Small Wars Journal

Infiltrating the Iron Mountain

Mon, 02/14/2022 - 8:56pm

Infiltrating the Iron Mountain

Tactical Combat Service Support within the WEZ

By Jeremy Kofsky


"Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics." Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC


            The Marine Corps has made great strides since the 2019 release of Commandants’ Planning Guidance caused sea change within the Marine Corps regarding where the force was headed as an organization and how to best man, train, and equip the force. When partnered with Force Design 2030 and the Tentative Manual for Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations (TM-EABO), these documents provide a definitive way forward for the Marine Corps for the next decade. The core concepts of EABO revolve around the ability to seize key terrain, which in turn denies the enemy maritime freedom of maneuver to create decision and maneuver advantage for the Joint Force. The EABO Handbook provides several examples and planning factors to support this end but fails to address a critical vulnerability planning assumption, namely, once supplies can somehow make it into a theater of action, how do you prevent the enemy from interdicting those supply chains at the tactical level?

            The current core element/piece of equipment of EABO is the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS). This system allows for tactically located but operationally/strategically valued fires to prevent a breakout of enemy naval forces. While the use of HiMARS presents unique detection and Signature Management issue, a more rudimentary and broad issue is the logistically chain needed to supply those batteries, their sensor networks, and the other EABs supporting their operations. Additionally, the current force lacks ‘green-suit’ maintainers to fix the myriad of advanced and rudimentary systems supporting the fires and simple maneuver of the HiMARS. Forces remaining within the enemy’s long-range weapons engagement zone (WEZ) will have to actively plan passive defenses to remain effective and will be dependent upon logistics service support and supply systems equally active and resilient. Part and partial of a well-constructed passive defense is the use of Signature Management, defined as:


“The process by which we understand own-force signatures and indicators,

 identify adversary methods and capabilities to collect and analyze those

signatures, [to] develop and implement countermeasures to mask those



            The EABO Handbook states the desire to ‘feed the breach’ is not matched by the desire to protect the actual feeding of the breech. The EABO Handbook further postulates:


“The exquisite, large signature, fuel gulping, maintenance intensive platforms

of the legacy force are poor candidates for infiltrated logistics, but if forces are

to persist inside the WEZ of future adversaries, a new concept supporting

infiltrated logistics combined with 21st century foraging and contracting may

well serve an operational force that is more focused on economically proliferating

many resilient and lethal payloads than resource intense platforms.”   


This general outline of the use of logistics infiltration serves as a good planning structure but lacks sufficient depth to enable detailed planning, especially in the areas of passive defense/signature management of these critical areas of support to the overall EABO operating concept. By implementing signature and supply management techniques espoused in the EABO Handbook, the Marine EABO concept can achieve enhanced effects generated from disabling the Enemy’s Observe portion of their OODA Loop Decision Cycle.


In looking at Marine Corps doctrine and manuals regarding tactical logistics and combat service support, some key principles apply. While not rigid, the tactical support plan that can best address these issues will be the most likely success supply and support plan. A solid tactical logistics support plan should be: Responsive, Simple, Flexible, Economical (in terms of lives and cost), Attainable, Sustainable, and Survivable. A coherent plan should address these issues plus core logistical functions of Supply, Maintenance, Transportation, and Medical Services.


Getting there is Half the Fight


Current EABO doctrine subscribes to the nascent use of multiple forms of traditional and non-standard forms of insertion of logistics into an operating theatre. With the release of the Concept for Stand-In Forces, another avenue presents itself and potentially adds to the Signature Management support structure. The use of Theatre Security Cooperation events is a key assumption of potential insertion of certain EABO forces into a WEZ or along key maritime domain. The continued use and integration with these Stand-In Forces provides the ability to use pre-existing stockpiles of supplies from partnered nations to reduce the ingestion of external supplies into the WEZ. This will reduce Friendly Signatures from enemy Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and satellites.


Reducing the Physical and Administrative Signatures of these pre-existing ‘iron mountains’ could be accomplished through an understanding of contracting support to Security Cooperation Offices (SCOs) throughout the world, typically stationed at embassies and reporting to their respective Combatant Commands (COCOMs). SCOs are responsible for overseeing the funding and implementation of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and training events with their respective Host Nations. The creative movement and alignment of Funding Lines from the COCOM through the SCO and Host Nation can obfuscate and support the acquisition of critical pre-planned and non-perishable items such as filtration systems, MREs, batteries, and other equipment necessary to support sustained operations in theatre. Critically, the movement of pre-staged rockets to rearm the HiMARS needs to blend into the white noise of the civilian/rural sectors wherein the HiMARS are set to operate in future conflict scenarios.


