#DAweek: Welcome to Atropia


By: James King

Large columns of dust rise up from the desert floor as a hundred T-80 tanks and BMPs are on the move. The commander of the Donovian Operational Strategic Command South (OSC-South) has just given the order to invade Atropia. Supported by separatist fighters from the Belusavar Freedom Brigade (BFB), their task is to seize key natural resources and annex the newly acquired territory. Standing in the way of the five mechanized divisions of the OSC-South is one United States Army division, one division from the United Kingdom, and one Atropian division. In other words, a thin line of defense exists against this near-peer competitor.

This is the situation units find themselves in when they arrive at the National Training Center. Developed by TRADOC, the Decisive Action Training Environment, a combination of Combined Arms Maneuver and Wide Area Security, in which units at NTC, JRTC, and JMRC come to train against was designed to bring the Army back to its roots after a decade and a half of fighting counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there are many people within a rotational unit wearing combat patches on their right arm, few if any have experienced tank on tank combat operations and none have experienced a fight against a near-peer threat like the one they are about to face.

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#DAweek Getting Intelligence to Move at the Speed of Decisive Action


By: Alex Morrow and Michael Dompierre


“To find, know, and never lose the enemy”– Military Intelligence Creed

At the outset of the Army’s return to Decisive Action and Unified Land Operations, National Training Center (NTC) Command Sgt Major Lance P. Lehr identified that a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan had left us “very good at COIN operations… going into a mature theater where we have all of our enablers and all of our sustainment [in place].” As a consequence, he admitted that “we got a little rusty on the combined-arms maneuver – going out and fighting the near-peer competitor with tanks and Bradleys and artillery.” This assessment has been echoed by countless leaders at every echelon in the years since, and is just as applicable to our intelligence enablers and assets as it is to our maneuver forces. On the analytical side, Major David Johnston, who served as the BCT S2 for 3ABCT, 3rd Infantry Division, noted after the first NTC DA rotation back in 2012 that “It quickly became apparent that our skill and methodology for accurately templating a near-peer conventional force had deteriorated.” Similarly, on the enabler side, when BG Jeffrey Broadwater served as as the commander of 2/I ID, he identified a shortfall in effective dissemination of intelligence, commenting that “The details, or in this case lack thereof, of how information moves from sensor to shooter became critical in the fast paced environment of offensive operations.”

The Army’s Intelligence Warfighting Function (IWFF) has been aware of these problems for years now, but progress towards solving them has come slowly, challenging the entrenched and hard-earned experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. The primary mission of military intelligence in the United States Army is to provide timely, relevant, accurate, and synchronized intelligence to tactical, operational and strategic-level commanders. To accomplish this mission in a Decisive Action environment requires teams of intelligence Soldiers and leaders that are prepared to cope with a complex and fast paced battlefield.

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#DAweek Somebody…Anybody…Revise the TACSOP


By: Jeff Meinders

One of the few documents a unit uses to help describe how they fight is their tactical standard operating procedure (TACSOP) book. The Army’s manual on how to write an SOP, ATP 3-90.90, lists 32 questions to help guide the production of an SOP.  This information is somewhat helpful, and answers the what, but what about the how of writing an SOP?

Most unit SOPs look like my neighbor’s old fence; some new boards, some old boards, a few sagging sections and some small patches of scrap wood. My unit’s previous SOP was a conglomeration of doctrine, TTPs, and borrowed information.  This resulted in a unit that had an SOP, but no one used, and its relevance was minimal to tactical operations.  Version control was a problem; before I arrived, there were 3 different SOPs on digits and no one knew which one to use.  If your unit isn’t using a hard copy to reference, it’s a good indication of its neglected state.

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#DAweek Winning the Fight To See


By Alan Hastings

Our Cavalry formations have a maneuver problem. Somewhere between the line of departure and the reconnaissance objective, our reconnaissance stops. In our efforts to conduct reconnaissance, we find ourselves falling well short of achieving the reconnaissance objective – answering the BCT Commander’s priority information requirements to inform his decision points. COL Ross Coffman, Commander of Operations Group at the National Training Center, asserts that there are five reasons why reconnaissance operations might stop:

  1. We achieve the reconnaissance objective. We answer the PIR that informs the BCT Commander’s decision-making.
  2. We gain contact with an enemy beyond our capability to defeat and we are unable to bypass
  3. We outrun the range of our fire support
  4. We outrun the reach of our sustainment
  5. We outrun the range of our communications systems

Of these, it is the enemy that most frequently bars the way, preventing us from orienting on the reconnaissance objective. Some might mistakenly believe that simply by gaining contact with the enemy and fighting them where we find them, we are conducting reconnaissance. After all, in doing so, we have obtained information about the enemy. While true, we aren’t obtaining the right information – information that confirms or denies how the enemy intends to fight. As COL Curtis Taylor, commander of 1/4 ID SBCT recently commented, we must get away from the idea that we ‘see to fight’ and understand that we ‘fight to see.’

