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