For those who don't receive Armor magazine.
Technically the authors should have used "TacOpsCav" rather than "TacOps" as
the game/product name.
Best regards, Major H
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[This material may be reprinted, provided credit is given to ARMOR and to
Published in the May-June 2001 issue of the U.S. Army magazine ARMOR.
Fighting a Hundred Battles:
Using TacOps to Produce Experienced Captains for the Mounted Force
By Major Wayne Cherry and Major Joseph McLamb
At 0700, the commander of the forward security element crosses Bicycle Lake,
heading north toward his battalionąs objective of Granite Pass. The
situation is extremely unclear; he has no report of enemy contact. Shaking
himself to overcome the fatigue of continuous operations, he looks at his
digital map and sees that the CRP is moving north of the western entrance to
Hidden Valley. He directs the remainder of the FSE to follow. The battalion
command net crackles, and the company commander receives a FRAGO: seize Hill
876. He forwards the order to the CRP, mentally wondering if the enemy is
already on the objective. Suddenly, a flank platoon reports contact to the
east. An icon showing two enemy HMMWVs appears on the commanderąs digital
map at the western end of Hidden Valley. The platoon in contact is engaging
with ATGMs, but the commanderąs mind races to far more important
conclusions. If the enemy has scouts in Hidden Valley... Almost frantically,
the commander reorients his force to the east, but already the digital map
shows two enemy tank platoons emerging from Hidden Valley, attacking into
the FSEąs open flank.
At 1300, the same commander looks at his digital map again. This time he
sees that his friendly forces include a RSTA squadron recce troop, a platoon
of MGSs, 6 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, and four UAVs. As he mentally adjusts to
this new task organization, he inspects the terrain on the map. The open
spaces of the Mojave Desert have given way to the swampy lowlands of Camp
Lejeune. As he tries to think through the effects of the change in terrain,
the radio crackles: "FRAGO, enemy MIBN detected at AB123456, moving east..."
No, this poor commander is not trapped in the twilight zone or in a
tacticianąs purgatory. In fact, both of these battles, and many others like
them, occur within the walls of Skidgel Hall, home of the Armor Captains
Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Using an off-the-shelf computer simulation
and standard laptop computers, the course requires student officers to
quickly adapt to a changing environment, assess the situation, make
decisions quickly, and learn from the results.
If youąve ever given any thought to training captains, then youąve probably
concluded that the long pole in the tent is experience. While it is
relatively easy to give a young captain all the information he needs to be
successful, making him an experienced leader is much more difficult. It is
so difficult, in fact, that we rely almost completely on "on-the-job
training" to provide the necessary experience. In the vast majority of
cases, when a young captain arrives at his first unit he has never had to
put all his new knowledge to work in an environment marked by uncertainty
and limited time. He is knowledgeable, but inexperienced; educated, but not
Recently, the Armor Captains Course has taken a number of steps in an
attempt to overcome this deficiency. Our goal is to place student officers
into multiple tactical and leadership scenarios, in an environment of
uncertainty, little time, and limited resources, and require the student to
make decisions. If we force a student officer to do this once, weąve made
some progress. But if we can get him to do it one hundred times ‹ each time
with feedback within the scenario and from his small group instructor ‹
against an enemy that is trying hard to win, then we are well on our way to
providing experienced captains to the force. Constructive simulations allow
us to put a student into a hundred battles at almost no cost.
Constructive simulations have long been a part of officer training. In the
Captains Course, we use Janus and BBS for large-scale CPXs and for
one-on-one adaptive decision-making exercises. But such simulations are
resource-intensive, require extensive coordination, and are not easy to use.
For that reason, we recently bought the site license for TacOps.
TacOps 3.0 is a constructive simulation of modern tactical combat that can
run on a standard PC. It was designed by a retired Marine officer, MAJ I. L.
Holdridge, and has been purchased as a training device by the United States
Marine Corps, and the armies of Australia, New Zealand, and recently Canada.
