Concepts for Security Force Assistance Brigade Company Task Forces in Large-Scale Combat Operations
Maj. Zachary L. Morris, U.S. Army
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During every significant conflict in U.S. history, the military has employed advisors in some capacity. Advisors have played a critical role for the U.S. Army in conflicts from Baron Friedrich von Steuben advising the U.S. Army at Valley Forge and Gen. Joe Stillwell in China during World War II to the Military Assistance Advisory Group in Vietnam and current security force assistance brigades (SFAB) in Afghanistan. As large-scale combat operations (LSCO) loom again, SFABs should continue identifying potential roles in LSCO and develop the doctrine and concepts needed to perform those functions effectively. While there are many potential roles an SFAB could fill during a LSCO conflict, this article focuses on an SFAB company task force (TF) fighting on the front line to enable and support a partner force (PF) battalion.
The recommendations and analysis in this article are based on experiences gained in training before and during National Training Center rotation 23-04 (10–18 February). During this rotation, 1st Battalion, 2nd SFAB, conducted LSCO while partnered with portions of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). This was the first rotation where an SFAB battalion TF served under a U.S. division headquarters and partnered with a force other than a conventional U.S. brigade combat team. During the rotation, Company A, 1st Battalion, partnered with an Atropian mechanized infantry battalion from the 11th ACR, which would probably represent a Tier II partner as defined in this article. In training before the rotation, including multiple field training exercises and command post exercises, and during the rotation, Company A tested multiple methods and concepts to identify better ways to operate in LSCO.
Based on Company A’s training, an SFAB Company TF should utilize the second concept for LSCO when working with a Tier II or Tier III partner because of the improved sustainment and endurance, command and control (C2), and ability to conduct U.S. functions in combat. However, SFABs should train on both concepts that follow to maximize flexibility for the TF and higher headquarters.
The first section of this article defines partner capabilities and critical functions that drive how an SFAB employs its capabilities in LSCO. The second section explains the two concepts for operating with a Tier II or Tier III PF battalion. The first concept follows a more conventional and traditional SFAB alignment with each team partnered with a specific unit. The second concept is more dynamic and focuses on operating as an SFAB company TF, emphasizing sustainment and U.S. C2 to support and enable the PF battalion. The final section analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of each concept. Before discussing the different concepts though, leaders must develop a common understanding of Tier I through Tier III partners and the required functions of an SFAB TF in LSCO.
Partner Force Capabilities and SFAB Task Force Functions in LSCO
The critical requirement that drives how an SFAB TF would operate in LSCO is its partner-unit capability. Defining partner capability into general categories could allow an SFAB to determine the required task organization rapidly. In one option, doctrine could define partner capabilities in terms of Tier I through Tier III using the capabilities listed in figure 1. These capabilities focus on doctrine, language, common operating picture, C2, equipment, tactical and operational sustainment, fires and intelligence capability, and experience conducting training or operations with U.S. forces. Tier I partners possess significant capability across all those areas and are largely interoperable with and trained in a similar manner as the U.S. Army. Essentially, the more self-sufficiency a PF has, the more toward the Tier I side of the spectrum it is. Potentially the most critical Tier I partner capabilities are the ability to maintain an accurate common operating picture and possessing redundant secure communications with forward units. Units with these capabilities require a smaller SFAB TF organization that would focus more on the headquarters level to provide liaison functions and some support from the associated U.S. Army headquarters. Potential examples of Tier I PFs are most ground forces from countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and South Korea.1
Tier III partners lack many of the capabilities that distinguish Tier I partners. The more a partner lacks self-sufficiency in the critical areas (as in figure 1), the more toward the Tier III side of the spectrum the partner is. Critically, Tier III partners likely require SFAB advisors directly on the front line working with their forward units to enable success through the application of U.S. joint firepower, sustainment, intelligence, and C2 capabilities. Tier III partners require closer support from a U.S. SFAB TF following guidance more associated with “accompany and enable” rather than supporting from the PF headquarters in a Tier I partner formation. These differences in guidance are captured in doctrine currently (as depicted in figure 2). Some extreme examples of Tier III partners are potentially forces from nations like Afghanistan or Iraq.2
Tier II partners fall between Tier I and Tier III in terms of capability. Tier II partners likely have some self-sufficiency but may not have all the required capabilities to fight effectively independent of U.S. support. Organizations that lack its own internal fire support capability, sustainment, or secure redundant communications might fall under the Tier II umbrella. Because Tier II partners are missing some critical capabilities, the SFAB company TF supporting its battalions should operate and function closer to the way an SFAB company TF would function for a Tier III partner. However, until we better define a Tier II partner capability, each PF would require individual analysis and planning to create the appropriate TF for support.
