Research Brief

The National Training Center (NTC) was established with two purposes in mind: to train units and to disseminate tactical lessons learned throughout the Army. From the outset, the Army accomplished the first goal well, but as early as 1984, senior leaders were concerned that the lessons of success and failure during battles were not being captured. Although the Army had an extensive data-collection system in place, it was not organized to facilitate research, nor was it subject to systematic, quantitative analysis. Thus, many of the "lessons learned" were anecdotal, and it was unclear how broadly they applied.

The Army asked RAND's Arroyo Center to provide more systematic analysis. The result was a project that has spanned more than a decade and that has addressed a variety of topics over its history, ranging from battalion command and control to the employment of specific systems such as mortars and anti-tank missiles.

Arroyo Center at the NTC

Although the NTC's primary goal is to train units, its unique features make it a valuable resource for analyzing and developing doctrine, tactics, and even organizations. These features include electronic instrumentation that tracks and records the progress of battles, a resident opposing force (OPFOR), and skilled teams of observer/controllers (O/Cs). The NTC's sensors and computer system record data on such factors as the position and firing record of each vehicle on the battlefield as well as many other aspects of combat.

Since its inception, the project has focused on systemic problems that significantly influence the outcome of the battle—those that appear broadly across a range of units and missions and whose causes typically lie beyond any single Army unit or organization. The research team normally spends considerable time in the field with the O/Cs and the OPFOR. In addition, researchers review routine databases such as tapes of battle events and Take Home Packages. While suggestive, these sources are frequently inadequate to shed light on causes and solutions—when events occur, where, how often, and under what circumstances. Therefore, more focused field data collection often occurs, typically with the help of NTC staff. Indeed, the staff is normally involved in the development of data-collection cards. The RAND Arroyo field data card has become a common sight at the NTC.

The following synopses of two studies—one on tactical reconnaissance and the other on fratricide—illustrate this research process.

NTC Battle Outcomes by Reconnaissance Status

The Reconnaissance Study

The O/Cs and others noted that battalions were not developing needed intelligence information. The Take Home Packages alluded to the problem but did not provide sufficient data for analysis. Arroyo researchers examined the data from numerous battles, with the results illustrated in the figure.

The data indicate that good reconnaissance is strongly associated with tactical success. As a check to ensure that the results did not simply reflect the fact that good units tend to do everything well, Arroyo researchers also reviewed 36 engagements by the OPFOR, which is widely regarded as proficient in all aspects of battle. If anything, the correlation is even stronger for the OPFOR. For example, every instance of poor reconnaissance status was associated with battle failure. The results enabled the researchers to identify key areas requiring improvement.

  • Blue reconnaissance units (trainee units) often did not develop adequate information about the objective; they failed to locate and describe enemy positions in half the missions. Thus, Blue units tended to run into strong enemy formations and suffered accordingly.
  • Blue forces often did not check routes of approach to determine trafficability. This slowed subsequent movements and led to a loss of synchronization when some units arrived later than planned.
  • Scouts did not avoid the enemy and therefore became engaged in three-fourths of the battles, typically sustaining about 50 percent casualties.
  • Fire planning was undercut by failure to establish observation posts, and artillery observers were seldom tasked to provide reconnaissance information.

Observations such as these contributed to changes in the Army. The study's report, for example, was widely distributed and discussed in the armor and scout communities. The Armor School created a scout platoon leader's course in part because of these results. Doctrinal publications, such as Field Manual FM 17-98, were modified, and both the NTC and Armor School subsequently placed greater emphasis on reconnaissance.

The Fratricide Study

The Persian Gulf War focused considerable attention on the fratricide issue, but the Army has long been interested in the topic. In 1986, the Army asked the Arroyo Center to study the problem at the NTC, where ground-to-ground fratricide had been observed in a number of engagements. Generally, the Take Home Packages indicated what happened but not why. Arroyo therefore undertook painstaking analysis of more than 80 battles, replaying the tapes of every battle during which fratricide was reported and identifying pertinent information such as time of day, tactical situation, and so forth.

The results showed that direct-fire fratricide at NTC occurs fairly infrequently—accounting for 1 to 3 percent of all vehicle kills—and generally does not decisively influence battle outcomes. However, the primary sources of the problem were more revealing.

  • About half of all fratricide vehicle kills occurred when one Blue unit was firing on another, and no OPFOR were in the vicinity.
  • Another third of the fratricides occurred when a unit fired on an isolated but friendly vehicle, again with no OPFOR present.

Both of these problems occurred because Blue units did not know where sister units or their vehicles were. This is a command-and-control problem but not necessarily one that requires a complex combat identification system to solve. In fact, only one-sixth of the cases represented confusion where friendly and enemy vehicles were intermixed, a situation in which identification of individual friends and foes is paramount.

These results led to important conclusions about equipment upgrades. They suggested, for example, that special devices for "identification friend or foe" would be necessary only for a small number of cases. As a result, the Army has not purchased such systems. On the other hand, the results indicated that a system to provide position/ location information would be most helpful, since it would enable units to determine the locations of other units and thus avoid most of the instances of fratricide that were observed. Such a system would also more broadly enhance battlefield command and control.

Implications of Arroyo Center NTC Research

Arroyo Center work has contributed to a number of Army decisions about doctrine, training, and equipment. Arroyo also strives to affect the "grass roots" level. The Army encourages wide distribution of Arroyo reports, and the frequency and diversity of requests for reports suggests widespread interest.

The project has also shown that the NTC database, although "dirty" from a research point of view, can support research. But it can also mislead. The nature of the data underlines the importance of bringing researchers to the NTC. The on-site presence of researchers, knowledgeable in doctrine, training, and quantitative analysis, has proved critical to understanding what the data actually say and what sorts of additional information are needed to fill in the gaps.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research brief series. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work.

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