCT in regards to artillery ammunition availability.
Best practices for the use of CCLs from the sustainment perspective begin well before stepping foot in the Class V yard. The most successful units start at home station by creating a simple spreadsheet or worksheet that identifies munitions based on DODIC, nomenclature, formal and informal names which helps disambiguate much of the language confusion created when Class V is requested. This sheet should also include the often neglected fuse, charge, and shell-fuse combination names, and uses. When this type of document is shared and used by the FSC, S4, FDO and made available to the BSB SPO and CSSB the increase in accuracy of requests and movement of munitions is incredible.
Like the worksheet for understanding each munition that can be used by an FA cannon battalion, the need to create a common document that describes each CCL is vital. Version control and non-standardized naming conventions of CCLs leads to confusion and delay in requesting and moving ammunition. This is severe within the FA battalion but gets expounded when it reaches the BSB and the CSSB. A second level of relief from this trap is the use of 13 series MOS liaisons at the BSA and with the CSSB. When a fire supporter is available to clarify and provide feedback on requests it often clears up confusion created during the relay of requests from the gun line through the battalion, brigade and division assets like the CSSB.
The storage and movement of the CCL on wheeled sustainment platforms also requires practice, planning and training. Best practices to consider with the movement of ammunition from the FSC to the gun line include the physical placement of the ammunition on the CROP. It is not only the economy of the CCL that is important in the decision making but how the ammunition can be arranged to be most effective for the battery upon receipt. Consider what needs to be moved off the CROP first and arrange ammunition in the best possible configuration to have those rounds easily accessible. This skill depends on interaction, communication and joint training between the FSC distribution platoon and the battery gun line NCOs and Soldiers. The training should include standardization of what occurs at the logistics rally point site as well as practice working together to move the ammunition in a way that both units understand and can execute.
Once on the ground at JRTC a best practice for the creation of CCLs is the emphasis placed on them from the battalion command team. Allowing the FSC time to create as many pre-determined CCLs as possible for both the initial push into the box and for the initial CSSB resupply is a game-changer. A general rule of thumb used for JRTC is an FSC should take as much Class V into the box as possible and leave no CROP space empty. Likewise, available CROPs that are beyond the FSCs haul capacity should be used to create additional CCLs to alleviate the strain on the CSSB and for direct knowledge of the availability of ammunition once the fight begins. These CROPs can often be left in the Class V yard for easy pick-up by the CSSB. The FSC is typically in charge of this operation, but the battalion S4 and FDO must have an intimate understanding of what is happening and what is available once movement begins. Without the understanding of availability, requests are wasted and planning is ineffective when the plan involves ammunition that is no longer available due to usage. Simply marking CROPs with the designated name of the CCL also simplifies movements and prevents confusion during exchanges between sustainment units through the echelons of support.
The availability of CROPs becomes a unique training exercise in accountability, decision-making and prioritized movement. CROP spaces become a premium as an operation increases in length of time due to their versatility. This means that available CROP space within the battalion must be closely monitored to ensure that the movement of ammunition remains possible. Best practices for this include consistent movement of ammunition of CROPs at the battery and to the gun line and ammunition trucks. Dedicating CROP space to ammunition during the initial push as mentioned in the previous paragraph, but also the exchange of flat racks between sustainment units. Communication with the BSB must be clear and concise for the use of CROPs when Alpha Distribution Company becomes involved in the movement of Class V with throughput to resupply. The knowledge and tracking of available space at the FSC, BSB and CSSB is an important role for the battalion S4 in ensuring efficient use of CCLs. Knowing when to utilize an echelon of support other than the FSC is a tough learned lesson that results in increased efficiency for the FA cannon battalion.
Dedicated training, planning and utilization of CCLs flatten the logistical footprint of an organization. By using the principles of sustainment when considering a CCL, specifically simplicity, responsiveness and economy, a unit will greatly reduce confusion on Class V availability, movement, and opportunity for resupply. Effort in the administrative and physical creation of CCLs ahead of an operation will pay great dividends on commanders’ abilities to make informed decisions based on facts concerning Class V rather than assumptions.
CPT Russell Vickers is a native of Griffin, Ga. and commissioned in the Transportation Branch from Georgia Southern University ROTC in 2010. As a Lieutenant he served in multiple roles in Echo Company, 3-227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. Following career course her served as the Supply Operations Officer for 401st AFSBn. Before joining the Fire Support Team as an OCT, CPT Vickers commanded Echo Company, 16th Ordnance Battalion, 59th Ordnance Brigade. He holds a Master’s Degree in Logistics Management from Florida Institute of Technology. He is married to his wife Karen and they have two daughters.
*Featured Image: Soldiers assigned to A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, conducted its battery qualification, Artillery Table XV, in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Jun 6– 9, 2020. (U.S. Army Photo by 1st Lt. Steph Sweeney)