A Traveling Command Post

by 1stLt D.H. Berger

As the Fleet Marine Force begins to put into practice the concepts of maneuver warfare that have been emphasized over the past several years, infantry unit commanders have found that many of the traditional concepts, such as the use of general purpose (GP) and command post (CP) tents and infrequent displacements of CPs, are becoming obsolete. At the regimental and battalion levels in particular, a totally new approach toward CP configuration and requisite logistical support establishments is being taken. The 3d Battalion, 7th Marines has experimented with several different CP configurations, and the one they chose to use was recently tested at a division command post exercise (CPX) at Twentynine Palms. What follows is an analysis of this particular configuration, based on observations made during a recent division-level CPX.

Important strides are now being taken toward the development of a completely mobile command post system. At both the battalion and company levels, the emphasis is on rapid displacements and reduced set-up and teardown times. With the adoption of the newer radar scattering camouflage nets and their support systems, it became evident that task organization of personnel within the CP group is a necessity. Responsibility for this normally rests with the headquarters commandant.

For the battalion command configuration, both a tactical CP and an administrative CP were established. The tactical CP functions during displacements or whenever the battalion commander intends to move forward from the combat operations center (COC) and retain tactical control of the maneuver elements. The tactical CP includes only those personnel required to retain such control: the battalion commander, S-2, S-3, fire support coordinator (FSC), air officer (AO), and artillery liaison officer (Arty LnO). Also included in the tactical CP group are the headquarters commandant for future CP site selection and the communications officer (CommO). Vehicles used by the tactical CP group are MRC-109, MRC-110, and MRC-138 jeeps.

The administrative CP does not travel forward with the tactical CP during displacement, but rather remains stationary until the tactical CP reaches and establishes a new CP site; once this has been accomplished, the administrative CP joins the tactical CP at the new site.

To meet the need for rapid displacement of the entire command element, however, it was decided that the COC should be established in a covered 2 ½-ton truck with trailer in tow. Another 2 ½-ton truck with water trailer in tow carries the remainder of the essential battalion CP group. Inside the COC is where the bulk of the changes have been made (see diagram). Staff members sit facing inboard, facilitating the passage of message traffic while permitting face-to-face communication among staff members. The value of this arrangement cannot be overstated. Two field desks occupy the center aisle. One is utilized by the battalion commander/ S-3, the other is for the FSC and his supporting arms representatives. Both are stocked with pertinent reference materials and office supplies. Due to the confined space, the only journal clerk utilized is the S-3 clerk, and the AO employs the only radio operator (due to the number of nets required for the control of air assets). This means that principal staff members must act as their own radio operators and maintain their respective journals; this, however, has not seemed to hamper the internal functioning of the COC. Based on the premise that operations can be expected to continue over a period of several days, and in some cases much longer, a 24-hour watch system should be arranged by each staff section to ensure continuous functional operation.

The size and composition of the S-1, S-4, and battalion aid station sections varies according to the extent of their involvement in the particular exercise being conducted, but these sections are generally organized and employed in one of three manners: all three sections collocated with the COC, operating out of either a separate 2 ½-ton truck or towed trailer; each section operating independently from organic vehicles (M151 jeeps, etc.); or all three sections functioning as part of a separate logistics train with representatives located with the COC. As stated, the particular method or combination of methods employed is a function of the extent of S-1, S-4, and BAS involvement, as well as the length of duration of the exercise.

Communications requirements for the battalion remain the same; however, the manner in which they are fulfilled has changed, and there are several notable modifications. The number of nets monitored in the COC is a function of task organization; however, there are certain nets which will always be required: regimental tactical net #1, battalion tactical net #1, regimental FSC, artillery conduct of fire (COF), 81mm COF, tactical air control party CTACP) local, tactical air request (TAR), and an antimechanized (Dragon) net. Additional nets (i.e., tactical air direction, shore fire control party, naval gunfire ground spot), are employed as required.

Inside the COC, AN/GRA-39s, commonly referred to as remotes, have been strap-mounted to the sides of the truck. A quick-couple cable is run from the COC to “radio hill,” where the radios themselves are positioned. The distance between the COC and radio hill must be maximized (not less than 1,000 meters), in order to ensure that any incoming indirect fire resulting from enemy direction-finding (DF) operations will be targeted on radio hill and not on the COC itself. The communications officer is responsible for task organizing his platoon in order to fulfill these requirements.

Overall control of CP displacement remains the primary task of the headquarters commandant, and close, continuous supervision is the key to an expeditious, orderly displacement. With some experimentation and much practice, a complete tear-down of the CP can be accomplished in less than 15 minutes, with the tactical CP en route to the new CP site. Set-up can take approximately 20-25 minutes, with all tactical nets up and functioning. These times, of course, are dependent upon terrain and the number of available personnel; however, they still represent a dramatic improvement over previous displacement evolutions.

This command post configuration concept is also used as a basis for the organization of the fire direction center (FDC) of the 81mm mortar platoon. Replacing the CP tent is a Gamma Goat with internally mounted AN/GRA-39s. Radios are remoted in a fashion similar to the arrangement for the COC, and mobility has increased considerably. All of the lessons learned from experimentation with the COC have been applied to the FDC, since the principles of command, control, and communications remain the same. This facet of the battalion structure must not be overlooked, since the overall mobility of any unit must be gauged by its slowest unit, and the supporting arms element of any combat organization is most often the least mobile.

The concepts developed by the 3d Battalion, 7th Marines are relatively new and are certainly not the final solution to the problems encountered in a high speed maneuver warfare environment. They do, however, represent the building blocks for future development.