US OPFOR Commander’s Lessons

This message board post, OPFOR commander’s observations on XXIst century warfare, provides some very interesting ideas for modern day asymetrical conflict. The original post is at the bottom of the page, and mirrored below.

Scott Cunningham
Member, vast right wing conspiracy posted 09 Dec 2002 20:33 Log:
The Inherent Vulnerabilities of Technology: Insights from the National
Training Center’s Opposing Force
by Colonel John D. Rosenberger, U.S. Army
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
To the 2,500 troopers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Opposing
Force (OPFOR) at the U.S. Army’s National Training Center (NTC), it came as
no surprise to watch the 3d Serbian Army march back into Serbia virtually
unscathed by the relentless attacks of NATO air power during the Kosovo
conflict this past year. Moreover, it came as no surprise to see the Serbian
Army employ a wide variety of physical and electronic deception techniques,
remain tactically well-dispersed, and hide their combat systems in the
infrastructure of cities and villages to preserve their combat power.
This is old news to the combined-arms team of the NTC’s Opposing Force.
These same Serbian adaptations have been learned and employed successfully by
the OPFOR at the NTC since 1994-adaptive countermeasures critical to
preserving combat capability at the tactical level of war against the
impressive array of intelligence collection and attack technologies employed
by America’s joint team. Moreover, this is only one of several insights the
OPFOR can provide into the limitations and vulnerabilities of the current
warfighting technology that underpins America’s style of warfare in the 21st
Limitations and Vulnerabilities of Air Power and Reconnaissance Platforms
(Slide 2)
In the past six years, the NTC OPFOR has exposed many limitations and
vulnerabilities inherent to the warfighting technologies our joint services
are currently pursuing. Moreover, they’ve learned to defeat them just like
any adaptive and savvy opponent will do-just as the Serbian Army did this
past year. In my view, these vulnerabilities that we have exposed are
compelling, not simply to make smarter technological investments in the years
ahead, but equally important, ensure we do not forfeit combat effectiveness,
the ability to deter, or the ability to quickly defeat our enemies at both
the operational and tactical levels of war in the years ahead.
To begin with, we have learned that active and passive force protection
measures are vital to preserving combat power against asymmetric
technologies, asymmetric in this case meaning some technological capability
that provides a decisive advantage over an opponent in combat. For example,
cruise missiles, laser-guided bombs, satellite reconnaissance systems, high
altitude reconnaissance aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles have provided
us an asymmetric combat advantage over all our opponents this past decade.
In response to these capabilities, we have learned that thermal deception,
vehicle and unit dispersion, decoys of all types, camouflage, concealment,
and electronic deception are vital means and ways to protect and preserve our
ground combat power. Furthermore, the OPFOR has learned that air power and
overhead intelligence acquisition systems have significant limitations and
are inherently vulnerable to deception-even in desert and mountainous
terrain. And by extension, even more so in densely forested areas and
jungles, not to mention complex and urban terrain.
Take fixed-wing attack aircraft. It is not difficult to survive against the
existing suite of joint close air support aircraft (F-16, F-18, A-10, and
equivalents), attacking at altitudes above 15,000 feet, even in the desert.
Given the target acquisition capability and the speed in which these aircraft
fly, target acquisition and target recognition at these altitudes is
difficult at best. We have learned that if we limit our movement, don’t
create dust clouds, remain tactically dispersed, use camouflage, and employ
decoy equipment, we will absorb few losses to fixed wing attack above 15,000
feet-the same methodology of force protection the Serbian Army and
para-military forces employed in the dense forests, cities, and villages in
By using a combination of these force protection techniques, the
effectiveness of high-altitude, fixed-wing attack against ground forces can
be limited and thereby endured. Moreover, this ability to eliminate the
effectiveness of high-altitude fixed-wing attack, in turn, places an even
higher value on overhead target acquisition platforms like satellites,
JSTARS, and unmanned aerial vehicles. And as we have learned, these
overhead intelligence collection systems-the operators and analysts-are
inherently easy to deceive.
Take reconnaissance satellites in low earth orbit. Given our experience, it
takes about 18 hours to complete the targeting process using these
sensors-from acquisition, to imagery analysis, to integration into the ATO,
to effective attack. Consequently, we’ve learned to move critical combat
systems every 10-12 hours to protect them and keep them in the fight.
Frequent survivability moves, in small packets of vehicles are an essential
technique to employ to preserve combat power.
Or take JSTARS. This impressive Air Force reconnaissance system, providing
both Moving Target Indicator data and Synthetic Aperture Radar images, is
able to acquire and track moving vehicles within a 10,000 sq/nm area,
depending on weather and terrain conditions. Under the right conditions,
this formidable capability can provide commanders at many levels a near-real
time appreciation of the enemy’s size, strength, composition, movements, or
the array of forces throughout a Joint Forces Commander’s battlespace.
