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Thursday, Sep. 15, 2011

MCoE command team discusses new strategy

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The Maneuver Center of Excellence is the breeding ground for a new Training and Doctrine Command philosophy aimed at boosting the Infantry squad, or the “pointiest end of the spear,” Fort Benning’s commanding general said in an interview prior to this week’s Maneuver Conference. From there, it will enhance other formations.

Maj. Gen. Robert Brown said the Army wants to turn dismounted tactical small units into overpowering forces at the point of attack and eliminate the enemy’s comparable effectiveness on that level in today’s evolving operational environment. To get there, it’ll use the “Squad as a Strategic Formation.”

“It fundamentally will get us overmatch at the squad level … and it’s a real change,” he said. “We’ve always come from the top down, but now we’re focusing from the bottom up. Warfare has changed — we’re fighting an enemy that wants to bleed us by a thousand cuts, and they can only do that at the squad level.

“We don’t want a fair fight. It’s not fair at any other level across the Department of Defense, when you look in the air, on the sea or on the ground. The only place it’s an even fight is at the squad. And that’s where lives are lost. … We’ve got great squad leaders, but we have to give them more tools and training to get overmatch and win the day.”

Brown said the American military has waged a decade of war against enemies who blend well into their surroundings and take advantage of populations and tough terrain. That spawned this new approach.

While the MCoE plays a key role in making it happen, more than 80 different agencies are involved, including the Marine Corps, Special Operations Command and all Army centers of excellence. The general said “fire teams” are set up to work individual issues within the initiative.

Leaders have laid out a comprehensive package with “measures of effectiveness” on squad formation, he said. Steps toward gaining dismounted overmatch include materiel solutions and a human dimension, with focus on sharper training and leader development critical in 21st-century maneuver training.

MCoE and Fort Benning Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Hardy said the renewed commitment to leader development will be rooted in three domains: operational, institutional and self-development.

“(The human dimension) is an attempt to determine the capabilities and limitations with respect to the physical, cognitive, social, cultural, moral and ethical implications of what we expect of our squad leaders and squads,” he said. “Some would say the squad hasn’t changed much since World War II … but what we’re asking of the squad today has changed considerably.”

“Squad as a Strategic Formation” is the first step in the Army’s long-term plan for 2020, Brown said. The concept will help define what gets purchased and how leaders shape squads. With looming military budget cuts, officials must prioritize and manage resources wisely.

The Maneuver Center has involved squad leaders from across the Army who recently served in combat. Those individuals continue to pitch ideas.

“We have to get input from the men who are out there doing this day in and day out,” Hardy said.

“They have to feel like they are part of this process. In the end, if it doesn’t pass the common-sense test … then they’re going to feel like it’s just something else being shoved down their throat. And it’s not going to go anywhere.”

Connecting dismounted squads to the Army’s existing communications network used by mounted formations is a top MCoE priority and big part of the “Squad as a Strategic Formation” push, Brown said. Citing Army experiments and baseline measurements taken in the last several years, he said the linkup makes such units 30 percent more effective.

“That’s a powerful thing,” he said. “We believe every Soldier should be in the network. Soldiers today have a digital comfort (their predecessors didn’t).”

The general said more can be done to incorporate simulation, virtual gaming and immersive learning for younger Soldiers. That would help squads distinguish who the enemy is, pick out anomalies in battlefield situations and ultimately make better decisions. Specifically, the Army is seeking simulators that can replicate terrain, cultural and coordination issues, he said.

Hardy said simulation augments live training. It saves money and allows for multiple repetitions.

“Kids in society today are connected more to video games (than the older generation),” he said. “What we have to do is capture their attraction for it and frame it in a training scenario where we bring the Soldier into that game, with his team leader, with his squad leader.”

The creation of an avatar for every Soldier entering the Army will advance the “Squad as a Strategic Formation” initiative, he said. It potentially could link virtual to live and improve performance.

“I don’t think there’ll be a finish line to this,” Brown said.

“You’ll see gradual improvements over time. This will become a way that we look at the tactical small unit, and then eventually platoon and company. We’ll continue to look at how we get overmatch. It starts with the squad.”

Hardy said maximizing home-station training opportunities will make dismounted squads more effective in missions downrange. Assessments are being made along the way to measure the new program’s progress and effectiveness.

“The energy starts here at the Maneuver Center. It’s positive, and it’s widespread,” he said. “Everybody understands this is what needs to be done. As we go through it, we’ll learn and tweak and continue to refine to ensure the squad leader and his unit have everything they need to fight and win on the battlefield, today and whatever it may face tomorrow.”

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