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Army pathfinders primarily provide navigational assistance and advisory services to military aircraft in areas designated by supported unit commanders. Their secondary missions include providing advice and limited assistance to units planning air assault/airdrop operations.


The pathfinder provided navigational assistance and air traffic advisories for Army aircraft encompass any phase of an air assault or a ground operation that requires sustained support by Army aircraft. For some missions, employment may be on a short-term basis as pathfinders are redeployed upon completion of a major troop lift or airdrop.

a. Primary Employment. Ideally, a pathfinder team is assigned to each combat aviation battalion. This enhances the relationship between aviators and pathfinders; an understanding between the two is important to the successful completion of a mission. However, with the reduction of pathfinder units and the assignment of pathfinder coded positions within ground units, it is still important to maintain this relationship.

    (1) Personnel who are not pathfinder qualified are trained by the pathfinder and formed into a pathfinder team at company level. The team will provide navigational assistance, air traffic advisories, and information on an around-the-clock basis for any type air movement or resupply operation conducted by or for the ground unit and supported by an aviation unit.

      (2) Pathfinders are trained and equipped to select, mark, improve, and control landing sites. Engineers in direct support of lifted ground units may assist pathfinders in improving LZs. In most situations, pathfinders perform two or more of the functions at the same time, with priority given to establishment of GTA radio communications. Pathfinders should be combat lifesaver qualified to provide additional internal medical support.

    b. Secondary Employment. When not performing duties for supported units, pathfinders (with equipment) stay near and in communication with the supported ground unit command post. When pathfinders are awaiting further missions, the command post of the parent or supported unit may task them to assist in aviation unit base airfield control, in minor demolition work, or in staff sections by performing map and aerial photographic work. However, training and maintenance of equipment take priority over the performance of secondary missions.

    c. Capabilities. Appropriately equipped and trained pathfinders can fulfill the following responsibilities.

      (1) Reconnoiter areas selected by supported unit commanders and select LZs and DZs.

      (2) Infiltrate areas of operation by foot, vehicles, or watercraft, and airland, rappel or parachute from aircraft.

      (3) Prepare LZs and DZs to include establishing and operating visual and electronic navigational aids and removing minor obstacles.

      (4) Employ GTA radio communications to provide pilots with guidance and air traffic advisories within an area of operations.

      (5) Advise pilots concerning friendly mortar and artillery fires through direct coordination with fire support units.

      (6) Provide technical assistance for the assembly of supplies, equipment, and troops before aircraft loading for deployment to LZs and DZs.

      (7) Advise and provide limited physical assistance in preparing and positioning supplies, equipment, and troops for air movement.

      (8) Conduct limited NBC monitoring and surveying of designated areas.

      (9) Provide limited weather observations, to include wind velocity and direction, cloud cover, visibility, and approximate cloud ceiling.

      (10) Operate, by agreement with the USAF, DZs and airfields for USAF aircraft in the absence of CCT.

      (11) Survey DZs for use by USAF and Army aircraft. (In this situation, it maybe necessary to provide pathfinders with radios [UHF or VHF] that are compatible with USAF radio equipment. Aviators and pathfinders must coordinate to ensure they understand ground markings and radio procedures to be used.)

    d. Limitations. Pathfinders are restricted in their employment to aircraft guidance and related primary tasks. Pathfinders must be augmented when they--

    • Provide security.

    • Remove major obstacles.

    • Recover and assemble equipment and supplies.

    • Operate additional radio nets and telephones.

    • Transport items of equipment.

    • Conduct detailed NBC monitoring and surveying.

    1-2. EQUIPMENT

    A wide variety of equipment is used by the pathfinder. Although the aviation unit SOP may specify the type of equipment, the mission will dictate what will be taken on the operation.

    a. Navigation Aids. Navigation aids are used to help aviators locate and identify an exact area.

      (1) Electronic navigation aids include homing beacons, transponders, radios, and other electronic devices that assist in aircraft navigation. These aids have a greater signaling range than visual navigation aids.

      (2) Visual navigation aids are used to designate specific areas or points on LZs and DZs. They are also used as GTA signals. Daylight visual aids include panels, smoke, signal mirrors, and colored gloves for signalmen. Night visual aids include light beacons, lanterns, baton flashlights, strobe lights, and pyrotechnics. Field-expedient visual aids may also be used effectively day or night. Visual aids are vulnerable to detection because the enemy can also see them.

