Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.
Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.
Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.
Spot-on. Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES. Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”. It was utter nonsense. The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content. We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative. Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility. To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.
Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah. The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying. The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat. Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:
At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.
Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.
…Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.
Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.
I couldn’t agree more. However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring. Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.” While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so. What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous. That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”. To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.
Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.