Specializing for Land environments
It’s not unusual for a new boss to want to restructure an organization. Not so MGen David Fraser. The new commanding officer of Land Force Doctrine and Training System, the army’s intellectual development and training centre, has little interest in reshaping an institution that successfully put him in the field and has been rapidly adapting lessons from recent missions to improve its tactics, techniques and procedures.
“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it,” he says. “I’m just going to tweak it.”
In fact, what Fraser has in mind is the revitalization of specific skill sets.
“We were successful for a reason,” he says of the system that prepared him for operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan, among others. “We had a great foundation, and that foundation was based on environmental-specific training. Over the past six years, we’ve become expert in counterinsurgency operations, but our expertise came from the fact that we were a general-purpose, combat-capable army. Our intent is to reconstitute that, building on the success of where we are today.”
Over the next two years, the army will reintroduce specialized training – mountain, littoral, airmobile, desert operations and jungle operations – capitalizing on the geography of its regional bases. The plan, developed by the Chief of the Land Staff, initiates “a degree of focus on capabilities that meet the regional characteristics of this country,” Fraser says.
Every soldier will still have to complete foundational training and, yes, winter warfare training. “But on top of that foundation,” Fraser added, “we want the western area to focus on mountain operations and heavy mechanized operations; in central Canada, we’ll focus on desert operations and airmobile, because that is where the new Chinook helicopters will be located; in Quebec, the focus will be on jungle operations and littoral; in Atlantic Canada, we’ll also focus on littoral or amphibious operations. And there will be linkages with the Reserves and with American counterparts where it makes sense to do that.”
The intent, he said, is to make the most of regional assets – geography, equipment and personnel – to enhance the training system. “We live in a resource-constrained world. We’ve got the best people, the best training, the best equipment, but we don’t have a blank cheque. By focusing resources on those specific environments that we need to train, when you add them all up you get a general-purpose, combat-capable army.”
The army’s most pressing priority is the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan while maintaining its high readiness response capability. However, Fraser has begun sowing the seeds for this return to environment-specific training “because it will take 12-18 months for this to get into the system.”
At this point, he does not anticipate the need for new equipment or facilities to deliver such training, but he emphasized the need to vigilantly manage current assets to ensure the army stays relevant in its purchases. His biggest need, he says, is people. “There is more work than we have people, so we’ve got to prioritize the work and manage our people carefully and develop them.”
And although much of the Canadian Forces is waiting on the results of the transformation initiative currently underway, Fraser believes the change in training is not so much an attempt to get ahead of the transformation curve as it is an opportunity to reinforce what is already unfolding.
“We’re acknowledging the realities of a resource constrained world, we’re actually being very pragmatic. In most cases, you never have enough resources and time, but with education and training you can appreciate the risks that you have to manage. The only way you learn that is in the training system. So we need to make our training as realistic as possible, using our resources as best as possible, so that our soldiers can actually operate even when they don’t have all those good things available.”
Fraser, who was appointed commander of LFDTS in December, is doing double duty as commander of 1 Canadian Division, a rapidly deployable joint command and control capacity stood up in October to allow for a comprehensive approach to a range of operations. It may be part of Land Force Command, but 1 Div’s focus is joint and interagency – it even has a civilian policy advisor. It has the capacity to command multinational forces and is intended to be “first out the door for the CF” for humanitarian and other operations.
The broad range of skills required to operate in joint, interagency operations is increasingly reflected in the LFDTS approach to training. Other government departments (OGD) may not be directly involved in environmental-specific training, but the army recognizes that whatever the nature of an operation – littoral, jungle, desert – OGDs will be part of the mission. “We just know that when you look at the environment, you’ve got to have all the players there. That’s now the default,” Fraser says.
That position has evolved from recent experiences in Afghanistan, Haiti and Lebanon, he said, in which rapidly changing conditions and adaptable adversaries have forced changes to occur with increasing speed. As a result, the staff college course has become more sophisticated; civilians have been incorporated into training, and exercises now involve OGDs and other agencies.
Greater use of technology, principally training in synthetic environments, is key to the changing training landscape, he stresses. Though some simulated exercises are army-specific, such as acquiring experience with vehicles, many cut across multiple domains. “We’re training the way we are going to operate,” Fraser says. “For the troops, it’s meaningful and objective-oriented, maximizing the opportunities available to us through technology.”
Fraser commanded the multinational brigade (Regional Command South) in Afghanistan for nine months in 2006 and noted then that “we spend more time talking about non-kinetic objectives than we do about kinetic ones…soldiers must be ready to pull the trigger but, more importantly, they must be able to sit down, pull out the pencil and engage, and act on those projects the village elders want us to do.”
That, too, is reflected in the training and how leaders interact with their people. “In today’s environment, we operate more like a network than the 1812 construct that Napoleon created with the continental staff system. We still have a pyramidal organization, but its more a network that has to be intuitive and collaborative. How do we train for that? I as a general can’t be everywhere; I have to lead from the centre, using various communications systems to send information so that people can do their missions, even if we’re 3000 miles apart. We’re training to that right now. I still issue orders, guidance and direction, but I spend a lot more time listening to privates and corporals. There is a new dialogue being created and it is being incorporated into the training system.”
Counterinsurgency has put a premium on non-kinetic activities such as civil-military and information operations. While those skill sets are not part of the environmental-specific training, Fraser believes an emphasis on broad-based training will help deliver those specific skills when they are required.
“If somebody had told me when I went to Afghanistan to do counterinsurgency and nation building that I would do an opposed assault river crossing, I would have said you’re nuts. But I did one. I applied the training I did 20 years ago to fight a Warsaw Pact nation in a counterinsurgency. The broader the education and training we can give our young soldiers, the better prepared we can make them for the unknown.”