Forces: June 17, 2004

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The U.S. Army is in the midst of reorganizing existing combat brigades to a new brigade sized unit with the uninspired name of Unit of Action (UA). The new UA organization is designed to bring all the elements the brigade needs to fight under one headquarters, make the brigade more modular, easier to deploy, and increase the number of combat brigades available within the army from 33 to 43 or 48, and therefore increase the combat power of the Army. In order to evaluate this, we shall compare the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the UA.

What is a BCT? Simply put, a BCT is composed of a Brigade Headquarters, maneuver (tank or infantry) battalions, a small brigade reconnaissance troop (company sized unit of about a hundred men), and supporting organizations. Only the maneuver units are directly under the command of the brigade commander, all the other units (Engineer, Field Artillery, Signal, Service Support, Air Defense, Military Police, and Military Intelligence) are all in a Direct Support role and still report to division support headquarters.

A UA is essentially the same as a BCT, except all forces are under the command of the UA Commander. A Heavy UA consists of a headquarters company, an MI (military Intelligence) Company, a Signal (communications) Company, MP (Military Police) Platoon, two Balanced Combined Arms Battalions (each with two Tank and two Mechanized Infantry companies), a reconnaissance Squadron (battalion), a Field Artillery Battalion, and a Support Battalion. It has a much more robust reconnaissance capability than does the BCT.

A UA maneuver battalion consists of a headquarters company, 2 tank and 2 mechanized infantry companies, and an engineer company while a BCT in OIF consisted of a headquarters and 3 maneuver companies (all either tank or infantry).

An old division controlled 3 maneuver brigades whereas the new Division (also called a Unit of Employment, or UE) will control up to four maneuver UAs, as well as an Aviation UA, a Strike UA, and probably a Support UA.

The unit of action is designed to be more modular, but is it really?

The BCT used in Iraq in 2003, and those that came before it, was a tailerable, modular force capable of being traded among divisions. Its only assigned unit was the brigade headquarters company, and it could control from two five maneuver battalions, plus supporting arms.

During Desert Storm, nearly every division deployed with at least one brigade from another division. The 1st Infantry Divisions third brigade was from the  2nd Armored Division. The 1st Cavalry Division also deployed with a brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, and still a third brigade of the 2nd Armored Division served with the US Marines. The 24th Infantry Division left behind its National Guard round out brigade and deployed with the 197th Separate Infantry Brigade instead. The 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions deployed with elements of the 3rd and 8th Infantry Divisions. So modularity is nothing particularly new.

One of the hallmarks of the new UA is supposed to be its deployability. As can be seen from the below table, the UA has 16 more major combat systems than does the BCT. This total does not include the many other wheeled and tracked vehicles equipment that are found in the either the BCT or the UA.

Obviously, there is no effective way to deploy this size force by air, so sealift is the best way to deploy it or prepositioned equipment must be used. In order to shorten deployment times, the Army maintains prepositioned equipment in various parts of the world (Korea, the Persian Gulf, and some in Europe) as well as some afloat.

Currently, the Army has an Afloat Prepositioning Ship Squadron (ASPRON), designated ASPRON 4, operated by the Military Sealift Command. ASPRON 4 is currently permanently stationed in the Persian Gulf and consists of eight Large, Medium Speed, Roll-On Roll-Off (LMSR) ships: USNS Watson (T-AKR 310), USNS Sisler (T-AKR 311), USNS Dahl (T-AKR 312), USNS Red Cloud (T-AKR 313), USNS Charlton (T-AKR 314), USNS Watkins (T-AKR 315), USNS Pomeroy (T-AKR 316), and USNS Soderman. Each ship can carry about an Army Tank-Mechanized Infantry Task Forces equipment, consisting of 58 heavy combat vehicles (M1 and M2/M3), 48 other tracked vehicles, and over 900 other support vehicles, such as trucks.

The squadron can carries enough equipment for balanced BCT (2 tank and 2 Mechanized Infantry Battalions, plus supporting units) and supplies for 15 days of combat or a Heavy Armored Cavalry Regiment such as the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, so it is well capable of supporting a UA.

From our cursory look at the UA, it is no more modular or deployable than the BCT, though it does have more combat power available. A more deployable force will probably have to wait until the Future Combat System is fielded; its goal is to be deployable by air within 96 hours, just as are the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. --Michael K. Robel

Unit BCT Unit of Action
Task Organization 2 Tank, 1 MECH  
Equipment Quantity Quantity
Tank, M1A1/M1A2 88 58
APC, M2A3 Bradley IFV 44 58
APC, M3A3 Bradley CFV 0 36
FAASV, Arty Ammo Supply Veh M992 18 16
Howitzer, SP 155mm M109 18 16
Mortar, Carrier 120mm M1064 14 14
Total Major Systems 182 198

 

 


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