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The HMMWV-mounted Scout Platoon in a
TF Movement to Contact

by CPT Kevin Parker (Grizzly 11), O/C, CMTC

Foreword
Table of Contents
Digging In:  A Lost Art

How do you go about assigning a mission to a HMMWV-equipped scout platoon in a Task Force (TF) movement to contact? It is difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most units struggle with it. This article will assist TF leaders in understanding the doctrinal employment of the HMMWV-mounted scout platoon in a TF movement to contact. It addresses the most common mistakes units make in assigning missions to their scout platoons, and presents techniques that will help leaders use their scout platoons more effectively during movement-to-contact operations.

According to current doctrine in FM 71-123, Tactics and Techniques for Combined Arms Heavy Forces: Armored Brigade, Battalion Task Force, and Company Team; FM 17-98, Scout Platoon; ARTEP 17-57-10-MTP, Mission Training Plan for the Scout Platoon, and FM 17-97, Cavalry Troop, the two doctrinal missions that a scout platoon conducts in support of a TF movement to contact are:

  • Zone reconnaissance.
  • Flank (or rear) screen.

The most common mistakes that units make employing HMMWV scouts during a movement to contact are:

  • Assigning the platoon a mission - a task and purpose - that is doctrinally inappropriate or a mission that limits the platoon's ability to accomplish what the TF really wants from the platoon.
  • Failing to fully understand the capabilities of the HMMWV-equipped scout platoon.

These two mistakes are linked. When the TF makes one mistake, the other often follows.

Mission statements for TF scout platoons in a movement to contact are often doctrinally incorrect. They do not effectively focus the platoon's collection effort.

EXAMPLES:

1. "At xxxx, TF 9-9 scouts move quickly to PL PRINCESS to set a screen to identify the Combat Reconnaissance Patrols (CRPs), Forward Patrol (FP), Forward Security Element (FSE), Flank Guard (FG), and Advance Guard Main Body (AGMB)."

2. "At xxxx, TF 9-9 scouts move rapidly through zone to identify the CRPs, FP, FSE, FG, and AGMB."

It is obviously important to assign the scout platoon a doctrinally correct mission, not to mention a mission that the platoon can execute. The mission gives the platoon its focus for the operation. In Example 1, the task, to "screen" forward of a moving force, is not a doctrinal task for a scout or cavalry organization. What's wrong with the second example? Well, it does not even assign a real task and purpose. The purpose in both examples - "to identify the CRPs, FP, FSE, FG, and AGMB" - is very common. It is rarely accomplished, however, because the statement focuses the platoon on names of enemy formations instead of types and numbers of vehicles.

Note: According to FM 17-97, a screen is a security mission that is executed to the front, flank, or rear of a stationary force or to the flank or rear of a moving force. A scout platoon does not move forward of a moving force to set a screen. A scout platoon in front of a moving force conducts reconnaissance -- area, zone, or route depending on the TF mission and commander's intent.

You cannot expect a scout platoon to accomplish a task that has no basis in doctrine. The platoon simply has no doctrinal foundation for planning and executing such a mission. As previously stated, ARTEP 17-57-10 MTP (the scout platoon MTP) lists the two missions given to a scout platoon during a movement to contact. They are:

  • Flank (or rear) screen of a moving force.
  • Zone reconnaissance.

A TF assigning any other task to its scout platoon during a movement to contact departs from the doctrinal employment of its scout platoon.

Assigning a purpose for the mission is as important as assigning the correct task. Of course, the TF wants to know the location of the CRPs, FP, FSE, FG, and the AGMB. However, does the TF really want the scout platoon to report where the "FSE" is, or does the TF want the scout platoon to report numbers, types, locations, and actions of enemy vehicles and forces? If the scout platoon is tasked to find the FSE, invariably that is what they will report. Unfortunately, the observers will probably only see part of the enemy formation. That means the FG might actually be an FP, or the FSE might really be the FP.

Get the idea?

Let the S2 decide what the formations are. All we need from the scouts is spot reports that include the size, activity, location, time, equipment, and possibly the uniform of the enemy observed. Negative spot reports are also important.

After determining what we want the scouts to report, we quickly discover that our purpose in the above examples is really the same as our task. A scout conducting a zone reconnaissance is already going to report all enemy forces with which he comes in contact. What, then, is the real purpose of the operation?

Here are some possible purposes for a scout platoon zone reconnaissance in support of a TF movement to contact:

  • ". to enable the TF to quickly maneuver two company teams against the enemy's weak flank."
  • ". to facilitate the TF employment of FASCAM to deny the enemy a maneuver corridor."
  • ". to prevent the lead company team from becoming fixed by an inferior force."

All three tell the platoon why it must find the enemy in zone and give the platoon a priority for intelligence collection when the friction starts. In short, the purpose of a zone reconnaissance is not to find the enemy. Finding the enemy is an inherent part of a zone reconnaissance. The purpose of the operation is why we are trying to find the enemy.