Mountainous terrain and weather degrade its capability, but it still remains
an invaluable instrument of war for both tactical and operational commanders.
However, we have learned how to deceive the operators and analysts behind
the JSTAR screens, and leverage them to set conditions for success.
Since JSTARS cannot reliably acquire and define the composition and types of
vehicles in a column of vehicles, the OPFOR routinely organizes
battalion-size truck columns, perhaps led by 2-3 armored vehicles, all
dragging 20-30 ft. lengths of concertina wire. This column, easily acquired
by JSTARS, is then employed along an expected route of march towards the
enemy. This imaginative technique is aimed at deceiving the enemy commander
as to our intended point of attack or main effort. Being told that this is
an armored column by his JSTAR data analyst, the enemy commander will
typically react and shift targeting assets, or his mobile reserves to
interdict the advance. This technique in offensive operations can be used
to create a weakness in the enemy’s defense permitting rapid penetration and
exploitation. Employment of this technique has set conditions for OPFOR
tactical success several times in the past.
The other technique that works to defeat JSTARS is infiltration-the movement
and concentration of a large mobile organization by moving it in small
packets of vehicles along multiple routes, seemingly without any
pattern-concentrating forces over time.
The Serbs used similar techniques to preclude effective air attacks against
their ground combat forces and deceive NATO forces of their actual strength,
disposition, and location. Even more ingenious, they used the appreciation
of this vulnerability to lure NATO attack aircraft, cued by JSTARS, into
attacking organized columns of civilian vehicles, then exploiting the scenes
of carnage via the international media-information warfare at its best,
designed to attack the solidarity of the NATO coalition.
In short, against a savvy opponent, JSTARS acquisitions have little
intelligence value to tactical and operational commanders unless the data or
images are confirmed quickly by another real-time imagery system such as a
UAV, AFAC, or a well-trained reconnaissance team that has the capability and
optical resolution to discern the exact composition and type of vehicles
The same goes for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In response to the
presence of UAVs on the battlefield, we have developed several techniques to
deceive and defeat its capabilities. We use a combination of physical and
thermal decoys to deceive the UAV pilots and image analysts, and thereby
nullify the effects of indirect fires while preserving our actual combat
systems and crews.
For example, we will construct deception fighting positions and in them place
tank decoys made of fiberglass turrets, gun tubes made out of steel/PCV pipe,
and other materials to create a realistic physical image. Furthermore, we cut
55 gallon barrels in half, and place them where the engine compartment of the
tank is located, then we fill them with burning charcoal to create a
realistic thermal signature. Flying at an altitude of 2000-5000 feet, and
looking through the narrow field of view to achieve resolution, a UAV image
analyst, unless very experienced, cannot tell it’s a decoy. From these
altitudes, they look just like tanks. We also use vehicular decoys made of
fabric and wood frames, just like the Serbs employed. They work.
Finally, we have become adept at conducting air defense ambushes to destroy
UAVs. We place actual unmanned, usually inoperable combat equipment, such
as an armor or air defense system, into a position where the enemy would
expect to find them. We will throw in a blanket of smoke to attract their
attention and really draw them in. We ring this equipment with multiple
organic air defense radar and missile systems, camouflaged well with engines
cold. Basically, we lure UAVs into an area. Once we visually or
acoustically acquire the UAVs-which can be easily acquired by their sound-and
determine they are within range, we unmask and fire. Using this technique,
we routinely destroy 50%-75% of UAVs employed against us during the course of
an NTC training exercise. In case you’re wondering, we employ systems that
accurately replicate ZSU-23-4s, SA-18s, SA-8s, and SA-9s. By the way, the
hand-held, shoulder-fired S-18 air defense missile is our most effective ADA
system against both rotary wing and UAV capabilities.
Vulnerabilities of Information and Communications Systems
Another important lesson we’ve learned is this.the key to defeating forces
equipped with sophisticated collection, targeting, and situational awareness
technologies is to quickly gain information dominance in the initial phase of
the operation. We have learned that if we focus reconnaissance assets and
lethal/non-lethal fires to acquire and destroy or disrupt the enemy’s ability
to move information across the battlefield, then we can quickly level the
playing field, negate this asymmetric advantage, and thereby set conditions
for success. Against the Army’s current situational awareness, information,
and communications systems, fielded or in development, it is not a difficult
task given the capabilities we possess.
Take the Army Tactical Command and Control System (ATCCS), a suite of 5
different software systems (MCS, ASAS, AFATADS, FAADC3, and CSSCS), designed
to provide critical combat information to commanders and staffs at brigade,
division, and corps level.
These information systems, in various stages of development, employ a
line-of-sight communications system called the Mobile Subscriber Equipment
(MSE) system, as the means to move information across the battlefield between
commanders and staffs from battalion to corps level.
Based upon mission requirements, the MSE system operates at multiple
frequency ranges from tactical VHF to SHF ranges above 15 GHz using a digital
communications signal. We have learned that the electronic signature is a
relatively easy target to acquire and jam, using a technique we call dual
harmonic jamming. Basically, the MSE signal frequencies lie above our
ability to jam with the systems we have, but we have learned that by taking 2
jammers and jamming 1/3 of the primary carrier wave and of the primary
carrier wave frequency simultaneously, the combination of these attacks
affects 5/6 of the carrier wave therefore most of the transmission is not
received. No MSE transmission, then no ATTCS-no ATTCS, then no situational
awareness from brigade to corps level.
Furthermore, because it is a stationary, line-of-sight system, the MSE system
is limited in its positioning to easily predictable terrain locations and the
node centers present a large physical signature. They can be easily
acquired by aerial and ground reconnaissance teams and have very little
security, if any, surrounding these sites. They will be one of the first set
of targets we attack.
In short, destroy the brigade MSE node complex with indirect fires or direct
attack, and you stop the flow of information and sustainment of both friendly
and enemy situational awareness. In other words, by attacking this
vulnerability, the OPFOR has learned how to level the playing field very
quickly and eliminate its opponent’s asymmetric information advantage.
Or take the Army’s Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system, FBCB2,
the Army’s flagship information technology designed to create common
situational awareness between crews, leaders, and units on the battlefield
below brigade level-a “tactical internet” for the Army’s combined-arms team.
FBCB2, the Army’s tactical internet currently in development, employs two
line-of-site communications systems as a means to move digital information
across the battlefield between computer systems mounted in combat vehicles
and headquarters. More specifically, the situational awareness information
created by computer software, internal to crews and platoons, is carried on
a backbone of the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS
SIP), operating in the VHF band.
At platoon leader/platoon sergeant level and above-all the way up to the
brigade commander-the situational awareness information is carried on a
backbone of the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS), a UHF
radio. Both operate in the frequency-hopping mode.
Of the two radios, EPLRS is the primary means of moving data across the
battlefield and creating icons on computer screens that reflect the current
location of every combat vehicle/crew on the battlefield. In other words,
it is the principal means of creating both friendly and enemy situational
awareness throughout a brigade task force. Information is transmitted via
data transmissions through a network of stationary base stations-5 per
division and 1 per brigade-positioned on high ground within a division’s area
of operations. Furthermore, it has an embedded relay system. This provides a
jam-resistant, robust, high-speed, high-volume communications network to
multiple, simultaneous users. In fact, the OPFOR’s current legacy IEW
systems are unable to electronically acquire and locate these systems on the
battlefield. Of note, however, some current commercial off-the-shelf
electronic warfare systems have the capability to track and capture the
limited hop-set group of frequencies in EPLRS, and through the use of
wide-band barrage jamming techniques and multiple jamming systems,
transmissions can be blocked or severely disrupted.
However, the OPFOR has learned to attack EPLRS’s principal vulnerability, the
physical signature of the EPLRS base station; a group of vehicles, antennas,
and generators normally co-located with MSE node sites adjacent to the
brigade tactical operations center. The location of these stationary, and
relatively immobile communication node centers is easy to predict, given a
line-of-site analysis within an area of operations. There are a limited
number of accessible positions where comprehensive line of sight
communications can be established and sustained.
Find the MSE communication sites and you’ll find the EPLRS base station.
Accordingly, the OPFOR tasks both its division and regimental reconnaissance
teams to find these large, easily identifiable communication sites during the
reconnaissance phase of an operation, then we attack these sites with
accurate long-range artillery, rockets, or fixed-wing assets during the first
phase of offensive or defensive operations-to include persistent and
non-persistent chemical strikes. This stops the flow of digits, quickly
levels the playing field, and eliminates the asymmetric advantage afforded by
the technology. As a side note, the JSTARS downlink, the Common Ground
Station, is also co-located with the brigade tactical operations center.
Successful attack of this complex will also eliminate JSTARS feed to the
brigade commander.
The second piece of the system, the SINCGARS tactical VHF radio, is a
line-of-sight radio easily disrupted by hills and mountainous terrain, unless
continually supported by multiple aerial or ground retransmission stations
positioned within the brigade’s area of operations. Furthermore, it is even
more limited, if not ineffective, when fighting in cities; a lesson
painfully-learned by the Russians in Grozny, Chechnya in 1996 and again this
past year. While they struggled to maintain FM communications to control
operations, the Chechnyans used cellular telephones and commercial satellite
communications to coordinate their defensive operations within the city.
