U.S. soldiers will be spending less time honing their combat skills in simulated Afghan villages as the Army begins a new training regimen that seeks to prepare troops to fight “hybrid” enemies.
Hybrid is Pentagon-speak for adversaries who combine guerilla tactics with high-tech weaponry, such as the Hezbollah fighters who held off Israel’s armored forces with rockets and missiles in the 2006 war.
“In the future, the hybrid threat is what I see,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters Feb. 21. He described it as a combination of conventional and nontraditional warfare to counter terrorists, insurgencies and criminal groups, Odierno said. “It’s a complex environment.”
Most Army combat brigades have spent the past decade preparing for counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline nears, the plan is to shift more of the burdens to partner nations, Odierno said. “We still need COIN, but with allies.”
As they wind down Afghanistan deployments, Army leaders are unsure about what comes next. Odierno’s plan is to posture the Army so that it can be ready for any future contingency.
The inaugural training event for hybrid war is set to take place in March at the National Training Center, in Fort Irwin, Calif., where the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division is scheduled for a drill.
“That is where we will begin training against a hybrid threat,” said Col. (P) Robert "Pat" White, deputy commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
“We’ve done it in Europe but on a much smaller scale,” White said Feb. 22 during a conference call with reporters. The upcoming training event at the NTC will be the first full-blown fictional conflict against hybrid threats, he said. The Fort Irwin ranges will simulate the Caucasus region at the border between Europe and Asia.
The chief of staff’s marching orders is that the Army has to be ready for any form of conflict — from COIN to high-end tank on tank, helicopter-on-helicopter battles down to gang warfare, White said.
The plan is to combine videogames, digital simulations and live drills into what the Army calls a “decisive action training environment,” White said.
Training with simulations and gaming is cheaper than transporting entire brigades from one part of the world to another, and will allow units to hone their skills at their home base, said Col. Miciotto “Bear” Johnson, director of Training and Doctrine Command’s virtual training.
White acknowledged that virtual training does not duplicate every aspect of combat. “You can’t replicate bullets flying at you, or incoming rockets and mortars. But we can replicate the complexities” of war, he said. At most military posts in the United States, for instance, flying unmanned drones is not allowed under FAA regulations, so close-air support and aerial surveillance missions will be performed by computer simulations.
“The integrated training environment is now our number-one priority,” White said. “Second is the live-fire training at home station.”
The first home-station integrated training prototype will be built at Fort Hood, Texas. Other posts will follow, pending budget decisions.
The high-tech training environment that Army leaders envision can be adapted to simulate any region of the world, White said.
Gaming and live training are more likely to be used for squad, platoon and company level exercises. The battalion staff and support units will be simulated on computer screens.
Training exercises focused on hybrid threats will take place at the NTC on a regular basis, said White. “We’ll have two or three of those this year.”
He is confident that senior Army leaders will embrace this new combat-rehearsal approach because it is less expensive than traditional training. “The heaviest cost of a unit rotating through any training center is transportation,” he said. “Our challenge is, ‘How do we train and reduce the overhead costs?’”