Science, Art and Command Post Training
The Royal Marines, due to resource, have largely fallen in line with Field Army Collective Training (CT). Collective Training is defined by hierarchical levels, with CT1 being Individual to Small Team training and CT7 Corps level training, and everything else between. We can therefore conclude that the Army defines their training by the number of manoeuvre units, not specifically what their outputs are. Interestingly, the Royal Marines by dint of their employment always operate within a Joint context. This by very definition is a CT5+ level training activity which is reserved for Brigade+ level training, yet the RM seldom conducts training with a Command Post (CP) above CT4 (Battlegroup (BG)). Therefore, unfortunately, RM activity does not neatly align with Army Collective Training levels. This may be a Cold War/WW2 hangover or indeed a HERRICK-ism where Units cycled through within a Brigade construct. However, RM appears to have got stuck in this slipstream and desperately needs to get out. With RM moving towards FCF, small teams will have capabilities across domains and largely be relied upon at the Joint level. As such the RM will be out of kilter with CT levels even more and it must consider how to over come it, if it is to train effectively. This article will layout what it might do.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” Albert Einstein
Numerous Wavell Room articles have, quite rightly, given a damning account of Army Command Post (CP) training. A subjective assessment by Observer Mentor personnel with little credible experience in the area undermines the process and the training value. This is combined with a plethora of nebulous objectives without metrics, which are apathetically assigned in the hundreds, making any tangible benefit negligible. Not only are the exercises flawed in assessment, but also in construct. This amounts to wasted opportunities due to a lack of investment in bespoke and imaginative scenarios; One-dimensional scenarios invariably lead to one-dimensional plans. This is particularly disheartening, as we know that future conflict is unlikely to be tank squadrons/Battle Groups/Brigades advancing over ‘rolling countryside’ reminiscent of Salisbury Plain – with a random insurgency sprinkled in. The DATE scenarios constructed by US Army addresses this somewhat, but the fidelity does not suitably go below formation level and is pitched at conventional warfare. This lack of investment sees our Command Posts fail to think creatively and solve unconventional problems associated with persistent competition; we are a product of the system after all. But why? As a devout institution, we military beasts love process. The Combat Estimate is a proven effective tool, but it is not a dogma. Training audiences within the CP know that they will be assessed on their rigid adherence to procedure, so will theatrically focus on it. Whilst the Combat Estimate (CE) as a procedure is somewhat effective at producing a basic plan, it stifles wider thought and creativity. Box ticking – not just within the CE – has become an endemic problem within the military to ensure we meet ‘the standard’. We must try to vaccinate this virulent disease. We can do this by more imaginative and thoughtful scenarios demanding creativity and deeper training, so that individuals and teams do not use the Combat Estimate as a crutch to safeguard against failure. We must view the CE as a tool to provide some science, but be cognisant that it still lacks the art which creative, battle winning plans produce. Furthermore, the CT Objectives have no objective measure and therefore personnel do not know ‘what good looks like’ and no one is showing them. Therefore, they stick to their only reference, the Combat Estimate box ticking. So, what is needed are better scenarios, thorough training so the science is innately understood and a reference of what good looks like.
War is widely accepted as a ‘human endeavour’. If we add to this the dynamic of ‘war amongst the people’ set out by General Smith, we will ultimately be facing a layer of spontaneity which procedural box ticking will have limited effect on. To take the ever famous Eisenhower quote: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything” we therefore must move away from box ticking procedure to produce a ‘plan’, and instead find methods to think outside the box for solutions to problems, or at least contingency plans (CONPLANs). For example Question 2 of the Combat Estimate fleetingly mentions risk (see Planning and Execution Handbook), but does not allow the practitioner to fully consider and develop it – box ticked, risk done. Likewise, the process doesn’t fully guide the CP to produce CONPLANs for the ‘unknown uknowns’ inherent in human nature. Only with deeper, lateral thought, unconstrained by box ticking will these nuances truly come to the fore. Until people are confident with the process, they will not diverge to explore creativity. This will be the vital ground for success in operations with a human dynamic; all operations.
So what can the RM do?
