Training officers from three NATO countries shared their insights during the “Training Force Modernization Across NATO Nations” panel at the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement’s Land Forces Training conference in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 27.

 

The panel’s moderator was Dr. Jim Blake, former head of U.S. Army Program Executive Office Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. This discussion included German army Maj. Gen. Michael Hochwart, commander of the Army Training Command; Estonian Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Vahur Karus, commandant of the Estonian Military Academy; and Polish army Col. Adam Wloezowski, Military Training Centre for Foreign Operations commander.

 

During the panelists’ initial comments, they described some issues specific to their country, but also noted that their own militaries were facing similar challenges in training, personnel (such as recruitment) and modernization.

 

“There are not big differences in training and simulation between ‘Five Eyes’ nations [referring to a previous panel] and all nations,” Hochwart said. “We’re focusing on the same problems in getting soldiers, first into the army, and then trained on an individual level.”

 

Karus noted how small Estonia was (population of only 1.3 million), and he said that his country would likely further explore innovations like virtual reality training and the Synthetic Training Environment to better manage the training costs and “be more efficient in training our force.”

 

The discussion began with Blake asking about German and Dutch militaries working in a joint force operation, specifically regarding interoperability in bringing equipment and methodologies together to conduct combined operations.

 

“We work together on a divisional level…and training-wise, this works,” Hochwart said. “We have the same methodology of training and almost the same thinking in decision-making. Sometimes it’s hard to overcome technological differences… every country in Europe has their own systems and I think all European countries are too small to have a different system in every sector, but we’re all on the same path [to one system that we can all operate together].”

 

Blake also asked how current events in Europe were affecting modernization plans, and if those current events were influencing ideas on reshaping or reorganizing forces.

 

“It’s easy to buy a weapons system, but the biggest challenge we have is the manpower – if you don’t have people to man the system, it’s useless,” Karus said. “That means we have to draw on our reserves to have people who are trained, and you can’t fall back on the old peacetime system of training two weeks per year. You have to employ them for a long amount of time so they can actually learn to operate the system. That’s why we’re looking into simulations and having systems that take an approach outside the army so soldiers can train themselves. That’s been a big training change, and a change in our attitudes in how we train our units and capabilities.”

 

As the discussion shifted to manpower challenges, Blake inquired about the panelists’ issues they were facing in recruiting.

 

“We face exactly the same problem,” Hochwart said, acknowledging that the German military’s own difficulties in recruiting. “The young generation is more used to sitting on the couch instead of running outside and playing sports, but we can train people as long as they’re trainable. We have to look for everyone who is willing and able to reach a certain standard.”

 

Wloezowski described Poland’s situation as “very changed” since February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine. He went on to say that many Polish young people see the benefits of being a soldier, but Poland was “divided” when it came to recruiting.

 

Many recruits come from the east side of Poland, but he noted recruiting issues with young Poles from the west. According to Wloezowski, many recruits try to stay close to their homes, and it could be difficult to attract new soldiers willing to travel for exercises or missions that are far away. Polish army basic training is only 27 days, and army officials use that time to determine which recruits might have problems meeting service obligations.

 

“We try to reduce the personal weaknesses,” Wloezowski said regarding new soldiers meeting military physical requirements. “For the first six to eight months, new recruits don’t have physical fitness tests. We give them eight months, and after eight months to one year, we start testing them on professional soldier standards.”

 

Estonia has mandatory military service. Hearing about his colleagues’ recruiting difficulties, Karus said he was “in heaven,” explaining that he had 4,000 new people joining every year, which put him in a more comfortable position that allowed him to pick and choose who he wanted to retain as professionals.

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