U.S. Forces Should Avoid ‘Training Surprise’

By Sandra I. Erwin

As they gear up for an extended campaign against global terrorism, U.S. troops will have to sharpen their training, specifically, so they can avoid surprise attacks, said William Schneider, chairman of the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel.

In a war against non-state terrorist groups, “training is an extremely important issue,” Schneider said during a meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C. “The absence of training can emerge as a threat” to the United States.

The unforeseen hijackings of U.S. airliners and the subsequent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11 could be viewed as an extreme example of what Schneider calls “a training surprise.” That happens, he said, “when the adversary focuses efforts on a particular vulnerability and has very high-quality training to exploit that vulnerability.”

Earlier this year, the Defense Science Board released a study, titled “Training Superiority and Training Surprise.” The report outlines the current shortfalls in military training and recommends ways to shore up training capabilities. “In 1994, Croatia surprised Serbia with a military proficiency built up in one year,” said the study. In the future, “others could surprise us.” Even though the United States has well-trained forces, said the Defense Science Board, “training superiority is ours to lose and for others to gain.”

U.S. forces, said Schneider, could “encounter a training surprise,” in a war against ragtag terrorist militias, which may “turn out to be extraordinarily well trained for some specific thing.”

For that reason, he said, “a focus on training needs to be a much higher priority item, much more central to the way in which we acquire weapons systems, for example.” Sophisticated, computer-driven weapon systems only are useful if the operators are trained to take advantage of all the capabilities available, Schneider explained. “In the efforts of transformation at the Department of Defense, training is an acutely important thing.”

To prepare for an extended conflict against an international terrorist network, for example, U.S. forces need to learn how to fight a “non-hierarchical war,” Schneider said.

The al-Qaeda network, allegedly responsible for the September 11 hijackings, is “horizontally integrated,” said Robert W. Chandler, a retired Air Force colonel who has written several books on military strategy. The network cells, he said, “train each other, they sell each other arms.

“If you go to war against a network, you have to understand that the network is horizontally integrated, not hierarchically integrated. ... Being horizontal is a different way to fight. There are many heads on the snake.”

Chandler speculated that U.S. forces will have time to train properly for this war, because it will be waged long enough, “so the network can be taken apart piece by piece.”

According to Schneider, current shortfalls in training equipment and capabilities can be attributed to the ease with which acquisition managers can cut training funding from their programs.

The cost of training, he added, should be “identified as a programmatic element that will need to be included [in the program budget] and then cascaded into the operating scheme for the employment of the system.”

The DSB study, published in January 2001, concluded that:

The report recommended that the following issues be addressed:

Topics: Counterterrorism, Training, War on Terrorism

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