The US Army not the Best in the World? A pointed response to get better

The defense blogosphere has taken one sentence of a much larger report and run with it.

“Many of our allies, and likely some of our potential enemies, are now tactically better than we are at company level and below because we do not train enough at home station.”

Even Tom Ricks used it as a “teaser” to get people to click on the actual article: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/09/best-in-the-world-nope-in-fact-our-small-units-are-no-longer-as-well-trained-as-those-of-our-allies-reports-this-army-captain/

You can find the original here:  http://www.benning.army.mil/armor/earmor/content/issues/2017/Spring/2Metz17.pdf

I have a passing familiarity with the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC). I’ve actually worked with CPT Metz before. In my experience his observations are correct based on multiple years of training at JMRC myself. However, his observations don’t address any solutions to the problems he identifies.

So why is this lack of home station training a problem? There are several factors that go into it, and there is no one “smoking gun” cause but lots of little things that add up.

First, the US military, and specifically the US Army, have been downsizing. Part of this downsizing is the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. This takes smaller bases and shuts them down to save money, putting more units at larger bases. Now you have more units fighting for training resources such as land, ammunition, and ranges on fewer posts.

Second, Company Commanders generally have little to no experience truly doing long range resource forecasting, as a Company training schedule really only goes out six weeks into the future. Major land and range resources need to be finalized at least a quarter of a year out (12 weeks) and those resources get allocated in a “quarterly land grab” where people who already have a plan get the resources they need.

Third, ammunition resources need to be forecast an entire YEAR out, and generally the only way to do that is by putting some sort of “wild ass guess” as to what your company might be training on. The ammunition draw and turn in processes are also designed to favor the bean counters and not Companies. Try doing an exercise with ammunition that crosses over a calendar month…

Fourth, which is the consequences of points one through three, in order to get these long range forecast resources into Company commander’s six week training schedule, it requires Battalion and Brigade staff Officers and NCOs who can forecast resourcing needs against unknown training plans based on often vague “annual training guidance” and a “long range training calendar” that puts major training events down in quarters and months. These Brigade and BN Officers and NCOs are there as additional duties, or because they were undesirable for a leadership role, NOT because they are an important member of the unit.

Fifth, and this problem is slowly correcting itself, the Army Force Generation Cycle (ARFORGEN) that would heavily resource units prior to deployment, then rape that unit for resources after it returned, created a “ripple effect” where three years after a unit redeployed, all of its experienced leadership all hit the PCS season at the same time, replaced by fresh leaders. This seems like a small problem, but it is larger than it should be as it takes months for a BN or Brigade Commander (or S3s and XOs) to get good at their job of resource management in order to maximize training value. In fact, the ARFORGEN cycle has been replaced by the “Sustainable Readiness Model” which seeks to do the same thing as ARFORGEN but different.

Sixth, the last problem, specifically for our Armor and Mechanised Infantry communities is fuel. A single day of training on an M1A2 main battle tank will cost the Army 500 gallons of fuel. And this is 500 gallons of fuel that the Army has to purchase from the Defense Logistics Agency at prices set by the DLA. Historically the DLA has used the fuel prices as a way to create a “slush fund” for other stuff: https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/at-the-pentagon-overpriced-fuel-sparks-allegations–and-denials–of-a-slush-fund/2017/05/20/c5ff4bf4-31b2-11e7-9dec-764dc781686f_story.html

So with all regards to GEN Milley, “Readiness is number one, and there is no other number one.” that isn’t particularly helpful when “readiness” is defined as having soldiers meet the minimum level of training through “Objective T” evaluations rather than mastery of tactical competence. The deck is stacked against an aggressive, “get after it” Company Commander and 1SG going out there to train on combined arms maneuver before a CTC rotation is slim. These training events just cost too much in terms of manpower, money, and resources so they are set aside for a CTC when there is dedicated time, manpower, and money to execute them.

So what is the way forward?

  1. Adjust the Professional Development Timeline for 11B, 12B, and 19D/K to include “Land and Ammo NCO” as a Key Development Position for 12 months at the grade of E6.
  2. Adjust the Professional Development Timeline for 11B, 12B, and 19D/K to include “Training NCO” as a Key Development Position for 12 months at the grade of E5.
  3. Include “Training Resource Management” as dedicated one week block of instruction at ALC and SLC for all combat arms (including engineer) MOS.
  4. Adjust the Professional Development Timeline for 11A, 12A, and 19A/B to include Company XO as a Key Developmental Position the same as Platoon Leader (historically prior service OCS officers make XO way too quickly because they end up working for a Captain who just wants things to run smoothly).
  5. Adjust the “Company Training Meeting” from focusing on the 6 to 8 week training window to the 6 to 8 MONTH training window. This means the outputs for company training meetings include projected training events that require external resources such as land, ranges, and ammo.
  6. Make Company Long Range Training Calendars (and updated outputs from the Company Training Meeting) a contract  reviewed quarterly between the Company Commander and Brigade Commander. The Colonel is in charge of certifying Company performance for readiness, and that means the Colonel is ultimately in charge of resourcing that readiness.
  7. Aggressively use surrogate training systems for high expense equipment. Simulators should never be idle waiting for Soldiers to come train. And even getting multiple tank or IFV crews out in HMMWVs to practice mounted maneuver techniques (moving from movement to maneuver, practicing vehicle bounding) is better than sitting around the motorpool or having Joe play XBox in his room.

Now…those 7 changes won’t take place overnight. They will literally take years to properly implement then it will take time beyond that feel the positive effects of those changes. But the Army spends millions of dollars every year teaching junior leaders to be tactically proficient, without spending a similar amount on teaching those junior leaders on how to work through the “Corporate Army” to create units that effectively work together in the tactical fight.

The good news about all of these is that they are cheap solutions. They require changes to policy and doctrine first, then changes to training pipelines and periods of instruction, and finally that should drive the cultural shift needed to make Companies successful at maintaining excellence in ground combat proficiency.

Comments are open.

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