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MCoE still targets 'squad' strategy

August 1, 2012

By Vince Little

FORT BENNING, Ga. (Aug. 1, 2012) -- Fort Benning installed a new command team this summer, but strengthening the dismounted tactical small unit remains a top objective at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, the Infantry School's assistant commandant said.

Col. Jay Peterson said leaders continue to sharpen concepts, tactics and techniques in the "Squad: Foundation of the Decisive Force" initiative as the MCoE works to gain overmatch and eliminate the enemy's comparable effectiveness at that level on today's complex battlefield. It's part of the Army of 2020 blueprint.

To get there, planners are taking a "bottom-up" approach, Peterson said, blending leadership, materiel and training to ensure it's never a fair fight and U.S. forces always win.

"We don't want our squads in an equal fight. We want them to have the ability to introduce other capabilities," Peterson said. "Our intent is to make that squad a feared force on the battlefield. … When the enemy sees a squad moving, that enemy will know our Soldiers have a ton of support standing behind them. And it's probably both physically and fiscally stupid for him to engage that squad. That ultimately brings peace, and that's really what we're looking at."

While the Army is eager to connect dismounted squads to the existing communications network used by mounted formations, the MCoE focus has shifted slightly toward boosting basics such as mobility, lethality, survivability and protection, officials said.

As the strategy takes shape, Peterson said costs will be a huge consideration. Leaders must balance analysis, research, and lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq with needs under the new fiscal reality of tighter budgets and funding.

Since tactical small units operate 24/7 in diverse conditions and terrain, the Army has adopted a "squad common optic" that improves night-vision and weapon performance, the colonel said.

"Soldiers are getting better imagery -- they can see whether the enemy is carrying an AK-47 or he's carrying a shovel," he said. "It gives him a better vision of what he sees on the battlefield, and he doesn't have those chance engagements where mistakes can occur."

The Nett Warrior system will allow those nine-man units to maintain better contact with rear elements, Peterson said. Information can be relayed faster to keep all parties updated on evolving situations, grid changes and high-value targets.

"Therefore, this initiative doesn't just improve the squad. It improves the platoon, company, battalion and brigade -- all the way up the chain," he said. "The battlefield of what we trained on prior to 9/11 was very parochial. … The enemy that we trained against was a uniformed enemy, separated from the civilian population. Well, we know that not to be true today.

"Our enemy is going to look like the civilians, live and operate amongst the civilians, and it will use the civilian population as a weapon system against us."

MCoE officials have said the "Squad: Foundation of the Decisive Force" concept incorporates simulation, virtual gaming and immersive learning. It augments live training, saves money and allows for multiple repetitions.

The 197th Infantry Brigade has spearheaded a program called Advanced Situational Awareness Training, aimed at turning Soldiers into battlefield detectors, capable of picking out anomalies before a surprise attack or ambush through behavior profiling skills. The 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, went through ASAT prior to its Afghanistan deployment, and reports indicate the unit is finding improvised explosive devices at a 30 percent higher rate than other units in country, Peterson said.

ASAT falls under the "Squad" initiative's human dimension, which stresses leader development through sharper training. Another dimension is the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness-Performance and Resilience Enhancement Program. Officials said that's led to better outcomes in combat through goal setting, team building, focus, concentration, self-regulation and controlling physiology.

Peterson said efforts to empower the dismounted Infantry squad today will yield long-term benefits for the entire Army.

"We used to analyze by individual systems; now, we're trying to analyze by the effectiveness within the squad," he said. "You will have the smartest, most capable, best-equipped Soldier this country has ever seen. … When you bring it into the complexity of how this enemy and our future enemies are going to operate, the luxury of depending on aircraft, vehicles and naval power might not be there.

"You're going to have to depend on a Soldier to go into that environment and separate the enemy from it -- and destroy his will to fight. That's what this initiative is built around."

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