In addition to supporting and enabling the PF, each SFAB TF must conduct numerous other functions to support itself and continue operations. Many of the critical functions related to both U.S. requirements and the PF are depicted in figure 3. Some portion of every SFAB TF must focus on internal C2 functions along with liaison activities with the higher U.S. headquarters and adjacent units. The SFAB TF should also advise the higher U.S. headquarters on the SFAB TF employment and partner unit capabilities and utilization. The SFAB TF must also maintain some form of sustainment structure because our partners are often unable to sustain additional forces, and many partners do not have reliable logistical capabilities.
For the PF, the SFAB TF must have significant capability to help ensure success and integration with a U.S. Army organization. These capabilities include supporting and enabling through the application of U.S. joint firepower, intelligence, sustainment, and other enablers for lethal and nonlethal effects. Each SFAB TF itself should provide internal equipment capabilities, along with knowledge about planning, command center operations, and conducting complex operations like a forward passage of lines. SFAB TFs should also provide liaison functions to the higher headquarters, especially U.S. headquarters, and adjacent units. Finally, SFAB TFs should provide coaching to the commanders and staffs in the PF unit when needed. Given these definitions of partner capabilities and required functions, we will now examine two potential concepts for an SFAB company TF supporting a Tier II or Tier III PF battalion in LSCO.
SFAB Company Task Force Concepts for LSCO
The first concept to support and enable a Tier II or Tier III PF battalion is the simplest. In this concept, an SFAB company TF partners with the PF battalion (as depicted in figure 4). The maneuver company advisor team (MCAT) partners with the battalion headquarters, providing support and enabling its functions from the partner unit headquarters. Each of the three maneuver advisor teams (MATs) partner with an individual maneuver company to enable its success and facilitate resources.
In the first concept, the MATs report vertically to the MCAT, which is collocated with the PF battalion headquarters and the partner commander. In addition to supporting and enabling the PF battalion from the headquarters, the MCAT could send an element forward with the partner commander if it deploys a tactical action center. The MCAT would also have to assume most of the duties required for U.S. support including any required sustainment functions, planning, targeting, reporting, and supporting the subordinate MATs that are forward. The forward MATs would also have to help complete any of the required U.S. functions like sustainment, casualty treatment and evacuation, vehicle recovery, maintenance, and reporting. For the partner unit, the MATs could provide updated location information, redundant reporting capability to the MCAT and battalion headquarters, asset control, and additional support or enabler requests as needed.
On the battlefield, an SFAB company TF using this concept might array itself (as depicted in figure 5). The MCAT is located with the PF battalion headquarters and might have a small element with the partner tactical action center. Each MAT remains consolidated with its partner company on or near the front line and provides situational awareness to the MCAT and battalion headquarters or controls assets as required. From this simpler concept, we will now transition to the second more complex concept for an SFAB company TF.
