Friday, June 4, 2010

More on the future of the Armor Corps

This week saw a minor resurgence of the "death of Armor" motif through a paper on SWJ in response to COL Gentile. I found the discussion somewhat interesting if not really a rehash of the common themes to this topic between a number of SWJ regulars and fellow Spartan Brigade alumni. There was one comment that I think really sums up the danger facing the Armor Corps, from a great officer and commander who I had the honor of serving with at Fort Stewart, Mark Battjes. Here is most of his comment:

Do we have now in the Armor branch, or heavy portion of the Infantry branch, the junior leaders (SGTs, SSGs, SFCs, LTs, and CPTs) who know how to train to conduct heavy combined arms maneuver?

I worry less about whether we will be able to train 18-24 year olds to be able to hit targets with an M1 or M2. I worry far more about whether or not a SSG can develop a plan to train his section to not only shoot gunnery, but also conduct mounted maneuver.

My own experience as a company commander training a company to shoot gunnery for the first time without significant training experience in my formation (1 x SFC MG and only a handful of NCOs who had ever shot gunnery) is instructive. We got through it with brute force and ignorance, but it was a lot more painful than it should have been. The results are instructive as well. We qualified everyone on Table VIII reasonably well, but the Table XIIplatoon qualifications were much more difficult, primarily because none of the NCOs, and certainly not the LTs, had learned how to train to conduct mounted maneuver. They know how to train a squad to enter and clear a building or conduct a dismounted patrol.

Overall, I agree with the authors' point that the Armor corps will ultimately survive and thrive. However, it will require the active efforts of BN CDRs and S3/XOs with significant training experience to show a lot of young CPTs, LTs, and NCOs who are long on combat experience, but short on training experience, how to go about training a tank platoon or scout platoon. Somehow we have to rebuild the training capabilities of our junior leaders, something that we were very good at before we had to quickly train up for repeat combat tours.

I couldn't have put this better myself. As Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, this should probably be the number one focus of the Maneuver Center of Excellence.


  1. On language:

    First, "core competencies." And now I see at InkSpots, "Center of Excellence."

    The same language is used in health care. We were supposed to develop a Center of Excellence in my area, too.

    Interesting. Is this some sort of "CEO" management-speak that infiltrates different institutional cultures? It's like LEAN - everyone talks about it in health car, but the cynic in me wonders if this latest acronym-as-management dogma is just the latest TQM or whatever (TQM = total quality management; search for "LEAN blog" for the LEAN stuff.) I am afraid that quite a lot of our institutional cultures are fond of the marketing of ideas, but rarely get beyond the marketing aspect.

    *LEAN is great. I'm not talking about the idea, but the application.

  2. Madhu - you're right. "Center of Excellence" doesn't just mean anything, it's often a misnomer. In tech speak it would probably be more of "Enterprise Solutions Center".

    They should have just called it the Combined Arms Maneuver Center.

  3. I'm curious as to how this happens? How do we all end up using the same language?

    Anyone know?

  4. My skepticism on this issue has been due to my belief that our training even before 9/11 was a joke. I agree with Gentile et al on most of their criticisms of the pagan worshippers of COIN. But with regard to the issue that we are less prepared for HIC as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I just don't buy it. One must either wear sepia-toned eyeglasses or smoke a few crack rocks, or both, to look back upon pre-9/11 training as a time when large formations were capable of skillfully conducting combined arms warfare.

    I do think you can make narrow arguments about some aspects of armor and artillery units getting rusty in what are supposed to be their core competencies. So, I'm not taking significant issue with what the authors of this specific piece of have written. But for the rest of the force, there's an old adage that goes something along the lines of "good squads make good divisions" or something like that. Basically, if you've got well trained small units, it is easier to quickly train them up for higher level collective tasks than if you have a good headquarters and a bunch of poorly trained subordinate units to employ.

  5. Madhu-

    That language stems from our professions spending too much focus on B school and GE's Six Sigma as if we're for profit industries.

    I've said more than my fair share on the topic in SWJ. Gunslinger and Schmedlap have nailed most of it in this thread and in other comments. That shouldn't be suprising given their experience.

    I'm just glad that others are starting to write and engage in the conversation.

  6. I always hated the whole Center of Excellence motif. The implication being that we had Centers of Mediocrity before that? It is a nonsense term and MikeF hit the nail on the head.

