Tag Archives: Training

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.

Read Part Two here.

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)

Management and Process Improvement: The Navy of the 1990s and Today

By Jason Chuma

On December 25, 1991, following a year and a half breakup of Soviet states, the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered at the Kremlin for the last time and the flag of the Russian Federation was raised. The next day, the Supreme Soviet voted the Soviet Union out of existence. It was a great victory for the United States and what was dubbed the “First World.” They were victorious in the Cold War, a different kind of war, but a war nonetheless. A war between east and west; a war between communism and capitalism; a war fought using all elements of national power – diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic – which never erupted into combat between the major powers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The End of an Era
(Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Though the war did not involve combat, discussions of conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam aside, the U.S. military was in a near constant state of preparing for the Soviets to push through the Fulda Gap and for a great naval battle in the Norwegian Sea.

But suddenly, the adversary was gone. For nearly five decades the Soviet Union provided focus and direction for what to buy, how to train, and what to study. What now? In 1991, China was not the military power of today and the idea of a Global War on Terrorism couldn’t have been further from mainstream military thought. A look at the 1991 U.S. National Military Strategy makes only generic mentioning of terrorism and shows an isolationist view of China:

“China, like the Soviet Union, poses a complex challenge as it proceeds inexorably toward major systemic change. China’s inward focus and struggle to achieve stability will not preclude increasing interaction with its neighbors as trade and technology advance. Consultations and contact with China will be central features of our policy, lest we intensify the isolation that shields repression.”

The potential threat of China and the actual threat of terrorism did not reveal themselves in force until the early 2000s. The 1990s were a sort of rudderless decade for the U.S. military. With no major perceived enemy to fight, budget cuts commenced. Military spending in the 1990s quickly dropped by a third of its Cold War levels. Intervention in failing or failed states was the name of the game, and American technological superiority, specifically airpower, was the weapon of choice in places such as Iraq, Bosnia, and Serbia.

The Navy found itself without an enemy to confront at sea and with a rapidly shrinking budget. Control of sea lines of communication became assumed and the Navy gradually disarmed itself for fighting a major sea battle in the 1990s through decisions like discontinuing the UGM-84A submarine launched Harpoon anti-ship missile and converting remaining R/UGM-109B Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (TASM) into the Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM) R/UGM-109C. The last combatant commissioned equipped with anti-ship missiles was the USS PORTER (DDG 78) in1999.

Idle hands may be the devil’s workshop, but an idle Navy surely is the bureaucrat’s and the administrator’s. Without war or the real risk of war, Navy culture shifted. Instead of warriors patrolling the oceans and maintaining freedom of the seas from the Soviet Navy, it became about management and process improvement. The MBA became the graduate degree of choice and process improvement models such as Deming’s Total Quality Management – rebranded as Total Quality Leadership of course – became the norm.

Admiral James Stavridis had command of the USS BARRY (DDG 52) from 1993 to 1995. He maintained a diary while in command which was published as Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command. Within it he makes some very astute observations of the Navy of the 1990s:

“[W]e have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling. There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading…As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter…If I completely reversed my priorities – and focused exclusively on shiphandling and warfighting, I would be in some danger of being relieved for cause within ninety days…But in some not-too-far-distant decade, I think ships will be hit by cruise missiles, they will sink, men and women will die bad deaths. And hard questions will be asked about the Navy of the 1990s and its priorities and beliefs.”

Admiral Stavridis tells a grim but honest tale of the culture of the Navy in the 1990s, but is it a really a story of the past or is it a story of what has continued to this day? If you compared the Navy of 1995 and the one of today, what cultural differences would you see? Have we turned the tide and placed a focus back on mastering our trade of warfighting? The recent establishment of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (NWMWDC) and Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC) in 2015 is a positive start. Is attending the War College viewed as career enhancing? Recent discussions with officers indicate it may be currently viewed as not career hindering at the least. What is truly viewed as more important today: understanding tactical employment of a ship, fleet, or nation, or efficiently managing a major maintenance availability and developing and executing a shipboard training plan?

Yes, management of programs is a skill needed in any organization, especially in one as complex as the Navy and as unforgiving as life onboard a ship. But does it define that organization, is it what that organization’s culture is centered around, and can someone survive and even succeed in that organization simply being a manager and administrator instead of a leader and a warfighter? These are simple yet hard questions which must be asked in order to heed Admiral Stavridis’s warning of the Navy’s priorities and beliefs from the 1990s which have continued to today.