The second concept to support and enable a Tier II or Tier III PF battalion focuses on providing additional C2 and sustainment support while still enabling the partner. The SFAB company TF aligns responsibilities (as depicted in figure 6). The MCAT remains detached from a partner unit or headquarters to better provide U.S. C2, and complete the functions required for a U.S. unit in combat. Separation allows the MCAT to focus on C2, planning, reporting, targeting, providing assets, and controlling or coordinating assets when needed. Staying separated from the partner headquarters also gives the MCAT more freedom of maneuver to position itself in the best location for communications to the higher U.S. headquarters and reduces the targetable signature of both the MCAT and the PF battalion headquarters.
The first MAT operates with all three partner maneuver companies to support and enable them. The team operates in three-to-four-person elements using one or two vehicles each per partner company. The MAT maintains a presence with each company and maintains situational awareness of the front line and ongoing operations. This MAT serves as a critical link to the MCAT by providing situational awareness across the front line and potentially controlling assets and enablers as required. The team leader for the first MAT may also separate himself and establish a small C2 node to create a synthesized picture of the entire maneuver company fight and front line. This command node can also serve as an alternate headquarters if the MCAT must displace or receives contact or casualties.
The second MAT focuses on the PF battalion headquarters and C2 nodes. This MAT also operates in three- or four-person elements using one or two vehicles each. The second MAT maintains a presence in both the battalion tactical operations center and tactical action center and may dispatch elements to partner with the mortar platoon, scout platoon, or other enabler elements as required. This MAT’s primary function centers on providing situational awareness and a clear common operating picture to the MCAT C2 node. The MAT’s second critical function is to ensure clear communication and understanding between the elements at the front with the first MAT and the PF battalion headquarters.
The third MAT focuses on U.S. sustainment for the SFAB company TF but may also assist in coordinating the PF sustainment and casualty care and evacuation. The third MAT maintains all the extra equipment for the SFAB company TF and conducts resupply missions from the rear area to deliver needed supplies to the forward MATs or the MCAT. This MAT also maintains a casualty evacuation capability to support the TF and can assist with vehicle recovery operations. The third MAT should also maintain an alternate C2 function if the MCAT repositions or gets destroyed or damaged.
If needed, the SFAB company TF can task organize within teams to provide the best capabilities for each element. One option could include consolidating the support personnel and some medical capability in the third MAT focused on sustainment. Additional mechanics in a consolidated location off the front line would significantly extend the SFAB company TF’s endurance and ability to maintain its vehicles. Consolidating a few medics would also potentially give the SFAB company TF a capability to create a small medical support area where it could treat and package casualties before evacuating them. The SFAB company TF could also consolidate some of the maneuver and fires personnel in the first MAT to provide better forward observer capabilities near the front line. Finally, the second MAT and MCAT could use additional intelligence and communications personnel to perform more robust C2 functions at the partner headquarters and the U.S. C2 node. While not required, task-organizing personnel for the mission could increase the capabilities of each team focused on its specific mission during LSCO. The risk of task-organizing personnel is breaking teams apart that have trained together and established standard operating procedures and should only occur on a case-by-case basis.
On the battlefield, an SFAB company TF using the second concept might array themselves as depicted in figure 7. Many of the teams and advisors will move around the battlefield in small elements, often three personnel in one vehicle. Their security and survivability depend on their dispersion and situational awareness, and on the partner’s security posture. This organization provides significantly more U.S. C2 and headquarters capability, along with sustainment and medical support that helps give the SFAB company TF more endurance. The distributed elements can also greatly increase situational awareness by maintaining U.S. presence in many different locations simultaneously. Based on these concepts, we will now examine the strengths and weaknesses of each potential course of action.
Concept Analysis and Comparison
Overall, based on Company A’s experience at the National Training Center, I recommend an SFAB company TF employ the second concept for LSCO in most situations because of the improved sustainment and endurance, significantly higher C2 capability, and the ability to complete U.S. required functions. However, SFAB company TFs should train both concepts so they are flexible enough to operate in either manner depending on the operation or situation. To analyze the two concepts, sustainment provides the first significant difference between them.
