Exaptation of the Division Exercise Training and Readiness System (DXTRS)

Students at the Aviation Captain's Career Course analyzing terrain
Students at the Aviation Captain’s Career Course analyzing terrain


Current war gaming techniques at units are much like playing Risk! Even though we currently have the technology to challenge commanders, their assumptions, and how they fight their units. In a time when the Army needs to better capture and develop readiness in a shrinking force, the underutilization of these resources results in lost opportunities to develop the current Army. The original intent with the Division Exercise Training and Readiness System (DXTRS) was to provide these opportunities but solely within the confine of the schoolhouse setting. Instead, commander’s should take a broader look at this capability and understand that exaptation of this system can create other opportunities for growth. Exaptation describes the evolution of a specific trait that is supposed to serve a certain function but it may come to serve another function during the evolution process. Therefore, by understanding the original intent of DXTRS, the limitations of the system, and the possibility to gain experience in a budget-constrained environment, commanders may find that DXTRS can serve other functions within their organizations.
The design of DXTRS focused on schoolhouse use only and specifically for just familiarizing the students with tactical and operational decisions. For example, captains going through the Aviation Captains Career Course receive a mission to conduct a counter attack against a near-peer enemy. Near-peer means that the enemy has capabilities that are very similar to those of the United States Army. The captains then proceed into the Military Decision Making Process and develop their plan. As they develop their plan, the captains take the knowledge developed and convert it into the DXTRS program such that they gain an opportunity to see if their plan could succeed. Another example is that staffs receive a pre-developed scenario and quickly develop a plan, put that plan into DXTRS, and receive feedback on how successful their plan was in regards to the pre-developed scenario. The justification for this use of DXTRS in the schoolhouse is to provide the student a wide variety of scenarios and allow them to make decisions, which have limit impacts.
Simulations, such as DXTRS, developed as a cheaper alternative to live training. Hence, DXTRS seeks to immerse staff officers into a situation such as those faced by staffs at a Combat Training Center in order to gain a similar level of experience without the expense associated with actually going to the Combat Training Center. DXTRS is part of a two-tier system of training in regards to simulations. DXTRS falls into the first tier which focuses on a crawl and walk approach to training staff officers. This model of training is the Army standard of training, the crawl-walk-run methodology, in which an individual receives instruction in the basics by an instructor during the crawl phase, allowed to move at a quicker pace with some oversight during the walk phase, and then allowed to “run” in the last phase with minimal oversight. The run phase of this two-tiered system involves large simulations that do not exist at home station-training centers. Regional training centers, such as those at Fort Leavenworth, facilitate this run phase and allow the staffs to receive more training and experience.
For this task, DXTRS is well suited with some limitations. The current system prevents basic tactical and operational factors that affect decisions within a typical wargame such as terrain, air defense capabilities, and defensive positions. Currently, terrain does not factor into the execution of missions with the system. Individuals using DXTRS must understand the impacts of terrain on their mission but the system does not force this reality upon the decision-maker. Instead, those using DXTRS must possess an understanding of the effects of the terrain on the mission and ensure that their mission executes within those limitations. For example, a commander could have a unit of tanks drive over Mount Everest within DXTRS and the system would allow for the execution of that decision. The same types of limitations continue with air defense systems and defensive positions. The threat of air defense is lacking within DXTRS and aviation systems can fly through airspace relatively unhindered. Defensive positions do not factor into the attrition models and limit the application of DXTRS to force on force, offensive operations. Regardless, the potential for future use in order to enable mission command exists. With the proper training at mission command training centers or at local hubs, such as Fort Leavenworth, commanders could leverage DXTRS to accomplish war-gaming. Without the application of DXTRS, commanders will continue to execute war-gaming within the doctrine established and limit the possibilities of refinement, experience, and adaptability.
The advantages of DXTRS over the antiquated Army war gaming model is that DXTRS allows for collaborative planning, a quick upload of the approved course of action into the command post of the future (CPOF), and the ability for mid-mission pauses in order to correct immediate issues or proceed with a branch plan. In addition, the cumbersome math, associated with attrition models, occurs within the program allowing the staff to focus on the overall operation instead of debating whether a rocket-propelled grenade can cause a catastrophic kill on an Abrams tank. This new use of DXTRS is already occurring at two locations: the School of Advanced Military Studies and the Aviation Captains Career Course. Both institutions, without communicating with each other, came upon the same conclusion: DXTRS makes the war-gaming experience in the Military Decision Making Process more efficient for the commander about overall time and energy of the staff. Additionally, the advantage of conducting a mission multiple times without an impact on resources allows for a greater understanding of decisions such that, if faced with a similar situation in the future, the commander or staff may make an intuitive decision based upon these experiences.

