Behind the Razor Wire: The U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Training Center
ABOVE: Pittman Range, Fort Meade, MD, 2016. An Operational Advisor sharpens his M4A1 Carbine skills in CQB shooting. Photo courtesy of Asymmetric Warfare Group
Part 1: Weapons Training and Innovation
“The Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, is an Army unit of highly skilled warriors who provide observation, analysis, enhanced training and advisory support to Army and Joint Force Units in order to enhance their capabilities to predict, mitigate, counter and defeat asymmetric threats and methods. The AWG is the only unit in the Army that actively seeks new enemy Tactics, Techniques and Procedures and looks to develop solutions. The Group maintains a global presence and focuses on identifying and overcoming emerging asymmetric threats.” AWG Statement
The United States Army’s “Big Green Machine” is well known for its ability to bring down a world of hurt on adversaries with overwhelming force and massive firepower, followed by taking and holding large areas of terrain. While essential in conventional warfare, this fearsome capability is not ideally suited to “asymmetric warfare”—non-traditional methods developed and used by enemy forces.
One prominent example is the employment of various types of Improvised Explosive Devices. Cheap, easy to make and hide, and demonically effective against vehicles and patrolling troops, comprehensive efforts at countering IEDs quickly became a high priority, eventually leading to the creation of AWG, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, in 2006. While this unique organization’s headquarters, concepts and operational elements are based at Fort Meade, Maryland, its Easy Squadron has the Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, occupying a 300-acre, razor wire ringed complex on Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. AWTC provides a venue to “refine training concepts and assess potential solutions in a realistic environment while serving as a laboratory for innovation.”
In addition to several specialized live fire ranges including a 14-lane indoor range that accommodates small arms up to 7.62mm, AWTC’s most notable feature is the $96 million Urban Complex, completed in 2014. It’s a highly realistic, modern cityscape, suitable for many types of training as well as the development of innovative tactical concepts. It boasts various buildings realistically representing a bank, hotel, police and fire station, and a five-story combination “embassy” with storefronts. There is an extensive system of tunnels underneath, plus a subway platform complete with retired DC Metro cars, an Amtrak station, a soccer field, a church and a mosque.
Unsurprisingly, AWTC’s Urban Complex has been luridly portrayed by some hyperventilating conspiracy mongers as—among other bizarre imaginings—a rehearsal facility for illegal military operations against American citizens. Naturally skeptical of the wild rumors, but determined to investigate and present the facts, we received permission to venture inside the wire for an in-depth look at what really goes on at AWTC.
What follows here is based on several fact-finding visits, extensive interviews with key personnel and input from AWG headquarters.
A Candid Conversation with AWTC’s Leadership
(Condensed from SADJ‘s two-hour interview with Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Broome, AWG’s Easy Squadron Commander and Mr. William “Bill” Mizell, Deputy Commander, at AWTC, Fort A.P. Hill, VA, February 21, 2017. The full interview is available online at https://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=3923, the full range of pictures can be found in the SAR Online Archive: https://www.smallarmsreview.com/archive/reference.06-2017.cfm#06202017)
SADJ: First off, the letter “E” in the U.S. Army’s current phonetic alphabet is “Echo.” What’s this thing with “Easy” Squadron?
Broome: When we stood up the org in March of 2006, it was a nod to the old phonetic alphabet of WWII: Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog and Easy Squadrons.
SADJ: AWTC’s Urban Complex, run by Easy Squadron, is particularly impressive. What was the reasoning behind its design?
Mizell: We thought at the time—almost 10 years ago—it was a little bit different, cutting edge, not your average training area. We like to think we were sort of ahead of the times and saw the writing on the wall.
Broome: The intent of this urban complex training facility is to replicate the environments that our soldiers are now operating in. All you need to do is look at the news—certainly from Fallujah and watching it unfold now in Mosul. What does operating in these big cities require? Now the enemy is using all the domains: cyber capabilities, using UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) to direct movements, and defense belts using IEDs.
SADJ: What entities outside AWG utilize the complex?