Remember, the mission is the main objective that the TF wants the scout platoon to accomplish. It is not the only thing. The scout platoon should be assigned other specified tasks in the TF Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) operations order (OPORD) and in Paragraph 3c of the TF OPORD. The R&S matrix should be part of the TF R&S OPORD. It should instruct the platoon what to look for, where to look (Named Areas of Interest (NAIs)/Targeted Areas of Interest (TAIs)), when to look, and for how long to look. The enemy situation briefed in paragraph 1a of the OPORD should be very detailed. It should tell the scouts how the enemy fights and what equipment and manpower the enemy will bring to the fight. All these products are necessary if the scout platoon is expected to accomplish its mission to standard.

Capabilities and Limitations of a HMMWV-equipped scout platoon also present challenges to Task Forces as they struggle with assigning scout platoons their missions during a TF movement to contact. During almost every movement to contact conducted at CMTC, scout platoons perform what O/Cs refer to as the "movement to death." The scout platoon leader is told to get his platoon to some piece of ground or phase line as quickly as possible and identify the CRPs, FP, FSE, FG, and AGMB. The platoon leader usually tells the S3 that the only way to get to the assigned Observation Post (OP) locations quickly enough to accomplish the mission is to drive in column, at a high rate of speed, on a road, across four danger areas. The answer given by the S3 is generally something like, "Well, speed is security."

Consider the following principles when tasking a HMMWV scout platoon during a movement to contact:

  • EVERY POTENTIAL ADVERSARY IN THE WORLD CAN DESTROY A HMMWV -- EASILY.
  • HMMWV scout platoons cannot fight for intelligence in the same manner as CFV scout platoons.
  • HMMWV scout platoons develop the situation with stealthy reconnaissance and indirect fire, both of which take time.
  • For a HMMWV scout platoon, Speed IS NOT Security; Speed IS Death.
  • When a HMMWV scout comes into direct fire contact with a BMP or tank -- the HMMWV dies.
  • A HMMWV scout will come into direct fire contact with a BMP or tank if the plan requires the HMMWV-mounted scout to move quickly on roads that are on major avenues of approach or to move quickly across danger areas.
  • HMMWV scouts use cover and concealment -- wooded areas, low ground, reverse slope of intervisability (IV) lines -- to remain undetected and survive; they try not to move on roads -- especially in daylight.
  • A HMMWV moves slowly when it is not on a road.
  • Scouts take a long time to train; they are not easily replaced.
  • I really want my scouts to be alive for the next mission when this mission is over.
  • We train like we will fight in war, so ask yourself, "Would I really give my scout platoon this mission if real bullets were flying?"

If the TF keeps these principles in mind when assigning the scout platoon its mission, it will be able to better utilize the platoon by giving it a mission it can execute.

TACTICS, TECHNIQUES AND PROCEDURES (TTP):

Okay, so now we know some of the problems. How do we effectively employ the scout platoon during a TF movement to contact?

Current doctrine states that scouts should conduct either a zone reconnaissance in front of the TF or flank screen of the TF when it conducts a movement to contact. Most commanders choose zone reconnaissance for their scout platoons. Here's why:

  • The scouts can find the enemy before the TF's advance guard company makes contact.
  • The scouts can call for fire on enemy formations before the enemy makes contact with the TF.
  • The scouts can serve as triggers and observers for the TF indirect fire plan.
  • The scouts can answer TF priority intelligence requirements (PIRs).
  • The scouts can observe TF decision points.

Unfortunately, there is a huge challenge to conducting a zone reconnaissance in front of a Task Force conducting a movement to contact -- TIME.

Time is the major hurdle the platoon must overcome when conducting a zone reconnaissance in front of a moving force.

  • A zone reconnaissance is a relatively slow operation -- even when the platoon remains mounted.
  • Properly crossing danger areas takes time.
  • Daylight movement on roads in hostile territory is very dangerous in a HMMWV.
  • Moving cross country or through the woods in a HMMWV is slow.
  • Bounding within a section once the platoon crosses the probable Line of Contact (LC) is slow.
  • The TF is moving forward at a relatively steady pace in tracked vehicles and does not want to stop.

Assuming that the TF does not want to task its scout platoon to conduct a "MOVEMENT TO DEATH," the TF must find a way to give the scout platoon time to conduct the zone reconnaissance.

  • An early Line of Departure (LD) time for the Scouts is the best solution but not always an option, given the brigade and division situations.
  • Air insertion of dismounted Scouts to set three deep OPs overwatching key terrain deeper in zone as soon as the TF LDs is an option. This technique allows the mounted scouts quicker movement into zone because of the increased security provided by the OPs.
  • Give the scout platoon a "headstart" at LD and have the advance guard company delay its LD until the scouts are 3km into the zone -- obviously METT-TC dependent.
  • Plan to maintain a steady, but slow rate of march at the TF level and let the scouts do the same.
  • Give the platoon a probable LC, and give the platoon fewer NAIs to observe between the LD and the probable LC.
  • Focus the platoon's collection effort on answering critical PIR and not reporting culverts, bridges.

