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.


[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

Options to Improve U.S. Army Ground Combat Platform Research and Development

Mel Daniels has served in the United States military for nearly twenty years. Mel is new to writing. 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 or person.

National Security Situation:  The modernization of U.S. Army ground combat platforms includes risks that are not presently mitigated.

Date Originally Written:  August, 16, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  November 23, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that the U.S. Army’s over reliance on immature technologies are a risk to national security. Further, the author believes that the risk can be mitigated by slowing development and reducing research and development (R&D) investments while reinvesting in proven material solutions until new systems prove technologically reliable and fiscally feasible to implement.

Background:  The U.S. Army is investing in programs that remain unproven and are unlikely to provide the capabilities sought. Specifically, the Army is heavily investing in its Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) and remote combat vehicles[1]. These programs are predicated on optimal battlefield conditions. Firstly, the assumption exists that enemy forces will not be able to degrade or destroy the battlefield network required to operate unmanned vehicles. Secondly, the risk of the enemy developing weapons that specifically target transmissions coming from control vehicles is a factor that needs to be taken seriously in threat assessments and in planning purposes[2].

Significance:  If the Army’s assumptions are incorrect and if these efforts fails to procure reliable and sustainable ground combat platforms for future operations, there will not be additional resources to mitigate this failure. Moreso, if the Army procures vulnerable systems that fail to deliver effects promised, the Army risks catastrophic defeat on the battlefield.

Option #1:  The U.S. Army could reduce and spread out its R&D investments to further invest in its legacy combat forces to offset the risks associated with funding unproven and unreliable technologies.

Risk:  The significant risks associated with Option #1 are that the technological investments needed for future capabilities will be delayed. The Army would lose its plan for fielding, as the Army will not fully field the OMFV until the early 2030’s, assuming there are no complications to the program of record. Additionally, Robotic Combat Vehicles (RCV) would be delayed until they can also be realistically evaluated. Lastly, investments into legacy systems could threaten the need for future platforms.

Gain:  If the Army elected Option #1, it would have the time to properly and realistically test RCV’s, OMFV and Manned-Unmanned Teaming concepts (MUM-T). This additional testing reduces the chances of investing significant resources into a programs that do not deliver as promised. It also reduces disingenuous and fraudulent claims prior to further funding requests. Simply put, the chances of ineffective systems being funded would be mitigated because proper and realistic testing from an independent entity would occur first. The Army would also gain additional capabilities for its current systems that otherwise would not be upgraded but yet will remain in service for decades.

Option #2:  The Army consolidates their modernization efforts and cancels select requirements. Currently the Army funds 4 major ground combat programs; the Mobile Protected Firepower, RCV program (Heavy, Medium and Light), OMFV, and CROWS-J/30mm. The Army could cancel the MPF program because the program is questionable due to its inability to defeat enemy near peer armored threats that will likely be encountered[3]. This cancelation would allow the Army to invest into the RCV light program, armed with the 50mm cannon and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM). The Army would retain a viable anti fortification and direct fire support vehicle, while reducing needless expenses. Further, the Army could cancel or delay the unmanned requirement of the OMFV until the technology and network is fully secured and matured, with no limitations or risks.

Risk:  A significant risk associated with Option #2 is that the Army will not get a light tank or get RCV Medium or Heavy platforms and it will not receive the “optionally manned” portion of the OMFV until later. The risk with not obtaining these desired capabilities mean that the Army would have to accept an alternative material solution that defeats enemy fortifications and armor as opposed to the MPF.

Gain:  The Army retains its desired capabilities while maximizing resources. The Robotic Combat Vehicle-(Light), armed with a 50mm cannon and ATGM’s, is less expensive, lighter and carries more ammunition than the MPF. Further, the RCV-L is better armed to defeat enemy armored threats, as the MPF’s 105mm cannon is inadequate to defeat enemy tanks[3]. Additionally, by removing the unmanned requirement from the OMFV, the Army would gain savings and reduce reliance on unproven technologies, reducing risk of battlefield defeat[4]. This option enables the Army to retain remote controlled concepts by shifting the focus to the RCV-L and equipping the Infantry Brigade Combat Team community with it, as opposed to the Army risking its combat strength and forcing immature technologies upon the Armored Brigade Combat Team community, which is the Army’s main combat formation for near peer conflict.

Other Comments:  The Army is heavily investing in vulnerable technologies without first ensuring it has an effective network able to completely support the operational concepts it desires. Without ensuring that the required network will be immune to enemy countermeasures, these technologies will not fully support operational requirements. Further, the costs associated with these efforts are already exceeding 60 billion dollars, and do not afford the service increased lethality or survivability, even by common English definitional sense. Army R&D efforts will continue to be at risk if they refuse to allow independent agencies full access and evaluation rights prior to further funding.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Freedberg Jr, Sydney. August 6th, 2020. Breaking Defense. GAO Questions Army’s 62B Cost Estimates for Combat Vehicles. Retrieved from: https://breakingdefense.com/2020/08/gao-questions-armys-62b-cost-estimates-for-combat-vehicles

[2] Trevithick, Joseph. May 11th 2020. The War Zone: This is What Ground Forces Look like to an Electronic Warfare System and Why It’s A Big Deal. Retrieved from: https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33401/this-is-what-ground-forces-look-like-to-an-electronic-warfare-system-and-why-its-a-big-deal

[3] Central Intelligence Agency. Gorman, Paul. Major General, USA. US Intelligence and Soviet Armor. 1980. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000624298.pdf

[4] Collins, Liam. Colonel, USA. July 26th 2018. Association of the United States Army: Russia Gives Lessons in Electronic Warfare. Retrieved from: https://www.ausa.org/articles/russia-gives-lessons-electronic-warfare

Budgets and Resources Emerging Technology Mel Daniels Option Papers Research and Development U.S. Army