The University of Mounted Warfare version, called TacOpsCav, should be
available to all Army units within the next few months.
The responses from both small group instructors and student officers have
been very positive. TacOps is easy to use, can be loaded on any standard
laptop computer, provides visual and audio feedback, and is frequently
described by student officers as "fun." It has tremendous potential for
training captains, and can easily be used to train officers and NCOs within
First, the Shortfalls
TacOps has a lot to offer the trainer, but it has three major shortfalls
that you must understand and accept from the beginning.
First, it requires some knowledge of the computer commands to get the
results that you want. Before you can effectively use the program as a
training tool, you must first be proficient with the program yourself. The
program comes with a builtin tutorial, as well as a 200+ page online manual,
so all the necessary information is easy to get. By spending some time
working with the program in advance, you shorten the amount of time spent
inputting orders to the units. Before trying to use TacOps for unit
training, start with the tutorial. Small group instructors at the Captains
Course report that they achieved a reasonable level of proficiency in 4-8
The second major shortcoming is that the Blue order of battle doesnąt
exactly match any current U.S. unit. The reason is very simple ‹ since the
Army doesnąt a have single organization for all of our units, the game
designer used a hybrid organization. You will also find that certain pieces
of equipment are missing (the AVLM, for example), but that this is fairly
easy to work around. In fact, the whole order of battle issue is overcome
very simply by designing your own scenarios.
The third and most significant shortfall of TacOps is terrain modeling. The
terrain in the program has only two levels ‹ ground level and high terrain.
The designer attempts to overcome this oversimplification by applying an
abstraction to the problem. All terrain in TacOps is labeled by level of
"roughness" Rough0 through Rough4. These levels affect the mobility of the
terrain, but have a much more important effect on line of sight. The level
of roughness indicates the availability of intervisibility lines, small
clumps of trees, etc., that would allow a stationary unit to find cover and
concealment. A unit moving across Rough4 terrain, for example, might easily
drop "out of sight" once it stopped moving. This abstraction isnąt always
exactly right for a given piece of terrain, but proves surprisingly accurate
in most situations. Our experience so far has been that TacOps comes close
enough to getting it right that you can conduct a TEWT in the morning on
actual terrain, then fight that piece of terrain on TacOps in the afternoon
with little loss of fidelity, as long as you accept the inability of the
program to accurately reflect that individual IV line that you saw on the
Making the Most of the Resource
At the Armor Captains Course, we use TacOps for a great number of
activities, ranging from quick and simple to very complex. As you can see,
some or most of these can easily be adapted to operational unit training.
1. Demonstrations of simple tactical concepts: Small group instructors use
TacOps to reach the visual learners in the classroom. A common demonstration
involves the use of intervisibility lines. The SGI places a single M2
platoon in a defensive posture, then launches an enemy tank company at it.
The M2 platoon usually destroys three of four tanks before it is itself
destroyed. In a second iteration, the SGI places the platoon at the crest of
an IV line, with orders to fire, employ the vehiclesą smoke grenades, and
back off the IV line 200 meters. In this second scenario, the M2 platoon
kills three or four tanks, then withdraws safely, usually without loss. This
simple demonstration, which normally takes less than ten minutes, often
clears up the mystery of intervisibility lines for the visual learners in
the small group.
2. Tactical decision games: These short, relatively simple tactical problems
have long been a part of leader training. TacOps allows SGIs to take the TDG
one step further. Instead of debating student solutions, now small groups
actually fight the battle. Learning is vastly enhanced because the student
sees the results of his decisions played out on the battlefield, rather than
simply discussed with his peers and instructor. Building a simple TDG on
TacOps requires little overhead, and can usually be conducted and AARąed
within an hour.
3. Force-on-force engagements: Using the local area network, two computers
can fight the same TacOps battle simultaneously, one as the Blue force and
one as the Red. Of all the uses of TacOps, this seems to generate the
greatest level of student enthusiasm. Putting students in a head-to-head
engagement verifies the old adage: Americans play to win! Weąve found that
students try harder and learn more when we place them in direct tactical
competition. These scenarios tend to be more involved, often taking two to
three hours to conduct and AAR.
