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Closing the Short Learning Loop

Effective short learning loops support high readiness contingency forces, the development of new capabilities, the generation of forces for known operations and contribute to the adaption and evolution of command.

Lessons teams have embedded with deployed units or undertaken independent deployments since the start of Australian combat operations in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. Their role has included collecting, analysing and disseminating information to increase force protection for “in theatre” forces. The Adaptive Warfare Team (AWT) identifies emerging trends and themes in the deployed force and shapes the next rotation in the Mission Specific Training (MST) and Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRE).  The collection and analysis methods used by Adaptive Warfare Branch are well developed and have been practiced and refined over numerous deployments across multiple theatres. This post identifies the component parts of an effective short learning loop and suggests how the current model could be enhanced.

Timeliness

Information must circulate in a timely and efficient manner. Whilst some information is collected by an Adaptive Warfare Team at the Transfer of Authority (TOA), the final Post Activity Report (PAR) often takes longer to process and disseminate. The PAR can sometimes be biased to the opinion of the author and as a result, detailed information relevant to Non Commissioned Officers or specialists may only gathered from interviews conducted once the rotation has returned home. These interviews can be up to four weeks after members return from operations due to leave. This information is then analysed, trends and themes identified, and lessons disseminated. The long time taken to complete this cycle can make it difficult to pass areas identified for improvement to the next mounting headquarters.

 

Remediating Identified Problems

After lesson collection and analysis, the actionable items are then passed to subject matter experts examine in further detail. The practices that require fixing or modifying should then be passed on through the Force Generation Cycle and implemented to ensure the next deployed unit does not have the same problems. Changes to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP’s) require a constant review of doctrine. An example of where this doctrine centric approach is used is an After Action Review (AAR), like those produced by the Combat Training Centre. These AAR are conducted at the completion of a mission set by Observer Trainers (OT’s) and produce a credible, factual evaluation of performance of a unit based on doctrine.

Post Activity Reports (POR) 

The PAR written at the end of the rotation may have higher value if soldiers and Senior Non Commissioned Officers had greater input. This will require deployment participants to be briefed at the start of a deployment on how and what information could be passed to the commander so that it can be included in the final PAR. This input would improve the quality and consistency of lesson capture.

Interviews

The interviews conducted post rotation enable soldiers to highlight what occurred on their rotation, what worked and what didn’t. Whilst this is a sound concept, long periods of time have often passed between the occurrence of an incident and when the soldier is asked about it. An Adaptive Warfare Team should be present to interview teams immediately on return from operations to capture information while it is still fresh. Once this information is collected by the Adaptive Warfare Team it can be sent back to the Adaptive Warfare Branch for analysis and dissemination.

Culture

As private enterprise is all about profit, businesses are constantly reviewing procedures to find ways of doing business in an efficient and more cost-effective manner. In this case, profit drives innovation. Army should pursue a similar culture as mission success and survivability derive from an effective short learning loop.

The Role of the Combat Training Centre

The Combat Training Centre (CTC) is ideally placed to work closely with Adaptive Warfare Branch and also the mounting headquarters of follow on rotations. Deployed CTC personnel would allow observations and recommendations to be passed directly to the follow on unit mounting headquarters. Additionally, there are other organisations in theatre, such as Special Forces, who can provide observations to support force generation as these units are often in a position to observe actions that conventional forces cannot.

Conclusion

Army can improve the way it develops and maintains a short learning loop by focusing on timelines as well as the breadth and depth of information.  Greater breadth and depth can be gained through an improved PAR process and forward deployed lesson teams. The information gained must drive changes to Standard Operating Procedures and these then need to be implemented with subsequent rotations and incorporated into doctrine.  These principles of effective short learning loops need to be followed to enable Army to increase its survivability and effectiveness on the battlefield.

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Ian Greene is a Senior Non Commissioned Officer with experience in numerous Battalions within the Royal Australian Regiment. He has operational experience within the South-East Asia region as well as the Middle East Area of Operations.