By Marine C
15th May 20
Train Right, Fight Relevant: Does Commando Training prepare Marines for a future operating environment?
If you are reading this there is a high likelihood that you have been through the rigours of Commando Training. Anyone alighting the train onto that infamous platform knows the sick feeling of dread and excitement on their first day at CTC. This is the start of our journey into becoming a Royal Marines Commando. Lympstone Commando is a funny place, I like to think of it as the world’s weirdest university campus, just with more weapons and the lecturers can make you run up a hill until you throw up. Yet underneath all the thrashings and the late nights there are forces at work. Day by day the recruits are built upon and learn skills to forge and temper them into a modern day Commando. Everything from shooting, navigation, patrolling, to the most basic of green skill living, such as keeping yourself clean in the field. After the minimum of 32 weeks hard graft, the recruits are passed out of CTC as fully trained Royal Marine Commandos ready for operations. But what is the future operating environment? What will a young Commando face in the conflicts of the future? And most importantly does Commando training prepare Marines for this evolving operating environment? In this article I will attempt to bridge the gap between Commando training and life as a Royal Marine Commando, whose Corps is moving into unknown and untested waters. I will look into the future operating environment and the Corp’s place within it as well as looking at training and its relevance today.
War, and the manner in which it has been fought, is constantly evolving. For Royal Marines, they have gone from being a maritime regiment of foot, acting as naval sharpshooters, and a buffer between the naval ranks and officers, to the famous Commando raids of World War Two. Moving forward it led to the Amphibious operations in the Falklands all the way up to more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the world changes, so do the wars, therefore the Corps must change too. Being able to adapt, over come and improvise is drilled into us in training, it’s the Commando mindset. It is something the Corps prides itself on, being the thinking soldier. In recent years as the Afghanistan conflict has wound down, so to has the focus on counter insurgency and asymmetrical warfare. The gaze of the MOD seems to be moving away from counter insurgency, and shifting its focus onto peer to peer warfare. The threat being well trained, well funded and well equipped nations or potentially non-state actors. In this age of technology it is hard to imagine in a split second what the battle space of the future will look like. Judge Dredd going head to head with the Terminator? Probably not. As technology grows, so does the power and connectivity of countries across the world. Nations such as China, Japan, Mexico and a number of others are becoming ever more prominent as military, economical and technological powers. These concepts combined with growing urbanisation and the projection by the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, that the majority of the worlds population is expected to reside within coastal cities. This presents a complicated and somewhat overwhelming environment for forces to operate in. No longer is it a case of point and shoot, outflanking and winning the high ground. Air space, satellites, remote and automated systems, are just a few of the issues that are present in todays operating environment. Even the smallest of conflicts would present our forces with a very different operating environment from anything we have seen before and these are all considerations that need to be accounted for. The five Cs of the future character conflict have been in commanders situational awareness for a good few years now. Taken directly from TAMs issue 7.0 June 2015-
- “Congested- Operations are likely to be where the people are- in urban environments and the littoral. Physical, cognitive and virtual domains will be increasingly interconnected.
- Cluttered- clutter leads to an inability to distinguish items or events.
- Contested- Adversaries will contest all environments where they seek to deny freedom of manoeuvre.
- Connected- Activity will gravitate towards interconnected nodes. These nodes might be described as key terrain- infrastructure, centres of government, comms hubs and will exist in the physical and virtual domains.
- Constrained- Western legal and societal norms will place constraints on the conduct of ops.”
However along with these points the Commanders and Marines on the ground will need to consider what they are being asked to do and what aspects of the environment they will need to deal with. It is no longer as simple as controlling the skies, sea and ground. Outer Space, cyberspace and electromagnetic space are just as congested, cluttered, contested, connected and constrained as that of the air, sea or land. It will very much be a multi domain operating environment.
This leads us on to something, as Marines we are hearing more and more about, The Future Commando Force. At first we just heard it as a term being thrown around here and there in lectures or briefs, and of course the Nodvine flew off the chain, rumours left, right and Chelsea. Marines will be dressed in full Crye gear, Ops Core helmets, HK416s and a Mk1 Operator Beard. Then we started getting more gen information on the matter. We started hearing about gradual changes in kit, with 40 Commando being the guinea pig, Ops core Helmets actually did materialise. That got our attention. Then we started getting some briefs and lectures from varying officers about the concept. They want to restructure the way we work. Changing 40 Commando and 45 Commando from rotating between Lead Commando and Force Generation Commando, into Littoral Response Groups. What is littoral I hear some of you ask? When I first started hearing it I was none the wiser and had never heard of it before. The online Oxford Dictionary states littoral is an area near or connected to a coast. The idea for the Littoral Response is to have a contingent of Commandos permanently based on Littoral Response Ships, one North and one South. From these specialist strike ships the Commandos will be able to deploy, directly to any littoral region in the world at short notice. Based on the projections for the future operating environment, it is likely that any conflict arising will be within an area reachable by the Future Commando Force.
