Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.

Less is More: The Enabled Combat Brigade Headquarters

July 24th, 2016 by Brad Spiel

Photo courtesy Australian Army

Photo courtesy Australian Army

INTRODUCTION

The Army must be a force capable of exerting ‘land power for strategic effect across the modern spectrum of peace, crisis and war’. To this end the Army must be able to defeat peer forces in a conventional setting as well as have the versatility to quickly move to stability and peace-time operations. Army’s mission follows that the brigade headquarters, as the key land C2 node, must also have the capability to meet these challenges.

A feature of recent operations is that formation headquarters have been relatively static, they have also been established for prolonged periods of time, and with a high number of specialist staff. This post seeks to explore the challenges of the brigade headquarters, in particular, the Enabled Combat Brigade Headquarters against Army’s mission to be a force capable of exerting land power. This post will explore:

  • The requirements of the modern headquarters
  • Australian headquarters growth
  • Considerations for improved efficiency

The aim of this post is to spark a discussion on the requirements for the headquarters and acknowledges that the proposals made are only one view of an intricate problem.

DEFINING THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE MODERN HEADQUARTERS

Purpose of the Headquarters

Before examining what makes an effective headquarters, it is important to have a firm grasp on what a formation headquarters is required to do. Broadly, the purpose of the headquarters is to provide command and control to the formation. The staff in the headquarters convert the commander’s intent into action by providing direction and control to subordinate elements, synchronising action with flanking headquarters, and informing higher headquarters of current activity. In an Australian context, the Combat Brigade Headquarters needs to be capable of coordinating brigade level operations across the full spectrum of conflict and likely as part of a combined coalition force.

There are a number of lessons for headquarters that have been repeated throughout history and four of these considerations will be explored next:

  • Signature and survivability
  • Size
  • Mobility and protection
  • Staff efficiency
Photo courtesy Australian Army

Photo courtesy Australian Army

Signature and Survivability

An effective headquarters coordinates activity in the battlespace, whilst ensuring it is not disrupted or destroyed by enemy action. Survivability in a modern headquarters is a multi-faceted issue with C2 nodes continuing to be a high priority target for an enemy.

A contemporary example of headquarters vulnerability can be seen during the 2003 coalition advance on Baghdad, when the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division was targeted by a surface to surface missile rendering the Tactical Operations Centre (TOC) combat ineffective.[1] The Brigade Commander’s forward tactical element subsequently took control of vital battlespace control functions including the coordination of fires and orders dissemination. This command arrangement continued for a number of hours, whilst the TOC backloaded casualties, salvaged equipment, and re-established a basic operational capability. Through the actions of competent headquarters staff, and the disaggregation of the C2 element into multiple components, command and control endured, and the mission was not adversely affected by the strike.

The lethality, range and precision of modern fires means modern headquarters remain vulnerable (‘Russia’s New-Generation Warfare’ provides further discussion). Consequently, for a headquarters to be survivable, it must maintain a low signature to reduce the chance of identification, whilst also retaining a level of flexibility and redundancy to ensure C2 can endure if the headquarters is targeted. Passive measures such as camouflage and emissions control should also be utilised to reduce a headquarters’ signature.

Size

In the Combat Brigade, the size of the headquarters can fluctuate greatly as a result of attachments. As enablers increase, so do the number of liaison officers and other associated command enablers. Subsequently, the requirement for workspace, vehicles and accommodation proportionately increase. The manning of a Combat Brigade Headquarters can fluctuate greatly, but when reinforced with its full complement of enablers from 6, 16, 17 Brigade, 2 Division and other government agencies, the manning of the Enabled Brigade Headquarters can swell to over 320 personnel. The consequent second order effects of a large headquarters are worth examining.

British academic Jim Storr’s analysis of the growth in western mechanized divisions, and its consequent impact on the division moving ‘past a point’, is just as relevant when looking at a headquarters.[2] As an element increases in size, so do the assets required to move it; consequently the time taken to move that element past a point in the battlespace increases. Collapsing, moving, siting and re-establishing a tactical headquarters of 300 plus personnel is neither a quick or simple task – with impacts on time, transport assets and premium road-space. The obvious second order effect being that the longer it takes to move a headquarters, the greater the time period in which the staff are not conducting their core business.