Harkening back to another famous admiral, Arleigh Burke, may help with some simple guidance from his Destroyer Squadron 23 Doctrine in World War II. These tenets (paraphrased for modernity) were the most basic guidance to his Commanding Officers while he was Commodore:

“If it will help kill [the enemy] it’s important. If it will not help kill [the enemy] it’s not important. Keep your ship trained for battle! Keep your material ready for battle! Keep your boss informed concerning your readiness for battle!”

Simple yet powerful tenets which serve to maintain the focus where it belongs, ensuring our ships and sailors are ready to sail into harm’s way to take the fight to the enemy. It becomes easy to be distracted by inspections, paperwork, and watchbill management. Items which are easier to audit and assess tend to get the energy and attention over warfighting effectiveness and combat readiness. Potentially at great peril during the next war at sea.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 30, 2016) Sailors on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) render passing honors to the fast-attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752) as it transits the San Diego Bay. Carl Vinson is currently underway in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean M. Castellano/Released)

Latin America’s Training Vessels

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

In late January, the Peruvian Navy commissioned its newest training vessel, the BAP Union, which will train future generations of naval cadets. This brand new ship is an ideal starting point to discuss the vessels utilized by Latin American navies to instruct their cadets. As any sailor knows, there is no replacement for hands-on experience aboard a vessel to train future naval officers and personnel. 

Latin American navies understand this fact, hence, training vessels regularly carry out voyages in which they visit several international ports. These multinational trips fulfill two purposes: to train cadets and serve as floating ambassadors in order to develop friendly relations between navies and nations.

A Comprehensive List

We will begin our discussion by briefly listing the numerous training vessels that Latin American navies possess. Apart from the Union, the region’s newest training ship, other vessels include  Argentina’s ARA Libertad, Brazil’s NVe Cisne Branco and the NE Brasil, Chile’s B.E. Esmeralda, Colombia’s ARC Gloria, Ecuador’s BAE Guayas, Mexico’s ARM Cuauhtemoc, Uruguay’s ROU Capitan Miranda and Venezuela’s ARBV Simon Bolivar. Since an in-depth discussion of every Latin American training vessel would require a comprehensive report, we will focus on providing some general remarks.

First, a quick overview of these vessels finds a strong influence from Spanish shipyards. The Peruvian state-controlled shipyard SIMA (Servicios Industriales de la Marina) constructed the Union in its shipyard in the port of Callao, but the Spanish company CYPSA Ingenieros Navales cooperated in the vessel’s structural design. As for other ships, many were constructed by Spanish companies. For example Colombia’s Gloria, Ecuador’s Guayas, Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc, and Venezuelan’s Simon Bolivar were all manufactured by Astilleros Celaya S.A., while Chile’s Esmeralda was obtained from the Spanish government which constructed it at the Echevarrieta y Larrinaga shipyard in Cadiz. One exception to the rule is Brazil’s Cisne Branco, which was constructed by the Dutch company Damen Shipyard.

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The Peruvian Training Vessel “Union” was commissioned in a ceremony headed by President Ollanta Humala. This is the largest masted vessel in Latin America. Photo: Ministerio de Defensa del Perú (Peru Ministry of Defense).

Second, these vessels are all masted ships unsurprisingly. Without getting into detailed specifications, it is worth noting that the Mexican Cuauhtemoc has three masts (for a grand total of 23 sails) while Argentina’s Libertad has three masts and 27 sails. Finally, Peru’s Union, has four masts, making it the biggest regional training vessel. There is one vessel that is without masts, the Brazilian Brasil, which is a modified Niteroi-class frigate.

Finally, cadets also board warships  as part of their training.  For example, Colombian cadets from the “Almirante Padilla” naval school have taken a trip aboard the frigate ARC Antioquia to further their instruction.

Training At Sea: A Confidence Building Mechanism

Training vessels have a diplomatic and confidence building component to their voyages. Most of their trips include stops in various international forts, turning these vessels into ambassadors at sea of their respective nations.

For the sake of brevity, we will mention a couple of recent itineraries. Mexico’s Cuauhtemoc is carrying out an ambitious 205-day voyage in which it will dock in 17 foreign ports in 13 countries (the cruise is known as “Ibero Atlantic 2016”). The vessel docked in New London, Connecticut, from 2-6 May and during the visit, Mexican cadets “interact[ed] with their counterparts at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London as well as visit[ed] Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton.” Meanwhile, in mid-May the Colombian Gloria returned to the Barranquilla port after a 41 day cruise through the Caribbean, where it visited Castries, capital of Saint Lucia, and Roseau, capital of Dominica.

