Peace Time: October 9, 2002


: Creating a Credible Sparring Partner- In 1999, the Army began development of an opposing force (OPFOR) to replace the Soviet model used in training manuals since the 1950s. Early 90s OPFOR doctrine represented an intermediate step where Soviet-style tactics were still emphasized but the focus was placed on specific capabilities that soldiers needed to train against. The 1999 revision to the OPFOR was a ground-up approach designed to make an unclassified training model based on a composite of real-world enemy tactics and equipment that provided a training foe HARDER than any specific threat reality. If this composite foe could not be identified by the press as a specific enemy nation, so much the better (and the training is no worse for that fact).

The Army continues to use specific enemy tactics, organizations, and equipment for mission rehearsals for imminent operations, but for day-to-day training, the intent is to train against a foe more capable than any single nation out there. The choice to use a composite instead of a single nation is based on the following two philosophies:

1. The moment you choose a single nation to base your OPFOR program on, that nation becomes the least likely place you will fight. We aren't going to re-make the same mistake of training for 50 years to fight a foe we never ended up fighting.

2. If you train against an enemy and in an environment that is tougher than anything the actual event is going to offer, than you are more prepared than you would be if you had 'dumbed down' the enemy to match a specific threat capability. You are also more prepared for future increases in capability.

Said another way, why bother training to fight Iraq (a weak and incompetent Army we have already defeated)? To keep US soldiers alive in the next war, you must (and the US Army does) train against someone (even an imaginary composite someone) who is smarter, tougher, and better equipped than any plausible foe. Desert Storm was the success it was because the US Army was trained to fight a much tougher enemy than Saddam's rabble.

The Pentagon has chosen to adopt the Army method for the joint community. The Army's OPFOR program will serve as the basis for the joint OPFOR ground force and the Department of Defense is leading an effort to bring the air and naval elements into line.--Colonel W Pipiyeh 

(The author is an anonymous active duty military intelligence colonel who spent several years at the NTC.)


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