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Article – Theatre Clearance Team on Ex Hamel 2018

On the 20th of Jun 2018, a task orientated team (the Theatre Clearance Team (TCT)) was consolidated out of the Composite Force Support Battalion (CFSB). The team was tasked to provide the theatre level backload of human remains (HR), captured persons and vehicle casualties for Operation ‘Restore Tetta’ during Ex Hamel 18.

The coordination for this mission was orchestrated by a captain of the 10th Force Support Team (10 FST) with the responsibility for the above tasks being delegated to the Regimental Sergeant Major CFSB, the military police, and the Artificer Sergeant Major of 10 FST respectively.

It was understood by all stakeholders that this task had not been practised holistically by the Army for a considerable amount of time. Therefore, for most personnel involved, tasks were performed ad-hoc with an emphasis on testing new ideas.

Mission rehearsals

Preliminaries

Orders for the mission were issued late on the 22 Jun 18, with the intent to depart to the Joint Force Area of Operations (JFAO) two days later. Battle preparation consisted of consolidating vehicles and equipment as well as conducting mission rehearsals. Special emphasis was placed on rehearsing the handling of human remains and convoy short halt drills.

A number of 20 foot field refrigeration storage and distribution (FRSD) containers were made available to the HR element which enhanced the realism of the task. As the convoy was to be Land 121 centric (with the assumption that the majority would be protected platforms), tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) were required to be adjusted and rehearsed.

Initial planning allocated one packet for each task element of the TCT, the exception being the vehicle casualty element which consisted of two forward repair teams (FRT) and a recovery team predominately drawn from 9 FSB’s close maintenance platoon. Final preparation consisted of the loading of combat ration packs (CRPs) for re-supply, the staging of vehicles, and the issue of controlled stores while awaiting our notice to move.

Staging of TCT vehicles

Conduct

The task was delayed for 24 hours as a result of the 7th Brigade (7 Bde) engaging in a tactical action which precluded the deployment of the TCT to the JFAO. On the 25 Jun 18, the TCT was cleared to conduct the mission, albeit with the attachment of a bulk liquid fuel tanker element. The first phase of the mission was to marry up with the armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) escort.

ARH escort

Under escort, phase two of the mission was a tactical convoy to the 7 Bde maintenance area (BMA). A halt was conducted short of the BMA in order to test the rehearsed TTP. Marry-up with the BMA then ensued for the conduct of the respective tasks.

Unloading of CRPs

The BMA was not anticipating the arrival of the TCT for the purpose of exercising theatre clearance. Therefore, the TCT mission was not completed holistically. Despite this, much needed CRPs and bulk fuel was unloaded to the BMA in order to sustain continued 7 Bde operations. For the vehicle casualty element, a real vehicle casualty was loaded for the backload to the theatre gateway. The TCT departed the BMA location and JFAO for the theatre gateway that same day.

Back-loading of vehicle casualties

Lessons Learnt

The following lessons were learnt as a result of the TCT mission:

  • A large proportion of TCT members had insufficient tactical convoy experience.
  • The allocated communication systems were insufficient for the purpose of the mission.
  • There was insufficient co-ordination of the TCT mission from a holistic exercise perspective.
  • The convoy had insufficient support weapon systems and associated vehicle mounts for the given vehicles.
  • The development of TCT TTPs was successful with plenty of scope for further refinement.
  • Land 121 protected vehicles are effective tactical convoy platforms.
  • The availability of FRSDs enhanced the viability of the HR task despite the unavailability of body bags.
  • ARH is an effective convoy escort asset.

Those members that were junior in rank or seniority, and not Royal Australian Corp of Transport (RACT) trade qualified, had limited experience in tactical convoys. This particularly was exacerbated by confusion with the supply routes and the prevalence of dust within the JFAO. Providing sufficient training to a ready element may alleviate this problem in the future.

The communications system issued was not sufficient; this was not helped by the size of the tactical convoy and the inability for the first to last packet commanders to communicate without ad-hoc relay. This problem may be alleviated with the eventual roll-out of the BGC3 capability within Land 121 platforms.

Confusion surrounding the coordination of this mission at an exercise level may have led to the perception that the TCT was inconsequential. Future testing of this concept may benefit from further coordination at an exercise control (EXCON) level.

No weapon mounts and associated support weapon systems were issued to the vehicle platforms for this task. As a result, the halt TTP was exercised somewhat notionally for constructive purposes. Despite this deficiency, good progress was made into the development and practice of TTPs which effectively used the enhance capabilities of the Land 121 assets, for example, the integrated load handling system for the handling of the FRSDs.

By chance FRSDs were made available for the conduct of this mission which ordinarily would not be case as those assets are usual relegated to actual tasking. This enhanced the realism of the exercise from a HR perspective. However, body bags were not available, which offset this realism.

The armed escort provided by the ARH was very effective. However, it is noted that the availability of these platforms can be ad-hoc or mission dependent.

Conclusion

Despite the TCT mission not being successful as a whole by virtue of external stakeholders, the formation of the task orientated team in its entirety with all elements, was successful, especially considering the concept has not been practised effectively by Army for a considerable amount of time.

With the maturity of the incoming platforms and equipment, the capability of the TCT will only increase with the intent of remediating and back-loading mass battlefield damage and casualties. However, consideration should be made as to what environment the TCT should be deployed.

TCT is a vehicle-centric team based around protected medium to heavy logistics vehicles. The absence of heavy weapons and further armoured protection systems should relegate the deployment of such a team to no more than a semi-permissive environment in order to mitigate against enemy anti-armour capabilities.

Recommendations

The following are recommendations for the future employment of the TCT:

  • A dedicated and rehearsed online TCT element should be constructed prior to deployment.
  • Dedicated assets should include support weapons with mounts, FRSDs and body bags.
  • Vehicle platforms should be protected, with the majority also having BGC3 capability.
  • Further exercising of this concept should be coordinated by EXCON.

About the author: Patrick Marshall is an artificer qualified electronics technician posted to the 9th Force Support Battalion as the Electrical Instrument Repair Supervisor for the Close Maintenance Platoon. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering majoring in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. Patrick was appointed as the Artificer Sergeant Major for the 10th Force Support Team during Exercise Hamel 2018.

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