EABO Wargame AAR by LtCol Brendan McBreen, USMC (Ret.)

Editor's Note: The following is an after-action report on an Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations wargame conducted at Marine Corps Intelligence Schools in September 2022. The wargame was facilitated by LtCol Brendan McBreen.

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From: Brendan B. McBreen

To: CO, MCIS


Subj: September 2022 EABO Wargame at TIOC MCIS


Encl: (1) Forty EABO Observations from (40) TIOC Officers


1. On Wednesday, 14 September 2022, the Tactical Intelligence Officer Course (TIOC) conducted a day-long wargame focused on Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) in the western Pacific. See Figure 1 and Figure 2. Thirty-seven intelligence lieutenants and three captains participated. Following the wargame, an AAR was conducted. Each officer’s EABO comments and suggestions are included in Enclosure (1).


2. The key EABO takeaway from this wargame was “We cannot ruthlessly reduce our footprint because of higher headquarters requirements. Our legacy units are too large for EABO. Our HHQ saddled us with unnecessary expectations for life-support, medical, air defense, and security. These extra units endangered the EAB by creating a huge signature. It shouldn’t take 180 Marines and 30 vehicles to operate two UAS.”


3. Four BLUE teams, each operating a separate EAB, executed four turns. On D-21, teams evaluated multiple EAB sites. On D-7, teams built a task organization. On D+7, teams reacted to RED intelligence collection efforts, and on D+21, teams coordinated an incident with a Fires EAB, a Navy DDG (guided missile destroyer), and the surface warfare commander.


Figure 1. TIOC students conduct EABO wargame at MCIS, 14 Sep 2022.

(Provided by author)

Two RED teams each developed an intelligence collection plan and then listed a program of offensive actions to attack, degrade, and mitigate BLUE capabilities.


4. The MCIS EABO wargame was rewritten in August with lessons learned over ten iterations. For this wargame, TIOC students received updated preparatory materials on EABO concepts and adversary capabilities, an introduction to US Navy composite warfare command (CWC), a new Navy-focused chain of command, a new map and concept of operations, and specific sea denial missions and operating area assignments for each EAB.


5. Insights. Following each turn, teams briefed their plans. Interestingly:


a. Infantry. Two of the BLUE teams did not include any infantry or reconnaissance units. Mission-critical EAB units provided their own security at remote sites. Students wondered why the future ‘Littoral Combat Team’ is based on an infantry battalion.


b. Air defense. All four BLUE teams prioritized air and missile defense. None were satisfied with only missile warning capability—they wanted shoot-down capability. There was no discussion of using the Army's ballistic missile defense capability.


c. Fires. A fires EAB is harder to detect than other EABs. UAS EABs have daily flights, radars, and comm signatures. The 148-Marine NMESIS battery organization, published by the USMC COE for NMESIS V1.0, 18 Mar 2021, was considered too large. Missile resupply is irrelevant if the battery needed to relocate after firing.


d. Insert. The large signatures of US Navy ships and aircraft cause problems. The most vulnerable and visible actions by EABs are insert, extract, and resupply. Reducing unit footprints is critical to reduce insert, extract, and resupply requirements.



Figure 2. TIOC students brief EABO decisions and challenges at MCIS, 14 Sep 2022.


6. The day following the wargame, Thursday, 15 September 2022, the MAGTF Intelligence Analysts Course (MIAC) was briefed on the EABO concept, challenges for the Marine Corps to implement EABO, and the results of the first eleven wargames. Future EABO wargames at MCIS will include an improved force list with leaner Marine Corps units, better intelligence preparation of the battlefield products, and an expanded role for US Navy composite warfare commanders.

Enclosure (1): Forty EABO Observations from (40) TIOC Officers


Note: Forty TIOC officers commented on EABO. Some of their ideas were consolidated and rearranged, resulting in the twenty-six comments listed below.


“To conduct EABO, the Marine Corps needs to…”


1. MINIMIZE the electromagnetic signature of each EAB. Signature management (SIGMAN) should be the first priority: Buy low-signature radios and radars, practice emissions control (EMCON) procedures, reduce reporting requirements and comm windows, and enforce social media and administrative signature blackouts.


2. MINIMIZE the visible signature of each EAB. Drive civilian vehicles. Rent commercial trucks. Wear civilian clothes. Deploy by commercial ships and aircraft.


3. ANNOUNCE EAB locations. The opposite of hiding is operating in the open. Overwhelm the adversary with hundreds of probable, decoy, and actual EAB sites. Announce blockaded sea denial areas to adversary and commercial ships. Absorb the adversary’s collections and fires networks in order draw attention away from US Navy ships.


4. OPERATE as part of the US Navy integrated fires network.


a. Conform to US Navy fires planning timelines and procedures.


b. Acquire and use US Navy compatible radio equipment and nets.


c. Train to US Navy standard comm procedures for fires requests and procedure words.


d. Train to US Navy standard comm procedures for resupply and insert/extract vessels.


