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Logistics Synchronization and the Targeting Process

Units at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California, often have difficulty synchronizing their combat service support (CSS) planning and execution. As a result, logistics ceases to be anticipatory and becomes almost completely reactive. Although many articles have been written over the past 10 to 15 years stressing the importance of logistics synchronization in supporting the maneuver commander’s plan, little has changed at the NTC since Colonel Stephen F. Garrett published his article, “Synchronizing Battlefield Logistics,” in the March–April 1997 issue of Military Review. He cited fourth quarter fiscal year 1994 trends at combat training centers: “Units are not synchronizing CSS planning with the OPLAN [operation plan]. Result: CSS staff officers are reacting rather than acting to support requirements.”

In today’s information-centric environment, logistics planners have become increasingly focused on information as the key to mission success. However, as Garrett pointed out—

So how can logisticians use information to determine how they want to shape the battlespace? CSS units must carefully synchronize logistics with the units they support. The support battalion synchronizes logistics with the maneuver brigade commander’s plan and intent.

Field Manual (FM) 1–02, Operational Terms and Graphics, defines synchronization as “(1) The arrangement of military actions in time, space, and purpose to produce maximum relative combat power at a decisive place and time. . . . (2) In the intelligence context, application of intelligence sources and methods in concert with the operational plan.” I believe that synchronization in the logistics context is the application of logistics resources and functions in concert with the operation plan. To synchronize logistics within a brigade combat team (BCT), at least two things are required: a process and a tangible result of that process—the synchronization matrix.

Logistics Planning Process

Merely participating in the brigade military decisionmaking process (MDMP) is not enough. At the NTC, we see many problems with the brigade logistics planning process. First, the right combination of players for logistics planning is never present for the planning process. FM-Interim (FMI) 3–90.6, The Heavy Brigade Combat Team, specifies that the logistics planners in the heavy brigade are the brigade executive officer, S–1, S–4, surgeon, chaplain, and the brigade support battalion (BSB) commander and support operations officer (SPO).

Another problem is that, at the brigade level, the MDMP seldom focuses sufficiently on logistics. Instead, it usually keys in on the next significant brigade tactical operation. However, FMI 4–90.1, Heavy Brigade Combat Team Logistics, indicates that logistics should be integrated into the BCT planning process. A third problem is that the results of the logistics planning that takes place are not published in a usable form, such as a logistics synchronization matrix, Annex I (the operation order annex that covers service and support), or CSS graphics (a graphic portrayal of the brigade or unit logistics set for a given operation).

Logistics Synchronization Matrix

At the NTC, attendance at BCT combined arms rehearsals usually includes the BCT commander and other personnel down to the separate company commanders. However, the CSS rehearsal that is normally planned to follow the combined arms rehearsal is either not conducted or not conducted to standard and has inadequate BCT attendance and focus.

So how can this problem be fixed? The first step is to look at the process. As Colonel Garrett stated, logisticians “need a logistics synchronization process similar to the targeting board process used by the field artillery (FA) to synchronize fire support with the mission needs and the commander’s intent.” This “logistics targeting” meeting should be “a formal, daily, and continuous process that turns information into board decision.” The process is commonly referred to as a logistics synchronization meeting, and it focuses on integrating the key CSS assets and requirements into the BCT’s maneuver scheme.

How do the BCT and the support battalion conduct this logistics targeting process? As with the brigade maintenance meeting, there has to be a “hammer”—someone who will ensure that the process takes place and that the right personnel participate to achieve the desired results. I recommend that the “hammer” be the BCT executive officer (XO) and that the meeting happen either directly after the brigade maintenance meeting or in conjunction with it. All of the logistics personnel in the BCT, such as the BCT XO, battalion XO, BSB commander, BSB SPO, and BSB S–4, attend the brigade maintenance meeting. The rest of the logistics planners (BCT S–1, BCT surgeon, and chaplain) can be asked to attend. A representative from the BCT S–3 also should attend the meeting to provide a by-task-force picture of the BCT. This is essential, especially in stability operations.

The logistics targeting process should be organized by task force, by mission, and by day (in increments of 24-, 48-, and 72-hours) in order to focus logistics and synchronize with the BCT by task force and mission. This targeting process will enable the BCT to apply the right logistics resources at the right point and time on the battlefield to best support the brigade commander’s intent. The chart above provides an example of a synchronization matrix that can be used as a framework for the synchronization process.

Determining the Desired Meeting Output

In the FA targeting board process, the output is a targeting board matrix that codifies, according to Colonel Garrett, “the who, what, when, where and why questions that put fire support on the battlefield at the proper time and place in relationship to mission and commander’s intent.” In the logistics world, planners need to codify the same issues in a logistics targeting matrix that synchronizes logistics across the time and space of the brigade battlefield. FM 1–02 defines the synchronization matrix as a “format for the staff to record the results of wargaming and synchronize the course of action across time, space, and purpose in relation to the enemy’s most likely course of action.” The staff can readily translate a synchronization matrix into a graphic decisionmaking product, such as a decision support matrix. Each battlefield operating system can develop its own synchronization matrix with more details on specific tasks.

A logistics synchronization matrix should be distributed to each task force (easily done if all BCT representatives are present at the synchronization meeting) and updated daily. Many options are available for packaging the information on the matrix, such as by class of supply or tactical logistics function. The most important factor, however, is that it allows the logisticians to paint the CSS picture for the BCT and coordinate that with the fight.

Too often at the NTC, we see units that start with a synchronization matrix that does not change during the 14 training days. We see some synchronization matrices list supply point operational hours for the BCT but synchronize nothing. We also see targeting or synchronization processes that occur on tactical operations center tracking boards, but they are not distributed properly and synchronize nothing but the BSB SPO shops.

A focused logistics targeting process that produces an organized, intelligible product is vital to synchronizing logistics operations across the brigade battlespace. The brigade logistics targeting meeting and synchronization matrix are two key components of logistics success for units, not only at the NTC but also in operational environments.

Major Kenneth W. Letcher is the Brigade Support Battalion Support Operations Officer Trainer at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. He has a B.S. degree in English from Vanderbilt University and is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.