  7. Schmedlap has a point, but as a guy who was a Captain in the mid to late 90s, I had some autonomy, especially in the light side of the force to actually conduct training on my own as long as it was nested in the Battalion, BDE, and Division METL. I'll never forget the look on the face of my senior PL when I told him to plan three and a half days of squad/platoon training during a five day field problem---shock, a bit a fear, and then joy (had never been allowed to do it before). Reduced budgets in some ways made this possible as we could not do too many super-exercises.

    The current era of conflict, dating back to the Bosnia MRE era, emphasizes templated, top-down driven training. Little opportunity for the junior officer to learn how to plan, prepare and execute training on his own; I am talking about free play training here.

  8. Chris,
    That is precisely what my issue was in the 1990s (I was a PL in the late 90s / early 00s). Everything was top down driven. It was a checklist of mandatory training "tasks" that we needed to be "proficient" in. Collective and individual tasks were dictated from echelons above reality (Bosnia/Kosovo MRX's were the ultimate example of this stupidity). You were more fortunate than I was if you got even that one large chunk of white space on the calendar. My NCOs and I needed to continually be prepared to exploit narrow, unpredictable windows of down time to do important training, in between the top-down driven BS.

    Anecdote! No shit, there I was. We were doing doing some of the BS mandatory individual tasks in preparation for a Balkans MRX in 2000. I am not kidding, we did the grenade assault course, just like in basic training. Stupid. Anyway, I happened upon a couple guys who I thought were range cadre. They asked me what I thought of the training. Shocked that anybody would ask me such a stupid question, I responded, "are you fucking serious?" Startled, they looked at each other and then said, "yeah." I gave my assessment. It was as energetic, opinionated, and blunt as you would expect from an LT. (In hindsight, it was also one of those rare moments where I was correct). Turns out those two guys were the Div Cmdr and CSM and they had a fair amount of input into the training (clearly without soliciting feedback from subordinates). They were wearing their brand new interceptors, sans SAPIs, and hadn't put the rank on yet. I think it was also the first time that they'd been issued NVDs because the mouting plate was covering their helmet rank. Not the way to get respect, but a great way to get candid feedback, which I'm sure they promptly wiped their asses with.

    PSGs must have a nose for that sort of thing because he somehow knew who they were and darted to my position to intervene before I could further trample upon my dick.

  9. I think there is a CEO summer camp where the big-wigs go to hear the same speakers tout the same books. They organize their lean-to while drinking three cups of tea.

    Sorry for the whimsy - I actually like our current CEO and think he's doing a pretty good job considering the environment.

    (Language matters because it is a clue to how leaders prioritize. Clear language tells you something, jargon tells you something, my mispelled and poorly written comments tell you something....namely, that I need more coffee. If I drank coffee.)

  10. Haha. Oh, wait....

    "A friend of mine who works in the intelligence community brought this jewel to my attention. In January 1944, the Office of Strategic Services created a secret document entitled “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” (available here as a free audio book) to assist operatives in disrupting the Axis war effort. It contains the expected stuff about starting fires and shorting electrical systems. But the most enlightening stuff comes at pages 28–31, in a section entitled “General Interference with Organizations and Production.” There, we learn that our secret weapon against the Nazi war machine was . . . bureaucracy. Note these ingenious plots:...."

  11. Prediction: The Army will one day create a Center of Excellence Center of Excellence. It will be where the cadre for the various Centers of Excellence go to prepare for their stints at their specific Centers of Excellence. Every wall in the building will have either a projector screen or a plasma TV. You won't be able to look in any direction without seeing a PowerPoint presentation. They'll even be on the doors of the bathroom stalls.

  12. You kid Schmedlap, but is any of that really so "out there?"

    It's the nature of a - wait for it, it's my pet complaint - BUREAUCRACY to create new agencies because the old agencies don't work as they should. And this occurs in both the public and private sector.

    (Scanning the comments section at SWJ, it appears that the Center is a "well-intentioned" effort, according to one commenter. I meant no offense by any of the above. I've spent so many years in large institutions that I tend to find some of it absurd. There is nothing wrong with the idea - it's the implementation that matters. Of course.)

  13. Prediction: The Army will one day create a Center of Excellence Center of Excellence.

    Here's a CGSC thesis that proposes the formation of a Stability and Security Center of Excellence (pdf), which is pretty close.