Leadership: October 3, 2002

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Train as you fight, fight as you train. Good advice, but it doesnt always work out that way. While U.S. combat training for it's ground troops is considered the best in the world, there are still some serious problems. American training is admired mainly because the U.S. is relatively generous with time (for the troops to do it) and money (for the fuel, ammo and spare parts) needed. Then there is the use of laser tag (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, or MILES) technology to make the training more realistic. This approach has made American troops better prepared for combat than any other army in the world (except the growing number that are also using MILES technology.) But there is another training problem that hasn't been solves, and that is determining just exactly who the enemy is. This is important, for while MILES teaches the troops the importance of keeping their heads down in a firefight, every potential foe fights in a slightly (or greatly) different way. During the Cold War this was not a big problem. The potential enemy was the Soviet Union and its allies. Fortunately for us, the Soviets and their allies and client states all fought according to the same playbook. So the potential foe could be portrayed accurately in training exercises. But then the Cold War ended in 1991 and there was some uncertainty who the troops should be preparing to fight. The training manuals were revised in the 1990s and showed the potential foe as still fighting in the style of the Soviet Red Army. This was not unreasonable, as North Korea, a very real potential foe to the very present, used a lot of Russian equipment and combat techniques. So did other potential foes, like Iraq. But it was the growing number of differences in style (between potential foes and the defunct Soviet Union) that worried many officers. Even the Russians no longer operated like their Soviet antecedents. And then there were the political problems. It's one thing for the media to anoint some anti-American nation as a potential battlefield opponent, but the Department of Defense can't do it. Any training exercises against a specific nation are now classified, so as not to cause a media circus and diplomatic stink. So most of the troops do most of their training against an unrealistic and generic foe. This bothers the troops a lot, as the inability to train against the way a specific enemy fighting will get more U.S. troops killed if it does come to a shooting war. For the moment, no one in the U.S. government, be they bureaucrat or politician, is willing to touch this one.

 


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