Managing Friction Through Training: The U.S.
Army's Implicit Appreciation of Clausewitz's Thought
In the doctrine and practices of the U.S. Army
today one can find intellectual debts to both Carl von Clausewitz
and Antoine Henri de Jomini, two of the early nineteenth century's
leading military thinkers. Field Manual (FM) 3-0 Operations, the
Army's current capstone doctrinal manual, bears this out. The manual
explicitly quotes Clausewitz on the fundamental requirement to relate
military objectives to political purposes. The manual's assertion
that "Commanders need to appreciate political ends and understand
how the military conditions they achieve contribute to them"
is perfectly consistent with Clausewitz's thought. At the same time,
the manual's discussions of enduring principles of war, decisive
points, and lines of operations surely owe a portion of their formulation
to the influence of Jomini. Jomini would be very likely to agree
with FM 3-0 that "Part of the operational art consists of selecting
the decisive points that will most quickly and efficiently overcome
the enemy center of gravity." It is a formula for success of
the sort Jomini sought to reveal.
Setting aside these questions of strategy and
operational design, I will argue in this essay that the Army is
more Clausewitzian than Jominian in a different way--one that it
may not even recognize. My thesis is that since the mid-1970s the
Army has shown respect for Clausewitz's emphasis on the unique environment
of war in the manner that it trains to fight. In making this argument,
I will start by recounting Clausewitz's explanation for why "Action
in war is like movement in a resistant element." The factors
that Clausewitz identifies as responsible for this aspect of war
are ones which Jomini gives little emphasis, and have implications
for tactical training. I will then briefly describe what one historian
has labeled the Army's "training revolution," and draw
the connection between this revolution and the Clausewitzian depiction
of war. Finally, I will conclude by arguing that the Army's implicit
embrace of Clausewitz in its training practices is one it should
The Nature of Combat
One of the striking aspects of Clausewitz's
classic work of military theory, On War, is his portrayal of the
actual conditions of combat. To Clausewitz, combat is a realm of
fear, danger, physical exertion, uncertainty, and chance in which
"the simplest thing is difficult." Although many of the
formulations that guide an army's actions in war are not in themselves
intellectually complex, implementation is challenging in an environment
characterized by the sources of friction mentioned above. In Clausewitz's
view, "Friction is the only concept that more or less corresponds
to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper."
In real war both material and psychological factors are important,
and a true military genius must have both intellectual qualities
and strength of character to deal with them.
These special characteristics of warfare do
not receive much emphasis in Jomini's The Art of War. Jomini does
allow that the morale of an army can be important to a general's
ability to execute plans, but the nature of combat does not have
much impact on his prescriptions. In Jomini's view, rules...become,
in the hands of skillful generals commanding brave troops, means
of almost certain success. The correctness of this statement cannot
be denied; and it only remains to be able to discriminate between
good rules and bad. In this ability consists the whole of a man's
genius for war. There are, however, leading principles which assist
in obtaining this ability. Every maxim relating to war will be good
if it indicates the employment of the greatest portion of the means
of action at the decisive moment and place.... As regards tactics,
the principal thing to be attended to is the choice of the most
suitable order of battle for the object in view.
Compared to Clausewitz, Jomini does not make
much of a distinction between real war and war on paper. Jomini
emphasizes the orchestration of a campaign, or the array of forces
for battle, at the expense of the execution of these operations
in the special environment of combat.
Consistent with this difference, Clausewitz
has more to say about the preparation of an army to fight. In Clausewitz's
view, "The good general must know friction in order to overcome
it whenever possible...Practice and experience dictate the answer:
'this is possible, that is not.'" It is not just the generals
that need this preparation:
Peacetime maneuvers are a feeble substitute
for the real thing; but even they can give an army an advantage
over others whose training is confined to routine, mechanical
drill. To plan maneuvers so that some of the elements of friction
are involved, which will train officers' judgment, common sense,
and resolution is far more worthwhile than inexperienced people
Clausewitz argues that the only "lubricant"
that will truly be effective in overcoming the friction of war is
combat experience. Nevertheless, absent this experience, demanding
maneuvers which call for exertions similar to those soldiers will
face in war are useful.
The U.S. Army's Training Revolution
In the 1970s, the U.S. Army began a process
of changing its training practices to make training more fulfilling
for its volunteer soldiers, as well as more demanding and realistic.
In retrospect, these changes probably contributed to the Army's
extremely low casualties in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In this
section, I will discuss some of the major changes in Army training
that have their roots in this period, and then relate these changes
to Clausewitz's thoughts on the special nature of war.
The Army's training practices began to change
in the early 1970s during its transition to an all-volunteer force.
Limited manpower led the Army to appreciate the need to make the
most of each soldier, and voluntary enlistments led the Army to
recognize the role of meaningful training in retaining quality personnel.
Initiatives from this period provided a starting
point for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) as
it was established on 1 July 1973 to meet the training and combat
development needs of the post-Vietnam Army. The first commander
of TRADOC, General William E. DePuy, came to the job already convinced
that the U.S. Army had historically failed its soldiers by not providing
them and their leaders with adequate tactical training before combat.
