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Marines to bridge info gaps in '04 wargame: Olympic Dragon experiment will focus on command and control, on the move.

The Marine Corps is refining plans for a large-scale wargame scheduled for 2004.

In the experiment, called Olympic Dragon, live forces will probe new concepts of operations designed to improve the command and control of Marine units as they disembark and prepare for combat inland. Marine combat planners, for example, will attempt to figure out how the forces should employ advanced over-the-horizon communications technologies in ways that will help bridge the "digital divide" between commanders and troops on the front lines.

The point of the exercise is to shape future training and doctrine for the conduct of what is known in Marine parlance as "ship to objective maneuver." Specifically, the Marines want to enhance their capabilities to plan operations on the move. To make that happen, commanders from various segments of a Marine Expeditionary Unit--air and ground forces--need to be able to share data, in real time, about the status and location of all the MEU elements, as well as robust communications networks, so they can coordinate their efforts.

Spearheading the Olympic Dragon effort is the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, a $40 million organization responsible for planning wargames and for developing and testing new technology.

The lab's commander, Col. Frank A. Panter Jr., said that Olympic Dragon is part of a "transformation roadmap" designed to improve Marine tactics, training and equipment, so they can gain "speed, precision and stealth" in combat operations.

The Corps' new commandant, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, seems enthusiastic about future wargames and the idea of experimenting with new technology, said Panter, who recently briefed Hagee on Olympic Dragon.

The notion of "on the move, over-the-horizon command, control and communications" is at the core of the transformation that the Marines are seeking in future warfare tactics, Panter explained. The end result, he said, would be for every Marine to share a "common operational picture" of the battlefield and to "be able to talk to each other and have operational situational awareness of what everyone is doing.

"If I were going to pick one thing, it's 'command and control,"' Panter said. "How can we get this common operational picture that would benefit all elements of the MAGTF [Marine air ground task force]?"

Shortly after Panter spoke with National Defense, he was on his way to Okinawa, Japan, to visit Marines stationed there. He wants to stay in touch with the "operational forces," Panter said, "to get their opinions on the way ahead for the war-fighting lab."

Future wargames, additionally, will tackle the Navy's new concept of expeditionary strike groups and how they would interact with the Marine air-ground task force.

An expeditionary strike group is a modified, more heavily armed version, of the traditional amphibious ready group. Currently, an amphibious ready group consists of a flat-deck amphibious assault ship and two amphibious cargo ships. Cruisers and destroyers deploy with carrier battle groups.

The ESG would include amphibious ships, a destroyer, cruiser, frigate, attack submarine and a P-3C Orion reconnaissance aircraft.

The Navy potentially could deploy two ESGs, one from each U.S. coast.

Even though the Marine Warfighting Lab is not involved in the ESG experimentation, Panter said, the new concept is being incorporated into lab wargames. He characterized the expeditionary strike group as "an enhancement to force projection of the naval force." However, "Some of the issues that have to be worked out are command related."

During his first month on the job, Panter attended the wide-ranging exercise called Millennium Dragon, held in August at the former George Air Force Base, in the California desert. In urban combat drills, the Marines experienced heavy losses, even though they were employing advanced weapons, sensors and reconnaissance robots.

The lesson from that wargame, said Panter, is that the Marines must continue to shape up their urban warfare skills.

Nevertheless, the plan is not to make Olympic Dragon all about urban warfare tactics, but rather about the entire experience of "ship to objective maneuver," including urban warfare, but primarily the execution of command-and-control functions, on the move. Other priorities for Olympic Dragon are fire support, mine countermeasures and combat-service support. That is not surprising, given Panter's extensive experience as a combat engineer.

"Experimentation should be related to STOM [ship to objective maneuver]," he said. "We've done a lot with urban combat."

Urban combat, however, "is not dropping off the plate. ... But it's part of everything that affects STOM."

Improvements in "situational awareness"--achieved by networking battlefield sensors--will help lower the high level of casualties seen in Millennium Dragon, Panter said. "We have some great sensor technology. But we have to get it into a grid, to give a total picture."

Panter calls the sensor network the "RSTA grid," which stands for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. "Greater situational awareness [via the RSTA grid] will enhance capabilities and reduce casualties," he said. One of the experiments at Olympic Dragon, for instance, will have Marines operate a network of Iridium satellite phones, in order to help achieve a "common tactical picture."

Technology alone, nonetheless, won't solve all the problems, he cautioned. That is why the lab plans to propose new training concepts and facilities for urban warfare.

"We learned that in urban combat, training is very critical," said Panter. Marine studies have shown that, with proper training, casualties from urban combat fall by 15-20 percent.

It should be obvious to anyone who has seen the movie "Black Hawk Down," that the threats associated with urban wars are "not that sophisticated," he said. "You give a guy an AK-47, a cell phone and an RPG [rocket propelled grenade], that's a pretty serious threat."

In recent years, he noted, "A lot of folks thought that pure technology was the answer." In reality, "it's in the training where you get most of the return.

But commanders seeking to train a unit for urban combat often find that the facilities available are not large enough to make the training as effective as fighting in a real city. The urban training sites found today in the United States, for example, cannot support combined-arms experiments for a battalion-size unit.

