RC#30 TOPOFF – Should Eagles Scream?

Invest in preparedness, not prediction…I will never get to know the unknown since, by definition, it is unknown. However, I can always guess how it might affect me, and I should base my decisions around that.”     The Black Swan, Nassem Nicholas Taleb


In  2001, the Defense Science Board investigated what they termed  “a revolution in training.”  

The superb performance of our military in the 1990s was not just a result of technological superiority but equally of TRAINING SUPERIORITY.   Analysis of air, submarine and other combat showed that individuals who survived an engagement in which a kill was achieved were much more likely to win the next one. This had been originally thought to be battlefield Darwinism. But the combat training approach invented some 30 years ago (now 40 years, see  Scream of Eagles – Happy Birthday TOPGUN ) beginning with TOPGUN, showed this can be a function of learning. 

It is possible to train to the “ace” level without bloodshed

But they also noted that while there had certainly been a “Revolution”  (Top Gun, Red Flag, National Training Center {NTC}),  the results had not been appreciated nor expanded to other areas such as for joint warfare training. Indeed, today, there certainly appears to be no awareness of the truly spectacular results by the Department of Homeland Security, nor the public sector in general beyond that related to Maverick and Goose.

In this light, worth considering is a recent story based on remarks by new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the December 2008 Defense Science Board  report Challenges to Military Operations In Support of National Interfaces:   

As governor of Arizona, … Napolitano sent a searing two-page letter to her predecessor as secretary, Michael Chertoff, complaining that a $25 million national exercise in October 2007, which she and 23,000 other federal, state and local emergency workers participated in, was too expensive, too long in planning and ‘too removed from a real-world scenario.’

Now, in her first weeks as head of the Homeland Security Department, Ms. Napolitano has ordered a review of that program and several others, including cybersecurity, a strategy for protecting the border with Canada, and the vulnerability of power plants and other critical infrastructure.

The directives implicitly raise questions about how well the Bush administration prepared the nation’s defenses against a terrorist attack … Her pointed comments on the emergency preparedness exercise, which she repeated last month at her Senate confirmation hearing, offer a glimpse into how Ms. Napolitano may retool one the centerpieces of the Bush administration’s domestic security architecture.

‘If we’re going to be doing these kinds of things, and they are valuable, the underlying philosophy is a good one, but they need to be in my view streamlined,’ Ms. Napolitano told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last month.

Ms. Napolitano’s frustration with the system in place for rehearsing responses to natural disasters and terrorist attacks has struck a chord among state and local emergency managers, many of whom have long complained that the Homeland Security Department and its crisis-response component, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have failed to consult fully with local communities in disaster planning. [For complete article and comments see RC#29]

Training concerns  addressed in regard to the Department of Defense by the December 2008 Defense Science Board  report Challenges to Military Operations In Support of National Interfaces:   

The Department of Defense must change its conceptual approach to homeland defense … (it) can no longer think in terms of the ‘home’ game and the ‘away’ game.  There is only one game. [Vol. II, Part IV, Chapter 13, pg 203]

(and further) … processes to ensure that plans are practiced and capabilities measured against readiness metrics are lacking.  While there are many exercises (possibly too many) the exercises are highly scripted, unconnected to each other, and typically focus on top-down approach (where the supporting organizations are ‘training aids’ to the senior-level players) instead of bottom-up approach (focusing on an integrated and layered response beginning with the initial event). Even the national-level exercises have not been effective… often stopped before the more difficult issues of transfer of command, employment of specialized assets, or unknowns (like public panic) come into play. … More worrisome than the disjointed nature of the exercises is the lack of any process for effectively ‘learning from’ the lessons of these exercises, (or) … no mechanisms to promulgate … to the wider (HLS & HLD) community.  [Vol. II, Part IV, Chapter 16, pg 250]

And what can be said about the future? Does the bottling up of al Qaeda limit significantly our vulnerability to terrorist attack?  This report should give pause for reflection:

Mumbai attackers had hit list of 320 world targets http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/19/mumbai-attacks-list-targets

Lashkar-e-Taiba ringleaders had ambitions well beyond causing mayhem in India, the Guardian has learned – Western intelligence agencies have accessed the computer and email account of Lashkar’s communications chief, Zarar Shah, and found a list of possible targets, only 20 of which were in India.  The plotters behind the Mumbai attack, which left more than 170 people dead, had placed India‘s financial capital on a list of 320 worldwide locations as potential targets for commando-style terror strikes, the Guardian has learned.  It suggests that Lashkar-e-Taiba, the outlawed terror group that planned much of the attack from Pakistan, had ambitions well beyond causing mayhem in India.

Remaining prepared, ready, and vigilant by our military, homeland first responders, private sector, and citizens would seem to still be of some importance.

As worthy of historical reflection, remember that Napoleon’s army was not only great in terms of winning battles, but when his enemy broke and fled the battlefield, his troops pursued relentlessly, bloodily  insuring that there indeed, would not be “another day”  to fight.  Red-teaming  the world right now, what better time to pursue the “far enemy” (us) and destroy his will and confidence to go about in the world than now in our time of immense financial crisis when everything and everybody is focused on pure survival – all running in one direction, our backs to all other aspects of the environment?

Considering current preparation and readiness, there are two key elements missing from most training programs.  First is the notion of dedicated opposing force and second,  the need to include non-scripted decision making situations.   Most training events and drills are based on availability of resources – both human and physical - necessary for the management of, or the consequences of, a specific disaster type.  As stated previously, these mostly pre-scripted drills fail to address crisis development, eliminate the Observation and Orientation stages of the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop by pre-determining their characteristics, thus eliminating uncertainty, and therefore, bypassing the essential element of critical command thinking.

The result: Level of readiness defined as instantaneous ability to respond to a suddenly arising major crisis based on locally available, un-prepositioned and un-mobilized countermeasure resources is either unchanged or decreased due to these flaws built into current philosophy of drills.  Therefore, this approach reduces or negates achievement of performance that our technical superiority promises. 

Resolution suggests a TOPGUN or “combat training center” type approach for homeland security and defense education, training, and exercises.  Elements would include:

  • Highly competent Opposition Force using “enemy” equipment & tactics
  • Objective, no-holds barred feedback so that no longer does first person to blackboard (or Bar) win
  • Expectation of failure in the trained unit AND its commanders
  • Metrics – You can’t know there is a training problem until you have ways to measure proficiency

Development of an HLS/HLD “TOPGUN” will require answering these Questions?

  1. Can the “train to the ace level” concept behind Top Gun, Red Flag, National Training Center at Ft Irwin, i.e. the combat training center or “CTC” concept be applied to hyper complex crisis, worst case  disaster command control learning?
  2. Would “first mission” exposure for operational level decision makers provide value added? (consideration that  given funding constraints, daily normal real world law enforcement, fire response, emergency management, and job rotation, there may be only one opportunity in a three year cycle to expose the candidates. Can one exposure make a difference?  What would be the impact of dynamic simulation interjected into the classroom?
  3. What needs to be included in pre-exercise classroom and simulated command problems to make the learning and training effective? In particular, by who and how are cognitive elements and related decision making in crisis taught?
  4. What kind of research needs to be done in this area?


In closing, based on reports like that on Mumbai and Secretary Napolitano’s concerns, is there a need and a receptive ear for a Scream of Eagles II from the first responder community?

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