Small Wars Journal

Setting the Training Conditions to Win in a Complex World

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 12:30pm

Setting the Training Conditions to Win in a Complex World

David E. Violand

If you are looking to execute tough, realistic training in preparation for a Combined Training Center rotation or Warfighter exercise, then pay attention!  This article is designed to broaden your knowledge on the Decisive Action Training Environment, helping you understand what it is, what it isn’t, and how it serves Soldiers and leaders to build a baseline of training on a common set of challenging and realistic conditions.  It also introduces ways the Army is leveraging technology to assist that effort; enabling exercise designers to cut costs and save time through the use of capabilities like the Exercise Design Tool and the Information Operations Network.  “But why can’t we just train against conditions for the most likely threat we will face?  Why create a made-up set of conditions in the first place?”  The answer to this most-commonly offered argument is well answered in the preface of the U.S. Army Operating Concept.

“Our future is unknown and unknowable”[i]. This fact sits at the crossroads of the AOC and drives the mandate to develop leaders capable of rapidly adapting to an increasingly complex set of conditions.  Complexity, defined by the unknown and ever-changing environment, is an impetus for elevating training to new heights.  In order to win in a complex world, the Army must train against a complex and dynamic set of Operational Environment (OE) conditions—conditions that capture both the continuities of war and the unfolding changes to the character of war.  These changes include disruptive technologies that are only just emerging on the threshold of impacting that world. 

As the U.S. Army hones its core competencies[ii] over the coming years it cannot afford to build a baseline of learning, nor develop the next generation of Army leaders, against the backdrop of a training scenario focused solely on one particular threat.  The days of practicing air-land battle against a structured “Krasnovian” threat, modelled on well-studied Soviet doctrine and formations, are gone.  Against the span of competing and regional powers, transnational terrorist and criminal organizations that may comprise a threat to U.S. national interests in our unknown future, we cannot simply opt for training against the “threat du jour” and hedge our bets.  We can’t go back to the past, we have to move forward into the future. 

This reality is what drove the creation of the Decisive Action Training Environment, more commonly known as “DATE”.  The DATE is the U.S. Army’s response to the clear need for a set of conditions that can deliver necessary complexity in training.  But DATE is also more; as a composite model of conditions that exist within the real-world environment, DATE offers a breadth of complexities that a single real-world threat actor like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could never provide.  Army training focuses on tasks, conditions and standards.  DATE reinforces this model by capturing all the conditions needed to realistically and effectively challenge any Army task, and cross-walks these conditions with the Mission Essential Task List (METL). 

In professional football parlance, a National Football Conference team might assume that the New England Patriots were the American Football Conference team to beat in the upcoming Super Bowl.  But at the beginning of the season, or even at the outset of the playoffs, that team couldn’t afford to focus solely on preparing to deal with those features that make the New England Patriots what they are.  There are other teams who could upend that strategy.  And while the regular season brings a known, weekly opponent that can and will drive specific preparation and training, superior teams apply this focused training onto a bedrock of basic blocking and tackling that is built up during the preseason. 

So it is with Army training.  In mastering the basic blocking and tackling of our profession, our core METL tasks, it is necessary to have a composite set of conditions that account for the likely environments (away games) and most dangerous aspects of ALL the opponents we might face in the future.  And unlike gridiron-bound football teams, Army units must prepare for future threats that take the field and operate in vastly different and complex formations.  A future conflict need not feature Russian or Chinese state forces to present opponents wielding Russian or Chinese technologies and arms.

By centering on a single region providing a range of geographical features and conditions that provide representative capabilities from current threats and project the evolution of those capabilities into the future, DATE is able to present a full range of potential threat capabilities - truly making the scrimmage harder than the game.  The conditions and actors are based on current conditions and threats.[iii]  Fictitious names and a fictitious scenario-base allow unclassified training that challenges a wide range of tasks.  The DATE already includes the characteristics of the future OE we see emerging in the world around us.  From the increased velocity and momentum of human interaction, to a hybrid threat operating amongst urban populations and capable of achieving technological overmatch and employing weapons of mass destruction, DATE provides capacity to account for what the AOC calls these “harbingers of future conflict.”[iv]

Flexibility of design is a key to this product.  While DATE provides a common foundation of environmental and threat factors, trainers can modify each aspect to tailor training conditions to their commander’s specific training objectives. Think of DATE as the sandwich bar in a delicatessen.  All the necessary ingredients are laid out in full display, but it is up to the customer to create the sandwich that fits their particular appetite.  This flexibility allows units to employ DATE as the basis of scenario development in both institutional and operational training.  From the classroom to the simulation center for a unit warfighting exercise, DATE provides a common baseline of conditions across echelon.

