Training Management vs. Mission Planning
June 25, 2009
According to United States Army Special Forces Command Regulation 350-1, Component Training, the commander at each level is required to "develop battle focus to ensure subordinate units (or detachments) train on critical wartime mission requirements." What are critical wartime mission requirements' Are they the capabilities that the warfighting geographic combatant commander, or GCC, desires that the theater special-operations command, or TSOC, bring to the fight' Are these requirements different today from what they were 10 years ago' Of course they are. Ten years ago, we did not have every Special Forces group converging on one GCC's area of responsibility, or AOR, performing foreign internal defense, or FID, in such a sophisticated manner or in such dangerous environments. To that end, the force has dramatically changed its training and produced some of the most skilled and experienced operators in advanced special operations, or ASO, and direct action, or DA.
The critical tasks required in the conflicts in which the force is engaged are primarily mounted combat operations in a desert environment, ASO and FID as the primary enabler for success in the "by, with and through" strategy. As combat rotations continue year after year, the force appears to be losing relevant cultural and environmental experience, reducing its ability to meet the needs of the TSOCs and GCCs outside of the U.S. Central Command. The force's capabilities in the full spectrum of core tasks, as well as in the various infiltration techniques, have also been degraded.
While the operations tempo is primarily to blame, the force has (out of necessity, originally) given over traditional methods of training management to favor a more expedient model of pre-mission training, or PMT. The PMT model is a direct extension of comprehensive mission planning based in the verbiage, "critical wartime mission requirements." This evolution of training has unintentionally limited the SF detachment's autonomy in planning its training, and detachments have therefore abandoned battle focus - a training-management tool that has yielded much mission success in the past. That unintended casualty should be reinstituted as the operational tempo slows with the addition of the fourth battalion to each group.
PMT has become the predominant tool used for training management by the force during the ongoing conflict. Its use is forcewide, and its results are seen in the dramatically heightened combat abilities (shoot, move and communicate) demonstrated daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea of a PMT is to teach, refine and hone combat skills immediately prior to deploying on a combat or contingency operation, and in common usage, PMT refers to training conducted with a company-sized element or larger. Used as a training-management tool, PMT is more efficient than other methods because it affords the command the opportunity to better manage limited-range facilities and support assets. The use of a PMT also allows the staff to plan the training early, so that during training they can focus on, and better prepare for, the next combat rotation. Used as a centralized event, PMT can reassure the commander that each detachment and advanced operational base, or AOB, has achieved at least his minimum standard in lethal operations and in the command and control of those operations.
Across the force, the template for PMT has become a 30- to 90-day mandatory training event that is based on the Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course but modified to center on the company. The event culminates in a unilateral, lethal strike operation involving several detachments and controlled by an AOB. Additional training is usually conducted in mounted operations that employ heavy weapons, specifically identified individuals conducting ASO training, and limited training in new equipment. Medical cross-training occurs throughout PMT and is conducted at a level that produces operators skillful enough to stabilize trauma patients without the direct supervision of SF medical sergeants. The training ensures that most SF detachments have common capabilities and are interchangeable for the purpose of assigning missions and rotating assignments.
Commanders need to acknowledge that there are several problems associated with the practical application of the PMT model. The first is the question: "What are we training to accomplish'" Based on the bulk of training the force has conducted over the last few years, our primary core task seems to be DA. While this conclusion is highly contentious in the force, it is clearly evident by the predominant forcewide use of a one-size-fits-all SFAUC-like PMT training event. Although the force's primary mission in the ongoing conflict appears to be FID, that is not reflected in its training. The use of troops from noncombat arms or the National Guard as a tool for training in FID has been largely discarded. Joint combined exchange training, or JCET, fulfilled that training requirement in the past, but because of the operations tempo, that tool has not been available to much of the force. The only aspect of unconventional warfare actively trained falls within the ASO subset.
The force initially identified critical warfighting tasks that, because of the existing region-affiliated environmental deployments and training, were insufficient to prepare for the types of missions and the environment that make up the operational environment in the CENTCOM AOR. In order to rapidly increase the force's capabilities in mounted desert combat operations, much of the force turned to civilian contractors for training. These civilian companies offer training venues, instruction and skill sets, primarily taught by retired SF Soldiers, that were not readily available at their home stations or were not possessed by enough of the force so that it could train itself in a timely manner. The fact that the training could be conducted without draining the command's limited resources in equipment and support mechanisms, using GWOT monies, appeared to be the most effective means of training to become proficient in the critical wartime tasks designated by the GCC and TSOC. This has become increasingly prevalent in the training of ASO skills, which, in the past, were predominantly trained internally, at the battalion or company level. The individuals who demonstrated an aptitude with ASO skills were then sent to receive advanced training from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, or SWCS. The result of relying so heavily on contractor training is that some training that is a prerequisite for a specific SWCS course is now taught exclusively by civilian contractors.
The next question for the commander to consider is: "How has the force changed'" Because of the scale and operations tempo of the conflict in CENTCOM, some units use PMT exclusively for their training, causing some Soldiers to feel that the force is retaining capabilities only in those core tasks and infiltration techniques and losing its ability to operate effectively in environments and cultures that are vastly different from those in the Iraq and Afghanistan AORs, where the majority of SF detachments now have their only experience.
