Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Realistic Training

Co-incidentally, the current June 2012 issue of Proceedings has an article (1) on submarine training which contains some excellent observations regarding training in general.

Discussing the perception that pre-WWII and early WWII submarine skippers lacked courage, the author contends that,

"... there was never a systemic lack of courage among World War II submarine COs.  Any perception to the contrary stems from the submarine force having taught them to be cautious, punishing them for aggressive or innovative behavior, and limiting their training."
The author is pointing out that the timidity exhibited by early commanders was a function of their peacetime training which emphasized safety and conformity.  The author addresses today's situation,

"The need to train under realistic wartime conditions while a nation is not in conflict is perhaps the greatest peacetime challenge of any armed service.  This is even more evident in a liberal democracy that views its sailors as citizen-soldiers and therefore will not tolerate casualties in training accidents."

The Price of Success in War

The U.S. tends to view its armed forces as a mere extension of its society, seeking to impose standards of safety on an institution whose very function and organization is at odds with that society.  The armed forces are based on non-democratic (authoritarian chain of command) and violent functions.  The rest of this discussion is a topic for another time.  The point here is that, unlike our misguided quest for ultimate safety within our society, the military is, by its very definition, a high risk occupation and a significant degree of risk must be accepted during peacetime in order to minimize the risk in wartime.

Among other recommendations from the author comes this,

"... attack-center training time ... should occasionally challenge  students with wartime scenarios in which they are forced to prioritize mission accomplishment over safety of ship ..."
Peacetime training must be made as realistic as possible.  It's the only way to succeed in war.  Safety should support training, not preempt it.

Whether it's a plane flying mere feet above the ground or a missile exercise that isn't scripted, the Navy must accept a greater degree of risk and establish more meaningful training exercises.  Additionally, we, as a society, must accept the resulting equipment damage and injuries that accompany more realistic training.  Tragic as training accidents are, they are the price of success in war.

For anyone who thinks the Navy training is adequate, recall the Vincennes incident where a highly trained CIC crew made just about every mistake imaginable when confronted with a real situation.

(1) U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Rekindling the Killer Instinct, LCdr. Brian McGuirk, June 2010

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