As the Army begins modernization, the 27 National Guard brigade combat teams will need to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of training events. The most critical challenges facing these teams will be maintaining readiness to meet joint force demands while simultaneously harvesting adequate time for modernizing equipment and systems.
Simply adding more training days should not be the first option to solve this time constraint and would mask any inefficiencies already present in the training glide path.
Once modernization begins, the time needed to field and train on new equipment and systems takes up to 24 months, depending on unit type. Any inefficiencies within current training programs will become more evident as time allocated to retrain will no longer be available due to modernization.
The Army National Guard must take the opportunity now to examine all major brigade combat team collective events, remove any inefficiencies and take a new approach. National Guard leaders must invest more time in multiechelon training and expand the training audience above platoon and company level.
The training environment is critical. Command post and warfighter exercises are effective at building staff competency with systems and processes, but cannot provide the stresses of executing Mission Command from brigade to company in a realistic combat environment.
One training glide path gap that exists in the Army National Guard brigade combat teams is the allocation of time to conduct concurrent, multiechelon training leveraging the live, virtual and constructive domains in a realistic training environment. This gap exists due to an expectation that staff competencies gained at command post and warfighter exercises earlier in the training cycle, along with collective training at platoon level, will meet for the first time at a maneuver combat training center and set conditions to achieve expected brigade readiness.
Army National Guard brigade combat teams are required to build unit proficiency at battalion and brigade level during a combat training center rotation, which is a significant leap from entering the rotation at platoon proficiency.
In order to meet this battalion-level collective training requirement, the Army National Guard must adapt its major training exercises leading up to a maneuver combat training center rotation. The Exportable Combat Training Capability is the preferred venue, which could provide a multiechelon training opportunity and prepare the Army National Guard brigade combat teams for their training center rotations. Teams must train at echelon and capitalize on the ability to get more readiness out of those venues in order to buy back retraining time for modernization.
The Army National Guard’s eXportable Combat Training Capability (xCTC) program is an instrumented brigade exercise designed to enable platoon validation. The intent of the xCTC, according to its charter, is to provide an experience similar to a combat training center. Although the program brings a full training digital resource package similar to the combat training center, the intent is not to replace a maneuver combat training center rotation. It is, however, the primary platform that enables Army National Guard brigade combat teams to validate platoons and is essential to achieving expected levels of collective training readiness at that rotation.
The xCTC program, for many years, becomes a platoon lanes training event. Platoons simply work their way through the various situational training exercises independent of their higher headquarters’ Mission Command authority. The platoon-level situational training was separate and apart from the battalion and brigade staff training, and those echelons trained in a command post exercise unsupported by external evaluators or simulation systems. As a result, the current training design only exacerbates the multiechelon training gap.
The certification focus at platoon level should not prevent adequate training at company and above echelons. One can argue the same venues focused on platoon validation should always have accommodated concurrent, multiechelon training. While some brigade combat teams strived to train at echelon during an xCTC rotation, they did so without the wraparound support such as dedicated observer controller teams and simulation systems found at command post and warfighter exercises.
A creative solution could align all command post and warfighter exercises along with their respective resources over the top of the xCTC venue and provide the digitation resources with the command post exercise resources to alleviate any additional funding need.
Setting the Standard
The Army’s updated training doctrine codified multiechelon training as one of the principles of Army training. Field Manual (FM) 7-0: Training emphasizes multiechelon training in a realistic, dynamic environment throughout. In accordance with FM 7-0, the Army National Guard demonstrated the capability to conduct multiechelon training while validating platoons during the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s xCTC 2021 rotation last July.
This rotation became an exploration into expanding the trained echelons by including brigade and division enablers, which included a division higher command, adjacent units, critical enablers and a dynamic threat. These increased the tempo of the exercise and drove staff actions down to the battalions, with missions executed at company level. All stakeholders, including First Army, the National Guard Bureau and unit and state leadership, came together to prove the validity of the expanded venue.
However, one successful xCTC does not create a new standard. It will take a new exercise design that consistently provides a multiechelon training venue. While there are obstacles to overcome, such as opposition force and observer controller support, critical thinking and ingenuity can solve these constraints and limitations.
Taking It a Step Further
The age of the synthetic training environment has matured to the point of usefulness due to the advancement of topographical digital mapping and simulation systems. These systems, along with the Mission Command and communications systems, can be a game changer for the reserve component due to its unit geographic challenges.
This technology has the capability to allow units to span the geographic separation of multiple echelons and enable all levels to participate in large-scale exercises without the inefficiency of transporting personnel and equipment across the country. It would allow the nesting of multiple headquarters in a large-scale exercise, which includes subordinate and adjacent units training in both live and virtual environments.
Additionally, it can allow units to transition back and forth from the virtual environment to the live environment completely transparent to higher echelons, enabling participation during an inactive duty training weekend without affecting other echelons and units.
For the foreseeable future, Army modernization and deployments will continue at the expense of home-station training and training readiness across the force. We must revisit every training event with a new eye toward maintaining readiness at the highest echelons and conduct our training better, faster and with no additional funding.
In order to provide the vision toward these changes, leaders must see ourselves along with the limitations and restrictions of our current training venues. We must question everything, challenge the status quo, not stop at the first obstacle or give up on a vision simply because some technology, system or asset is not available.
It is time to seize the opportunity to relook at brigade combat team training venues and move toward a more multiechelon focus versus the narrow single-echelon focus.
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Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes is the adjutant general of the Tennessee National Guard, with 40 years in service. He has commanded armor and armored cavalry units at the company, battalion and brigade levels, and conducted two deployments to Iraq as a squadron commander and commander of the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He also commanded the Tennessee Army National Guard’s 194th Engineer Brigade. Previous assignments include deputy chief of engineers under the Army Chief of Engineers, and deputy commanding general, First Army.