The use of non-traditional shipping and organically masked vessels, such as ferries, junks, or other indigenous maritime insertion platforms combined with lorries, beasts of burden, or Host Nation provided military transportation allows for another series of options, though these should be used when hostilities or insertion of forces becomes a more likely scenario, due to the fact these present multiple Signature Management issues, particularly those from a Counterintelligence, Administrative, and Operational Security perspective, as they primarily rely on civilian contracting.


Sustaining there is the other Half


            Regardless of the insertion method of the supplies, they are only as good as their ability to support the EABs, while not giving away signatures which can be exploited and turned into the enemy Kill Chain. As previously noted, conducting the critical tactical logistic/combat service support functions, while maintaining a thorough understanding of their Signature Management conduits will enable these oft-overlooked functions to become a mission enhancer, due to their ability to sustain operations for indefinite periods, thereby holding key terrain via interdiction whilst not revealing their inherent presence, causing indecision and hopefully operational paralysis in the enemy.


            Key in sustainment is the ability to reduce the actual burden on the Combat Service Support Element to supply forward forces at the EABs. This means these units should have as many renewables and replicating technologies as possible, with the caveat these should not rise the Emissions baseline or present their own Signature Management issues. MARDET Ft. Lee is leading the effort in this regard by advocating for and educating the force on the benefits of foraging and living of the local economy/environment. Marines have historically proven the success of this tactic in Afghanistan, while simultaneously increasing support from the local populace by economic incentives of supporting local markets and supply functions. The ability to integrate foraging and contracting specialists at EABs will enable a significantly reduced Signature of those EABs as Combat Service Support will have to be responsible for significantly reduced items and supply runs to those areas.


            EABs should also make maximum use of filtration systems to produce their own water potable water. Key to site location of EABs should be a relative proximity to a body of water capable of being properly filtrated. As most of the anticipated EABO areas of operation are located in and around bodies of water, notably lakes, oceans, and/or rivers, this should not allow for a predictive response form the enemy in terms of scaling down the suspected areas of EABs. A vulnerability of generators, engines, stoves, or other pieces of machinery exhibiting exothermic properties is knowing when infrared detection satellites are scanning the area. Knowing when and where these ‘observation periods’ are occurring will allow for a proactive Signature Reduction plan to be effective and only show what is wanted to be seen by Friendly Force Commander. 


            Additionally, Supply EABs should make maximum use of either organic (civilian, rural) or military (ULCANS) camouflage. The Marine Corps SOP for Physical Signature Management notes when operating in civilian settings, the use of roadblocks, sandbags, or other overtly military construction indicators should be avoided as they bely the presence of military forces and typically where they are located. The goal should be to present a streamlined integration along all detection vectors/conduits, be it electromagnetic, physical, or administratively. If you are operating in a civilian warehouse as a staging area, then it should appear on those three conduits to be a civilian warehouse.


            Transportation to the outlying EABs and internally within the Area of Operations is another area of concern to the logistician. Understanding the enemy’s ISR capabilities and the inherent physical features of the area will assist in route and temporal decision making for movements. Using improved/concrete roads will eliminate vast amounts of dust kick up and improve speed of movements but also will typically have limited overhead coverage. This lack of vegetation or man-made (bridges/overpasses) concealment will increase chances of detection by UASs of the enemy. Conversely more rural paths provide less potential chance of detection but could be hard to traffic and the EM Spectrum will break more of a baseline in non-human centric areas. Additionally, the use of overtly military vehicles could present opportunities for ‘fence-watchers’, ‘human pickets’, or other informants to report on resupply operations. Making best use of indigenous civilian or host-nation military vehicles could serve as obfuscation of the resupply mission, personnel, and allow blending into the man-made backdrops of areas.


An unfortunate reality of war is casualties. While in a ‘normal’ combat scenario, extended care or even MEDEVAC is considered a routine aspect of the mission, in an EABO setting, the ability to support extended or life, limb, or eyesight care will be severely reduced as the built-up Role 3 hospitals and ‘Golden Hour’ MEDEVACs as a fact of life will most likely not be present in EABs. Increased understanding and coordination with local host-nation facilities, in addition to an increased emphasis and training allotment for Independent Duty Corpsman / or Extended Care Physicians can provide an option for these kinds of treatments. The Administrative Signature Management will have to account for the billing requirement through ISOS and the State Department/Department of Defense.


While the logistic challenges within EABO are numerous and complex having a well thought out Preparation of the Battlespace and the numerous factors along the three lines of Signature Management will serve as a good starting point for ensuring those in the EABs are getting their required supplies without having their lives jeopardized in the process.



About the Author(s)

Jeremy Kofsky is a United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant with 18 years of experience in small unit operations throughout CENTCOM, EUCOM, AFRICOM, and INDOPACOM.