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20 May 2014

ITEC 2014: Constructive Training in Germany

Almost as fareast you can go in Germany before you enter Poland lies Dresden, a city with a rich and sometimes tragic history, reflecting its close involvement in conflict in this strategically important area of Europe for hundreds of years, culminating in its bitter experiences in the Second World War. It is also a city with a long and proud tradition of providing military education and training.

There has been a military school on the site on what was once the Albertstadt Barracks in Dresden since 1692, when the Cadet Corps of the Kingdom of Saxony was established. Since 1998 the site has been home to Germany’s Offizierschule des Heeres (Army Officer School) and the facility has now been renamed the Graf-Stauffenberg Barracks. In this guise, the school uses state-of-the-art technology to educate, train and hone the skills of up to 3,500 students per year – from new officer candidates for the Bundeswehr to their counterparts from a sometimes surprising collection of foreign countries, ranging from the immediately obvious – such as France – to those somewhat less intuitive, such as Afghanistan, Korea, Thailand and Mongolia.

Students arriving at Graf-Stauffenberg Barracks are entering on an academic and military journey that will carry them through the first five and a half years of their careers. A six month period of basic training is followed by the first of two intensive three month Officer Courses – which sandwich a period of four years in which they attend one of the Bundeswehr’s two military universities (in Hamburg and Munich) during which they obtain an academic degree. On the officer courses, however, a great deal of their time is spent learning the basics of tactics and battlefield leadership, using a constructive simulation system that has now been in service, in gradually evolving form, for almost twenty years.

GESI – a constructive simulation toolkit developed by CAE as long ago as 1994 in its initial format – and developed at that time primarily for the Germany Army’s requirement – offers the user a sophisticated and effects-oriented suite of capabilities to simulate ground combat at levels ranging from platoon and company to brigade and even division. The majority of the focus in the Dresden school’s use of the system, however – the system being known as SIRA in Bundeswehr service – is on training students at battalion and even regimental level. And in this lies the first of several surprises revealed during an eventful and illuminating recent visit to Dresden, in company with senior executives from CAE.

Providing a training environment for a brand new recruit – one with no knowledge of the techniques, tactics and procedures of modern warfare and who has no experience of leadership – that exposes him to the decision-making process of commanders two or more levels above that in which he will first operate – may be seen as counterintuitive by some, who see the traditional methodology of providing experience at the squad and platoon level before ‘graduating’ the student to company and then battalion or regimental-scaled operations as being a logical and proven approach. Oberstleutnant Gonnermann, however, the deputy commander of the SIRA facility in Dresden, explains the rationale for this approach.

It is a fundamental philosophy of the German Army that we train our officers, initially, at two levels of command above their natural position. This provides us with the ability to educate the students in decision-making processes and command procedures for senior levels of command that will then inform and illuminate the lessons they learn later as platoon commanders,” he pointed out. There is a strong argument that this approach, which takes the ‘end game’ desired result into account from the very beginning of the training process, is far more effective than a traditional linear approach to training. And the proof of the pudding, perhaps, lies in the fact that it obviously works.

In order to be effective, GESI has to provide a wide variety of complex, multi-layered functions to a user community of operators that support and empower the actions, decisions and battle plans of the student teams being trained. Much of the complexity of the system is hidden from the user, with relatively intuitive menu-driven operation and an immediately engaging Graphic User Interface facilitating its easy operation. Nevertheless, a choice made by the Bundeswehr in the way it selects its operators may at first seem to be a surprising one. Instead of having the instructor cadre operate the system for each of the classroom based exercises – which are on the class agenda for at least three or four days a week during a significant part of both the three month officer courses – it is students themselves who act as the system operators.

 Eyebrows may be raised at such a seemingly radical departure from established practice. But there is an unassailable logic to it that becomes obvious once the Bundeswehr’s philosophy is taken into account. Oberstleutnant Gonnermann explains that one of the underlying principles of command and staff training at Dresden is “to ensure that everybody understands the training objective, and the process through which the objective is achieved.” Making the students themselves manage the system, therefore, as well as choosing the Exercise Director and support staff from among the trainees, facilitates a major step forward in engendering that level of understanding. The added benefit, of course, is that as officers proceed through their careers and have more and more cause to resort to SIRA as an effective command and staff training tool, they will already have an intimate knowledge of the capabilities of the tool. There is a strong argument that this provides for a better informed community of trainees at all ranks, since knowledge of system capabilities must surely inform training scenario design as well as ensuring maximum effective return from the investment the Bundeswehr has made in the system.

That investment is not inconsiderable. Since 1994 the system has been installed in multiple locations in Germany, with at least four further major sites operating the system for training operational units. CAE has continued to enhance, upgrade and improve the system, adding capabilities that now enable other agencies, such as the Academy for Crisis Management, to make similar use of nthe system for training ‘officers’ in command and leadership techniques. The so-called GESI smart iteration, developed between 2006 and 2011, provided for the system to be used in Operations Other Than War and the current product improvement process, which continues beyond this year, will enhance system capabilities and flexibility even further.

The evolution of GESI and the implementation of the SIRA system by the Bundeswehr reveals a strong and intimate relationship between developer and user that is a benchmark for the way in which training continues to evolve. The users at Dresden are obviously strong supporters of the way in which GESI has made their training more effective – and CAE has leveraged the experience with its initial customer to successfully address sales opportunities in several other countries, including Austria, Finland, Norway, Ireland, Italy and, most recently, Poland, where GESI is now installed at the Wroclaw military academy.

The German experience, as noted above, is a little different in the way it has informed a well thought out and effective training continuum, which consistently turns out well educated officers who have a broad understanding of the issues their commanders will face, which arguably makes them more effective junior officers, able to contribute to a wide variety of operational challenges and solutions. As Ian Bell, CAE’s Managing Director responsible for the company’s operations in Europe and Africa, states: “This is all about putting old heads on young shoulders.” And that, perhaps, is as appropriate a mantra for the SIRA team at Dresden as the motto of the Army Officer School itself – In Freiheit Dienen (To Serve in Freedom).

SIRA – Simulationssystem zur Unterst├╝tlung von Rahmen├╝bungen – Silmulation system to support (framework) staff exercises

Tim Mahon

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