To: Bill Hoagland, Staff Director, Senate Budget Cmte
From: Winslow Wheeler, Senior Defense Analyst, SBC
Date: December 11, 1997
Subject: Report on Staff Trip to Army Training Facilities

>From November 30 to December 5, I traveled with the Committee's Minority
Staff Defense Analyst and an Army escort officer to Fort Irwin, CA and Fort
Polk, LA.  These facilities contain the Army's National Training Center
(NTC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), respectively.  The
NTC and JRTC are field exercise training centers for Army combat units; at
both places brigade sized active duty and reserve component units “rotate”
in for up to 30 days of field exercises against a permanently based
opposition force (OPFOR) trained in variations of former Soviet doctrine.
The OPFOR is intended to replicate the types of forces and tactics that the
US Army might meet in the post-Cold War world.  Forts Irwin and Polk are
not redundant: Irwin specializes in armored (“heavy”) warfare (e.g. Desert
Storm/Iraq); Polk trains “lighter” infantry units (e.g.. Bosnia).

The purpose of this trip by Budget Committee staff was to assess the extent
to which budget resolutions have adequately supported the readiness of Army
combat units and whether Senate Budget Committee assumptions, expressed in
budget resolution materials, regarding readiness and the adequate
allocation of resources to readiness,  have been translated into action by
the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army.

As you will note below, I came away generally favorably impressed with what
the NTC and the JRTC are attempting to do to improve the combat skills of
Army units; however, as also noted below, despite the high volume of
rhetoric in Washington, D.C. about readiness and assurances from the
Department of Defense that any problems that might exist are minor and
isolated, I found evidence of extremely serious Army-wide personnel and
training (i.e. readiness) problems.  The nature of these problems indicate
that readiness resources, at least for the Army, are inadequate.  Given the
stated intention of the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review
(QDR) and the subsequent Defense Reform Initiative (DRI) and, to a lesser
extent, the National Defense Panel (NDP) to extract savings from the
Operations and Maintenance budget to fund growth in the procurement budget,
these problems may worsen.

Improving Combat Skills: Each year, the NTC and JRTC each conduct 10
“rotations” of brigade-sized units (3-5,000 personnel) for armored and
light infantry combat exercises.  These exercises typically involve not
just the specific Army brigade being trained but also can involve Air Force
ground attack and transport aircraft, Marine naval gunfire support teams
and other units to make the exercises “joint” and more representative of
combat.  Most, but not all, weapons are equipped with “MILES”<1> laser
training systems to record weapon “kills.”  Most, but not all, units in the
exercises are instrumented to record movements.  The entire battle is
recorded electronically for after-action learning, and NTC/JRTC
“observer/controllers” accompany virtually all command and maneuver units
of the brigade being trained for the purpose of observing the unit closely
and, most importantly, conducting after action reviews to teach the various
lessons to the units being trained.  It is these after action reviews, and
the “take home” packages these observer/controllers prepare, that form the
heart of the training.  To the extent I was able to observe and judge, this
part of the training is conducted to high professional standards, expertly
administered, and constructively received by the units being trained (which
are typically pretty thoroughly whipped by the very highly skilled --
virtually elite, but low tech equipped -- opposition forces [OPFORs]).

There are, however, some very disturbing “buts.”  These “buts” pertain
mostly, but not entirely, to current DoD or Army programs and policies that
result in inadequate resources and training for the units being trained and
for the training centers themselves.  The problems I observed are the

Decrease in Units Being Trained: Prior to 1990, 14 brigade-sized units were
typically trained each year.  That is now down to 10 “rotations” per year
at both centers.  This should permit each active Army brigade in the US to
conduct one rotation every 18 to 24 months; however, reserve and National
Guard units, which typically -- but not always -- perform at significantly
lower standards and which need the training all the more, are rotated only
about every five years.  Furthermore, at the JRTC for each rotation, only
two of each brigade's three battalions are permitted to come to Ft. Polk
for the field exercises.  Only the commanders of the left-at-home third
battalion are brought in for simulated command post drills.  The soldiers
of these units are deprived of the unique training available, and their
commanders are deprived of the far more realistic field command of live
units under stressful conditions.  (No one I spoke with believed these
simulated command post exercises came close to the value of the live
exercises in the field with troops.)

