When comparing operational sustainment requirements with most other standard missions, route clearance missions stand out due to their units’ unique relationship with the threat, general cadence, and resource consumption. Slow and deliberate, with an objective of threat interaction rather than avoidance, clearance units maneuver and operate under an umbrella of dynamic adaptability and improvisation in the field, but they do so with a deliberate consistency in execution. Faced with consistent resource stressors, clearance leaders must continue developing systems and practices that provide sustaining support to their units.
Anticipation of Catastrophic Engagement
Given the potential severity of the IED’s impact as well as increased frequency of close proximity required to counter it, major stress on both equipment and personnel should be expected. Integrating a comprehensive understanding of these stressors into route clearance operational planning has led to innovative equipment design, employment, and support strategies that anticipate and respond to an increased regularity of catastrophic contact with IEDs. Resources must be allocated, personnel supported, and equipment designed in a way that minimizes mission impact, thereby facilitating continued operation in the event of an IED strike.
Impact on Personnel
Clearance personnel are the most critical element of a patrol, not only from a human perspective, but also because of the significance of the knowledge retained by an individual during any single mission, which is critical to enable units to respond and anticipate evolving threats. Even the most sophisticated equipment can’t do that on its own.
Qualified people are both finite and exhaustible. The high-stress nature of regularly anticipating engagement with explosive threats, coupled with long periods unrewarded focus, can easily build seemingly contradictory traits of both complacency and oversensitivity in personnel. Complacent personnel don’t see indicators, while oversensitive personnel see them everywhere. In both instances, this stress can result in inefficient or ineffective operations.
Personnel at all levels must be kept sharp through regular engagement and involvement in planning and execution, along with periods of rotation and rest. Due to the potentially severe impact of a mistake, along with limited resources, a common instinct among leaders is to get the best people in specialized roles and keep them there, but this is not sustainable. Obviously, certain people will always be more adept in certain areas and leaders should take advantage of individuals’ strengths. Creative thinkers, technical problem solvers, and adaptive leaders all play a critical role in countering the variation seen in the IED threat, but redundancy is absolutely crucial. Specialized clearance soldiers must be forced to share expertise and step out of comfortable roles in order to sustain unit effectiveness. The increased likelihood of clearance personnel experiencing a blast means that leaders must anticipate the need for both physical and psychological rest within their units. Even without experiencing a blast, anticipatory stress can be exhausting. Despite the instinct to keep the most knowledgeable personnel in key roles, on every mission, leaders must vehemently enforce rotation and rest for all personnel.
Keys for Personnel Sustainment:
- Task sharing, rotational rosters, and manning redundancies to help share burden
- Involved mission planning to keep people focused and prevent one-size-fits-all loadout
- Enforcement of post-event response and rest cycles to help reduce overall stress
Impact on Equipment
While the primary focus of clearance units is to detect and neutralize explosive threats, avoiding uncontrolled detonation all together, emphasis on mitigating the effect of an inevitable strike has been a major focus in the development of both clearance tactics and equipment. In the event that a strike occurs on a clearance patrol, survivable vehicles, standoff initiation payloads, and remote platforms must all be leveraged to reduce the effect of the blast on personnel.
This critical need to protect personnel has a major impact on the damage and wear on equipment. Major advances in survivability have been made to equipment operating in high explosive threat areas, however, anticipating the inevitable strike necessitates anticipating a response to that strike’s effect on the equipment.
Sustainment and maintenance independence is critical for clearance units. Pre-staged repair parts and float vehicles reduce the time that a patrol is non-mission capable and limits the need for reactive logistical support, as clearance often occurs in support of isolated maneuver elements without the means to support the maintenance and repair of clearance units’ unique equipment. Ultimately getting these units back on mission reduces the time the enemy has to “reseed” routes.
With this type of resource constrained repair in mind, some clearance equipment has even been designed to anticipate strikes, and ease the associated battle damage repair, through predictable breakage features. This reduces stress on tertiary system components and allows the rapid replacement of the isolated damage.
Keys for Equipment Sustainment:
- Frangible designs facilitating predictable damage to minimize impact and ease repair
- Staged maintenance packages to meet timely needs and reduce logistical footprint
- Float fleets anticipate catastrophic interaction and provide standby assets
Operational Tempo & Mission Cadence
Though the execution of route clearance missions is hard to define as standardized, and it is inherently dynamic in response to threat tempo and adaptability, the consistency of threat employment often means that clearance units are applied with a dulling regularity, which is often counterproductive. Frequency of major route coverage is often prioritized over operational effect on maneuver objectives, which means that clearance units are sent out on the same routes and executing the same missions the same way, day in and day out. This type of clearance application makes effective threat emplacement easy for the enemy, while the operational pace can wear on even the most well-maintained equipment and personnel.
The slow, deliberate pace of conventional clearance missions can mean a lot waiting and anticipation all for nothing to happen. At the end of the day, spending 10 hours, traveling slower than 10 mph, waiting an hour to determine that a suspected bomb was just trash (or that a patch of earth was actually a bomb), can result in little to show for the time but still drain focus and energy.
Long clearance missions, combined with a constant use on energy-hungry equipment, can take its toll on the unprepared clearance unit. Resources dwindle, personnel tire, and efficiency suffers. Mission planners should take this into consideration to prevent resource fatigue and sustain equipment. If not planned for effectively, the unique tempo of route clearance operations can unexpectedly drain resources. With this in mind, missions must be planned and resources applied with precision, prioritized on a mission-by-mission basis, to provide the maximum impact and minimize resource waste.
Clearance units must operate as independent support elements on the battlefield. Dynamic in nature and flexible by design, these units are sent to intentionally interact with unpredictable threats. This makes route clearance units depend on leadership support through unique sustainment approaches to ensure mission success.