A plan developed by students at the Aviation Captains Career Course in DXTRS
A plan developed by students at the Aviation Captains Career Course in DXTRS

To improve war gaming outcomes in a field environment or for a staff exercise, the injection of DXTRS into a TOC could go as follows. With step one, receipt of mission, the S3 is able to quickly generate the common operating picture (COP) for all staff sections to utilize within DXTRS through collaborative planning. Instead of working power point magic, all staff sections log into DXTRS and upload the COP as developed by the S3 on the approved map. As the staff moves into mission analysis, the shared understanding created through the COP and the ability to work independently but quickly tie everything together through collaborative planning makes the process efficient. Further, PowerPoint briefs of mission analysis may be minimized due to DXTRS’ ability to upload directly into CPOF.
Moving into course of action development, the course of action groups can maximize the collaborative planning function to create multiple courses of action quickly. These courses of action may then be “played” against the enemy’s most likely and most dangerous courses of action repeatedly for further refinement. Additionally in the process of playing the scenarios, the commander may pause the iteration at any point, make changes, or replay a key point. Throughout the process, the staff focuses on gauging the courses of action against the evaluation criteria. Upon conclusion of the war-gaming, the staff is able to effortlessly move into comparison such that approval process may occur on the spot. Upon approval of the courses of action and further refinement of the mission, the graphics in DXTRS upload into the command post of the future system instantly facilitating shared understanding.
At the Aviation Captains Career Course, two iterations of DXTRS as a war-gaming tool have occurred. DXTRS allowed the students to war-game two friendly courses of action against the enemy most likely and most dangerous courses of action in half the time it had previously taken. In addition, the conclusions concerning comparison of courses of action were apparent at the end of war-gaming. Immediately upon the conclusion of war-gaming in DXTRS, the students effortlessly arrived at a conclusion and recommendation, which the commander approved. This whole process took less than two hours, which once again, reduced the time by half in comparison to the process before DXTRS use. After the first class used DXTRS and the time gain became apparent, the next class was encouraged to use that increased time available in mission analysis to engage in a more thorough analysis. Based upon this redistribution of time, the overall product at the end of the constructive simulation was more complete and executable with violent simplicity.
The realization for many of the students at the conclusion of the exercise was that the gains made during the military decision making process in the schoolhouse should also extend to the operational force. The two barriers to implementation are exposure and education. To date, only students in two schoolhouses receive exposure and, due to time constraints, they receive little education on actual use instead relying on contractors as the subject matter experts. Regardless, these two areas are easy to correct and the gains of efficiency are possible; it just depends on whether commanders’ want to embrace the millennial generation and update the war-gaming process or continue with what is familiar.

Great Organizations Fail so Why Can’t Your Surbodinates?



