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Applying the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to
Brigade Reconnaissance & Surveillance (R&S) Operations

by MAJ Charles W. Innocenti, Brigade S2 Trainer, NTC


The lead opposing force (OPFOR) battalion crosses the RL. Soon afterward, the BLUFOR's UAV picks up a mobilized rifle battalion (MRB) in a deep named area of interest (NAI). The UAV picture is displayed on a monitor inside the brigade TOC next to the battle map. The BLUFOR determines that the UAV has found the OPFOR's advance guard main body (AGMB) and proceeds to take actions to engage the AGMB with artillery. The fire support officer (FSO) tells the UAV operators to have the UAV lock onto the lead T-80 and stay with the AGMB to provide target data and battle damage assessment (BDA).

The air liaison officer (ALO) announces that close air support (CAS) is on station; however, the UAV is now outside its restricted operating zone (ROZ), and CAS cannot engage the AGMB until the UAV repositions. The Brigade XO directs that the UAV move back to locate an enemy dismounted reconnaissance team (DRT) that it had previously located. The DRT seems to be the observer for fires that are falling on the BLUEFOR infantry strongpoint. The UAV is redirected to find the DRT.

Shortly thereafter, the S2 calls for the UAV to return to a deep NAI to look for the OPFOR Main Body, but the Brigade XO denies his request. The battle staffs in the TOC are glued to the UAV monitor as the UAV locates the DRT and artillery falls on its position. They are oblivious to the scout report of a large body of vehicles entering the battle space. The UAV operators are reacting to the latest demand by the battle staff and have totally forgotten the task of identifying the OPFOR main body. The OPFOR main body begins to engage the southern BLUFOR battle position and is attempting to breach. The close fight is now at hand, and UAV requests by the battle staff have dropped off. The UAV operators, with no guidance, simply fly the UAV all over the battlefield.

This scenario has been played out many times at the NTC, during the several rotations when UAV has participated as part of the reconnaissance effort for the brigade combat team (BCT). Although UAV has had a positive impact on R&S operations, its full potential has not been reached. These are the three shortcomings that continue to plague units in the use of the UAV:

1. Lack of focus.
2. Lack of coordination when using the UAV for targeting versus surveillance.
3. Lack of Army airspace command and control (A2C2).

This article provides tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to address these problems.


The biggest mistake that units make is having a lack of focus for the UAV. S2s will develop collection plans which include taskings for the UAV, but the undisciplined dynamic retaskings quickly destroy the focused collection, and the UAV is reduced to merely providing TV pictures of the battlefield for the TOC. The UAV collection effort must be focused. To just simply move the UAV from place to place without a clear task and purpose usually puts the unit in a reactive rather than proactive mode, and is a terrible waste of an important intelligence asset.

The UAV must be used for surveillance to collect information in accordance with the S2's collection plan. The development of the R&S effort must identify a clear task and purpose for the UAV. This is best done by giving it NAIs to observe that, in turn, confirm or deny enemy actions. Looking at the Remote Video Terminal (RVT) monitor, you soon understand that seeing what the UAV sees is like looking through a tube. The wide-angle shot is adequate, but the detail needed to identify vehicles and fighting positions is quickly reduced.

The UAV possesses a great capability to see deep and should be used to provide deep eyes for the BCT. The UAV also possesses the ability to move about the battlefield quickly and go from NAI to NAI in a short span of time. A way to capitalize on this ability is to have another collection asset cue the UAV and let the UAV provide the redundancy for the deep eyes in the collection plan. Collection systems, such as JSTARS, GSR, Rembass, and SIGINT collectors, are examples of assets that can provide single-source reports that must be confirmed by another source to produce true intelligence. These systems may locate enemy elements on the battlefield, but lack the ability to confirm the exact identification and composition of that element. These systems, however, can provide the UAV with an enemy location, and the UAV can then be tasked to fly over and confirm the identification and composition of the enemy element. The bottom line here is leveraging the UAV to allow the BCT to systematically gain and maintain contact with the enemy.