In an increasingly complex world, this delivers a much-needed measure of simplicity and continuity in training.  This continuity is driving many of our Allied partners to consider adopting DATE.  They recognize the benefits of aligning training conditions towards achieving interoperability that reaches beyond ammo and equipment.[v]  And the plausibility of the environment is evident.  As training units cycle through the Army’s Combat Training Centers, where the DATE has been driving training since 2012, the environment they experience is modern and relevant; it could be pulled from front page descriptions of the conflict in Ukraine. 

This plausibility is no fluke.  The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G2 is charged with ensuring that both the DATE and the Opposing Force (OPFOR) elements that replicate the hybrid threat within its context represent the continuities of war that we observe across the globe.  Through the sustained rapid infusion of lessons learned, tactics and techniques from emerging conflicts are acknowledged and if not already accounted for, incorporated into annual revisions.  Equally important for our regionally aligned forces, TRADOC G2 has created Regional Aligned Forces Threat Environments (RAFTE) that modify the DATE to account for regionally-specific conditions found in the Africa or Pacific areas of operation.  Also routinely published are Threat Tactics Reports that focus on areas of burgeoning crisis (e.g.- ISIS, Ukraine) which highlight for exercise developers and trainers where within the DATE those observed conditions can be found. 

DATE is well founded on the bedrock of doctrinal Training Circulars and publications that are available for download and use by exercise designers via the Army’s Training Network[vi].  The TC 7-100 series remains core for exercise design and the hybrid threat, but the Army also recognizes the need to leverage digital tools and emerging technology – living doctrine – to both reach its technologically-savvy junior leaders and to acknowledge the reality of diminishing fiscal resources for training.  The OE Training Support Center is TRADOC G2’s answer to this challenge, adapting rapidly to emerging challenges as they arise and return “ownership of training to commanders by harnessing technology to train faster, better, and more efficiently.”[vii]

The OE Training Support Center serves as the TRADOC G2 operational arm, delivering integrated OE data, products, ISR, social media and cyber-attack emulation in support of unit exercises at all echelons.  The centerpiece of this effort is the Exercise Design Tool (EDT).  The EDT presents planners a living doctrine (automated) tool for designing exercises.  It reduces the time-consuming process of searching for data from past training exercises to develop new training events by making use of a centralized repository of scenarios, orders, graphics and products that are doctrinally correct and easily manipulated.  Among the features facilitated by the EDT are start-of-exercise data, mapping and graphics, storyline synchronization, higher headquarters order production, role player development, and (most importantly) data reuse to facilitate multi-year exercise refinement.  

Another emerging technology that the OE Training Support Center is developing is the Information Operations Network or “ION”.  ION replicates a social media and digital domain environment for use in training.  Since it is housed on closed intra-nets that are unique to each unit exercise and accessed via the web, ION allows the training audience access to a social media environment specifically developed to support their scenario.  While still expanding in terms of capability, ION currently replicates websites, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube content, with Facebook being added in October 2015.

It is being evaluated for integration into the Joint Readiness Training Center’s Leader Training Program as a potential train-up tool for units at home station and will be featured within the replicated environment at October’s Army Warfighting Assessment.[viii]

As noted by the TRADOC Commander in the January-February 2015 issue of Military Review, the EDT is an open source and web-based tool that “enables trainers to build their own exercises to meet specific training objectives without a team of script writers.”[ix]  It provides commanders and staffs with an unprecedented ability to find, reuse, and tailor exercises and training information to reflect the desired operational environment and address unit training objectives.  Readily available via the web to any government member with a Common Access Card[x], the EDT offers game-changing technology that intuitively becomes the primary delivery vehicle for the DATE.  And as with the DATE, the EDT will continue to advance with the pace of technology to ensure that evolutions meet user demand and recognize emerging conditions across the globe.

The future that our Army faces is indeed complex.  The pace of operations continues to create competition for increasingly scarce resources, and drives the need to innovate in how we create, share and reuse conditions against those realities.  The Army cannot afford to create units with differing levels of training accomplishment-we lack the depth to allow for such inconsistencies.  As the future unfolds, the Decisive Action Training Environment, delivered by adaptive technology solutions, such as the Exercise Design Tool, provides the best means of achieving cost-effective, complex and dynamic training that meets the overarching demand of our nation and our Army – to Win in a Complex World.

End Notes

[i] The US Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World (2020-2040); 31 October 2014. Preface, p.iii. Can be accessed via web at

[ii] Note: The AOC expands the Army core competencies to include: shaping the security environment, setting the theater, projecting national power, and executing combined arms maneuver and wide area security, cyber operations and special operations.

[iii] Figure authored by the U.S. Army TRADOC G2, ACE Threats Directorate. Mr. Jon Cleaves, Director.

[iv] Ibid, p.12.

