How Companies Perform at the National Training Center

by Bryan W. Hallmark

Research Brief

One of the most crucial elements influencing the outcome of battles for tank and mechanized maneuver companies is how well they execute direct fires. Successful direct fire engagements result from more than the skill of the individual crews. The company commander plays a vital role as well, synchronizing the operation of a company team (a task-organized formation with diverse elements from different units). He has to visualize the battlefield and locate his unit so that it is in a position to detect and decisively engage the enemy while ensuring that his unit avoids detection. The Army leadership has voiced concern about how well companies and company commanders are performing these critical tasks and asked RAND's Arroyo Center to study the issue.

In response, Arroyo Center researchers examined the performance of tank and Bradley companies during a year of training rotations at the National Training Center (NTC) at Fort Irwin, California. Data were drawn from approximately 330 battles involving 74 companies. The researchers designed a data-collection instrument for the observer/controllers (O/Cs) who accompany the units undergoing training, and they augmented these data with first-hand observations and interviews of company commanders, O/Cs, and others involved in the training process.

How Date Were Collected

Collecting analytically sound data at the NTC poses a substantial challenge, but the Arroyo Center has been conducting research at the NTC for over a decade and has developed procedures that facilitate rigorous quantitative analysis. A central feature of this research is the use of data-collection cards that are designed cooperatively by RAND and the O/Cs and are filled out by the O/Cs after each battle. These cards are designed to collect specific information on the topic being studied. An example of a portion of a data card appears in Figure 1. In this example, the O/C would score the specific activity between 1 and 5. The same items are scored across all units and all battles, permitting statistically valid quantitative comparisons.

Figure 1. Example of Observer/Controller Data Card

O/C Company Direct Fire Data Card
Rotation _____    Training Day __________    O/C _______________    Mission ______________________
Rating: 1 = Not done    2 = Inadequate    3 = Moderately adequate     4 = Adequate    5 = Superior
METT-T integrated with the direct fire plan? 1 2 3 4 5
Actions on contact based on terrain, enemy, and mission? 1 2 3 4 5
Commander directed fires because of changes in METT-T? 1 2 3 4 5
Do platoons work well together (e.g., synchronization)? 1 2 3 4 5
Overall, how well were direct fires executed? 1 2 3 4 5
[ . . . other items . . . ]

How Companies Perform

The analysis led to four conclusions. First, the companies perform basic planning activities adequately, but not complex ones. Most company commanders have basic planning skills. For example, they can prepare complete, timely, and clear operations orders. Furthermore, their units disseminate information during the operation and position themselves where they can see the battlefield and survive. However, most companies are not good at more complex planning activities. For example, they have difficulty in visualizing how the battle will develop and in managing preparation time. Commanders often do not integrate terrain, enemy, and friendly factors into an effective plan, nor do they respond well to enemy fire and maneuver.

Second, companies plan better than they execute. Half of the companies prepared an effective plan, but only about one-third carried out that plan effectively and accomplished the mission. Commanders may plan such things as the use of terrain and fire control measures, but in the execution phase they do not employ them well.

Third, they move and position better than they control direct fires. During the planning and preparation phase, most companies plan how to use terrain, but they do not do nearly as well at planning direct fire. Execution mirrors the planning. Companies are adequate at movement and positioning but poor at tasks associated with direct fire control. Only 25 percent of the companies (sometimes less, depending on the specific task) perform adequately in controlling direct fires.

Figure 2. Improvement During NTC Battles

Fourth, during the execution phase of a battle, many important activities are simply not done or, if done, are not done adequately by most companies. In three of the most significant outcomes—direct fire execution, plan execution, and mission accomplishment—the highest proportion of companies performing adequately is 37 percent. However, units did improve at many tasks during the rotation, as illustrated by Figure 2. The left portion of each bar shows the average score units achieved during the first battle, and the right portion shows the amount by which they improved between the first and later battles. The chance to practice in successive battles helps units improve in many types of tasks, both planning and execution; overall these units improved in 32 of the 44 individual items scored.

Recommendations

The Arroyo Center analysis suggested several ways to get a better payoff from the Army's scarce NTC resources. The first is to improve pre-NTC training. Units that arrived at NTC with better preparation would be much better positioned to take advantage of the NTC's unique training opportunities. In interviews precipitated by these results, expert Army trainers pointed to home station leader and collective unit training as the areas most in need of improvement. A key recommendation was to develop a more structured program to train commanders how to carry out effective home station training. Other suggested improvements include more specific doctrine in fire control and battle visualization and improving the use of simulations so commanders can develop advanced technical skills.

Research conducted by

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