Mark Gilchrest, an Australian Army officer and Featured Contributor at The Strategy Bridge makes a great point in his article ‘Reconsidering Rear Area Security’ – it is a mistake to think that the battle ends where the ‘rear area’ begins. Furthermore, in the non-linear battlefield that we believe we face in the future, planning for rear area combat must be a focus ‘because it can never be assured that the threat has been removed’.
‘It is therefore important to progress from envisaging rear area security solely as the protection of command and control and logistics nodes rear of the forward troops. Instead it must be viewed as a comprehensive, wide-area approach to combat operations against a similarly mobile adversary that envisages cohesive security from front to rear across a broad and probably porous frontage.’
Mark examines the case of the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden in the Second World War to show the importance of securing lines of communication, echelons and command and control centres. The fighting to keep ‘Hell’s Highway’, a stretch of road between Eindhoven and Nijmegen, open for the supply of materiel to the forward troops of XXX Corps exemplified the idea of a rear-area battle.
The Division’s experiences, covered in detail, remind us that there is a different between battlefield geometry – often used for command and control purposes – and the nature of the fighting. The distinction between a forward and rear area may only reflect a different nature of the threat to own forces, rather than a diminishing of risk as one moves rearward from the purported front line. This view that the ‘rear area’ is one of lower risk does not always conform to history as portrayed in the article.
The future battlefield is routinely imagined to lack convenient boundaries and logical breaks in the battle. Interspersed between the pockets of control won for potentially fleeting periods are the archetypal ‘bad lands’ where an adversary may, as the 101st Airborne Division found out, exploit a ‘freedom of action [which] allowed persistent disruptive attacks from the flanks.’ Combat forces and those who operate in these areas – including logisticians – should account for this environment in their planning. It most certainly isn’t a problem to be left as an ancillary task.
Mark Gilchrest, courtesy of ‘The Strategy Bridge’, reminds us that the battle for supply is an enduring requirement of war.
You can reach the post here.