Leadership: Disruptive Differences


September17, 2008:  Combat troops from America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are using a training area in Europe (the Joint Multinational Readiness Center) to find out, among other things, exactly how the differences in how they communicate and operate, can be modified so that troops from all five nations can function more effectively together in combat. Troops from all five nations are heavily engaged in Afghanistan, and often operate together. But the differences in procedures often causes confusion delays. Even though the U.S., Britain and Canada all belong to NATO (which has interoperability rules for troops from all members), when infantry or commandos from the three are working together, troublesome difference show up and make a difference.

Britain, Canada and the U.S. have been conducting exercises like this since 1947, when the ABCA organization was created, to try and avoid coordination problems the three armies had during World War II. Australia joined ABCA in 1968, and New Zealand two years ago. The five nations understand that they have to constantly work together, because each army is regularly changing equipment, weapons, tactics and procedures. Even in the United States, the army and marines have to stay on touch about these matters, because the army and marines use slightly different tactics and procedures in combat.

The current exercises are concentrating on working out kinks encountered when the computerized message and command systems everyone is using. Many of the problems encountered here can be fixed with changes in the software, but that takes time. And first you have to find out exactly what the problems are.

While you can have a bunch of staff officers sit down and list and compare everything to find the differences on paper, in the reality of combat, more differences show up. Not everything gets written down, and the troops don't always follow the procedures as written. Thus the regular training exercises, where the differences can be noted, recorded and distributed. There might even be some changes in how troops operate, not just to avoid misunderstandings, but because you discovered that someone else has come up with a better way of doing something.

ABCA actually tries to discover, and deal with, disruptive differences through the militaries of each nation. This covers logistics, vehicle maintenance, staff procedures, planning and, well, just about everything. This, in turn, is to foster more cooperation, which it has.





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