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Training Observations

Anonymous

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The author is a serving officer.
Anonymous, “Training Observations”, Military Operations, Volume 2, Issue No. 1, Winter 2014, pages 21-23.

These are company and battle group level observed over a two week exercise. Some of these were points that needed to be improved and were while some were points to improve that were never really addressed. Some are points the Battle Group did real well, and it showed. Some are points that were noticeable in some parts of the Battle Group, but not in others. Nonetheless, it was interesting to be able to observe these in a force-on-force environment where both sides paid for mistakes with simulated casualties and the fact that these all came out is a testament to how challenging training can be so effective. I put most of the points to improve into two categories: (1) Afghan practices that are inappropriate for a peer enemy and (2) Junior leaders (Officers and NCOs) that didn’t know better (or should have known better) and cut corners.

  1. For the Infantry, Armoured Fighting Vehicles seem to at times become a ‘disabler’ vice an ‘enabler’. When more bayonets are tied up in crewing vehicles than getting their boots muddy, it is time to think on the company and battalion employment of vehicles. The infantry is only really effective when it is dismounted.
  2. The Battle Group command post was very good - a mobile, fighting command post that can move and fight and stay connected. It was, however, probably a bit too small and could get crowded at times. Careful thought has to go into who needs to be in a CP, who doesn’t and what an acceptable size is.
  3. What is good in Afghanistan in not good against a peer foe. Open leaguers and troops out in the open make excellent artillery targets.
  4. There seems to be a systemic misunderstanding of what the mission and concept of operations parts of orders are for. We do not properly teach leaders about these. Mission statements are very specific as they transmit doctrinal language to subordinates - there should be no need to deviate from the formula. Within a concept of operations, intent is not a restatement of the mission (saying ‘I intend to accomplish my mission’ is meaningless) rather it is the manner in which the mission will be accomplished. If the intent is the manner, the scheme of manoeuvre is the prescription. Main effort is not a restatement of the mission either (saying ‘My main effort is to accomplish the mission’ is also useless) but rather a control measure to ensure that if in the highly likely event that things don’t go as planned, people know where to push their efforts to.
  5. Op Orders can cover too great of a period of time and, as a result, lose impact. At the Battle Group and Company level, saying Op WHATEVER is the occupation of a new AO, engaging the locals in that AO, crossing a river, the destruction of the enemy guard and establishment of a bridgehead line is way too many tasks for a single operation. As a result, a fairly complex task becomes merely Phase I and the essential details of it are glossed over - company level orders needn’t cover 7 days of activity. Don’t hesitate to take an operation from higher and break it into smaller chunks, issuing new Ops Os or Frag Os as required.
  6. Cover of darkness needs to be exploited more. The enemy has night vision capabilities but is still human. Just because we have armoured vehicles doesn’t mean we can move in daylight with impunity.
  7. Airmobile operations into the teeth of a mechanized defence in daylight will likely fail. This is probably another Afghan-ism where we could land with impunity. There is a big difference between an airlanding operation and an air assault operation.
  8. Remember KISS in planning. Too many ‘conditions based’ events in your plan means too many points of friction (what happens if the ‘condition’ takes too long to, or never, occurs?). Synchronization and tempo will often trump an ideal ‘condition’ on the battlefield.
  9. IEDs in Afghanistan have left us with a significant scar - exploitation vice treating the thing as a point obstacle. Exploitation is only required in unique circumstances and a Battle Group trying to seize the other side of a river is not one of them. A delay of 2.5 hours (under observation and fire) while EOD was brought to neutralize an IED is too long; just send 2 sappers to pull the thing in 5 minutes. Risky to the sappers? Yes, but probably saves you more lives in the long run as you’re not sitting in enemy TRP 1001.
  10. Pretty much linked to point (9) - crossing points, especially in valleys, are vulnerable and one shouldn’t stay on them for very long. A company was reduced to a Platoon+ because it sat on a crossing site and was mortared to pieces. A crossing site isn’t really secure until a force has pushed about 4km passed it - this frees the crossing site from enemy observation and, more importantly, enemy mortar range.
  11. When you are moving you are most likely on the offence. When you are stationary you are most likely in the defence. Unless there are compelling reasons not to, when one goes stationary one should start conducting hasty defensive tasks. Stationary things tend to attract stuff like mortar bombs and digging in once you halt is the only way to ensure you have some sort of protection. Clearance patrols, siting of weapons, etc, etc, need to happen once a force goes stationary.
  12. Combined arms work is essential! Tanks and engineering vehicles are big, but they are vulnerable. The only thing that can protect tanks from tank hunting teams 50m away in woods is infantry clearing through the woods.
  13. Woods clearing is a specific type of operation with a few elements that can make or break the operation. Do it wrong, and you miss an enemy position that then sits for 2 days in your rear, calling in fires. Hit the books and understand the essential parts to deliberate and hasty woods clearance operations.
  14. The infantry is only really effective when it is dismounted.
