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November-December 1987


On the Track of the CAT...
Team Concept and a Return to the Basics
Wins Canadian Army Trophy

By the 3d AD & V Corps CAT Team
[through 3AD & V Corps PAO's, Frankfurt]

On June 19th, 1987, 1st platoon, Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 8th Cavalry (formerly 3-33 Armor) did what no other U.S. Army unit has been able to do in 24 years of international tank gunnery competition: we won the Canadian Army Trophy (CAT)!

Out of a possible 21,800 points, 1st platoon posted a Final score of 20,490, which was 800 points higher than its closest competitors, 2nd platoon, 4th Company, 124th Panzer Battalion [German Army] (19,690 points).

The winning platoon's battle run was the last of the five-day competition, making this first-time U.S. victory as dramatic as a World Series Game Seven grand slam home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The achievement capped months of intense training by Delta Company and verified a superb training program.

Every two years, the CAT tank gunnery competition brings together 10 teams, consisting of 24 platoons, from NATO'S Central Army Group (CENTAG) and Northern Army Group (NORTHAG). Nations represented at this year's CAT were Canada, Belgium, Great Britain, the Netherlands, West Germany (3 teams), and the United States (3 teams). In recent years, the official top prize has been awarded to the army group with the highest total points at the end of the competition; however every team hopes that one of its platoons will have the highest battle run score of the competition. That platoon and its team, battalion, division, corps, army - and the tank it used - become the real winners of CAT.

Unfortunately, the past failures of the United Slates to win CAT have had the effect of transforming the competition into a test. This is not a phenomenon peculiar to the United States. The showing of the Royal Hussars at this year's competition was the subject of a front page story in London's Sunday Telegraph, June 21, 1987, titled "NATO Allies Outgun Britain's New Battle Tanks". Critics have used the results of past CATs to slam the way the Army trains, the quality of its all-volunteer force, and its procurement policies. These criticisms are as baseless as those who would claim that our use of the Unit Conduct of Fire Trainer (UCOFT) and Simulation Network (SIMNET) proves that simulators can be used to further reduce yearly training ammunition allocations.

Our victory does not prove that the Ml is a better lank than the Leopard II, nor that U.S. volunteers are superior to West German conscripts. Our victory did prove that, given a capable piece of equipment and a solid training program, U.S. soldiers, not "gladiator troops" (a label pinned on us by a member of one of the other competing teams) are among the finest tankers in the world.

The most often cited reason why U.S. teams had been unsuccessful in their attempts to win CAT was that Army personnel policies made it impossible to bring together the necessary number of troops with CAT experience. Many experts were convinced that stabilized crews were the answer to German dominance at past competitions. The 1987 CAT Committee of Control requirement, for each sponsor (in our case, V Corps) to train two companies prior to an April 1 blind-draw selection, made the pool of experienced CAT tankers even smaller. The other company was made up of members of 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry. (There is no doubt in our minds that they would have enjoyed the same success we did, had they been chosen to represent 3AD and V Corps.)

Veterans of CAT scoffed at a 3rd Armored Division team that said it was going to win without a single tank commander, gunner, loader, or driver that had ever competed in CAT. The team that we fielded was not a group of super tankers; rather, it was representative of today's armor force. The company was made up of the most qualified volunteers that one battalion had to offer. Even so, given the talent that was available, it was clearly representative of the battalion as a whole.

Training is the key to winning CAT; however, logistics is a most significant element of any training plan. In today's Army we tend to view training and logistics as two separate activities, primarily because of our desire to assign functional areas of responsibility. While this distinction makes it easier for the commander and his executive officer to write OER support forms, it also tends to cause leaders to view training and logistics as related, but not dependent on each other. Our experience during CAT vindicated a strong belief we took into CAT: logistics and training are mutually supportive. Many pay lip service to that simple statement; our challenge was to implement a system that would make it a reality in our CAT company. To win we knew that we would have to train and maintain significantly better than U.S. units had done in previous CATs.

It is noteworthy that we broke with the Army of Excellence MTO&E when we moved support personnel from HHC to the CAT company. We viewed that restructuring as a critical step in building a CAT team rather than a gunnery company. Our team, not any one platoon or 16 tankers, won CAT. The team concept ensured that training and logistics were not viewed as separate entities.

The Ml system exacerbates the need to treat training and logistics as a team. High-tech and relatively new systems like the Ml tend to blur the distinction between maintenance problems, systems problems, and training problems. The following situation illustrates this lack of distinction: You have a maintenance problem when a shortline round is due to a laser that is overheated or improperly installed. You have a systems problem when a crew shoots shortline because the number five circuit card comes loose in the computer-electronics unit (which happened frequently). You have a training problem when a shortline is caused by improper lasing techniques. In all these examples, the result is a shortline, and leaders know that shortlines must be eliminated to win CAT.

If the leader does not understand the intricacies of the Ml, and the bond between logistician and trainer is not strong, the trainer blames maintenance, and logisticians blame training. (We had very few maintenance problems; the Ml had some systems problems.) At a minimum, valuable preparation lime is either lost or wasted before the real cause is determined. In worst-case situations, the real cause is not identified, and the problem persists. We were successful because we were able to determine the cause quickly and apply the needed remedy. A strong team gave us that ability.

If the Ml is one of the finest tanks in NATO, and the quality of U.S. soldiers was as good as those in our allies' armies, then the key to winning CAT for the first lime had to be training. Our analysis of past U.S. efforts to win CAT indicated that the lack of a stable, coherent, and a well-thought-out training plan had hindered units. A careful reading of their after-action reports indicated that they had concentrated almost exclusively on major densities and seemed to view the time they were not on the range as disfunctional, maybe even wasted. CAT teams are allocated so much range time during their preparation phase that (here seemed to be a tendency to view lime at home station as but a respite between densities.