Broome: AWG advises Army and Joint Forces, USSOCOM, other DoD branches, as well as interagency folks. (Requests are made through) RFMSS (Range Facility Management Support System).
SADJ: Weaponry, of course, is our focus. We first learned about the development of AWTC’s Range 43 from Mr. Mizell and CPT Joseph Fyfe way back in May 2016 at the range day on A.P. Hill for NDIA’s Armaments Forum. We very much need to get some info and photos of at least a test run-through. Is this a sore subject?
Mizell: Not at all. It’s a long, drawn-out process. It’s online, but right now we’ve got logging going on clearing some more lanes … We designed the range to be multipurpose; that outdoor area where we could do kinetic solutions development and also tactics, techniques and procedures. So, we have a dedicated, twelve-and-a-half-mile mobility course. A series of networked roadways complete with targetry on the facility, about 200 separate digital targets.
SADJ: With its stated 1100-meter limit and a six-story tower, comment on the versatility of AWTC’s Range 42 for different weapons training, like the Marine Corps’ Joint Sniper Improvement and the Army’s BOSS automated sniper sight.
Mizell: From the firing berm, it’s 800 meters. Back up 300 meters and there’s a six-story tower. You can get 1100 meters.
Broome: AWG works with the Army and joint forces as well as interagencies, so we have through years of partnership reached out to organizations like CTTSO (Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office) and others.
SADJ: AWTC has access to all the many ranges at A.P. Hill, but briefly describe other ranges “owned” by AWTC.
Mizell: A light demo range and the (50-meter) indoor range is up to 7.62mm. Built for solutions development … We can use optics in there, night vision, pull a vehicle in there if needed. … we maintain it, we keep it clean, we can shoot the length of it—not just stuck on the firing line.
Broome: A lot of the pistol work that OATC does is for concealed carry. Almost all of that’s done on the indoor ranges. We have M9s, Glocks and M11s too.
SADJ: Are your ranges available to entities other than AWG? How do Army and other appropriate entities request use?
Mizell: Yes, by request to A.P. Hill Range Control through RFMSS (Range Facility Management Support System).
Siege Drills for OATC 23
AWG Fact Sheet: Once an OA is selected, he or she will attend a six-month training course known as Operational Advisor Training Course (OATC) focused on enhancing the competencies we view as essential to be a successful OA executing the AWG mission as well as continue to assess the knowledge and attributes that we feel are most important. Training takes place all over the U.S. but is mostly centered at A.P. Hill and Meade.
SADJ: Shooting is obviously an element of OATC. Comment on the very difficult day and night “shoot and run” siege drills on Range 42 that we observed and photographed last October.
Master Sergeant Aaron Oliver, AWTC: The Siege Drill is designed to observe specific attributes and competencies of an individual in a physically tough and mentally demanding course of fire. Ability to manage time, problem solve, sound decision making, adaptability and motivation, along with accountability, technical competence and comprehensive fitness, just to name a few. At the end of this drill, individual skills are re-enforced and confidence built on not only the training received but also the individual soldiers’ ability to apply those skills.
SADJ: Other types of weapons training?
Broome: Without divulging too much … It’s a six-month training course designed to provide an OA the skill sets to embed at a tactical level, like a platoon in Afghanistan … In addition, to shoot, move, communicate and survive operating in a combat environment. All of our OATC shooting is taught in-house between Fort Meade and A.P. Hill.
SADJ: Noting the many challenges to OAs teaching rifle marksmanship in developing nations, do OATC students get training in this?
Broome: They get a block of small unit tactics. We’re assessing a much more senior population, guys much more experienced in that realm. The difference in shooting blocks of instruction and AWG’s adaptability aspects is how to train using different methodologies. Instead of lockstep processes that have been ingrained in so many of us, it’s looking at it a little bit differently to reach the same objective. We’ve identified the competencies we want our OAs to have in shooting. How we arrive at that is in the course. So we’ll set up different scenarios, much like the siege drill you saw. So the shooters, the Operational Advisors, are determining how they want to attack that problem set—certainly with support of the training cadre.
