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March 10, 2014

The NTC’s replicated enemy

An 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Trooper atop an Opposing Forces Surrogate Vehicle, (OSV) awaits battle with the approaching 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during training at the National Training Center, June 2013.

The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment has spent the last 18 months training and executing decisive action opposing force tactics, and as of February they have been called the measuring stick of the Army.

The 11th ACR has played the role of opposing force at the National Training Center since 1994. However, that role has evolved every time the current operational environment has changed. In the 1990’s, the unit portrayed a near-peer force specializing in mechanized infantry and tank battles in desert terrain. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, 11th ACR Soldiers replicated urban insurgencies, local national security forces, and civilians on the battlefield.  Recently, the Blackhorse has given United States Army units the challenge of facing asymmetric tactics in the mountains and small villages similar to what units face in Afghanistan. However, in the last two years, the 11th ACR has pursued the challenge of replicating a combination of every role it has portrayed in the last 20 years.

After more than a decade of portraying an insurgency, the 11th ACR returned to replicating foreign tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and tow missile trucks – a near-peer conventional force that was feared during the 1990s. The latest transition in roles for the regiment is required for decisive action (DA) rotations that prepare brigade-size elements (referred to as rotational units or RTU’s) for world-wide deployments against a near-peer enemy. Furthermore, DA rotations prepare units to not only face a mechanized force, but brigades also have to partner with local Army elements and face the challenge of counter insurgency operations against an asymmetric guerrilla element.

“As the opposing force at the National Training Center, 11th ACR serves as the measuring stick for the Army,” said Col. John Ward, commander of 11th ACR. “If we are not creating the most challenging battlefield conditions in the world for the rotational units, we are doing them a disservice.  It is our job to allow them to learn through their actions while adjusting their tactics, techniques, and procedures accordingly.  Their hardest days should be in the Mojave Desert, which will only better them should they go overseas to face a real enemy.”

During the first few modern-day DA rotations, the fights were not as one sided as they were supposed to be. In the spring of 2013, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR got the opportunity to train on a DA platform.  They received training from the observer/coach/trainers of Operations Group, who normally focus on RTU’s. Training began at the platoon level and eventually expanded up to the squadron level, focusing on planning, maneuver techniques, as well as perfecting use of the equipment.

Shortly after this training event, the 11th ACR replicated a near-peer opposing force during NTC rotation 13-08.  However, this time they won all four major battles in the most convincing manner in more than two decades.

Troopers assigned to I Battery, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment engage targets of opportunity while playing the role of enemy forces against 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, while training at the National Training Center, June 2013.

“We went from nearly no maneuver capability to fully utilizing U.S. doctrine in combined arms maneuver,” explained Capt. Sebastian Engels, commander of C Troop, 1/11ACR.

“The exercises allowed for fundamentals to be developed at the lowest levels in the sections and platoons, troop and squadron operations. Rotational performance enhanced exponentially following the repeated FTX’s and showed in our success during Rotation 13-08.”

It has been approximately 18 months since the 11th ACR set out to re-affirm itself as the nationally-feared opposing force, and in February, the 11th ACR ended another rotation with a series of convincing victories. Blackhorse Troopers walk with a swagger these days with the motto of, “This Is Our House” and an attitude of never being beat.  However, every Blackhorse Trooper will acknowledge the importance of their impact on brigade combat teams coming to Fort Irwin and the magnitude of being the best, so that they can legitimately improve the rest of the Army.

1/11 ACR, portrays the sentiment of the entire regiment by saying: “I am proud to be a part of the improvements that this unit has gone through. We have learned to technically master our systems that used to present a challenge for us, reach our potential and train the RTU to the fullest capacity. Our main goal is to indirectly prevent Soldiers from dying in combat.”




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