The scenario that follows illustrates "A Way" to use UAV when the BCT is defending to gain and maintain contact. Figure 1 provides a graphic illustration of this example. During R&S planning, first provide a deep or flank NAI for a GSR to observe. The collection plan should further identify other deep NAIs, in addition to the one the GSR is watching, for which the UAV will be tasked to provide redundancy. This facilitates the necessary A2C2coordination that must be initiated and completed as soon as possible. When the collection plan is properly executed, it ensures assets are arrayed in depth to allow for the hand-off of enemy forces from deep to close.

During execution, the Chief of Reconnaissance (COR), located at the TOC, is alerted by the GSR team to possible enemy forces moving within a specific NAI. The COR then retasks the UAV to observe that NAI to positively identify the force. The TOC receives real-time identification of the enemy force. The COR then alerts a nearby brigade reconnaissance troop (BRT) team as to the composition, direction and speed of movement for the force and directs the BRT team to establish contact with that enemy element. The UAV monitors the enemy element only until the BRT team reports to the COR that they have eyes on the enemy. When this happens, the COR tasks the BRT team to provide eyes-on reports concerning the enemy force, and immediately releases the UAV to return and continue providing focused coverage of other deep NAIs.

Force XXI units that have a common ground station (CGS) to provide JSTARS down-link have a tremendous capability to combine the efforts of JSTARS and UAV for deep eyes. The JSTARS picture allows the S2 to monitor the big picture and fully integrate the UAV to confirm or deny what enemy forces the JSTARS is actually seeing. However, this does not relieve the S2 of developing NAIs. NAIs are still needed to maintain the systematic approach for NAIs linked to PIRs, and linked to decision points/high value targets (HVTs). The collection technique is the same. Provide several NAIs for the JSTARS to monitor deep. When forces enter those NAIs, retask the UAV to look at the enemy force. The CGS provides the ability to have a single screen where you can view the UAV's location, where it is looking, and a real-time video feed of what it is looking at. This expedites the process immensely, especially when vectoring and focusing a second asset to gain coverage of the enemy. Once the hand-off is done, the UAV must be immediately returned to provide redundancy for deep NAIs.

Another "A Way" for the BCT to use UAV when attacking is to exploit the UAV's ability to move quickly through zone and observe many NAIs in a short time for an offensive scenario. The BCT can use the "waves" of reconnaissance method, in which ground collection assets move forward at different times and the information from the lead elements is used to exploit the use of the trail assets. When the UAV is used as the first "wave" of reconnaissance and is synchronized in the R&S plan with the use of the ground reconnaissance assets, UAV then "recon pulls" the BCT through zone. The UAV can recon pull the BCT through zone by allowing the BCT to identify the enemy disposition, determine his weakness, and exploit that weakness.

Before such an operation, the S2 develops NAIs to confirm or deny the enemy defense. Once reconnaissance assets are allowed to cross the line of departure (LD), the UAV is immediately launched to take an initial look at the NAIs. (See Figure 2 for this example.) En route to these NAIs, the UAV flies over and examines the infiltration routes that the ground reconnaissance assets should take. This allows the UAV to identify any enemy forces or obstacles the ground reconnaissance assets will encounter en route to their observation post (OP). Once on station, the UAV takes an initial look at each NAI. When the initial look is complete, the UAV returns. During the return trip, it again examines those ground reconnaissance infiltration routes that were not previously examined. If time permits, it could also reexamine previously examined ground reconnaissance infiltration routes for any changes. If flight time for the UAV is limited, the entire process can be kept relatively short, because this represents only the first "wave" of reconnaissance. If flight time is not a factor, the UAV can remain on station until the first "wave" of ground reconnaissance assets arrive at their OP locations. This allows the BCT to again gain and maintain contact with the enemy.

Based on the findings of this initial look, the R&S plan should be refined. Collection assets may not need to look in certain NAIs and may need to be redirected to new NAIs.

  • First, a fragmentary order (FRAGO) to the R&S plan is issued, and taskings are adjusted or confirmed.

  • Second, the information concerning the infiltration route reconnaissance is included in the FRAGO for the second "wave" of reconnaissance.

Combat intelligence is transmitted to ground units currently enroute or about to LD so they can adjust their routes accordingly.


