Options to Improve Individual and Small Unit Readiness in Great Power Competition

Skye Viera currently serves as an 11B in the Texas Army National Guard and deployed to Djibouti with his current unit. Prior to this he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as an 0311 Infantry Rifleman, deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Skye recently returned from Kabul where he was employed as a Private Security Contractor supporting the Department of Defense. You can find Skye on Twitter @sjviera34. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  As the Department of Defense (DoD) pivots from the Global War on Terrorism, which involved fighting irregular forces, to focusing on Great Power Competitors like China and Russia, two countries with regular militaries, more attention to detail and creativity regarding individual and small unit readiness is required. Small things that may have been overlooked with little consequence when fighting an irregular force, will have consequences when fighting a regular force.

Date Originally Written:  December 28, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  March 1, 2021.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that readiness goes beyond the minimum mandatory requirements and that if small units are ready, the military as a whole is likely ready. Since the Service Members (SM), are the ones responsible for their own readiness, they have an obligation as professionals, to ensure their small unit’s readiness and develop ideas and solutions to move beyond the minimums.

Background:  With senior leadership more focused on minimum mandatory metrics, the small unit level i.e. the Fire Team (four person unit) and below, often gets overshadowed. As such, it is up to the service members at the Fire Team level and below to ensure their own readiness.

Significance:  Emerging threats such as remote weapons systems[1], social media[2], and unmanned aerial systems from state, irregular, and Private Military Companies (PMC)[3] add new concepts to readiness. Individuals and Fire Teams will have to evolve their traditional measures of readiness and turn into adaptable organisms, able to cope in a complex world, if they are to survive and accomplish their mission.

Option #1:  Self-Assessment.

The goal of this self-assessment is for the SM to ask themselves “Am I ready to deploy tomorrow and face the full-spectrum of missions?” This self-assessment can fall into three categories. The first, Technical Readiness, is the SM confident to operate the multiple weapons systems, communication equipment, and use other skills such as land-navigation, first aid, radio procedures, and mission planning? The second, Personal Readiness, is the SM physically fit to endure long missions with limited recovery time and imperfect nutrition, and free of minor injuries that could flare up and result in loss of capability? The third, Mental Readiness, is the most important aspect of individual readiness, and the one with the biggest stigma attached. The SM should have taken care of personal affairs and sought help long before deployment to resolve personal-anything that could distract from the mission.  The SM should be mentally prepared to face deployment hardships easily and adjust to life without internet, clean water, and endure daily instability. All of these issues are manageable for the SM if they are willing to both prepare and seek help. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help, it is a sign of strength to want to better oneself. 

With the DoD pivoting towards China and Russia, individual readiness will evolve. The use of personal electronic devices (PED) will have to be curtailed with the SM restraining the use of cell phones, smart watches, and off the shelf Global Positioning Systems. “Digital camouflage” will increase in importance, especially if the adversaries can identify the unit they are opposing as they can conduct psychological operations on the home front. With the ability to target SM family members through the use of social media, the SM will have to prepare themselves and their family to be resilient against online personal attacks.  The SM must be prepared to cut ties with social media, have DoD censors possibly monitor their online activities, and switch to more secure means to communicate with their families. 

Risk:  A risk with Option #1 comes from out of pocket expenses if the SM wants to use private sector resources in pursuit of individual readiness. Other risks stems from institutional bias, depending on the environment created by leadership, as the SM could be ostracized in seeking help for physical and mental injuries. Also, rather than abandon their digital device to protect their unit and family, the SM could try to enhance their digital security themselves in an incorrect manner, thus increasing vulnerability.

Gain:  SM improving their own readiness will ensure they are mission ready with or without a preplanned training cycle, thus increasing the speed of possible deployment. This option will also minimize the SM’s digital footprint and thus make the SM and their families harder to target both on and off the battlefield. Finally, Option #1 increases the strength of individual replacements, which can lead to a more professional environment that nullifies the toxic elements found in a unit. 