Sustainment. The first concept faces many challenges and potential struggles in sustainment and operational endurance compared to the second concept for the SFAB company TF. Teams executing the first concept struggled during LSCO training to remain supplied, especially when the partner unit’s sustainment systems were degraded, which can occur often for Tier II and Tier III partners in LSCO. During our training using the first concept, as the PF sustainment system degraded, approximately half of each advisor team became focused on sustainment. This included the company first sergeant, who had to take an element back to the next higher level of U.S. sustainment each day to pick up all classes of supply and retrograde equipment or other materials. Assistant team leaders that were forward also had to bring small elements back to link up with the company first sergeant to receive all classes of supply and retrograde materials. These efforts to sustain the SFAB company TF effectively removed approximately half the advisors for much of each day to make logistical trips that could include extended distances to the next higher level of U.S. support.
In the second concept, an entire advisor team focuses on maintaining a sustainment cell to support the SFAB company TF. This team can execute the logistical convoys back to the next higher level of U.S. sustainment support and bring supplies forward or retrograde equipment and material as needed. The team can then either provide a service station or tailgate resupply to the forward elements as directed by the SFAB company TF commander or first sergeant. If task organized, this team could maintain a small maintenance support area for the SFAB company TF to prevent retrograding equipment or vehicles unnecessarily. Finally, this team could go a long way to ensuring the PF sustainment system does not degrade rapidly during LSCO, enabling the partner’s operational endurance.
Medical support. For medical support, the first concept also struggles compared to the second concept. During training for the first concept, the medical support plan focused on utilizing the PF medical evacuation and treatment capabilities. Relying on PF capabilities worked when the partner system functioned. However, in LSCO, the PF often receives heavy casualties or other factors degrade the medical system, and during training, teams rapidly transitioned to self-treatment and evacuation. Often, the assistant team leader, if available, moved the casualties to the SFAB company TF first sergeant who would either evacuate the casualties to the partner medical treatment facility or back to the next higher level of U.S. medical care. This system became extremely difficult and cumbersome, especially when elements were already executing logistical movements to resupply teams.
In the second concept the support team should maintain a casualty evacuation capability that can retrieve casualties or establish a casualty exchange point if needed. The support team can then either evacuate casualties to the SFAB company TF consolidated medical support area to conduct prolonged field care, move casualties to the PF medical treatment facility, or evacuate the casualties to the next higher level of U.S. care. During major combat operations with potentially significant casualties, this method is much more effective and reliable in most situations and increases the chances of U.S. soldiers surviving injury.
Whichever concept an SFAB company TF uses for sustainment, the Army should develop a doctrinal concept of support that is reliable and functional for an SFAB TF in LSCO, especially when the PF sustainment system either does not exist or gets degraded. A functional doctrinal concept of support is especially important for Tier II and Tier III partners that will likely either lack effective sustainment systems or will get degraded during operations. Finally, even with Tier I partners, many U.S. systems do not effectively have common parts or logistics that a PF can provide. SFAB members will often need external water support, fuel, batteries, maintenance, and other supplies based on U.S. sustainment. The SFAB TF dependence on U.S. sustainment leads to the next area of comparison, C2, which must also link the SFAB TF to the next higher U.S. headquarters.
Command and control. For an SFAB company TF, the first concept is much weaker in terms of C2 during LSCO. In the first concept, teams will have to complete all the required U.S. functions on its own while simultaneously working with its partner unit (see figure 3). Most teams struggle conducting planning, organizing for seventy-two-to-ninety-six hours in the future, reporting, targeting, and maintaining tactical operations center functions while working with partner units during active combat operations. Our current doctrine recognizes that teams can conduct C2 or tactical operations center operations, but these efforts will come at the expense of partnering simultaneously with another unit.3 During operations, MATs working with companies are often moving or are unable to establish a proper C2 node with significant over-the-horizon communications capabilities. Further, many Tier II and Tier III partner battalion headquarters are much smaller and more mobile than U.S. headquarters. These smaller headquarters often rely on basic voice communications systems and do not account for controlling significant enablers such as fires, close air support, Army attack aviation, or deconflicting ground and air assets. The lack of experience controlling these systems often mean they do not place themselves in an optimal location for an MCAT to establish significant U.S. communications systems or maintain a footprint effectively to control assets or enable an operation during LSCO.
