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Raising training to the level of required readiness

French military

This is the fifth blog in a series benchmarking the French Army – the armée de Terre. To date, this series has ‘benchmarked’ the armée de Terre, its culture, its structure and its people capability. This post will analyse the French Army’s approach to training. In doing so, it will highlight points of convergence relevant to the increasingly important Army/armée de Terre partnership. The author currently serves as Army’s Liaison Officer to the armée de Terre in France.

Many are familiar with the proverb ‘you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to the level of your training.’[i] When applying this ancient maxim to modern land forces, ‘ occasion’ corresponds with ‘the level of required readiness.’

This fifth blog in the armée de Terre (ADT) benchmarking series describes how the ADT trains to achieve ‘the level of required readiness.’ Accordingly, it will explore the ADT’s approach to training, outline their training transformation and conclude by underlining why and how both armies are increasingly benchmarking their training approaches.

Before exploring the ADT’s approach to training, it is worth establishing, up front, their training purpose. Quite simply, it is to achieve ‘the level of required readiness’ – now and in the future. Substantial operational commitments, approximately 28,000 personnel on any given day, plus a recently reinforced combat brigade contingency component, define the ADT’s current ‘level of required readiness.’ The ADT forecasts a foreboding future readiness need; one in which it must be ready to fight and win large-scale, high-intensity, multi-domain conflict.

There are two aspects to the ADT’s approach to training: a philosophical aspect and a practical one.

Various philosophical themes underwrite the ADT’s training approach – many of which are steeped in organisational culture and behaviour. These themes could be characterised by the following, familiar tenets:

  • A good army is defined two characteristics: firstly, that it is well trained; and secondly, that it is well-disciplined. In practice, ‘discipline derives and flows from training.’[ii]
  • To quote MacArthur, ‘in no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable.’[iii] The ADT knows this well; painfully well.
  • Success lies not with equipment and technology, but in the individuals and teams trained to employ them.
  • Superior training generates necessary mass. Indeed, ‘a trained man is worth three untrained: that’s too little – say ten to one.’[iv]
  • Superior training is all-encompassing. It permeates everything.
  • Individual skill at arms, robustness, resilience and resolve are decisive. Moreover, ‘those trained in the severest school’ are most like to exhibit these qualities.[v] Or, perhaps more colloquially, ‘a pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.’[vi]
  • Collective cohesion, cooperation and coordination are equally decisive. These attributes are only realised through rigorous and routine exercising.

Practically, the ADT’s approach to training incorporates ab initio, individual and collective.

Similar to Army, the ADT’s ab initio training occurs in soldier recruit centres, a national SNCO school and a central officer training academy. The soldier recruit course is ~ four months in length. The direct to SNCO school is 12 months long. Officer training depends on the manner of entry. For ‘direct entry’ officers, it is three years, during which a Masters qualification and dismounted platoon commander experience is gained. For former SNCO/soldiers, officer training is two years in length – and less again for specialist officers.

Common with the Australian Army, individual training includes formation at Corps training centres followed by both Corps and All Corps promotion and professional development courses. Corps soldier and officer formation broadly matches the Australian approach, albeit ADT combat Corps conclude officer formation with a combined-arms exercise.

In general, the soldier, SNCO and officer training continuums correspond – although the ADT captain and major course equivalents concentrate on developing tactical command post competence. Unlike Australia, the Combat Officer Advanced Course is not integrated; with combat-team commander training undertaken at separate Corps schools. Those ADT officers selected for Staff College, ~ 29% of those considered, undertake a yearlong course preparing them for service in a land component tactical headquarters. A comparable 12-month joint staff college follows.

As with most professional armies, including Australia’s, collective training is delivered via a cycle prioritising its ‘unit of action.’ For the ADT, the two 26,000 strong ‘combat divisions’ constitute its ‘units of action.’ The image below illustrates the ADT’s two-year collective training cycle: by phase, training standard, method (live, virtual, constructive) and readiness level (pie graph).

