Murphy's Law: The Scary World Of Near Peer

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July 24, 2016: Since 2010 the U.S. Army has cut way back on training troops to fight Islamic terrorists and irregulars and has replaced that with the pre-2001 training for conventional war. There have been problems, some of them unexpected. In Iraq and Afghanistan the troops got used to a foe who had no air power, few real electronic weapons and that enabled many American troops to acquire some bad habits for anyone trying to fight a more conventional opponent. For one thing there is the prospect of electronic jamming that would disable, if only temporarily (hours or days) GPS navigation systems and a lot of satellite based communications. So troops, including some senior NCOs and officers who entered the military right after 2001 and got all their experience on a non-conventional battlefield, had to learn how to do things the old-fashioned way. That meant using a compass for navigation map, not a GPS system that gave you constant directions as you moved. A conventional foe can also disable or degrade the networking troops have become accustomed to. Now soldiers and marines have to learn how to operate with less or no networking. In addition to all this there are calls for less defense spending and that usually means even larger cuts to the training budgets.

The military calls this pre-2001 style training “near-peer” (against someone who has similar weapons and abilities) warfare. That means many Army veterans of ten years’ service, including several years in a combat zone, are now, for the first time learning how to deal with a near-peer foe. It’s an unsettling experience, especially in the U.S. Army, which uses some very realistic training methods. The realistic training these troops had used for years for learning how to cope with ambushes, raids and roadside bombs now involves dealing with enemy tanks, guided missiles and aircraft. It’s scary stuff for a veteran of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The realistic style of the training is something that’s only been around since the early 1980s. That was when the U.S. Army developed radical new training methods and built the National Training Center (NTC), a 147,000 hectare (359,000 acre) facility in the Mohave Desert at Fort Irwin, California in 1982. There the United States Army revolutionized the training of ground combat troops with the development of MILES (laser tag) equipment for infantry and armored vehicles and the use of MILES in a large, "wired" (to record all activities), combat training area. Other countries soon realized the importance of these innovations and a few began building their own NTC clones. NTC type training centers are usually built to enable a combat battalion or brigade to go through several weeks of very realistic combat exercises. It turned out to be very effective

NTC type training is not only very close to the experience troops get in actual combat, but it also stresses commanders the same way actual combat does. This enables commanders to test themselves, and their subordinate commanders, before they get into a real fight. You can also use NTC type facilities to experiment with new tactics, in addition to keeping troops well trained in whatever the current tactics are. This included counter-terror operations as well as the kind of novel combat tactics that might be encountered in the future. One of the critical aspects of this type of training is the playback. Instructors can edit the electronic record of who did what when and show commanders and troops where they made mistakes. This feedback makes the troops much more effective in the future

Ft. Irwin itself has since been expanded. Since the 1980s, the United States has established many similar training centers in the United States and abroad, all using lots of electronics to assist the trainees in having a realistic experience while also enabling them to see their mistakes and learn from them. The retraining of American army troops for near-peer combat takes time, and the trip to the NTC is the final exam as well as excellent training. Meanwhile all troops will still get some training for irregular warfare and some brigades will be more intensively trained for that, just in case.

 


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