Tuesday, March 28, 2017


The division headquarters is getting ready to start its culminating exercise -- the final phase in a series of four field exercises. It is also the big test of my section's efforts to determine how long it would take for the division to "uncoil."

The concept is simple. As a division, we're all coiled up like a snake in a single area, with two major roadways leading out. How long would it take to get every vehicle on the roads heading toward the objective?

The Army doesn't have any good models for this. There's no formula that can predict with any accuracy how long it takes to move a division from Point A to Point B in Country X because 1.) every division has different numbers and types of vehicles, 2.) every operation so many different terrain/roads/ways to get someplace that nothing's comparable, and 3.) we don't have enough trials to create the data required to do a statistical analysis.

Nope! At best, we have a movement calculator. If we assume vehicles average 10m long, are spaced 50m apart, travel 32 kph, and have 5 minute gaps between each group of 20, then we know a column of 100 vehicles will stretch 34 km long. So if the destination's 32 km away, the first vehicle will reach it in one hour, and the last one will arrive about an hour later.

But this all assumes everything works *perfectly*. There are no accidents, no variations, no breakdowns, no enemy interference, and no mistakes. In a real war, about the only time a movement calculator is useful is when planning logistical convoys in a secure rear area. It's certainly not meant for tactical operations.

Nevertheless, our movement calculator is the only tool we have, so it's been my job to do the math and present the results. And let me tell you, it's a complete farce.

For one, nobody likes the results. Things just take too long, which is completely the point. You can't pretend you're going to drive your tactical vehicles single file on a highway in the middle of a combat zone. Secondly, our simulation engines are designed only to move icons from point to point. They can't handle the concept of an inchworm stretching out a certain length and then bunching up again.

But none of this matters anyway (or at least, not to the people to whom I owe the information). Over the past two weeks, I have spent countless hours correcting the assumptions and refining the predictions to the point where I really just don't care anymore.

In the end, I think the commanding general's only interested in how long the *exercise* makes it take. And if it's anything like the previous exercise, it will only be a few hours. All my efforts will undoubtedly be reduced to mere wasted time.

Yet I can at least get a chuckle at the thought of how the simulation's results could be achieved in real life: brigades would have had soldiers racing tanks down the highway at top speed, passing each other without regard for convoy discipline; trucks from different units recklessly cutting each other off to reach their particular exit; and mass chaos as vehicles miss turns in all the confusion and radio chatter.

And all this without a single accident.

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