      (3) Infrared navigation aids are used as NVG compatible items to assist in night navigation.

    b. Communications Equipment. Pathfinders use FM radios with secure capability and limited wire equipment. These radios allow pathfinders to communicate with aircraft, other pathfinder elements, and supported units. They have incorporated homing capabilities to provide navigation assistance to aircraft.

    c. Assembly Aids. Assembly aids are used to designate troop and supply assembly areas. As with navigation aids, assembly aids may be either electronic or visual. Field expedients may also be employed. All assembly aids can attract the threat force's attention; therefore, care must be exercised to avoid compromise.

      (1) Electronic assembly aids include radios and homing devices employing a radio signal. All electronic signals can be intercepted by direction-finding equipment and attract enemy attention.

      (2) Visual assembly aids are usually simple to employ. They include panels, smoke, and armbands for day operations; and lanterns, flashlights, light beacons, strobe lights, chemical lights, and pyrotechnics for night operations. They afford positive identification of assembly areas; however, they can also be seen by the enemy. Close coordination of their use is required to prevent misunderstandings. (See TM 9-1370-206-10, FM 21-60, and STANAGs 3117 and 3281.)

      (3) Infrared light sources can be used as assembly aids; but, they dictate the use of night vision devices.

    d. Miscellaneous Equipment. Pathfinder equipment also includes vehicles, binoculars, night (starlight) scopes, nonelectric demolition kits, wind-measuring equipment, parachutes, NBC detection equipment, NVDs, and thermal sights.


    Pathfinders and terminal guidance personnel must be aware of hostile data collection and exploitation activities, which seek to disrupt, deceive, harass, or otherwise interfere with the command and control of pathfinder operations.

    a. Enemy Interception. All signal equipment that radiates electromagnetic energy (such as radios, radars, and electro-optical devices) is vulnerable to enemy interception, analysis, direction finding, and exploitation. Such exploitation may be aimed at gaining intelligence for enemy fire and maneuver elements and for collecting data for electronic countermeasures.

      (1) Enemy exploitation of pathfinder emissions may not include an immediate enemy response. The enemy collection and analysis of data gained by interception maybe used to plan operations for a later, more advantageous time. Enemy jamming or deception may not be used either; the enemy may pretend that he has not detected pathfinder electronic signals.

      (2) The enemy's capability to exploit signal intelligence in support of his ground operations is limited to some degree by time-distance factors. He may use a reaction force or a direction-finding fix. If he uses a DF, he may use electronic countermeasures (jamming and deception) against electronic aids used in pathfinder operations.

    b. Pathfinder Awareness. Pathfinders must anticipate enemy DF capabilities. Automated DF systems determine line bearings for each signal detected. Line bearings are continuously processed and compared, and fixes are plotted for signals. Depending on the size of the DF base and the number of DF systems available, the enemy may be able to accurately determine a position with little difficulty.

      (1) Enemy actions to gain signal intelligence may indicate their intended reaction to the opposing force. Some factors to consider in combating enemy DF systems are:

    (a) The high priority given to aviation-related missions.

    (b) The amount of time their transmitter is in use (on the air).

    (c) The number of their transmitters.

    (d) The distance of friendly forces from enemy DF systems, fire and maneuver elements, and collection and jamming resources.

    (e) Friendly actions to mask pathfinder operations.

      (2) The vulnerability of signal devices to enemy exploitation is significantly reduced through strict signal security practices to include electronic warfare. (For more information on communications and EW, see FM 24-18, FM 34-40, FM 90-2, and FM 100-26.)

    1-4. TRAINING

    Personnel become pathfinder-qualified by completing the Pathfinder Course at the US Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA. Every pathfinder training program emphasizes development of individual proficiency in air traffic control procedures and an understanding of supported aviation unit SOP. The training program also stresses mission accomplishment in an electronic warfare environment.

    a. Commander's Responsibilities. Major unit commanders employing pathfinders are responsible for sustaining their training and proficiency. Pathfinder training is most beneficial when it is integrated with the training of supported aviation and ground units.

    b. Pathfinder's Responsibilities. The assigned, qualified, and trained pathfinder must ensure that the nonqualified personnel assigned to his unit team are adequately trained before they attempt a mission.

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