A response to “The Royal Marines and Mountain Warfare – can we do it better?”
Mne B Buddon
Puzzle Palace’s most recent piece “Mountain Warfare – can we do better?” couldn’t have been published at a better time. We are currently shaping our program building up to Winter Deployment 21 and there are some clear synergies with our thinking and that of the author. The headline item in our preparation will be Exercise Green Claymore 20; our Mountain Operations package.
It’s important to highlight from the outset that we agree to a large extent with many of the assertions made by the author. Fundamentally, we share his concerns that our training in mountainous terrain has been steadily relegated to a simple pre-requisite that must be completed prior to any Norway deployment. Nowhere is this relegation felt more keenly than at Royal Marines Condor where pictures of Operations Corporate (1982) and Jacana (2001) hang proudly in our messes, depicting scenes of hard war-fighting in mountainous terrain around the globe. With lads scrambling amongst the crags of The Two Sisters and complex helo insertions onto high altitude ridges in Eastern Afghanistan, it’s clear to any casual observer that this is no normal fight. Operating in mountainous terrain brings with it a series of unique challenges which unless properly exercised, could rapidly undo even the most professional war fighting outfit. These challenges are neatly articulated in AFM Vol 2 Part 1 (Mountain Operations) and that particular piece of doctrine has heavily influenced the design of Exercise Green Claymore 20.
A point which we found more debatable is the argument centred around the point that the two environments, Mountain and Arctic, are not linked by transferable skills. We believe that they are since many mountainous areas of the world are synonymous with Arctic conditions. Take the Hindu Kush for example, where Arctic like conditions manifest in sub-zero temperatures, deep snow and blizzards; despite being surrounded by dry, arid desert. It is this combination of terrain and elements that sets the conditions for the key frictions felt by formations fighting in this environments. Where routes are inaccessible due to large cumbersome vehicles, reversionary methods of transport such as pack animals might come to the fore… Ex Green Claymore 20 will seek to address these issues in a way that a mandatory pre-Norway package never could. Is packing a Mule for mountain movement really that different to packing a Reindeer for Arctic conditions? Watch this space on that particular point… For now, fear not, the concerns that we share with the author have absolutely been factored into the planning for Exercise Green Claymore 20 which has been deliberately named our Mountain Operationspackage.
Structured similarly to a Cold Weather Warfare Course, Ex Green Claymore 20 will be broken into three phases; 1) Mountain Movement, 2) Intro to Tactics/STA, and 3) FTX. This approach will allow the Unit to progressively develop its individuals from low level individual training in the mountains including navigation and movement through to more complex large scale manoeuvre. Within this structure is a window for what we see as the ‘battle winning idea’ for Ex Green Claymore 20; the STA phase. It is during this phase that all elements of the Unit will be stressed to ensure a that genuine ability to conduct operations in Mountainous terrain is developed. Rather than focussing on low level pre Norway conditioning, this phase will see C2, Fires, Comms and Logistics enablers all being exercised against the unique frictions that the terrain generates. The final tactical exercise will see each element of the Unit coming together to deliver effect against a series objectives nestled deep in the Scottish highlands, in a scenario that could be lifted straight out of the High North.
Amongst some relatively tactical concerns and considerations mentioned above, we feel that there are some more nuanced issues that perhaps the original article could have covered. How, for example, does this issue link to the Future Commando Force? The key aspect that jumps out here is ‘Ruthlessness’. Planning and executing at a relentless place has led arguably to a watering down of core skills. Mountain Training devolving into a pre-requisite for Norway is the example in focus, but there are others. The Future Commando Force will demand that our Commandos become even more multiskilled, and the competition for time to train these skills will become even more fierce. An intelligently designed Operate/Generate cycle (which is protected) will help with this, but we predict that some ruthless prioritisation that needs to take place at the Unit level. Will we have the time to conduct exercises as a pre-requisite to exercises anymore? Probably not. Higher headquarters must also ruthlessly resist the temptation to condense and shorten training in mountainous terrain, and no longer allow it to be viewed as a simple pre-req.
Our Mountain Operations package aims to deliver a step change in the way that we and exercise our ability to fight in Mountainous terrain, which concurrently preparing ourselves for WD21. We will develop those skills that are transferable between environments to ensure that we are well placed to perform when we deploy to the Arctic early next year, but we will also develop our ability to conduct war-fighting in the most challenging circumstances. Follow @45CdoGp on twitter for updates on our progress…