The artillery men of the world want the UAV to be totally dedicated to fires, and the intelligence folks of the world want the UAV dedicated to surveillance. The UAV provides a great increase in both capabilities, but since the UAV cannot do it all, a compromise must be established. What does the BCT commander want to accomplish with his UAV, or more importantly, what is his priority? This question must be clearly answered during the wargame. Two approaches for establishing criteria for the transition of the UAV from surveillance to solely targeting are offered below.

The first approach is to establish high payoff targets (HPTs) for the UAV. The battle staff identifies HPTs during the wargame. The staff also develops the observer plan to locate and provide eyes on those HPTs so they can engage them with fires and collect BDA. During the planning process, we should further prioritize the HPTs to identify those that are so important that if the UAV finds them, the UAV will maintain watch on those forces and also be used for initiating fires on them. If this approach is taken, the commander must consciously accept the risk to the UAV. In other words, the target must be so important that the potential destruction of the UAV during its coverage of the target is an acceptable risk. The UAV must not be used in a reactionary mode to initiate fires on a non-priority target that it found. For example, during the planning process, the HPTs are identified as SA-9s, AT-5s, engineer-digging assets, and T-80s, in that priority. And because our plan incorporates the use of attack aviation, we further determine that SA-9s must be destroyed to set the conditions for the use of the attack aviation. If the UAV finds SA-9s, regardless of the tactical situation, we accept the risk of reducing the collection effort by having the UAV stay with the SA-9 until it is destroyed. Here we have established clear and focused criteria for dedicating the UAV solely to targeting.

The second approach is to identify a time or event during the battle when the transition can be conducted. For example, the battle staff has determined that once the second echelon MRB of the attacking regiment has been identified and handed off to a ground collection asset, there will be a substantial amount of time before the follow-on forces are expected. During the wargame, the staff determines that with the lack of a deep fight, they can rely solely on JSTARS or deep scouts to provide them with early warning of enemy forces, and can now accept the risk of having the UAV dedicated to targeting. This may mean that they transition the UAV from the deep fight to the close fight. If AT-5s have been identified as the HPT in the close fight, the UAV can now be used to initiate fires on them, because of the lack of a deep fight.


A2C2for the UAV must be initially coordinated very early in planning and then must be continuously monitored, updated and refined based upon execution of the mission. There are three things that a unit can do to help deconflict airspace for the UAV.

1. Designate someone who is responsible for the deconfliction of airspace for the UAV. Do not assume that deconfliction of airspace will just happen, or that the brigade A2C2representative will make the proper coordination on his own. Designate someone from the UAV element or from the analysis and control team (ACT) if necessary. The designated soldier must be very familiar with what the S2 wants the UAV to do. This familiarity will then enable the soldier to make the appropriate recommendations when moving the UAV. Because he will be very busy getting the initial requests through and then refining the coordinated airspace as the battle progresses, the designee must be allowed to work solely A2C2if required.

2. Come to the wargame with an initial A2C2plan for the UAV. Ensure you have ROZs, routes, and a blanket altitude request (if that is the technique you will use) as part of the plan. Develop the A2C2plan as soon as the S2 gives the UAV operators the initial primary and secondary NAIs he wants the UAV to see. The wargaming process will then refine the plan based upon enemy actions, the use of CAS, artillery locations and targets, potential dynamic retasking of the UAV, and use of Army aviation. The wargame is where the synchronization of these activities should be accomplished. If you do not come to the wargame with an initial plan, and instead try to develop one from scratch during the wargame, you will not achieve synchronization. Airspace requests must be made very early to be included in the airspace control order (ACO).

3. Monitor the UAV's airspace use during the fight to ensure it does not conflict with current operations. Once the battle begins, the plan will certainly change, since the enemy will probably not cooperate. Changes in allocation of CAS, artillery, Army aviation, and the dynamic retasking of UAV will cause conflicts in use of the airspace. These changes must be addressed. The brigade should have an A2C2meeting periodically with all the key players to address these issues. Redirecting the UAV to a different ROZ or adjusting its ROZs are the primary results of such a meeting. Another technique is to address these issues during the targeting meeting. Whether formal or informal, most of the key players should be present for this meeting as well. Ensure the designated military intelligence (MI) representative for UAV airspace deconfliction attends both of these meetings so he can recommend and make changes.

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