The Key Role of Training in Dynamic Evolution of Capabilities for the High-End Fight and Crisis Management


By Robbin Laird

Training is one of the words that changes meaning as the liberal democracies face the military dimension posed by the 21st century authoritarian powers. Rather than being just about training to be prepared, which is obviously crucial, advanced training capabilities drive the adaption of the force which is crucial to prevailing in the high-end fight.

Learning to adapt the force in a dynamic combat environment is always crucial, but especially so when the United States and its allies need to operate closely in crises where the 21st century authoritarian powers concepts of operations and forces are designed to divide and conquer throughout the multi-domain spectrum of warfare.

And the art of warfare focuses on the need to understand the ends being pursued in a dynamic crisis or combat situation and to match those ends with the appropriate means understood as force packaging.

As my Williams Foundation colleague, John Conway, put it in a recent interview I did with him: “We have demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq that we are good at warfighting, but we are not so good at warfare. And I think we have a generation of generals and politicians who only know war fighting. They don’t understand that there is a significant difference between warfighting and warfare.”

If we indeed focus on the art of warfare, the key focus is upon how to get the crisis management effect we need; not simply engaging in ongoing warfighting and positioning for warfighting.

And this means in turn, that the focus for the ADF or its allies is not simply providing balanced funding for the joint force, but prioritizing investments and training to shape a force with the most lethal effect and with most useful impact on advancing the art of warfare for the liberal democracies.

As the ADF moves forward, Conway discussed the “triangle of tradeoffs” for development of the force, namely, lethality, survivability and affordability. It is not about investing in balanced force development for its own sake; rather investments need to be directed to those elements of the ADF which can deliver lethality and survivability at the most affordable cost.

In such a context, advanced training is critical and as such will provide a key focus for discussion in the September seminar. As he put it: “Within a limited budget, you’ve now got to think really, really hard about survivability. And you’ve got to think really hard about preparedness and that links to the training piece.

“And we’ve now got an adversary, who is making us spend more and more money on survivability. We’d rather spend money on lethality, but they’re making us spend money on survivability because they’re becoming increasingly sophisticated, because it’s coming harder and harder to survive.

“And this is driving up the cost of survivability. But one way of mitigating that risk is getting your training systems right. And being able to fight the best fight with what you’ve got and invest in warfare rather than just war fighting.”

Put in other words, how to use U.S. and allied military capabilities to have the right kind of crisis management and combat effects?

And how to train to focus on such an approach?

This is how Paul Averna from Cubic Mission and Performance Solutions put the challenge in an interview I did with him in December 2021: “For effective training, we need to discover how to work our various platform capabilities to deliver decisive effects.

“And it’s not just the high-end kinetic end game of a conventional fight between us and a peer competitor. It is down at the lower rungs of conflict to manage escalation points. We need to be able to use asymmetric advantages to shape escalation options, and we need to train to do so.”

Training in the evolving combat environment is a key way ahead to shape not simply the skill sets to operate the force, but to provide significant domain knowledge to drive the development of the force or in other words, training when considered in terms of how to leverage the virtual world along with the live training piece can drive how the force can be continuously redesigned.

A key driver of change is the proliferation of fifth generation systems as the F-35 has become a key element for both the U.S. joint forces and the allies.

Fifth generation systems are multi-mission systems which drives further change in training requirements, which will become more significant over time as multi-domain operating capabilities are highlighted in defense acquisition.

In a recent discussion with Paul Averna, he highlighted how he saw the impact of the F-35 and fifth generation systems on the operating force and training. According to Averna: “Historically, we have operated and trained to single mission threads, such as counter-air or counter-surface warfare and we have used either a purpose-built system or operated with a pre-planned and interconnected group of capabilities synchronized to deliver a single domain effect. With the F-35, we have a multi-domain machine which can support multiple mission threads, and to do so at the same time.”

How do you train to leverage this capability?

Or as Averna puts it, “How do you create an authentic training environment for multi-domain effects?”

To do so, requires an ability to blend simulation or the virtual world with live training, but this requires a focus in the near term on funding such capabilities and getting the operators to operate in a more integrated manner.

Averna argued that “we are ready to proceed down the path of getting such capabilities live on the ranges within the next three years. We can leverage what we are learning in the joint simulation environment in terms of TTPs and can take those effects and model them into the training environment on the live ranges.”

And driving change in training systems associated with the F-35 would see a shift from prioritizing embedded learning systems in the aircraft to being able to work LVC dynamic training. With the current embedded learning systems, the operators learn to work in a wolfpack environment with four ship formations.

With the transition to LVC dynamic learning, the focus would be upon working force packages in a fluid combat space and using a multi-domain system – the F-35 more fully – which in turn would lay the groundwork for introducing new multi-domain systems in the future with a very clear notion of how to use them to get the kind of combat and crisis management effects desired from the combat force.

For the United States and our allies, training to deliver greater integrated capabilities will be critical in dealing with the 21st century authoritarian powers, both to gain the combat mass desired as well as the coalition operational cohesion which can deliver crisis management dominance.

Again, the F-35 global enterprise can be a driver for innovation in enhanced interoperability.

As Averna put it: “The whole concept of the F-35 global enterprise is rooted in partner nations having a common capability so that one could replace a UK asset with a US asset or a Finnish asset or a Canadian asset, because they have a common operational capability. Training to leverage this commonality is crucial which then allows one to build around that idea that ‘whoever shows up with their F-35, the rest of the coalition knows what can be done with that asset from a coalition warfighting perspective.”

By forging an authentic training environment one can contribute to dealing with Conway’s triangle of challenges – survivability, lethality, and affordability.

Averna added two other dimensions to that triad. Averna noted that survivability, lethality, and affordability provide a design constraint for creating effects. “But the other two dimensions are time and interoperability. If you only design a unique stovepipe solution that works for your specific country that reduces interoperability and creates a vulnerability.

“And the kind of peer adversaries we face now require not only rapid decision making but timely evolution or adaptation of the force in terms of acquisition. The general focus now on designing a force for 2030 is simply too far away to deal with the threats we have now. We have to be able to shape force packages rapidly to tailor the effects we need now and not some abstract distant future.”

And while training for such effects, both the software can be reshaped for specific platforms to enable greater integratability and capability as well as learning how to adopt more rapidly to the opportunities for change.

For example, recently I spoke with a senior U.S. Navy Admiral about how he was using the findings of Task Force 59 – the autonomous systems task force in 6th fleet – to enhance the capability of his strike force. He noted that they were adopting capability and trying it out and adopting what worked for them and provided inputs to other elements of the fleet with regard to what particular systems could contribute now to the operating force.

In short, training is not simply preparing to operate the force you think you have; it is about generating the force packaging and operational capabilities you need in joint and coalition operations now and in the near term.

And in so doing, one is able to lay down requirements for acquisition going forward.

But this requires a significant shift in understanding the central role of training and providing the funding to accelerate the LVC elements within the training environment as well.

The graphic is credited to Paul Averna.

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