[v] Note: At time of publication, Canada has agreed to adopt the DATE and the United Kingdom is considering adopting the DATE.  Several other countries are contemplating adoption, and the DATE will be the key baseline for the upcoming Army Warfighting Assessment at Fort Bliss in October 2016.

[vi] Note: DATE and the TC 7-100 series can be accessed via ATN with a Common Access Card at

[vii] COL(R) David Paschal and MAJ(R) Alan Gunnerson, Military Review, “The Training Brain Repository-Exercise Design Tool for Home Station Training.” Jan-Feb 2015; pp 62-70. Can be accessed via web at

[viii] Note: ION was employed as a limited use case in support of JRTC rotation 15-09’s Leader Training Program (LTP) from 22 Aug – to 8 Sep 2016.  For more information on both EDT and ION, please visit the OE Training Support Center’s webpage at

[ix] Ibid, p.63.

[x] Note: The Exercise Design Tool can be accessed with a Common Access Card via NIPR at or via SIPR at


About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel David E. Violand is the Executive Officer for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2.  He previously served as the Senior Brigade Intelligence Observer/Controller Trainer at the National Training Center from 2011-2013 and as the Brigade Intelligence Officer for 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division during their deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. He has additional tours in both Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Kosovo (Operation Joint Guardian), and is a graduate of the Naval War College's Maritime Advanced Warfighting School and holds degrees from both the Naval War College (Masters) and the University of Notre Dame (Bachelors).



Wed, 09/23/2015 - 3:26pm

Lots of food for thought in this discussion of DATE. I'm encouraged that the DATE package appears to provide a great deal of flexibility. Few thoughts/concerns:

First, I remain concerned that it will default to an excuse for the CTCs (and home station trainers) to train primarily for CAM and ignore or pay lip service to COIN. It is critical that the Army retain the skills that it purged after Vietnam and recovered at too high a cost in blood and treasure after 2001.

Second, the intranet approach to the social media/information network aspects of contingent operations is encouraging. That said, I worry that instead of being updated and life-cycle-managed as appropriate, the ION will turn into a sibling of the beat up and broken MILES system. I'm also reticent about introducing "cyber-attack emulation" into the context of a CTC rotation; there's <A HREF="">g… scholarship</A> that suggests that "cyber warfare" is better conceptualized as a mix of sabotage, espionage, and subversion, none of which fall within the Army's traditional (or advisable) skill sets to counter. I would also question whether such efforts should fall to brigade level formations, rather than the Army G6 or, more likely, the NSA.

Third, the integration of RAFTE is encouraging. Focusing primarily on Africa and the Pacific is potentially worrisome, even with the augmentation of Threat Tactics Reports. To some degree, this is a bigger issue with how the various state National Guard units are associated with their foreign RAF partners. For example, of the eight states that maintain partnerships in Africa, only two (Utah and Wyoming) maintain relationships in North Africa (Morocco and Tunisia, respectively), and the prospect of American public support to deploy a brigade to assist with security operations in Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Liberia, or Senegal is effectively nil. The same could be said for all seven of the PACOM-affiliated American states and their foreign alignments. America will remain engaged in the USCENTCOM AOR, and that region deserves RAFTE-level attention to the same degree that AFRICOM and PACOM do.

Many thanks to LTC Violand for his contribution, and I hope he'll be in a position to offer updates as the DATE package develops further.


Wed, 09/23/2015 - 4:47am

DATE is promising, especially the amount of granularity it provides scenario designers.

Problems abound, however:

1) There's an inherent friction between the need to train on combined arms maneuver and the scenario granularity within DATE. The more threats which emerge from within the PMESII-PT elements of the OE, the less focused commanders and staffs can be on synchronizing combined arms against near peer conventional threats. It is what it is. Arguing that we can do it all is just chest thumping. And since we have very serious deficiencies within our CAM capabilities, we need honesty, not chest thumping.

2) Commanders, developers of training objectives, and scenario designers are generally clueless on addressing point #1 above. What are the desired correlation of forces and means for a given exercise? Add up the entire threat which planners believe the training audience should address and then calculate the correlation of forces and means. Is the conventional threat at a 3:1 ratio with the training audience? If so, then whatever irregular, asymmetric, or PMESII-PT frictions added to the scenario will just be ignored by the training audience.

3) Will we dare make the conventional threat a 2:1 or less, and increase the threat of the irregular, asymmetric, and PMESII-PT frictions? The commander will likely find a way to simply control or even ignore the other frictions, deal with the conventional threat, and return, if need be, to the other threats after. And regardless, once you abandon the 3:1 you stop forcing commanders and staffs to plan and execute with resource limitations combined arms maneuver. Without the resource limitations inherent in the 3:1 ratio, CAM becomes too easy. Less synchronization involved. Less critical decisions required of the commander.