These techniques can help the TF give the scout platoon more time to conduct a zone reconnaissance in support of a TF movement to contact.

Here is another technique to make the zone reconnaissance more successful: attach the scout platoon to the TF advance guard company/team (CO/TM). When using this technique, the platoon still conducts a zone reconnaissance and the link between the scout platoon and the lead CO/TM is better defined and more efficient. Benefits of this method are:

  • The scout platoon leader is part of the CO/TM orders process from planning through execution.
  • The scout platoon can assist the lead company team with command and control, flank security, calling indirect fire missions, and conducting route reconnaissance.
  • The CO/TM helps the scout platoon by providing overwatch at danger areas.
  • The CO/TM provides CASEVAC.
  • The platoon can call upon the firepower of the CO/TM to quickly destroy CRP elements with which it comes in contact.

Although effective when conducted properly, this method is not easy and does have drawbacks.

  • The scout platoon must stay relatively close (1-3 km) to the CO/TM, meaning that the platoon might not always give the amount of early warning that many TF Commanders desire.
  • Rehearsals must be conducted at PLT and CO/TM levels to make this method work.
  • Units must practice this method as part of Situational Training Exercise (STX) training.
  • Spot reports do not appear at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in a timely manner if the scout platoon and CO/TM communications and reporting plan is not established, understood, and rehearsed prior to the TF rehearsal.
  • The TF does not have direct control of the scout platoon.

The idea of attaching the scout platoon to the lead CO/TM in the TF makes many commanders feel uneasy. Yet, by doing so, the security of the scout platoon can be greatly enhanced. This method does not succeed when the scout platoon remains under TF control. The level of direct coordination necessary to make this method succeed cannot be achieved.

The other mission for the scout platoon during the TF movement to contact is flank security. There are a number of advantages that this mission provides for the TF.

  • The scout platoon will probably survive this mission intact.
  • It is a doctrinal mission that the platoon can accomplish.
  • The TF is much less likely to be enveloped by elements of the AGMB or elements moving to the flank of the Motorized Rifle Regiment (MRR) with scouts on the TF flanks to provide early warning.
  • Scouts can be tasked to maintain contact with adjacent units to prevent a gap from developing between any units to the left or right flank of the TF.
  • Depending on the terrain, scouts can still report enemy movement and call for indirect fire in the main battle area.
  • The scouts will be in a better position to respond to a fragmentary order (FRAGO) to find the enemy's weak flank once the main battle begins.
  • The platoon will be in position to observe special munitions employed by both friendly and enemy units that attempt to hinder opposition movement along a flank mobility corridor.

The flank security mission is even more attractive considering the current Army force structure. With only three CO/TMs in a BN/TF, combat power is at a premium. Gone are the days of the TF Diamond when the commander could use the trail CO/TM to react to threats on his flanks. Scout platoons are going from 10 HMMWVs and 30 personnel to 6 HMMWVs and 18 personnel. Brigades now have a Brigade Reconnaissance Troop (BRT). A TF, therefore, has less combat power available to secure its flanks and less flexibility to deal with threats on its flanks. The good news is the BRT.

The BRT's mission during a movement to contact is to conduct a zone reconnaissance. The BRT focuses on finding the enemy in front of the brigade in zone. With the brigade's intelligence assets committed to finding the enemy to the front, the TFs are responsible for conducting flank security for the brigade. If a TF scout platoon is conducting a flank security mission, the TF can still focus its combat power forward. Of course, the TF must still have a plan to react to a threat on its flanks. The scout platoon can also maintain contact with adjacent units while continuing to conduct reconnaissance in support of the TF mission. Under the current force structure with a relatively small TF scout platoon and a BRT, tasking the TF scout platoon to conduct flank security during a TF movement to contact is undoubtedly the most logical mission for the platoon.

When assigning the TF scout platoon its mission in support of a TF movement to contact, the TF must understand the capabilities and limitations of the platoon. The TF must then decide, based on terrain and the current friendly and enemy situation, which task - flank security or zone reconnaissance - and purpose to give the platoon. Hopefully, this article will assist the TF in assigning the platoon an executable mission.

U.S. Army doctrine is flexible. In the U.S. Army, creativity is admired and rewarded - WHEN IT WORKS. How else would we come up with TTPs? Some units may attempt to find innovative ways to employ their scout platoons that do not fall within current doctrine. Consider the following before becoming creative:

  • Can my scout platoon doctrinally conduct the mission? If the answer is no, then do not try to be creative. Ensure, first, that the platoon can execute to doctrinal standard. If it cannot accomplish a doctrinal mission, it certainly cannot accomplish a non-doctrinal mission.
  • Can I train the platoon to conduct this mission during an STX? If you cannot conduct maneuver training, do not try something non-doctrinal - it will not work.
  • Did this new method work at a CTC against an uncooperative enemy over which I had no control over? If not, do not try it again.

If the new method passes the above three questions, it works, and you still think it's a good idea, write about it, and let the rest of the U.S. Army benefit from your creative TTP.

Foreword
Table of Contents
Digging In:  A Lost Art



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