The biggest changes the commander should take into consideration are at the micro or SF-
detachment level. Because of the considerations mentioned, the training management of the force has shifted, excluding the detachment that no longer analyses the battle focus or develops a mission letter for the commander. The SF detachment has been highly effective in any mission and environment because it is made up of operators who have different backgrounds and varying levels of experience in the core tasks and infiltration techniques. The primary focus forcewide has been on the core tasks of unconventional warfare, or UW, and FID, coupled with the necessary environmental and cultural training needed to employ those skills in a specific region. The majority of operators today, even some in positions of authority, such as detachment operations sergeant and assistant detachment commander, have come to the force since the beginning of the GWOT. They may never have deployed to their region, used an infiltration technique other than mounted or heliborne, or been involved in assessing their detachment's need for training to make it effective in its assigned region. That is not to say that those Soldiers are incompetent or incapable, but all too often, it appears to the SF detachment that training management has given way to mission planning, with the only concern being the next rotation, and much of the force that has been deployed on four or more consecutive rotations is beginning to question that mindset. The question is: Can the SF detachment be proficient in its critical wartime tasks and maintain its regional focus with the time it has to train' The commander should answer that question through an analysis of the battle focus at the detachment level.
Prior to the current conflicts, the regionally-aligned TSOCs and SF groups analyzed their perceived wartime missions in their respective AORs and determined the capabilities that would be needed to best perform those missions. To that end, each group was similar in core tasks but unique in their AOR's environmental and cultural conditions. The analysis made it possible for SF detachments to be highly specialized in their core tasks, infiltration techniques and language capabilities assigned by the battalion commander. The commander would identify each detachment's critical tasks and provide direction. Each detachment would then determine the individual and collective tasks that would need to be trained or improved for Soldiers to perform the tasks on the mission-essential task list. Then, task by task, the detachment determined its current level of training, assigning each task one of three labels: proficient (P), trained (T) or untrained (U). The next step was to review the battalion's long-range planning calendar to determine which tasks were already scheduled for battalion- or company-dictated training. The detachment would identify training or training events needed to raise its proficiency and create a plan that prioritized training in accordance with command guidance. The detachment would then present the plan for the battalion commander's approval and, after his approval, would begin writing concepts for deployments for training, forecasting ammunition and ranges, or securing school slots for identified requirements. The detachment then briefed the commander quarterly on its accomplishments and progress. The commander validated the detachment's training through battalion evaluation events, which were usually as diverse as the detachments evaluated.
As a training-management tool, battle focus has several positive effects that are seemingly intangible and therefore difficult to quantify. For the junior members of the detachment, it helps illuminate why certain training events are conducted. For most, it marks the first time that they have helped plan their own training, which fosters ownership and pride, as well as a clear understanding of the intent and purpose of each event. For detachment leaders, especially during their first months in the positions, it promotes self-analysis and encourages effective time-management. The key advantage of battle focus is that it teaches leaders to qualify training events by identifying the tasks that were trained and further quantifying the event through an update to the detachment commander's training folder, changing an "untrained" task to "trained" or "proficient." For the commander, detachment-level battle focus provides a means of keeping track of the detachments' abilities to perform core tasks and infiltration techniques. As highly specialized as each of these has become, the commander has the difficult task of being aware of each detachment's capabilities if he is to effectively employ them. The task is made even more difficult by limited budgets and limited numbers of support personnel. The result of battle focus is a much more self-supportive, efficient organization at each level, and even though it is done out of necessity, it yields a positive effect on the force.
The force's combat experience, coupled with the addition of a fourth battalion in each active-duty group, creates opportunities in training management and re-introduces old difficulties. With the employment of the new battalions, the operations tempo for the groups will change, giving each of them the opportunity to refocus on their regional affiliation. The principal challenge will be conducting the training without GWOT deployment monies. Another challenge to training management will be inherent to the increase in the size of the force: The same limited ranges, training venues and support mechanisms must be utilized by all. To those without experience in this type of training environment, that can be difficult without reinstituting battle focus to offer specific direction and guidance. To those in junior leadership positions, the mentorship of their commanders, sergeants major and senior warrant officers will be invaluable. The JCET will most likely re-emerge as the principal training tool, offering training monies and regional experience that will facilitate training objectives and meet regional requirements. JCETs also offer the opportunity for the SF detachment to plan and deploy as a self-supportive, autonomous element that has proven to be hugely beneficial in the past. For some, JCETs will mark the first time they have deployed as a detachment, away from their company or battalion. Events such as JCETs increase the maturity of the force, and when coupled with combat experience, will exponentially increase the confidence and capabilities of the force. The reinstitution of training events such as exercise evaluations of full-spectrum, regionally affiliated environment operations and the increased utilization of the Joint Readiness Training Center will become a more useful tool for the commander and the SF detachment to validate the training conducted.
PMT will remain a positive tool for the commander to use as a result of comprehensive mission planning to teach, refine and hone critical wartime skills before deploying on a combat or contingency operation. Commanders must also recognize the experience level of the force in its CENTCOM-associated critical tasks. As a result, commanders should consider reinstituting proven doctrine instead of using PMT exclusively to meet future training objectives. As the groups' operations tempo slows with the addition of the fourth battalions, each group will be able to re-affiliate itself with its particular regional TSOC. That relationship may be challenging to a force whose preponderance of experience is found in its senior leaders. The current commanders of the force, sergeants major and senior warrant officers remember well all that is involved in planning and training to provide the capabilities necessary in their regions, and so the challenge falls on them. Leaders at all levels must mentor junior leaders and foster a command relationship that develops a force capable of the autonomy and maturity required to be relevant in today's battlespace. To this end, the reinstitution of battle focus at the detachment level will be a simple starting point.