News: NIE looks to the subterranean battlefield of tomorrow
Story by John Hamilton
White Sands Missile Range, N.M. - Soldiers took the tunnels below White Sands Missile Range May 12 as Network Integration Evaluation 13.2 looks to fighting future battles.
Members of the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division launched a raid on a village represented by WSMR's Launch Complex 38. As the soldiers advanced on the complex members of the opposing force defending the facility, played by other soldiers, retreated into the tunnel complex below the facility. "We could definitely hear the fire going on from over there, and we try to train and prepare in case something like that happens, but in my case I was just staying focused and watching my sector of fire," said Infantryman Pvt. 1st Class Alvaro Acuna, whose mission was to provide local security and watch for opposing forces that might attempt to attack or escape from one of the tunnels.
The complex, a former missile launch site, features several small buildings connected by service tunnels, and a central underground facility featuring several rooms, service hatches and even an old observation theater. "Today we had to insert through an underground tunnel. I don't think we've ever actually done that before," said Team Leader Spc. Jose Padilla. Using night vision equipment, called NODs, or Night Observations Devices by the soldiers, and relying on experience gained from training in urban combat tactics the soldiers had to fight their way into the tunnels and facility rooms encountering enemy forces, traps, IEDs and obstacles. "The difficult part about that one was we had to use NOD. NODs are difficult to use because everything looks far away but really you are really close to it. So you have to be careful where you're stepping," Padilla said.
While the soldiers cleared the complex, and captured enemy fighters, it wasn't without difficulty. Fighting in an underground environment, whether it be naturally formed caves, man-made tunnels and mines, or carefully engineered underground complexes, can be a challenge. While the subterranean environment has many features that appear similar to an urban combat environment like tight corridors and sharp angles, from the perspective of the soldiers it can be very different. Being underground, this battle space can negate the effect of artillery and air support, depriving the soldiers of valuable firepower and support. In the case of man-made tunnels and underground facilities, not only are they often specifically designed to be able to survive air attacks, but they can also be designed to thwart attacking forces by featuring things like traps, built in strong points, and architecture designed to confuse invading forces. Even gaining basic intelligence on the facilities can be difficult. Since they are out of view of satellite imagery and aerial photography, even getting an accurate floor plan can be virtually impossible. "We've done (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training, urban training, and clearing rooms, and we built our glass houses (training that uses taped off areas to represent rooms) and set up a diagram in the sand. We went in and cleared our rooms, practiced, practiced, and practiced. Only thing was when we got here none of it looked the same, so we had to just wing everything," Padilla said.
While the primary function of the NIE is further integrating and progressing the Army's tactical network, looking at new systems and techniques to improve it, training and doctrine development has always played a role. In the case of the raid on LC-38, the doctrine being looked at wasn't attached to a specific system in the evaluation, but instead leveraged the NIE as a large scale operational test, to look at possible gaps in Army capabilities relating to the subterranean environment.
This is part of a program conducted by the Asymmetric Warfare Group. Two of the AWGs core functions are to identify capability gaps within the Army, and develop solutions to give soldiers the tactical advantage. With the ever evolving state of warfare and the list of possible adversaries including more and more that make use of tunnels and cave or who have constructed underground facilities, the need to train and equip soldiers to fight underground is becoming more and more likely. "There are certain threats that are emerging globally and it really has to do with what we are able to do as the U.S. military and how our adversaries are able to mitigate some of our effects. So it's just worth our time to start looking at what it is we can do underneath the ground to develop our own solutions," said Maj. Scott Bailey, a test and evaluation officer with the Asymmetric Warfare Group.
Part of addressing this gap was to have soldiers participating in the NIE conduct operations in the underground environment, and evaluating how they fought, what kinds of tactics, techniques and procedures could be developed or matured to make them more effective, and to help identify where new systems and equipment might be needed. "What we've worked with Brigade Modernization Command on in this particular exercise we have the opportunity to work with two companies Alpha 1-6 and Bravo 1-6. The idea with Alpha 1-6 is we will not provide them with any training, and that's simply to understand kind of a baseline. So without any training what would an infantry company be able to do in this environment so we can more clearly understand those challenges," Bailey said. Later in the NIE the second company, Bravo 1-6 will receive a basic introduction to the subterranean environment from AWG advisers, and then conduct a similar mission, allowing the AWG observers to collect data and see how much better a unit more familiar with the terrain performs.
To document the events Army Test and Evaluations Command's Optics Branch at WSMR equipped the entire facility with night vision video cameras. While normally Optics is typically responsible for high-speed video of missile launches, the organization adapted to the new mission requirements, acquiring the camera and recorder systems, and rigging the facility in a very short period of time. "It was totally different and something new to me, but it was a good experience," Lionel Allcock, a contracted optics technician. More than 40 cameras placed both inside and outside the facility recorded the entire battle giving observers and analysts a complete picture of how the battle unfolded and recorded the entire operation for later reference and analysis.