FORT IRWIN, California.
In the dusty California desert, US Army trainers are already using the lessons of Russia’s war against Ukraine to prepare soldiers for future battles against a major enemy like Russia or China.
The role players in this month’s exercise at the National Training Center speak Russian. The enemy force controlling the fictional town of Ujen uses a steady stream of social media posts to level false accusations against the American Brigade as they prepare to attack.
In the coming weeks, the planned training scenario for the next brigade will focus on how to fight an enemy ready to destroy a city with missiles and missiles in order to conquer it.
If the images look familiar, they are, being broadcast on television and websites around the world right now, as Russian forces bomb Ukrainian cities with airstrikes, killing scores of civilians. The information war on social media has featured impassioned late-night speeches by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as well as Russian efforts to accuse Ukrainian forces of faking mass killings in cities like Bucha — massacres the West blames on Moscow troops.
“I think right now the whole army is really looking at what’s happening in Ukraine and trying to learn lessons from it,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said. Those lessons, she said, range from Russia’s equipment and logistics problems to communications and use of the Internet.
“The experience between Russia and Ukraine is a very powerful example for our army of how important the information sector will be,” said Wormuth, who spent two days at the training center in the Mojave Desert watching an army brigade wage war against fiction “Denovian “ Powers.
“We talked about it for about five years. But actually seeing it and seeing how Zelenskyy was incredibly powerful. … This is a world war for the actual world to see and observe in real time.”
In the center the commander, Brig. Gen. General Curt Taylor and his staff ripped out pages from the Russian playbook to ensure U.S. soldiers are ready to fight and win against a sophisticated opponent.
It’s a common tool. For example, his base and the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana both switched to counterinsurgency training during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the military services have focused other training on how to fight in cold weather — mimicking conditions in Russia or North Korea. But these latest changes have come quickly in the first few months after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Approximately 4,500 Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, are on the vast desert training ground at Fort Irwin, where they will fight for two weeks against the NTC’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment acting as the enemy military . Soldiers from the regiment – known as the Blackhorse – are stationed in and around Ujen, which also includes role-players who act as locals.
As the sun rose early last week, Army Col. Ian Palmer, the brigade commander, stood on Crash Hill on the outskirts of town, preparing his soldiers for an attack. Tank lines spread out in the distance. Strong winds the night before hampered his progress, delaying the attack somewhat.
He said the exercise deployed more drones from friendly and enemy forces, both for surveillance and for strikes. So his forces try to cloak themselves and sneak into the terrain to stay out of sight. “You know, if you’re seen, you can be shot wherever you are,” he said.
Down in the makeshift city, opposition forces are confident they can stop Palmer’s brigade, despite the difference in size. The Denovians only have about 1,350 forces, but they throw everything they have at the brigade, from jammers and other electronic warfare to insurgency attacks and propaganda.
The role players have their phones ready for quick filming and posting on social media.
Denovian forces want to portray the unit in the worst possible light, Taylor said, and constantly twists the narrative on social media to make Palmer’s troops realize they are in a battle for truth.
It’s a challenge, he said, because “when I have a lot of casualties and I’m being overrun on my left flank and my supply trains aren’t where they’re supposed to be and I can’t find the bulldozers, it’s hard to think of anything that someone said about me on Twitter.”
The training goal, Taylor said, is to teach brigades how to fuse all the elements of their combat capability into a coordinated attack.
“Anyone can play an instrument, but it’s about making music – getting everything together in sync. And what you saw today was that artillery did the artillery thing, aviation did the aviation thing, and maneuver boys did the maneuver thing. But part of the delay in their attack on the city was that they couldn’t synchronize those three,” he said.
Again, you can look to Ukraine to see how Russia failed to do so in the early weeks of the war. US leaders repeatedly noted that in Russia’s initial multi-pronged attack on Ukraine, commanders consistently failed to airstrikes and support their ground forces needed to invade key cities like Kyiv.
This failure resulted in Russian troops bombing the cities from the outskirts, hitting hospitals, apartment buildings and other buildings, and killing civilians.
So when the next brigade arrives as a training center, Taylor says it will use it to confront an enemy on board.
“We’re going to be very focused on how we’re going to fight an opponent who’s willing to destroy infrastructure because we believe that’s how our opponents are going to fight,” Taylor said, firing indiscriminate artillery.”
Wormuth, the army secretary, said the training also underscored other lessons the US is learning from the war in Ukraine.
“As we watch what’s happening now with the Russians, it’s instructive for us to think about what’s right from a modernization standpoint,” she said, noting that some US tanks are very heavy and the terrain in Europe is muddy not like the hard sands of the desert.
The Army, she said, must determine “what is the right balance between tank mobility, tank survivability, and tank lethality? If you want to make it more mobile, make it lighter, but that makes it less survivable. So you have to decide where to take risks.”
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Follow Lolita C. Baldor on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lbaldor