4. Rehearsals: Students have adapted TacOps to their own needs in several
ways. One of the most successful has been in conducting rehearsals. Prior to
conducting a company mission in CCTT, some small groups rehearse the
operation in the classroom using TacOps. Across the board, the result has a
company operation that was markedly better than those that did not include a
TacOps rehearsal. At the task force level, small groups sometimes use TacOps
as a tool during the course of action analysis to validate courses of
action, access casualties as part of the wargame, etc. Several small groups
have found TacOps to be particularly useful for planning and rehearsing
reconnaissance and security operations. Finally, small groups often use
TacOps to introduce additional enemy forces or courses of action into a
scenario, exploring new options for friendly branch plans.
5. Command post exercise: This is definitely the most resource intensive use
of TacOps in the Captains Course. To exercise students as a task force
staff, we place the company commanders in one location with the TacOps
computer, and place the staff elsewhere with radios and TOC facilities. The
staff receives only that information provided by the company commanders.
Typically, we have both a Blue and a Red staff fighting each other. Again,
student involvement and enthusiasm is remarkable. A standard task force
exercise can run from four hours to a full day, and requires a TOC facility
of some sort as well as radios. We often use handheld commercial radios for
6. Tactics Award: Our course has for many years recognized the student
officer who distinguished himself as a tac tician over the length of the
course. In the past, we selected this officer by means of a formal board.
Appearing before a group of senior instructors, candidates for the award
answered questions on doctrine and tactics, then prepared a verbal FRAGO for
a company operation. Based on the collective input of the board members, one
student officer was selected for the Tactics Award. Recently, we changed the
methodology. Now, candidates for the Tactics Award face each other in short
tactical engagements fought on TacOps. A candidate may find himself required
to attack or defend, using U.S. or other equipment, on terrain that is
extremely varied. The most recent winner of the Tactics Award was undefeated
as a U.S. tank company, an OPFOR reinforced motorized infantry company, and
a reinforced U.S. recce troop from a RISTA squadron.
Looking Down the Road
The site license purchased by 16th Cavalry Regiment includes several
upgrades in the software that should be complete by early summer of 2001.
The major improvements include:
The inclusion of the M1A2 SEP in the unit database;
Significant refinement in the ability of the simulation to replicate urban
terrain, to include both major cities and urban sprawl;
The inclusion of various forces other than the Blue and the Red force, to
replicate civilians, non-governmental organizations, criminals, refugees,
and Expansion of the LAN capability to allow more than two work stations in
a given fight.
Even with these upgrades, TacOps will not match the battlefield fidelity of
our better known constructive and virtual simulations. Its ease of use,
minimal computer requirements, and extreme portability, however, make TacOps
a valuable training tool in the hands of innovative and aggressive trainers
within our training institutions and our units.
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MAJ Joseph McLamb is an infantryman currently serving as the commander of O
Troop, 3rd Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment. His previous assignments include
observer/controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center, company
commander in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and tours at the
National Training Center and in Korea.
MAJ Wayne G. Cherry Jr. was commissioned a Distinguished Military Graduate
from Mount Saint Maryąs College, Md., in 1987. He served as tank platoon
leader, scout platoon leader, adjutant, and Delta Company commander in 1-35
AR, Erlangen, Germany. Following Desert Storm, he was assistant S3, 1ATB,
Ft. Knox, Ky. After AOAC, he served as S3 air and commander of Charlie
Company and HHC/3-69 AR, 24th ID (M), Ft. Stewart, Ga. Additional
assignments include observer controller at the NTC, Ft. Irwin, Calif; AOBC
Division Chief, Ft. Knox, Ky.; and small group instructor, Armor Captains
Career Course. MAJ Cherry is currently the Nomad Troop Commander for ACCC.