Opinion: Training for war is not a precise science


…and Josh wrote another op-ed piece…

DSCF2067

Training for war is not a precise science.  By its very nature war is imprecise and unpredictable.  To make matters worse there tends to be an opponent who, in the words of American General George Patton, is trying his hardest to make you die for your country rather than him. Training therefore has to be relevant, intensive and invariably adaptive.

War since 9/11 has become increasingly characterised as being irregular in nature. Modern war has become less about the battles between states and their armies and more about defeating violent non-state groups. Terms and descriptions like peacekeeping missions or stability operations are often an attempt to re-categorise what are actually wars.

As military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz noted,  “The first, the supreme, most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish the kind of war on which they are embarking, neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its true nature.”

While the term war may sit uncomfortably with many citizens, the fact is when bullets and bombs start to fly your way those on the front line have more regard for their survival than concerns for what their mission has been labelled.

The recent media reports about the training and the attitude of New Zealand forces deploying to Afghanistan raises a number of important issues. The fact that a soldier has raised concerns while observing the training of a contingent is actually a good thing. That is exactly the purpose of observing and making expert judgment on training for the contemporary warfare environment.

No doubt there have been training concerns in the past and there will be more in the future. Some may have missed the point that such observations are designed to make the team better, not worse. The response so far has been to put the comments into a wider context of training for Afghanistan, and rightfully so. What will be interesting however, is to see if any follow up by the Defence Force focuses on the message or the messenger.

Training in the military is a system. Those who present themselves for deployment are at the pinnacle of that system. The full suite of training courses and on the job experience they have previously undertaken is ultimately designed for them to deploy and succeed on operations. If things manifest as problems during the final training for operations it is sometimes difficult to recognise or even isolate where in the total system it may have gone astray. 

Attitude is acknowledged as affecting performance. A positive attitude tends to increase performance while a negative attitude can reduce it. Inextricably linked to attitude is confidence. Preparing for a military deployment requires confidence in those being deployed, confidence in the leadership of those deploying, confidence in those charged with providing the training and confidence in the training system itself.

Accepting that war is imprecise, and more irregular these days, it is hardly surprising that the training and attitude for today’s military forces is under immense and constant pressure. Ideally, the force will depart for their mission confident that they are well prepared. To assume that they are ready for anything however, discounts the actuality of unpredictability. There is always a very fine line between sureness and an hubristic approach. 

Having a winning, positive attitude, and implicit trust and conviction in your comrades and the training you have received are what define the profession of arms. While it is good to hear that the training is going well, it is not always a bad thing to hear that it is not. 

Josh Wineera is a teaching fellow at Massey University’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies and is planning to teach a new 200-level paper “Irregular Warfare”in the second semester.

Indicative of the articles referred to above are these:

Training for Army fighters blasted

Officer was ‘too aggressive’

Unfortunately, today’s media has of course selected deliberately inflammatory headlines without either considering or even probably understanding the core underlying issues…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s