and Observations at JRTC
SSG Michael S. Bigbey and MAJ Valery C. Keaveny, Jr.
JRTC LRS Observer/Controllers
Long-range surveillance (LRS) operations at JRTC are challenging and must remain that way. As with all units and battlefield operating systems (BOS), LRS units exhibit common trends, those that are positive and those that need further training emphasis in JRTC deployments. This article examines those trends and supporting observations by phases. PHASE One concerns planning and addresses the military decision-making process (MDMP), the commander and operations staff, teams, and the communications section. It also addresses rehearsals for the teams and the detachment operating base (DOB). PHASE Two focuses on insertion and infiltration. PHASE Three discusses execution, covering, site selection and occupation, actions in the areas of responsibility (AOR), reporting, and communications. It also looks at field craft, detachment operating base (DOB) operations, breaking contact, and evasion and recovery. PHASE Four examines exfiltration and extraction, while PHASE Five discusses recovery.
The Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP)
All operations should begin with a plan, so planning is the focal point for PHASE One. The military decision-making process (MDMP) is the standard planning tool for the U.S. Army. It applies equally to brigade and LRS team operations. LRS units that employ the MDMP develop better plans. The key element in that obvious statement is the word "employ." Commanders, staffs, and leaders at all levels must understand and have a firm and grounded working knowledge of the MDMP in order to use it.
Most units do well at mission analysis under the MDMP, but need improvement in intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). Units are actually using the steps of IPB to arrive at a decision support template to fuel the MDMP, but there are indications they do not really know the procedures. The solution is not simply "mentally pencil-whipping" the IPB in order to publish the order. Units do not focus enough attention on developing a realistic enemy situation template. Not surprisingly, units have mixed success in developing, wargaming, and comparing different courses of action. Similarly, LRS units do not fully develop their contingency plans. The "big hand, little map" starts to work against planning in the necessary detail. Consequently, LRS units seldom develop a detailed operational timeline, working in reverse from eyes-on the objective time.
The Commander and Operations
The detachment commander plays a key role in the LRS team planning process. He should thoroughly examine each mission packet folder (MPF) for completeness. It is imperative that he conduct a detachment-level MDMP to ensure the detachment has a viable plan to support the teams. In doing so, he should refine products, verify the team's ability to collect specific orders or requests (SOR) and, finally, issue an operations order. That order should include detailed guidance for courses of action (COA), evasion and recovery (E&R), timelines, insertion/extraction procedures, and other areas as necessary. The teams at JRTC generally find it quite useful to have a team liaison officer (LNO) with the detachment during the planning phase to encourage detachments to aggressively pursue answers to team requests for information (RFIs). The detachment commander should receive a minimum of three briefs from the team leader. They include the confirmation brief, COA decision brief, and backbrief. (FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, and FM 7-93, Mission Training Plan (MTP), refer to a concept brief and backbrief.) As this takes place, the 1SG and operations and communications sergeants should monitor and advise teams throughout the planning phase.
Planning at the team level is NCO driven. In many cases, alternate COAs are not distinguishable from one another. Care must be taken to break out the COAs sufficiently so that their strengths and weaknesses show up. Three COAs that appear the same are just that; the same COA with a few wrinkles added may confuse the planner. Site selection is the single most difficult task at JRTC. Ultimately, site selection will decide the success and survival of the team. Units do not adequately plan for primary and alternate sites, nor do they address contingency sites. Just mentioning the alternate site does not equate to planning. In any case, there must be time for a leader's reconnaissance (recon) as well as time for site construction. Another common trend is that teams overestimate their rate of foot movement, especially in the wooded terrain and vegetation at JRTC. It is better to build in too much time than to force the team to exhaust or, worse, expose itself by "busting brush" in a hasty speed march. Generally, unit insertion coordination is good for both air and ground; often overlooked is crew or host nation forces (HNF) contingencies. Units also conduct poor final air mission briefs, usually because they lack an appropriate checklist. Team evasive plans of action (EPAs) also lack in necessary detail.
