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Army planning more combined operations with British Army

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2015) -- Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division and the British Army conducted the largest multi-national airborne training exercise Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has seen in a decade and more integrated operations are planned for the future.

The Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise, or CJOAX, in April focused on enhancing interoperability between the two nations' militaries, as well as on developing their roles as their nation's go-to force for immediate response.

The 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, or "Falcon Brigade" serves as the Army's portion of America's Global Response Force, or GRF. It has filled that role for eight months now and will continue to do so until the end of November 2015 -- for a total of 14 months.

"We are a no-notice, wheels-up in a minimum of 18 hours with a battalion-sized force," said Col. Joe Ryan, commander, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. His brigade-sized unit would follow the battalion within 96 hours.

Partnered with the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division during the CJOAX was the United Kingdom's 3rd Parachute Battalion, 16 Air Assault Brigade. The 3rd Parachute Battalion serves a role similar to the current role of the 2-82nd, as their nation's crisis response force.

In April, more than 900 British paratroopers from the 3rd Parachute Battalion integrated with the Falcon Brigade for the CJOAX on Fort Bragg.

"That exercise was a significant milestone along the campaign plan of multi-national interoperability for the division," said Ryan of the CJOAX. He said that campaign began with an August 2014 exercise where B Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion was integrated under the command of 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

"The natural progression moved to a battalion, the entire 3rd Parachute Battalion underneath the command of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team," Ryan said. "And then the multiple enablers, echelons of enablers that the UK brought along with the warfighting functions, to integrate as seamlessly as possible with the other enablers in the brigade and should progress in the future to a relationship where the 16 Air Assault Brigade can integrate seamlessly under the command of the 82nd Airborne Division."

Ryan said there is opportunity for American units to integrate under British units as well. During one such exercise this fall, Askari Storm in Kenya, Ryan said the Americans are "committed to sending at least a platoon" to integrate under the 16 Air Assault Brigade.

During the CJOAX in April, brigade planner Maj. Josh Brown said he worked hand-in-hand with British counterparts to ensure that the integration was sufficient enough to reveal conflicts that would need to be remedied -- rather than designed to ensure that there were no conflicts at all. Rather than what Brown called "inclusion by separation," where the Americans and the British each had their own battlespace, the planners worked for far more integrated operations.

We "made the decision we would include them on all facets of the operation with the understanding there would be friction points," he said. "And with the intent to identify those friction points and what just didn't work, to progress along that line of effort with interoperability, specifically with 16 Air Assault Brigade and 3rd Parachute Battalion. It was a tedious exercise -- a lot of areas to continue to work on. It was proven that it could be done. It set the glide path for the future."

British Maj. Ivan Rowlett, commander, B Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion, 16 Air Assault Brigade said that in planning the CJOAX, planners had made a "conscious decision not to just de-conflict ops, as we had been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 10 to 15 years, but it was about creating friction."

In August 2014, when his company integrated under the Red Falcons as part of an earlier exercise, he said the experience provided his unit with the subject-matter experts needed "to feed back in the requirements and the training requirements of what we needed to get done and also the capability work which was primarily on the air delivery side, to enable us to actually deploy using American aircraft, American parachutes -- but still using our equipment harnesses and our kit."

He said a lot of work was done on air delivery, including putting British equipment on American aircraft. There were many successes, Rowlett said, but also challenges, including mission command.

"We found out that we are pretty efficient at executing operations," he said. "But there is still work to be done in terms of us being able to access all the data, to be able to plan operations at the right tempo, in line with the brigade. There are challenges that remain, but they are certainly not insurmountable."

Ryan said during the CJOAX the integration of US and UK elements was tight.

"We jumped side by side" off both U.S. and Royal Air Force aircraft, he said. And the U.S. did training on the British low-level parachute, while the British did training on the American T-11.

Ryan cited examples of British troops de-rigging a parachute-dropped American bulldozer, and British and American medics treating each other's casualties that had resulted from the jumps.

During the last mission of the exercise, Ryan said, "we primarily made it a 3rd Parachute Battalion-led operation to conduct a raid on the target, air assault with U.S. aircraft from the 10th Mountain Division. I embedded a U.S. company under [U.K.] command. We bounced our brigade alternate command post forward to maintain communications with 3rd Parachute Battalion, who then communicated to the U.S. company that essentially served as a reserve force for them to exploit success. It was as granular as it could get. We did everything we could think of to make it where the only difference between us was one side spoke better English. Then that's the level we wanted to get to."

COMMAND AND CONTROL

Both Ryan and Rowlett said there were command and control issues between U.S. and British forces during CJOAX, but not issues that were show stoppers.

"We have a work-around for every friction point we have encountered," Ryan said. "Some are more cumbersome than others."

One example of that, he said, is the "expeditionary digital support liaison team," or EDSLT, which puts an American Army battle command system on the secret internet protocol router, or SIPR network, embedded with a partner unit. Ryan said the EDSLT includes a team of Soldiers that "interprets and manipulates" command and control information for a partner unit, "so they can have a common operating picture with us, and they can add to the common operating picture from their perspective."

The EDSLT is "cumbersome" Ryan said, and it takes Soldiers from other jobs.

"We have initiatives to make that EDSLT [unnecessary]," he said. He said the plan is to use other systems and capabilities and to provide allies, the UK specifically, with Army battle command systems so they can operate them on their own.

Another friction point is sustainment of forces. Rowlett said he is suggesting there be an exercise where the two units rendezvous at an intermediate staging base, rather than starting off on an operation together, "to get a better understand of how that will affect the timeline in terms of notification to actually getting on target." That type of operation would also let both sides evaluate sustainment, by having to integrate two pipelines of support, one from the U.S. side and one from the U.K.

Despite a few problems with command and control differences, Ryan said the integration of U.S. and British forces during CJOAX was exceptional. He cites British commitment to the partnership as being key to that success.

"They are 100 percent all in on this," Ryan said. "They have been leaning forward and making sure this is a success. I think this is a testament to our shared vision of the world. They have given as much to this as we have. In our relationship with our allies, often times I think our going-in assumption is that the U.S. has to give, give, give, and give more -- because other nations cannot -- that we have to fill the vacuum. We have not found that in this relationship."

"They have given certainly as much as they have gotten. We have not asked them to give more, because they are all in on this relationship. We are proud and satisfied of their level of commitment and their level of will to engage in this relationship, left of the crisis, earlier than the crisis, to the point now that we are confident that on a distant battlefield, we can be more effective earlier."