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November 25, 2009: The U.S. Army is fixing the way it remembers things, and how it uses this information to develop new fighting techniques. This is very important to troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them remember their fathers or uncles, who served in Vietnam, complaining about how everything was reinvented back then, even though old soldiers, or marines, remembered doing the same kind of work before World War II.

But remembering is only part of the problem. New ideas on how to fight, and deal with terrorists in general, have been coming in so fast (thanks to the Internet), that the army has found its "how to fight" manuals obsolete before they are published. Thus many of the more detailed "how to fight" documents are being put on the web, where they can be quickly modified, and be immediately available to the troops.

All this began as an effort to insure that all the new ideas and techniques developed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or retrieved from Vietnam, or earlier, experience, lost. But the army had already noted the problem, back in the 1980s, when a "Lessons Learned" operation was set up. CALL (Center for Army Lessons Learned) proceeded to capture lots of combat experience from Vietnam, Korea, Vietnam, and even earlier. The CALL researchers soon noted reoccurring patterns, certain ideas and concepts that kept getting reinvented. They were ready when September 11, 2001 came along.

Earlier this year, the army went one step further, and came out with a top line field manual (FM 3-07) "stability operations" (the kind of "small wars" being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The army has always had an FM-7 for "full spectrum operations" (total war, against troops in uniform, armed with a full spectrum of weapons and tactics). Now it is committed to training for both types of combat. The key to this is training the commanders. One discovery in the last decade is that the troops can switch from conventional combat, to irregular type operations, more quickly and efficiently than their bosses.

What the army has discovered is that each operation a brigade may be sent on (usually for a year), requires a different set of skills. But there are far more skills available, than troops can possibly learn. Even though combat troops have specialties (infantry, armor vehicle crews, mortar or artillery operators, and so on), each of those specialties now have more skills than can be kept current all at once. And the details of the skills keep changing (as better ways are found to do things, new equipment is available, or the enemy comes up with new weapons or tactics.) So the army is putting together web sites where all the skills, in their most up-to-date form, will be available. This is useful both for troops preparing to go overseas, and for those already there.

Brigades that are now able to stay at their bases for up to 18 months, and will use that time to train in the skills they will need for the area they will be deploying to next. The army also has more electronically monitored training centers, where brigades can learn, and then be tested on their new skill sets. This sort of thing, an army innovation of the 1980s, has proved to be the closest thing to actual combat ever developed.

What the army is also trying to do is confirm is the usefulness of combat experience, which so many troops now have, to enable them to quickly learn new skills needed for other types of war. The tests also serve to remind troops and commanders that all this new knowledge can be misused, and can cause lots more frustration, and friendly casualties, if not used.

In practice, much of what a soldier does in conventional, or irregular, warfare, is the same. Shooting accurately, carefully planning raids or patrols, attention to detail and discipline are all used in both forms of combat. There are different tactics, but these are learned more quickly by troops who have been in combat. Being a combat veteran makes a big difference, and the coming series of conventional war exercises at the training centers will measure how much.

The army also wants to measure how quickly the commanders can switch from one form of warfare (conventional, or irregular warfare, and the many variations in between), and back again.

 

 


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