Communications (commo) planning to support LRS operations demands equal detail. The commo section should conduct a communication exercise (COMMEX) to test all available frequencies. It should be able to propagate frequencies. The section must bring spare communication and electronic (C-E) equipment. Employing the alternate operating base (AOB) usually prevents problems with skip. In any case, the commo section should perform antenna analysis. Finally, the communications element and teams must operate under the same standing operating procedures (SOP) and matrix.
Rehearsals are the final step before execution. Rehearsals are consistently a topic in the LRS after-action reviews at JRTC. Rehearsals are seldom emphasized or observed by the command. Rehearsal guidance should be given to all operational elements in the warning order, and refined in the operations order, to fit the mission. When rehearsals are discussed in the warning order, often commo, DOB, and AOB rehearsals are overlooked.
Rehearsals should blend and test the team's ability to execute standard drills and any extraordinary requirements within the mission. Teams at JRTC often conduct rehearsals in wide-open areas -- quite unlike the terrain they will encounter -- and with minimal equipment. At JRTC teams have sufficient time after the warning order, but rarely conduct rehearsals prior to the operations order. Teams commonly waste those available hours and run short on time after the orders process. This reduces the time needed for rehearsing "actions on the objective." Often the "actions on the objective" rehearsal is more a "talk-through" than a performance-oriented "walk-through." When they do conduct rehearsals with full uniform, teams leave mission essential equipment behind and are not packed as they planned. Teams do not rehearse cross-load of equipment, construction of hide and surveillance sites, use of ghillie suits, ranges of internal FM communications, or ranges of day and night observation equipment.
The same holds true in rehearsing standard drills. Very often break contact drills do not consider casualties, certainly a possibility in such a situation. Immediate action drills assume the team is moving together, when it may be divided by mission necessities. Teams do not rehearse site defensive fire plans, nor do they conduct adequate breakout drills. Contingency plans must also be rehearsed, but often are not. These include internal link-up procedures, no-commo procedures, evasion and recovery plans, and external link-up plans. Variations on these contingencies, such as at night, with equipment, or with crew or host nation forces (HNF), are overlooked. Teams do conduct detailed COMMEXs, and that needs to continue. Team rehearsals seldom include high-frequency (HF) trouble-shooting drills, downed man and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) drills, link-up procedures, and hide/surveillance site construction.
Detachment operating base (DOB)/company operating base (COB) rehearsals are seldom conducted. They should include emergency extraction, call for fire, downed aircraft, evasion and recovery, and emergency resupply. Rehearsals identify weaknesses and problems with the plan and are one of the keys to success at the JRTC.
To summarize, JRTC LRS trends on rehearsals show a lack of command emphasis and poor time management. Rehearsals are often not planned, and when they are, they lack realism. They disregard detail, ignoring matters such as communications, CASEVAC, or link-up. They do not detail actions in the objective area or consider DOB/AOB rehearsals.
Standard rehearsals should include the following:
- Off-loading and assembly procedures at points of insertion.
- Movement formations.
- Lost-man drill.
- Security halt procedures.
- Actions at possible danger areas.
- Actions in the objective area (entering; maintenance; sterilization of the hide, surveillance, and communication sites). At a minimum, during hasty planning, rehearsals of actions in the objective area are always completed.
- Reaction drill for aircraft flyover (friendly or enemy).
- Counter-tracking techniques.
- Actions on enemy contact (chance, near and far ambush, sniper, air attack, indirect fire, flares).
- Loading procedures at the extraction site.
- Special actions (as required) and use of new or unfamiliar equipment.
- Procedures for emplacement and recovery of a cache.
- Actions at designated recovery areas during evasion and escape.
Insertion is the next step in LRS planning and execution. LRS units at JRTC generally have good air assault and fast rope insertion extraction system (FRIES) standing operating procedures (SOP). They do not always conduct good aerial navigation, especially when they are unfamiliar with the aircrews. LRS teams that conduct operations with familiar aircrews have greater confidence in the aviators' skills. Some units use flying LNOs, but there are benefits and risks to this technique. LNOs generally know the mission and are effective in conveying the needs of the LRS unit to the aviators. On the other hand, LNOs accompanying the mission seldom pack or prepare to execute the mission if necessary. Finally, DOBs/COBs are often unprepared to track the aircraft while en route to the insertion point.