Great organizations rarely succeed without failing at least once. For example, only one undefeated team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, has won the National Football League Super Bowl. The rest of the Super Bowl winners, 49 including this year, failed at some point during the season. Another sport, National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Division I Basketball, features two teams in recent memory, the 2014 Wichita State Shockers and the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats, that had perfect seasons going into the March tournament but both failed to complete the perfect season. A question to pose is “Do organizations need to fail in order to find their true identity?”, or put another way “Is failure a pre-requisite, at some level, in order to achieve greatness?” Some may point to Floyd Mayweather and Rocky Marciano as individuals who both remained undefeated while achieving greatness. However, those were individual feats. Organizations, however, involve a wide variety of individuals and require a unified effort in order to achieve at the organizational level. Individual feats within an organization may actually make it become one-dimensional and therefore limit the organizations potential. Due to the number of individuals involved and their differing levels of abilities or talent, organizations will likely meet failure at some point. The leaders involved in these organizations must address what change must occur because of the failure(s) in order to achieve the organization’s highest potential. Without a confluence of ideas and change of direction, the organization may continue on a path that would ensure or encourage repeated failures.

Outside of the sports arena, business leaders demonstrate this principle well. Bill Gates had a company before Microsoft called Traf-O-Data that sought to analyze data from traffic tapes. The company and the process were a complete failure but Gates continued to work on his ideas until Microsoft was developed. George Steinbrenner actually bankrupted a team, the Cleveland Pipers, before owning the Yankees and helping them win six World Series between 1996 and 2003. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper due to lack of creativity and his first company, Laugh-O-Gram films, failed to make a profit. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, Apple, and only after making a competitor, NeXT, that Apple acquired, was he placed back into positions of leadership.

Each of these large companies faced failure at some point in their history but the organization was able to overcome that failure because of the leadership of individuals within the organization. Few consumers remember one of Microsoft’s greatest product flops, Microsoft Bob, which was a user-friendly interface for Window computers in 1995. The project was too ambitious, required too much hardware for the typical computer at the time, and, as a result, the market could not support such a product. Bill Gates pulled the product from Microsoft’s lineup a year later in response. Taking chances, failing, and then reassessing the direction forward are essential to the growth of large organizations. This ability to take chances and then to learn from them is one of the aspects that can make organization’s great; yet, this also requires someone in the leadership who has also faced, and overcome, failure. By having someone in a leadership position that has faced failure, the organization’s failure is placed into context. The failure now has meaning and proper direction instead of just accepting facts or assigning blame. Therefore, if the experience of failure by an individual within the leadership is essential to organizations becoming great once they fail, why do certain units within an organization push a zero-defect mentality?

Every leader is guilty of a zero-defect mentality at some point. The failures of a subordinate are viewed as extreme and dealt with in a fashion that does not embrace learning. The subordinate that failed now has a sour taste in regards to the rest of the organization and the negative image can seep into other areas of performance. Most leaders realize what they, and their actions, are doing to their subordinates and, after only a couple of instances; they change their approach to failure. Instead of resorting to anger, browbeating, or overly dominant behavior, the leader must learn to slow down, listen to the individual’s failure, help them mend any damage created, and then learn from the failure. This approach may be easier said than done. This approach must also be modified in certain instances, such as a failure that results in injury or death where a more forceful response is warranted. In addition, at the extreme, there are instances in which complete termination from the organization is warranted because of the grievous nature of the offense.

These times of forceful responses and termination are fairly rare in regards to the spectrum of failures. Most failures are in mundane tasks that have little impact on the organization’s success but can serve as a learning point for that individual. In some organizations, all failures are seen in one light; the extreme case which results in forceful response or termination. This zero-defect mentality has toxic effects within the current organization for the immediate future but it also deprives the individuals who will become the future executives of essential growth and learning by experiencing failure. By allowing subordinates to fail, in a controlled manner, and then facilitating a learning process after the fact, the leader may be to exercise one of the most effective tools for developing leadership. As Henry Ford once said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” In this New Year, realize that within the spectrum of failure, there are many types of mistakes and very few of them require a harsh approach. Rather, use those instances as learning points in order to develop the future leader of your organization and provide the organization a potential leader to weather a future storm of failure.