3 September, 2330 hours, Porta Potti Wadi, Republic of Mojava:
Darkness set in almost 4 hours ago as Sergeant Smith's scout section moved south down a large wadi and neared observation point (OP) 2B, His two M1025 scout HMMWVs made little noise, but it seemed deafening from inside the truck where he was sitting. Suddenly, a bright flash washed out his night vision goggles as a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into his wingman's truck 50 meters to his front. A moment later, another explosion from a command-detonated mine blasted a crater in the trail between his two trucks and sent a hail of rock and debris through Smith's hood, radiator, windshields--and gunner.
In an instant, his focus shifted from reconnaissance to survival. Smith knew that his section's only chances rested with rapid casualty evacuation (CASEVAC)--but what was the scout CASEVAC plan?
U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 17-98, Scout Platoon, states the "treatment and evacuation of wounded personnel are two of the most difficult tasks the scout platoon must execute. This is particularly true for the battalion scout platoon." (1) Unfortunately, at the National Training Center, scouts die from wounds in very high numbers. However, proactive officers and noncommissioned officers in nearly every scout platoon work diligently to overcome their organization's shortcomings and successfully execute their CASEVAC tasks. Some of their creative solutions include using a cargo HMMWV or 5-ton truck for resupply and CASEVAC, assigning medics to the scout platoons as drivers or dismounts, and maximizing the combat lifesaver qualifications of their 19Ds.
These efforts and ideas greatly improve the scout platoon's ability to rapidly treat and transport casualties. Yet, these measures alone will not ensure successful CASEVAC--the scout platoon needs the support of the task force (TF) S4 to save lives.
The S4 is responsible for planning combat service support (CSS) operations, including CASEVAC. The S4 may receive assistance from the S1 or medical platoon leader. However, the S4 normally does not participate in reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) planning. This R&S planning results in Annex L of the operations order and serves as the basis for the scout platoon's plan. If the S4 fails to participate in the process, scout like Smith are left with casualties forward of the line of departure (LD) in the middle of the night asking, "what was the scout CASEVAC plan?"
How do S4's plan scout CASEVAC? No single doctrinal reference spells out how to plan battalion scout platoon CASEVAC. However, the following 12-step method combines principles from several doctrinal manuals, which enables S4s to thoroughly and efficiently plan scout CASEVAC.
Step 1. The S4 must participate in R&S planning. The S2, S3, and fire support officer (FSO) are too busy to plan CSS in the S4's absence. So the S4 must be present, make himself relevant, and develop a sound CASEVAC plan. All it takes is a map, some acetate, and a few alcohol pens.
Step 2. Template enemy positions and weapons/observation ranges. The S2 and scout platoon leader will likely do this. The S4's endstate for this step is an overlay with known and probable enemy locations plotted in red--a refined situational template (SITTEMP). This should include nested range fans depicting the enemy's observation ranges during daylight and limited visibility, and weapons ranges for his direct and indirect fire systems.
Step 3. Template named areas of interest (NAIs) and reconnaissance objectives. The S2, S3, and scout platoon leader establish NAIs based on the commander's priority intelligence requirements (PIR) and other
factors. The S4 posts these on his overlay in black.
Step 4. Template projected scout OP locations. The scout platoon leader and S3 analyze de terrain near the NAIs or reconnaissance objectives, consider his capabilities and vulnerabilities, and determine where to place the OPs. The S4 adds these OP locations to his overlay in black.
Step 5. Identify scout infiltration routes. The scout platoon leader now knows where his scouts must go. He must then find routes (mounted and/or dismounted) to get them to their OPs. The scout platoon leader identifies these routes and the S4 adds them to his overlay as dashed black lines.
Step 6. Template scout casualty collection point (CCP) locations. The scout platoon leader and S4 determine where the scouts will make contact along their routes. They consider several factors to make this determination. First, are scouts infiltrating during daylight or during hours of limited visibility? The answer will tell them which enemy observation fan to use. Second, where do our infiltration routes intersect the enemy's observation and weapons ranges? These two factors will allow the scout platoon leader and S4 to establish locations of probable contact along the routes or in their OPs. The S4 marks these locations on his overlay in red.
