Senior military officials shared concerns and insights during the panel, “Train While You Fight: Ukraine as a Touchstone for Training in Future Wars,” at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida, Nov. 29.


Aaron Presnall, president of the Jefferson Institute, moderated the discussion. Panel participants included: Caroline Baxter, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for force education and training at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; Celeste Gventer, president of the Defense and Security Cooperation University (DSCU); Ukrainian army Maj. Gen. Serhii Salkutsan, Ukraine’s military representative to NATO; retired German army Brig. Gen. Rolf Wagner, German deputy director of the George C. Marshall Center; U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, deputy director for joint training on the Joint Staff J7; and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, commander of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Moore, Georgia.


The talk focused on addressing how allied nations could build the necessary systems, processes, and relationships to effectively train together in a modern context to prepare for future conflicts, and if necessary while the conflicts are ongoing, using Ukraine as a current reference point.


“Whereas prior revolutions in training have focused on new approaches to combined arms and integrated technologies, those weren’t nearly as complex as what we’re on the cusp of demanding from the joint force,” Baxter said. “To ‘train while we fight’ represents a step change in difficulty that requires much from technology and combined arms, but more so requires a true revolution in our use of time, human cognition and human agency. The challenges around the globe demand that we meet the moment.”


Baxter also stated that the U.S. does not fight alone, “we never have, and we never will,” and that as training capabilities evolved, she asked allies to share their needs and capabilities to better develop shared training requirements and other standards. She also emphasized to industry that a hallmark of the new training “normal,” would require interoperable weapons systems that warfighters can train on easily and jointly.


Gventer began by explicitly stating that her comments on the panel would reflect her personal views, not those of the Defense Department or the DSCU, and said that events in Ukraine have exposed weaknesses in systems and processes facilitating security cooperation, which need to be rectified. She also expressed concern that warfighters were not being prepared fast enough for future challenges. Gventer recommnended that the U.S. should deepen its understanding of what is necessary to strengthen relationships with allies and partners, how to provide the most effective security assistance, and the changes required to the American approach for success in a dynamic, dangerous security environment.


Salkutsan noted the high number of lost Russian lives in its war with Ukraine and the priorities leaders should maintain in wartime decisions and said that “leaders should understand the value of human life as a key criterion of effectiveness in the decision-making process.”


When Presnall asked the panel what they recommended to make progress toward interoperable, multinational training education, Salkutsan noted the importance of the speed of implementation of lessons learned from common activities, and a system of training and education. Rolf said that he’d like see bureaucracy and administrative restrictions lessened in several areas and underscored quality recruiting.


“It’s [important] to find the right women and men to join the [armed] forces because one of our biggest challenges for the future, is to find the right future leaders,” Rolf said.


Vasely emphasized that partnering was key and “relationships matter,” explaining that over the last 20 years, those partnerships were vital in the success U.S. forces had achieved. He expressed concern over losing those relationships as time went on and urged that developing new partnerships was “absolutely critical” going forward.


“Something our adversaries don’t have is reliable partnerships, relationships and alliances that are our ultimate strength in competition, deterrence and combat,” Vasely said. “Second, [we should] incentivize leaders to take appropriate risks in training to build trust and confidence in our future leaders to take those risks and know that they’re able to fail fast and learn.”


When the conversation focused specifically on how to create opportunities for partnerships, Baxter suggested training events involving wargames and tabletop exercises to bring parties together in an unclassified environment. Such training would help build relationships and share perspectives, according to Baxter, who said that anything with the goal of “putting five strangers in a room, who then leave as friends,” would be extremely useful.


Buzzard said that the mindset involving training with partners and allies is important, as well as understanding their experiences in adapting for future conflicts as the character of war changes.


“We want to be in a trench when tanks drive over it, there’s some fear that comes with that – we used to do that… and we’re thinking about how to bring that back,” Buzzard said. “When I was a lieutenant, we dropped high-angle artillery [near soldiers] to condition them on what that looked like, and they knew, ‘If I’m in that, I’m digging, or I’m moving really fast.’ We need that mindset that wants to learn, realizes the opportunities, and shame on us if we don’t learn from it.”


Salkutsan had the final word in the conversation and spoke about efforts to present the war in Ukraine to Russia’s population as a war between traditional Russian values and western values.


“In our system of education and training, we should be fighting for western values,” Salkutsan said. “This is important because on the battlefield, we’re observing the fight between two models of military culture: Soviet-style oppression of warfare and a western type of modern warfare.”

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