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Training Tall Ship America 2014 Itinerary. Image: Secretaria de Marina Mexico (Secretariat of the Navy Mexico)

Training vessels have also carried out ambitious projects, namely sailing around the world. For example, in August 1987, the Uruguayan Capitan Miranda, set sail in a trip around the world, a feat that was accomplished in 355 days. More recently, Ecuador’s Guayas arrived home in early March after a similar voyage that required 295 days to complete.

Another element of confidence building is how foreign naval officers are often invited to take part in some of these cruises. For example, a 2015 multinational trip by Colombia’s Gloria had officers from Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay aboard. Similarly, Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar left port in mid-May for its “Europa 2016” expedition. Accompanying the over 100 Venezuelan cadets aboard are naval personnel from Bolivia, Brazil, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.

Venezuela’s training vessel has a very appropriate nickname: “The Ambassador Without Borders” (“El Embajador Sin Frontera”), which can also be applied to the training vessels of other nations. These are floating embassies that bring together the multinational crew as well as showcasing the best a country has to offer at every port call.

Incidents

It is worth mentioning that when vessels are outside of their nation’s territorial waters, some bizarre and tense situations can occur. A clear example is what happened to Argentina’s Libertad, which has to do with the country’s economy. For the past decade and a half, the South American nation has dealt with  crippling debt due to owing various shadowy corporations known as vulture funds. After many negotiations and court rulings, Argentina paid USD$9 billion to these entities in April.

This financial situation has ramifications with the training vessel because in October 2012, the Libertad made a port call in Ghana. Unfortunately for the crew, the ship was not allowed to depart because the Ghanaian government received a request from a hedge fund called NML Capital Limited to detain the vessel, as a sort of partial repayment for the Argentine government’s debt. The Libertad would then stay in the Ghanaian port of Tema until mid-December, when the Argentine government secured its release (the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled on the side of Buenos Aires). The ship docked in Buenos Aires in January 2013.

This past April, the Libertad left for a new expedition. Prior to its departure, President Mauricio Macri gave a speech from the vessel’s deck, where he stated that “today we have normalized our relations with the world, today you can depart in peace, because this will not occur again.”

Other vessels have gone through more potentially violent situations, namely when they crossed the Gulf of Aden en route to the Indian Ocean, an area known for pirates that operate out of the Horn of Africa. In 2008 Chile’s Esmeralda crossed the region, and it took measures to prevent an attack, including deploying  30 men on deck armed with rifles and grenade launchers. Ecuador’s Guayas passed the same area this past October 2015, and armed troops were also assigned on deck in case pirates appeared. So far, there have been no reported incidents of training vessels being attacked.

Upgrades Needed?

Unsurprisingly, one problem is the generally advanced age of these ships. For example, the Colombian Gloria was commissioned in 1968, a decade later Ecuador received the Guayas (in 1977) while Venezuela commissioned the Simon Bolivar in 1980. But it is Uruguay that can be proud of having the oldest training vessel still in service in Latin America as the Capitan Miranda was launched in 1930. The vessel was originally constructed as a hydrographic ship at a Spanish shipyard, and was transformed into a training vessel in 1977. The ship carried out its first training voyage the following year.  Prior to Peru’s Union, the region’s newest ship would be Brazil’s Cisne Branco, which was launched and assigned in 2000.

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ARC Gloria Colombia. Photo: Colombian Navy

In other words, most Latin American navies could profit from a new training vessel. One obvious example is the almost-century old Capitan Miranda, which could be turned into a floating museum while the Uruguayan Navy obtains a new ship. The vessel was already upgraded in 1977 and 1993 and it has been in a dock since 2013 as the Navy carries out a new overhaul to increase its lifespan.

Budgetary issues and other security priorities are the obvious main hindrances to regional navies acquiring new training vessels. For example, the Uruguayan Navy is currently undergoing a transformation as it plans to purchase as many as  three OPVs (probably from the German shipyard Lurssen) to patrol its EEZ, which would be the country’s biggest platform acquisition in decades. The deal is rumored to cost USD$250 million, a major investment for a small country. As for other navies, they are also focused on acquiring new platforms. Case in point, Colombia acquired two (used) German submarines, which arrived in 2015, while Mexico’s state-run shipyard ASTIMAR (Astilleros de la Secretaria de Marina) is currently constructing Damen OPVs in its shipyardsFor the time being, it seems that no new training vessels will be constructed.