The S4 and scout platoon leader then analyze the terrain near the points of probable contact to find terrain that offers concealment for templated CCPs. Once they find these, the S4 posts them on his overlay in black.
Step 7. Project scout casualties. The scout platoon leader and S4 now know where the scouts may make contact and sustain casualties. Now they must estimate the type and number of casualties using several considerations. First, will the scouts be mounted or dismounted at the points of probable contact? Second, what type of weapons will engage the scouts at the points of probable contact? The S4 and scout platoon leader can estimate the effects of the enemy contact by answering these questions and assessing other factors affecting the scouts' vulnerability.
A general rule of thumb for a crew making direct fire contact while mounted is one litter urgent or priority casualty, one walking wounded casualty, and the rest of the crew are routine casualties. The scout platoon will probably make contact along two-thirds of its routes. This means that a six-truck platoon using three routes may sustain four litter casualties, four walking wounded casualties, and between four to eight routine casualties.
Step 8. Identify standard and nonstandard evacuation requirements and assign responsibility. The S4 knows that the scout platoon may have up to four litter casualties needing rapid evacuation. Each M1025/6 scout HMMWV can carry only one litter casualty and does so at the expense of its reconnaissance mission. Each M113 ambulance or M996 front-line ambulance can carry up to four litter casualties. However, the S4 may not have resources to attach an ambulance to the scout platoon. In this case, he may have to rely on nonstandard casualty evacuation vehicles to transport the scout casualties from their CCP to the aid station. In a nonstandard casualty evacuation role, an M998 cargo HMMWV with troop seats can carry three litters; an M1078 light medium tactical vehicle holds up to eight litters; and an M1095 medium tactical vehicle or an M923 5-ton holds up to 12 litters.
The S4 will probably have to rely on nonstandard evacuation vehicles based on the availability of the TF's standard evacuation assets. The S4 contacts the headquarters and headquarters company commander or support platoon leader to verify the feasibility of using one of their trucks. He then assigns responsibility to whoever will provide the truck and coordinates its linkup with the scout platoon.
Step 9. Assign escort responsibility to a company team. Unarmed and unescorted evacuation vehicles will likely surfer the same fate as the scout's vehicles if they move forward to a CCP. Using a tank section to escort an evacuation vehicle to a CCP offers many advantages. First, an enemy observer will be reluctant to engage a tank section with direct tire since that would reveal his location and draw lethal 120mm cannon and machinegun fire. Second, the thermal sights, high quality optics, frequency-modulated communications, and enhanced navigation systems enable the tank section and evacuation vehicle to quickly communicate with, identify, and move to the CCP during daylight or limited visibility conditions. Third, once at the CCP, the tanks continue to provide security and loaders can assist as litter bearers as necessary.
The S4 should assign the escort responsibility to the forward most company team, whether the TF is in the offense or defense. This company team usually has the best situational awareness forward of the TF's main body and can respond quickest if the scouts need evacuating.
Escort forward using a tank section makes up one of the most crucial pieces of the scout CASEVAC puzzle and may require the involvement of the TF S3, XO, or commander. The TF needs implicit approval from its higher headquarters to launch this tank section to escort the CASEVAC vehicles forward of the line of departure or main battle area. The scouts will probably die from their wounds if the TF waits for brigade approval, which tends to occur more slowly at night when scouts will likely sustain casualties.
Step 10. Position an aid station forward and under an air corridor. The S4 puts an aid station under tactical control of the escort company team for the duration of the reconnaissance or security fight to streamline command and control. He also plots the Army airspace command and control graphics to find the air corridor closest to the escort company team's trains and closest to the start points of the scout infiltration routes. The S4 templates the aid station's location under this air corridor and ensures that the escort company's first sergeant understands why it must go there.