Although invulnerable to our current electronic warfare systems, the OPFOR
has discovered that the range of the SINCGARS radio is cut almost in half
when placed in the frequency-hopping mode. Consequently, in order to sustain
communications, operators will switch to single-channel mode to extend the
range of the radio and re-establish communications. A SINCGARS radio,
passing digital packets of information in the single-channel mode, is the
easiest communications signature to acquire, locate, and jam with our current
suite of jammers. We can quickly block the transmission.
Although we have not been permitted to jam FBCB2 yet, we have become very
adept at acquiring and jamming similar information systems employed by our
Army’s fire support team-TACFIRE, IFSAS, and AFATADS-thereby precluding the
execution of fire support during battle. It follows then, that our FBCB2
system, when fielded, will be similarly vulnerable to disruption.
Furthermore, there are available commercial off-the-shelf systems that can
capture and track the SINCGARS hop-set, thereby making the system vulnerable
to disruption by barrage jamming, using multiple jammers. If you can disrupt
transmissions through barrage jamming, then the SINCGARS radio loses system
synchronization. Once synchronization has been lost, the operator is
required to re-enter the net in the single channel mode, a mode easy for us
to acquire, locate, and attack. Equally important, disrupting
synchronization stops the flow of situational awareness information from the
computer system.
On the ominous horizon, we foresee the proliferation of GPS jammers-small,
effective, and inexpensive jammers that will block GPS signals eliminating
GPS navigation and precision guidance capabilities within an extensive area
of operations. For $40,000 today you can buy an effective lightweight,
portable GPS jammer from the Russian firm AviaConversia-in fact they make
four different variants. These GPS jammers have an output power of 4-8
watts-making them very tough to acquire-and can effectively block GPS signals
out to ranges of 150-200 kilometers, depending on terrain, even more if
mounted on a UAV. I understand that business is picking up.
By the way, the SINCGARS radios supporting FBCB2 depend on GPS signals to
sustain synchronization and sustain situational awareness. Take out GPS
signals-no SINCGARS-no SINCGARS-no FBCB2 or situational awareness internal to
platoons and companies.
For a joint force that has become GPS-dependent for its style of warfare and
effectiveness, this is a classic asymmetrical response that will level the
playing field, perhaps eliminating the dominating capabilities our technology
has provided us the past decade. We plan to introduce GPS jammers in our
Opposing forces in the near future. It’s increasingly clear that we learn-or
re-learn-how to fight without GPS capability.
No Substitute For Ground Reconnaissance Teams
(Slide 3)
Finally, the we have learned that there is no substitute for well-trained
ground reconnaissance teams in warfighting at the tactical level of war.
Despite all the intelligence and information technology provided to our
brigade task force commanders over the pasts 6 years, the OPFOR regimental
commanders, using 1960s-1970s technology and unaided by any overhead
reconnaissance systems, have always had better, near-perfect information
about the strength, composition, location, and disposition of their
opponents. Their opponents, on the other hand, have remained and continue to
remain relatively blind despite the bloom of technology.
This ability to see the battlefield better than their opponents, despite the
introduction of sophisticated technologies, is provided by our division and
regimental reconnaissance teams, undoubtedly some of the best trained
tactical reconnaissance teams in the world. The indisputable fact is that
well-trained observers (reconnaissance teams) in sufficient number to
establish observation throughout the depths of the battlefield, armed with
effective, secure communications, easily offset the supposed asymmetric
advantages of overhead reconnaissance platforms in the business of close
combat at brigade level and below. Moreover, from a practical perspective,
overhead reconnaissance platforms cannot classify a bridge and determine if
it will support the movement of forces, find and determine feasible fording
sites across rivers or streams, find minefields or bypasses, or provide any
accurate information about enemy strength and dispositions within cities, the
most likely battlefields in our future.
In conclusion-if the insights provided in this presentation cause you to
question the direction, design, and investments we’ve made in trying to
create information dominance at the tactical level of war, that’s good. If
these insights foster a change in your perspective about the practical value
and utility of technology by exposing its limitations and vulnerabilities,
that’s good, too. If it drives our joint team to pursue more prudent
technological investments in the future, or drives the creation of better
organizations, equipment, doctrine, tactics, and techniques for employing
technology in the future, that’s even better. If it convinces you that we
should keep teaching our Soldiers and marines how to read a map and navigate
with compass in hand, or keep teaching artillerymen how to survey their
firing positions, or teach our staffs what to do when the screens go blank,
that’s icing on-the-cake.
Finally, if it convinces you that our Opposing Forces at our combat training
centers can provide critical insights into the limitations and
vulnerabilities of technology, informing our judgment to ensure we wisely
adapt and dominate our threats in the 21st Century, then my objective has
been accomplished. One thing is for certain. If we ignore the lessons and
successful countermeasures our Opposing Forces have made and continue to make
against technology, then we ignore the work of these great Soldiers at our
peril. Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you today.


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