FORT POLK, La. (Sept. 29, 2014) – When the 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), descended from the night sky into the Joint Readiness Training Center here, last month, it not only marked the first large-scale joint forced entry air assault in more than 11 years, it also signaled a larger shift in how the Army executes training missions.
With the number of U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq shrinking, training is realigning, from pre-deployment to back-to-basics. In implementing the shift, the Army is leveraging lessons learned from more than a decade at war, as well as planning for future contingencies.
The new hybrid threat training model fuses modern rules of engagement with conventional preparation. Known as decisive action training, it doesn’t shy away from cyber attacks, insurgent threats and chemical warfare, but instead confronts these complexities head-on.
“We certainly are not going to put our blinders on and go back to the conventional force-on-force training we did in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Col. Carl Kelly, deputy commander of group, operations group, at the Joint Readiness Training Center, known as JRTC. “If and when we get into a future conflict, our adversaries are likely not going to come at us straight on. It’s going to be an asymmetric fight. So regardless of what type of scenario we’re building, that asymmetric aspect has to be incorporated into it.”
JRTC provides realistic, intensive training with Soldiers and commanders receiving feedback, including detailed after action reviews by observer/coach/trainers, known as OCTs, who rate Soldiers’ performance and tactics. The scenarios unfold over the vast rolling hills and thick forests of JRTC, and include mock villages complete with role players standing in as local forces and villagers.
Adding to the challenge is an opposing force, that can bring with it any threat, including armor, chemical, cyber, conventional and unconventional.
“If you look at current events, it’s a war amongst the people,” Kelly said. “You have to incorporate a more urbanized environment that Soldiers are going to be operating in. We have to make sure here at the training center that we can incorporate those scenarios that we expect Soldiers are going to be faced with.”
The decisive action training is crafted both to test units and to validate their latest equipment in a complex combat environment. For example, the 3/101 rotation featured missions where Soldiers communicated using Capability Set 13, referred to as CS 13, an advanced package of tactical communications gear providing voice and data connectivity across the brigade combat team down to the dismounted Soldier.
“This training literally goes down to the team level or individual Soldier,” Kelly said. “We’re able to collect and deliver lessons learned from the team leader all the way up to the brigade commander, so they can employ them in the future.”
For the 3/101, the latest JRTC challenge called for quickly shifting gears from their air assault into an advise-and-assist exercise in preparation for the brigade’s upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
“At the JRTC rotation, we were able to test our air assault skills in a much more robust environment, and then turn around and do the mission rehearsal for the real deploy mission,” said Col. J.B. Vowell, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
Then, immediately on the heels of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team rotation, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), fell in on the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s equipment, for its own rotation. As the 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne,” conducted its nighttime sling-load operation during another joint forced entry mission, JRTC recorded observations to provide feedback on how the brigade performed, as well as lessons learned on how brigades can take over already established tactical communications equipment.
As new capabilities are continuously introduced into the force, the training center stays in front of this technology in order to capture best tactics, techniques and procedures, known as TTPs, for the Army.
Several months prior to the JRTC rotation, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team was equipped with CS 13, which provides the deploying Soldiers with improved situational awareness, mobile mission command and data radios to help address the challenges of fewer U.S. Soldiers and more mobile, dispersed operations. JRTC helped the unit further develop TTPs for using the equipment in different scenarios.
“There are multiple communications tools that we used, depending on which phase of the operation we’re in,” Vowell said. “This was probably the most complex combat training rotation I have ever seen in my 23 years in the Army. We learned by leaps and bounds coming to a very well-resourced training center.”
With cyber attacks also posing a risk to the Army’s tactical network, JRTC rotations now include these challenges in their training scenarios.
“For cyber, our goal is that the unit can identify a possible threat or possible action against them in the network,” said Lt. Col. Steven Beaumont, senior signal OCT for JRTC. “The objective for the brigade is to identify a possible threat and report on it, so higher headquarters can respond as needed.”
Training scenarios are formed on a six-month cycle, incorporating what each brigade, based on guidance from Army Forces Command, may see as a threat.
“We put a lot of thought of what we want to replicate, and we have a lot of options here,” said Lt. Col. Mark Landis, chief of staff, operations group for JRTC. “We try not to fight our last wars, but fight what we think we’re going to see in the future.”