In short, the operating tempo of both the NTC and JRTC have been reduced to
the point where it is barely adequate for active Army units and is
inadequate for reserve component forces.  At the JRTC, only two-thirds of
the active units being rotated receive adequate training, which should be
judged inadequate.

Army-wide Shortages in Key Personnel: Despite high operating tempos and
work loads, both OPFORs at the NTC and JRTC were described as fully manned,
enjoying high esprit de corps, and having retention rates at least as good
as the rest of the Army, if not better.    For the units rotating into the
NTC and JRTC -- i.e. the Army's combat units; that is to say, the heart and
sole of the Army -- there is a very different story.  I was told the

- units coming to both training centers frequently do not come with many of
their sub-unit commanders; these have frequently been assigned to
peacekeeping missions or other deployments that separate them from their
units.  As a result, sub-units -- from basic squads on up -- do not train
with the commanders that they would go to war with.  When this happens, it
violates a key dictum of readiness and one of the basic points of having
the NTC and the JRTC: the Army should “train just as you go to war.”

- At the NTC, units rotating in typically come with a 60% shortage in
mechanics and a 50% shortage in “mounted” mechanized infantry (in their
Bradley APCs).  These were described as “Army-wide” shortages: they were
demonstrated by virtually all the units coming to the NTC.  These shortages
were described as due to these personnel, especially the mechanics, being
deployed abroad for missions such as Bosnia.    On average, all Army
personnel now spend from 180 to 220 days of each year away from their home
base, and families, on deployments.  This average used to be about 165 days
per year.  According to Army testimony to Congress, the increase in these
deployments is for peacekeeping missions.

At the JRTC, units were described as typically missing 25% of their basic
infantry: mostly junior enlisted personnel with combat military specialties
and mid grade non-commissioned officer (NCO) personnel.  This was described
as a recruiting problem and specifically not because of deployments such as

In actuality, these problems may be worse than indicated here.  I was told
at the NTC that the NCO shortages are often temporarily addressed by
pulling junior NCOs into the unfilled senior and mid level slots to make
more complete units for training purposes.  At the JRTC, because one third
of each brigade's junior enlisted and NCO personnel do not deploy for a
rotation, it is possible that gaps in the units that do deploy are filled
with those that would otherwise stay home.  I was told this is not
occurring; however, I am skeptical that it never happens.

Doctrine and Quality of Training Issues: In the past, before coming to the
NTC, units would typically engage in intensive pre-training, especially at
the full brigade level, to enable them to make the most of the learning
opportunity at the NTC.  This was described as no longer the case.  Units
rotating in now typically have not had the funds needed to perform this
pre-training, and, as a result, may be performing more basic mistakes
during their NTC rotations, thereby missing an opportunity to come in to
the center at a higher proficiency level and, as a result, to leave with an
even higher proficiency level.  It is possible, therefore, that units leave
the training centers at a lower level of proficiency than was the case, for
example, before Desert Storm.  It may be that a second rotation would be
needed to bring units up to that level, but with the reduced numbers of
rotations per year that is not currently possible.