Field Marshall Slim highlights that ‘flexibility of mind’ is critical in command to account for a constantly changing battlefield. Obviously familiar knowledge of the Combat Estimate will educate personnel to resist using it as a crutch, but instead as a guide to ensure flexibility and stimulate wider thinking. Additionally, more education from an earlier point in all officers and NCOs careers will help to dismiss the fear of failure and embolden them to explore wider thinking – It is not an officer sport! However, specifically for RM, it must revise its Collective Training framework. Fortunately RM cannot currently do it alone and must look to harness the benefits of collaboration. So it must look to its allies training colleges, NATO schools (including SHAPE, Mons) and its Army colleagues (Land Warfare Centre) to offer a broad exposure and instil a greater sense of creativity. It must also be alive to the wider Defence understanding of Collective Training lexicon. The RM must be able to define suitably qualified and experienced personnel/groups akin to the CT Levels, so as to be understood by Whitehall, PJHQ, Ops Directorate etc. However, with RM developing skills and capabilities at the tactical level that will transcend the hierarchical CT levels, the RM need a new design which can still align. The RM should redesign its model to define the levels by ‘complexity across domains’ rather than the number of manoeuvre units. Complexity will be the key to this definition. Slim famously said ‘a Division is the smallest formation that is a complete orchestra of war’. The Future Commando Force concept challenges this notion by delivering an unprecedented level of complexity at a lower level. Arguably, aggregated Coy Groups will have effects commensurate to a Division – although not in volume or frequency – and therefore have complexity akin to >CT6. Using autonomous vehicles, EW, Information Activities, Kinetic Effects (Fires), Ground/Surface Manoeuvre, Air/Aviation and Maritime (plus others(?)) across small, dispersed teams within a Coy Group size will amount to outputs at CT4-5 level and demand comparable levels of Command and Control. According to the current construct, a Coy Group training event would sit at CT2-3 level and likely be planned by the Coy. This would not enlist the resources required to suitably plan and execute the required levels of complexity, and therefore reap the training benefits. Small teams of RM must begin training within a CT5+ level context more regularly, to ensure the right complexity and resources. Importantly, this then shifts the understanding for how Defence employ these small(er) groups.
Finally, we must consider the impact of this complexity on C2. Due to likely operational environments, traditional/conventional Command Posts of a Main, Alternate and Tac will unlikely be commonplace. RM will need to be agile, if in contested, non-permissive environments, or may even need to command at reach. This could replace ‘control’ with ‘coordinate’ and an emphasis on risk and CONPLANs. Therefore, all personnel must be familiar with planning, so they can fully interpret intent and direction to execute mission command. Simply, they must know the science, so they can accomplish what risks and CONPLANs demand: the art. Furthermore, directives may be the only pragmatic means to conduct operations. As such all personnel need to be adept at decentralised planning, particularly within a Joint, multi-domain context, to deliver creative plans. NCOs and Officers will need to be more in tune with not just operational art, but tactical art and an extensive knowledge of capabilities and how they can/should be employed; Warrior Scholar springs to mind. Not least, they must be able to implement this into their planning. Unfortunately, an ICSC(L) (or other) trained Major may not always be at hand to do this. Staff NCOs and Junior Officers step forward…
Unleash the shackles of box ticking through training without fear of failure and revise how RM docks (no pun intended) into CT levels, so the effects can be trained and employed at the right levels, with the right investment. Consequently, CTCRM/Brigade may need a J75 cell to plan and deliver this. The military have seemingly forgotten the balance between science and art, because science is the only factor that can be judged and a perception that the CO/Commander owns the creativity- this is naive. However, only once someone is comfortable with the science can they truly understand and incorporate the art of creativity. Art may be uncertain and with an element of failure attached to it, however, the RM must become comfortable with this, if they are to deliver the goods on complex tasks.
The RM author has experience of working in Army Collective Training Group and has experienced Command Post training across the levels..
If you are still reading, I would suggest you have ideas too. This article was the process of making notes in my phone over a few days/weeks, as ideas popped into my head from my observations and experiences. The article took me only a short time to write. So if you are put off by the perceived amount of extra effort, don’t be. It was minimal. Get writing…
 Field Army Training Directive 2018 p 4-1
 Decisive Action Training Environment – A US Army tool comparable to modern environments
 Field Marshall Slim – Defeat into Victory