Recent history has seen The Royal Australian Infantry Corps (RAInf) evolve in structure, ‘up gun’ through the procurement and development of its weapons fleet, and increase its capacity to ‘detect’ its enemy with modern state-of-the-art equipment.
As a Corps, Infantry is developing world’s best practice to ensure training brings out the best in our people and equipment. Training within the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) is focused on enhancing cognitive conditioning to boost performance and decision making in stressful environments, redesigning combat shooting to maximise the employment of primary weapon systems and overseeing a progressive physical training program, Advanced Operational Conditioning Program (AOCP), to optimise battlefield fitness.
This article aims to provide a contemporary perspective on how we ‘train and fight’ in the jungle environment, incorporating the recent lessons learnt by Alpha Company (Coy) 1 RAR during jungle warfare training conducted in the South East Asian archipelago (Australia’s primary operating environment (POE)).
Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB)
Alpha Coy 1 RAR conducted a RCB rotation in Malaysia and Thailand over the period 29 May to 31 August 2018. This served as a fantastic opportunity to test our tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) in one of the most arduous operating environments, the jungle.
The first jungle training experience of RCB was Exercise Jungle Genesis. This exercise is a complete training package encompassing individual, section and platoon level jungle warfare led and facilitated by the Jungle Training Team (JTT), drawing on experience and personnel from 2nd/30th Training Group, and the Combat Training Centre (CTC).
Alpha Coy’s Headquarters (HQ) spent considerable effort aligning training objectives with the JTT to ensure standardisation, a shared understanding and a common operating picture. This set the conditions for a smooth transition in command and control, mitigating potential friction between a ‘modern force’ accustomed to evolved teaching methodologies and a team entrenched in ‘tried and true’ techniques derived from lessons learnt ‘in the mud’. Ultimately Alpha Coy would approach Jungle Genesis with an open mind and positive attitude to ensure they learned as much as possible from a team with vast experience. The approach was simple:
- Complete the training as delivered, without trying to change, alter or argue with either the methodology, delivery or content.
- Pay particular attention to maximising the technological advantage afforded by new equipment and modern weapon systems.
Key lessons learned
Alpha Coy’s lessons learned are as follows:
- There is an enduring need for battlefield-fit individuals
- There is an enduring need for superb individual close combat skills
- There is an enduring need for small team expertise
- Optimising our leading equipment is crucial for gaining a competitive edge over our adversaries
- It’s important to find combined arms opportunities to exploit during training
Battlefield fit. 1 RAR believes that an infantry soldier is a tactical athlete. Being better equipped means having the best equipment, being mentally prepared and physically capable of conducting an array of physically demanding tasks in all operating environments. Operating in our POE requires supreme battlefield fitness.
To effectively prepare for training in Australia’s POE, Alpha Coy relied heavily upon the AOCP and acclimatisation. The training program ensured the soldiers received progressive training to conduct weight-loaded activities in hot and humid conditions for long periods of time. Results at the completion of Jungle Genesis were startling, with only two minor injuries for A Coy across the jungle training exercise (both slip and fall related). Previous training groups had sustained significant lower limb injuries or muscular related injuries (many requiring return to Australia (RTA)). This anecdotal evidence strongly supports the claim that the judicious application of AOCP translates to battle fitness.
Close combat skills. Jungle warfare is always conducted as a close fight. The team that has the ability to rapidly gain the initiative and inflict overwhelming controlled violence will win. As such, time spent preparing soldiers before immersion into the jungle is paramount.
Key areas for preparation of Alpha Coy focused on training and development of skills common to all operating environments, including:
Establishing effective neural pathways and cognitive conditioning. This was achieved through individual to small team training within ‘The Yard’ training facility. Consistently training, observing and enforcing correct posture, movement and actions builds the right foundation of muscle memory. Slowly increasing complexity and intensity of training, through noise, stress, fatigue and lack of light allows identification of how intrinsic (personal) and extrinsic (environmental) factors can alter the way a soldier behaves or reacts in certain situations. Once reactions are identified and discussed, the training is conducted again to allow the soldiers and teams to identify, adjust and work through these factors to achieve the desired results.
Normalising trade excellence – The conduct of enhanced combat shooting techniques and consistent dry practices (DPs) for rapid target acquisition and weapon employment. This is achieved through competition and expecting high standards. For example, when conducting combat shooting serials, always end the training with a competition shoot. Soldiers want to win, and providing the opportunity to do so fosters an increased desire to learn and improve.
Small team expertise. As highlighted previously, the requirement for superior small team expertise is vital. To train a superior small team you must encourage strong discipline, drilled TTPs and standard operating procedures (SOP) and most importantly, strong leadership.
Take every opportunity to empower the lowest level commander to do their job. Good leadership throughout any training is imperative to achieve success. The excerpt below from one of the participating platoon commanders, reinforces this point:
Strong leadership at every level, but especially in small teams, is critical. Junior leaders must lead by example, and display the discipline and field craft they expect from their diggers. All senior soldiers, junior non commissioned officers (NCO) and junior officers need to understand how closely their standards will be monitored—and emulated—by the more junior members of the platoon.
Junior NCOs and officers must also learn to fault correct poor performance. Junior NCOs too often avoid ‘gripping up’ their mates in the platoon out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or by attempting to be the ‘good guy’. Failure to rectify poor drills or lack of discipline is weak leadership. Fault correction isn’t personal; it requires maturity from both parties, and if used correctly will lead to well drilled sections and platoons with a clear understanding of the required standard.
