Military Training Needs More Flexibility, Analysts Contend

By Tiron, Roxana | National Defense, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Military Training Needs More Flexibility, Analysts Contend


Tiron, Roxana, National Defense


In current and future battles against global terrorism, U.S. military forces would benefit from flexible command go," structures, so they can "learn as they according to military analysts.

The training of U.S. conventional forces, particularly, does not emphasize asymmetric threats, said D. Robert Worley, a senior research fellow with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Pentagon planners view acts of terrorism as classic asymmetric threats, because they rake advantage of U.S. vulnerabilities to surprise attacks by terrorists equipped with weapons of mass destruction.

"Commanders and leaders at the tactical level must be prepared to adapt," Worley said. "The asymmetric actor may apply low-technology means and methods against U.S. conventional forces." In his opinion, the enemy will adapt continuously to U.S. tactics, through trial and error, so tactical commanders need a more flexible approach.

Worley said that the U.S. military has nor yet abandoned the war-planning practices of the Cold War. Such mindset still dominates large and important segments of the military hierarchy, he said, particularly in Europe, Korea, and Washington, D.C.

Current military training, for example, is built around "deliberate planning," as Worley puts it. He defines deliberate planning as the "subject of an 18-month joint strategic planning process that is repeated every two years." Deliberate planning, he added, "is distinct from crisis-action planning that is commonly practiced by naval expeditionary forces, XVIII Airborne Corps, and special operations forces, for example."

In a paper titled, "Learning to Cope with Asymmetry's Uncertainties," Worley noted that the United States and its allies had decades to understand the Cold War problem and to put forward solutions in the form of war plans. "All that remained was to execute. We trained execution." Against a world of asymmetric actors, said Worley, "we must be prepared to learn as we go.

That does not mean, he said, "that we shouldn't plan for what we can, but we must build organizations that can improvise. Those that can only execute a plan according to fixed doctrine will fail in the new environment.

In other words, he stressed, we must build organizations that can perform improvisational jazz, nor organizations that can perform symphonies from sheet music."

A proper response to the changed environment, said Worley, is to adopt a different command model, which he calls adaptive command.

This type of command, he explained, is structured from the bottom up, "from the smallest tactical units practicing combined arms. Configuring and reconfiguring forces into combined arms teams appropriate to the evolving environment should dominate small-unit doctrine and training.

"The evidence from military operations in urban environments consistently shows that combined arms teams are required at the lowest tactical levels to deal with this asymmetric environment," explained Worley.

These small combined arms teams also should include combat support and combat service support elements. "They are nor found in garrison or in doctrine," said Worley.

Worley said that, "the new world will be dominated by crisis-action planning," the strategy used by the Marine Corps expeditionary units.

In conflicts such as the current war on terrorism, he said, "the chain of command [in the field] must learn how to deal with the uncertain geo-strategic environment, and must not wait for the producer chain of command to produce a solution that can be taught and trained."

"If we had too great a reliance on training our forces to doctrine and standards, then we have not trained our forces to innovate," he said.

But there is evidence, from recent conflicts, said Worley, that adaptive command is becoming more common. "Coping mechanisms can be found in past military action, but may become central doctrinal concepts in asymmetric environments.

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