War lessons: small unit leaders need better training.

Author:Jean, Grace
Position:MARINES - Marine Corps' combat training

QUANTICO, Va. -- Marine Corps planners have begun a series of combat experiments designed to sharpen the skills of dismounted troops.

The intent is to better equip and train Marines to fight in small units--platoons and squads--particularly in situations when they have to make tough decisions on the fly.

The experiments are shaped around an emerging concept in the Marine Corps, called "distributed operations. " As it further explores the concept, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is looking at new ways to enhance the capabilities of small units when they are widely dispersed.


"These are skill sets, and in some cases, technologies, but more often tactics, techniques and procedures, that enable them to do better on that battlefield," says Vince Goulding, head of the lab's experiment division.

One major focus of the experiments is how to better prepare dismounted Marines to identify targets accurately and call for fires.

With troops distributed in open areas and out of range of artillery, platoons and squads need the ability to facilitate the delivery of indirect and air-delivered fires, says Capt. Steven "Shaft" Craig, a Huey pilot who flew missions in Afghanistan and served as a forward air controller on the ground in Iraq.

Aircraft are not permitted to drop bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan unless there are joint terminal air controllers on the ground with eyes on the target to help guide them in. But not all units have JTACs, which could be a problem should danger arise for a platoon or squad out on its own.

"There might be times when the survival of a unit might depend on air delivery of fires," says Goulding. "We're going to put a lot more trained eyeballs out there at the squad level to enable the JTACs to better employ air and surface fires in this mature theater."

Craig, program manager for the squad fires experiments, is leading efforts to develop a simulation to train squad leaders on the basics of close air support.

Squad leaders will learn how to designate a target and communicate through the JTAC, says Goulding. "He provides an extended set of eyeballs through that joint terminal air controller."

Capt. Adam Rickenbach, an artilleryman, admits that direct fires will not always be able to support the infantry. Training squad leaders to assist in calling for air support is the way to go, he says.

Capt. Sharif Sokkary, an air officer in the experiment division, agrees. As an aviator responsible for dropping...

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