  15. As with point (13), clearing urban areas (even small villages) is also a specific type of operation. Don’t get fixated with the village right away but work to isolate it. Defenders in urban areas are most effective when they have secure routes both in and into the area.
  16. Vehicles, like troops on a section attack, tend to converge. Don’t be a target for FASCAM. Over a dozen vehicles converging on a half a grid square is a target for FASCAM.
  17. Returning to the Main Effort, it is vital to understand when the situation has changed. While securing village X may be the main effort at the start of things, it is not the main effort once an enemy attack is chewing away at your flank and could potentially wipe your entire force out. A simple Frag O that moves the point of Main Effort should be able to reorient a fighting force quite quickly in the face of decisive enemy manoeuvre.
  18. There is a difference between speed and tempo. Speed is doing things fast, but often results in a speed wobble (picture the wobble of a kid on his bike going too fast, 1-2 seconds before he wipes out). Tempo is sequencing tactical actions in time and space in a rapid and effective manner. I’d argue, especially after watching a tenacious REDFORCE, that tempo is THE most important factor on the battlefield. Lose tempo and you lose initiative. Lose initiative and the enemy is dictating terms.
  19. Probably another Afghan-ism, but there is an over reliance on sensor assets, especially external sensor assets. Awaiting ‘conditions’ based upon ‘ISR soaks’ and ‘full Red SA’ only detracts from tempo (see point (18) above). Your best sensors are probably your forward organic forces in contact; the Americans relearned this in 2003 and I will put money on it still being valid today.
  20. Once you gain contact with the enemy, never lose contact with him if at all possible. Even if it means picketing him until you’ve dealt with other tasks, something on the ground has to have eyes on the enemy. This too is related to point (18) on tempo.
  21. Probably the result of battle group focused operations for so long, but battalions do not always get all the assets they need. This means one has to get the most out of one’s organic assets. This also highlights the crucial role of things like integral mortars, pioneers, etc, etc. Battle Groups are great, but they were originally created as ad hoc groupings in the field - ideally, units should be built with many of these organic capabilities in mind.
  22. Warning orders are an extremely useful command tool to achieve 1/3-2/3 in battle procedure time that we don’t seem to use enough. Gone are the old 4 para warning orders that had situation, probable task, timings and admin instructions - I don’t know why. Now we wait for coords and issue warning orders that mirror operations orders, loaded with details. Use the old 4 para just to give your subordinates a heads up and throw out a supplementary warning order down the road if you feel the need to.
  23. The infantry is only really effective when it is dismounted.
  24. Robust echelons work and this exercise proved it. Never let the Army stovepipe supporting assets again. Going with a minimal tail can be a single point of failure.
  25. The defence is quite systematic and almost ‘checklist’ in nature. A successful defensive plan consists of 5 essential sub-plans. A STA plan (Find), an Obstacle Plan (Fix), a Direct Fire Plan (Strike), an Indirect Fire Plan (Strike) and a Countermoves Plan (Exploit). There are little bits to these sub-plans like MG Matrices (direct fire plan), counter penetration plan (countermoves plan), OP placement (STA plan), etc that are essential to pulling it all together.
  26. One cannot build these plans if one doesn’t have a killzone. Before any defensive planning occurs, figure out where you want to kill the enemy.
  27. Orders tend to be too long and wordy, even verbal orders. Company level orders should not take 1.5 hours.
  28. Rehearsals at all levels help. Do them if at all possible. When people visually see things playing out, it gives definition to the orders one has just barfed out to tired soldiers.
  29. Bringing your second-in-command to orders helps. He may see the problem differently. If you die, he knows the plan and can take over.
  30. Cam and concealment are essential to the defence. Armoured vehicles are not invulnerable or invisible and if you dig holes in the open plains, the enemy sensory assets will see it, template the position and easily fix you.
  31. Understand the steps to defensive routine and get at them fast and hard. Disciplined defensive routine means your soldiers are protected and resting faster.
  32. Friendly personnel awareness is always an issue. Companies would hit brigade recce. Brigade recce would hit companies. Companies would hit other companies or even themselves. Some form of well understood IFF that doesn’t detract from your concealment is essential. Sharp battle tracking by company and battle group command posts also helps.
  33. The infantry is only really effective when it is dismounted.
  34. Our medical chain of evacuation needs work - this is probably another Afghan-ism. Casualties do not become the mission. Ambulances (air or ground) should not be used to haul dead bodies (that’s for the resupply system). Air evac doesn’t work when the enemy has AD capability. Our reporting system is too detailed and focused on bureaucratic returns to national headquarters (let the higher command worry about that). We need to remember that field expedient graves serve a purpose, one being to avoid clogging up your lines of communication.
  35. Dynamic retasking is a great skill within a force - the Germans were famous for quickly putting together Kampfgruppes of various sub-elements to undertake essential tasks. That being said, dynamic retasking requires some sort of SOPs to avoid sub-elements wandering all over the battlefield wondering what they are supposed to be doing.
  36. Armoured vehicles in the woods with engines in high idle are not concealed. We probably require auxiliary power units for all of our armoured vehicles.
  37. Deception is great, but only if it works. Figuring out when the opportunity for deception exists is a critical skill and can help avoid non-deceptive deception operations