Today's training system

Training the Army to fight and win Accelerated Warfare demands deep, dispassionate and disruptive thinking about the current training paradigm. Certainly deployments over recent decades are all testament to a training system that has been broadly workable and flexible; the current methodology of training and force generation ensures our people can be certified as “ready now”. However, training a 'Future ready' force is a greater professional challenge. When we think about the future and consider the rapidly evolving character of conflict, the premise of Accelerated Warfare with its demand on our people to rapidly evolve approaches and to dynamically outpace, out manoeuvre and out think conventional and unconventional threats - as well as the changing workforce - it is clear that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. If Army is to prepare land forces for accelerated war, there is a need for training transformation now.

'Stuck in the 80s' is one way to describe Army’s training system. Changes in media technology provides a useful (albeit broad) analogy to help describe why our current training needs to transform to enable acceleration. The 'Hoyts' cinema approach is deliberate, singular, rigid and time consuming; while it is expensive, it remains highly immersive – somewhat akin to field training. With VCR in the 80s, the 'Blockbuster' approach was comfortable, affordable, repeatable and efficient. Undoubtedly DVD technology provided an improved experience, but the modernisation did not fundamentally change the behaviours from those established in the 80s – Army’s individual training system is currently like this. Today, audiences can watch movies by streaming content anywhere, on any device. The 'Netflix' approach is highly flexible, highly responsive and consequently delivers at speed to the point of need. For Army, most training modernisation efforts during recent decades have simply digitised the analogue behaviour - we persevere with Blockbuster, instead of embracing the opportunity of Netflix. When we expect our soldiers to fight, thrive and win any future accelerated conflict, we risk starting from a position of intellectual and decision disadvantage.

The challenge

Accelerated Warfare states 'the geopolitical context, changing threat, disruptive technologies and domain integration means that we must prepare for an accelerating environment'. Army’s greatest contribution to capability is its people, and given the changing characteristics and demographics of society, combined with the needs, expectations and learning experiences of the future workforce, our training system must be able to appropriately prepare individuals and teams for these increasingly complex, dynamic and accelerated environments.  Hence the challenge of Accelerated Warfare is having a training, doctrine and education system to strengthen our joint warfighting philosophy and build the high performance culture and intellectual edge necessary to meet the challenges of “future ready”.

So where to from here? We have an opportunity to re-think our systems if we are bold enough to embrace the great, innovative ideas of our own people and to seek out best practice from allies, industry and academia; but, we need to think, plan and execute now, before the future is on top of us. In his post on The Cove, DG TRADOC articulated some steps that are underway. I offer the following thoughts for consideration and to stimulate debate across Army.

Closing the gap

Firstly, we need to transform training by closing the reality gap between training and operations. If we accept the maxim that we 'fight the way we train and train the way we fight', then we need to minimise the physical, mental and intellectual dissonance in our training system to enable our people to think, act and thrive when it is needed most. We know that under the pressure of combat - amidst chaos, uncertainty, chance and fear - our people naturally and instinctively revert to their training. Reality based training and the Combat Behaviours program recognises this at the most basic individual level. At the organisational level, this is not enough: the individual and collective combat training environment must reflect the complex operating environment so our people have a firm and familiar base from which they can accelerate their thinking and action. This reflection of reality must be built in to our training/exercise design and in to our live and synthetic training areas.

The scale and scope of some of the capabilities soon to enter service in the Army, as well as potential threat capabilities emerging in the region, all challenge the current training design paradigm. These challenges include long range fires, integrated air missile defence, new fighting vehicles, cyber, information, space, plus swarming nano technologies to name but a few. The traditional 'Hoyts' paradigm of exercising in live training areas may not provide the adequate accomplishment of collective training outcomes to prepare land forces for complex, dynamic and accelerated environments; plus the cost of ownership of some capabilities may prove too expensive to regularly exercise in the field - risking bad learning outcomes across the training audience. The true integration (and defence) of these capabilities, and the necessary iterative learning and adaption, will only be achievable in a synthetic training environment.

The complexity of the urban operating environment is the difficult reality we must master through live and synthetic training. Urban environments are crowded, contested, connected, collective, constrained and lethal; jungle, desert, savannah and arctic have varying degrees of relevance and importance, but these other physical environments really represent the approach march - the harder necessary fights will be in the urban areas. Battle group manoeuvre through the deserts of Cultana, scrublands of High Range or the rolling hills of Puckapunyal are beneficial for building basic procedures, team integration and resilience, but don’t adequately reflect nor prepare for the likely future operating environment. To normalise the complex reality and build familiarity from which our people can accelerate, Army must transform and establish fighting and winning in urban environments as the baseline for all of its training design and associated doctrine.