This needs to start with the platoon commander and platoon sergeant. When Platoon HQ are seen to be constantly on the move, checking and inspecting the men and the pits, identifying shortfalls and areas to improve, it achieves three things: Firstly, the command team can quickly fault correct minor issues in discipline, security etc. as they move around the harbour; secondly, the men can see the leaders of the platoon active and present, rather than lounging about in HQ; and thirdly, the platoon commander and sergeant can inspect people’s feet, or make sure everyone has had a chance to eat, or check that everyone has been sleeping and are tracking OK. These three things reinforce standards, foster a team mentality and boost morale.
Good leadership must start at the top to develop the right environment for fault correction and the pursuit of excellence. More importantly, junior commanders must be empowered to correct faults. To achieve this they need to know their job, and be supported when exercising command.
Optimise leading equipment. 1 RAR’s current suite of enhanced night fighting equipment (eNFE) proved to be excellent within the jungle -the BNVD is a force multiplier, even in extremely low ambient light conditions under a thick jungle canopy. Use of the eNFE also enhanced the ability to operate silently in low light situations – moving through the jungle with ease and being prepared to react to tactical situations at a moment’s notice.
The challenges associated with jungle warfare largely precludes reliance on frequent A1 echelon resupply. This directly challenges the 1 RAR ‘fight light’ SOP, where the preference is to wear and carry the least amount of equipment as is practical (within mission requirements) then call forward the required resupply via the A1 echelon. The greatest lesson learned in this regard was the importance of having the organisational flexibility to transition from ‘fight light’ to largely self-sufficient for 72 – 96 hours, whilst trying to achieve a balance with signature management.
The disruptive pattern uniforms (AMCU) currently used were deemed largely unsuitable for use in jungle warfare. The materials are heavy, restrictive, do not breathe adequately and retain excessive amounts of moisture. All concerns have been included for rectification in the next tranche of uniform upgrades. The greatest tool to achieve flexibility and self-sufficiency is correct equipment choice. Increased water, ammunition, ration carriage and sagacious weapon selection being the most notable increase to a ‘fight light’ soldier load.
The only exception to this was found during training conducted in Thailand. In a predominantly mountainous region, the Royal Thai Army rely heavily on using donkeys to conduct logistic resupply and casualty evacuation. Modern armies will attempt to replicate this SOP with quad bike technologies. The first obvious shortfall is noise and smell, followed closely by endurance and sustainability. The advantage rudimentary techniques like pack animals provide nests neatly in sustainability, survivability (signature management) and manoeuvrability within close and complex terrain by day and night.
As mentioned, due to limited logistic resupply, sage weapon choice measured against mission and threat factors is vital. Alpha Coy confirmed through live fire range practices that the shotgun was not always effective in close terrain. Similarly the 40mm GLA is unreliable due to rounds bouncing off trees causing uncertainty and unpredictability. By far and away the most reliable, accurate and effective weapon systems used were the EF88 and Minmi 7.62mm. Although not trialed during 1 RAR’s RCB rotation, lessons learnt from Afghanistan and Vietnam identify direct fire weapons such as the 66mm rocket launcher as a weapon of choice in close country. Alpha Coy’s consensus is that consideration should be given to up-gunning sections and platoons wherever possible to include more light machine guns and machine guns (LMG/MG).
Opportunities to exploit. Arguably, the most significant opportunity that isn’t trained or practised during jungle warfare training in recent times is combined arms manoeuvre. The use of offensive support, engineers and armour enablers during the battles of Coral and Balmoral keenly remind us of the practicalities and successes possible when integrating these arms.
Whilst the practicalities of using armour on RCB and in Tully, inhibit this type of training, there should be a focus of combined arms training wherever possible to ensure teams have an established working relationship. This can be achieved through production development (PRODEV) discussion, rehearsal of concept (ROC) drills, tactical exercises without troops (TEWTs), simulation exercises (SIMEX), and use of the Weapons Training Simulation System (WTSS).
Jungle warfare training
The jungle is characterised by steep, arduous and close terrain in challenging, often debilitating, climatic conditions. Training during RCB began with classroom theoretical lessons, progressing through several modified ROC drills, before concluding with full scale ROC, on open ground, to ensure shared understanding and common practice.
This simple science of progressive training is tried and tested and ensures all elements of the combined arms team understand their role in simple, yet highly effective TTP. Given the overpowering friction and uncertainty associated with operating in such a complex and demanding environment, tactical actions must be understood and taken instinctively.
This training can be simply replicated whilst in barracks, and can be progressed from individual, small team and large-scale collective training.
Jungle warfare requires an intimate understanding of a diverse array of complex ‘drills’ designed to maximise an organisation’s lethality while improving survivability. Although the list is not comprehensive, it includes: contact drills to the front, flank and rear; counter ambush drills (to each cardinal point and against varying threats); rendezvous (RV) procedures; marry up drill; short and long halts; reconnaissance drills; harbour drills; search procedures; tracking; patrolling techniques and formations; and administrative/daily routines. Each drill must be instinctive demanding constant practice and rehearsals.
The drills developed from years of experience working and fighting in the jungle, and taught during the Jungle Genesis training work extremely well. These drills will be included in a developing Jungle SOP for 1 RAR.
The current equipment, weapons and training methodology set the conditions for orchestrated sub-unit level operations within Australia’s POE. The lessons confirmed by Alpha Coy 1 RAR on RCB reinforce the requirement for battlefield fit individuals, superb individual close combat skills, small team expertise, optimisation of our leading equipment and the need for further combined arms training in a jungle environment.
 Smart Soldier 51 Fighting Light, Fighting Smart – p5
About the author: Emlyn Mordike is a Company Commander serving in 1 RAR. He has served in the Army for 16 years in Combat Brigades, United Nations, the Royal Military College – Duntroon and Army Headquarters