Foreign Weapons and Ammunition
SADJ: Is hands-on/live fire training with selected foreign weapons—allied and threat—part of the OATC curriculum? Pre-deployment training for OA squadrons?
Broome: Yes. Here and at Meade. I wish we had more foreign ammo. That’s hard to get.
Major Tim Ballas, AWG: Foreign ammunition and foreign weapons are subject to various import and procurement laws and regulations when it comes to acquisition by the U.S. Military … Right now, only a couple of organizations in the Army have the ability to procure foreign weapons and ammo based on their mission and requirement to train and be proficient with these systems. Outside of that, conventional Army Forces have very limited access to live foreign weapons for training and practically no access to foreign ammunition to conduct live fire familiarization.
Mr. Joseph Vega, AWG: The first six years of AWG’s existence, all AWG members traveled to Blackheart International training center in West Virginia for Foreign Weapons training.
SADJ: Comment on “OATC’s five-day Combat Skills Training Course (CSTC) at A.P. Hill that is focused on Shoot, Move, Communicate and Survive” to prepare OSS personnel to deploy worldwide.
Broome: We call it “survive.” That one’s a lot more cut and dried, it’s not ambiguous. It is the Group Commander’s tool to say “OSS individual X is certified ready to deploy in support of whomever,” whether they’re going down to Iraq to help run a support site or whatever. A baseline set of skills. They’re comfortable with their weapon, they can shoot.
They’re all the traditional support personnel, your S1 PAC S2 Intel, S3 Operational, S4 Supply, commo. Every OSS goes through it once a year. It’s actually a lot of fun and most people don’t mind.
SADJ: For the gun aspect of this feature, it would be good to know what you can tell us about what you’ve got in AWTC’s armory.
Broome: The armory here at AWTC is for our squadron. The rest of the squadrons’ and the group’s weapons are in the armory at Meade. Certainly, as guys come down they can park their stuff here.
Mizell: We do have a great deal of the crew-served weapons that we maintain here, because it’s generally where they’re going to be used. And a squadron-plus of weapons here.
Reply received by email from Major Charles Barrett, AWG Public Affairs: The decision was made to only (identify) weapons that are organic to AWG … The other weapons are here temporarily … it would be safe to say that we test other weapons on occasion and we work with foreign weapons from time to time.
MK48 Machine Guns
SADJ: LTC Broome, noting your numerous deployments, is there anything in particular that you’ve personally been involved with … that the larger Army says, “Wow, great idea!”
Broome: In 2008 I was involved in studies … on ways to lighten the soldiers’ load. … AWG knew about and had MK48 lightweight machine guns. The intent was not to replace the M240, but to give the commander another option to provide a base of firepower while allowing his soldiers to move more effectively … the starting point with the 173rd (Airborne Brigade) and went up through—CJTF 101 (Combined Joint Task Force 101st Airborne Division).
SADJ: If AWG wants to take a look at something—weapons, ammo, sighting systems, whatever—is it out of the ordinary to call up a manufacturer and ask to take a look?
Broome: The question I would ask is, “What is the end state?” I’d say we’d have no issues doing a loan, but Dog Squadron on themselves, we’re not going to get the Army to adopt it by ourselves. If the Army was looking at that, maybe. And we could do an evaluation. It’s just hard to get into that cycle, that pipeline, if you’re not in it from the beginning.
SADJ: Dog Squadron seems to have a big part in what goes on at AWTC.
Broome: Dog Squadron is concepts and integration … headquartered at Ft. Meade and they have a presence down here at AWTC. … we have through years of partnership reached out to organizations like CTTSO (Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office) and others. … CTTSO has been specifically looking at lightweight munitions. I would say from an AWG aspect on the development side our Dog Squadron ties in certainly to the Army’s Project Managers for scopes, weapons.
Mizell: We are interested in anything in the R&D world, anything academia wants to share with us, which is a great example of NDIA (National Defense Industrial Association) and CTTSO events here.
SADJ: What can you tell us about AWG and the HK416 controversy?
