Friday, March 11, 2011

Teaching to the Test

The U.S. Army is in the process of revamping its physical fitness tests. Sit ups are to be replaced by "rowers" and the 2 mile run with 1.5 mile run.  Also, the push up test is to be shortened from 2 minutes to 1 minute and an obstacle course with hurdles, an ammunition can carry and wounded soldier drag will be added. Army officials explained that the aim is to focus on "readiness" over simple fitness.

Regardless of the specific training program a more fit soldier, as defined by cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance and strength, is more ready to deploy than a less fit soldier. However, the duties of soldiers are too broad and diverse to use the specificity principle to train all soldiers with the same program.

Perhaps all soldiers should be treated as infantry from the moment they begin boot camp: this job entails specific demands including long foot patrols with heavy packs and then being ready to sprint behind a boulder ready to return fire. This is where the value of the wounded soldier drag would prove its worth and is the best change made to the tests. Even so, do they need to be tested on this or simply be strong enough to do it when called upon?

It would not be easy, but I suppose I am arguing that it would be more effective to make boot camp and all subsequent training more like infantry school to help prepare soldiers physically for how they will be truly tested during deployments. Two questions to consider here: Is the Army saying infantry units are not fit enough? Is this more of an issue among the more sedentary combat units?

Another change is that the scoring scales will be the same for men and women. This raises an alarm because if a lot of young women can score well on the tests it means they are too easy for the young men and are not useful. I do not think our politically correct military would design a fitness test that would have  women post poor scores. Would it design tests that demonstrate women are capable of performing in combat units?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reports of the Osprey's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The original tiltrotor vertical takeoff aircraft was canceled during President George H.W. Bush's presidency by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.  It was a problem child that ran up against the technological limitations of the day. Now, almost twenty years later the MV-22, "has had the lowest class A mishap rate of any rotorcraft in the Marine Corps during the past decade", according to the Naval Safety Center.

The Osprey was written just a few years ago as too expensive, too dangerous and just unworkable, but now is the cutting edge in tactical airlift capabilities.  After several years of deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq you would probably be hard pressed to find a military unit that would not want more of them. They will have to wait because as of April 2010 there were only about a dozen deployed with plans for fifty by 2016. This seems like a ridiculously small number given the Pentagon's own admission in the last Quadrennial Defense Review that the military was in serious need of more rotor craft.

More ground combat units supported by more helicopters and tiltrotors seems to be the way to go, but the trend toward smaller and smaller ground forces is moving forward. This means more and more reliance in missiles and air power which makes sense against a conventional power like China, but for at least the near future we will continue to fight tribal gangs with AK-47s and RPGs.  The Osprey can add to ground units' tactical superiority against all enemies, current and future.