Mobility and Protection

A headquarters seeks to match mobility and protection with their key manoeuvre elements. This is neither a new nor novel concept. Whilst pioneering the use of Panzer Divisions in Poland in 1939, Guderian utilised an armoured command variant to move around the battlespace thus achieving mobility, protection, communication and a physical signature that would not adversely draw attention to himself.[3]

In the Australian context, Armoured Command Variants have been utilised, particularly by the 1st Brigade when it was the Army’s mechanised force. However, where previously M113 armoured command variants formed the core of a highly mobile brigade headquarters, in recent years they have been replaced by a mixture of Protected Mobility and B-Vehicles. Recent changes have also included moves to use highly distinguishable tentage and communications equipment. These changes leave vulnerability in signature, mobility and physical protection.

Staff Efficiency

Equipment entitlements and vehicle platforms are important. However, as identified in the earlier case study, even after the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division TOC was attacked; C2 was sustained first by the handful of key personnel at the Commander’s forward TAC headquarters, and then by a rudimentary, reconstituted TOC. In this case, a small group of effective staff were able to manage the immediate situation at the Brigade TOC, whilst also continuing to coordinate an armoured brigade and all of its enablers in the fight. The lesson is that equipment is important, but staff skill is the critical determinant of a headquarters’ effectiveness.

In the ‘Human Face of War’, Jim Storr argues convincingly that generally a smaller staff is more efficient. His argument leverages off British Army studies, and a civilian analysis of workplace efficiency by IBM employee (and later professor of computer science) Fred Brook.[4] Brook’s Law identified the following: as people are added to a task, the time required to complete the task reduces at an ever diminishing rate. However, as the number of people working on a task increases, the time people spend ‘interacting’ increases. Subsequently, past a point, increasing staff numbers in fact increases the time taken to achieve the task.

Determining the point at which an increase in manning decrease performance is not something that can be easily determined, and is dependant on myriad factors. The symptoms of a bloated staff can include production of excessive staff work; staff groups working in stove piped lanes; or under-employed staff who fill idle time with efforts that are not in support of the commander’s intent.

Brooke’s Law is worthy of consideration when examining the manning of the Enabled Combat Brigade. I would argue that, at 300(+) people, the Enabled Combat Brigade is operating at a reduced level of efficiency. Whilst not all of those 300 personnel will be involved in planning, many will be involved in some aspect of staff planning. In the deployed environment, 300 or more personnel must be housed in multiple areas. Physically dislocating staff areas from one another has a further impact of reducing the flow of information. An example of this is the development of an intelligence assessment. Once a critical assessment is made by an analyst, it must then be shared across the headquarters to create situational awareness. Before this can occur it is likely the assessment will have to be cleared first by the soldier’s supervisor and then the Brigade Intelligence Officer. Even once the assessment is released, physical and functional dislocation of staff inevitably means that as staff numbers increase, the risk that dissemination to a critical area will be too late, or worse not occur at all, increases.

Jim Storr examines rank creep as part of his examination of manning increases in the British forces. In the British Army, where they have a long and proud tradition of robust staff training, there has been a tendency over the course of the last 50 years to increase the rank, as well as number of personnel in a headquarters. Where once a role was held by a Captain, the same positions are now held by Majors and Lieutenant Colonels.[5] Without going into detailed ORBATs, broadly, this trend is consistent with the Australian experience whereby the number and senior ranks of staff officers has increased.

AUSTRALIAN HEADQUARTERS GROWTH

Overall, it could be argued that the utility and benefit of small headquarters is reasonably obvious and readily apparent. However, if this is the case why has the size, complexity, and average rank of Combat Brigade Headquarters continued to increase? From the British perspective, Jim Storr argues that increases in formation size have been driven by well-meaning attempts to preserve force numbers, whilst Principal Staff Officer ranks have increased as a form of risk management.[6] In the Australian context, this may also be a factor along with wider issues of staff skill, experience and corps rivalry. Briefly these issues include skills and internal rivalry.

Skill

A lack of technical skill and professional mastery can cause staff increases. For those who lack skill, working as part of a headquarters can allow them to cover deficiencies. Through proximity to others, they can deflect or delegate analysis and tasks to others in the team. In addition, as the number of Field Ranks in the headquarters increases, so to does the number of people under them required to support these rank levels.[7]

Internal Rivalry

Military capability development and force structure is in part the result of complex human interactions. For a historical perspective, Guderian’s discussion on the development of Panzer forces in the Reichswehr, and then Wehrmacht, provides an uncannily analogous comparison to modern capability development. The situation and personalities he describes in the 1920s could just as easily be seen in today’s Army. As the highly bureaucratic peace-time Reichwehr developed in the inter war years (in order to introduce their revolutionary Panzer divisions) Guderian and his confederates constantly sought to out manoeuvre reactionary traditionalists in the Infantry and Cavalry. A key technique of which included ensuring new models, units and tactics were seen at the right exercises and demonstrations.[8]

For a further examination of politics and capability development, Marc R. Devore tackles the issue directly through his case study of airborne force development in the USSR, UK and US.[9] The article examines why senior leaders will attempt to promote capabilities, whose continued retention or development is not in the interests of the force as a whole. He finds that people will often advocate for a capability based on inaccurate analysis, or irrelevant factors; such as, personal self interest. The Australian Army is not immune to these pressures, and can be seen in the inherent competition between Corps and the other services during the apportionment of funding and resources.

