James Greer is retired U.S. Army Officer and an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies. You can follow him on Twitter @jameskgreer77. 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.
Title: Assessing the Value of the Lariat Advance Exercise Relative to the Louisiana Maneuvers for Preparing the U.S. Army for Large-Scale Combat Operations
Date Originally Written: March 20, 2021.
Date Originally Published: April 19, 2021.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author is a retired military officer who served in the Cold War and now instructs officers who will likely lead the U.S. Army and Joint Force in future competition and conflicts.
Summary: The U.S. Army’s organization and doctrine for Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) are correct. The Army lacks exercising multi-echelon command and control (C2), which was key to victories in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. If the U.S. Army resurrects a training event, the Cold War C2-focused Lariat Advance, is of more value than a new version of the Louisiana Maneuvers, to ensure future victory in LCSO.
Text: The Louisiana Maneuvers were one of the great achievements in Army history. With little recent combat experience, rapidly expanding toward Corps and Armies in size but only having a small cadre of professionals, and confronted by large scale, mechanized warfare, the Army entering World War II, was largely unprepared. The Louisiana Maneuvers enabled the Army to understand that huge gulf between their capabilities in 1941 and the capabilities needed to compete with Axis forces in World War II. The maneuvers were eminently successful, enabling rapid development of doctrine, organizational training, systems, and logistics needed to fight high tempo, mechanized, integrated air-ground campaigns.
For today’s Army many of the challenges facing the Army of 1941 are not a problem. Today’s Army is a professional one, whose squads, platoons and companies are well trained, manned by volunteers, led by seasoned Non-Commissioned and Officers with professional military education and combat experience. Current Army doctrine is about right for LSCO, whether the Army fights tomorrow or in five years. Army organizations are balanced combined arms teams, coupled with a task organization process that enables force tailoring at every echelon to situation and mission requirements.
The present challenge is not that of the Army of 1941 that engaged in the Louisiana Maneuvers. Instead, the challenge is that this is an Army that has all the necessary pieces and parts, but has had little opportunity to put them together, routinely and consistently, in a way that will develop the excellence in multi-echelon operations necessary for victory in LSCO.
On November 8, 1990, VII Corps, stationed in Germany, was alerted and ordered to deploy to Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, VII Corps would immediately move north, assemble into a coherent corps of multiple divisions, cavalry regiments, and separate brigades and conduct operations to defeat the Iraqi Republican Guard Corps and eject the Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Consider the challenge. VII Corps had spent the last 40 years preparing to defend in the hills, valleys, forests, and towns of Germany against an attacking Warsaw Pact foe. What they were being asked to do upon their arrival to Saudi Arabia was the exact opposite. Instead of defending, they were going to attack. Instead of rolling wooded and built-up terrain, they were going to maneuver across the flat open desert. And, they were going to do so over a distance of hundreds of kilometers when they had planned on defending Germany with a depth of a few dozen kilometers. Ultimately, there were many reasons for the U.S. overwhelming victory in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, most of which have been detailed elsewhere. But, one factor that is rarely written about is command and control, and, more specifically, multi-echelon C2.
Today’s Army has long had strong home station training programs that are effective in building competent and capable squads, platoons, and companies. And, for almost 4 decades now the U.S. Army has had Combat Training Centers that enable effective training of battalions and brigades as combined arms teams. Finally, since 1987 the U.S. Army has had a Mission Command Training Program that trains the headquarters of Division and Corps.
What the Army has not had for more than three decades, since the end of the Cold War, is the means to put those three components together. Since Desert Storm, the only time the Army has fought a corps that consisted of multiple divisions and brigades was during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 when V Corps attacked north into Iraq. And, since the last REFORGER in 1993, the Army has conducted no training with entire Corps or Divisions, exercising C2 and operations. This year’s Defender Exercise will be an initial proof of principle of large-scale formation training similar to REFORGER, but expensive and not Army-wide.
Ultimately, headquarters at all echelons (Corps, Division, Brigade, Battalion, and Company) exist for one reason and one reason only. These headquarters translate the vision and decisions of the senior commander into reality on the ground through execution by platoons, sections, squads, crews and teams. The reason that VII Corps was as successful as it was under unbelievably challenging conditions during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm was because its various headquarters were able to do exactly that. And the only reason that they were able to take vision and decision and translate it into actions in orders was because they had practiced it over and over and over again.
For decades every month at a random and / or unknown time every unit in Germany would be alerted for deployment within two hours to be able to fight the Warsaw Pact and defend NATO as part of Lariat Advance. Every division, regiment, brigade, whether maneuver, fires, intelligence, protection, communications or support and every Soldier from Private to General would drop whatever they were doing and prepare to fight. And, the first thing they would do is establish communications from Corps down to the squad and every echelon in between. Then, they would execute some set of orders, whether a simple readiness inspection, or a deployment to a local dispersal area, or a 3-day field exercise. That meant every month the Corps exercised C2, commanders and staffs coordinated together, orders were given and executed, and the three components of small units, larger units, and formations were integrated together into a cohesive team. And, the lessons learned from Lariat Advance produced terrain walks, tactical exercises without troops, and command field exercises, led by commanders at all echelons, enabling the synchronization and integration necessary for victory in LSCO. While the Army’s doctrine and organization for LCSO is correct, it is out of practice in multi-echelon C2, which is why a return to Lariat Advance is more valuable than Louisiana Maneuvers for defeating a peer competitor in LSCO.
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