Following his Military Keynote address on November 28, at 2017 I/ITSEC, General David G. Perkins, Commanding General, US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) sat down with Group Editor Marty Kauchak to provide his thoughts on key program and policy developments in the service’s training and education communities. Highlights of the interview are provided below.

During his keynote speech, the TRADOC commander compared the Army training situation from when he first entered the service to today’s environment. In particular, he noted that while Combat Training Centers provide “great training” they are expensive with very high overhead. Further, “you didn’t get a lot of repetitions of it. What happened was we started to kind of replicate that at home station.”

He labeled these pressures as “the tyranny of training”, explaining, “As the overhead of training became so large it ultimately became infrequent and you didn’t get the repetitions even at home station.”

During his post-speech interview, the service four-star general again addressed the tyranny of training, pointing out this current training revolution is bringing high fidelity and high repetitions of tasks to home station, but cautioned “it has to be done in a sustainable manner.” And before leaving this topic, he presented another training mindset which must be countered: “unless we have this exquisite level of fidelity and 28 OPFOR augmentees at the training center, and things like that, the training is not worth doing.” That has become yet another aspect of the tyranny of training, “where we set the bar so high for the cost of overhead, that we also say: unless you can do this it is not worth doing. So, the soldier says, then you just don’t do it.” General Perkins closed out the topic by offering, “One hundred repetitions of ‘good enough’ training is better than one repetition of a perfect solution.”

Multi-Domain Battle Concept and Beyond

On the simulation and training community’s watchlist must be the emerging US Army’s evolving multi-domain battle concept – describing what the service must be able to do to overcome the challenges defined in the Army Operating Concept. The multi-domain battle concept describes how US ground forces, as part of joint and multinational teams, deter adversaries and defeat highly capable peer enemies in the 2025-2040 timeframe. The migration to this new doctrine has major training and education implications for the Army. The service four-star general pointed out that compared to current Army doctrine, the multi-domain battle concept, “from the very beginning defines the battle as multi-domain. Here is the problem. From the very beginning, there’s a cyber part, a space part, a land part, and maritime and air parts. When you start solving those problems you want to solve them so they converge from the beginning – you don’t get separate solutions. We want to provide multiple dilemmas to the enemy. I want to have multiple options throughout the domains that the commander can then synchronize – maneuver through those options – in a converged manner, faster than the enemy can solve them.”

The senior Army commander then emphatically pointed out, that from a command perspective, the traditional lines between training and education “must be blurred” and with good reason. Reflecting on his leadership experience during combat assignments in Iraq, he offered, “That isn’t how life actually happens. And it’s not how war actually happens.” Asked how industry can support this new training paradigm of blurred lines between learning areas, he responded, we need to build into simulators and like devices, a way for the training audience to use critical thinking capability, and adaptation and innovation. “As they become innovative and adaptive, the training device or other product can adjust to that, and actually gives them better success in their training environment.” He then called attention to scenario development, and variables and environments, which can be introduced. “A lot of them are a ‘set piece’. Maybe the first time you went through a scenario the cyber domain was not contested and you were really good. Now, you ‘crank up the rheostat’ and the cyber is the contested environment. The way you solved the problem when it was not contested probably is not the same way as when it was contested. The ability to change the variables and the environment, allow the audience to adapt and innovate, and take that into account, is one of the ways we reward adaptation and innovation.”

Some self-proclaimed futurists who have emerged in this information age have questioned the viability of brick and mortar, traditional, classrooms in future service learning programs. Any shift from classroom-based learning has implications for service investments – from cadres of instructors to technologies enabling training strategies. The TRADOC commander said, “There are some things distributed learning (DL) is good for. There other things it is not useful for. If you want to sit down and talk about leadership techniques, coach-teach mentoring and related topics, it is difficult to do by way of DL.” And while the learner can get through some of the theoreticals and philosophical part, there’s a “hands-on” aspect, and socialization and innovation that occurs in a group dynamic. “And quite honestly the military is a people-intensive sport. Part of a classroom environment, and what it brings to that, is the ability to develop as a unit their ability to learn how to learn – that is one of the more important things. One of the things that separate a good unit from a great unit, is a great unit has learned how to learn,” Perkins added. Learning inside and outside the classroom was termed “a synergistic proposition – not either-or.”

Soldiers operate the Combined Arms Virtual Collective Trainer at the Combined Arms Center
Soldiers operate the Combined Arms Virtual Collective Trainer at the Combined Arms Center – Training Innovation Facility, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Image credit: US Army/Mike Casey.

TRADOC Near-Term Deliverables for Soldiers

TRADOC has an expanding list of deliverables scheduled for distribution to the service in the next several years. As the command has published the new multi-domain battle concept, this October it also released FM 3-0 (Operations Manual), the first effort to achieve the new concept. “What you are going to see from now on is the Synthetic Training Environment evolve. When we say multi-domain, and we’re going to bring in all the domains, cyber and others, that is very difficult to do physically due to scale. You have to do it in a synthetic, virtual or constructive way. The complexity of replicating the urban terrain and other parts of multi-domain battle concept is driving our synthetic training environment. The concept is now changing our training environment.”

The Army’s leadership development strategy is also changing for non-commissioned and commissioned officers. The Army four-star general pointed out “that one of the things service members pay attention to is how to get promoted.” And while soldiers gained expertise and proficiency in their service skills and leadership completing tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, or other theatres of operation, they were missing required education requirements for advancement to the next pay grade. Accordingly, “TRADOC has changed the way we promote non-commissioned officers, which we now call STEP (Select, Train, Educate and Promote). And now you cannot be promoted to your rank until you have completed the TRADOC course for whatever non-commissioned officer professional development is needed. If we don’t institutionalize a continual education process for our non-commissioned officers, in terms of proficiency for what they are doing, but we prepare them for the next level to bring them all the complexity and capability that is out there, then we have not set them up for success. This is a new education paradigm where we have a new level for non-commissioned officer education for our E-8s, our master sergeants, that we didn’t have before.”

The new training environment the Army will include other attributes including both technical skills (patrol training, for instance) as well as “everywhere we go we are going to be putting in the multi-domain battle.” During a rotation to the National Training Center, the training audience will be placed into contested, cyber environments and similar challenges in other domains. Perkins cautioned, “If you don’t protect your network, you will lose your network. The environment of training is becoming multi-domain and we’re developing the capacity virtually and constructively to do that.”

The TRADOC commander further emphasized as the Army advances its multi-domain battle concept, it is closely collaborating with the other US military services as they develop their next generation capability in training. “We have to come at this from a joint, multi-domain perspective. You can’t go after this from a land-, air- or other domain-centric effort. That won’t be quite as obvious to the soldier in the field, but it will pay dividends further down the road.”

Orginally published in Issue 1, 2018 of MS&T. The current commanding general of TRADOC is General Stephen J. Townsend.