Mobility Requirements and the 21st Century MAGTF

by Maj Chris Yunker

Operational Maneuver From the Sea (OMFTS), a concept paper reprinted in the June 1996 issue of the Gazette; postulates that among other principles, a Marine airground task force (MAGTF) may focus on an operational objective, generating overwhelming tempo, and pitting strength against weakness. Such a mission would require the MAGTF to maneuver/fight at both the operational and tactical levels. While fighting at the tactical level is very familiar to Marines, fighting at the operational level is not. This is certain to change because OMFTS, landing from over the horizon, ship-to-objective maneuver (STOM), sea-basing, and other emerging concepts are exploring the most effective means of projecting combat power toward operational objectives. While significant study and dialog has occurred on required characteristics and tradeoffs in long-range fires, aviation, and communications, less attention has been paid to other initiatives required for long-range ground maneuver and mobility.

The purpose of this article is to stimulate thought on operational level mobility by explaining its contribution to OMFTS. It will then examine the capacity of current ground equipment and maintenance support philosophies to support OMFTS by measuring them against four cardinal elements of maneuver warfare; 1) tempo, 2) combined arms, 3) flexibility, and 4) decentralized command.

In the tactical arena, we have the advantage of long experience in developing balanced, effective tactical combat units. On 4 January last year, the Commandant broadened the Corps’ doctrinal framework with the approval of the OMFTS concept that emphasizes focus at the operational objective. Parallel to the development of new OMFTS doctrine and organizational changes, we must develop hardware necessary to support the emerging concept. We must reassess the capabilities of our ground equipment and our approach to fuel-handling and maintenance support to ensure our measures and practices are relevant to the operational framework.

Mobility‘s Contribution to OMFTS Let’s consider the mobility characteristics a MAGTF’s ground equipment will need to (1) focus on the operational objective, (2) achieve a tempo superior to the enemy’s and (3) pit our strength against his weakness.

Achieving Reach to the Operational Objective: The operational objective of a campaign may be near the seabase area, making tactical mobility sufficient. However, we would expect a center of gravity to be adequately protected, by either force or distance or both. When the operational objective is not within the amphibious objective area, we will need the ability to maneuver directly to a fairly distant objective. If encumbered with the requirement for a refueling/rearming point en route, we expose a significant weakness for the enemy to exploit. Increasing this reach out to a range of 700 miles unrefueled is not unreasonable for properly configured vehicles. This long reach characteristic also supports ship-to-objective maneuver. A significant portion of the MAGTF will need the ability to conduct an extended continuous movement to the operational objective and then fight a combined arms engagement upon arrival.

Superior Tempo: Achieving superior tempo in a ground campaign requires the capacity to mentally cycle through the observation-orientation-decision-action (OODA) loop faster than the enemy, and then to execute those decisions faster than the enemy. When concerned with an operational objective, this requires the ability to reliably move outside the tactical area and engage the enemy more quickly than he can react, inviting him to shift forces from one tactical sector to another and back. Achieving superior destruction of enemy forces and material is not required (getting there in a degraded mode is better than not getting there), getting him to react is. By adapting more quickly to his countermoves than he adapts to ours, we will uncover a weakness. His ability to orient and adjust to the changing battlefield will unravel because he can’t keep up. We can achieve this through sustainable mobility that enables us to move faster and farther than the enemy. Getting inside his OODA loop contributes to a continuous sense of surprise and disorientation, creating a mental isolation and defeat. At that point we employ a third principle of OMFTS, pitting strength against weakness.

Pitting Strength Against Weakness: As we uncover a weakness in the enemy center of gravity, we’d like to put our force in a tactically advantageous position that will enable us to achieve an operational decision affecting a significant enemy force. The more pronounced the weakness, the greater potential for asymmetric results. The key to this is a force that gives priority to speed and flexibility rather than to destructive power or mass. A lightly armed force is acceptable, as long as it can overwhelm the enemy force’s OODA loop. If our force must stop frequently to refuel or repair and maintain equipment, the enemy’s OODA loop continues, and we lose our advantage. Understanding the mobility required to implement these three principles of maneuver at the operational level helps us define operational mobility.

What Is Operational Mobility?

Many current conceptual documents, including OMFTS and STOM, imply that ground hardware will have operational mobility if it can be hauled in an MV-22. Is this a correct assessment?

JCS Pub 1, FM 100-16, and FM 100-5 do not provide definitions of operational mobility. We all have a pretty good understanding of strategic mobility in a ground weapon system, and how to achieve it-make sure a system is compatible with ships, rail, and C5s. We also have a pretty good idea of tactical mobility-a system capable of traversing steep grades, soft soils, ditches, and water obstacles, capable of moving under fire.

If we define operational mobility within the context of its contribution to maneuver warfare as outlined above, we can use a specific set of metrics to assess it. As the operational campaign tends to unfold in a matter of days and weeks rather than hours, operational mobility can be measured in terms of sustainable miles per day, rather than miles per hour. As most ground weapon systems require refueling and some maintenance checks after 4 to 5 hours of continuous operation, we see that range, fuel consumption, maintenance ratios, and repairability are integral elements of a system’s operational mobility. Adopting these measures of operational mobility, we can provide starting points for the required capabilities of an operationally mobile system: exceptional unrefueled range; a capacity for recovering from failed internal systems through redundancy; a design that enables field repairs without replacement parts; a capacity to fire, move, and communicate in degraded modes; a relatively high sustainable speed when measured in miles per day; and a high commonality in vehicle parts within the unit to minimize parts inventories and enable cannibalization.

