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By Grade 2 2022 Cohort



Over 30 May – 10 June students on the Grade 2 conducted a planning scenario within the Decisive Action Training Environment – Pacific (DATE-P) environment, acting as staff officer at both the Brigade and Battle Group levels. The exercise allowed students to deepen their understanding of the mechanics of Brigade tactics by focussing on how formation and units plan and execute tactical tasks, while introducing realistic ‘friction points’ that underpins unit-level level manoeuvre in practice, where in the words of Clausewitz, even ‘the simplest things become hard.’ While tactics at Tactical School often focusses on decisive engagements and audacious coup de main courses of action, this exercise brought into focus some of the less glamorous but nonetheless essential elements that underpin manoeuvre, including moving forces around the battlespace, synchronising effects and resources and appreciating time and space. This article, based on the students’ own post activity reports (PAR) and reflections, contains observations gained from the conduct of the exercise.

Background. 1(NZ) Brigade was tasked with clearing the town of Patea as part of a divisional advance. Anticipating the destruction of the main bridge over the Patea River, a major event of the operation was an opposed river crossing north of the main objective facilitated by a battlegroup feint.

The Task. 1 RNZIR (TG GREEN) led the advance and conducted a feint to fix the enemy in Patea itself, allowing QAMR (TG BLACK) to conduct the river crossing, secure a battlegroup assembly area on the far side, and occupy a guard to isolate the enemy in Patea and provide flank security for the clearance. 2/1 RNZIR (TG RED) then became the brigade main effort as it launched out of the secure assembly area, breaching the enemy’s obstacle system around Patea from an unexpected direction, gaining a lodgement in the urban area and clearing the first half of Patea. 1 RNZIR (TG GREEN) then conducted a forward passage of lines and cleared the second half of Patea.


The Feint. TG GREEN occupied a Support by File Line (SBFL) with two Combat Teams up, a flank guard provided by an attached armoured squadron, and a third combat team in the rear. TG GREEN had to remain in this SBFL for 34 hours in order to support the movement of TG BLACK and their subsequent bridging operation as well as TG RED’s admin move to AA BLUES. The extended time TG GREEN needed to sustain the SBFL to maintain the fix was not fully appreciated until the Rehearsal of Concept drill, which brought out the stress this tactical task would pose on artillery supply. Strict fire control measures had to be imposed to ensure that TG GREEN did not expend the Brigade’s artillery supply prior to the actual river crossing, but at the same time sufficient artillery had to be employed to support the believability of the feint itself.

ISR: The success of the feint was determined through Bde ISR screening the objective in order to identify enemy armor and infantry fighting vehicles withdrawing from the objective towards TG BLACK’s crossing point. This would constitute mission failure. If these forces remained this would constitute mission success.

During the exercise, it was discovered that a lot of the identified Information Requirements that needed answering were not able to be met through the planned Surveillance and Targeting Acquisition Plan, primarily due to a lack of detail co-ordination between brigade and the battle group reconnaissance and surveillance assets. Detailed coordination of brigade and the battle group reconnaissance and surveillance force elements needs to take place to ensure adequate coverage of all areas of interest, and a realistic appreciation of how reconnaissance and surveillance forces occupy positions (e.g. not crossing a river with vehicles before a bridge has been established, or crossing beyond enemy obstacle belts) was needed to allow these assets to be able to get into position at the correct time.

Employment of Electronic Attack: In order to be effective, electronic attack (jamming) must be synchronized to allow it to achieve an effect at a specific period of time in order to influence a specific enemy decision point. In this problem the enemy was able to recover from electronic attack quickly, changing frequencies and communication modes, meaning that the disruption effect provided by our electronic attack was very limited in terms of time. It could still provide a very effective means of disrupting the enemy’s command and control and achieving temporal surprise, but needed to be carefully synchronized with other arms and rapidly exploited by ground manoeuvre to be fully effective.

River Crossing: The river crossing activity was a significant task and needed deliberate planning. It was noted that the provided doctrinal principles were hard to apply given the constrained terrain and congested crossing sites, all of which were vulnerable to enemy direct fire. Planning for the river crossing required continual liaison with all Battle Groups. In this scenario one Battle Group tried to plan the crossing in isolation as we did, and at the first back-briefs it was evident that the synchronisation of the Brigade tactical plan was out as a result and battlespace assumptions were flawed. In practice, the highest level headquarters should plan and command and control an obstacle crossing – in this case, it should have been planned by a 1 (NZ) Bde at the Bde level, rather than being planned at the Battle Group level as a delegated task. Centrally planning and commanding such a task is necessary given the importance and complexity an obstacle crossing entails.

There were some positive points noted from planning the task – the planning team tailored the staff mission appreciation process to the task, and allowed everyone to have a good idea of the problem and be able to contribute more thoroughly. Where the other battle group staff worked spread out in their planning rooms, TG BLACK worked in a U-shape desk setup with everyone facing in, which enabled continued feedback and collaboration.

