he army is a big machine. Few outside the military consider the planning efforts that must take place before the first tank rolls down a road or the first shot is fired. In strict terms, a brigade is a relatively small formation compared to a division or corps. Still, for this exercise, 33 CBG is notionally made up of 7700 soldiers, 78 tanks, 361 LAV IIIs, and well over 2100 vehicles of all other types. Added to this are 8 Griffon and 8 Chinook utility helicopters and a variety of UAVs. Getting all these men and equipment to work together and achieve a specific mission is hard enough in peacetime. In order to achieve the same effect under fire requires intense discipline and strict adherence to procedures. For the men and women of 33 CBG HQ, learning how to do this is the real purpose of this exercise, even though for them it will take place in cyber-space.
Col. Coombs’ superior is Marine LGen. Natonski who is the “Coalition Force Land Component Commander” (CFLCC or “SIFF-FLICK”). The CFLCC establishes what the mission will be by issuing his intent, and then his subordinate commanders in turn derive their specific missions from that guidance. For this operation, the CFLCC has stated “the purpose of the operation is to restore Acadia’s territorial integrity and regain stability and security in the region.” In order to achieve this, coalition forces will conduct show of force operations to deter further Camenian aggression and convince Cameno to withdraw forces from Acadia. If deterrence fails, they will then conduct offensive operations to defeat Camenian forces and restore the border of Acadia. 33 CBG’s mission under this guidance is to block the four lane E-15 Highway running between the border of Acadia and the town of Barstow.
On the right of 33 CBG lies the 1 Marine Expeditionary Brigade (1 MEB), which will bear the brunt of the Camenian attack when it finally comes. 1 MEB is defending Highway 40, which passes through its area of responsibility into 33 CBG’s rear area and then out the latter’s left flank. Highway 40 leads north into the watershed seized by two Camenian divisions earlier in the month. This highway must be held if these forces are to be ejected. An intelligence brief that kicks off the day reports that the Camenians will shortly launch an offensive to seize control of it in order to consolidate their hold on the territory.
The Brigade’s intelligence officer (G2) conducts an “Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield” brief, which explains how the terrain, road networks, and airfields combine with the enemy’s order of battle to shape their likely behavior when the attack is launched. The intelligence staff has come up with a variety of possible options involving the three divisions which sit in front of the brigade. Based on these options, the “ISTAR” staff (the personnel who plan the operations of the Brigade’s various sensors) have developed specific areas that must be watched. These are known as Named Areas of Interest (NAIs). If the enemy moves through these areas, it will be an indication of their intention and will trigger action within Targeted Areas of Interest (TAIs). These are areas where the Brigade will have weapon systems assigned to achieve specific effects. The intelligence brief concludes with specific equipment indicators to watch for in the NAIs that will reveal which enemy division is approaching the Brigade’s area.
The Brigade’s Operations Officer, or G3, is responsible for taking Col. Coombs’ direction and translating that into a plan for deploying the Brigade’s combat resources. Based on the blocking mission, he has placed the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Hasty Ps on the front line, reinforced with tank squadrons, TOW missiles, Engineer companies, and electronic warfare units. Behind them is the Ontario Regiment (the “Ont-Ars”), a tank unit which will provide the Brigade’s reserve. Finally, behind the Ont-Ars are the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, which are providing rear area security in Barstow. On the Brigade’s left flank, the 33 Recce squadron is manouevring its LAV IIIs over a massive area of difficult desert terrain, devoid of major roads or easy routes of access.
The placement of the Brigade Supply Area (BSA) is causing some debate. A massive supply dump has been established in Fort Irwin. A small two lane regional road runs through Fort Irwin to the edge of the Brigade’s area, which is assumed to be too narrow to provide an axis of approach for Camenian forces. Still, it is uncomfortably close to the front. Although its forward location, nearby airfield and road network helps ensure quick re-supply of the combat forces at the forward edge of the Brigade, the same features also makes it vulnerable to attack by fast moving Camenian forces. Yet the Brigade’s Logistics officer (the G4) knows that there really is nowhere else the BSA can go and still be effective.
Just how risky this decision is quickly becomes apparent during a table top war-game to test the Brigade’s operation plan. As the G2 moves the pieces of paper representing the armoured infantry battalions towards the Foot Guards, she also announces that a battalion of Camenian air assault troops have conducted a heliborne insertion into the BSA’s area, understandably causing considerable consternation for the G4. Still, the airborne assault consists of lightly armed troops without tanks accompanying them. They must link up with the armoured columns advancing towards the Foot Guards. These armoured columns must first cross a 90 mile gap in front of the Brigade under the observation of Coalition air forces and it is expected that they will be pounded by aircraft and very long range artillery before they can get near the Canadians. Then they will encounter extensive obstacles in the form of anti-tank ditches and concrete obstacles, craters in road which will require mobile bridges to cross, and anti-tank minefields, all of which will be under the long range fire of the Brigade. The Brigade staff feels confident that any air assault will be unsuccessful, but orders are given to change the unit boundaries, which will allow the Cameron Highlanders to put more armoured resources on the road to Fort Irwin and to lay in a deception plan to make it seem that there are more troops than there actually are.
The war game concludes with the assessment that the first echelon of the assault will be rebuffed by the combination of strong physical defences laid in by the engineers and the firepower of the Foot Guards. It is expected that the enemy will seek an easier route for the second echelon of the attack and will turn left into the 1 MEB’s area, which is exactly what the CFLCC wants to happen. At this point, we are 96 hours away from the expected launch of the attack. Only time will tell if the Brigade’s staff have made the correct assumptions.
Dr. Paul T. Mitchell is a Professor of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College and an alumnus of Wilfrid Laurier University. This is part 2 of 5 in the series.