Final Thoughts

While new naval platforms are necessary to patrol any maritime territory, there is an obvious problem in continuing to use dated equipment to train a Navy’s future officers. Peru and Brazil’s new training vessels are positive developments, but this pattern will probably not be followed by other Latin American states in the near future.

Certainly, it could be argued that as these aging vessels are still operational, it is not imperative to replace them – case in point, the almost-century old Capitan Miranda. However, repairing these ships to extend their lifespan will only get costlier and more time-consuming as time progresses, hence alternative plans should be drafted.

After all, these vessels are important diplomatic tools as they travel different regions of the world, essentially becoming naval ambassadors given their friendly international port calls, which foster positive relations. Moreover, while it is important for any country to possess modern platforms, i.e. OPVs or even a nuclear-powered submarine, ultimately these are machines that need well-trained officers to control and guide. Voyages in training vessels are only one aspect of a naval officer’s education and career, but they are a critical component. It is only logical that naval cadets should have the best training equipment possible in order to become the best officers possible.

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: B.E. Esmeralda of the Chilean Navy. Photo: Armada de Chile.

People Not Parts: Returning Ingenuity and Tenacity to our Officer Corps

By Ian Akisoglu

Since the end of the Second World War, the military dominance of the United States has rested on its relative technological superiority over its adversaries, what has been underwritten by its impressive economic strength and high-tech domestic industries. For the first time in seventy years, the United States military is forced to contemplate a long-term strategy without the implicit guarantee that it will enjoy decisive technological superiority as its most likely adversaries come closer and closer to achieving parity in both technological and economic strength. In order to remain viable in future conflicts, the American military will have to rethink its operational paradigm and learn to rely more heavily on the creativity and individual zeal of its leaders and less on its hard assets.

For much of its history, the American military has fought its major conflicts without the overwhelming technological and financial superiority that it has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War. I believe that this phenomenon can best be explained by the following paradigm: raised in an age where American military power was relatively lacking on the world stage, the American officer corps did not possess any of the bad habits or laziness of thought engendered in today’s officer corps. Looking down on the rest of the world’s militaries from a plateau of overwhelming superiority and relative security, we have become haughty and ignorant of our peers’ capabilities. Previously generations of American military officers were forced to contend with a world in which the United States Army and Navy were not the best – indeed, not even in the top ten at times.

This forced American military leaders to develop and utilize a currently unimaginable level of organizational, operational, and strategic creativity comparably unknown to the armed forces of today, where an over-reliance on financial superiority has led to an over-reliance on technological superiority, which has led to an over-reliance on established procedures and doctrine. In order for the armed forces of the United States of America to continue to enjoy success in the future, both on the battlefield and as a viable instrument of soft power, American military leaders must look to lessons from the past and re-learn how to plan and fight wars without the assumption that they will always enjoy superiority of force.

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A humorous quote from a European officer highlights the benefit of this, “One of the serious problems in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligations to follow their doctrine.” This emphasizes the extensive freedom of judgment American commanders previously enjoyed while executing missions in complex operational environments. From the author’s perspective as a contemporary unrestricted line officer in the U.S. Navy, this freedom of judgment is virtually non-existent nowadays. Instead, American military commanders are so hamstrung by strict adherence to the protocol and procedures that have been enshrined throughout their military upbringings that they are often afraid to rely on their own intuition, experience, and creativity. This risk aversion is not unjustified since the risk to reward ratio for officers willing to try new ideas has shifted so heavily to the risk side, that many deem the potential gains not worth imperiling their careers over. The main problem with this method of doing business is that operational arenas are not the static playing fields that we presuppose them to be in most exercise and operation briefs. They are constantly evolving, which requires adaptability and ingenuity instead of a flow-chart approach to missions.

Members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2014 participate in the Oath of Office ceremony at Tecumseh Court. (U.S. Navy photo by David Tucker/Released)
Members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2014 participate in the Oath of Office ceremony at Tecumseh Court. (U.S. Navy photo by David Tucker/Released)

This is not meant to be a rebuke of procedural compliance – far from it. Procedural compliance is important to ensure the safety and proper execution of our technical missions: safety and maintenance. However, it is important to also recognize its inherent limitations, and understand that it’s impossible to write “winning a war” into procedural compliance, since procedures only extend to the realm of what is known, and war often devolves into the area of the unknown. Simply put, officers should be proficient at procedural compliance and planned execution, but once the situation is no longer covered by procedures, strategic entrepreneurship and improvisation must take over seamlessly. If we consistently deny our Navy leadership the ability to improvise and test their creative problem solving abilities for fear of imperiling their careers, how and when can this creative solution seeking process be fostered?