For the training to be useful, said Panter, "you can't focus on a particular scenario at all times. You have to address the full spectrum of combat."

The exercise at George AFB was a successful training experience, because it's a large complex, with large numbers of buildings and houses, he said. "That is what you need for urban combat training.... If you have a facility with only 20-30 buildings, the Marines will quickly become familiar with what's around it. After a point, it doesn't offer new challenges."

A Marine source said that the Corps is lobbying for the construction of a new urban training facility in Guam, which would be comparable to the one at George, also known as Victorville. George--plagued by asbestos--is being shut down and must undergo environmental remediation. A Marine unit recently was training in Guam, as part of a so-called "squad advanced marksman" program.

Another possibility is a new MOUT (military operations in urban terrain) training site at 29 Palms, Calif., which would be sponsored by the Joint Forces Command.

The Warfighting Lab, said Panter, also is involved in planning and conducting campaign-style wargames known as Title X, because the results often are used to make weapon-buying decisions. The Title X legislation gives each service the authority to train and equip its forces.

"In the last year, we devoted more attention and resources to it," said Panter. During the 1990s, the Marines had cut much of the funding for Title X wargames, and the service was criticized for that. The chief of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. Michael Hanlon, has pushed for the resurgence of Title X wargames, said Panter. "We are raking it more seriously now."

Hanlon also has advocated closer collaboration between the Marine Corps and the Army. "We are in dialogue with them on transformation efforts," Panter said. During Millennium Dragon, Marine units operated in a command-and-control network with an Army Stryker platoon.

"We learned a lot about trying to communicate and share information," he added.

In the short term, Panter wants to fulfill some immediate needs for Marines in the field. During the war in Afghanistan, they realized that they lacked adequate excavating machines to dig fortifications and fighting positions. "It bothers me to still see Marines in this day and age manually digging a fighting hole," said Panter.

The lab has been shopping for Bobcat-style, helicopter-transportable machines that can dig field fortification and fighting positions, as well as equipment to repair runways.

RELATED ARTICLE: Child Soldiers: A Growing Threat to U.S Troops?

In more than 30 wars being fought around the world today, at least 300,000 soldiers are under the age of 18. The budding presence of so-called "child soldiers" should be a concern for U.S. forces as they prepare for future conflicts, said experts.

Child soldiers can be just as effective and dangerous as adult fighters and, in some cases, they can pose an even greater threat than seasoned combatants, because they have grown up fighting wars and are more battle hardened.

These findings were the subject of a June 2002 seminar sponsored by the Marine Corps' in-house think tank, called the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities. The CETO was created two years ago to help Marine Corps leaders prepare for future conflicts in new war-fighting environments.

Experts who participated in the seminar, titled "Child Soldiers: Implications for U.S. Forces," concluded that the United States needs to prepare its military services to tackle issues such as the rules of engagement when troops encounter child fighters and to explore new tactics for combating them.

For U.S. military leaders, "the child soldier issue clearly is an emerging threat," said Col. Frank A. Panter Jr., commander of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, which oversees CEO.

"There is little question that U.S. servicemen will encounter child soldiers sometime in the future," said Panter. "Indeed, this topic is of increasing importance not only for policy makers but, most importantly, for U.S. service members:'

The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan offers a compelling case in point In January 2002, U.S. Special Forces Sgt. Nathan Chapman is reported to have been killed by a 14-year-old Afghan boy. Although this was not confirmed by the Defense Department, the "incident was noteworthy," said the CEO seminar report, published last month.

In September 2000, British special forces rescued a six-man patrol of the Royal Irish Regiment, who had been captured in Sierra Leone by a rogue militia made up almost entirely of children, according to Maj. Jim Gray, a Royal Marine staff officer who participated in the CEO seminar.

The report cited statistics by the United Nations, which estimated that 300,000 boys and girls under the age of 18 are fighting as soldiers, but also serving as spies, informants, couriers and sex-slaves in more than 30 conflicts going on today. Human Rights Watch said the biggest recruiter of child soldiers is Burma, with 70,000 in its ranks, 10-15 percent of whom are younger than 15 years old. African armies that heavily use children include those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

A former child soldier from Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah, told the CEO seminar that commanders often give kids addictive drugs to weaken their inhibitions. "You were always drugged, and you pretty much fought constantly," said Beah. 'And when you were not fighting, you were using drugs."

The CETO report noted that advances in technology are among the "greatest enablers that facilitate the use of child soldiers," Light arms, such as the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, are light enough and relatively easy to handle. "There is no extensive or complicated training necessary to teach children how to fire an AK-47," the report said.

U.S. forces, particularly, need to become more aware of the child-soldier phenomenon, said the report, because fighting against children can create moral dilemmas. "Battles that involve killing children often have a very demoralizing effect on professional combat forces from countries where children are protected and their rights are valued."

Experts at the seminar suggested that U.S. forces consider developing unconventional tactics for engaging forces with child soldiers. Examples include: fighting at a distance and firing for shock, eliminate the recruitment zones, use non-lethal weapons and psychological operations to convince child soldiers to stop fighting.
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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