Thursday, August 28, 2014

Large Scale Training

Marine Times website has an article about Marine wargames (1) that contains an interesting bit about the lack of realism in training – a ComNavOps pet peeve.  The article describes a weeklong exercise involving 5000 members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB).  The article states,

“While the Large Scale Exercise only includes about a fifth of the approximate 20,000 Marines that typically make up a MEB, some of the missing forces will be provided via simulators.  Luccio [ed: Lt.Col. Doug Luccio, G-3, 1st MEB] said training a full MEB would’ve been too expensive, but the comination of real and simulated training will make a thoroughly lifelike exercise.

‘As far as we’re concerned, from where we sit, it’s all the same, ‘ he said.”

No it’s not!  Not by a long shot.  What’s going to happen when we actually have to move and fight as an entire MEB and no one has actually practiced it before?  That’s what actual, physical practice is for:  to uncover all the myriad problems that simulations and paper studies don’t reveal.  Simulating the unloading of a Maritime Pre-positioning Ship doesn’t reveal all the problems that the real exercise encounters.  Simulating the exterior sling load movement of cargo or vehicles doesn’t show you that you’ve got the wrong slings and that the new guys don’t know where the hook points are.  Simulating landing on the carrier doesn’t teach you to deal with the heart-pounding stress of the real event.  Simulating a parachute drop doesn’t teach the paratroopers a thing.

In its quest for dollar savings, the military has all but abandoned large unit exercises.  Now I know that we can’t afford to have every exercise be a division or corps level exercise but neither can we afford to never exercise large units.  When major war comes we aren’t going to commit a thousand troops and simulate the remaining fifty thousand;  we’ll commit them all and if they haven’t physically trained as a large unit they’ll encounter all the problems that have been hidden by simulations. 

Remember Grenada?  Despite extensive training, when we actually went into the field we found out that we were unprepared.  Thankfully, the scope and quality of the opposition was limited!

If we don’t exercise the movement, tactics, and logistics of operating and supporting large scale tank units I guarantee it will go badly when the time comes.

If we don’t actually practice moving 20,000 troops and all their equipment from ships to the beach I guarantee it will not go well when it needs to happen.

Here’s an example from ComNavOps industrial experience.  A large industrial chemical manufacturing and research site I worked at had a site evacuation plan in the event of a large scale toxic chemical spill.  It was carefully planned, documented, and practiced regularly in all respects except for the actual evacuation which was simulated.  Site leadership was quite happy and the relevant government agencies were satisfied.  Well, sure enough, an actual spill eventually occurred and the plan was implemented for real.  Guess what happened?  As it turned out, the site only had a single entrance/exit which was one lane for security reasons.  As thousands of workers attempted to drive out of the site at the same time the single exit instantly became a massive, unpassable chokepoint made worse by the presence of an automated gate arm that would only allow a single car to exit at a time and had an extended cycle time.  What was planned to be a twenty minute evacuation became a nightmare that completely failed.  Panicked drivers, realizing they couldn’t get out, left their cars and evacuated on foot.  The abandoned cars formed a blockade and prevented the fire department and HazMat teams from entering the site.  They had to knock down fences to provide emergency access.  As it turned out, the site’s local emergency responders were able to contain the spill without outside assistance so no harm occurred.  The actual, physical evacuation had never been practiced because it was felt that it would be too disruptive to the normal workings of the site and site management did not want to foot the bill for the lost time.

Well, yeah, it’s a shame we can’t exercise complete, large units but the cost is prohibitive, right?  Wrong!  All we have to do is sacrifice a couple of JSFs, for example, and we can fund all the training we want.  Or, how about a couple of useless LCSs?  It’s just a matter of priorities and the military would rather have shiny new toys than trained personnel.  That’s about as backward thinking as you can get.

While this particular example involves the Marines, that’s not the point.  This criticism applies equally to all branches of the military.

(1) Marine Times, “War Games at 29 Palms Echo Real World Conflicts, Joshua Stewart, 11-Aug-2014,


  1. I'm not one given over to conspiracy theories, but in my darker moments I wonder if our military/industry/congressional base has just gone over to this extreme focus on gold plated devices just to keep money flowing between them. How many former Admirals enter industry later? How many Congressmen are getting campaign $ from LockMart? How well is Lockmart being set up as the sole producer of all of our military's air superiority/strike assets?

    I know the Tomcat had its issues and expense; and was its own technological reach... but at least it FLEW and served the fleet well pretty quickly.

    Now I look at Admirals who seem bound and determined to protect the LCS, Ford, and F-35 unless forced otherwise. I look at LockMart spreading production jobs like candy all over the nation and into other nations. I see Congressmen seemingly ignore the Lightning II's issues.

    Tell me, if we don't have enough money now to procure enough new hulls, train, or maintain the hulls we have, how are we going to do all that with a Navy made up of Ford class CVN's, F-35C's (at ~300 mill a pop!), and LCS's that have alot of down time for maintanance from outside contractors?

    The F-35 already is blowing away its maintanance cost estimates. When its in the fleet who wants to bet that pilot training gets cut because there isn't any money left? If they can't fly the fancy new toy because theres no money, or the EMALS isn't working today, how are the pilots going to be effective using all the star wars technology?

    And what happens when those progarms suck away money for weapons to shoot? The Navy's had several AShM programs get cancelled. If they continue on the trend due to lack of funds, all the 'situational awareness' in the world won't do squat if your weapons are out ranged and out tech'd by the other guys.

    The Super Hornet has her issues, and I have some serious concerns with it, but it does seem to be a comparative shining example of economical procurement and wise planning for maintanance that has given us a plane we can use alot, and use to the fullest of its capabilities.