As a case in point, DePuy harkened back to his own experiences with
the 90th Infantry Division in World War II. In his words, "the
90th Division was a killing machine-of our own troops!"
As TRADOC's first Deputy Chief of Staff for
Training, DePuy appointed Brigadier General Paul F. Gorman. Gorman
had headed two Army training boards earlier in the decade, and shared
DePuy's conviction that the Army's tactical training was inadequate.
In 1973, in Gorman's view, "Army training for dismounted action
at the point of the arrow remained formulary, complicated, and situationally
World events and the U.S. Army's responsibilities
in the mid-1970s seemed to confirm the priority these two men placed
on improving the Army's training. The Arab-Israeli War in October
1973 showed that contemporary warfare between armies equipped with
modern weaponry was fast-paced and extremely lethal. In General
DePuy's view, one of the important factors that allowed the Israeli
Army to fight outnumbered and win was superior training. Looking
to its own potential future battles, the Army saw the importance
of training reinforced. Any conflict in Europe against the Soviet
Union would see the Army fighting against a numerically superior
enemy with comparable technology. The Army would need superior training
in order to be able to win.
The training reforms introduced during DePuy's
four-year tenure at TRADOC constituted a major conceptual redesign.
Performance-oriented methods, Soldiers' Manuals, and Skill Qualification
Tests together constituted a new approach to the conduct, content,
and evaluation of individual training. A new series of "How-to-Fight"
manuals and the Army Training and Evaluation Program marked a similarly
significant departure from prior practices in the area of unit training.
The Army's professional education system supported this redesign
by preparing noncommissioned and commissioned officers for their
respective roles as the Army's primary individual and collective
In view of Clausewitz's emphasis on the importance
of incorporating friction into peacetime maneuvers, two training
techniques deserve particular mention. The first of these, which
Gorman called "tactical engagement simulation," is intended
to give soldiers and units useful feedback on their warfighting
skills. In Gorman's words, "The central concept was reward
and punishment for tactical performances through real-time casualty
assessment, and portrayal of near-miss to evoke suppression."
In the early 1970s, the Army used optical technologies for the recording
of casualties in force-on-force training. A decade later, the Multiple
Integrated Laser Engagement System was one of the key technological
enablers for the establishment of the Army's National Training Center
at Fort Irwin, California. This training center, along with the
Combat Maneuver Training Center at Hohenfels, Germany, and the Joint
Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana, raised the Army's
ability to exploit the benefits of tactical engagement simulation
to new heights. Units rotating through these centers take part in
demanding force-on-force exercises against well-trained opposing
forces, and then participate in detailed reviews of their performances.
While these centers can not fully replicate wartime conditions,
they can go far towards acclimating units to Clausewitzian friction
in time of peace.
A second important technique, which Gorman
called "constructive engagement simulation," was designed
to support the training of commanders and their staffs. During DePuy's
four-year tenure at TRADOC, the Army developed a number of tools,
to include board games as well as computer simulations, to enable
commanders and their staffs to realistically prepare themselves
to meet wartime requirements. At the higher echelons of command,
these efforts culminated in the introduction of the Battle Command
Training Program (BCTP) in 1982. This program, which consists of
a five-day warfighting seminar followed by a computer-driven command
post exercise, trains active and reserve division and corps commanders
and their staffs in skills necessary to warfighting at their levels.
By supporting enhanced peacetime training, constructive engagement
simulations such as the BCTP are designed to help the U.S. Army
overcome problems with poor battle staff integration which had plagued
it during earlier wars.
Since the mid-1970s, the idea that the Army's
training should be standards-based, demanding, and realistic has
become part of Army culture. However imperfect execution may sometimes
be in practice, officers and noncommissioned officers have a basic
understanding of how the Army ought to train to fight. Training
is recognized as being important in helping the Army overcome the
friction Clausewitz identified as being inherent in war.
An army that puts significant energy into
demanding tactical training is more Clausewitzian than Jominian
in at least one important sense. Such an army has accepted the importance
Clausewitz ascribes to the friction of war. The benefits that the
U.S. Army has garnered from this emphasis are perhaps most evident
in comments made by veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Asked
by a senior officer how they were able to perform so well in their
first combat situation, one of these soldiers replied:
Sir, this was not our first battle. This
was our tenth battle! We fought three wars at the National Training
Center, Fort Irwin, California; we fought four wars at the Combat
Maneuver Training Center, Hohenfels, Germany; and a lot of other
simulations like SIMNET, the Unit Conduct of Fire Trainer, and
the Battle Command Training Program. Yes sir, we had been "shot
at" before. Many times. This war was just like our training.
Perhaps the U.S. Army's training methods, supported
by technologies unavailable in the 1800s, are better able to prepare
an army for war than even demanding maneuvers were in Clausewitz's
day. In any event, given that friction will endure, so should the
Army's efforts to be prepared to manage it.
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Also available online at: http://www-cgsc.army.mil/csi/research/writing/Papers%20C600/commendNielson.asp