Reservists Need More High-Tech Training
The U.S. military reserve components-currently about 1.4 million men and women-are facing relatively the same stress as the comparably sized active force. Their peacetime commitment is unprecedented and probably will remain at a frenetic level through the next decade.
And the necessity of preparing them to immediately participate in hotter contests, as they arise, requires that steps be taken now to bring the reserves and National Guard to a level of parity with the regular military.
This entails agile training systems, more coherent integration with the active force, and-with a major assist from technology that is just now unfolding-the development of remote logistics and staffing organizations that would support deployed active and reserve components from their home bases.
Not surprisingly, the pillars supporting a proficient reserve are a combination of communications and information technologies that not only are key to training, but also will make possible rapid military mobilizations in the future. Much of this technology already is on the shelf and the remainder is gaining maturity, almost entirely in the commercial sector.
It is worth pointing out that the reserves and National Guard, as a result of continuing, irresistible budgetary pressures and public policy declarations, are nearly equal in size to the active force. During the Cold War, these citizen warriors comprised a force about one-third smaller than the active component. This shift in the manpower equation no doubt has obvious implications for Defense Department decision-making as planners there ponder missions that are expected to arise during the coming decade.
The Committee on Reserve Forces for 2010 and Beyond, an adjunct of the National Research Council, recently examined this question. The panel speculated that specific reserve component tasking, assuming known trends continue, "will range from very small missions, such as small peacekeeping operations, to major missions, such as augmenting active components in major wars. In addition to working in fully integrated operations with active components, reserve components could also provide the bulk of the forces for some military missions, such as homeland defense against missile attacks.
"Although the requirements for small-scale operations, such as peacekeeping, may develop gradually allowing time for preparation, the reserve components will be asked to respond rapidly for future combat missions involving major elements. Mobilization time will be measured in weeks, or even days, rather than months. The two common elements of the potential use of reserve components are the need for them to respond quickly and the potential for leveraging technologies to reduce training time for part-time forces and facilitate their integration with active components."
The committee cited several payoffs stemming from the application of improved information systems and communications pipelines with increased bandwidth. Reserve soldiers, sailors, and airmen, for example, would benefit from having more information workstations and accompanying simulations. It recommended making these workstations available for home use.
Reserve personnel also would become more efficient if they gain access to standardized, updateable databases and database management systems. Performance databases, which rely in part on distributed simulations and field exercises, certainly would contribute to readiness. And the committee offered that "with the communications bandwidth available now, remote support units could be created that assist deployed forces from their home bases."
Members asserted that the use of remote staffs would "be one of the most important technological advances in the integration of reserve and active forces."
But, how to get there?
The committee suggested the best means of bolstering reserve component expertise is for the Pentagon to create an array of pilot programs that would explore and, then, validate advanced information and communications applications. For starters, the panel urged the Defense Department to launch four high-priority launch initiatives that would get the readiness ball moving.
The first program mentioned would focus on the individual use of distance learning systems to enhance individual training. The committee report said that it "would explore the costs and effectiveness of a wide range of incentives for reservists to complete courses successfully, including satisfying requirements for promotion, early advancement, retirement points, paid training time, the reward of a computer, and cash bonuses.
Another program would use distance learning as a means of improving maintenance technician skills. It would "be conducted in cooperation with the private companies that have already tackled the same problem to determine if their diagnostic and repair technologies-transferred over long distances from an expert to a user-could be used to maintain military equipment," said the report.
A third priority pilot program would use new systems to streamline existing administrative processes that are "labor intensive, cut into training, and slow down mobilization." The panel recommended using proven commercial systems that the military services are struggling to adopt.
The report explained the intent here is to "evaluate some 'quick fixes' and demonstration projects that use advanced database technologies" that would save both time and money-resources that could be earmarked for "other essential tasks."
Last on this short list of must programs is an investigation into "tele-support" and remote staffing that, indeed, offers immense potential advantage for the U.S. military. According to the committee, "This capability could reduce the size and vulnerability of units deployed overseas and, at the same time, provide deployed units with the best advice from a wide range of sources."
From the perspective of the reserves and National Guard, it could help them hold onto technical support troops who "otherwise might be discouraged by frequent overseas deployments."
Robert H. Williams is the former editor of National Defense.