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DATE Gives U.S. Army Training a Reboot

‘Decisive Action Training Environment’ incorporates lessons learned, guerrilla, joint ops

Apr. 11, 2012 - 12:36PM   |  
By MICHELLE TAN   |   Comments
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The U.S. Army is renewing its focus on the basics of war fighting.

After more than 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Army honed and sharpened its counterinsurgency skills, soldiers can soon expect to spend more time on more comprehensive training to meet a hybrid threat that could span guerrilla, insurgent, criminal and conventional forces all in one environment.

“We’re going to go back and make sure we’re well grounded in the basics and fundamentals of war fighting,” said Brig. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, La. “We’ve been focused and training on fighting out of [combat outposts] and [forward operating bases] because that’s really what we needed to do. We needed to replicate as closely as we can the operational environment that we’re asking these brigade combat teams to go in and operate.”

Called Decisive Action training, these new rotations are already underway at the Army’s combat training centers, and they are designed for units that are not tagged for a specific upcoming deployment.

“In the future, where do we think we’ll be asked to fight?” Chinn said. “I say ‘fight’ because that’s what decisive action is. We’ve got to replicate that environment, just like we did before 2001, where we did full-spectrum operations.”

The new training rotations are part of what the Army calls the Decisive Action Training Environment.

Developed by Training and Doctrine Command’s Intelligence Support Activity, DATE is a notional operational environment that consists of five fictional countries named Ariana, Minaria, Atropia, Donovia and Gorgas.

For some soldiers, DATE and Decisive Action rotations may seem familiar or even appear to be a return to the training conducted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

However, DATE is more complex, said Col. Michael Barbee, director of the combat training center directorate at the Combined Arms Center.

“Pre-9/11, rotations were offense and defense, there was no real effort or focus given to stability operations. We didn’t have a focus on the criminal element,” he said. “Now it’ll be more complex. There are going to be villages they’ll have to engage. There’ll be multinational partners they’ll have to engage. There’ll be intergovernmental agencies they’ll have to engage. Now it’s got a guerrilla force, insurgents and a criminal element, and they may all be working together.”

DATE can be tailored to meet each unit’s training objectives, and it can be used during home-station training, as well as at the combat training centers such as JRTC, Barbee said.

“As a unit goes into the train-and-ready phase of [the Army Force Generation model], they have this operational environment they can use for every training event,” he said.

DATE provides units with information on each fictitious country’s political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and physical environments, and how they relate or interact with one another, Barbee said.

The nations in DATE may be fictional, but the information is based on real-world threats and intelligence analysis, said Mario Hoffmann, civilian director of the TRADOC G-2 training directorate.

The idea is to give commanders a foundation upon which to build their training exercises to meet any threat, whether they’re at home station, one of the combat training centers, and eventually even in the Army’s schoolhouses, Barbee said.

“It’s really for efficiency’s sake and provide that commonality in all the training events,” Barbee said. “A unit that’s anticipating going to go conduct stability operations can use DATE just as a unit that anticipates conducting high-intensity conflict operations. The conditions within it can be manipulated to meet the needs of the units.”

The National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in March wrapped up a Decisive Action rotation with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

During the rotation, the 3rd BCT soldiers experienced their first tank-on-tank, force-on-force training in 10 years, according to an Army news story.

They brought with them their M1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the new Assault Breacher Vehicle.

The soldiers faced cyber threats, enemy helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Their “enemy” had electronic warfare and GPS jamming capabilities, and advanced shoulder-launched munitions.

“We introduced a lot of firsts in this rotation that haven’t happened in almost 10 years,” Hoffmann said. “It definitely was a robust, challenging scenario, but one we think we’re going to face in the future.”

More Decisive Action rotations are planned for the fall, with one at JRTC in October with 2nd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division and 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, and another at NTC in November with 1st BCT, 4th Infantry Division.

Two Decisive Action rotations were scheduled for fiscal 2012; as many as 12 are planned for fiscal 2013, Barbee said.

Each rotation includes a five-day reception, staging, onward movement phase where the BCT arrives at the training center and prepares for the training. This is followed by 14 training days in the maneuver box and a nine-day regeneration period as the BCT clears the training area and returns to its home station.

Plans also call for the training to be applied to the Army’s other combat training centers: the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and the Mission Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

As DATE spreads throughout the force, the goal is to have home station training complement the training conducted at the combat training centers, Barbee said.

Commanders will then use DATE to ensure unit training is “nested” with the high-level collective training conducted at the combat training centers, Barbee said.

“It’s very resource-intensive for a unit at home station to have to design its own exercise,” he said. “[TRADOC] has made sure it’s adaptive enough so a unit, regardless of what they think their mission is going to be, they can tailor it for their needs.”

Staying agile, adaptive

DATE will develop over time, especially as soldiers get more time at home and the Army seeks to keep combat-seasoned troops engaged with tough and realistic training, said an Army official who spoke on background.

