Last year, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a call-to-arms to increase the lethality of the U.S. military’s close-combat units. His initiative resulted in the creation of the Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF).

The CCLTF seeks ways to improve the combat effectiveness of troops engaged in close-combat roles. Despite these units’ disproportionate role in the last few decades of war, they’ve been regularly getting the shorter end of the budgetary stick. Colorful projects, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or the new Ford-class aircraft carriers, have been the focus of the military’s leadership.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Joe L’Etoile, the current director of CCLTF, spoke to the Military Times about the project and its progress. He said that they have received more than $3 billion to design, develop, and implement concepts that would increase the lethality of small unit elements. The CCLTF is looking at how the different close-combat elements operate across all branches. It also examines the recruitment, training, and retention processes in place.

“We have gone out and provided the resources to have potentially game-changing capabilities.But capabilities aren’t concepts,” he said. “If we give everybody all of this magnificent situational awareness, artificial intelligence, can’t-miss rifles, and every squad with loitering munitions and quadcopters, but if we still do two up, one back squad-level tactics developed in 1917, what have we changed?” said L’Etoile.

The task force has been monitoring and examining data from a number of sources, to include conventional and SOF troops engaged in close combat. However, L’Etoile cautioned that constant meddling could derail the whole project and defeat the purpose.

“And I can tell you exactly what they’re going to tell us: Let us train, don’t distract us with other things, and stabilize us,” he said about the pioneering teams. “It is a constant and consistent refrain from the operating forces. Let us train.”

CCLTF has also been using the treasure troves of experience held by the country’s special operations forces. They have been talking to the 75th Ranger Regiment, whose bread and butter are direct action (DA) missions; Navy SEALs; Army Green Berets; and Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) operators. Their ultimate aim is to understand what the elite units do with respect to recruitment and retention. That might prove more challenging than it sounds. Decades of war and consecutive combat deployments have taken a heavy toll on SOF. Retention numbers, especially in the Ranger Regiment and the Special Forces groups, are awful.

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