Utility helicopters, such as UH-60 Blackhawks and CH-47 Chinooks, axe a precious and very limited asset. The S4 and scout platoon leader must understand that brigade will not release these aircraft to fly forward of the line of departure to a scout CCP to pick up casualties. However, these aircraft greatly reduce the casualties' travel time from the aid station to a Level II facility such as the medical company in the brigade support area where the scouts can receive definitive care. Thoughtful placement of the aid station allows the medics to have a pre-planned and marked landing zone. This offers them the ability to get the aircraft there quickly due to their proximity to an air corridor.
Stop 11. Aggressively disseminate plan to key players and rehearse. The S4 formalizes the scout CASEVAC plan focusing on infiltration routes, CCP locations, standard and nonstandard vehicle requirements and responsibility, escort unit composition and responsibility, aid station location, and command and control plans and responsibilities. The S4 includes this information in Annex L, but that is not enough. He must publish a fragmentary order (FRAGO) for the support of scout CASEVAC. This FRAGO must be disseminated as soon as possible to allow all parties time to meet their requirements before the scouts cross the line of departure.
The S4 and medical platoon leader attend the TF R&S rehearsal along with the escort company team first sergeant and tank platoon leader or platoon sergeant.
Step 12. S4 manages scout CASEVAC during execution. Now that the S4 bas developed, disseminated, and rehearsed the CASEVAC plan, he must decide how to manage it. Ho may choose to personally manage it or have his night CSS battle captain or the S1 manage it. They may decide to manage scout CASEVAC from the combat trains command post and must be in position to maintain communications with the scouts, escort unit, and aid station. Whether the S1 or S4 manages CASEVAC, and from where it is managed is immaterial, as long as someone other than the scout platoon sergeant manages it. The scout platoon sergeant will ensure his casualties make it to a CCP then the TF CSS leadership manage their evacuation as a TF-level fight.
Successful scout CASEVAC involves more than just the scout platoon. The TF S4 plays an essential role in synchronizing the various elements, which come together to save the lives of wounded scouts. Rapid and efficient CASEVAC allows them to continue their mission and fight another day. Leaders owe the scouts a well-conceived and well-resourced plan to evacuate their casualties.
(1) U.S, Army Field Manual 17-98, Scout Platoon, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 10 April 1999.
CPT Geoffrey A. Norman is an observer controller on Cobra Team, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1994. Ho has served in various command and staff positions, to include tank platoon leader, tank company XO, HHC XO and BN S4, 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, TX; and S1 and commander, A Troop, 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 2d Infantry Division, Camp Garry Owen, Korea.
Trends establish norms, whether positive or negative, which change very little during standard military operating conditions unless they receive command emphasis. At the National Training Center (NTC), as well as the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC), trends show observer/controllers that brigade combat teams straggle to plan and execute reconnaissance casualty evacuation.
In a normal NTC or CMTC rotation, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations are not viewed as combined-arms operations. Instead, they are viewed as a subset of maneuver without the allocation of appropriate resources. ISR operations that are poorly resourced result in unnecessary casualties that frequently die from wounds sustained in contact. This article discusses tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) that are battlefield operating system (BOS) driven and require both primary and secondary staff involvement in the war game, which is the building block to successful casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) of reconnaissance assets. This article also addresses some of the underlying causes, recommended fixes, and possible task organizations that can reverse these trends.
The typical rotational planning for ISR CASEVAC is often limited to the combat service support (CSS) rehearsal where combat resources are not allocated to mitigate risk to our collectors. Instead, CASEVAC should be addressed during either the combined arms rehearsal or the reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) rehearsal. Frequently, the ISR plan is already in motion and resourcing at this late date is either unimaginable or committed without prior planning. Fully resourced planning for ISR casualty evacuation starts with a fundamental shift in brigade and battalion staff thinking. The staff, overwhelmed with planning back-to-back combat operations, may fail to resource the operation for success, because they do not appreciate the fact that reconnaissance "sets conditions."
To visualize the relevance and importance of ISR CASEVAC planning as a combat operation, we must discuss information management and infiltration. Task force and brigade combat team commanders who plan and prepare for reconnaissance CASEVAC reduce the acceptable risks to their most highly trained and irreplaceable soldiers.
