NEWS | April 9, 2019

AWG looks through the lens of NIE 13.2 at subterranean operations

By Lt. Col. Sonise Lumbaca

FORT BLISS, Texas - An old operational environment, but new to today’s soldiers, has made its way to Network Integration Evaluation 13.2 or NIE 13.2, due to the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group and the Brigade Modernization Command.

The subterranean operational environment, which dates as far back as the Civil War within American history, continues to be one that is complex and can create significant challenges for today’s soldier. The AWG is currently seeking ways to identify if there are current capabilities gaps of the force, what those gaps are, and determine what avenues to take in order to mitigate the gaps involved with conducting military operations within this environment. 

Network Integration Evaluation 13.2, the second in a series of semi-annual evaluations for fiscal year 2013, is a soldier-led evaluation designed to further integrate and rapidly progress the Army’s tactical network. It provides a great opportunity to identify the overall challenge and determine a baseline of current soldiers and regular Army unit capabilities for operating within this environment.

“When we say subterranean, it really becomes this nebulous discussion. And what I mean by nebulous, is that it can be everything from a cave to an underground airfield, and everything in between,” said Maj. Scott Bailey, a Test and Evaluation Officer for the AWG. “So part of the work that we are trying to do is to define what that environment looks like in almost a holistic approach; to identify what enablers need to have; the location of installations that have facilities that can support training; to almost give that framework for a planner to understand what resources he’s going to need, based on the type of facility that’s there.”

The AWG has determined that one of the challenges in this effort lies within the fact that “subterranean” is not currently defined as an operational environment. Current doctrine is very limited and principally addresses tunnels. Additionally, there are limited training facilities that can imitate this environment for soldiers to train within, and subterranean operations currently is not integrated within the Army’s training curriculum.

“What we have coordinated here is to take a look at the subterranean environment to understand what our doctrinal challenges are and whether there is a lack of tactics, techniques and procedures to facilitate operations there; so that we can start to develop solutions moving into the future,” said Bailey. “And so really, if I showed you a picture of a mountain I’d be able to show you a mountain operations manual. If I showed you a picture of a city, I could show you an urban operations manual. If I showed you a jungle, I could show you a [jungle] operations manual. But if I showed you this, a tunnel, or a very large tunnel complex, there’s no guiding doctrine to help a brigade planner, a battalion planner, company commander, you know go through that planning process to understand what the hazards are, to understand what the planning considerations that are necessary. And then all the way down to the soldiers level to understand how the equipment — formation or tactics needs, to be set up differently.” 

With assistance from the BMC, two companies from the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, conducted a subterranean operation as part of NIE 13.2. 

The assessment plan consisted of observing the two companies conducting the same operations; the first company went into the environment without any additional training or preparation for a subterranean operation. This was done to understand what the current capabilities of a line mechanized infantry company operating in a subterranean environment was like; kind of a baseline of where soldiers are operating at. 

“So without any training today, what would an infantry company be able to do in this environment? So we can more clearly understand those challenges,” said Bailey. 

For the second company, three days were dedicated to introduce and familiarize the soldiers with this environment. The intent is to work towards helping to define how doctrine might need to be adjusted and what a unit program or institutional program of instruction should look like, Bailey said. 

“It’s very difficult to get to a point where we’ll say that 1-6 Infantry is optimally trained for subterranean operations. But we can at least introduce the problem to them, and spend two days working with them in some of the other ranges to prepare them for this objective, so that we can start to assess how effective their training was and what we need to spend more time focusing on,” he added.

“We’re out here today to try to determine if there’s a capability gap between what we have known as far as normal training goes and the ability to enter and clear a subterranean complex or compound terrain,” said Capt. Jack Pinney, the company commander for Company B, 1-6 Infantry. 

Pinney says that this environment poses is a unique problem set in that, he and his soldiers face the difficulty of identifying and overcoming obstacles on a three dimensional asymmetric battlefield versus a linear one dimensional one. 

In general, none of the soldiers have had the opportunity to operate within a subterranean environment, said Jose Gordon, a capabilities evaluator for the AWG who had been working with the infantry soldiers since the subterranean assessment’s inception.

“So what we’re doing is taking the unit back to the basics and trying to accent the fundamentals that they already know and then bring them out and rehearse them a little more so that they understand that this isn’t building a rocket ship, they’re just going into another environment that’s basically similar to environments they’ve already trained for; because the basic fundamentals never change,” Gordon said. 

Resourcing training facilities for this problem set is also being looked at. For example at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the infantry companies involved in NIE 13.2 are headquartered out of, the AWG was able to repurpose a complex and transform it into a mock tunnel system. 

“It really starts to drive another point that AWG will try to make out of this. So as AWG operational advisers go into Afghanistan with units based on their global observation missions, and recommends to units we embed with that they might want to train on some of this subterranean stuff; part of that problem set is finding facilities that mimic the environment,” Bailey said. “Where does the [battalion or brigade operations officer] go to resource and find training areas that will allow his units to get repetitions in that environment and start to develop their own [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures] and solutions.”

Bailey cites some of Fort Bliss’ range facilities as a great opportunity for repurposing some of these training areas. The AWG used a platoon sized trench complex and repurposed it to build mock tunnel systems; materials included plywood, dimensional lumber, and indoor and outdoor carpeting.

“[The facilities] really aren’t necessarily as complex as what we’ll find in some other places but are great facilities for being able to get at that baseline and train on the fundamentals. Any unit at their home station can achieve recreating this environment at zero to minimal cost just by using what’s on the installation,” he added. 

The NIE and its effort to bring operational units and institutional organizations together to collaborate on diverse problem sets and initiatives continues to be a force multiplier for the Army. In many ways NIE is the single most valuable point of synergy for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to lead the Army in developing capabilities for the future force.

“Really, very few other places are we going to see such sophisticated brigade size exercise that almost all the institutional Army, to include the [Centers of Excellences], come to look at, that results in a Gaps and Opportunity Memorandum, published by the Army Capabilities Integration Center to all the CoEs which says, ‘hey here’s our [Army’s] gaps we need to go work on.’ So the point of us coming to NIE with this problem set [is that we can] articulate this to the Army, empirically not just based on our own experiences. So in this exercise we can start to identify the problem and as we move towards future exercises we can potentially start to integrate solutions to these problems and evolve this process over time.” 

The U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group provides Operational Advisory and Solution Development support globally to the Army and Joint Force Commanders to enhance soldier survivability and combat effectiveness, and enable the defeat of current and emerging threats in support of Unified Land Operations.