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Echelons-Above-Brigade Convoy Management in Afghanistan

Logistics support requirements in Afghanistan grew vastly during the 45th Sustainment Brigade’s 2009 deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As troop levels increased and contractors arrived by the hundreds, the demand for supplies and services increased exponentially. Although most logistics transportation requirements were, and still are, filled by the Afghanistan host-nation truck (HNT) industry, the need for U.S. Army tactical truck moves became urgent.

As a result, the brigade expanded its tactical convoy operations and, in the process, overcame the challenges posed by austere environments, improvised explosive devices, and impassable roads in inclement weather to meet the logistics needs of the warfighters.

Growing Support of Convoys

When the 45th Sustainment Brigade assumed responsibility for the Joint Logistics Command in Afghanistan from the 101st Sustainment Brigade on 7 February 2009, echelons-above-brigade (EAB) convoy operations were virtually nonexistent. No palletized load system (PLS) companies or other tactical transportation assets were available. Units depended on the HNT industry for all of their ground sustainment.

At the time of the brigades’ transfer of authority, convoys were exclusively for escort missions and primarily originated from Kandahar Airfield in support of U.S. and coalition forces across 200 miles of southern Afghanistan. The requirement for more secure convoys was immediately recognized when it became mandatory to escort all HNTs that carried sensitive items. More secure convoys ensured the speed and security of critical class VII (major end items) as they made their way to assigned units.

Over the next 4 months, the 45th Sustainment Brigade received 73 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles and 60 PLS trucks as well as the 32d Transportation Company (PLS). The brigade’s primary effort was to establish cargo-hauling capabilities to augment the HNT industry and provide secure and reliable transportation for class V (ammunition), high-priority, and sensitive-item shipments.

Throughout the brigade’s deployment, the theater continued to mature and logistics convoys expanded across all of Regional Command East, Regional Command South, and Regional Command West. To meet the increasing demand, the brigade grew from 1 combat sustainment support battalion (CSSB), 1 movement control battalion, and 1 special troops battalion (STB) with 11 companies and 7 movement control teams (approximately 1,300 personnel) to 3 CSSBs, 1 STB, and 27 companies and detachments (approximately 3,200 personnel).

Coordinating Operations

To provide command and control of the newly arrived tactical transportation assets, the brigade initially developed an operations position in the J−3 that was responsible for all convoy operational requirements.

The brigade also stood up a battalion headquarters and made the operations position directly responsible for all battlespace coordination, external support requests, contingency operations plan (CONOP) development, and tracking for Regional Command East. The operations section added a convoy operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge (NCOIC) to assist in performing the increasing duties of managing all EAB convoy operations in Regional Command South.

As the requirements continued to grow in Regional Command South, the brigade stood up a coordination cell in Kandahar that managed and coordinated external support for southern convoys. This cell provided face-to-face interaction with multiple coalition, United Nations, and U.S. forces. It established positive relationships and direct coordination with all coalition and U.S. commands, which made it easier to get support when needed.

The operations cell included a brigade chief of operations (a captain), a deputy chief of operations (a lieutenant), an operations NCOIC (a sergeant first class), and an assistant operations NCOIC (a staff sergeant). The cell evolved into a full team dedicated to synchronizing efforts among battalions, higher commands, and external support and cross-battlespace coordination, with all duties and responsibilities under the chief of operations.

Convoy Processes

All convoys were planned and managed by the operations cell. A convoy movement tracker was provided by each battalion and the brigade support operations (SPO) officer; these were compiled into a brigade convoy operational tracker. The external coordination generally started 96 to 72 hours before the execution of each convoy. The operations cell initiated external support requests based on this information while waiting for the finalized CONOP.

With information gathered from the movement trackers, coordination for route clearance packages, rotary-wing (AH−64 Apache and OH−58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter) support, fixed-wing close air support, and intelligence-gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance resources were conducted with battlespace owners and the 82d Airborne Division and Regional Command South headquarters.

Convoys that traveled through Kabul or Kandahar City required approval and deconfliction with other large convoys and traffic patterns. Requests for convoys to traverse these cities were sent to the 82d Airborne Division’s headquarters, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, and Regional Command South headquarters for approval and deconfliction.

The plan for the logistics convoy was developed into a CONOP by each battalion and approved by the battalion commander before it was forwarded to the brigade. The 45th Sustainment Brigade operations section reviewed mission details and compared them to information received 72 to 96 hours before executing and finalizing coordination requirements.

The operations section conducted the final coordination steps to ensure that battlespace owners were aware of logistics convoys traveling through their battlespaces. Twenty-four hours before execution of the convoy, the CONOP was forwarded to the battledesks of all battlespace owners along the convoy route.

Additional coordination was needed when convoys crossed regional commands because these convoys were viewed as joint regional command operations and required the regional commander’s approval. To obtain this approval, CONOPs were verified and forwarded to regional commands.

During the execution of convoys, the 45th Sustainment Brigade monitored all theater-level sustainment logistics convoys across Afghanistan. As a theater logistics convoy traversed a battlespace, the battlespace owners were responsible for quick reaction forces and explosive ordnance disposal support for the convoy.

Friction Points

The HNTs were in very poor condition and unreliable. They continually missed show times at bases, broke down, or traveled at very low speeds. These problems normally caused logistics convoys to miss external support linkups that were referenced in cross-battlespace coordination plans. The HNTs were needed to promote an Afghan-first methodology and to alleviate a large portion of the lift-capacity burden, but they caused tremendous strain on external support, which usually was reserved for blocked time. Once the timeline was thrown off, all coordination usually was negated.

A convoy could require up to 16 different requests to execute, including requests for external support from four different battlespace owners and division headquarters, various trip tickets, and required Afghan National Police escorts in some areas. Each battlespace owner’s requests varied in format and content. The process doubled or tripled if a convoy was canceled, shifted times, or changed units.

With limited assets and resources across all battlespaces, requesting too many resources and changing them at the last minute caused a loss in coverage and wasted resources. Since the external support (rotary-wing aircraft) was dedicated and the mission planning was already completed to support the logistics convoys, the helicopters had to find someone else to support or return to base. This only strained an already stressed asset.

HNTs’ maintenance, reliability, and speed were always planning factors when requesting external support. Ensuring that the appropriate planning factors (distance, speed, number of HNTs) were considered when planning a mission was crucial. All requests had to be limited to identified threat areas only. Resources were limited and were only requested when the S−2 indicated an increased need.

As more forces flow into Afghanistan, convoy operations continue to grow and the model will transform to meet the needs of the sustainment brigade and battlespace owners. The key to logistics operations management in Afghanistan is to remain flexible and adapt as logistics capabilities continue to expand to support the warfighter. The HNT industry in Afghanistan will continue to improve as infrastructure is developed and the quality of trucks increases. The 82d Sustainment Brigade, the 43d Sustainment Brigade, and other units to come will capitalize on lessons learned from the initial theater-level logistics operations.

Major Michael J. Harris is attending the Army Command and General Staff College. He was the S−3 chief of operations for the 45th Sustainment Brigade when he cowrote this article. He holds a B.S. degree in exercise science from Columbus State University and an M.S. degree in administration from Central Michigan University.

Captain Eric P. Roby, USMC, is the operations officer of the Marine Corps detachment at Fort Lee, Virginia. He was the deputy chief of operations for the 45th Sustainment Brigade when he cowrote this article. He holds a B.S. degree in transportation and logistics from the Ohio State University.

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