Removing layers of communications infrastructure that restrain the responsive flow of information is the starting point for all successful ISR operations. Architecture must be well thought out, trained, and rehearsed at home station prior to arriving at the NTC. Fundamental elements used to assess whether intelligence information is stovepiped or receives broad dissemination include where the intelligence is gathered, who gathers it, who prioritizes it, who disseminates it, who determines when it is disseminated, and who needs it most. Having all of the collection headquarters on the brigade reconnaissance troop (BRT) commander's net or the brigade operations and intelligence net is a starting point. While the BRT commander may operate a troop internal net for command and control and support, the brigade operations and intelligence net is where all deconfliction, targeting, information dissemination, and raw intelligence is passed. The task force scout platoon leaders, tactical air controllers, the engineer reconnaissance team (ERT) platoon leader, and any other elements in front of the forward line of troops (FLOT) should be on the brigade operations and intelligence net. This may seem like a lot of collectors on the same net, but the value-added reality in shared information and deconfliction will prevent fratricide and unnecessary casualties. The brigade intelligence officer monitors this net and discusses intelligence collection requirements with the BRT commander. The task force scout platoon sergeant or ERT platoon sergeant passes information over the task force command net where timely intelligence is also needed and being analyzed.
Now that we have a common picture of the communications architecture, we must discuss using information to successfully infiltrate an enemy's position. Infiltration is an art that is only learned through repetitive action, but more importantly, requires coordination of combined-arms assets to ensure success. Too frequently, we see task force scouts follow the same infiltration lane that a dead BRT or Stryker vehicle traversed, falling victim to the same BMP or BRDM at the same location. This point is emphasized because this could have been alleviated by two simple principles: if a reconnaissance element dies at a given location, consider that infiltration lane blocked; and if you are going to exploit the same infiltration lane, then you may have to apply combined arms to break open an infiltration seam.
While this may sound like an oversimplification, there are some implied tasks here that merit further examination:
* Why did the task force scout not know that the BRT scout died at NV123456?
* Did he eavesdrop on the BRT platoon's net to ascertain what obstacles and enemy would influence his infiltration lane?
* Did the task force scout platoon leader annotate all of the enemy contacts on his map?
* Did he participate in the target handover between the BRT and Stryker crew who had last contact with the enemy scout?
* Did anyone at brigade record all the contacts, target them, and provide situational awareness to the brigade or task force collector as he attempted to negotiate the lane?
* Was infiltration executed sequentially as assets became available, or was it more like a desynchronized drive-to-your-death scenario as trends have repeatedly demonstrated?
* Was artillery responsive and readily available?
* Was the brigade fire support officer (FSO) actively involved in targeting, planning obscuration, illumination, and a critical fire zone (CFZ), and recommending fire support assets to ensure success?
* Were diversionary fires considered along parallel avenues of approach?
Artillerymen, in the absence of other guidance, want to achieve destruction on every target, massing guns and achieving decisive results, instead of applying just the right amount of ordnance. In the reconnaissance business, it is more important to push aside or obscure the observation of an enemy scout, rather than destroy him, unless a collector is pinned down and hope of extrication is slim. Application of fire support must be just enough, not too much? The sensor must communicate the desired effects to the shooter. At the same time, brigades must be prepared to create a penetration in the enemy's counter-reconnaissance screen to allow all the scouts to penetrate an infiltration lane, move through sector, and come from behind the enemy to occupy their observation posts (OP).
How do we best conduct reconnaissance CASEVAC given the role of the brigade intelligence collection manager (BICM), the application of fires, a contiguous communications architecture, and an emphasis on the importance of infiltration training? We must apply the appropriate task organization. Once again, the CASEVAC operation must be a combined-arms operation. Command and control of the operation must be at the appropriate level, elevated, as the situation requires. Finally, the CASEVAC unit must be identified, trained, and rehearsed at home station prior to rotation or combat.
