An opposing force (abbreviated OPFOR or enemy force) is a military unit tasked with representing an enemy, usually for training purposes in war game scenarios. The related concept of aggressor squadron is used by some air forces. The United States maintains the Fort Irwin National Training Center with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment serving in the main OPFOR role. Other major units include the First United States Army which consists of 16 training brigades that often also serve as OPFOR. Fort Polk’s Joint Readiness Training Center is another major training site typically reserved for units that are slated to deploy into conflict areas.
At a basic level, a unit might serve as an opposing force for a single scenario, differing from its ‘opponents’ only in the objectives it is given. However, major armies commonly maintain specialized groups trained to accurately emulate real-life enemies, to provide a more realistic experience for their training opponents. (To avoid the diplomatic ramifications of naming a real nation as a likely enemy, training scenarios often use fictionalized versions with different names but similar military characteristics to the expected real-world foes.)
Brigade formations representing opposing forces (OPFOR) at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.; the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La.; and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany are more lethal than they’ve been in close to 40 years, Mario Hoffman, director of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s G-2 Operational Environment and Opposing Forces Program, said at a Warriors Corner talk during the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C.
“In the last 10 years, the Army has invested in and modified the OPFOR more than in the past four decades,” Hoffman said, adding there has been an even more “aggressive shift” since Gen. Mark A. Milley became Army chief of staff more than three years ago.
Recognizing that the Army had been fighting a counterinsurgency for more than a decade, Milley began to pivot readiness training toward the possibility of war with a peer adversary, and boosting the capabilities of the OPFOR was part of a strategy to make training more realistic. “The program is about providing as much of a realistic combat experience short of actual war,” Hoffman said.
Among capabilities the OPFOR has acquired are armored formations, night optics, air defense and unmanned aerial systems, antitank munitions, weapons of mass destruction, the ability to conduct sophisticated dismounted operations, and cyber and electromagnetic spectrum activities.
Scenarios are based on real-time world threat conditions and lessons learned from ongoing and emerging threats. A database of capabilities is online instead of in a stack of manuals, and versions are current based on terrain in areas such as Europe, the Indo-Pacific region and Africa.
While the big combat training centers are home to the OPFOR and all its capabilities, the Army is considering bringing some of the same realism to home-station training areas. “We’re just not sure how to get after some of that, but it’s definitely time for us to transition to home-station training,” Hoffman said.