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.

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