While this was my first visit to the NTC, and I cannot assert that I have
the prior experience with earlier higher coming-in proficiency levels, I
may have observed this kind of problem during my visit.  On the second day
of the visit we were briefed on the plan and tactics of a “hasty” brigade
attack exercise on the NTC OPFOR.  Also in the audience were an Israeli
colonel and general.  The Israeli officers, the NTC officer presenting the
briefing, and myself made the following observations about the brigade
commander's attack plan:

- no reserve to respond to unplanned events or exploit an unforeseen

- the attacking force was evenly divided between both flanks and the
center, thereby depriving the attack of a main focus of effort;

- the terrain made it impossible for any one of the three separate attacks
to support any of the others in the event of need or an opportunity;

- the commander mostly kept himself and his command post 20 kilometers in
the rear, where he could develop no feel for how his attack evolved and
what responses to unforeseen events might be appropriate;

- there was little reconnaissance out before the attack;

- the exercise permitted 36-48 hours to prepare the attack; this was hardly
a “hasty” attack; the Israeli commander thought 2-4 hours to plan would
have been a more appropriate exercise;

- the mission was to occupy land, not destroy the enemy force; if the OPFOR
had been destroyed but the geographic objective not occupied (with minimal
casualties to the attacker) , the exercise would have been judged a
“failure;” if the attacking brigade had had one surviving troop taking the
objective -- with everyone else dead -- the exercise would have been judged
a “success.”

Predictably, the attack failed.  The NTC decided to re-run the exercise in
a few days to permit the brigade commander to learn from his mistakes.  The
Israelis argued that the plan was so deficient that the brigade commander
should not have been permitted to waste money and execute it; the NTC
argued that the purpose of the training is not to “win” but is to learn.  I
found this NTC argument compelling, but it was also unfortunate that the
brigade commander in question did not have the opportunity to learn before
he came to the NTC that a more workable attack plan could result from
better observing certain concepts.

We spent some time talking to the OPFORs at both centers about US
warfighting doctrine. They made the following points:

- Units that observe US doctrine usually do better than units that do not;

- When observing US doctrine, US units are nonetheless predictable;

- US doctrine is not a matter of being innovative or even of controlling
the course of events; instead it is a matter of coordinating forces and
firepower (“synchronization”) against the enemy; the “guts” of training is
to learn how “to keep synchronized over time as the enemy changes the

- the JRTC OPFOR has devised ways to exploit US doctrine; for example by
embracing certain “tenets” (marksmanship, decentralized operations, battle
drill, and field craft); it will fight very “close” to US units to help
negate their firepower advantage, and will exploit weaknesses and inflict
as many casualties as possible in order to emphasize the learning needed
from training center exercises.  Despite the OPFOR's operating at a
substantial numerical and technological disadvantage, they are rather good
at what they do; they rarely lose at either the NTC or the JRTC.

Perhaps, the biggest disappointment to me during this trip was that at both
the NTC and the JRTC, no one was aware that the Army's Training and
Doctrine Command (TRADOC) had visited to observe and learn from the
potential lessons to be learned about US doctrine from the OPFORs and
exercises at the training centers.  This is despite the fact that the Army
field manual FM-100-5 has just been rewritten.  

Obviously, US doctrine has weaknesses that are being successfully exploited
by the highly skilled OPFORs.  I believe that TRADOC's failure to learn
lessons from the Training Centers and the OPFORs evidences a possible
obliviousness to the potential lessons to be learned from external sources.
 I fear this results from an arrogance born of the apparent US success in
Desert Storm: why fix it if you think it's not broken.   It may be that the
TRADOC has put itself into a mental isolation chamber.  If I am right, I
hope our future real enemies have an equally thorough disregard for
adjusting to new circumstances and improving their own performance.
Wishful thinking, however, has not been a particularly successful approach
in the past to saving soldiers lives and guaranteeing success.

Conclusions: The budget indicators from this trip are that the resources
devoted to combat training (readiness) in the Army are barely adequate, at
best, for the active forces and inadequate for the reserves.  Based on what
appear to be future trends in the QDR, DRI, and NDP, this situation is not
likely to improve and is likely to get worse.

The NTC and JRTC provide the US Army with important and needed field
training that improves combat skills and most probably will save US lives
in future conflict; however, the Army does not appear to be making as full
and complete use as it should of these unique facilities for the purpose of
improving combat skills and doctrine.  The Army needs more training at
these centers -- not what I fear will turn out to be less, after existing
readiness budget tensions are allowed to persist and even worsen.