Broome: Some of the guys in AWG knew other orgs were looking at the HK416 for various reasons; certainly, the piston being the number one driving force, free-floating rails, things like that.
Follow-up response received from Mr. Jose Gordon, Senior Operational Advisor, Concept Troop, D Squadron, AWG: In 2006, AWG fielded the HK416 with the intent to evaluate the weapon’s operating system against the current fielded M16/M4. The unit conducted a limited user evaluation within the squadrons.
Gordon also provided SADJ with information on several other prominent weapons-related activities at D Squadron:
In partnership with the Rapid Equipping Force (REF), evaluated several weapons sighting systems including the Trijicon M150 RCO, Schmidt and Bender 1-4x, the One Shot and Tracking Point systems, and 15 different thermal sights.
Worked with the Combating Terrorism Technology Support Office Ammunition Initiative Meeting. In cooperation with the Rapid Equipping Force, the Army fielded 300 MK48’s to Units in RC East and North. Evaluation of suppressors in the Signature Reduction Program, assessment of shooting moving Robotic Human Type Targets both day and night.
SADJ: While sensitive to tipping off the bad guys, any general examples of “potential solutions” and challenge-driven “innovations”?
Broome: With non-state actors’ use of small Unmanned Aerial Systems—commercially bought (drones), common off-the-shelf types that the bad guys can get their hands on— this facility was able, in a very quick turn, to be able to get procedures in place to allow us to assess methods to counter this.
Work with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) on a Computational Weapon Optic … a device that does the rapid zero and makes the changes for you.
SADJ: Much has been made of the U.S. M4, M16 and M249 being outranged and underpowered vs. adversaries’ weapons firing 7.62x54R and similar higher-powered rounds … Any AWG review/evaluation of Jim Schatz’s Lightweight Intermediate Caliber Cartridge Individual Weapon?
Broome: Not just Jim, but the community at large has been looking at the overmatch and what is the next evolution. We are involved through organizations like CTTSO in the LICC, the (General Dynamics) Lightweight Medium Machine Gun in .338 Norma.
Jim Schatz and HK
SADJ: Care to comment on your professional relationship with the late, great Jim Schatz?
Broome: I have a penchant for HK products, I read the HK Pro Forums, on my own accord have taken some of the HK armorer courses. I’ve run into Jim in that capacity as a civilian. As a hobbyist first. Small world, when he was still at HK two of our individuals here now (Chris Erich and Joe Klepacz) were both armorers at HK.
I’ve gotten a chance personally to work with him on some of the HK stuff, armorer’s course. On the professional side with CTTSO and some of their efforts. Jim’s reached out to us, he understood what this complex could bring to the industry and some of the organizations like that, so he asked us to host the CTTSO live fire portion and NDIA’s Armaments Forum. We’ll be doing both of those again. Jim will be missed.
U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group
Asymmetric Warfare: The application of dissimilar strategies, tactics, capabilities and approaches used to circumvent or negate an opponent’s strengths while exploiting his weaknesses.
Mission: The AWG provides operational advisory support globally and rapid solution development to the Army and Joint Force commanders to enhance soldier survivability and combat effectiveness and enable the defeat of current and emerging threats in support of Unified Land Operations.
Core Functions: Operational Advising, Identify Capability Gaps, Solution Development, Assist Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Organization, Leadership and Education, Personnel, Facilities and Policy Integration.
Website: www.awg.army.mil and Facebook, YouTube, Twitter
Asymmetric Warriors Wanted
email@example.com Phone: (301) 833-5366 (Maryland)
Operational Advisor (ASI U9): Operate in an unconstrained and undefined environment where there are no scripts, and where the enemy does not follow a playbook. Applicants must be active duty SFC-SGM, senior CPT-LTC and meet a list of specific requirements.
Operational Support & Staff (ASI U8): Hand-picked experts whose missions vary based on MOS and experience. Applicants must be active duty SGT-SGM, CPT-LTC and meet a list of specific requirements.
Civilian Contractors: Meeting requirements specified by approved companies.