by Kevin Wang and HengLiang Wu
Combat results in the last decade indicate that an appropriate amount of time should be made available for combined arms training, especially for those who do not have experience in this regard. As the recent Nagorno-Karabakh War has demonstrated, combined arms operations under good execution are always more effective than single arm operations.
Yet, with only one night per week and one weekend per month, scheduled training time is very limited for Reserve officers. Therefore, planning, coordinating, and executing capabilities should be the training aim of Reserve officers.
In the post-war years, the lethality of combined arms operations has rapidly increased with the improving accuracy and power of modern weaponry. Examples in the Gulf War have shown that, when aerial protection is not guaranteed, all that is required to eliminate battalions of tanks are a handful of helicopters and fixed-winged aircraft. Of course, the concept of combined arms operations is not constrained to land warfare. The losses of HMS Coventry and HMS Sheffield in the Falkland’s War show that it is much the same at sea. Both ships were capable destroyers on radar picket duty when sunk at exposed positions. The failure of continuous air cover on the part of the British task force gave the Argentines opportunities to sink the ships, leading to tragic consequences.
These examples show that mastery of combined arms is no less important than competency at individual stations. It is imperative that the idea is well understood at every level of command.
The mastery of the combined arms principle has expanded as new domains of warfare have come into effect, from cyberwarfare to space-based intelligence capabilities. These have imposed higher demands on the command staff to process increased amounts of intelligence and to coordinate operations in each domain.
There should be no illusions: The learning curve to meet this demand is steep and requires continuous effort over sufficient time to develop the necessary skill. Training with regards to these capabilities is largely neglected for Reservists and could prove fatal in a war against a structured and well-armed enemy.
Modern combat requires fast responses, and the responsibilities of coordination and initiative are transferred to some extent from a centralized command to each component unit. This means the regimental commanding officer cannot be the only person with the skillset to coordinate operations among friendly assets – every officer should be able to do so.
We believe that the introduction of regular joint exercises between local Reserve units and the development of a battlespace simulation software intended for Reservists’ use can remedy the current training deficiency. For instance, combat and support units based around Vancouver, including the Seaforth Highlanders, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, the British Columbia Regiment, the 39th Signal Regiment and the 39th Service Battalion can organize a joint exercise once a year to test their interoperability. If possible, involvement of air and naval assets would increase the realism of the exercise. In essence, Reserve units should be encouraged to hold their own “mini-Exercise Maple Resolve.”
On the other hand, the battlespace simulation software developed should support map-based wargaming of hypothetical scenarios and hence provide proof of concept and theoretical backing for combined arms exercise plans. The simulation process could include optional battle domains, such as electronic warfare, that are not normally explored. Some commercial options provide good starting points, such as Command Modern Operations on Steam.
Reservists will command units in the form of operation debriefs and the training software should include weapon systems available to the CAF. The simulation should be run by two opposing teams while requiring very few or no umpires.
It is imperative that before engaging in a battlespace simulation, teams prepare staff plans encompassing as much detail as possible. The goals of battlespace simulations are to develop in Reservists the ability to “foresee” the progression of an operation and to learn potential shortcomings at the planning stage which could cause mission failure.
The first goal is supportive of regular field exercises. It should be expected that eventually Reservists will be able to visualize the battlespace given limited intelligence and to make appropriate adjustments accordingly in real time in a field operation.
The second goal is integral to the training to staff officers whose responsibility is to ensure mission success by planning and elimination of variables and threats. The simulation can provide experience in the training regime.
The above two additions to training should be sufficient to enhance understanding and execution of the combined arms concept among Reserve officers.
As the Canadian Armed Forces struggles to maintain its current strength while preparing for the next generation of warfare, Reservists will be expected to be as competent as Regular Force members. Their interoperability should hence be guaranteed by advanced combined arms simulation and exercise experience. Only in this way can the combat effectiveness of the force be maintained.
Kevin Wang is studying at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom. HengLiang Wu is studying at Western University.