As the Army’s key deployable formation, the Enabled Combat Brigade is vulnerable to the negative impacts of internal rivalry. Brigade level exercises, the pinnacle of which is the annual Exercise Hamel, is the most public vehicle for demonstrating niche or developing capabilities. As in the 1920s Reichwswehr, there will always be a desire to lean into and demonstrate the worth of niche capabilities during the most prominent activities. As such, Brigade structures are repeatedly generated and tested, where the key determining factors are more opaque than determining what is required for the generation of optimal combat power.

Photo courtesy Australian Army

Photo courtesy Australian Army

CONSIDERATIONS

The British Army made the simple but apt assessment of lessons following the Falklands War – there are ‘no new lessons, just old lessons relearnt’.[10] The considerations outlined below are therefore not new but continue to be worthy of discussion in our modern setting:

  • Less is best. The question when assessing a headquarters manning should be ‘who can we remove?’ A headquarters is by its nature a form of government bureaucracy. Thus, like any bureaucracy it will have a tendency to employ more people, where less will do, and focus on process and product over outcomes. As such, the cultural impetus should always be to resist the calls for more and instead focus on whether the essential tasks can still be achieved with less. At times, this may even see headquarters ‘fail’ due to under resourcing. However, providing the Army truly is a ‘learning organisation’ that is not afraid to ‘train to fail’ this is not a bad thing and will simply inform future efforts.
  • Invest in staff training. Staff training in the Australian Army needs evaluation and improvement. Whilst the requirement to constantly maintain the skills of combat soldiers through training is well understood, staffs by contrast are often expected to have the requisite ability.[11] Training for staff work on courses is often delivered in the relatively sterile environment of a classroom and not all personnel will be posted into positions where they get first-hand experience of being a staff officer in a robust field environment.
  • Task organise – enable, don’t encumber. Whilst the ORBAT of Australian forces is beyond the scope of this post, it is nonetheless clear that as the Brigade becomes encumbered with additional capabilities, the ability of the Brigade Headquarters to effectively integrate these capabilities becomes constrained. When a headquarters is attempting to coordinate a high intensity conventional fight, it cannot be expected to secure, coordinate and logistically support myriad smaller attachments. The provision of liaison officers to the headquarters does not necessarily resolve this issue. Consideration needs to be given as to whether these enablers should be under the command of a higher divisional headquarters, or removed from the ORBAT all together. Thus enabling the brigade to focus on its core role of manoeuvring and winning the fight.
  • Technology should challenge established norms, not conform to them. Many private enterprises have changed the way they conduct business as a result of rapid improvements in computing; however, Army is still relatively analogue in the way it coordinates and conducts the fight. Battle Management Systems (BMS) and the ongoing process of ‘digitizing’ the force have the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Command and Control on the battlefield. However, BMS should not just be a tool modified and adapted to meet the needs of the current staff structure; but a vehicle which itself forces change upon Army’s headquarters structures. This encourages questions such as: why does a headquarters need to conduct an ISR working group on a daily basis if Requests For Information and tasking can be negotiated and then formalised through data? Why must all collection assets provide Liaison Officers (LO) to a headquarters if they can communicate effectively whilst disaggregated? Where one LO was once provided to multiple user headquarters, a single LO operating remotely may suffice. In summary, BMS and associated technologies have the potential to be disruptive technologies, fundamentally changing the structure and processes of current command structures.

CONCLUSION

Williamson Murray notes in Military Adaptation in War that military forces almost never adequately prepare or adapt during peace for the next war.[12] In taking heed of Murray’s asssertion, it is therefore worthy to examine lessons from the past as well as consider the requirements for the future in order to adequately prepare during peace. If the future holds that a brigade must be prepared to fight in a highly contested space then its headquarters should be small and agile with signature, survivability, size, mobility, protection, and staff efficiency considered holistically and not simply as isolated issues. What lessons we can take from the past and what considerations we need to project into the future for Brigade Headquarters is a worthy debate.