A task organization based on the unit's modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) is recommended. However, redundancy is very important; therefore, aviation assets are essential and should be maintained under brigade control. Figure 1 details a light infantry CASEVAC unit task organization, including combat multipliers. The span of control is at the maximum, therefore, the company commander should be the most seasoned and experienced in the brigade. This task organization applies to a light infantry as well as an airborne or air assault MTOE. The heavy task force organization is represented in Figure 2.
The 101st Air Assault Division has been conducting deep CASEVAC operations for decades, and as such, has superior standard operating procedures outlined in a gold book that all brigade operations officers should use for structuring and executing brigade-level deep CASEVAC operations. Figure 3 provides a baseline organization for deep CASEVAC. You will immediately notice the task organization exceeds a normal rotation's combat power. Every brigade commander and S3 should weigh this option and consider the benefit to unit morale among its scouts, and whether this training method will be used in combat. The task and purpose of each of the subordinate elements is nested in the company task and purpose--to conduct CASEVAC of reconnaissance elements requires clearly defined essential elements of friendly information (EEFI) that set minimum essential combat power for mission success.
Task and purpose may vary based on the course of action statement of the CASEVAC commander; however, the missions should still follow certain guidelines of employment. The company task and purpose is obvious; however, the subordinate element role deserves some explanation.
The antitank platoon, tank section, and scout weapons team screen the main effort to prevent the enemy from bringing direct fires onto the CASEVAC site and, on order, destroy any enemy elements to prevent disruption of the CASEVAC operation. The infantry platoon, mechanized infantry platoon, and the attack aviation section has the same task purpose--to secure the CASEVAC site to allow the main effort to triage, stabilize, and evacuate casualties. Here, the recovery team is the main effort; whereas, in a normal combat operation, we may have selected a combat element.
The intent is to protect, by whatever means necessary, the recovery team. The task and purpose of the mortar section, as well as the cannon battery or battalion, is to disrupt enemy attempts to influence the recovery operation and, on order, obscure the CASEVAC site. They may also be called on to provide illumination as the situation dictates. The smoke section is a very vital part of the operation and, as such, should be provided maximum protection, second only to the recovery team. Their task and purpose is to screen the recovery team from enemy observation to prevent accurate direct and indirect fires from being placed on the CASEVAC operation. If the tanks or antitank trucks are leading, then the smokers should probably be behind them to obscure the remainder of the element. The main effort is obviously the recovery team. I have weighted the recovery team with not only ambulances and a physicians assistant, but also a wrecker or a CH-47 with a maintenance team to recover the vehicle. The situation is as follows:
The platoon sergeant cannot recover the scout in contact and the scout has radioed that he has casualties and is pinned down. The Alpha Company commander is on alert for movement during the scout infiltration. His element is gathered in an assembly area near the FLOT in covered and concealed terrain. A call is initiated by the scout platoon sergeant for CASEVAC on the task force administrative and logistics net. Meanwhile, the brigade is monitoring the operation because the alert is also passed over the brigade operations and intelligence net. The task force S3 will immediately assess the situation and alert the company commander in the form of a fragmentary order on the battalion command net. In addition, the task force S2 will give the company commander an intelligence update on all reported enemy contacts within his area of operations and area of interest. The company commander who was present at the scout platoon operations order or was briefed on the scout infiltration plan by the task force S3, conducts hasty mission planning and then briefs his leaders.
The screening force is the first to move, using their thermal imaging and overlapping sectors of observation to identify enemy counterreconnaissance elements during movement. They are followed by the smokers, who allow the screening element to move at least one terrain feature ahead of the security and recovery teams or outside of direct fire weapons range of an enemy BMR The smokers need only to create a haze, unless the operation is conducted during daylight, then a smoke blanket is more applicable. The lead section of the security force is the next to move with the recovery team sandwiched between. The mortars follow, with two-thirds of their range forward of the screening force, which will require the commander to conduct a good terrain analysis. Additionally, preparatory fires should be used on the enemy's last known location, if available. The element is now free to move forward to the CASEVAC site. The screening force must clear the CASEVAC site of enemy contact, preferably by talking directly to the scout, if he is able to communicate.