In this ‘fight to see,’ we must leverage the Cavalry formation’s capability to conduct combined-arms maneuver to defeat this threat. Indeed, ‘clear[ing] all enemy forces in the designated AO within the capability of the unit conducting reconnaissance” remains a critical task of zone reconnaissance, as listed in FM 3-98, Reconnaissance and Security Operations. To accomplish this, three things are required. First, Commanders and their staffs must conduct detailed maneuver planning for the fight between the line of departure and the reconnaissance objective. In a recent Armor Magazine article, CPT Luke Bowers aptly compared a Cavalry Troop’s assigned NAIs to objectives assigned to an infantry or tank company. The latter would never cross the line of departure without graphic control measures to enable their maneuver towards the objective, so why would a Cavalry Troop (Figure 1)? Second, we must develop shared understanding, through iterative training, of how we fight at echelon against enemy counter-reconnaissance forces. Put another way, we must achieve mastery of actions on contact and battle drills. When a Cavalry formation gains contact with an enemy within it’s capability to defeat, how should it go about doing so? How should it react when gaining contact with an enemy force beyond its capability to defeat? Finally, Commanders must tailor their Commander’s reconnaissance guidance (focus, tempo, engagement/disengagement and displacement criteria) to communicate how they expect to fight during reconnaissance operations. Detailed planning, mastery in conducting actions on contact and battle drills, and well-crafted Commander’s reconnaissance guidance enable us to win the ‘fight to see.’

Figure 1

Figure 1 – Typical Troop-level graphics for Troop zone reconnaissance between PL AMSTEL and PL DOS EQUIS, with enemy situation overlay depicting known and templated enemy counter reconnaissance forces.

Detailed planning results in a course of action that integrates and synchronizes combat power into a combined arms approach to the tactical problem. At the BCT-level, we must regard reconnaissance and security operations as not a tactical task assigned solely to the Cavalry Squadron, but as a ‘whole-of-BCT fight’. Often, we plan the information collection operation at a very conceptual level, issuing an Annex L (Information Collection) with little course of action development and analysis for how we expect to traverse the distance between LD and the locations from which to observe our NAIs. The BCT staff must plan and provide mission command for the ‘fight to see.’ This requires detailed planning for the integration of BCT-level UAS, ground maneuver forces, attack aviation, close air support, and field artillery fires. At the Squadron-level, the staff must analyze the potential enemy courses of action and, in course of action development, array combined forces in favorable combat power ratios against those templated threats. Developing branch plans for the employment of the direct fire company is one possible technique for accomplishing this. At the Troop-level, synchronizing the maneuver of multiple platoons is necessary to defeat enemy platoon-sized counter-reconaissance forces within the Troop’s AO (Figure 2). Detailed planning and development of the necessary graphic control measures to support this maneuver provides Cavalry formations the flexibility to mass combat power at the location and time of their, rather than the enemy’s, choosing. Enabled thus, the Squadron and the BCT’s organic information collection assets are able to defeat enemy counter-reconnaissance formations that they would otherwise be unable to defeat.

Figure 2

Figure 2 – Troop-level hasty attack on known enemy positions during conduct of a rapid and forceful Troop zone reconnaissance between PL AMSTEL and PL DOS EQUIS. When the enemy situation is unknown, Cavalry formations can rapidly develop the situation and maneuver using well-rehearsed battle drills and actions on contact.

Mastery of actions on contact and the conduct of battle drills at echelon enable us to rapidly develop the situation and maneuver on enemy in our AO that are within our collective capability to defeat. We must conduct the combined arms maneuver to defeat the enemy within our capability to do so. Our Cavalry formations conduct iterative training to be able maneuver at the moment that they gain contact. Further, we must understand when making recommendations to higher headquarters for the commitment of additional combat power is required. Frequently, our Cavalry Troops gain contact with similarly-sized enemy forces in hasty defensive positions and, lacking favorable combat power ratios, impale themselves in valiant attempts to defeat the enemy within their assigned area of operations and continue reconnaissance. We must resist this ‘to hell with it, we’ll do it live’ approach. Cavalry leaders gaining contact with an enemy beyond their capability to defeat must be able to visualize the way in which the higher headquarters will defeat the threat and, exercising disciplined initiative, coordinate with adjacent units or make recommendations to the Commander. In this way, we will reduce the length of our decision cycles, resulting in rapid development of the situation.

Finally, the Commander’s reconnaissance guidance provides an opportunity for the commander to communicate his vision of how the reconnaissance fight will unfold given the mission variables specific to the operation. In particular, engagement/disengagement criteria serve to specify how much risk the commander is willing to assume at echelon while fighting to defeat enemy counter-reconnaissance forces. Combined with intimate knowledge of his formation’s battle drills, this reconnaissance guidance enables the Cavalry leader to envision what threats he is expected to defeat, how he might do so, and against which threats additional combat power is required to defeat.

