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Cavalry reconfigures time-tested tactics for 21st century battlefields

By Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick July 26, 2017

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait -- Visible waves of intense heat radiated off of the sand at the Udairi Range Complex as teams maneuvered the lanes, scanned their sectors, communicated among each other, and engaged targets.

The cavalry scouts and tankers of the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment "Saber," 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division arranged into Hunter-Killer teams, adapting a time-tested concept to make the most efficient use of the capabilities of each branch.

"This training is very much, in some ways, back to the future," said Saber Commander Lt. Col. Niel Smith. "We did Hunter-Killer concepts for a number of years ever since the 1950s in the cavalry branch. Changes to doctrine, changes to organizations have created an ebb and flow of the concepts."

The reconfiguration of assets during the brigade redesign, completed in the winter of 2016, introduced a new capability to the reconnaissance squadron. Saber gained a tank company -- Dakota Company from 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team.

Since the addition of Dakota Company, Saber leadership began experimenting with ways to integrate heavily armored assets to make the most prudent use of their immense firepower to support the squadron's mission.

"The cavalry squadron is charged with being the eyes and ears of a combat brigade," said Smith, a native of Richmond, Virginia. "We're supposed to go out, locate the enemy, fix them, make contact, and then be able to transition those targets over to other forces in the brigade for further prosecution."

While the reconnaissance element has traditionally been up front with heavy forces to the rear, leaders started toying with the idea of bringing some of that heavy firepower forward to help reinforce the cavalry scouts.

"Frequently how it's done is, we'll have the recon forces up, and the combined arms battalions will potentially be kilometers behind, and so we'll do a forward passage of lines, but that takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and we're not always correct about where the enemy might be, so with this design it gives us more firepower with our forward recon element so that when we do gain enemy contact, we can maintain it," said 1st Lt. Aaron Scarborough, platoon leader assigned to Dakota Company, Saber Squadron.

"We can, if we need to, arrange direct fires with not just Bradleys, but also tanks, and that'll give us more time and maneuver space, so the combined arms battalions can move forward, and they can finish the fight," he added.

"We've also never really done it in this configuration, where we have one tank company attached the three cavalry troops and then mixing those elements together to be effective on the battlefield as a reconnaissance organization, and it's required an adaptation beyond what existing doctrine and our [tactics, techniques and procedures], the techniques we use to do missions and also recognizing the capabilities of each platform," said Smith.

The Hunter-Killer strategy is designed to be effective against any number of threats in various types of terrain.

"There are a lot of conventional threats out there," said Scarborough. "We have been fighting in asymmetric warfare for the past 15 or so years, and those threats still exist, but there are threats that are peer or near-peer that we need to be prepared for, and we need to be able to arrange our most powerful ground forces together swiftly, accurately, report and then be able to destroy the enemy on the ground."

Saber has brought a handful of its assets into the employment of the Hunter-Killer concept, to include unmanned aerial systems and mortars, all to increase the commander's options by giving him a clear picture of the battle space and the enemy capability.

"It can help you engage all kinds of threats you can find on the battlefield, because also we have indirect fire that we can use. We have UAS -- Predator, Shadow -- our reconnaissance assets that will help us be more decisive in battle," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael DeJesus, assistant operations noncommissioned officer.

"When we do the Hunter-Killer teams, what they provide us is an enabler to meet the commander's intent. If we have tanks coming with us within striking distance, we can identify the enemy, cover and conceal ourselves, battle hand-over to the tank, they move forward to the battle position and engage and destroy the [enemy]," DeJesus said.

The employment of the concept has been months in the planning, and while it seems intuitive to the senior enlisted leaders who have seen it in execution, many of the junior troops were not yet familiar with the concept. The Soldiers had classroom instruction to introduce the concept and then familiarization between the tankers and cavalry scouts to help build cohesion.

"This is the first time most of the Soldiers have done this," said DeJesus, a native of Caguas, Puerto Rico. "We combined a tank section with a scout platoon section, so they could start conducting their troop-leading procedures, so they could get to know each other and understand each other's capabilities and limitations to see what they can bring to the fight."

Smith said the Soldiers are having to rethink some of their pre-conceived notions as they actually execute the concept.

"What's been interesting watching this is learning the scouts initially thought, 'Oh, we're going to be in front. We're going to lead the tanks,' and what they're kind of learning is that sometimes the tanks need to be in front, and sometimes the scouts need to be in front, and sometimes they need to split off together into different combinations in order to get the mission done," Smith said.

"They're developing a lot of these new TTPs [tactics, techniques and procedures], if you will, or these new techniques to be able to adjust. How do we work together and take advantage of the strengths of each platform, and they're not necessarily the ones they thought they would be in the beginning," Smith added.

So even though temperatures topped out at 118 degrees, the Soldiers saw the value of this training opportunity and remained focused.

"The Soldiers are motivated to do this training," DeJesus said. "They are eager to learn and understand. It's more motivating, and it gives them more confidence to know that they see the enemy and can call the tanks, and they will come up and destroy the enemy."

"The tankers and cavalrymen are absolutely attacking the lanes," Smith added. "They're using fire control and distribution, using the tanks to hit tank targets, using the scouts to engage lighter targets and dismounting their scout reconnaissance teams to evaluate terrain, obstacles and sometimes to engage dismounted personnel of the enemy, so they've been doing fantastic out there.

A lot of learning [is] going on. It's really a great experience that we haven't done this type of training in a while, and we're learning a lot of really fantastic lessons," Smith said.

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