The second concept allows the MCAT maximum flexibility to establish a C2 node that effectively conducts all the required U.S. functions during LSCO. Because the MCAT is not tied to the partner battalion headquarters, the MCAT and SFAB company TF commander can choose locations that best enable U.S. communications systems and focus on providing C2 and controlling assets for the subordinate teams. Further, the support team that is further away from the front line can also maintain a second C2 node for redundancy. This allows the elements working with the partner to remain highly mobile and focus on supporting the partner units.
The second concept also enables the survivability of the SFAB company TF by reducing the visual and electronic signature the enemy can target. In the second concept, the MCAT can operate farther away from the front line and can choose terrain more flexibly while operating a small C2 node. The MCAT also has more flexibility for when and where they reposition for survivability. The other teams are often more survivable because they can remain highly mobile using vehicle-mounted communications systems or dismounted systems. Further, while teams are operating in smaller elements, the visual presence of U.S. forces remains limited, which could reduce the likelihood of targeting by the enemy. While the dispersed nature of the second concept increases survivability, the last area of analysis—focused on local security, team integrity, simplicity, and partnership—favors the first concept.
Local security, team integrity, simplicity, and partnership. The areas where the first concept significantly surpasses the second concept are local security, advisor team integrity, simplicity, and potential partnership consistency. In the first concept, theoretically, each team remains together or in proximity as a complete team. This means that rather than three or four personnel as the unit size in most areas, there are nine to twelve advisors in proximity with potentially multiple vehicles. Proximity and increased element size ensures that each SFAB team can provide greater local security if the situation warrants. However, while using the second concept during training, we often consolidated teams when executing a rest cycle or during reduced operations, which allowed the SFAB company TF to maintain a reasonable level of security.
The second area that the first concept excels in is team integrity. The second concept involves many small elements on the battlefield operating relatively independently. Small units and independent operations can put soldiers at risk if they are inexperienced or poorly trained. The first concept maintains teams as an integral unit and ensures increased leadership presence with teams moving around the battlefield.
Simplicity and ease of training also favors the first concept. Because teams operate as a complete team, each element will generally have more leaders, more people, and more diverse capabilities than if the team utilized the second concept. The second concept requires significant training where each small element of three-to-four advisors can maintain their communications, move tactically, enable the partner, and make good decisions on their own. These independent small elements would require significantly more training to ensure their effective capability as part of the SFAB company TF. Thus, the first concept remains much simpler and easier to execute at the MAT level.
The first concept is also generally stronger when it comes to partner consistency. While the second concept could have consistent partnerships, this requires maintaining the same element of three-to-four advisors with each partner element. In the first concept, an entire team partners with each unit and provides more robust relationships and capabilities.
Each concept has internal strengths and weaknesses along with optimal situations to employ them. SFAB company TFs should operate using the first concept when its training level is low, the partner retains significant capabilities in sustainment and C2, there are limited assets or enabling forces to control, the operation remains relatively static or there is a temporal space between operations, and the operation is shorter in duration. An SFAB company TF should employ the second concept for longer duration operations, or when there are significant amounts of assets and resources to control, the operation is dynamic and mobile, and when the PF lacks significant capabilities in sustainment, fires, C2, or other critical areas.
An SFAB company TF should utilize the second concept for LSCO when partnering with a Tier II or Tier III partner in most situations because of the improved sustainment and endurance, C2, and ability to conduct U.S. functions in combat. However, SFABs should train on both concepts to maximize flexibility for the TF and higher headquarters.