Sitaware. TG BLACK used Plan and Orders and then ran the actual battle using the Operations function with OP layers enabled to allow ease of corroboration of the plan and the fights (albeit this was a manual update process). This made it easier to differentiate the plan from the actual events unfolding, and updates could be sent via chat to the LOCON if needed.

Breach. Once secure on the far bank TG RED launched into their attack, breaching a significant obstacle belt to gain lodgement into Patea for the urban clearance. This opposed breach required significant combat power and security – staff noted that it was essential to use armour as intimate security to the breach, otherwise the breaching force would face defeat. Flank security became a significant focus for the Battle Group headquarters to mitigate against the threat of an enemy spoiling attack. During the executing of the breach the staff noted that Combat Teams should not be pushed between obstacles until both obstacles are clear, and that the entire staff needed to gain additional knowledge over breaching tasks in order to fully appreciate and plan for such a deliberate and significant activity, including understanding what engineer vehicles are responsible for what task during breach (i.e. an ACE is used to beach anti-tank ditching). The staff also noted that doctrine provides the knowledge necessary to appreciate and plan a breaching task, and Tactical School’s Combined Arms Planning Handbook is the recommended initial reference (and contains links to additional doctrine should more detail be required).

Urban Lodgement. This is the first foothold into the urban terrain – think of it as the ‘urban break-in’. One lesson from the conduct of this activity was to ensure your lodgement clears sufficient space for combat-team level Form Up Points, and think realistically about how long this will take – significant delays can creep it at this point, and the mission can become significantly derailed if the H-Hour for the assault keeps sliding right.

Urban clearance. Make it clear to subordinate forces as to whether you are doing an urban thrust, penetration, or sweep (and explain what it is) and explain the rationale for why you are doing that. Identifying the correct doctrinal urban clearance technique allows for effective mission command to be practiced. However, mission command has to be balanced with sufficient control measures in the form of sectors and report lines to synchronise movement, and manoeuvre (i.e., casualties, medical evacuation chains, vehicle recovery chains, forward passage of lines support, etc). Another lesson was that the urban clearance rates used in planning did not account for contact with the enemy, which needed to be factored into the phase timings as the plan unfolded (the original 3 hours was never going to be long enough). It was also identified as being crucial to maintain flank security in the urban environment, ideally either in the form of reconnaissance and surveillance forces (screening) or armoured forces (guarding).

Forward Passage of Lines (FPoL). It is essential to designate a co-ordination point with opening timings, in order to co-ordinate the hand-over of force elements from other battle groups. As per the lodgement phase it is important to ensure that sufficient assembly area space is planned for, allowing combat teams to form up prior to the breach. Planners also need to build a realistic picture of the Intelligences, Surveillance and Reconnaissance plan, including their physical movements, and their handover with brigade reconnaissance (4WMR) to ensure that the relevant battle group will have effective situational awareness going into the attack.


2022’s Exercise Little Big Horn represents a shift on the Grade 2 away from a previous exercise format that has validated poorly in the past to a new concept intended to provide greater understanding for NZ Army officers as to how land manoeuvre and brigade and unit-level tactics is planned for and executed in reality. Stepping away from the prevalent Tactical Exercise Without Troops (TEWT) instructional and assessment format allows students to gain additional exposure and understanding around how plans fare post-H Hour.

The observations from 2022’s exercise should not be new or novel, but rather reinforce tested and proven considerations that underpin the planning and execution of combined arms tactics. It is important that we continue to study and reinforce our understanding of planning combined arms activities as a land force, and that we continue to build upon and improve our collective skills and capabilities as an organisation moving forward. Sharing the most recent observations from 2022’s Little Big Horn allows the wider army an insight and understanding as to where we are as a force, and how we can continue to improve and move forwards.

The Mission Command Training Centre, inclusive of Tactical School and the Command and Control Systems School, will continue to refine the Little Big Horn exercise and scenario going forwards. Future Grade 2 students will have the opportunity to build upon and advance our army’s collective combined arms planning knowledge and capability, and unit-level headquarters training (such as the likes of 2/1 RNZIR’s Exercise Foxhound conducted earlier this year) will also be able to build upon the baseline that has been established. The more we share and learn from the observations made in the most recent iteration of the exercise, the more we will be able to advance the army’s wider planning and manoeuvre capabilities going forwards.


Ex Little Big Horn 2022 was made possible by the hard work of MAJ M, RNZAC (now retired) and the hard work of the C2SS staff, especially Mr B. The conduct of Little Big Horn 2022 was only made possible by Maj J (reserves), who flew in from Australia to contribute, and to the 1(NZ) Brigade Chief of Staff LTCOL S and Brigade Commander COL B, who very generously gave their time to listen to back-briefs and added significant value through their advice and input.