A robust observer-controller (OC) organisation with a strong opposing force (OPFOR) element has greatly added to the realism of Exercise Golfinho, just completed at the SA Army Combat Training Centre at Lohatlha in the Northern Cape.
That`s the word from the chief director of operations for the South African National Defence Force, Rear Admiral Philip Schöultz who inserted the organisation into the exercise and the OPFOR`s chief victim, SADC brigade commander Brig Gen Lawrence Smith.
“They basically play the role of the belligerents, in some case splinter groups, offensive groups running around the countryside, attacking police stations, attacking deployed forces, in other cases they played the role of internally displaced people (IDPs, refugees).
“Sometimes IDPs get frustrated and militant … giving you the opportunity to do riot control for instance. The more realistic you do the training, the better. They [the OPFOR] have been doing a very good job and making it very realistic. We are quite pleased how it turned out,” Smith said while watching an altercation between riot police and OPFOR simulating an angry group of hungry IDPs.
Schöultz said the Golfinho OPFOR was drawn from 6 SA Infantry Battalion, an air assault unit based at Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape.
“We are using them to simulate rebel forces and IDPs. The reason we chose 6SAI is firstly because they have just returned from a mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo where they were part of MONUC and experienced working with IDPs, working with rebels and now they can role-play the people they were working with,” the admiral added.
“I think we have realised you want to train as you fight and therefore it is important to have opposing forces and therefore it is something we have introduced along with exercise control as to generate as much realism as we can.
“That way, the soldier, when he does deploy for the first time, it will not be the first time they come face-to-face with opposition, be it a belligerent crowd or a rebel force in the field.
Schöultz noted that the OC organisation is also “quite new, something we are still developing.”
He explained that it comprised three cells: one dealing with lessons learned, one that runs the timeline of the exercise and incidents and the last ensuring safety.
The lessons learned cell is “responsible for after each phase of the exercise for the after action review with the participants and to see what went right, what went wrong and what we can improve upon.”
The safety cell ensured general exercise safety and the timeline cell ran OPFOR and kept Smith and his command on their toes: Schöultz noted Smith was given a mission to execute and was not privy to planned incidents or timelines.
“This is standard now with all exercises runs under the auspices of the Joint Operations Division,” the admiral added.
“We`ve already had discussions with the Army on this and they`re very keen on it and as a matter of fact they have invited us to participate in their exercises to provide them with an exercise control cell.”
The SA Army will early next year hold two force preparation exercises: Young Eagle for the airborne community and Seboka for the mechanised forces.
Schöultz adds that OPFOR will not be provided for every exercise. “We will try to do it.. [but] obviously we cannot do it for every single mission because of the scale of effort that goes into it, we rotate [our peacekeepers] every six months. But certainly in our large exercises we will introduce opposing forces.”
The admiral`s OC organisation also had the benefit of the early Project Legend own-force tracking technology. “The ability to track forces in the field adds greatly to the safety aspect,” Schöultz said.
“You know at all times where various elements are, where vehicles are moving.
But it also brings honesty to after action reviews: “the person says ‘I didn`t do that` or says ‘I wasn`t there` you can say… ‘here you are on the plot`!”
Schöultz says he was mainly tracking his own observers “so I know where they are in the field” as well as the leader element on both sides.
“It is something I`d like to expand but it is quite expensive,” he noted. The same applied to calibrated and instrumented “mock villages” as used for urban combat and counterinsurgency training in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.
“I have been overseas, I`ve looked at a few of these mock villages. We will probably continue to build mock villages for exercises rather than build a fixed infrastructure that needs permanent maintenance and the like,” Schöultz said, citing cost as the major disincentive.
Pic: OPFOR, in theform of frustrated refugees, clash with police during an altercation during Exercise Golfinho.