Ok, maybe this articles headline was primarily a clickbait. As the ever growing, innovative and efficient tactical training industry can only offer better capabilities of development to our armed forces and law enforcement capabilities. Only? A long time ago someone told me that statements containing superlatives should always be looked at twice. So as a person working in the private training industry myself I wanted to play a little mindgame that was like “How could private tactical training harm the effectiveness of MIL/LE units?” and the results were pretty surprising.
INTRODUCING PVT. HOTSHOT
Lets start the mindgames with a young ambitious infantry soldier, lets call him Pvt. Hotshot. Hotshot always wanted more then he learned during basic and infantry training and is eager to enhance his skills. He heard about how private tactical training is always better than military training and takes part in the next best tactical carbine class he finds and luckily, he finds himself in a class teached by a trainer with excellent knowledge and good reputation. The first time in his life he learns shooting not as a part of big, may be to big, unit but as part of a small heterogenous team of interested shooters. After the class his shooting skills rise and all of his comrades and superiors are hugely impressed.
A few years later hotshot is a sergeant, leading his own infantry squad in Alpha platoon and he convinces his platoon leader and some fellow squad leaders to go for another training. This time the class covers small unit tactics, especially CQB. The stuff teached during this class hugely differs from what the Sgt. Hotshot and his comrades did before and the charismatic instructor convince them that the different team sizes, more detailed approach and fancy techniques are the key to the success that many SOF units have.
As Sgt. Hotshot and his comrades are in leading positions now, positions that could also be described as force multipliers they completely restructure the CQB SOPs of their platoon. A few months later the A platoon takes part in a larger combined arms exercise and tries to prove their new CQB skills to the high command. During the debriefing everything doesn’t turn out as the young and ambitious leaders awaited. They took less significant losses when taking a compound, but the whole process took way to much time, which in turn allowed enemy forces to organize a counter assault and also fortify their other positions around the compound. The lower causality count which was caused by the new CQB approach of Alpha platoon didn’t really impress the company- and battalion command as they calculated a higher causality rate in favor of a faster advance like they where used to in the SOPs of the unit, the slower advance also led to an ultimately higher casuality rate in the platoons that were leading the counter assault on the now much stronger fortified positions of the enemy. Luckily this was a training exercise, but as you can see, private tactical training CAN in fact endanger the performance of Mil/LE units.
LAYERS OF WARFARE
But what happened in the last example? Why did a possibly better approach to close quarters battle endanger the security of a whole military operation?
The answer lies in a little understood difference in levels of warfare, the tactical and the strategic level. The tactical level is the level that sergeant Hotshot was able to see, it’s the combined effectiveness of training in a enclosed unit or platoon and from his point of view everything worked fine, as he took the compound and was able to let most of his comrades survive.
But the more important layer of warfare is the strategic levels, it is here where different companies and units become mere figures on the high command’s chess board and the high command wants every figure to work as expected. Alpha platoon was slower than all other platoons and simply didn’t work as desired. It lost, what I call the its strategic footprint.
THE STRATEGIC FOOTPRINT
The strategic footprint describes the operational training, individual behavior and gear that is needed to forfill the unit’s individual role on the battlefield. Changing Tactics, Individual behavior or gear will automatically change the unit’s footprint and so the unit will lose its role on the battlefield. For example, a mountain infantry unit that is constantly training hostage rescue won’t be able to perform as well in mountain warfare as it is supposed to be. Every little change to tactics, gear and individual behaviour can have big changes to the units desired role on the battlefield, so every change has to be done careful and transparent to the high command, which normally means approval. So a good tactical trainer teaching tactics should always ask for an approval by at least the company commander of the attendee.
But why didn’t Sgt. Hotshots earlier endeavors as a Pvt. into the private tactical training world didn’t have such an catastrophic effect on the strategic footprint of the unit. The answer is easy, as a soldier who will spend his free time lifting weights and running in a gym or reading military literature also wont negatively affect his units performance. Purely psychomotoric or cognitive skills can only get better through good training, they are the base of a soldiers individual performance and there is no left and right but only up or down in those. An performance overmatch isn’t possible as he will only earn more points in his PT or shooting tests.
AFFECTIVE SKILLS AND MULTIPLICATORS
Tactics training isn’t marksmanship training and offers many levels of right and wrong that need to be understood and is therefore an so called affective learning skill. A single private who joins a tactics class may pose no danger to the units strategic footprints as he will be stamped as weirdo at best. Things change when the participants are leaders and or multiplicators of their unit, as they can bring much positive change but sooner or later will change the operational/ strategic footprint of the unit which will sooner or later make the unit lose its “combat ready” status.
The combat ready status of a strategic element is the cause of many troubles, like making a units training standard seem outdated to many things soldiers might observe in the private training industry. Which leads us to another topic.
“Private training is always superior to governmental training”
This is another common misconception that is primarily triggered by the impression that private training is always the latest and greatest. Private trainers need to sell their product as they earn their living this way, so they need to make it more attractive.
A benefit of private training is the time that every instructor has for every individual attendee, but what he most likely lacks is the overview of the overall strategic role a certain unit has to play, especially in mixed classes.
In fact, most private training classes have much more brass spent per day and per attendee compared to governmental training, but they often lack things like wider and open ranges beyond the 100m range.
This is often overplayed by the focus on close quarter combat that many private classes have, just look at the focus points that most classes out there have in their training schedules.
Also in governmental training a course mostly takes at least a week to complete, where in the private training industry most classes, even on complex topics are covered in a weekend.
So is private tactical training a bad thing?
No it isn’t in general, as long as it covers the basic psychomotoric and cognitive skills of individual unit members. But private trainers need to be aware that tactical training that goes into affective learning areas and into the SOPs of a certain units can be very dangerous unless it is wanted by the units high command. If sergeant Hotshots superiors wanted to improve or change the tactical footprint of a unit they would book the CQB class directly from the units budget, a thing that happens but happens to rarely.
So this is a double edged sword and the only solution to this problem would be a talk of decision makers in the military and the private training industry. There is also a problem of young leaders in the military doesn’t understanding the balance between tactical and strategic decisions, Sgt. Hotshot didn’t want to cause trouble, he wanted to improve his unit’s performance but he lacked the understanding of why things are the way they are.
There are also things wrong in the governmental training and teaching sections, while commercial teaching is mostly based on modern teaching sciences, military training is based on outdated approaches. So if the military wants to prevent chaos by preventing the wrong SOP going to the wrong units they need a more up-to date teaching system.