Now back to the MV-22 lifted equipment. If a system with 4 hours worth of fuel is lifted into an operating area, how many MV-22s will it take to move and then fuel the force long enough to out maneuver the enemy? If there are not enough airframes to keep the vehicles fueled and supplied with repair parts for the duration of the campaign, the force’s operational mobility will zero out pretty quickly.

Striking a Balance in Mobility Characteristics

The design of any weapon system strikes a balance among desirable capabilities. For ground systems that will be employed at the operational level, we can make conscious tradeoffs between capabilities that optimize the equipment for operational rather than tactical employment. Prime examples are the current light armored vehicle (LAV) and its planned successor, the future light combat vehicle (FLCV).

A mission need statement exists today in draft form for a program targeted for production during the latter part of the next decade. The draft operational concept report on the FLCV attempts to forecast the capabilities the FLCV will need to accomplish its mission. It obliquely mentions operational mobility, but perceives it only in relation to the FLCV’s air transportability. Required speed, payload, range, and planned maintenance practices remain optimized for the tactical framework. The perceived mobility requirements for this system should be reassessed to ensure adequate adjustments are made to accommodate the OMFTS framework. From the adjusted requirements, we can derive the desired characteristics of hardware and provide the manufacturer such critical metrics as maintenance ratios, meantime between failures, and fuel consumption rates while he is still in the design phase.

Adjusting to the operational framework may lead to some striking changes in design philosophy. For example, to achieve an extremely low failure rate, designers may overbuild a drive train, sacrificing something in weight, price, and fuel efficiency. We may decide that an operationally capable system needs high reliability, while a system optimized for the tactical battle should be striving for lowest possible weight, highest sprint speed, and maximum ammunition payload. A dialog on adjusting equipment to the operational framework between Marine Corps Combat Development Command and those interested in the full development of OMFTS as a fighting concept would include questions such as:

Can the unit increase its ability to fight operationally if the resupply requirement is reduced?

What can we change about replacement/repair practices and fuel/lubricants criteria to reduce resupply requirements?

Is it feasible to reduce quantities of replacement parts if the system is built with fewer line replaceable units and a higher percentage of repairable units?

Can resupply needs be reduced if cannibalization is planned by the unit throughout the mission?

Is a multifuel vehicle, capable of using seized fuels, useful if the performance is degraded?

Current Ground Equipment

Measuring current and planned equipment against these mobility characteristics reveals that current design practices were driven largely by concerns for strategic and tactical mobility. Equipment designed in this manner is exceedingly difficult to support when landed from over the horizon to strike an operational objective. Even with MV-22s, MAGTF aviation will be hard pressed to deliver adequate sustainment, particularly fuels and lubricants, to support ground units maneuvering in advanced assault amphibious vehicles (AAAVs), high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs), and trucks towing lightweight howitzers. Precision logistics, a vital element in seabasing the OMFTS force, offers to deliver only needed materials, but doesn’t reduce the material requirement of the warfighter. One of the major reasons for focusing on operational mobility is to design in a reduced need for materials to fuel and maintain our mobile equipment.

The AAAV design provides good water speed and ground mobility equal to the MlA1 tank, but a high powered engine is required, and advanced technology is used to achieve that power. When launched from over the horizon, the AAAV will require refueling prior to moving on to an objective 50 miles inland. Most ground equipment in the MAGTF today has mobility characteristics that are not particularly bad, but also not particularly designed to achieving a campaign of higher tempo than the enemy’s.

While amtracs and LAVs enable infantry to move about the battlefield, other elements of our combined arms team are not as well covered. Engineers, artillery, air defense, electronic warfare, and reconnaissance will, for the foreseeable future, possess a mixed bag of battlefield mobility assets. We would be wise to learn from some of our foreign neighbors who are taking a common chassis, making multiple variants, and achieving a combined arms team with balanced operational mobility.

Though not a consciously desired characteristic, our vehicles are undergoing a persistent reduction in flexibility. By flexibility we mean a capacity to adapt to circumstances without failing, maintaining an ability to return to a usable form. For example, we can no longer bump start a HMMWV as we could an M151. We can achieve flexibility in ground equipment by designing in redundancy, reducing specialization, and relaxing some engineering standards. An engine that can burn DF 2, kerosene, JP-4, 5, and AVGAS has the flexibility to forage for fuels on the battlefield, which can be desirable even perhaps at some cost in degraded performance. A manually adjusted fuel system rather than one electronically controlled by a black box is flexible enough for bailing wire repairs in the event of a field failure. Systems that can fire in a degraded mode and those that can fire several types of ammunition may both contribute to the ability of a system to operate consistently at a tempo superior to the enemy and are, under our definition, attributes of an operationally mobile system.

What Is Expected?

Maneuver warfare places different expectations on our ground forces and their equipment than previous doctrinal frameworks. Operational maneuver generates different requirement than tactical maneuver. If we expect the campaign to be decided in the first engagement, or if we believe we will have the luxury of stopping long enough to refuel and rearm as necessary, systems with simple tactical mobility will suffice. If we accept the OMFTS principles stated at the outset, we discover that the optimum ground equipment will have different characteristics for that style of warfare. Defining these characteristics is a starting point on the road to building a MAGTF that possesses the mobility to fight at the operational as well as the tactical level.