FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 5, 2015) – One of the hoped for outcomes of the Army Operating Concept, or AOC, is “creating an atmosphere where we can create multiple dilemmas for the enemy in an environment where we feel very comfortable operating,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
“I believe today, our enemy creates multiple dilemmas for us,” Odierno said. “We don’t create multiple dilemmas for them. We need to do a better job of how we do that. We can then force them to act in a way that gives us an advantage.”
Odierno was providing his feedback to two groups of captains who were discussing the role of advanced cognitive abilities for Soldiers fighting in increasingly complex environments during Solarium 2015, held at the Command and General Staff College, Feb. 24-26.
The chief’s remarks, Feb. 26, were part of an informal discussion he and other senior leaders had with 84 captains, who were divided into seven groups, each group tasked with taking on different aspects of the AOC and coming up with ideas and solutions for implementing the doctrine.
Capt. Mike Hooper described a 2035 scenario where a division of Soldiers were fighting in a megacity of 25 million. While the Soldiers were equipped with the latest weaponry, their adversaries also had access to advanced technology, obtained commercially off the shelf.
The most important weapons system the Army had to achieve overmatch, he said, would come from advanced cognitive abilities, which allowed them to operate both independently and as part of a unit, doing multiple things at one time.
While, advanced cognitive abilities will undoubtedly be created through neuroscience and advanced cognitive research, a greater part of it will depend on scenario-based training at all levels of command, said Hooper, adding that simulation could play a role in that training.
Hooper, speaking for his group, provided its assessment of where the Army is today on advancing cognitive abilities and where it needs to be.
The Army is doing some things really well in the training environments and schoolhouses, things like analysis, planning, problem solving and decision making, Hooper said.
Reasoning and creative or free-thinking are also developed though current training models and through everyday experience in the operating force, Hooper said.
Further development is needed, however, in several other areas, Hooper pointed out. These are: synthesis, the constructive process of piecing together information to create an operating picture; perceptiveness, the ability to see through the fog of war using different lenses or filters; speed of processing, the ability to shift through vast amounts of data and information while discarding the trivial and arriving at sound judgments; and finally, innovativeness, the ability to create new ideas based on critical and creative thinking that results in valued outcomes.
Odierno asked if the group had looked at what the civilian sector was doing in this area.
Corporations like Lumosity, Sheppard Software, and even AARP are using gaming developments to improve cognition and memory capacity, Hooper said. Many Fortune 500 corporations assess candidates’ cognitive ability through online testing before hiring them.
Hooper offered that the Army could periodically offer standardized cognitive assessments throughout a Soldier’s career. He predicted that cognitive ability would hopefully increase based on gained maturity, education and experience.
These assessments could benefit Soldiers’ personal development and would also be useful to leaders in determining how to utilize or further develop Soldiers’ abilities. Hooper added that these assessments would also give Human Resources Command, or HRC, a valuable tool in placing the right person in the right assignment at the right time, something HRC “doesn’t always get right.”
Capt. Sean Cockrill said the Army offers advanced cognitive ability opportunities in such programs as Red Team and the Asymmetric Warfare Adaptive Leadership Program, but the problem is they’re isolated programs, not readily accessible to the Army as a whole.
Cockrill then offered some ideas to infuse advanced cognitive skills in the Army without concocting new training with onerous tracking requirements.
People and programs already exist to deliver cognitive training, Cockrill said. For instance, with a little additional education, master fitness trainers could deliver that training. And, perhaps they could even receive an additional skill identifier.
Another option would be to deliver the training through Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness. Third, Cockrill said, education centers on post and training opportunities online could augment cognitive learning skills.
The education centers are important, Odierno said, as is testing. “You’ve given us a lot of tasks to look at.”
The discussion of testing continued among the captains and leaders.
Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said there is “huge potential” in developing advanced cognitive ability in the human dimension.
One of the areas that needs to be looked at is assessments, Perkins said. “We do a lot of assessments when you come into the Army, but these are generally things used to assess you out of the Army.” Those kinds of assessments measure candidate’s physical standards, test for drugs, look at criminal background checks and so on.
On the other hand, there are no assessments for cognitive abilities that could be useful for talent management. In fact, Perkins said, when a candidate comes into the Army, he or she picks their branch. There’s no pre-test. In the other military services, candidates don’t choose the branch they go in, the services do.
So looking at branch-specific cognitive requirements could prove fruitful, Perkins said.
The topic then shifted to how the Army prioritizes cognitive and other training.
“I can make sure we do [cognitive training] institutionally,” Odierno said. But, in the operational force it is something “you have to sort through.” Hopefully, the battalion and brigade commanders are making that a priority.
Odierno provided an example of how cognitive training might work for a captain. If a battalion commander says, “A, B and C” are priorities, then “you do A, B and C” and hopefully there is enough time in the schedule to add other priorities, such as “D, E and F” or “G, H and I.”
“That’s the art of commanding – understanding your boss and his priorities,” Odierno said. A Soldier “gets in trouble when his boss says, ‘I want you to do A, B and C’ and instead, you do D, E, and F.
“You’ve got to understand what’s important to your boss and that buys you space,” Odierno said. It’s also incumbent on senior commanders to ensure they give their Soldiers room to think and come up with “innovation to solve problems. We don’t want [every single priority] directed to you at all times” with no latitude.