The RM could also be looking at moving away from conventional infantry orbats, toward mirroring how US SOF structure their teams. This could mean moving from full scale troops down to much smaller specialist Commando teams. This could lead to the RM perhaps taking on some of the burden from UKSF. The best way to describe this would be to compare it to the US Tier system. Tier 1 being SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU) and Delta Force (CAG). Tier 2 being the other SEAL Teams, MARSOC and Green Berets. Comparing that to ourselves Tier 1 being current UKSF, Tier 2 could be FCF’s Littoral Strike groups. In essence, some jobs you need a sledge hammer, some jobs you need a scalpel, we are the Commando dagger in between. Chad I know…
So this brings us onto the question at hand. Does Commando training prepare us for the future operating environment? Lets have a look at training. I’m sure we all remember it differently. Large amounts of time spent fighting in wooded areas and forests (FIWAF), major attention to detail in and out of the field, navigation, survival, marksmanship, CQB, drill, the list goes on. All of which contribute to a high class of Marine passing out of CTCRM. However looking back, once I had passed out I didn’t feel like I was ready for a future Commando Force. I could nav, take part in section attacks and recces, and of course take a good thrashing. But I think many Marines will agree with me, training is not the job. Turning up at unit straight out of Lympstone looking like a rabbit in headlights. I can honestly say I think I learnt just as much if not more in my first year at a unit than I did in training. It’s a completely different environment, you are no longer living in fear of a training team every second of the day. After speaking to a number of different ranks on the subject, some of the feedback I received reflected that maybe the Commando Training curriculum could be changed in order to better a recruits learning capability. The idea being, that most recruits are too sleep deprived and worried about being caught out by the training team that they cannot focus on learning the essential skills of a Commando properly. One suggestion was that we should liken training more towards the Navy SEALs style. At the start of SEAL training they are sent to the Navy Special Warfare Prep School in Illinois, for a basic naval foundation course, kind of the equivalent of the Royal Navy’s initial 10 weeks at HMS Raleigh. Following on from this they have an extended stay in Hell or more commonly known as BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL School). This develops their physical, mental and leadership skills over an extended period of time whilst teaching them the basic skills of being a soldier. It is essentially a thrash phase and at the end of it you have highly committed, mentally and physically strong individuals. Once this phase is completed the thrashings stop, and its immediately a learning environment for SEAL Qualification Training, basically their Phase 3 or Commando phase. Yes when you don that green belt at the end of Phase 1 and the Training Teams ease off a little you’re still constantly thinking, “S***, did I dust the edges of the door frame this morning?”. Taking away that fear and giving recruits proper big boy’s rules could produce a more well rounded recruit. An important point for this argument is that this is not making training easier or lowering standards in any way its just a different way to skin the cat.
This also begs the question does the content of training need to be changed? No doubt CTCRM has produced one of the best, if not THE best amphibious fighting force in the world. But is there a bit of wiggle room for change in order to better prepare us for the future? Do we really need to spend a whole week of precious training at HMS Raleigh learning how to fight a fire in a ships galley? Could this not be a tick in the box that we do after pass out and replace other such weeks, with more relevant training? CQB should be as much our bread and butter as fighting in wooded areas, if not more so, based on the worlds population demographics. Drill. We understand the traditional need for it and it instils standards and discipline but lets face it, nobody joins the Corps to march. Commando Training Wing (CTW) could cut 3 hour drill periods in Phase 2 and replacing them with remedial navigation or comms skills. Maybe we could do more on learning about the multi domain battle space and our role within it. Keep Drill for Phase 1 and Kings Squad. These kind of decisions are obviously miles above my pay grade, but its food for thought for all ranks, whether its CGRM, to Corporals on Training Teams to the greenest of Sprogs still rough from his Kings Squad piss up.
Obviously much of the training conducted at CTC is mandated by the Royal Navy or MOD. Should training be longer in order to equip Marines better for their future roles? Now extending the longest military basic training course in NATO may seem excessive. Maybe the Corps could look into a continuation phase. Utilize 43 Commando’s need for manpower. Once a Marine has passed out of CTCRM they are sent to 43 Commando for a Continuation Phase while also contributing to the Unit’s Operational Output. While at 43 along side the operations, a Marine could undergo extensive training in CQB, intelligence, comms, heavy weapons, medical and other such areas. Having this Continuation Phase would mean the CTC Training regime could remain relatively unchanged. It would also allow CTC to tick the boxes mandated by the MOD.
