'Light fighter' communications

'Welcome to 21st Signal Battalion, we're glad you're here'

by MAJ Jeff Girard

The realities of the permanent-party force structure located at Fort Polk, La., dictate that each rotational-unit Signal battalion commander must deploy twice the force necessary than what�s actually needed to support the scenario. While the requirement to provide more soldiers the opportunity to participate in a deployment is beneficial, I don�t feel this is best solution. In this article, I propose an alternative solution that would align the force structure at Fort Polk with the scenario, would save the government valuable training dollars over the long run and would arguably increase Signal forces� readiness.

The Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk is the premier training environment for light-infantry forces. JRTC is home to the JRTC operations group, which provides the most realistic and challenging training environment possible while simultaneously providing expert coaching, teaching and mentoring to the rotational unit.

The normal rotation pits a light-infantry brigade task force against a world-class opposing force. The BTF is normally augmented with divisional, corps-level and joint assets, either notional or actual. The scenario stipulates the United States has been asked to provide assistance to the fictitious nation of Cortina on the Caribbean island of Aragon. The BTF has been attached to the notional and ubiquitous 21st Infantry Division, a standard heavy division. The BTF receives the mission to expand the lodgment area occupied by 21st Infantry Division to drive out the Cortinian Liberation Front guerrilla forces and to return the country to its rightful governmental control.

The scenario indicates that 21st Infantry Division, and therefore 21st Signal Battalion, is already in-country in occupied positions. The scenario indicates the rotational brigade is expanding into hostile territory and its supported mobile-subscriber-equipment assemblages will tie back into 21st Infantry Division�s MSE network. However, 21st Signal Battalion is notional and doesn�t exist. This dichotomy creates conflict for the rotational Signal battalion commander and operations officer (S-3).

Analysis of the mission and our current doctrine indicate this is a BTF mission and therefore the MSE support package would consist of a small extension node at the brigade tactical-operations center and a SEN at the brigade-support area. Slight variations, depending on the standard operating procedures of the rotational unit, may place a forced-entry switch at the brigade TOC and a SEN to support the aviation task force.

Analysis of the terrain and divisional mission indicate that a node-center switch is needed to extend the backbone architecture further forward and to establish a location for the forward SENs to interconnect. Also, this analysis indicates a need for a remote radio-access unit to be displaced forward to provide coverage for mobile-subscriber radio-terminal users. Doctrinally, the rotational Signal battalion commander and staff would make contact with the 21st Signal Battalion commander and staff to determine who would provide these assets.

Finally, the issues of network control and direct-support electronics-maintenance repair would be discussed. Our current signal doctrine indicates 21st Signal Battalion would provide systems control for all MSE assets as well as provide all required DS ELM support.

Voila � with all the coordination done, the rotational-unit Signal battalion only needs to send a node center platoon (-) to support the BTF (one NCS, three SENs and a remote RAU). This is a far cry from the normal area company (+) 200-soldier contingent that accompanies every JRTC rotation. The difference lies in 21st Signal Battalion�s absence.

The issue facing every Signal battalion commander is that the scenario conflicts with the MSE network�s realities. Significant amounts of additional equipment and personnel must be deployed to provide the administrative overhead required for each rotation. The battalion roster of a typical rotation includes an NCS and a remote RAU in the maneuver box for area support and connectivity, a SEN to the forward-support battalion, a SEN or an FES to the brigade TOC and a SEN to the aviation task force. Outside the maneuver box is another NCS, a SEN for the division-support command, a SEN for the division command post and the Signal battalion�s systems-control element, along with DS ELM support. Also, the rotating Signal unit may be required to provide communications support to the intermediate-staging base at Alexandria, La., and to support the corps surgical hospital.

In total, the rotation requires two NCS, up to seven SENs and one remote RAU, plus command-and-control and logistical overhead. This translates to an entire area�s Signal-company mission with significant administrative and logistical overhead.

The solution to this problem is to align reality and the scenario. I propose that we create 21st Signal Battalion (or an area Signal company that replicates the entire battalion) at Fort Polk. There are two numbered area Signal companies at Fort Bliss, Texas. One is 208th Signal Company, assigned to 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. The other is 286th Signal Company, assigned to 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. I propose that one of these Signal companies be permanently reassigned to the operations group at JRTC, just as 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, is. This Signal company can remain aligned with the air-defense-artillery brigade for its contingency missions; however, the Signal company would "become" 21st Signal Battalion during each JRTC rotation.