When our commanders and staffs conduct detailed planning to integrate and synchronize combat power in support of Cavalry formations we become better able to defeat those enemy that we might otherwise prove unable to defeat. When our formations master actions on contact and battle drills, we become better able to defeat the enemy within our organic capability to defeat. When the Commander issues well-tailored reconnaissance guidance, we gain a shared understanding for how he envisions defeating the enemy’s security zone. With these capabilities, we will win the ‘fight to see’ and the enemy will rarely prove to be the reason why our reconnaissance operations stop.

CPT Alan Hastings currently serves as a Senior Tactical Analyst at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. He holds a B.S from the United States Military Academy. An armor officer, he has served as a Cavalry Troop OC/T, Troop Commander, and Tank Platoon Leader.



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#DAweek: The Survivability Mix


By: Remy Hemez

In today’s rapidly evolving security environment, and after years of COIN operations, our armies are shifting their focus towards combined-arms maneuvers, which enables them to better prepare for combat against a wider array of adversaries, including near-peer competitors. This shift implies a renewed interest in the concept of survivability, defined as the holistic capacity of a weapon system to avoid, resist or recover from damage caused by hostile action that threatens it with destruction, and the ability to pursue the mission.

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#DAweek: Preparing For Decisive Action


By: Jim Greer

For 55 years after World War II the U.S. VII Corps prepared to defend the rolling hills, forests and villages of Germany against attack by the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces. Then, in early November of 1990 they were ordered to deploy from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to Saudi Arabia to attack across the desert to defeat Iraqi forces defending the terrain they had taken from Kuwait. Over the next three months they would deploy four divisions, cavalry and attack helicopter regiments and corps support troops up to 8,000 miles, draw new equipment, form the corps, move over 250 miles into attack positions, conduct a deliberate breach against Iraqi complex obstacle belts, then attack for over 100 miles across the desert to defeat the Iraqi Republican Guard Corps. Rarely has any large military organization accomplished so much in such a short period of time, and most importantly excelled in an environment and performing missions that were the exact opposite of what they had prepared for.

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#DAweek: We’re Not Finished Yet!


When I put the call out for posts a couple of weeks ago, I thought I would maybe get two or three submissions on the topic, and I would struggle to fill out the remaining week.

The exact opposite happened.

As you’ve seen from this past week, leaders from all over the world have jumped in on the conversation, and we’ve got more great content coming next week.

Check back Monday as Decisive Action Week continues!


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#DAweek Anticipating Transitions to Seize and Maintain the Initiative

Moving up on the left flank


By Gary Klein

As an observer-coach trainer at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), a recurring after action review comment during decisive action rotations was the training unit’s ability to handle transitions.[1] The hybrid threat and changing friendly force situations required leaders to use their understanding of the mission variables and judgment to overcome numerous transitions. In general, leaders were successful at preparing for specified or anticipated transitions based on their experience and the plethora of doctrinal references, but actually anticipating the transitions was not as easy. This article presents a new model for thinking about transitions that enables leaders to anticipate and prepare for them by communicating planning guidance to their subordinates and improving their intuitive decision-making.

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#DAweek: The Principles and Art of Sustaining Decisive Action


Picture by Australian Army

By David Beaumont

‘In war, mistakes and normal; errors are usual; information is seldom complete, often inaccurate, and frequently misleading. Success is won, not by personnel and materiel in prime condition, but by the debris of an organisation worn by the strain of campaign and shaken by the shock of battle. The objective is attained, in war, under conditions which often impose extreme disadvantages’

                  From Sound Military Decision, US Naval War College, USA, 1942, p 198

Decisive action is won not only through combat power, but through the logistics that sustains it or gives combat forces the potential to fight. Logistics is the arm throwing the spear, and it must effective for the spear to find its mark. However, there is a lot commanders, leaders, and teams of both combat forces and logistics elements can do to make themselves prepared for the shock of combat operations. This post will look at decisive action through a ‘logistical lens’ by describing two areas leaders and commanders should address in preparing their team for combat. Firstly, it will suggest that there are three factors essential in effective logistics which are set well before combat operations. Secondly, and when it comes to the decisive action itself, the post will outline the basic questions that any commander and supporting logistician must ask themselves before they take their men and women into combat.

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#DAweek Decision Point Tactics and Decisive Action


By Ryan Kranc

In my 2 years at the National Training Center two things separated good rotational units from great rotational units and opposing forces focused on these differences to achieve the upper hand.  Whether mission rehearsal exercise or Decisive Action Training Environment (DA), units distinguished themselves best in the areas of sustainment and in how they anticipated opportunities and made decisions.  Units able to sustain themselves for the duration of the rotation by incorporating risk mitigation measures to enable sustainability were heads and shoulders above units that did not. Secondly, units able to identify decisions and information requirements leading to timely decision making excelled in seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative.  This essay focuses on the second of these discriminators and how four imperatives proposed over 20 years ago in a professional journal continue to lend to mission accomplishment at echelon.

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