This paper was contributed by the 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.


About the author

Brad Spiel is a serving officer within the Australian Army. During his career he has fulfilled a variety of postings within the 1st, 6th and 7th Brigades; undertaking staff appointments within both battalion and brigade level headquarters.


Endnotes

[1] Zucchino, D 2004, Thunder Run, Atlantic Books, London (ebook version), chapter 11.

[2] Storr, J 2009, The Human Face of War, Bloomsbury, London (ebook version) p. 360-366

[3] Guderian, H. 2009, Panzer Leader, Penguin (ebook version), p. 205 (Ch 3, Part 4 – The Beginning of the Disaster).

[4] Storr, J 2009, The Human Face of War, Bloomsbury, London (ebook version), p. 460-469 (Ch 7 – Commanding the Battle).

[5] Ibid p. 467-469 (Ch 7 – Commanding the Battle).

[6] Ibid, p. 566-567, 579 – 580 (Ch 10 – The Human Face of War).

[7] Ibid, p. 428 (Ch 7 – Commanding the Battle).

[8] Guderian, H. 2009, Panzer Leader, Penguin (ebook version), p. 58-139 (p. Ch 2 – The Creation of the German Armoured Force.

[9] Devore M.R. 2015, When Failure Thrives: Institutions and the Evolution of Postwar Airborne Forces, The Army Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, p.9.

[10] Storr, J 2009, The Human Face of War, Bloomsbury, London (ebook version), p. 506 (Ch 8 – The Soul of an Army).

[11] As a side note, this is a consistent issue throughout Australia’s martial history, prior to the outbreak of the Great War, Australian and Imperial military planners placed little value on the training of Australian officers at one of the Empire’s staff colleges. The AIF could only call on the services of three officers who had been trained in one of the Empires staff colleges – Major B. White, Major T.A. Blamey, and Major C.H. Foot. All three were highly valued and went onto significant appointments within the 1st AIF. See: Faraday, B.D. 1997, Half the Battle: The administration and higher organisation of the AIF 1914-1918, University of New South Wales, p. 24-25.

[12] Murray, W 2009, Military Adaptation in War, Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia, pp. 3-15.


Bibliography

1. Australian Army 2014, Land Warfare Doctrine 1 The Fundamentals of Land Power.

2. Devore M.R. 2015, When Failure Thrives: Institutions and the evolution of postwar Airborne forces, The Army Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

3. Faraday, B.D. 1997, Half the Battle: The administration and higher organisation of the AIF 1914-1918, University of New South Wales.

4. Guderian, H. 2009, Panzer Leader, Penguin (ebook version).

5. Murray, W 2009, Military Adaptation in War, Institute for Defense Analyses, Virginia.

6. Storr, J 2009, The Human Face of War, Bloomsbury, London (ebook version).

7. Zucchino, D 2004, Thunder Run, Atlantic Books, London (ebook version).


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

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5 Comments on "Less is More: The Enabled Combat Brigade Headquarters"

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Steven Wasilausky

Great article – the US has much to consider. One note – 3rd Infantry Division, not 1st…

Grounded Curiosity

Thanks!

James Davis
Not surprisingly many of Army’s discussions regarding command posts gravitate to size. I think this is because we assume that smaller is better; but size is actually a second order effect of function. To pick one example, if the function of a command post shelter in Battle Group Headquarters is to allow the integration of BOS effects, internal to the Battle Group and between Battle Group and Bde, by day and night regardless of weather then it becomes apparent that workspaces for at least six officers/SNCO are required. Ideally these officers should be able to communicate face to face with… Read more »
Brad Spiel
Sir, Thank you for your post. I concur with your point reference project integration. The proliferation of discrete data and voice communication systems throughout Army’s manoeuvre, ISR and fire support platforms has lead to sub-optimal flow of information. Communication issues then further escalate when a HQ is required to interact with joint and coalition forces. I agree that acquisition of systems that impact C3 should be looked at in a holistic and systematic manner. However, I would go one step further and say as part of this we must look at doctrine and training, and how it pertains to the… Read more »
I would suggest our culture (and indeed human nature) forms part of the problem. We like face to face contact. We inherently prefer to see the other parties with whom we speak and are reassured by the tactile comfort of picking up their staff work and examining it personally to ascertain its accuracy and rationales. Acknowledging the many shortfalls in our existing deployable ICT architecture, I pose a question. If we had a very capable C3I network that would enable a BDE HQ to execute its C2 functions from the barracks, would we use it? I ask this because if… Read more »
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