Staff Sgt. Aaron Craven, left, a squad leader, and Pfc. Jerik Erskine, a gunner, both assigned to 1st Platoon, 937th Route Clearance Company, 8th Engineer Battalion, prepare for mission Thursday in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Soldiers are deployed with the 36th Engineer Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas.

FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Army wants to turn dismounted tactical small units into overpowering forces on the battlefield and eliminate the enemy’s comparable effectiveness at that tier. The Maneuver Center of Excellence is playing a key role in making it happen.

Companies, battalions and brigades have a significant edge in combat but seem to rely on squads as the “strategic formation” to execute at the point of attack in today’s complex operating environment, said Jeff Arneson, a strategic planner with Fort Benning’s Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate. That means most engagements -- and casualties -- occur while Soldiers are moving as tactical small unit members.

“Our adversaries have forced us to operate that way. They want to get us in a fight where we don’t have the overmatch we have in our mounted formations,” he said. “We’re not being challenged in our mounted formations because of the overmatch we possess there. When you look at the contemporary operational environment, they want to try to fight you where there are limited capabilities. The dismounted squad is where we are more vulnerable. And that’s where missions are occurring today in Afghanistan and Iraq to a lesser extent.”

Arneson said dismounted Infantry squads have emerged as the centerpiece of the tactical fight and will remain a focal point in operations for years to come. Connecting dismounted squads to an already existing network used by mounted formations is a top MCoE priority.

“If you’re on a vehicle in theater, you’re usually well connected with access to the network. The minute you step off that vehicle, you’re usually not,” he said. “There have been major upgrades in equipment, and individual Soldiers are more lethal today, but the way dismounted squads operate has not really changed that much since World War II. They’re still operating with a paper map and FM radio.

“When our dismounted squads are in a combat situation, they don’t have all the situational awareness their mounted counterparts have. We want to bring that dismounted squad into the networked Army. That’s the objective: Get them into the existing network so they have the same overmatch capabilities their mounted counterparts have.”

Elevating the tactical small unit and treating it as a strategic system is a major priority, said MCoE and Fort Benning Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Hardy. The initiative puts greater emphasis on providing the capabilities, training and leader development needed to enable the squad to meet current and future battlefield demands.

“The squad as a strategic formation will put the dismounted maneuver element into the network, which gives them better situational awareness, as well as providing a common operating picture to the fighting element at the tip of the spear,” he said. “We are also focusing efforts on training and leader development that will ensure the team and squad leaders possess the necessary knowledge, skills and attributes to receive, process and employ these capabilities.”

Arneson said the Army is considering program-of-instruction revisions for small units. In December, TRADOC Capability Manager-Soldier launched a capabilities-based assessment of the squad. The organization is expected to publish an initial report for the Army by Sept. 1.

Possible solutions include more materiel improvements and a blended, interactive training program designed for the 21st-century maneuver Soldier, Arneson said. The concept incorporates the use of live, virtual, constructive and gaming simulations in an immersive learning environment.

Based on that model, an avatar will be created for every Soldier coming into the Army. It would reflect their characteristics and abilities stemming from the Army physical fitness test, weapons skills and other qualifications. The avatar card stays with the Soldier throughout his career and gets updated regularly.

“It’s linked to goals and performance. Everything about an individual is on that card,” Arneson said. “You program those capabilities into the simulation and his performance will be based on that. It’s a way to encourage self-improvement and a way for his leadership to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of an individual Soldier.”

He said Army leaders are examining doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leader development, personnel and facilities as part of the effort to empower tactical small units as a strategy.

“They’re trying to identify gaps the current squad has and look for solutions to bridge those gaps,” he said.

Page last updated Wed June 15th, 2011 at 12:44