Exercise Combined Resolve- Overview and Key Lessons Identified
January 8, 2014
Exercise Combined Resolve was designed as a proof of principle for the European Rotation Force (ERF) focused on improving NATO interoperability (nine different Nations) by integrating Warfighting Functions, personnel (~2500 personnel), and doctrine; while integrating the EUCOM Army Contingency Response Force (ACRF) company to demonstrate our ability to rapidly mobilize our forces across a theater of operations to support our allies with a responsive combat force.
Using the Chief of Staff of the Army guidance to Combat Training Centers as a framework, Combined Resolve also established a standard for future exercises at the JMRC. Leader development was paramount, as we transitioned from assessing readiness to a focus on leaders at all levels training their subordinate commands.
Special Operational Forces -- Conventional Forces interdependence was not only maintained, but we added Multi-National SOF from France to demonstrate interoperability required for coalition warfare. We inculcated an expeditionary mindset as the forces from all nations operated out of tactical assembly areas in the austere winter environment of Hohenfels; while leveraging Force Structure challenges of working with non-organic enablers such as National Guard engineers, U.S. Close Combat Aviation (CCA) and fires provided by a Czech Republic artillery battery while receiving support from a limited logistics footprint. Finally, the entire exercise scenario exemplified a dynamic operational environment as forces trained in force on force missions ranging from combined arms maneuver to wide area security.
Adding to the complexity of the operational environment, the active participation of our Multi-National Partners increased our reach toward the vision of the NATO Secretary General in bringing together "modern, tightly connected forces, equipped, trained, exercised and commanded so that they can operate together, and with partners, in any environment".
Throughout Combined Resolve many lessons were identified that will greatly enable interoperability and reduce the fog of war during future exercises or operations:
• Shared understanding and mission command
• Understanding and practice of NATO doctrine
• Integration of enablers
• Common operational picture
• Vehicle identification markings
• Prolific graphical control measures
• Exchange of liaison officers
• Conduct of multiple rehearsals
Several of these lessons identified fall directly in line with recent comments made by the CSA at the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition -- "Warfare is about human interaction. Human interaction in a complex environment is key to our success in the future."
Human interaction. Soldier interaction. Perhaps Colonel Mike Foster, commander of the 173 Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) summed it up precisely when he stated that "At the Soldier level, interoperability is sharing a cigarette and a cup of coffee." This sentiment was further amplified by Brigadier General Walt Piatt, commander Joint Multinational Training Command, who said that "Nations do not have relationships, people do".
Human interaction and relationships, as it relates to the shared understanding principle of mission command, is one of the main imperatives identified as necessary in Multi-National Partnership. Everyone on the team must have a shared understanding of the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses that each unit brings to the fight. While this seems intuitive, it quickly becomes obvious that while we all quite literally speak different languages, we also have various levels of understanding and practice of doctrine and tactics, techniques and procedures relevant to our own national experience.
While we all work to maintain NATO technical standards for interoperability, Combined Resolve demonstrated that we have to be more proactive in learning, understanding and practicing NATO doctrine to achieve shared understanding in operations. Additionally it is important to note that we should not work to change our own National doctrine or those of our Partners. To quote BG Piatt again -- "As we build trusting relationships with our Multi-National Partners, we continue to learn how we can complement one another in the Multi-National environment".
The necessity of complementing one another is most notable in the use and integration of enablers -- combat multipliers of artillery, close combat air, close air support and unmanned aerial systems to name a few that were important to our battles in Combined Resolve. For example, every battalion had to understand that it takes approximately fifteen minutes for a Czech Republic artillery battery to move from its hide position to a firing point and get rounds on target; so there must be triggers and an observer plan in place to facilitate fires and mass lethal effects to produce decisive results.
To avoid negative results, such as fratricide, it is vital to have a shared understanding of where everyone is located on the ground. During Combined Resolve we found that a common operational picture is not that common. There are language barriers and technical limitations that add friction to rapid and accurate reporting, there are many different "friendly" vehicles and Soldiers in different uniforms operating on the battlefield, there are various digital and analog systems used throughout the Multi-National Brigade Combat Team, and within analog systems there are different scales of maps and products being utilized -- all within the parameters of doctrine and TTPs previously discussed.
This was addressed quickly by adding hasty vehicle identification markings and incorporating simple and additional graphical control measures to the operational overlay. We identified the problem early and decided that "the universal communication tool is graphics…most Multi-National Units have an understanding of intent graphics". Armed with that shared understanding we advised the MN BCT to go "old school" and adopt a "measles sheet" overlay of multiple checkpoints to saturate the operational environment. This action enabled quick and accurate reporting throughout the formation, leading to shared understanding of both friendly and enemy actions that facilitated maneuver and integration of much-needed enabler support.
The most effective means of achieving shared understanding and enabler support, however, was the exchange of multiple Liaison Officers throughout the MN BCT formation. While technology has made this less important within the U.S. Army over the past decade, it is absolutely critical to Multi-National training and operations. The LNO should compliment integrated staffs at the battalion and brigade level, with an "exchange" among units being the most effective means of maintaining a common operational picture and shared understanding. To that end, units should plan, man and equip themselves accordingly to better enable success. While this level of LNO exchange is currently not doctrinal, Combined Resolve definitely highlights the synergy that can be achieved through this dimension of Soldier interoperability.
Finally, to further expand on Soldier interoperability, Combined Resolved demonstrated the necessity of conducting rehearsals at all levels as a primary means to achieve shared understanding. To once again quote the MN BCT commander, COL Mike Foster, "Multi-National Brigade success equals simple base plan, simple base graphics, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse". In other words, the more we interact in preparing for a mission, the better we can execute the mission and adapt when the enemy gets to vote on our plan. The rehearsal process allows commanders to visualize the plan within the time available prior to execution. With all of the competing demands on time as a priority resource, we cannot afford to diminish the foundation of this vital bridge between planning and execution.
As we plan for the execution of future Multi-National exercises such as Combined Resolve at the JMRC, it is necessary for us to share these lessons identified with our rotational units and partners. At the exercise design level, we will continue to construct our scenario within the CSA's framework for decisive action training with an eye toward increasing interoperability and battlefield success. Allowing more time for planning, rehearsals and troop leading procedures will reinforce fundamentals and allow further repetitions in exercising all the principles of mission command. More pre-rotation and leader training, along with the integration of a command post exercise during the company-level situational training exercise lane training for battalion and brigade command posts, will also allow our rotational units and leaders to practice fundamentals early and more often to better benefit from the force on force training. Given the number of Nations to train and NATO's emphasis on the Connected Forces Initiative, the possibilities are endless.
One thing that is certain as we move forward, however, is that it will no longer be business as usual in the realm of Multi-National Partnership and training. In watching "friendly" T-72 tanks and BMP-2s maneuver on opposing forces in Leopards and armored personnel carriers, it is visually convincing that this is not our father's training center. Indeed, it is the Joint Multi-National Training Center, which stands ready to facilitate interoperability and partnership with our friends and allies throughout Europe as we continue toward the objectives of the future.
COL, U.S. Army
Commander, Operations Group
Joint Multinational Readiness Center
Photos from this exercise can be found at the JMTC Flickr page: