Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Should the U.S. Arm Ukraine with Anti-Ship Missiles?

By Mykola Bielieskov

When it comes to U.S. military-technical assistance for Ukraine in the context of Russian aggression, sharing the Javelin anti-tank guided missile with the Ukrainian Ground Forces is what is typically mentioned. And at the beginning of March 2018 the U.S. State Department gave its approval for the provision of this kind of weaponry to Kyiv. There is nothing surprising in this, since the land forces of Ukraine bear the main burden of confronting and deterring further Russian aggression. However, today it is necessary to start talking about the needs of the other branches of the Armed Forces of Ukraine given the challenges facing them.

A Navy Adrift

The situation in the Ukrainian Navy is close to a catastrophic one. The Russian Federation’s occupation of the Crimea in 2014 especially negatively affected the fighting capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy as nearly 80 percent of the fleet was lost due to capture and defection. In fact, four corvettes (Lutsk, Khmelnitsky, Ternopil, Prydniprov’ia), two minesweepers (Chernigiv, Cherkasy), the large landing ship Konstantin Olshansky, and the submarine Zaporozhye were captured by Russian forces. In addition, Russian occupants captured and never returned up to 15 auxiliary vessels.

The urgent need for platforms in the Ukrainian Navy could be solved by Western country transfers to Kyiv of older ships, which are decommissioned or near retirement. Actually, from time-to-time this idea is voiced by certain American experts. The U.S. government, among other things, is ready to provide the Ukrainian Navy with two coastal guards ships of the Island class. They, in contrast to Ukrainian artillery boats of the Gyurza-M class, have better seaworthiness and greater autonomy. However, the simple transfer of platforms can only partly solve the problems the Ukrainian Navy faces today. Getting Western ships can solve the problem with minesweepers or auxiliary vessels. However, the main question remains unaddressed: how could the Ukrainian Navy counter attempts by the Russian Federation to use its domination of the Black Sea for further aggression?

As the result of Russian aggression Ukraine lost in Crimea ground-based anti-ship platforms, which were armed with Termit anti-ship cruise missiles. Similarly, after the Crimea occupation, the missile boat Pryluky was returned to Ukrainian authorities but lacked its two Termit anti-ship missiles.

Today the Ukrainian Navy is not able to properly counteract possible attempts by the Russian Black Sea Fleet to carry out an amphibious landing operation. In this contest it is necessary to recall that in 2014-2015 the Security Service of Ukraine exposed and broke down covert attempts to create the so-called secessionist Bessarabian People’s Republic. This fictional republic was going to be based on territories of a southern part of the Odessa oblast. In the event of the establishment of this illicit territory, the Russian Black Sea Fleet would have had the opportunity to freely land the necessary troops and to maintain sea lines of communication with a new pseudo-state bordering western Ukraine along with occupied Crimea. Ukraine in this case could not have prevented such contingencies, since the Navy does not have the necessary anti-ship capabilities to destroy combat and landing enemy vessels.

Although Ukraine is developing its own anti-ship cruise missile Neptune, the first public test of which took place in late January 2018, the system is still nascent. The relevant sea-based risks and threats for Ukraine still exist. In addition, the question is how many Neptune missiles Ukraine will be able to purchase annually for their Navy, given that the entire budget for modernization and procurement of equipment is only $600 million this fiscal year.

As a result, it is urgently necessary to start a dialogue on the possibility of transfer to Ukraine of American Harpoon anti-ship missiles with the necessary equipment for guidance and data exchange systems. The U.S. military budget for 2018 FY provides for the allocation of up to $200 million to enhance Ukraine’s defense capabilities, including the possibility of using these funds for purchase of coastal defense radars, minelayers, minesweepers, and littoral ships. This document captures a change in the paradigm of thinking and awareness in the Pentagon of Ukraine’s vulnerability to threats from the sea. However, as has been said above, only vessels or even radar systems will not be enough to remedy the shortfall.

The U.S. Navy is currently developing new generations of anti-ship missiles (LRASM, Tomahawk, and SM-6 anti-ship variants) that have much longer range than the current Harpoon anti-ship missile. However, in the context of a closed sea like the Black Sea, it will be enough for Ukrainian Navy to deploy the latest modification of the Harpoon missile – the Block II ER+. The radius of this modification is up to 134 nautical miles or 250 km. It is notable that the Ukrainian anti-ship missile “Neptune” will have a similar range. It is also indicative that Finland is considering the Harpoon Block II ER + as the main weapon for the future four frigates of the 2020 project, which will operate in the similarly constrained Baltic Sea.

An F/A-18 carries the new Harpoon Block II+ missile during a free flight test Nov. 18 at Point Mugu’s Sea Range in California. The Navy plans to deliver the Block II+ variant to the fleet in 2017. (U.S. Navy photo)

The transfer to Ukraine of Harpoon Block II ER+ anti-ship cruise missiles and related equipment, together with their installation on future fleet and land-based anti-ship platforms, will not only eliminate significant gaps in the country’s defense capabilities. It will also help secure the safety of maritime trade, on which the economy of Ukraine depends critically. This decision will allow the United States to solve several important security issues in the Black Sea region at once. All this happens when the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships in almost a century (283 ships), and it faces the need for a permanent presence in numerous parts across the world’s oceans, including the Black Sea Basin. Strengthening the capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy will reduce the need for such presence. In addition, strengthening the anti-ship component of the Ukrainian armed forces will make its Navy a truly important component in any joint NATO Black Sea Fleet, an idea which has been discussed for several years. Today, the Ukrainian Navy cannot actually be an effective contributor to the joint efforts of the littoral states to contain the Russian Federation in the Black Sea basin. Ultimately, the presence of Harpoon Block II ER+ missiles together with the necessary radars and information exchange systems with other NATO countries will enable, in practice, to enhance the interoperability of the Ukrainian armed forces with NATO partners. In this way, it will contribute to the Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine and the fulfillment of the tasks of the Strategic Defense Bulletin.


Ukraine today, given the need of countering threats from the sea, is in a situation where the need for U.S. anti-ship missiles is much more important than obtaining Javelin ATGMs. The U.S. Defense Department’s budget for 2018 FY records the understanding that Washington should help Ukraine counteract not only land-based but also maritime threats that are actually much sharper, given the current state of the Ukrainian Navy. However, only the acquisition of appropriate anti-ship missiles such as the Harpoon Block II ER+ will enable the Ukrainian Navy to effectively counter the growing capabilities of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea. Such a bold decision will strengthen security in this part of the world, reduce the need for the United States to be constantly present, and make Ukraine a true contributor to Black Sea security.

Mykola Bielieskov is the Deputy Executive Director at the Institute of World Policy.

Featured Image: Day of the Ukranian Navy Ceremony, July 2016. (Ministry of Defence of Ukraine)

Insights from the National Training Center’s Opposing Force, Pt. 2

Read Part One of this series here.

By Colonel John D. Rosenberger

It Is How Commanders Become Masters of the Art and Science of Battle Command

The OPFOR regimental commander (alternately the 1st and 2nd Squadron commanders), the regimental staff, and motorized rifle battalion commanders set conditions for effective employment of the regimental combined-arms team. Their ability to do it is a function of their mastery of the art of battle command, as we now call it. Indeed, the regiment can fight no better than the regimental commander’s ability to see the terrain, see the enemy, see himself, and see the battle unfold in his mind. Granted, the ability to inspire and motivate soldiers, the ability to impose his will, tenacity, compassion, patience, and so forth are also important. But these are elements of effective leadership, not tactical competence.

Commanders and battle staff in the OPFOR quickly develop the ability to see the terrain and its effects on combat operations. By that, I mean the map talks to them. They see more than the Go and No Go terrain, key terrain, or decisive terrain. They see and envision the effects of terrain on the enemy’s ability and their own ability to move, generate momentum, disperse, mass, observe, deploy, shoot, or protect the force. They can envision, at a glance, where the enemy would be most vulnerable to the diverse capabilities of their force or where terrain provides them an opportunity to seize the initiative or control the tempo of the battle. Equally important, they can perceive where terrain would restrict or constrain the employment of their combined-arms team.

On a higher plane of thinking, they can see how to use the terrain to create conditions where the enemy would be vulnerable to the fires they can bring to bear. In other words, they can see, within their battlespace, where the enemy would be most vulnerable to destruction by close air support, delayed by artillery-delivered minefields, vulnerable to antitank fires, blocked, turned, disrupted or fixed by obstacles, disrupted by jamming, or where terrain would provide them a relative firepower advantage in the close fight. Armed with these skills, they can shape the battlefield to set conditions for success – the adept use of terrain to control the tempo of battle, create favorable force ratios, create vulnerabilities, optimize the effects of their own capabilities, control the enemy’s direction of movement, and protect the force.

Additionally, OPFOR commanders develop a masterful ability to see the enemy. They can envision with remarkable clarity how the enemy commander would employ his combined-arms team. They can envision the sequential and simultaneous actions and combat systems the enemy commander would use to shape his battlefield for success. They can perceive the critical tasks the enemy commander has to accomplish, how he will probably employ his combined-arms team to accomplish the tasks, or how the enemy commander will seize and retain the initiative. As the battle unfolds in their minds, they can immediately recognize the high-value and high-payoff targets and when those targets would be most vulnerable to attack by the capabilities of the OPFOR combined-arms team. They can easily visualize the rate of enemy movement, the organization and depth of his formations, and the location of high-payoff targets. Even more important, they can see which combat functions or capabilities have to be attacked to disrupt the synchronization of the enemy’s combined-arms team – the first step to victory under combat conditions.

Commanders can also see themselves. By that, I mean they are expert in the capabilities and limitations of every system in their combined-arms team. They have mastered the science of warfighting. Moreover, they know how and when these capabilities can be used most effectively against the enemy. For example, they know the type and volume of artillery munitions required to achieve the effects they want, the range of various artillery munitions, and every gun’s sustained rate of fire. Consequently, they know how many batteries are required, where they should be placed relative to the target, and the time required to shoot the munitions necessary to produce the desired effects. They also know the time required to shift a battalion of artillery from one target to the next, the actual occupation times of their artillery battalions, and an artillery battalion’s rate of movement relative to the terrain. Consequently, they can create effective sequential and simultaneous engagements throughout the depths of the battlefield and decide when to move to protect the force and when to move to sustain fire support through the depth of the operation.

The OPFOR commanders also know the capabilities and limitations of their collection and jamming teams, comprised of soldiers with an unparalleled ability to protect the force and change the outcome of battle. Consequently, they know how and where to establish a baseline to obtain accurate direction-finding, radio intercept, and effective jamming. More important, they master the ability to focus and use these capabilities to answer their priority intelligence requirements and to jam the enemy when he is most vulnerable to its effects.

Commanders are also expert in the employment of obstacles. They have a keen sense of what their engineers can realistically accomplish. For example, they know how long it takes their engineer company, given their manning and level of training, to install an effective blocking or turning obstacle, the quantity of material required, the man-hours required, the transportation involved, the number of fighting positions they can realistically dig in the time available, and so on. Armed with this mastery of the science of warfighting, they can easily envision how to effectively employ these engineer capabilities to shape the battlefield, protect the force, and establish conditions for success in the deep and close fights.

At the same time, commanders develop and possess the ability to see themselves from the enemy commander’s perspective. They can almost read their opponent’s mind. They have the cognitive ability to recognize where they are strong and where they are weak from the enemy commander’s point of view. Moreover, they are adept at perceiving their own vulnerabilities and recognize their exposure. Coupled with real-time human intelligence (HUMINT), this ability lifts the curtain of uncertainty off the battlefield, exposes the enemy’s most likely course of action, and illuminates weakness and vulnerabilities in their opponent’s fighting posture. Finally, OPFOR commanders learn to think in terms of force protection. By that, I mean they learn to fight the battle in their minds and immediately discern the active and passive measures necessary to protect the force. They do not think simply in terms of safety, radio listening silence, raising the air defense warning status, repositioning of reserves, and so forth. They take passive and active measures to protect their forces from observation by air and ground reconnaissance systems, electronic location, thermal detection systems, the effects of enemy indirect and direct fire systems, special munitions, fratricide, and the effects of weather, disease, and injury.

When you are up against combined-arms commanders like these, it doesn’t get any tougher. The point is that it takes these kinds of commanders and staffs to bring a unit to its full combat potential. They are simply indispensable. The problem is that conditions required to develop combined-arms commanders and staffs of this caliber do not exist within the remainder of our Army. These kinds of commanders and staffs are developed through constant study and application of the art and science of warfighting, terrain walks, situational training exercises, repetitive opportunities to fight and learn from their mistakes in the field, not in simulations, and most important of all, repetitive combat-like experiences which develop battlefield intuition – an immediate feel for the battlefield situation and what must be done to win. Unfortunately, these conditions don’t exist for soldiers and leaders anywhere else in the Army today. This is an insightful lesson the OPFOR provides as we ponder how to maintain landpower dominance in the Army of the 21st century. But again, this is only a partial answer to the questions. Here’s another reason.

It Is How the OPFOR Plans Combat Operations

The truth be known, the OPFOR wins its battles before it fights them. Very few battles ever unfold in a way substantially different from what the OPFOR team envisioned or planned to accomplish. Moreover, the incomparable ability of the OPFOR to get every dog in the fight at the right time at the right place is legendary. The reason? The OPFOR has learned how to set conditions for synchronization of the combined-arms team in the planning process, and learned how to preserve it during execution of battle as the situation evolves. The conditions for victory are set by their planning process. It’s safe to say that no leader in the OPFOR would agree with the old adage that plans change at the first contact with the enemy, or that planning is a rather useless endeavor and performance in execution is really what matters.

The regimental orders process is a disciplined battle drill, characterized by strict time management. It follows the same military decision-making process outlined in FM 101-5 Staff Organization and Operations. Complete METT-T (mission/enemy/terrain/troops/time available) analysis is the foundation, and no shortcuts are taken. The regimental staff, working as a team, prepares detailed enemy situational templates which graphically depict the enemy’s most likely course of action, array, and presentation of forces on the battlefield, and probable locations of high-payoff targets, such as fire direction radars, artillery units, command posts, aircraft rearming and refueling points, or reserves. Once this analysis is presented, the regimental commander conducts his own commander’s estimate of the situation, visualizes the battle unfolding in his mind, sees it unfold on the terrain, then develops several courses of action for employment of his combined-arms team that will ensure defeat of his opponent.

From this analysis and visualization, the commander develops his commander’s intent, and he spends a lot of time ensuring he gets this right. He issues his intent by first stating the task and purpose the regiment must achieve. Next, he describes in clear doctrinal language the few critical tasks which must be accomplished sequentially, some simultaneously, in order to win. He wraps this up by describing the end state he wants the force to achieve – what success looks like when the fight is over.

Next, he issues planning guidance to his staff – guidance which clearly describes how he wants the combined-arms team employed, his critical information requirements by phase, how he wants to shape the battlefield for success, the means he wants to use to control the tempo of battle, and the effects he expects at critical times and locations in the fight. After just a couple of months in the saddle, a regimental commander can do this in minutes. It becomes intuitive. As a minimum, he will direct his staff to deliberately wargame three courses of action, sometimes four.

With these things in hand, the chief of staff assembles the staff and conducts a detailed, deliberate wargame of each course of action – the most important step in the planning process. Why? The deliberate wargaming process sets conditions for employment and synchronization of the combined-arms team to produce the effects and outcome the commander expects. Moreover, the wargaming process produces the few critical products necessary to employ and control the force: the operations order, with specific task and purpose assigned to each unit; the reconnaissance and surveillance plan; a synchronization matrix for each course of action (the score for the orchestra); movement and positioning plans for the artillery groups; and operational graphics. Interestingly, the targeting process is embedded in the wargame, so as another outcome, the staff produces the plan for simultaneous and sequential attack of enemy high-payoff targets through the depths of the battlefield.

A distinguishing feature of this planning process is the control imposed by the plan, and the synchronization which stems from it. At the regimental level, the plan tells every member of the combined-arms team what to do, when to do it, and where do it – but never how. As the OPFOR has learned, synchronization cannot be achieved any other way. Synergy of the combined-arms team cannot be created in other way.

The process used by the OPFOR is much like writing a score for an orchestra. In an orchestra, if the trumpets, the flutes, and the violins play whatever notes they want, when they want, you get nothing but noise. The musical score (synchronization matrix) specifies which instruments will play what notes, when in relation to other instruments, and where in the sequence of time. If done properly, you get Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. The same goes for military operations. Consider motorized rifle battalions, artillery groups, close air support, and jamming systems as instruments of war. Firm control is required at regimental level to ensure all capabilities are employed at the right time and place for maximum effect. On the other hand, down at the maneuver company level, much less control is imposed and initiative is prized, once the unit makes direct fire contact. In short, this planning and synchronization process is how the OPFOR achieves its full combat potential during the execution of battle. But there are other significant factors that differ from most units they oppose.

Take the operations order: Only one written operations order is published for the regimental combined-arms team which addresses multiple courses of action. Tasks to subordinate units are always expressed in the form of task and purpose. Only one set of graphics is produced and every leader in the regiment, from top to bottom, uses this one set of graphics. Subordinate units do not develop their own, unique graphics. In other words, every member of the combined-arms team is looking at the same sheet of music. Subordinate commanders issue oral operations orders, based on a clear understanding of what they have to do, when they have to do it, and where they have to do it.

The graphics are a wonder of simplicity. Only a few graphic control measures are used: report lines, lines of maneuver, artillery/rocket fire boxes and targets, smoke lines, firing lines, and air battle positions. That’s it. Fire boxes, or firing lines, are used as battlefield reference points to adjust direction of maneuver, identify current locations, or shoot artillery. This technique of controlling forces is the source of the impressive flexibility the regiment is able to achieve in every battle. It’s the principal reason the regiment is able to quickly change direction and shift the main effort, sustain common situational awareness throughout its battlespace, and preclude fratricide. In sum, the regiment’s planning process lies at the heart of its ability to achieve its full combat potential. Nonetheless, it is only a partial answer to the questions at hand. There is another good reason.

Colonel Rosenberger is currently serving as Commander, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin, CA.

The above was originally published by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute for Land Warfare Studies as a part of its Landpower Essay Series. Read it in its original form here.

Featured Image: Soldiers use the M777 howitzer to fire high explosive munitions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo)

Insights from the National Training Center’s Opposing Force, Pt. 1

By Colonel John D. Rosenberger

Few in our Army would dispute the assertion that the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Opposing Force (OPFOR) at the National Training Center (NTC) is, very good at what they do. The commanders and soldiers in the OPFOR are seldom defeated in battle. For years, this unit has been the anvil upon which we have hammered and forged the combat power of our Army. Have you ever wondered how they do it?

How does OPFOR develop and sustain its ability to fight and defeat its opponents in almost every battle at the National Training Center? How does the regiment, fighting with 1960s-1970s technology, routinely defeat brigade task forces equipped with the most modem weapon systems and technology our Army can provide? How can the regiment do it given the same soldiers, the same personnel turbulence (about 40 percent turnover each year), the same leader development challenges, and the oldest fighting equipment in the active Army?

It’s my premise in this essay that these are not trivial questions, simply answered by the fact that the regiment has the opportunity to train and fight more frequently, or that the OPFOR knows the terrain. Just the opposite: I believe the answers to these questions are critically important to a force projection Army that is growing ever smaller, and they are absolutely key to achieving the full combat potential of Force XXI and the Army.

Realization of Combat Potential

Bottom line up front: It’s my conclusion, after fighting against it, observing it for 12 years and now commanding the OPFOR, that the fundamental reason this remarkable military organization is able to dominate its opponents is because the OPFOR has achieved the combat potential residing in its doctrine, organization, training methods, leaders, soldiers, and the capabilities of its equipment. The brigade task forces they oppose have not. Moreover, they cannot achieve their full combat potential, given existing conditions within our Army today. Understanding this premise, and the disparity, must begin with a discussion of how the OPFOR is organized.

It Is How the OPFOR Is Organized

Fundamentally, the warfighting ability of the OPFOR stems from how it is organized. It is organized as a combined-arms team. It lives together as a combined-arms team, it trains as a combined-arms team, and it fights as a combined-arms team all the time. It is not a collection of units, thrown together on an ad hoc basis from various divisions and installations, who have never trained together, or a collection of units within a division which task organize and train infrequently as a brigade combat team.

On the battlefield, habitual fighting, training and support relationships matter. They matter a lot in combat, and historically, the most combat effective organizations our Army has ever put on a battlefield share this organizational characteristic. Our military history is replete with examples. This comes as no surprise to those who know and understand what it takes to win in combat – teamwork, mutual trust and absolute confidence in every member of the team. To achieve these essential feelings, combat, combat support and combat service support units have to train and fight together as one team for long periods of time.

Habitual team relationships foster incomparable teamwork, a prerequisite to success on any modern battlefield, where multiple units, with multiple capabilities, must be artfully integrated and employed simultaneously. A football analogy works well to describe this critical dynamic.

In the great professional football teams, because they live together, train together and play together, every member of the team understands every other role and responsibility and every member knows the others’ capabilities and limitations. In every play (battle), every player has a specific task and purpose to achieve; he knows when and where his task must be achieved in order to set conditions for success. Equally important, he also understands what every other member of the team will do, when he will do it, and where he will do it. This common understanding develops an incredible sense of unity and purpose, and the most powerful effect of all, a common visualization of the play (battle) and how it will unfold. Each player sees how he fits in the big picture, thereby giving him a sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose, and knowing your team is counting on you to do your job, produces a powerful motivation to succeed. Moreover, the plays executed by a professional team are a display of artful synchronization, achieved through constant, repetitive practice as a team – something completely unachievable by any other means. This same kind of teamwork is at the heart of the OPFOR’s performance, and historically, the performance of our best combat units.

Habitual team organizations also foster mutual trust and confidence throughout the force. Nobody in combat is comfortable fighting with strangers, fighting with an ad hoc collection of units whose leadership and capabilities are not proven and known. Mutual trust and confidence are absolutely critical in combat. When a team lives together, trains together and fights together all the time, leaders and units get to know one another very well. They learn who they can count on, who can do the job. They learn who can pull their weight. They immediately recognize the others’ voices on the radio: they are talking to friends and comrades. They learn to trust one another, and from this trust comes an unshakable confidence. Though confidence is intangible, that’s what wins in combat, and that’s what brigade task forces are up against in the OPFOR at the NTC. It is a tremendous advantage.

In contrast, the brigade task forces the OPFOR opposes each month are not, by Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E), organized as combined-arms teams. Instead, they are a temporary or ad hoc collection of units from different divisions or installations, thrown together for training, who have not had the opportunity to train together or to train as one team at the frequency necessary to develop their full combat potential. They are strangers, trying to do their best but handicapped by a variety of conditions that do not foster or develop the kind of teamwork the OPFOR brings to the battlefield. Consequently, it’s like a neighborhood pick-up team stepping on the field with the Denver Broncos.

In sum, the OPFOR provides us an important warfighting insight. Habitual combined-arms organizations (combined-arms teams that live together and train together permanently vs. temporarily) are fundamental to achieving the full combat potential of a force. But this is only a partial answer to the question.

It Is How the OPFOR Trains

The training program and methods employed by the OPFOR to sustain proficiency in mission essential tasks are the catalysts for its success – the way you take potential and turn it into capability. Notably, these methods differ from the training methods employed by the brigade task forces they oppose.

The regiment trains and adheres to proven doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures honed through years of trial and experience. Only three bedrock training manuals are used: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 350-16 on OPFOR Doctrine, the Regimental Tactical Standing Operating Procedures, and the Motorized Rifle Company Handbook. These three manuals serve as the blueprint for success. They establish clear performance standards and expectations. They foster simplicity in training, a common understanding of how we fight as a team and, consequently, an incomparable unity of effort during performance of combat missions. Every trooper learns how to fight from the pages of these three manuals.

There is nothing fancy about how the OPFOR trains. Bottom line: The OPFOR stays focused on the fundamentals of warfighting at the tactical level of war. The entire training program is designed to sustain mastery of a few fundamental tasks and battle drills at each level of command – individual to regiment. For example, the first thing an OPFOR soldier or leader is taught is how to use terrain and all its features to accomplish the mission. Terrain walks are the bread and butter of the training program-low cost, but the most influential training tool in the kit bag. Learn how to see the terrain and how to use it, and you can’t be whipped.

Motorized rifle, antitank, engineer, military intelligence, air defense and tank companies constantly practice only a handful of battle drills – those actions on the battlefield which assure dominance in the close, direct fire fight. Tank and mechanized infantry platoons continually practice set-move techniques, providing overwatch for one another as they bound from one intervisibility line to the next. Regimental battle staffs constantly practice a set of planning and wargaming drills which set near-perfect conditions for synchronization of the combined-arms teams. Blocking and tackling – the fundamentals – that’s what the regiment trains to do. By staying focused on the fundamentals, units are able to achieve the full capabilities and effectiveness of their combat systems on the battlefield.

As to training methods, the OPFOR adheres religiously to the training doctrine and methods espoused in Anny Field Manual (FM) 25-10 I, Training the Force – the entire process. Individuals and units are trained and measured against established performance standards at every level. After-action reviews are always conducted, and if an individual or unit fails to meet the standards, they retrain and execute the task until standards are met, plain and simple. Time is always allocated for retraining. The regiment trains until standards are met all the time. It’s an ingrained habit. Moreover, and this is a critical point, the regiment trains to perform individual and mission-essential tasks at the frequency necessary to sustain performance standards. Nothing is more important to developing full combat potential in the kind of Army we have, than training soldiers, leaders and units at the frequency necessary to sustain performance standards. Why is that?

Simple: Every unit in our Army faces two enemies every day, enemies which sap the combat potential of the force. First, as a result of how we man the Army, every year we turn over about 40 percent of the unit at every level. For the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, that’s about 1,000 new noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and soldiers we have to train and prepare to fight as members of the team. We’re continuously in the business of training new soldiers and leaders. Second, warfighting is an extremely complex business these days, with complex tasks to learn and master. And because we’re human, we forget how to do things as time goes by. The more complex the task, the sooner we forget how to do it. It follows, then, that the more complex the task, the more frequently you need to train. For these two reasons we’re constantly training new soldiers and we forget how to do things – the frequency of training individual, leader and unit tasks is absolutely critical to developing and sustaining full combat potential. In other words, get the frequency right, and you can sustain high levels of performance. Within our Army today, for a host of reasons – lack of money to train at the right frequency, lack of time, shortages of leaders and soldiers, installation support, and peacekeeping missions – brigade task forces, unlike the OPFOR, do not have the opportunity to train under tough, realistic field conditions at the frequency required to develop, much less sustain, their full combat potential at every level within the organization. It shows on the battlefields at NTC.

Perhaps the most influential and discriminating difference between the OPFOR and the brigade task forces they fight is the leader certification program. Unlike the units they face, the OPFOR confirms that every soldier and every leader possesses the knowledge, skill and ability to perform his/her duties before they are permitted to fight with the regiment. Every soldier and leader is compelled to undergo a rigorous series of written exams, oral exams, terrain walks, apprenticeships and hands-on demonstrations of their knowledge, skill and ability before they are allowed to fight or lead. That’s right – every soldier and leader, from section to regimental level, is tested and must prove they can execute their individual and leader tasks.

