The Army released its new training manual this week, known as FM 7-0, (accessed here) updating the last version published in 2002. The manual is intended to shift the Army’s mindset from a focus on offense and defense operations in large conventional battles to operating successfully anywhere along the “spectrum of conflict,” including counterinsurgency and peacekeeping operations.
Much has changed since the last edition of 7-0 came out, itself heavily influenced by the 1991 Gulf War, the defining experience for the Post Cold War military. Gulf War I cemented in many the idea that future wars would be conventional force-on-force confrontations between massed tank armies with victory going to whoever could marshal the most firepower. The precise application of firepower became an obsession for those who embraced the notion that new technologies had ushered in a revolution in military affairs.
“We're not going to return to a pre-9/11 training focus,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Abrams, the deputy commanding general for training at the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kans. The Army had long believed that if it could successfully do offense-defense combined-arms operations, considered the most complex battlefield actions, that anything that fell under the low-intensity conflict label would be relatively easy. Just dial down the firepower a bit and soldiers could handle counterinsurgency operations, no problem.
“What we've learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, amongst many things we've learned, is that couldn't be further from the truth,” Abrams said. That operational sweet spot that lies somewhere between conducting neighborhood patrolling in counterinsurgency and piling on high explosive rounds in major combat is actually more complex than expected. Abrams said the focus of Army training is now on that somewhere in between piece, forcing soldiers to draw upon a much wider range of skills.
Listening to Abrams describe the in between piece, what 7-0 calls the “Aim Point,” sounds similar to former Marine Gen. Charles Krulak’s famous “three block war” concept, where soldiers in one block could be engaged in a full on firefight while three blocks away others are handing out food and medical supplies to needy children. Abrams said the Army has been conducting simultaneous offense-defense and stability operations in the irregular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, now it’s just codifying those operations in its new manuals. The drafting of the new training manual was synched with the Army’s new operational manual, FM 3-0, that elevated stability operations to the same level of importance as conventional war fighting. It’s a big shift in the Army’s institutional mind set, Abrams said.
There is an ongoing debate among some Army officers about whether or not there has been too much focus and training on counterinsurgency to the detriment of the service’s ability to then turn around and fight a full-on conventional battle against an opponent armed with modern weaponry. Some fear the Army risks repeating the Israeli Army’s experience in southern Lebanon in 2006 when they were roughly handled by the well trained, organized and equipped Hezbollah militia. Years of fighting the Palestinian intifadah in Gaza and the West Bank had turned the Israeli Defense Forces into the world’s most advanced urban anti-terrorism force. But when it came time to fight a high-intensity war of fire and maneuver against an opponent armed with high-tech conventional weaponry, Israeli soldiers, at all levels, lacked the necessary skills and experience, and paid the price.
“Are we as good at conducting major combat operations -- or conducting full-spectrum operations in a [Major Combat Operation] as we used to be? Probably not,” said Abrams. “But… we have a thousand times higher level of proficiency conducting full-spectrum operations, regardless of the environment, than we ever did.” He said that’s the biggest difference between the U.S. Army and the IDF that fought in Lebanon in 2006, today’s GIs are the most combat seasoned this country has ever had.
Abrams said there is no going back to the old force-on-force simulated battles in the wide open desert at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Ca. The Army has unveiled a new blueprint for the “OpFor,” or opposing force, a far more complex opponent than the old model Soviet motorized rifle battalion against which generations of soldiers scrimmaged. “It’s a hybrid” enemy, he said, armed with a mix of low and high-tech capabilities. “It's got a conventional capability… vehicles… infantry… anti-armor… paramilitary… asymmetric… cyber… information operations… [and] a media capability.” That is one complex opponent.
I told him the new enemy blueprint sounded very “Hezbollah like.” Abrams was quick to quash that idea. “People want to put labels on things… they'll want to say, well, you know, it's largely Hezbollah, or it's Russian… after this last incursion into Georgia. Nope. It's sort of a mix of all that. Is it going to be exact? Is it perfect? No. But it's about putting the most challenging conditions on our force that we might be able to find in future conflicts… to make our leaders and our soldiers think on their feet, to be agile, to be flexible, to be lethal when necessary, to be non-lethal when necessary.”
Abrams said the Army is focused like a “laser beam” on preparing its soldiers for the conditions they’ll encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan, not reconstructing some facsimile of what the IDF ran into in southern Lebanon. Hundreds of “role-players” at the Army’s training centers act as non-combatants, replicating conditions of the infinitely more complex “wars amongst the people,” a phrase coined by former British Gen. Rupert Smith. The empty battlefield is a thing of the past; protecting and winning over those civilians often takes precedence over destruction of the enemy.
The new training manual is not a “how-to” guide, Abrams said. “This describes the what of training, to help frame what that operational environment needs to look like, how you need to focus your training,” A follow on manual, FM 7-1, Battle Focused Training, will spell out specific tactics, techniques and procedures.
Much of that follow-on product will be web based, Abrams said, a virtual training manual that allows instant updating. It’s a new approach to training that aims to stay ahead of a constantly thinking and adapting enemy who is always studying American troops, looking for any exploitable weakness.