Infiltration is equally challenging to teams at JRTC. Teams that are quite good at route selection are generally poor in estimating movement rates. Generally, they tend to overestimate their ability to move cross-country in the terrain at JRTC. While moving, the teams use good drills to avoid or cross danger areas, and their overall tactical movement skills are excellent. However, those skills degrade with time, especially when soldier loads are too heavy. Weary teams show decreased security awareness. Teams do not use all possible counter-tracking measures; many times they use ineffective methods for counter-tracking. They also fail to use all available tools for land navigation. Teams do not emphasize en route recording, and often do not have SOPs established on how to record at halts or to use a hand recorder. Overall, their use of night-vision devices (NVD) is quite good, and they show good noise and light discipline.
Site selection is a problem area for most teams at JRTC. All too often the team leader does not conduct a leader's recon of the proposed site or fails to do so adequately. For instance, site recon seldom includes verification of what can be seen from ground level. Teams do not choose sites on neutral terrain, avoid trails and lines of drift, or account for civilians or animals in making their site selections. Many of these failures are the result of incomplete IPB, especially situation and event templates. Their sites do not provide continuous and effective surveillance for day and night operations, nor do they account for weather conditions such as fog, rain, overcast, or low illumination. Finally, teams do not maximize stand-off, and they choose sites in which they can be easily trapped.
Teams exhibit similar problems with site occupation. They usually allocate two nights to infiltrate, only to end up rushing to occupy the surveillance site. This is typically the result of a poor operational timeline and estimation of movement rates. Teams do not clearly identify link-up points as they move to the surveillance site. They do attempt to construct subsurface sites, but are sometimes hampered by incomplete terrain analysis such as "the hole fills up with water." Surveillance site construction is generally acceptable, but would improve drastically with more training to better the techniques for digging in.
Actions in Areas of Responsibility (AOR)
Once in place, the teams' actions in the AOR are also of uneven quality. Many teams establish two-man positions that are not sustainable for extended periods. They do use ghillie suits for hasty surveillance sites in combination with recon and surveillance (R&S) teams to obtain specific orders and requests (SOR); however, many lack experience in stalking. In contrast, most contacts at JRTC occur when the enemy finds a surveillance site. Site security is generally poor. The enemy frequently gets within 25 meters before he is seen. Often, hide sites do not focus enough on site construction and improvement. Teams do not emplace claymore mines correctly, if at all. Finally, site personnel do not always wear their mission essential equipment and are unprepared for emergency actions.
Reporting also shows trends that are positive and trends that need emphasis in training. High-frequency (HF) communications are generally successful for LRS teams at JRTC. Tactical satellite (TACSAT) communications are fast, but generally the net is very cluttered, making quick transmissions difficult. Units make good use of standardized reports, but BORIS reports do not provide sufficient detail. Teams should remember clarity is more important than brevity. That said, the opposing forces (OPFOR) are successful at direction finding (DF) and intercept against LRS internal FM communications. The teams are generally poor at vehicle and aircraft recognition, an especially negative trend considering their mission. They must continue to work on "call for fire," TTP for naval fires, close air support (CAS), and attack helicopter. They do not have or employ target acquisition equipment, a measure that would dramatically improve call for fire.
Teams do not maintain detailed patrol logs, and their message tracking frequently becomes problematic. Units seldom maintain status charts of successful or missed communications windows. Such steps ease future planning or changes to commo plans. Operations should provide messages or questions in written format for commo to send to the teams. Teams need an immediate acknowledgment, but must remain on the net to receive traffic. Operations go more smoothly if commo is co-located with the DOB. It also helps if commo has multiple antennas ready for use.
Field craft generally starts well, but soldier discipline degrades during extended operations. Inadequate rest plans leave soldiers unprepared to face unfavorable terrain and weather. As a result, security suffers. The longer the mission continues, the more noise, light, and counter-tracking discipline decreases.
