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The Admiral’s Question—Leveraging Scarce Training Resources

The Admiral’s Question—Leveraging Scarce Training Resources

Another in a series by: Tom Rozman

For over two years the Army had been confronting the prospects of anticipated severe reduction in defense budgets and size of the force.  Expectations of the eventual budgetary response by the Congress to the series of events whose public and visible milestones were the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break up of the Soviet Union, caused some Army leaders to consider means of seeking leveraging opportunities.  How could the Army sustain readiness and force effectiveness as the expected fiscal constraint came into effect?  How could readiness be sustained without previous levels of traditional training resources?  These critical questions needed answers and some means of leveraging technology and smart prioritization of the developing scarcity of available fiscal resources beckoned as possible sources of those answers.

On the road to working the issue there would be a “hick-up” in the trajectory to reduced budget in form of the 1991 First Iraq War. But the wall did fall and the Soviet Union did break up and the budget did reduce–dramatically.  For every active duty soldier, of three standing before the process began, only two remained when the dust settled and the prospects of losing even more force structure loomed large on the horizon.  These reductions in active force structure had mirroring reduction in the organized federal Army Reserve and the states’ Army National Guard.   The impacts on many training accounts such as OPTEMPO (operational tempo accounts that managed the distribution of petroleum product and combat vehicle spare parts to the force) in support of training and training ammunition accounts in the emerging post 1991 budgets bore little resemblance to the resources in those accounts funded in the 1980s.

For these reasons as perceived at the time, the Army Chief of Staff initiated work in 1989 that would orient on building a sustaining force training strategy that would orient on identifying and prioritizing training resources against essential mission task training in units, the primary focus being the battalion.  The resource inventory that would be prioritized would emphasize expanding use of technologies and capabilities developing in virtual interactive computer driven simulation systems as well as force on force laser/sensor systems.  The  latter had been developed and deployed to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin California and several other sites.

Some of the thinking was that emerging powerful training resource capabilities would be leveraged in focused and prioritized force training strategies.  This object would be accomplished in such way that the leveraging would compensate for the reductions in OPTEMPO and training munitions budgets allowing the Army to achieve at least same or enhanced force readiness despite coming austere budgets.

Work proceeded from 1989 to 1991, the following Chief of Staff in 1991 deciding on the basis of work achieved to date and recommendations by the development team to go ahead with the building of the Army wide training strategy and its resourcing. In many ways the latter was an integration, refinement and prioritization of many existing training resource systems and programs that were given greatly improved force wide focus by the development of the strategy.   The prototype architecture had been built and now moved ahead to validation and operationalization within the Army.

At this stage, and in some cases earlier, several allied countries and a service with very similar training concerns and requirements, the Marines, requested briefings on the developing system.   The initiative for example, was briefed at the British/U. S. Army Staff Talks at the Air Force Academy in 1990 and was addressed again at the pre-staff talks at the Ministry of Defense in London in 1991.

This wider interest was engendered by an information initiative that had been applied with articles being published in most key journals such as “Military Review,” “Army Trainer,” and other Department of the Army publications.  Language had been placed in revised editions of Army and U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command regulations. Language had also been added to the main U. S. Army War College textbook concerning the strategy and how it integrated with the Army development and resource managements systems.  This text was being used by students who would soon in practice be responsible for the management and employment of the systems as well as their continued development.

The developing outreach for information by other armies and another service, combined with the literature being published, greatly expanded the awareness of the concepts and ideas that underpinned the strategy.  Consequently these concepts began to have a much broader consideration and acceptance by the larger military training community, after all, they made perfect sense—the force has to be as ready as possible for war, even on tight budgets, therefore, developing doable mission oriented training strategies that prioritized available training resources and leveraged  ever improving virtual interactive simulation capabilities was a no brainer.

As well, within the Army, the work proceeded to initial fielding.  The systems developed, through iterations, have continued in use and application to the present.  This development trajectory and the widening awareness of strategy developments progress, gained joint force interest.  The division chief who had been assigned development lead responsibility at U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in 1989, now director of the directorate monitoring the strategy’s progress was asked to brief an admiral on the joint staff concerning the strategy.  The officer flew to the Pentagon the next day.

The officer presented the briefing in a relaxed informal format.  The Admiral asked a number of pertinent questions all geared to the strategy’s applicability to joint force training needs.  But the most significant question was—will prioritization of scarce training resources against mission training priorities work?  He knew the answer to his question of course.  And the answer was “yes.”  The officer expanded, “if we prioritize our training against mission essential tasks and the training resources available, we will be mission effective.  Of course skill and innovation in training by all leaders at every level will always be a necessary component of our success, but adopting this approach will mean that what resources we are able to program for will be the most effective that we can obtain within available funding.”

The admiral accepted the answer.  The joint system of training was already similar in significant respects and his engagement for information confirmed that where borrowing of ideas and capabilities would be “best practice” it would occur.  The briefing accomplished what was intended—a smart sharing of ideas and concepts for broader force application.

The concept of mission oriented training prioritized against essential mission tasks with training strategies and training resource prioritization against those strategies, to include the leveraging of powerful emerging interactive simulation capabilities, was now an established and extending application across all elements of the forces.  This would be a continuing process and work in progress—but the answer to the admiral’s question would ring true.

Very notably, the 1989 Army Chief of Staff’s initiative to begin a process to enhance the training system as a critical strategic force multiplier in the face of immense fiscal constraint was a clear example of effective strategic leadership.  His vision to seek a means to leverage developing training capabilities would do much to weather the great challenges the Army would face over the coming two decades, especially the vital role of the two reserve components, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard in expanding the force quickly as the situations developed.  As well, aspects of the work were migrated and applied at joint force level.

In the event, the Chief of Staff demonstrated a successful example of strategic leadership and he effectively formed and engaged the Army team needed to develop and implement the strategy. The Admiral’s question was on target.  As well, his reaching out to inform himself of an initiative with possible broader application to the forces was another example of effective leadership—being alert to developments and obtaining information about them.

The true answer to the admiral’s question came in form of the high level of performance of Army units employed in active operations eleven years later.