By James Davis.
This post is an edited version of an article published at James’s site ‘The Armchair Colonel’ under the title ‘Task Force Eagle – the logistic cost of operations’. It is reposted with the authors permission.
Prior to the Napoleonic wars (1803 -1815), small land forces fought wars in pursuit of modest political goals. Battlefields were but a few kilometres wide, armies rarely exceeded 150,000 men, and the immediate presence of the sovereign shackled those armies to the achievement of political objectives. Societal changes during Napoleon’s time and the industrialization of Western Europe increased the scale and scope of conflict. By 1871, the Prussian Army alone consisted of 1.2 million men, ranging across a battlefield hundreds of kilometres wide and removed from the sovereign by distance and the limitations of 19th century communication. Single battles were no longer decisive in conflicts of this size. Defeating large armies demanded the execution of multiple battles linked to a common strategic purpose.
Western Armies coined the term “operations” to describe these groups of tactical actions synchronized in time and space, and directed for a common purpose. Armies that conduct operations must be able to sustain tactical units at distance from their bases of operations. Tempo, or the frequency with which battles can be fought, is positively influenced by either fresh troops or reconstitution of troops that have already fought battles. During operations land forces gain positions of advantage by deploying to, between and within areas of operations. Operational manoeuvre is often achieved through logistic movements, meaning the logistic implications of movement become significantly greater than tactical considerations. In summary, distance, a desire for tempo and the specifications of the deploying force, including tactical vehicle dimensions, collude to increase the influence of logistic factors on operations.
The deployment of Task Force Eagle to the Bosnian theatre of operations in 1995 demonstrates the logistic implications of operational movement and manoeuvre. This post, based upon an excellent study by James Rupkalvis in 2001, shows how logistic challenges, and at times costs, can have a significant effect on the achievement of strategic objectives.
Representatives of Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia – Herzegovina signed the Bosnian peace agreement in Paris on 14 December 1995. NATO deployed the Multinational Implementation Force (IFOR) to implement the military components of the agreement. The US component of IFOR, Task Force Eagle (TFE), was to secure the Multi National Division Area of Responsibility – North (MND-N) and enforce the cessation of hostilities and handover of heavy weapons. 1st Armoured Division, V Corps, provided most of the 20,000 troops in TFE. V Corps established an intermediate support base (ISB) and national headquarters in Hungary to support the deployment and sustainment of TFE. Ramstein air base in Germany was designated as the theatre air point of disembarkation (APOD) to receive supplies and personnel reinforcements from the continental USA.
Intermediate Support Base – why Hungary?
V Corps chose Hungary as the ISB location because it afforded access to a C-17 capable airfield and the European rail network. The movement of TFE to the ISB was a complex undertaking. V Corps established logistics C2 at any point where stores and soldiers were loaded, cross loaded or halted. Rail access for the ISB was critical because TFE units deployed from 30 disparate garrison locations in Germany to the ISB. Trains could not transit Austria, a non-NATO nation, and this meant they travelled to the ISB via the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Using this route restricted train length, weight, and cargo tie down methods and ultimately resulted in adding time to the deployment. This graphic gives an indication of the number of transport platforms employed for movement of TFE to the ISB and from the ISB forward to Bosnia.
The statistics of deployment; graphic from Rupkalvis
The V Corps force at the ISB consisted of around 4000 soldiers. These soldiers provided reception and staging facilities for up to 6000 transiting soldiers and 350 heavy vehicles at any one time. The ISB may seem large to deploy TFE; little more than a small Division. However, it operated four railheads, an APOD, a staging area and a freight forwarding area. The ISB also secured itself, conducted garrison policing, maintained host nation support, established and maintained contracts, fed and housed 10000 soldiers, maintained and replenished air and ground equipment, stored ammunition and other combat supplies, provided level three health support, provided water and electricity for lodger units, ensured local route trafficability and finally executed national C2 from the forward line of own troops in MND-N to the APOE at Ramstein air base, a distance of over 1000km.
Tactical Assembly Area
V Corps transport units moved TFE from the ISB to the Tactical Assembly Area (TAA) in MND-N by road. Not all TFE units moved to the ISB prior to moving to the TAA. Some units moved direct to the TAA by rail. The first unit to do this was 16th Corps Support Group who were attached to TFE. 16th Corps Support Group Soldiers operated two small rail heads and supported Engineer units to preposition equipment for a river crossing required to break out from the TAA. To do this and enter the MND-N Area of Operations, Task Force Eagle built a pontoon bridge over the Sava River. The river was in flood and building the bridge required additional bridging equipment to be brought forward from Italy to the ISB by C-17. The bridge sections were then flown forward to the bridging site by CH47. With the river bridged, Armoured units crossed into Bosnia and were quickly followed by contractors to build the Forward Operating Bases needed by TFE throughout their deployment.
Logistic and combat support units from V Corps deployed TFE. TFE had been sustained pre-positioned equipment and supplies, the requirement for which planners had anticipated many years earlier during the Cold War. This was vital in reducing the logistic costs of the deployment. The combination of pre-positioned equipment and V Corps support meant that TFE was ready to fight on arrival in the MND-N area of operations. The time and effort required to deploy Task Force Eagle is indicative of the logistic cost of executing operations. Despite much work, including the American development of air-deployable medium weight Brigades as a leading example, land forces have not yet worked out how to conduct operations without a time-consuming force build-up. It is safe to assume that such a logistic price will always need paid to execute operations.
Gaining positions of advantage when conducting operations is a movement problem. There are always a variety of events which create friction in movements. Invariably it is made more difficult by weather, geography and, in some cases, politics and governmental influences. Overcoming weather, geography and politics is not a logistic officer problem even if the solutions reside in logistic units. For example, during the movement of TFE Commander V Corps directed changes to the balance between air and ground movement and halted rail movement to the ISB to allow logistic units the time to clear backlogs of personnel and supplies. The manoeuvre commander controlled the tempo of the movement. The planning and conduct of operations requires Officers and NCO who, regardless of corps, understand the science of moving and sustaining land forces.
Australian Army soldiers deploying on Exercise Northern Shield 2016, a contingency exercise, to the far north-west of Australia; photo by Australian Army
In many armies, there are few officers exposed to the planning and execution of operations. Too many wargames and experiments start with combat forces in a tactical assembly area, and very few exercises are conducted to test expeditionary capability. This knowledge gap may mean that the capabilities required to execute operations are underrepresented when the design of future land forces is contested. Joint Land Forces can learn how ready they are to conduct operations by exercising the deployment of combat forces from garrison locations to tactical assembly areas. This practice can be achieved with a simple simulation. The loading and unloading of combat forces onto transportation assets can exercised at full scale. This training will illuminate what logistic and command and control forces, pre-positioned equipment and diplomatic arrangements are needed to conduct operations. This training will develop individuals in the Joint Land Forces who understand and can champion the capabilities needed for the conduct of operations.
Good armies don’t just win land battles. They conduct multiple tactical actions, synchronised in time, space and purpose to achieve military objectives. The capacity to do this, at distance from an operating base and against adversarial weather and geography, has a logistic cost that must be quantified, reduced as low as possible, and finally paid.
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