Detachment Operating Base (DOB)
Detachment operating base (DOB) command post functions are inadequate. Routinely, only the battle captain and commander know about everything that is occurring. All too often, no two people have the same picture of the battle. The quality and use of DOB tracking charts and maps directly affect battle tracking. Shift change briefs are essential for battle tracking and effective coordination. The DOB should conduct a shift change or battle update brief for all personnel, not just the battle captain. All shift personnel must share critical information.
Battle-tracking charts should offer common displays. They should show team situations, commo windows, and the latest instructions to teams. The charts should highlight the status of SOR, critical grids, and recent coordination with the teams. Unfortunately, DOBs seldom post intelligence summary (INTSUM) or operational summary (OPSUM) information to the maps or charts and fail to analyze the effects of those changes on the unit. Without such continuous IPB, situational maps (sitmaps) and battle tracking become hopeless. The bottom line is that operations must constantly update friendly and enemy graphics.
The DOB should notify the teams of any significant changes to Paragraph 1, especially weather, enemy, or friendly situation. The DOB should maintain the team MPFs, SOPs, and EPAs. The DOB should have logs for each team as well as a master log. They should log all coordination, receipt of graphics and updates, and decisions. The DOB must frequently update the direct fire support coordination no-fire areas (NFA)/restricted fire areas (RFA). The DOB must have frequent interface with the G2, specifically the analysis and control elements (ACE). The DOB should have battle drills for executing emergency procedures and rehearse them. The DOB should have all resupply bundles and emergency extraction systems ready to use. Finally, the DOB should have access to inspect team equipment that may be required for emergency resupply.
Break Contact Drills
Compromises usually occur at the surveillance site when opposing forces (OPFOR) discover the site. If the team breaks contact, they usually abandon key equipment and become mission ineffective. Teams do not have SOPs for who blows the claymore, who provides suppressive fire, and who "Z's" COMSEC, as well as other necessary steps. Teams making contact during movement usually break contact more easily.
Evasion and Recovery (E&R)
The team evasion plans of action (EPAs) lack sufficient detail and are not well thought out. They lack a realistic estimate for rate of movement. They do not consider casualties when circumstances causing teams to evade usually result in lost equipment and injuries. Teams know the designated area of recovery (DAR) and rally point (RP) locations, but do not have a complete understanding of identification and recovery platforms. Some individuals are not mentally or physically prepared for evasion.
Exfiltration is challenging at the best of times. Changes to friendly or enemy situations frequently require changes to planned exfiltration. Link-up operations are inherently dangerous, but the danger is significantly reduced by the use of a common SOP. Having an LRS LNO at the lowest level possible can ease extraction by friendly units.
Units do not plan for or use casualty collection points (CCP). Teams are unable at times to establish FM commo with the extraction aircraft. When they do, teams have poor radio procedures with aircraft (A/C) during extraction. Aircraft often have trouble identifying the pick-up zone (PZ).
Most successful debriefs occur after the team has had an hour to collect their thoughts and "get on the same sheet of music." Teams are generally debriefed within two hours of their return, sometimes by brigade S2s. Debriefings are easier if the team has a detailed patrol log and the DOB has a good team log. Aviators should be included in the debrief to cover sightings while the team was not on the aircraft. A separate commo and radio-telephone operator (RTO) debrief usually identifies common problems and solutions. Detachments conduct thorough equipment inventories and maintenance prior to standing-down, but units seldom use down time between missions for retraining.
Long-range surveillance operations are one of the most challenging operations exercised at the JRTC. Units are motivated and highly trained, and the results show. Basic LRS skills and operations trends are generally positive. Negative trends reflect a need for fine tuning field operations and a greater emphasis on command post operations as well as planning. Reviewing the areas addressed in this article should help long-range surveillance detachments (LRSD) prepare for rotations at the JRTC. O/Cs at JRTC will not make it easy for you. You would not be in LRS if you wanted it that way.
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