While there are numerous variations of each of these two concepts, these two concepts cover the broadest range of options for an SFAB company TF. The most significant conceptual alternations include either a smaller or larger SFAB company TF. If an SFAB TF partners with a Tier II or Tier III unit in LSCO with a smaller element, commanders should clearly define which functions the TF will not perform because of diminished capabilities.
Neither concept in this article addressed the need for an SFAB team at the next higher U.S. headquarters. However, a team at the next higher U.S. headquarters is critical for the success of each SFAB TF in LSCO. The team at the higher U.S. headquarters must enable communications, provide employment advice on the SFAB TF and partner unit, provide situational awareness, and support the flow of resources to and from the SFAB TF and partner unit for effective operations. For example, using the second concept to advise a Tier II or Tier III partner, an SFAB company TF working directly under a U.S. brigade combat team should include a fourth MAT to provide C2 and liaison duties at the brigade headquarters (see figure 8). In general, the minimum size SFAB TF employed during LSCO should include three teams. One team should work with the PF, usually the headquarters (e.g., with a Tier I partner unit). The second team provides support and sustainment or fills gaps for the team working with the PF. The third team should collocate with the next higher U.S. headquarters to ensure smooth communications and support to the SFAB TF and partner unit. This minimum structure ensures the basic capability of the TF in LSCO and could provide a sound doctrinal basis to build future SFAB TFs as required.
Visualizing the future battlefield and how units will operate in those environments is one of the Army’s sacred duties.4 SFAB leaders should continue developing and testing concepts for an SFAB TF operating in LSCO so that we can better train, man, and equip those elements before a conflict begins. Further, developing doctrinal models will enable units training to a standard that will facilitate SFAB interoperability and ensure our readiness to fight together in LSCO if required. Finally, SFABs should work to develop a doctrinal concept of support that functions effectively in LSCO when a PF sustainment system fails or becomes ineffective. Without developing and testing these concepts, SFABs will find themselves limited during LSCO and will constrain future options for employment.
- Reliable position location information using systems like the Joint Battle Command Platform or the Android Team Awareness Kit are critical capabilities on modern battlefields to quickly develop situational awareness of friendly forces locations. Partners without these or similar capabilities should almost automatically become Tier II or Tier III partners due to the increased difficulty managing a rapidly changing common operating picture. Without clear friendly situational awareness, enabling a partner battalion with fires, close air support, or Army attack aviation becomes extraordinarily difficult and creates one the primary reasons that U.S. elements need to be on or close to the front line for the security force assistance brigade task force.
- Army Techniques Publication 3-96.1, Security Force Assistance Brigade (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2020), 4-39.
- Ibid., 1-6.
- U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-1, The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World, 2020–2040 (Fort Eustis, VA: TRADOC, 31 October 2014), iii.
Maj. Zachary L. Morris, U.S. Army, is the commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). He holds a BS from the U.S. Military Academy and MAs from Georgetown University and the School of Advanced Military Studies. His assignments include six deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the 101st Airborne Division, 1st Armor Division, and the 75th Ranger Regiment. He has operational deployments to Europe with the 4th Infantry Division and to Africa with the 2nd SFAB.
REMEMBERING VETERANS ON VETERANS DAY—11 NOVEMBER 2023
Maj. Joseph T. Costello, U.S. Army Reserve
“I think I’m hurt,” I hear him say.
We move forward through the cloud of dust,
Following his voice to find our way,
Moving slowly as we must.
I kneel down beside him, as if to pray,
Blood turning his pants the color of rust.
I put on a tourniquet and hope it will stay,
Moving him slowly as we must.
Night is falling, the sun’s last ray,
Our dimming vision unable to trust,
Struggling to carry him all the way,
Moving slowly as we must.
We finally reach the FLA,
Loading him in with one last gust.
The truck starts moving and we’re away,
Moving swiftly as we must.
For Spc. Bert Perkins
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