Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is bringing back “red cell” groups, which he used while commanding Marines in Iraq, to study enemy tactics.
The groups formed of officers and staff noncommissioned officers were handpicked to analyze the enemy threat, including tactics, techniques and procedures on the front lines, and determine the necessary operations to defeat that threat.
Now, Amos hopes to bring the groups back for use in Afghanistan.
Amos’ cells in Iraq included an eclectic group of personnel with backgrounds in intelligence, information operations, logistics, ground combat and civil affairs. What Amos wanted from them, said a former cell leader, were frank assessments and open discussion that challenged conventional thinking. He ended each meeting by reminding his staff: “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”
A red cell “is a great way to insist you get a group of people looking at things differently than anyone else,” said retired Col. Gary I. Wilson, who coordinated Amos’ cell with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Al Asad Air Base in 2003 and 2004.
Amos’ operational principle was “don’t wait for something to happen, make it happen,” Wilson said.
When insurgents began to fire SA-16 anti-air missiles, Amos “immediately modified his tactics,” ordering more nighttime flights and adding survivable gear and equipment to helicopters, said Wilson, who later led one of Amos’ cells with II Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq.
It was little surprise to Wilson that his former boss, in one of his first acts as commandant, made a point to get the bigger Corps and the individual unit leader to embrace the concept.
“I see him leveraging the ability to predict, or at least consider, unintended consequences,” Wilson said.
Amos wants two of his top doctrinal centers — Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Training and Education Command, including Marine Corps University — to develop a plan to institute red cells at each Marine expeditionary force and each deploying Marine expeditionary brigade, and to develop a curriculum to institutionalize “red teaming” within resident professional military courses for officers and staff NCOs. The report is due to him by Feb. 18.
“The purpose of this cell is to challenge prevailing notions, rigorously test current [tactics, techniques and procedures] and counter group-think,” Amos wrote in his “Commandant’s Planning Guidance,” released in October.
The Corps, Wilson said, could benefit from applying the red cell concept to issues such as the budget and force reshaping.