Editor’s Note: This is part six in a series chronicling the history of Fort Irwin and the creation of the National Training Center.
The United States has been at war for 16 years. The young Americans who stepped up and volunteered for service in the Armed Forces, even before the dust had settled in New York City, are now planning their retirement. Soon, the youngest Soldiers serving and training at the National Training Center will have been born after that terrible September morning that shook the entire world.
From the first 24 Special Forces Soldiers entering Afghanistan just days after 9/11, through the “Shock and Awe” campaign that began the War in Iraq and the resulting insurgencies that still exist today, the National Training Center has adapted training to meet the needs of our nation’s Armed Forces.
At the height of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the NTC concentrated on the Mission Rehearsal Exercise. The MRE forced training units to get out of their armored vehicles and focus on identifying insurgent and criminal networks living among the population of the 13 training villages built across the expanse of the NTC.
Soldiers would also train for non-lethal tasks, learning to work with State Department provincial reconstruction teams, helping to “rebuild” the villages in the training area. They would have to decide which projects they could work on for the local population, how to disperse funds, and how to ensure that their actions didn’t anger the villagers.
As the pace of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan eased, the Army began to look ahead to what it may face in a future battlefield, and train again to meet a near-peer enemy. As a result, the NTC transitioned to a Decisive Action Training Environment.
“Bringing all that into the NTC is what this DATE training is all about,” according to Brig. Gen. Jeff Broadwater, commander of the National Training Center. “To really run across the full range of military operations, from large-scale combat operations all the way down to a counter-insurgency and criminal network.”
Broadwater explained that many aspects of the next war are “unknowable,” but the enemy’s technological capabilities are increasing rapidly and the U.S. must be prepared to face a peer threat.
“There are a lot of people that can remember the 1990s,” he said. “They think that we have gone back to where the OPFOR lines up on one side of the Box and the rotational units line up on the other side of the Box and we go into this kind of large-scale combat, or high-intensity conflict, where it’s tanks on tanks and Bradley’s on bmp’s.”
But high intensity combat is only part of the training at the NTC. Units must now face social media, cyber-attacks, chemical warfare, riots and IED’s in their forward operating base before “deployment” into the Box. The Opposing Force has the ability to fight with radio and satellite jamming, network hacking and interference. They also have a full contingent of air assets including both rotor-wing and fixed-wing aircraft.
Units must contend with a criminal network that uses horses to smuggle items into and out of the area. They fund their activities using simulated GoFundMe sites, raising money to buy munitions and equipment, such as surface-to-air missiles to use against the training unit.
To be successful, the training unit needs to stay aware of all the activities happening around them and still continue to fight the near-peer battle.
As to the future, Broadwater expects the NTC to continue to adapt.
“We’ll continue to see this blend in this decisive action training, where we have to be able to operate at a level against a peer threat, but we still have to keep in mind the population and the counter insurgency and all those variables that are associated with that,” he said. “We can’t fight the last war, but we need to learn from it.”