Transforming doctrine

Secondly, Army’s doctrine needs to transform to reflect the challenges of the operating environment and its evolving adversaries. Our operating environment is increasingly influenced by complex urban interfaces, democratised lethality, socialised networked intelligence, AI, machine learning; the speed of war will be driven by the speed of machines. Preparing our people for this demands robust operational concepts and tactical doctrine in order to prepare for a complex, dynamic and accelerated environment. The doctrine that currently exists represents a true, tried and tested summary of Army’s collective wisdom and knowledge, but it is fundamentally the experience of a 20th Century Industrial Age Army - it is driving a car down a highway by looking in the rear vision mirror and hoping there are no bumps or sharp turns ahead. The current organisational approach to doctrine achieves ‘ready now”, it does not look towards “future ready”.

The adoption of DATE as the training adversary is an important first step in this process of transformation, but it is critical that we don’t simply 'delete Musoria, insert Atropia'. DATE provides real and emerging threat capabilities from a variety of threat actors and should outright challenge some of our doctrine, tactics and processes. Army cannot afford to admire the future from an outdated knowledge base if its people need to fight and win in accelerated environments. To be 'future ready', a greater investment in forward looking and threat considered doctrine to train across the entire Army is a transformational necessity.

Harnessing twenty-first century technologies

Thirdly, our approach to training and education needs to transform to reflect the evolution in technology and the associated changes in the workforce. Consider how society currently uses Netflix, YouTube, Google and social media to learn and communicate. Technology and personal devices now allow for more comfortable, repeatable delivery of training where we can learn at speed at the point of need. Further changes to learning technologies and competency tracking will demand changes in our traditional approach to training delivery and methods of instruction. Imagine a soldier in a workshop, Assembly Area or even FUP, receiving training or refresher training (via device, BMS or a heads up display in their AR enabled protective glasses) just prior to performing a task in barracks or on operations. It may not quite be like the Matrix with Neo learning Kung Fu or how to fly a helicopter, but it can be more timely and effective. Going to the cinema has its place as a deliberate and immersive experience, as does attending a school house for professional development, but if we accept the Netflix analogy, or simply consider how the internet of things has changed our approach to almost everything, then we can embrace a new paradigm of delivering training and education to the point of need. That point of need can vary by location, time or career point.

Becoming 'future ready' - a problem for now, not tomorrow

Ultimately, training transformation is about improving the intellectual edge of our people and enabling the pursuit of professional excellence. Our ability to fight and win in an accelerated environment will come from an intellectual base that has been fostered, cultivated, stimulated and rewarded. Technology is enabling changes but shouldn’t become distracting, transformation comes through the worthwhile integration and application of ideas, technology or new process to achieve better outcomes. To continue the media analogy: real acceleration will happen when individuals stop watching Army and start interacting with it in a constant and consistent manner: their professional curiosity and motivations fuelled, they will become empowered to lead, unleashed to explore ideas and their individual potential optimised.

Being 'future ready' is a problem for now, not tomorrow. There are new capabilities being introduced that necessitate these changes in training, doctrine and education; Army will need to work closely with allies, industry and academia to seek out best practice. A training transformation on this scale will be immensely challenging for the organisation, paradigms, people and processes. Of course, everything comes at a cost: in money, people, time, reputation, and infrastructure. At the height of its success, Blockbuster considered buying the fledgling Netflix but to do so required a transformation of its business model. It will be critical for Army to see past the 'sticker shock' of the cost.

Army must transform its training system, or risk 'future ready' mission failure. Our current training paradigm is comfortable and entrenched, but stuck in the 80s. We go to the training equivalent of the cinema and the training equivalent of the video store; we need to invest now in the training equivalent of online streaming to best enable future acceleration. Transformation will require innovative thinking and significant resources. Accelerated Warfare demands our soldiers and officers be agile, capable and astute, 'owning the speed of initiative to outpace, out manoeuvre and out think conventional and unconventional threats'. We must engage in the contest of ideas and be open to new approaches in how we fight and train, train and fight. If Army wants to be 'future ready' the time has come to invest in a transformation of training, doctrine and education that prepares land forces for the age of accelerated warfare.