Option #2:  Fire Team Assessment.

Knowing the true mission readiness of a Fire Team at a glance is next to impossible unless you are a member. Pivoting to prepare to fight China and Russia requires the Fire Team to ponder what this type of combat will look like and develop procedures to rehearse. In addition to the China and Russia threats, the Fire Team will need to prepare to act against PMCs such as Russia’s Wagner Group, which may behave more unconventionally and not wear a military uniform. A new procedure will likely be developed that focuses on digital checks prior to conducting a mission i.e. turning off or discarding personal electronic devices. Following a mission or an incident the Fire Team will need to conduct rigorous examination of the actions taken and adapt as needed using their own creativity to create procedures to ensure mission accomplishment and battlefield survival. The members of the Fire Team will look to themselves to improve their teams readiness. Developing skills and procedures to shift on demand between a conventional military threat and an unconventional PMC threat will be challenging as, while the U.S. may differentiate between these threats, the enemy only sees them as capabilities contributing towards their end goal.

Risk:  The primary risk with Option #2 is a higher-level command element being uncomfortable with their smallest unit, the Fire Team, being highly individualistic and adaptable, and seeing this creativity as a threat, seeking to eliminate it.

Gain:  Option #2 enables the Fire team to truly take their survival into their own hands through scenario examination and procedure development. This option develops Fire Team planning, networking, and leadership skills. Option #2 allows higher leadership to trust their smallest units to operate in a dispersed manner without constant supervision.

Other Comments:  It is up to the individual, no matter the rank, to be mission ready on demand, regardless of their motivation to serve. Being mission ready, with or without a preplanned training cycle, is the ultimate sign of individual readiness. 


Endnotes:

[1]Hand, Gorge E. “GRAPHIC: What the Azerbaijani Drone Strike Footage Tells Us.” SOFREP, 3 Oct. 2020, www.sofrep.com/news/armenian-azerbaijani-drone-strike-footage-graphic.

[2]Doffman, Zak. “Cyber Warfare: Army Deploys Social Media Warfare Division To Fight Russia.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 Aug. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2019/08/01/social-media-warfare-new-military-cyber-unit-will-fight-russias-dark-arts.

[3]“Band of Brothers: The Wagner Group and the Russian State.” Band of Brothers: The Wagner Group and the Russian State | Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS Executive Education Program, 25 Sept. 2020, www.csis.org/blogs/post-soviet-post/band-brothers-wagner-group-and-russian-state.

China (People's Republic of China) Great Powers Readiness Russia Skye Viera United States

Options to Prioritize People and Improve Readiness: Decreasing OPTEMPO to Increase Learning

Josh Linvill has served in 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment as a regimental planner, rifle company commander, and headquarters and headquarters troop commander. He is assigned to the 10th Mountain Division and serves as a planner for Operation Resolute Support in Kabul, Afghanistan. He can be found on Twitter @josh_linvill. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The U.S. Army is transitioning its number one priority from readiness to people. Part of the transition is an attempt to reduce the operational tempo (OPTEMPO) so units can focus on dedicated periods for mission, training, and modernization.

Date Originally Written:  November 7, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  January 4, 2021.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s School for Advanced Military Studies whose research focused on how the Army can learn from Rotational Training Units’ (RTU) experiences. The author believes a lower OPTEMPO by focusing the purpose of Combat Training Center (CTC) rotations or reducing the number of CTC rotations will increase learning for the Army and therefore increase readiness.

Background:  In October 2020, the U.S. Army published its Action Plan to Prioritize People and Teams. The plan describes how the focus on readiness, “resulted in an unsustainable OPTEMPO and placed significant demands on units, leaders, and Soldiers and Families and stress on the force[1].” The action plan describes two ways the Army will reduce OPTEMPO; specially designed rotations where the entire brigade will not deploy to a CTC and potentially not requiring CTC rotations for units scheduled for non-combat deployments.