    It used to be the US could use modest upgrades to keep old hulls relavent enough... Now??? We retire stuff to have a new 'Destroyer' that is as long as a Pennsylvania class BB.

    I am extremely worried about the future of the USN. Sorry about the rant.

  2. Here is a good article showing that even operations which are considered successful could be greatly helped by increased training

    The article is about Pearl Harbor and how a lack of planning and in particular training meant that a few battleships took the brunt of the attack while the rest of the ships were ignored except for a couple of misidentifications and misses

    “””””Yet the attack on Pearl Harbor went forward without a realistic dress rehearsal. Each mission type—dive-bomber, level bomber, torpedo bomber, and fighter—trained independently. The Japanese simply did not practice combined arms doctrine, which utilizes different types of units in complementary ways to achieve an objective. There was no combined training until the very end, when the Japanese staged two practice attacks against target battleships at anchor in Japan’s Inland Sea, and against a nearby airfield. But the ships were not arrayed as in Pearl Harbor, the sun angle and geography were different, and the approaches were nothing like Oahu’s narrow lochs. The torpedo bombers apparently did not even employ the attack formation they would later use. On top of all that, they repeatedly concentrated on the easiest targets; no corrective action was taken.”””””

  3. Have to say, Jim Whall's post sounds spot on.

    Large scale training exercises are needed but the cost is a problem. I wonder if these exercises could be carried out abroad and a diplomatic angle leveraged as well. Would more money be forthcoming for 20,000 marines to exercise in Estonia for example?
    Dave P

    1. Dave, I'm missing your point. Why would more money be available for foreign exercises? Explain it a bit further.

    2. HAHAHAHAHA, that’s brilliant !

      Your saying would the current Baltic States bordering the Ukraine pay for 20,000 US Marines to show-up on “exercise” for a few week, and maybe stop over for a nice holiday till the end of the summer.
      Yes, yes I think they might !

    3. Compare to a Russian 'exercise' on the border of Ukraine. Russians get to practice moving a large number of troops and they put political pressure on the Ukanians. Provide options for Putin.
      Wouldn't an American exercise held in Estonia provide similar options? Maybe some more money could be found for that. The money would partly come from training and contingency budgets?
      Dave P

    4. Dave, a nice idea but the only way an exercise would put pressure on Russia is if they believed we would invade (as Russia has done) and, clearly, we wouldn't. Hence, no pressure.

  4. Here are a few terms so we're all speaking the same language:

    Wargame- A warfare model or simulation that does not involve the operations of actual forces, in which the flow of events affects and is affected by decisions made during the course of those events by players representing the opposing sides. (Perla, NWC)

    Training - The instruction of personnel to increase their capacity to perform specific military functions and associated individual collective tasks. (FM 7-0)

    Exercise - A military maneuver or simulated wartime operation involving planning, preparation, and execution that is carried out for the purpose of training and evaluation. (JP 1-02) See also command post exercise; maneuver. (JP 3-34)

    Then there is education, certification, mission rehearsal, etc.

    Defense media tend to use all these terms interchangeably, but doctrinally, they are distinct - sometimes even among services.

    Services don't fight wars. Per Title 10, services have the responsibility to recruit, train, equip, certify, and present combat-ready forces to the Combatant Commanders (COCOMS). Each service runs several large force exercises each year, and nearly every deploying unit must attend at least one event to fulfill its minimum readiness requirements. There are a few exceptions, especially with Guard/Reserve. Services also conduct annual wargames at the War Colleges and development labs to evaluate current and future concepts.

    COCOMS are responsible for staff and command post exercises that evaluate the ability of the HQ and component staffs to execute command and control over fielded forces for their warplans.

    The larger the scope of the exercise, sometimes the less value to the tactical warfighter. CPXs and tactical training often have mutually exclusive training objectives. For example: say a large COCOM exercise lasts two weeks. The COCOM's primary responsibility is first to shape the battlefield, then deter the adversary, and only when deterrence fails, execute major combat operations. So the HQ staff is flailing making power points, ATOs, and TPFDDs for the generals and ambassadors, while tactical units march/fly/sail in circles for a week and a half waiting for the shooting to start. And then there's no real enemy out there to fight.

    Conversely, service LFEs like NTC, RED FLAG, Airwing Fallon, COMTUEX, etc thoroughly exercise the tactical units by allowing them to fight against credible adversary emulators in a realistic training environment. None of that really applies to a two star staff, though. The training must be tailored to the training audience and training objectives in order to be valuable.

    Then there's resources - and that doesn't just mean money. I don't know if you could find 20,000 Marines, Sailors, and all the amphibious shipping that aren't otherwise deployed, to conduct an amphibious exercise that large. The US surged 5 CVNs for OIF, that could never happen in an exercise.

    If you're advocating more training opportunities and higher fidelity training - I'm with you, but bigger isn't always better.

  5. reading this blog is really an eye opener to layman like me. The massive amount of carriers and amphibs and marines, what are they really for ? certainly not for defense of US soil ? i dont understand the gigantic size of US military.. is it really necessary and critical to have that many ? or is it just a cash cow for certain industries ?

    1. Anon, you're asking why the military exists, in essence. The very short answer is that America has decided to take on the role of global protector (believing that protecting the globe ultimately protects us and our interests) and that requires a large force structure. Certainly, there is waste and questionable procurement practices in the military but even if there weren't, we'd still need a sizable military for the responsibilities we've opted to take on.

      Beyond that, read the archives and you'll see why the force has to be the size it is. Things like 3:1 ship ratios for deployment, forward basing, crisis response, etc. all dictate a large military.

      Enjoy the posts and don't hesitate to chime in!


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