Platoon sergeants, platoon leaders, and company commanders must demonstrate their ability to execute their platoon and company march formations and battle drills, and to orchestrate fire support. The regimental chief of reconnaissance must demonstrate an absolute mastery of intelligence preparation of the battlefield. The regimental chief of staff must demonstrate his ability to conduct deliberate wargaming and set conditions for synchronization of the combined-arms teams. The regimental commander must demonstrate his ability to see the terrain and how to use it, see the enemy, see himself, and visualize how to shape his battlefield and effectively employ every capability of the combined-arms team to defeat his opponent. Only when the commander is assured of a leader’s tactical and technical competence, through testing and examination, is the subordinate leader permitted to serve in his position. This is a process foreign to the remainder of our Army, and in my opinion, at the root of the performance differential we continue to observe here at the NTC. It is a glaring disparity.

The point of all this? These training methods, and the opportunity to train repetitively, are the way the OPFOR is able to achieve and sustain its full combat potential. Unfortunately, the conditions necessary to implement this proved training strategy and methodology, the training resources, and opportunity for the remainder of our Army do not exist. Units at home station do not have the money, time, and other resources necessary to train at the frequency required to develop and sustain proficiency in mission-essential tasks, platoon to brigade level. As an Army we do not train and confirm that battalion and brigade staff officers are competent to perform those duties before they assume their duties. For that matter, combined-arms battalion and brigade commanders are not required to prove and demonstrate a mastery of battle command skills and tactical competence before being placed in command. It is not, and has not been, a prerequisite for command selection. It shows at the NTC, year after year.

To sum up, the OPFOR provides us another important warfighting insight: How you train soldiers, leaders and units, and the frequency of training, are key to achieving the full combat potential of a force. But again, this is only a partial answer to the questions. There is another important reason.

Colonel Rosenberger is currently serving as Commander, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin, CA.

The above was originally published by the Association of the U.S. Army’s Institute for Land Warfare Studies as a part of its Landpower Essay Series. Read it in its original form here.

Featured Image: A U.S. Army armored element from Company A, 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment “Dragons”, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas, performs a strategic convoy maneuver during Combined Resolve X at the Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Andrew McNeil / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

Call for Articles: Bringing Back Sea Control

By Dmitry Filipoff

Articles Due: September 3, 2018
Week Dates: September 10-14, 2018

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Great power competition is back, and with it new demands for capability and deterrence. After years of focusing on power projection and low-end missions, many first rate navies have allowed high-end skillsets to erode. As security priorities shift, navies too must change. 

One vital mission for winning and deterring great power conflict is sea control, the ability to secure command of the seas. Today sea control has morphed into something of enormous complexity. It can be a convoluted contest, with platforms and payloads projecting influence across multiple domains. Navies are ever more reliant on electronic effects for warfighting functions, turning cyberspace and electronic warfare into pivotal battlegrounds for sea control. Sea control is the sum of many elements of oceanic warfare, requiring diverse skills and tactics.

In spite of technological change, sea control will remain an important mission so long as the oceans remain crucial to human progress. It is the vital prerequisite for projecting power and securing access via the maritime domain. It can enable blockades and commerce raiding, allowing a navy to exert tremendous pressure on a nation’s vitality. Sea control is a mission as timeless as naval power itself, and one deserving of thorough preparation.

How can the navies of today revitalize their sea control capabilities? How can they become proficient in high-end missions and tactics? What will achieving sea control require, and how best to use it once attained? Authors are encouraged to consider these questions and more as navies around the world reconsider their development in the context of renewed great power competition. 

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: BALTIC SEA (June 9, 2018) Thirty maritime unit ships from 12 nations maneuver in close formation for a photo exercise during Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 in the Baltic Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Stumberg/Released)