Significance:  Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) provides a model, figure 1, the Army can use to increase learning while reducing OPTEMPO. Theorist David Kolb explains the dialectic nature of ELT, “learning is defined as ‘the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.’ Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience[2].” The ELT cycle consists of four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. In ideal circumstances the learner grasps and transforms knowledge while progressing through each stage of the cycle. As Kolb writes, “immediate or concrete experiences are the basis for observations and reflections. Theses reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action are drawn. These implications can be actively tested and serve as guides in creating new experiences[3].” Changing the current design and/or rate of CTC rotations, or concrete experiences for units, enables the Army to give primacy to the other stages of the ELT cycle. By implementing different options for CTC rotations the Army can learn more by harnessing the power of a complete ELT cycle.

Figure 1. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory Model. David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2015), 51.

Option #1:  The Army focuses CTC rotations on Army learning, not just the RTU. In this option, the Army can treat each CTC rotation as a means to an end by assessing and integrating the needs of the RTU with the overall needs of the Army. In other words, each CTC rotation can serve as a new concrete experience in the ELT cycle of the Army. The Army can use lessons learned from current conflicts or previous War Fighter Exercises and CTC rotations to tailor rotations focused on one unit or warfighting function. For example, division cavalry constructs, the use of armor in an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaisance saturated environment, or consolidation area operations.

Risk:  The primary risk to Option #1 is that the experiments fail and a fiscal risk in that rotations are extremely expensive. If there is no balance between active experimentation and training the fundamentals of warfighting and therefore readiness will suffer.

Gain:  Rather than using similar rotational constructs for each Brigade Combat Team, in this option the Army will benefit from using the ELT cycles that begin with different experiences to test (ELT active experimentation) a theory or hypothesis (ELT abstract conceptualization) developed by reflecting on pervious experiences (ELT reflective observation). In this option ELT cycles that begin outside of CTCs will directly influence CTC rotations. By linking ELT cycles at CTCs the Army can develop new ideas following a variety of experiences.

Option #2:  The U.S. Army slows down to speed up learning. A certain level of detachment from experience is required to progress through every stage of the ELT cycle. An organization consumed by events cannot effectively learn. By reducing the number of CTC rotations the Army can learn more by focusing on the other stages of the ELT cycle and exploit the knowledge of other organizations who shared the experience with the RTU. Organizations like Operations Groups and the Opposing Force (OPFOR) are just some of the key players to extending the learning process. More time between rotations would allow these organizations time to progress through their own ELT cycles and share that knowledge directly with other units[4].

Risk:  Although quality over quantity is important and in-line with the Army Action Plan, this option risks leaders in key positions not having any CTC experience at all. Fewer events mean fewer concrete experiences to initiate the learning.

Gain:  Fewer rotations means CTC Operations Groups will be able to focus more time observing and coaching units through the entire ELT cycle instead of focusing on the concrete experience of each rotation. Fewer rotations will enable members of the Operations Groups to follow up with previous RTUs and coach them through the reflection on, conceptualization, and experimentation of ideas that began during their rotation, extending the learning cycle that started at the CTC. This same process could take place for units training for upcoming CTC rotations. Members of the Operations Groups would have the time to share the reflections and observations of previous RTUs and their own observations and ideas to support commanders training their units for a CTC rotation. Fewer rotations would also enable other CTC organizations, like members of the OPFOR, to take part in the process and further enhance units’ learning cycles.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] U.S. Army, Action Plan to Prioritize People and Teams. Army.mil, October13, 2020, accessed October 25, 2020, https://www.army.mil/article/239837/action_plan_to_prioritize_people_and_teams

[2] David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2015), 51.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dr. Robert Foley examines the process of horizontal learning, using the experiences of other units to learn, is his article, A Case Study in Horizontal Military Innovation: The German Army, 1916-1918. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01402390.2012.669737

Josh Linvill Option Papers Readiness U.S. Army