Armor: June 23, 2004


: The Army is converting its current Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) to the new Units of Action (UA). Here is a comparison of the combat power of the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) used during the 2003 Iraq campaign, to the Heavy UA. The UA is still evolving and can be expected to change further as the 3rd Infantry Division rotates its units through the National Training Center and its forthcoming deployment back to Iraq.

At first glance, the UAs appear slightly more robust. The table below shows the number of major combat vehicles in each unit:

Equipment BCT
UA Brigade Change
M1A1/A2 88 58 -30
M2A2/A3 44 58 +14
M3A2 0 36 +36
M1064 14 14 --
M109A6 18 16 -2
Total 164 182 +18

The BCT of two Tank battalions and one Mech infantry battalion, can, alternatively,  contain two Mech infantry battalions and one  Tank battalion.

Using TacOps wargame to compute combat power for these major systems; the BCT scores 17710 to the UAs score of 17282. The difference is a mere two percent.

What are the ramifications of this change in organization?

On the positive side, it finally forms Combined Arms Battalions (CAB) with two armor and two mechanized infantry companies (an innovation long practiced in Armored Cavalry Squadrons) together with an assigned engineer company. 

It has a robust reconnaissance capability, unfortunately without tanks, but does add UAV and NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) reconnaissance units. The UA has eight to 12 UAVs: 4 in the artillery battalion, 4 in the Recon Squadron, and perhaps 4 in the MI (Military Intelligence) Company. 

On the down side, with only two CABs, commanders will have difficulty constituting a reserve. Enhanced information flow and a common operating picture may provide a more nimble organization and allow information to be the reserve much like artillerys ammunition is its reserve. The recon squadron can be used as a reserve, if needed.

Two assigned artillery batteries prevent each battalion from having a dedicated battery, and there are no long-range fires to support the recon squadron or provide counter-fire support. The commander cannot weight the main effort. The recon squadron will be heavily dependent upon its 6 120mm mortars.

The UA appears to lack air defense and aviation support.

The recon squadron may be handicapped in complex terrain without engineer support.

With four UAs instead of three BCTs, the Division has more combat units as shown below. This provides the division the ability to cover more ground, increases reconnaissance capability, and more flexibility, at a cost of slightly less artillery. 

Company/Battery Troop OIF Division UA Division Change
Maneuver Companies 27 32 +5
Cavalry Troops 3 9 +6
Field Artillery Batteries 9 8 -1
Total 39 49 +10


It is difficult to game out these organizations. Part of this is because in a wargame, the player has perfect knowledge and situational awareness of what his units are doing and what they face, thereby actually simulating the modern digital environment, has a shorter decision cycle, and partly because in simulations it is still mostly a force on force battle. On the negative side, since the player controls every unit, he is more pressed than an actual commander who has subordinates and a staff to assist in decision making, but the ability to pause and save the game allows him time to think about what to do in a given situation.

My study with TacOps and other simulations indicates the UA needs an MLRS Battery for long range and counter-battery fires, plus an additional cannon battery and an engineer company for the reconnaissance squadron.

It will be interesting to see what results from NTC rotations will show. Will they be highly effective or will my informal evaluation be more on the mark? And, how will these brigades fare in the Stability and Support Operations now on going in Iraq? -- Michael K. Robel




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