“It certainly is a different environment than a lot of these young soldiers have executed in [Iraq and Afghanistan],” the official said. “The good part about it is it incorporates those lessons we as an Army have learned over the last 10 years.”

Over time, as the Army does more Decisive Action rotations, more lessons learned, insights and observations will be added to DATE, Hoffmann said. Those will then give commanders a larger library of training scenarios and training support packages to draw from.

DATE itself — and the five fictitious nations within it — also will continuously be updated as real-world threats evolve and develop, Hoffmann said.

Meanwhile, the combat training centers will continue to provide deploying units with training to prepare them for their upcoming missions, Barbee said.

For example, in fiscal 2013, NTC is scheduled to conduct three counterinsurgency mission rehearsal exercises for deploying units in addition to five Decisive Action rotations, he said.

As deployment demands decrease, the rotations will slowly shift to more Decisive Action rotations, Barbee said. In fiscal 2014, 19 of the 21 scheduled combat training center rotations are scheduled to be Decisive Action training, he said.

With Decisive Action training, BCTs will train on all their essential tasks even if they don’t know where they might be needed next, Chinn said.

“It’s really looking to the future and fighting against what we call a hybrid threat, an enemy that has a lot more capability than they’ve ever had in the past,” he said.


Here are descriptions of the countries the Army portrays in its Decisive Action Training Environment, as described in the handbook:


The region has a long history of warfare; ethnic and religious factionalism; and general political, military and civilian unrest. The Caucasus represents a flashpoint where localized conflict can spill over into widespread unrest or general war.


Description: The area’s second-largest and second-strongest nation militarily.

Resources: Ariana possesses massive oil and gas reserves along the Persian Gulf.

Assets: The Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are key terrain assets.

Military/political status: Ariana’s government is aggressive, capable, revolutionary, and intent on spreading its vision of Islamic governance and the establishment of a new Arianian hegemony throughout the region.


Description: Atropia is vulnerable because of its natural resources and as a result of conflicts over the Artzak region.

Resources: Significant oil and gas reserves in both the northeast and the Caspian Sea.

Assets: The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, one of the most critical infrastructure components in the region, originates near its capital city.

Military/political status: Minaria occupies Atropia’s Artzak region, an area fought over by Atropia and Minaria for over a quarter of a century. More than 95 percent of the Artzak region’s population belongs to the Minarian ethnic group. Refugees displaced from the Artzak dispute amount to over 1 million people. Ariana contains a large internal Atropian ethnic minority and disagrees with Atropia over the delineation of Caspian Sea oil and gas fields. Atropia, a majority Shiite nation, resists Arianian-sponsored attempts to politicize Islam within Atropia.


Description: Gorgas, like Atropia, is a small yet fiercely independent state. It is among the smallest and least economically developed nations in the region.

Resources: Lacks Atropia’s hydrocarbon assets.

Assets: Its Black Sea ports and land border with Kemalia make it a logical pipeline route and regional outlet to the outside world.

Military/political status: It exists in a state of “frozen conflict” with Donovia over Donovian attempts to block Gorgas from NATO and EU membership, as well as Donovian support for Zabzimek and South Ostremek — two breakaway regions formerly part of Gorgas. Like Zabzimek, South Ostremek achieved de facto independence after the 2008 Donovia-Gorgas War, but only Donovia and Nicaragua recognize the new country internationally. A cease-fire and line of separation exist between Gorgas and Zabzimek. A cease-fire also remains in effect between Gorgas and South Ostremek, primarily monitored by Donovian peacekeepers.


Description: Minaria, a small and poor country, neighbors Atropia, Ariana, Gorgas and Kemalia, and also occupies the Artzak region.

Military/political status: Minaria enjoys a strong economic and military relationship with Donovia and a good economic relationship with Ariana. Tensions exist with Atropia over the disputed Artzak region, an Atropian province occupied by ethnic Minarians. Ariana and Minaria’s improved trade relations have created tension with the U.S.


Description: Donovia is a resurgent nation that, prior to the early 1990s, was the region’s dominant political, economic, military, and social player.

Military/political status: Internal turmoil lessened Donovia’s influence from the 1990s to around 2000. Now, riding a wave of higher oil prices, a reinvigorated Donovia seeks to rebuild its prior levels of regional and international influence through a combination of assertive diplomacy and military power. However, the desire for independence among the other states in the region creates friction between them.

Where there could be trouble

The complex interplay among the nations creates a dangerous region with potential fault lines of conflict:

• Ariana threats: Western influence and challenges to regional ambitions.

• Atropia threats: Ariana, Minaria and Donovia; Alliances: Looks to West for support.

• Gorgas threat: Donovia; Alliances: Looks to West for support.

• Minaria threat: Atropia; Alliances: Donovia.

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