The Signal assets that remain out of the maneuver box � and are essential for each rotation � comprise one nodal platoon. This suggests the company commander would be able to rotate platoons to provide a regular training cycle (rotational support and prime-time training). In accordance with current Signal doctrine, MSE is fought at the platoon level. Therefore, the company commander is able to maintain a high proficiency level by continually training his platoon in green cycle and then evaluating that platoon while in support cycle.

The operations group has a Signal-officer position in the grade of major whose position is to function as the 21st Infantry Division�s deputy G-6. I propose that this section be increased in strength to add a Signal-captain position (military-occupation specialty 25C) and enough noncommissioned-officer positions to function as a small SYSCON for rotational support.

Finally, I propose that a small contingent of soldiers (MOSs 31F, 31P) be assigned to 142d Support Battalion in the Warrior Brigade to provide DS ELM repair to the notional 21st Signal Battalion as brought to life by the numbered Signal company. The General Dynamics Regional Support Center � located at Fort Hood, Texas � can provide the necessary MSE-repair support and can position a repair technician forward at Fort Polk as needed.

The real benefits to this proposal are multiple. First, it makes the scenario much more realistic. It�s highly probable -- in fact likely � that a Signal platoon will be required to establish communications links with units not necessarily in its battalion or even in the same corps. Second, the rotational-unit commander can then focus on preparing and deploying a Signal-support package based on doctrine rather than on the necessities of providing overhead.

Third, the long-term fiscal benefits would be large. Although there would certainly be an initial investment in moving the Signal company from Bliss to Polk, those costs would be recouped through savings in future rotations. Reducing the numbers of Signal assemblages transported to and from Fort Polk for every rotation would generate tremendous cost savings.

Finally, an argument could be made that the Signal company�s training readiness would be increased based on the mission�s repetitive nature and increased opportunities to train.

An argument can be made that the rotational Signal force structure that deploys to Fort Polk and remains out of the "box" in a noncompetitive role also receives training. I absolutely agree with this argument. Any time a soldier gets into a shelter and works in an MSE link, it�s valuable training. However, my counterpoint would be, "Is the training received worth the cost invested?" The noncompetitive Signal force is in a fixed environment. It doesn�t displace, nor is it subjected to attacks. I would argue there�s little training benefit for the noncompetitive Signal force that it couldn�t receive at home station � and at a significantly reduced cost to the Army.

Another argument could be attempted that the noncompetitive force receives deployment training by traveling to Fort Polk. My counter-argument is that the training value associated with deployments is gained from all the preparatory planning and coordination. There�s also a significant training value to loading and unloading railcars and lowboys. All this training can still be conducted without the trains and lowboys having to move the equipment anywhere. Units can meet training objectives without the cost of moving equipment to Fort Polk.

In the current age of shrinking budgets, commanders at all levels must determine the best use of their resources. There�s no better training environment for a light-infantry BTF than to face the world-class OPFOR in Fort Polk�s simulated combat conditions. The training the competitive force receives is unquestionably the best in the world. However, the force structure currently assigned to Fort Polk doesn�t meet the rotational Signal unit�s needs. The consequence of this shortfall is that rotational commanders are required to deploy more assets in administrative support to the rotation. I believe that by positioning a Signal company at Fort Polk � a unit that already exists in the Army force structure � significant fiscal savings could be achieved.

MAJ Girard is 10th Mountain Division (Light)�s division automation-management officer. His previous assignments include a year as 10th Signal Battalion�s executive officer. He has also participated in three rotations to the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., and two rotations to JRTC in positions as a Signal platoon leader, mechanized-infantry battalion S-6, light-infantry brigade S-6 and division automation officer. Girard has a master�s degree in artificial intelligence from Duke University and has been developing artificial-intelligence applications since 1984.

Acronym QuickScan
BTF � brigade task force
DS � direct support
ELM � electronics maintenance
FES � forced-entry switch
JRTC � Joint Readiness Training Center
MOS � military-occupation specialty
MSE � mobile-subscriber equipment
NCS � node-center switch
OPFOR � opposing force
RAU � radio-access unit
SEN � small extension node
SYSCON � systems control
TOC � tactical-operations center

dividing rule

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04/04/12

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