The key question then is how do we recapture the ingenuity of the individual officer? I assert that it must start at the earliest possible point in the officer’s career – for creativity once lost is nearly impossible to rediscover. The Navy should develop programs that both encourage and train officers to think of creative solutions to problems early on in their careers. The best time to start this is at the O-2 and O-3 levels, directly after the completion of an officer’s initial warfare qualifications and first operational tour.

The importance of instilling and encouraging the idea of creative thought early on in the officer corps cannot be overstated. Senior officers that attend the Naval War College relatively late in their careers to explore ideas on war and its strategic theory have already come to depend on the rigidity of the Navy establishment for their paychecks and lifestyle, and thus are less willing to question the institution or its authority. The junior officer, relatively fresh and with fewer mental harangues, owes no such allegiance to the organization and does not see it through the same cynical lens, allowing them to see the flaws in our organization much more clearly than a dyed-in-the-wool career officer. These junior officers are still willing to question the military’s fatal deficiencies and flaws before becoming completely indoctrinated into the system.

One way to implement this would be to establish a school that officers attend with peers from their warfare areas concentrated around every major career milestone. The goal of such a school would be to gather high-flying officers into small groups where they would be posed complex operational problems. However, they would face them with handicaps and constraints put in place, making normal doctrine and pre-planned responses obsolete, and forcing them to develop creative solutions to real world problems. Officers would return to the course at every major career milestone, such as in between division officer tours, prior to starting their department head tours, prior to beginning their XO/CO fleet-up, and prior to achieving flag rank.

One of the most resonant lessons that has been gleaned from the attacks on the USS Stark, USS Samuel B. Roberts, and USS Cole is that in unexpected situations, conventional procedures often are inadequate, and improvisation dominates. Generations of American military officers have become complacent through the knowledge of their nation’s technological and financial superiority. It is time to train them to think and fight absent this implicit safety net once again. It is better to start learning these critical skills now, while remaining in control of the pace, than to be forced to learn them under fire in a future conflict.

Capt. Frank Olmo, deputy commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), introduces SMWDC and the new career opportunities it provides junior surface warfare officers (SWOs) during a brief aboard USS Bunker Hill (DDG 52). U.S. Navy photo).
Capt. Frank Olmo, deputy commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), introduces SMWDC and the new career opportunities it provides junior surface warfare officers (SWOs) during a brief aboard USS Bunker Hill (DDG 52). (U.S. Navy photo).

Secondly, while an understanding of mathematics and the sciences remain ever important in an increasingly technical and specialized military, officer programs must also recapture the emphasis on liberal arts education and creative thinking that has steadily dwindled in the twentieth and twenty-first century formation of modern military officers. At the United States Naval Academy it is a requirement that sixty-five percent of those graduates must complete degrees in the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics disciplines. Of students commissioning from ROTC programs around the country – which, combined with the Naval Academy, contribute roughly two thirds of new officer accessions the fleet each year – eighty-five percent of available scholarships are rewarded to those students who choose majors in the STEM fields. Those remaining fifteen percent who do express interest in studying disciplines outside of these fields, ignominiously referred to as “Tier 3” majors, find their options for earning scholarships and commissioning more limited.

Technical courses do an excellent job training officers to operate complex combat systems and nuclear reactors, where every aspect can be distilled to checklists and procedures, but do a poor job in training strategic and creative thought. Such critical thinking skills are ultimately where officers render the greatest value to the armed forces as leaders and warfighters, not technicians. At a minimum, a certain number of liberal arts courses in subjects such as philosophy, history, literature, and economics should be required for certain officer programs in just the same way that calculus, physics, and other mathematics and science courses are. An officer able to harness the problem-solving ability taught by an education in engineering with the propensity for creative though that comes from a study of the liberal arts would be the best equipped to execute all of the Navy’s missions.

