Tension filled the air as civilians scattered and shots rang out in the streets – Armored Security Vehicles drove down the road and dismounted infantry began storming into village buildings while yelling “enemy fire, second floor, 12 O’clock!”
While this may sound like a typical day in hostile regions of Afghanistan, soldiers were actually firing blanks and nobody was in real danger; the aforementioned scenario was one of several mock-combat training exercises observed by Army Acquisition Executive Heidi Shyu.
Shyu, who oversees the Army’s acquisition efforts as the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, spent several days observing soldiers train with weapons and equipment provided by the Army’s Acquisition community in a series of fast-paced, realistic “situational” combat scenarios at National Training Center, known as NTC, at Fort Irwin, Calif.
While meeting with soldiers and Army leaders during her two-day visit, Shyu attended briefings and observed simulation and training, which includes a wide range of Army equipment, including ASV’s, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles Unmanned Aerial Systems such as the Raven and Gray Eagle along with smaller items for dismounted tactical units such as radios, small arms and mobile, IED-detecting robots.
While at NTC, Shyu also met with contracting officials at Fort Irwin and also discussed a program aimed at forward-stationing scientists and engineers in theater as equipment advisors. Such teams, currently in Afghanistan, provide technical assistance regarding equipment and technology.
Also, as part of the dialoque regarding how current and anticipated future equipment, services and technologies function, Shyu engaged in extensive discussions regarding the NTC’s recently adopted “Decisive Action” methodology, a training approach designed to rigorously prepare soldiers for current and potential future conflict scenarios.
The thrust of “Decisive Action” is to accurately and with painstaking authenticity and detail, replicate the threats, tactics, techniques and procedures and combat scenarios currently being experienced in the Afghan theater – while also preparing forces for the possible contingency of facing future, hybrid-type adversaries. This hybrid-type threat, represented at the NTC as a fictional “Donovian” force, encompasses a range of potential scenarios involving conventional forces often blended with or fortified by insurgent, guerrilla and even criminal elements.
“I am impressed with the amount of accuracy and detail with which threats are replicated here at the NTC,” Shyu told leaders at Fort Irwin. “In particular, I am also pleased that the NTC is incorporating future, next-generation threats into their training cycle.”
Shyu often talks about the importance of factoring current and future threat capabilities into the acquisition cycle. She emphasizes the need to blend the two together in a way that both serves soldiers in the current fight and also prepares them for the anticipated challenges of tomorrow.
“The training is designed to look past how we fight today and help examine and identify the technologies and investments we need to protect and pursue for the future,” Shyu added.
The new “Decisive Action” approach, in effect at NTC since March of this year, is firmly grounded in two larger concepts currently informing Army strategy: Combined Arms Maneuver and Wide Area Security.
While each of these concepts comprise elements of a broader, full-spectrum operations approach, CAM encompasses the entire spectrum of conventional threats, from near-peer potential adversaries engaged in fully mechanized tank-on-tank engagements, missiles and air defense, to guerilla-style forces armed with advanced conventional weapons such as Anti-Tank Guided Missiles.
Wide Area Security, which also incorporates guerilla and insurgent-type attacks, is primarily geared toward counterinsurgency scenarios.
“As we find the center and balance our forces after 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, our “Decisive Action” approach addresses COIN, hybrid, conventional, guerilla and insurgent forces, even adding criminal elements,” said Brig. Gen. Terry Ferrell, commanding general, Fort Irwin National Training Center.
In total, the NTC consists of more than 1,000 buildings, 1,800 “role-players,” seven Forward Operating Bases and seven to nine towns, some of them complete with Afghan-style provincial governments and reconstruction teams. Various role players in the mock-combat villages dress, look, eat, live and cook just like people in actual Afghan villages.
The villages, constructed in the years following the start of the Afghan and Iraq wars, are designed to replicate the Afghan theater in great detail, complete with street markets, villagers, insurgents and host-nation security forces. Many of the village inhabitants, who speak multiple languages including Pashto, Dari and Arabic, are part of what NTC calls the Contemporary Operating Environment Force. In fact, one current NTC employee is a role-player who formerly served as a member of the Iraqi Army during Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ferrell explained.
Shyu toured one such village during her visit and observed a “Situational Training Exercise” wherein a California National Guard unit was patrolling and attempting to clear an area while coming under fire from well-prepared Opposition Forces and simultaneously being swarmed by civilian inhabitants of the mock-village.
“We will introduce specific scenario threats based on what is happening in theater,” said Col. Antonio A. Aguto Jr., who commands the OPFOR at the NTC, Fort Irwin, Calif.
The OPFOR, called the Black Horse 11th Armored Calvary Regiment, is made up of role players embracing key roles designed to replicate, for instance, the Taliban member trying to implant IEDs, a local police chief, a town mayor and even insurgents from the Haqanni network. The OPFOR is equipped with the most recent weapons and tactics, techniques and procedures currently being encountered by soldiers in Afghanistan.
“We run a monthly ‘Afghan lessons-learned’ teleconference with theater, so we know their most recent TTPs,” Ferrell said.