The ADT’s ‘supporting divisions’ enable the ‘combat division’ cycle, concurrent to their own training. This ‘supporting effort’ role does not diminish ‘enabler’ contribution to land force capability (indeed, the ADT is a ‘bullish’ market for enabler ‘stock’).  However, it respects the fact that the ‘combat divisions,’ the ADT’s ‘units of action,’ furnish the ‘mass’ of current and future commitment. Therefore, they comprise the ADT’s collective training ‘main effort.’

French Army Combat Division Force Generation Cycle


In June 2020, the new French Army Chief released his 10-year strategic vision for the ADT. Salient takeaways for this blog are three-fold. Firstly, the ADT’s enduring duty is to maintain ‘the level of required readiness’ for any and all occasions. Secondly, human resources, modernisation and training reform will ‘strengthen’ the ADT’s readiness for an inimical future. Thirdly, training transformation is the most important contributor to ‘strengthening’ the ADT’s readiness.

So, what does this training transformation comprise? In short, it is raising training to the level of required readiness – both current and future. Raising is synonymous with increasing and improving. While early days, the ADT’s training transformation is manifesting as follows…

Firstly, there has been a reinforcement of the philosophical premises underpinning the ADT’s approach to training. In reality, given its pernicious prediction of the required level of readiness, the ADT is ‘doubling-down’ on these themes. Perhaps the most tangible example of this is the bolstering of its ‘combined-arms training division,’ created in 2018 (encapsulates the equivalent of Army’s CATC, CTC and Heads of combat Corps). Another is the development of a new concept of employment for the ADT, to be issued in 2021.

Secondly, individual (including ab initio) training is being revamped. One example is the initiative to enhance the ‘warfighting ethos’ of ADT individual and small teams. The esprit guerrier program seeks to enhance individual (including ab initio) and small team robustness, resilience and resolve by exposing ADT individuals and small teams to physical hardship, austerity, adversity and dilemma. Another example is expanding and improving ‘home-station’ training for individuals and small teams; making training even more ‘all-encompassing’ – permeating everything. (The ‘home-station’ training initiative also seeks to reduce extreme tempo for ADT personnel (between 160-220 days pa at regimental level.)) The ADT is upping investment in its extensive virtual simulation network (already established to unit level). It is also adapting training techniques to ensure it optimises the capability potential afforded by its unprecedented modernisation agenda.

Thirdly, and the French Chief’s favourite element of training transformation, is raising the level, frequency and rigour of the ADT’s collective training. To date, the ADT’s collective combined-arms and amphibious training has focused on combat-team exercises (‘live’ training) and brigade-level command post activities (‘constructive’ training). Given their foreboding future forecast, this training is increasing to routine battle-group, combat brigade and even combat division ‘live’ training and combat division to Corps ‘constructive’ command and control exercises. The ADT is improving the ‘live’ simulation capabilities of their national training centres, enabling them to better facilitate the realities of high-intensity conflict. Doctrine, which lies at the very heart of training, is being rewritten to best prepare for future readiness requirements as well as reflect changes in how the modernised ADT will operate and fight. Finally, both collective training facilities and exercise scenarios are being future-proofed by incorporating the new technologies, domains and adversaries that will likely test the ADT’s required level of readiness, today and tomorrow. 

In relation to training, there are numerous points of convergence between the Australian Army and the ADT. Both exhibit a cultural proclivity to prioritise training as the most important input to land force capability. It is likely both subscribe to the proverb that an army doesn’t automatically rise to ‘the level of required readiness;’ rather, it falls to the level of their training. The purpose, philosophy and practise of both land forces’ approach to training corresponds. Each consider training transformation as crucial to achieving the required level of readiness, now and in the future. Reflecting their commonality in training approach and reform, as well as the unequivocal benefits of benchmarking, within the auspices of the broader bilateral partnership, both armies are expanding their ab initio, individual and collective training cooperation and collaboration.

[i] Originally attributed to Greek philosopher Archilochus

[ii] Lieutenant General Arthur S. Collins, Jr, 1978, Common Sense Training

[iii] General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, 1933, Annual Report of the Chief of Staff of the US Army

[iv] Field Marshal Prince Aleksandr V Suvorov, 1796, The Science of Victory

[v] Thucydides, c. 404 BC, The History of the Peloponnesian War, 1

[vi] General George S Patton, Jr, 1942, Message to his forces before the landing at Casablanca

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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