5. PRE-POSITION equipment and supplies in caches at potential EABs.


a. IMPROVE runways and LZs at potential EAB sites.


b. Pre-position heavy equipment in order to reduce insert requirements during conflict.


c. Create an EAB preparation unit to: (1) Conduct host nation (HN) liaison and civil affairs, (2) Contract for logistics, utilities, interpreters, and services, (3) Conduct intelligence and fires surveys, and (4) Contract for site improvements.


d. Establish HUMINT networks at potential EAB sites five years before D-Day.


6. CONDUCT and advertise extensive EAB exercises in order to message adversaries on US EABO capabilities and deter adversary actions.


7. MINIMIZE insert/extract and resupply signature of each EAB. Do NOT use US Navy ships or aircraft. Deploy by commercial ships, RORO ferries, and fishing trawlers.


8. MINIMIZE UAS flights in order to reduce EAB electromagnetic signature. Alter daily UAS flight schedules. Fly only when needed based on cuing from satellites.


9. ACQUIRE air and missile defense weapons, radars, equipment, and capabilities. Alternatively, ignore air and missile defense concerns, focus only on missile warning, and shrink the EAB footprint until it becomes unworthy of adversary missile attack.


10. REDUCE unit sizes and increase capabilities to provide flexible, task-organized EABs.


a. Train and task organize specific units and leaders for EAB missions.


b. Certify Marines on multiple MOSs. Small units need multi-skilled Marines to operate and maintain communications, computers, vehicles, and weapons systems.


11. BUILD specific EAB logistics units. Small support units need multi-skilled Marines to conduct resupply and operate and maintain vehicles, generators, and life support systems.


12. SHIFT the EAB base unit away from the infantry battalion. If fires and surveillance are the primary two EAB capabilities for the sea control and sea denial missions, what does the infantry battalion bring—700 Marines for security? If we need an O5 commander and staff, just create an EAB command element with twelve people.


13. CONTRACT support from host nation (HN) commercial companies in order to reduce resupply requirements. Rent vehicles, trucks, and vessels. Rent buildings. Buy food. Contract electricity, water, sewer, and trash. Except for remote EABs, government credit cards and cash can buy everything except replacement parts and ammunition.


14. CREATE an EAB Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) standard. IPB on potential EABs must include information on commercial support networks: (1) Mobile phone companies, networks, and SIM card purchases, (2) Rental availability of vehicles, trucks, and fishing vessels, (3) Agricultural equipment, (4) Food, water, and electricity.


15. DEPLOY EAB units on US Navy ships on standby, ready to insert anywhere at any time.


16. UNDERSTAND EAB unit capabilities. If the support infrastructure and reach-back organizations are much larger than the actual Marines on the deck, then all Marines need to understand the capabilities and limitations of remotely-supported EABO units.


17. STANDARDIZE US Navy insert and extract and resupply procedures. Train for low-visibility, EMCON, and rapid operations. If these evolutions are the most vulnerable and visible to adversary collectors, then they need to be coordinated, quiet, and efficient.


18. INSERT EABs in mutual supporting clusters. UAS from one EAB can observe another’s sector. Fires from one EAB can mass, reinforce, or protect another. Redundant locations can enable EABs to move on the same island. An intermediate support base (ISB) hub can provide medical, comm, logistics, air and missile warning, intelligence analysis, fuel, aircraft, US Navy combat information center (CIC) and other general support.


19. EMPHASIZE sensing, not missiles. Even without weapons, EABs provide long-range surveillance capabilities to the US Navy—the abilities to find, fix, target, and track (F2T2EA). The Marine Corps should focus on acquiring long-range (greater than 300 nautical miles), over-water radars, surveillance aircraft, and UAS.


20. COORDINATE early for host nation (HN) permissions, liaisons, and specific levels of support. This is a US government and State Department issue.


21. PREPARE to seize EAB locations from hostile adversaries.


22. PROVIDE EABs a method to project a decoy signature elsewhere. Acquire EAB decoy devices to insert across the battlespace in order to overwhelm adversary collections efforts.


23. CONDUCT Medical and Dental Civic Action (MEDCAP) visits to build rapport with host nation (HN) civilians. Insert engineers to build community facilities. Task public affairs, strategic communications, and civil affairs organizations to inform and reassure host nation citizens and pre-empt negative adversary messaging.


24. EQUIP EABs with equipment and personnel to deflect local online messaging and conduct information operations locally. Alternatively, support EABs from a reach-back location to monitor and mitigate negative online messaging.


25. ATTACH vessels or aircraft to each EAB for rapid relocation, resupply, or emergency extract. Displacement capability is critical. Vessels should be expendable.


26. ESTABLISH a “Hasty EAB” capability, with less setup and less signature, for 24-48 hour operations.


Author's Bio: A career infantry officer, LtCol Brendan McBreen served 27 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He currently works at Marine Corps Intelligence Schools.


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