Thirdly, the United States military must push decision-making back down the chain of command to the unit level. In our age of global real-time communication we have achieved the ability to control even the minutest detail from the highest level. We must resist the temptation to do so, for this robs on-scene commanders of the crucial experience that comes from tense, independent decision-making. Instead, we must once again become comfortable with giving commanders autonomy over their units and operations, giving direction only in broad strokes and leaving the details to the “man on the spot,” who is inevitably the subject matter expert on what is happening within and directly around his unit. In today’s fleet, the number of daily updates that a deployed warship is required to provide up the chain of command off-ship has become a full-time job on top of the full-time job of running the ship and executing its mission. No effective leader has two full-time jobs.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt on the steps of the Naval War College.
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt on the steps of the Naval War College.

And all of this for what? It is absolutely ludicrous to imagine that a remote commander and their staff, often years detached from single-unit leadership, require or need all of the information now required to be tracked on a daily basis. The massive off-ship administrative burden that this places on the wardroom of an operational unit, simultaneously interfering with their ability to effectively do their job within the lifelines of the ship, significantly degrades morale and unit-level success. By fostering a culture in which officers are afraid of making even the smallest decisions themselves, we are handicapping the abilities of junior officers to develop leadership skills and to learn to take the initiative, resulting in the ones who adapt to this climate being cautious to a fault for the rest of their careers, and inducing those individuals who want more control and autonomy to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Finally, the United States military must consider drawing talent into its ranks from untraditional sources outside the military and recognize that its rigid and traditional career path that exclusively emphasizes hiring and promotion from within might have to change. This is not entirely without precedent – the Navy already does this for many of its staff corps officers who have demonstrated experience and proficiency in their civilian careers. There are many individuals with different backgrounds and specialties who hear the call to serve their country at different points in their life. A master software engineer at Google with ten years in the industry would be an incredible asset to the military’s cyber warfare communities, but at that point in his career he would likely be too old to enlist and would have his talents wasted as a newly-commissioned ensign while also being grossly under-compensated. Instead, why not bring this cyber star in as a Lieutenant Commander? This arrangement would offer significant benefits and opportunities to both the military and the individual.

If the United States wants to avoid catastrophe on the battlefield in the coming decades, it will need to come to terms with the fact that having more money and better technology will no longer be enough to win the next war against the next foe – who may very well enjoy parity in these domains, if not even superiority. Accepting this, rather than continuing to do the same thing while expecting a different result, is a required preliminary step.

Deputy Secretary of Defense presents a Master of Science diploma to Ken Thomas at the Naval Postgraduate School.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work presents a Master of Science diploma to Ken Thomas at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The United States military must fundamentally change the way it does business and drive its officer corps to rediscover skills that gave way to technology and money when they seemed to no longer be needed or valued. In order to do this, we must encourage creative thought in our officers starting at a very junior level – both by commissioning a greater portion of our officers with backgrounds in the liberal arts as well as technical majors, and by creating incubator programs at multiple levels of officer career tracks to cultivate and stimulate creative thought. The military must also learn to re-delegate greater amounts of control and authority to unit commanders while unit commanders must learn to do the same to their subordinates. This ensures that if subordinate commanders are fighting a conflict in which they are cut off from communication with headquarters or things are not going quite as they had expected them to, they aren’t paralyzed with indecision, experiencing what is in effect their first ever real experience with high-stakes decision making.

Finally, the United States must harness the huge pool of potential talent that exists in the form of civilians who want to serve but don’t fit into the current recruiting construct. By allowing experienced non-military personnel to enter the organization at mid and even upper-level officer positions, the military can harness a huge untapped reservoir of private sector talent. The same skills that our military forefathers used to achieve victory on the battlefield when outclassed in technology, money, manpower, and weapons – creativity, zeal, initiative, and guile – are needed once again. All that is lacking is the will and tenacity to bring them back.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Ian Akisoglu is a Surface Warfare Officer living in Norfolk, Virginia.  He graduated from American University with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and history and was subsequently commissioned through Officer Candidate School.  The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the U.S. Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy.  He can be reached at ian.akisoglu@gmail.com.

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Bibliography:

Kimbrough IV, James M. MAJ, USA. (2008). Examining U.S. Irregular Warfare Doctrine. 14.

United States Naval Academy. (2015). Academics – Majors and Courses.

Population Representation in the Military Services FY 2013 Report: Appendix B: Active Component Enlisted Accessions, Enlisted Force, Officer Accessions, and Officer Corps Tables.

United States Navy ROTC. (2015). Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Scholarship Selection Criteria.

Long, Roger D. The Man On The Spot: Essays on British Empire History. (Ed.), Praeger, First Edition (Sep 26, 1995).