Although a burning vehicle (or a combat vehicle kill indicator light) may be clearly visible, never go to the blinking light! Instead, the screening force should clear the area around the scout looking for the enemy able to affect the recovery site, and not be concerned with buddy aid or getting a combat lifesaver to the site.
Once the screening force has destroyed or cleared the terrain around the CASEVAC site, the smokers should move up and blanket the area while the infantry move up and secure the site. It is vital that casualties are removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and then moved outside of enemy artillery tires that may target the disabled vehicle, unless the casualty cannot be moved. The mortars should remain within indirect fire range of the main body to provide responsive fires, should the screening or securing force identify a threat to the recovery site. Once the recovery operation is complete, the order of movement should be smokers, securing force, recovery team, mortars, and screening force to cover the withdrawal.
If the task force recovery team is pinned down, a reconnaissance asset is outside friendly artillery range, or the collector is behind the enemy's obstacles and requires a company breach to reach him, then brigade-level aviation assets must be employed. Planning such an operation is much like planning a division-level joint air attack team mission. Suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) must be planned for known and suspected enemy air defense and enemy concentrations, emergency close-air support must be requested through division, a critical fire zone must be established over the CASEVAC site, the downed aircraft recovery team must be alerted, and the forward support battalion's medical company must be alert to prepare for receiving casualties.
Inserting the brigade CASEVAC element is similar to the task force. However, smoke will not aid aviation assets; therefore, SEAD is the only mechanism for suppression as they move forward to recover the casualties. The decision to recover the vehicle is a critical one and should be measured by predetermined command-directed decision points, such as the sensitivity of the equipment on the vehicle or whether the capture of the vehicle will be a propaganda victory for the enemy.
The scout weapons team must clear at least one terrain feature ahead of the recovery team. The attack section must secure the recovery team en route to the recovery point and secure the recovery site. The lift section must insert the infantry on or near the recovery site to secure the area, then take up station on a predetermined restricted operating zone that is secure from enemy air defense and direct fire, and will not impact close air support employment. Once the area is secured, medical evacuation and recovery assets can evacuate the casualties, and situation dependent, the vehicle, while the scout weapons team covers the main effort's withdrawal and the attack aviation section secures the recovery team. The recovery of the security force is a synchronization issue, which depends on the operation being conducted in contact.
The operation described above appears a bit resource intensive for one scout team or section, but it is necessary to look at the effect that permanent loss will have on the morale and combat effectiveness of the task force or brigade. We must be reminded of how long it takes to train a scout team to reach their maximum effectiveness then have to replace that team. It takes a full year to train a 19D scout on individual tasks, as well as a collective member of a squad and section. Can a replacement crew from a theater replacement depot be expected to operate as effectively as the scout you trained and evaluated, the one who had the trust of his platoon members, the one who had the experience of operating in your area of operations, and the one who knew the platoon or troop standard operating procedures? Are we prepared to tell mothers and wives we could not recover their son or husband because it would have risked too many other lives to bring him back? Can we afford to continue training at our combat training centers, relying on change of mission to recover our scouts? The resources are worth it, the training time is worth it, and the application of precious combat power is worth it--reconnaissance sets conditions.
MAJ Kent Strader is the operations and intelligence advisor, and brigade advisor for the Saudi Arabia National Guard Region. He is a graduate of Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. His military education includes Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, Airborne School, Long-Range Surveillance Leaders Course, Armor Officers Advanced Course, Cavalry Leaders Course, and Combined Arms and Service Staff School. He has served in various command and staff positions, to include observer controller, scout trainer, and live fire trainer, Light Infantry Task Force, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA; Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander and chief of reconnaissance, 4th Motorized Rifle Regiment, Hohenfels, GE; commander, C Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, GA; senior platoon trainer, Infantry Officer Basic Course, 2d Battalion, 11th Infantry, Fort Benning; and XO, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fort Bragg, NC.