The application of logistics within a first line unit directly correlates to the overall success of any mission. There are many combat service support (CSS) elements within a battalion and they must all work together to achieve the end goal. The overall effectiveness of the echelon system is dependent on the foresight shown by the force element (FE). The term ‘logistics just happens’ is often thrown around first line units; logistic elements are often the last to know but the first that need to react. There is a finite amount of planning a logistic element can complete prior to being given orders.. Without this information they are unable to understand the whole picture and what the FE is trying to achieve. A constant state of ‘readiness’ is something that all logistic elements strive to achieve, but each element can only support within their means, so time should be provided to allow analysis of the second and third line logistic effects.
In my limited experience as a logistic officer, logistics is often ad hoc and not the result of a well thought out and executed plan. This is across all levels of command and usually occurs due to a lack of communication, and planning in isolation. Battalion standard operating procedures (SOPs) need to readily reflect the actual make up and capability of internal CSS; and commanders from all sub-units should have a thorough understanding of what their logistic elements can provide, as well as the most effective way to utilise them in order to achieve their mission.
CSS elements within a first line unit comprise of the A1, A2 and B Echelons¹. Each echelon plays a vital yet different role in supporting the F Echelon in the line of battle. The A1 Echelon is integral to each sub-unit and is commanded by the Coy CQMS. The A2 and B Echelon are part of Admin Company (Coy) and are commanded by Officer Commanding (OC) Admin Coy. The use and make-up of these echelons should be task dependent (the tactical scenario will often determine the size and strength of the A1 and A2 echelons), and they ought to be stood up accordingly during the planning phase of an operation.
The A1 echelon is especially important to FE’s as it has the capacity to hold the essential items the FE will require to go into battle. For this reason, the individual Coy commander can dictate the holdings of their A1 echelon. The operational viability period (OVP) stated in orders may also influence the makeup of a Coy’s A1 Echelon. The purpose of an A1 Echelon is to provide their FE battle replenishment and daily maintenance and they are generally located within the sub-unit construct. However, in my experience, commanders often chose to locate their A1 Echelon within the A2 Echelon. I have observed two reasons for this; the first being they do not know how to use them and secondly the sub unit does not want to provide protection for their A1 Echelon as they consider them a vulnerable target. This vulnerability is a misconception, as A1 Echelons are now mounted in protected vehicles and if used correctly they can enhance the rate of battle.
The underlying issue is the lack of understanding and general knowledge of logistic echelons and how they work. This is a result of not including logistic operations lessons at all-Corps training establishments. Unless you belong to a logistics Corps, you will not receive even basic training in logistics. Having been through Royal Military College – Duntroon (RMC-D) and completed the All Corps Captain’s Course (ACCC), I found that both courses gave only a very brief overview of what logistics is and neither provided sufficient information to enable commanders of other Corps to understand logistic echelons and lines of support, or how to best employ logistics to enable FE’s.
The echelon system must be adapted to suit the mission and tactical situation. Therefore, planning should occur in a joint environment across all echelons, including the assigned combat service support team (CSST) for brigade tasks. When planning occurs in isolation it results in a disjointed and poorly functioning logistics system. When planning, the 4 D’s[i] should be considered – not just from a logistic planners’ perspective but FE commanders should also take note of how these will influence their maintenance and resupply. Understanding the 4 D’s should lead to the planning and building of a sub-unit’s A1 echelon and also affect the composition of the A2 and B echelons.
The below quote from an article in the War in History Journal highlights the requirement to build the echelon system to the individual mission and the importance of dispersion between elements.
“It is very important that each regiment accustom its own baggage train to follow behind with its own standards, as described elsewhere, and not become mixed up with that of another unit. The whole army should not be brought together in one place because men might quickly find themselves starving.”[ii]
There is good reason that all logistic elements should not be co-located – they are high value targets, and the means of achieving this disbursement is through the echelons.
Integrating and Rehearsing
Logistic echelons do not integrate battle maintenance and resupply in the barracks environment; therefore it is remiss to think that without rehearsals or training logistic echelons will integrate these elements successfully in the field environment.
Further I have not seen sub-units utilise their CSS elements in training. To improve the lines of support and most effectively use the echelon system, commanders from all sub-units should conduct training with their logistic echelon. As part of this they should teach them how to protect themselves, thus increasing both the company and the logistics elements capability.
In the barracks environment, the A2 echelon does not exist in its true form, rather it is Admin Coy and the general construct and tasking of Admin Coy does not allow it to train independently. To properly train the A2 echelon it needs a dependency to support – logistics will never succeed if we don’t test the system. Setting up the echelons and allowing them to do their intended job is the only way logistics personnel will learn and the echelon system will truly work.
At the end of the day CSS elements are there to support the FE and the way in which they do this is through an echelon system. By commanders having a better understanding of the echelon system they will be able to maximise the support they receive from CSS elements; and a key component of this is ensuring that all echelons are engaged early in the planning process.
About the Author: Sally Wares is a logistics officer at 8th/9th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. To date all her logistics experiences is within a first line unit.
A1 Echelon. The A1 Echelon has the vehicles and equipment readily available at squadron or company level to provide immediate support to sustain the fighting troops.
A2 Echelon. The A2 Echelon holds the remainder of the fuel, ammunition and technical stores vehicles of the force element (FE); and contains the personnel, vehicles and equipment to support the battlegroup (BG) and resupply or reinforce the A1 Echelon.
B Echelon. The B Echelon contains those personnel, vehicles and equipment not assigned to the other echelons. This organisation is tasked with the logistic liaison duties with the CSS supporting elements, and provides guidance for planning.
F Echelon. F Echelon has the personnel, vehicles and equipment required by units to fight the battle and will normally include a mix of fighting and command, control, communications and information systems elements required to plan and conduct operations.
[i] The 4 D’s are a key to CSS planning; by answering guiding questions in order to gain understanding of the Destination, Distance, Duration and Demand.
[ii] Matthew Bennet, ‘The Crusaders’ Fighting March Revisited’, in War in History Vol 8. No1, 2001.