Our training strategy did not revolve around any single training event or device. Instead, we designed a total program that stressed innovative training at home station as well as making maximum use of scarce range time and main gun ammunition. The keystones of that training strategy were:

  • We constructed a Tank Crew Proficiency Course (TCPC) at a local training area that was a 1/4-scale duplicate of the competition range. Platoons maneuvered their own tanks, equipped with the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES), along (he scaled-down course roads and engaged remote-controlled targets outfitted with the Target Interface Device System (TIDS). MILES and TIDS created target effect (the target fell when hit) and we were able to score CAT battle runs. All the tasks, conditions, and standards of CAT training were integrated into this course. It was so realistic that crews were able to practice target acquisition and range memorization.

  • Not all of our training was this glamorous. We stressed platoon basics by spending countless hours in the classroom gathered around a terrain board. We developed range attack procedures, drilled C-squared, and reviewed lessons learned during CAT training at Grafenwoehr and Baumholder.

  • Normal division densities at Grafenwoehr and Baumholder were used for CAT training. Before we fired a single main gun round, we ensured that the target scenarios and the range configuration duplicated what we knew about CAT battle runs. We developed an accurate scoring method that provided detailed firing data which we used to attack known weaknesses.

  • Mr. Doug Walters, AMCCOM, developed a new procedure for zeroing the Ml. Walters used a grid target panel, in conjunction with a correction matrix, to produce a zero that allowed us to consistently put rounds through an 8-inch bullseye at 2,000 meters. We feel strong about replacing calibration with zeroing. Whatever extra rounds are used to zero will be saved with more first-round hits during the subsequent training tables.

  • During two of our densities at Grafenwoehr, we invited teams from both NORTHAG and GEN-TAG to attended a pre-competition training camp. The so-called "Kitty CAT" training camps were the brainstorm of our Commanding General, MG Thomas Griffin. As a lieutenant, he had competed in a contest similar to CAT and remembered the pressure of international competition. The CG wanted everything possible done to duplicate the pressurized atmosphere which, if not handled properly, can humble the best trained platoon. He insisted that our soldiers would have a better chance of winning CAT if the first time they saw a German cross painted on the side of a Leo II was not at the actual competition. MG Griffin was right. We feared no one.

  • As part of our program to ensure that our soldiers could handle the stress of the actual competition, we asked the United States Military Academy for the services of Dr. Dennis Forbes, a member of the faculty. Dr. Forbes was no stranger to CAT. He had been part of the SAD team in 1981. Dr. Forbes came to Grafenwoehr in the third week of May and remained with the team through the last run of the competition. His method of controlling stress was accepted by the troops and paid immediate dividends. Dr. Forbes gave us a team of competitors rather than participants.

Everything we did for many months preceding CAT was directed towards winning. Critics of the competition have argued the CAT mission is detrimental to a unit because it focuses all its assets and training to the attainment of a single goal for up to a year. Many would carry the argument even further and add that CAT gunnery training does not support the Army's gunnery program, e.g., the competition does not require crew commands, night firing, or degraded gunnery. Our experience is that these critics are wrong. CAT training supports the mission of a forward-deployed armor battalion in Central Europe.

Delta Company deployed to Hohenfels one month after CAT for participation in the battalion's task force ARTEP. The company had no field time between CAT and Hohenfels to brush up on rusty field skills and conduct the tactical training that had been ignored for up to ten months. Even though the battalion's other companies had conducted ARTEP training, Delta Company's across-the-board performance at Hohenfels was superior to every other company in the battalion. It is noteworthy that the battalion as a whole had an excellent ARTEP, with some observers rating it as one of the top two performances in the division. The key to understanding Delta Company's performance is clear when we look at the process rather than the product of CAT training.

The product of our CAT training program was the first victory for a U.S. Army platoon in the history of the competition. Team-building and development of the company chain of command were the critical elements of the process that allowed us to successfully implement our training plan. The individual skills that were honed during CAT went far beyond those required for gunnery. They were the kind of skills that support the accomplishment of any mission and make a good unit a great combat team.

It may seem trite to point out that CAT training must stress quality and not quantity; however, it's true. A successful day on the range is not a function of how many battle runs are made, or even the platoon's performance. A good day on a CAT range is when the trainers know what targets they missed and why they missed. A great day on a CAT range is when the crews have full confidence in their equipment and the scoring system and believe they missed those targets. When both of these things occur, platoons (helped by trainers) can go through the process of determining whether misses were due to individual or platoon weaknesses. They identify problems, and trainers must design new scenarios to test the corrections.

If the problem persists, both must look at (he attack SOP to see whether there is a belter way of doing things.

The UCOFT and SIMNET facilities were an integral part of our training program, however, they alone are not responsible for our victory. Our training strategy can best be described as a blend of basic training methods, attention to detail, state of the art training devices, and the kind of quality soldiers that are found everywhere in today's Army. Yet, if we were asked to cite the single most important element in our overall strategy it would have to be that we fielded a team, in every sense of the word.

On June 19, if anyone in Delta Company was asked who won CAT, he would not reply "1st Platoon." He would proudly reply, "We Did!"

NOTE: Armor is published bi-monthly by the U.S. Army Armor Center, Fort Knox, KY, with the secondary title of "The Professional Development Bulletin of the Armor Branch." The illustration of the CAT trophy at the top of this page was by artist "SFC Robert Torsrud, 28 Sept. 87." Unfortunately we are not positive of the spelling of his last name. His Army unit, or whether he was on the Armor staff, was not indicated in the publication.

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