I think we could all agree that there is some room for change in how we are trained. But it does offer a problem, where do we draw the line with changing something proven effective. An extreme and outlandish argument being, does a future Commando need to be able to run 30 miles in kit. Obviously the Commando Tests will never be taken out of training. These tests are a rite of passage for every Royal Marine since the Second World War. These tests allow the Royal Marines to demonstrate each of the Commando Qualities: Courage, Determination, Unselfishness and Cheerfulness in the face of Adversity. As Royal Marine Commandos we have a long and prestigious history, with many traditions, much of which are mirrored in our training today. If there is change to happen to training, it needs to be carefully monitored and kept relevant to our future tasks. CTW will need to keep a delicate balance between evolving as an Amphibious Strike Force and keeping the RM standards and tests the same. It is these standards that have developed the RM identity and made the Corps one of the most respected fighting units in the world. As the environment we will be operating in changes, the Corps will need to approach it with the famous Commando mindset. “Be the first to understand, the first to adapt and respond; and the first to overcome.”
- Royal Navy, Strike Warfare Vol 2.1 (October 2016)
- MOD Future Force Concept, Joint Concept Note 1/17 (July 2017)
- Royal Navy Future operating Environment
All of the above makes good sense I also believe parachute training should also be included this allows getting RMC
Behind enemy lines ASAP
They need to be prepared for anything and everything
I found this article thought provoking, but it left me with the old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” and I don’t believe it is broke. I went through basic training in 1967/68 at Deal and CTC, when the period of training was a bit longer, but it was always known and understood that having passed out you were still far from the finished article. On joining a Commando Unit the process of training continued and never finished. For instance there was the matter of different environmental arenas, jungle warfare, artic warfare, none of which could be covered in basic recruit training and so would have to be experienced in a Unit. I still enjoy visits to Lympstone for reunions and the like and always pay attention to recruits there at the time. I’m not one to say “we were better in my time” by any means. I believe that today’s recruit is every bit as good if not better than we were, so I would advise very careful consideration before making any significant changes. It’s usually impossible to go back once changes are made even if they are realised to have been a mistake.
It’s interesting that many of the observations raised in this article about some of the shortcomings of recruit training are in direct opposition to my experiences of RMYO training back in 2002-03. Things like ‘taking the pressure off’ after Phase 1 to allow YOs the time and space to ‘learn’ rather than constantly watching their backs (not that ‘expect the unexpected’ ever went away!).
Conversely, my experiences as a Platoon Commander at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst teaching Army officer cadets raised frustrations for me that chime with those of the author of this article. Officer cadets were not trusted by their training team (trust was not in the Sandhurst culture in my opinion) yet these were men & women who would be leading soldiers shortly after… Furthermore, at that time officer cadets joined Sandhurst not knowing which part of the Army they were joining so rather than focusing on learning the skills & tactics that I was teaching them, the focus was on ‘Gunner drinks’, ‘Sapper barbecues’ and ‘Cavalry polo’. Essentially the Regular Commissioning Course was a 44-week job interview rather than training course.
Recruit training has to be about achieving a number of outcomes. First and foremost is inculcating the Royal Marines organisational culture since this is what sets different military organisations apart – our mindset, the way we think comes from this cultural heritage.
In my sixteen or so years in the Corps (retired in Sep 18) I served 3 jobs attached to the Army (the appointers clearly didn’t like me!). In those 3 roles it was plain what set the Corps apart from Army officers, Army soldiers and Army units. For us this is about independent, thinking, highly skilled, highly motivated and capable individuals that form high performing teams. It’s about trust and support between individuals, something that I never quite felt was there in the Army (other than those Army Commandos that I have worked with over the years). So, are those unique qualities those of Royal Marines, or Commandos? Or have the lines between the two become so blurred over the last 80 years that you can’t separate the two? Either way isn’t that what is most precious to us with a view to the future and what CTC must continue to focus on delivering in its outputs?
The skills required and the level/depth to those skills will need to be modernised but the cultural significant must not be underestimated. In my opinion, more understanding about the significance of information, how to access it, how to exploit it and then how to act on it is the key tenet for realising the benefit of the commando mindset).
Weapon training, marksmanship, physical and mental robustness all play second fiddle to putting the Commando team in the right place at the right time ‘armed’ with the right information to achieve the appropriate outcome or objective. Those traditional skills must be taught & nurtured alongside being able to look after your equipment and yourself in challenging environments but all the while the Commando brain has to be ‘processing’ the situation, understanding their commander’s intent and working out the best way to achieve the required endstate (whether in camp or on deployments).
This horrible computer-generated voice is as uninspiring as I have ever heard get a real guy not some logarithm. Basic training and ongoing in theatre experiences are the basics the RM is adaptable and he should stay that way. Once when I was being walked through a TEWT with then Col. Julian Thompson he was asked “why are we doing this yomping and section attacks across rough ground surely it’s out of date” a year later we were slogging away across The Falklands. Don’t quote the Americans they haven’t got the core strengths the RM does. It’s that core that must continue never mind what the future throws at the Corps