Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forging sabres, forging knights: Making the most of war games and battlefield experiments

Just as important as forging sabres is the process for forging knights who will wield those proverbial sabres.

In this regard, military war games will be just that - time wasting, cash burning military outings - unless warfighters embrace the right mindset to maximise the time spent outfield.

One should never expect things to unfold according to plan. Nor should the result of any two-sided engagement be a foregone conclusion against a thinking enemy.

Losing a mock battle and failing to extract the lessons from such situations defeats the purpose of two-sided engagements. Failure-averse officers who cannot see value from bloodless combat might as well have toyed with war games on plasma or stayed at home.

In a situation where warfighters are trained and indoctrinated in the same system, it is not difficult to anticipate how opposing staff officers might marshal and deploy their forces for the simulated battle. The structure and organisation of opposing units would be a known entity, as would the combat capabilities of war machines in the order of battle.

More importantly, shrewd staff officers who can read their opponent's personality may be able to guess how his forces may be deployed in the field along with the tempo at which he will push his subordinate commanders.

Reservists may be viewed as softie, city boy soldiers. But many of their commanders have chalked up more experience in field exercises than regulars. And it would probably surprise most regulars who have yet to spend a day in a corporate boardroom how much strategising actually goes on in profit-driven enterprises. An ably-led and motivated reservist unit is therefore not to be underestimated - as some regulars have found out at war games.

Remember too that when manoeuvres take place over axis overlaid on terrain that the command staff have fought over since they were junior officers, this sucks the realism out of the war games.

The spirit of aggression driven into the psyche of manoeuvre forces is also muted by the fact that everyone knows that whatever the outcome, everyone will emerge unscathed when the exercise is cut.

This may embolden commanders to risk forces in situations which they would not do, or hesitate just a little longer, in real life. It could also prompt commanders to lead with more dash and aggression that they actually have, if the bullets were real and the body count permanent.

When tempered with the right attitude, full troop exercises (FTX) give war planners a crucial opportunity to frame a battle and think through the various permutations for their command decisions.

It exercises not just options but underlines the consequences of poorly-executed command decisions.

To be sure, war games for manoeuvre forces can logically be conducted on plasma. It is certainly a cheaper and faster way of testing drawer plans and assessing tactical options than sending warfighters long distances to flex their muscles.

With a FTX, however, the friction inherent in planning, organising, deploying and supporting large bodies of troops - say for example one brigade versus another - in the field becomes obvious. Add in the air support elements (i.e. warplanes, tactical support aircraft and helicopters and UAVs) as well as assets that map out the enemy's electronic order of battle and the land battle grows into a more complex operation in multiple dimensions and with far greater depth than one's own frontage.

Having forces deployed in the field also shows the vulnerability of such units to enemy action. Even when inactive behind the line of departure, large bodies of troops and military vehicles need to supplied with rations, fresh water, ammunition and POL. When immobile, such military assets become military liabilities.

You only have to see a brigade in the field to realise what a plump target all those troops and vehicles look like from the perspective of enemy commanders with the reach and rules of engagement for firing at coordinates beyond line of sight.

Command decisions are not only hampered by Redcon 3 units that plod lethargically across the plasma at a subpar rate of movement. War games demonstrate that military planning, already a complex process at the best of times, may be complicated by an opposing command staff that is determined to observe, orientate, decide and act faster than one's own command apparatus.

Even worse that wincing from a battle lost "unexpectedly" (because only a fool goes to war fighting to lose) is scripting war games such that opposing forces are primed to fail.

In such situations, everyone merely goes through the motions for fear of upsetting the rhythm of the war games whose end result has already been decided before troops and vehicles move into action.

When warfighters fear losing face more than losing a war game, that's when you realise people are not getting the most out of their field training.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post. How should SAF exercises be conducted to avoid these pitfalls. Heard a few stories about the condition of SAF oppforce.