The Army Is Deactivating Its Long Range Surveillance Teams … Again

news

The Army will quietly deactivate its three long-range surveillance companies in the active-duty force in the remaining days of January, along with four National Guard companies in 2018, the Army said.


The nearly 100 soldiers in each of three active-duty companies attached to three Corps commands at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington will be reassigned to other units at those posts, said Lt. Col. Christina Kretchman, an Army spokeswoman.

Army National Guard units in Nebraska, Georgia, Indiana and Alabama will fold up their long-range surveillance companies and reassign those soldiers in August 2018, Kretchman said.

Stars and Stripes first reported in July that senior leaders decided to deactivate the companies through an evaluation in the Total Army Analysis, a force structure program used to balance the composition of the force with strategy and resources.

Related: The Army’s Tortured History With Drawdowns And Budget Cuts »

Computer models were used to conclude long-range surveillance companies were not in demand by ground commanders.

Defense analysts have said Army commanders have an aversion to risk and a growing preference to use technology such as satellites and drones for reconnaissance rather than insert small teams of soldiers.

Soldiers with Delta Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment (Long Range Surveillance) conduct their units deactivation ceremony Jan. 10, 2017 inside the III Corp building at Fort Hood, Texas.Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jory Mathis.

Long-range surveillance companies in the Army are comprised of 15 six-man teams led by a staff sergeant. The teams specialize in navigating forward positions to monitor enemy movement and gather intelligence for commanders.

The tasking of infantry soldiers gathering intelligence in small, self-sufficient teams has been a part of Army doctrine since before the American Revolution, when British reconnaissance troops raided enemy garrisons and harassed patrols in the French and Indian Wars.

Soldiers in long-range surveillance companies have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, tracing their lineage through Cold War Europe, Vietnam and the famous Alamo Scouts, who liberated prisoner of war camps during World War II.

An unceremonious end to long-range surveillance companies comes amid a buildup of thousands of U.S. troops and hardware in Europe not seen since the Cold War and the transition to President Donald Trump, whose rhetoric has called for less engagement in the region and a stronger, more robust military.

But fresh blood in the Pentagon might lead to new decisions and examinations of past assessments, said Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“A lot of force-structure decisions may be reopened and re-litigated in the next six months or so,” Harrison said. “Now, the political environment seems to have shifted, and the Army might not be drawing down anymore. They may go in a different direction” with long-range surveillance companies.

Matt Pelak, a senior noncommissioned officer who served in the now dormant long-range surveillance company of the Texas National Guard, criticized the deactivations but welcomed a potential revaluation.

“I’d like a relook of capabilities we’re getting rid of and what common sense adjustments we can make,” Pelak said, noting the Army deactivated reconnaissance units after World War II and Vietnam, only to resurrect them again in the Cold War, when institutional knowledge had to be rebuilt.

“Why do we keep going through this when the Army has brought it back so many times?” Pelak asked.

The strategies used by soldiers in reconnaissance units have been a favored asset in Eastern Europe, particularly in Estonia, a NATO ally on Russia’s northwestern flank.

The Maryland National Guard has longstanding training agreements with Estonian troops under the State Partnership Program, a Pentagon initiative which links Guard units with ally militaries.

Members of the Maryland long-range surveillance company, deactivated last year under a separate restructuring move, honed small-team reconnaissance tactics with Estonian special operations troops, who consider it a key skill in the face of a much bigger and technologically advanced Russian military.

“The new administration needs to think about what capabilities that allies do not have that the U.S. can provide,” Harrison said. “We have to have those capabilities ourselves.”

The Army said its decision to deactivate long-range surveillance companies relied on the output of several computer models which “help determine overall priorities of what the Army needs in future combat scenarios,” Kretchman said, but declined to identify model specifics such as geography and adversary data, citing its classified nature.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. John Scales used and consulted on similar modeling systems through his decades-long career as a Special Forces officer, mostly in the National Guard.

Scales stressed he was not familiar with the models used to determine the deactivation decision. But he said as a contractor in the 1990s with a Ph.D. in operations research, he reached similar results in models and found significant problems in coding and logic.

Scales consulted on the Target Acquisition Fire Support model at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, home of artillery training for the Army and Marine Corps. The model was produced to determine a proper mix of weapons and personnel to use in a given conventional scenario, like defending against Russian or Iraqi tank brigades, he said.

The model had specific detail about artillery down to individual rounds leaving the tube, Scales said. But infantry units were grouped in the aggregate, and long-range surveillance units were coded as infantry units with no real-life characteristics, like observing without firing on the enemy, he said.

“They assumed when a ground combat unit encountered another, they would have a firefight,” Scales said.

Long-range surveillance soldiers in the model would attack large units and were killed immediately based on their coding, Scales said, delivering war planners the conclusion the units were a risky, low-reward asset.

Scales alerted senior leaders about the coding issues that could affect doctrine.

“That’s the infantry school’s problem, not our problem,” he was told.

“I worry based on my experience with the model that [long-range surveillance units are] getting shortchanged, and the Army is getting shortchanged” in the recent decision, Scales said.

He also said other logic inputs would need to be present to determine the worth of long-range surveillance units, like lines of code to account for limited use of unmanned drones in bad weather, or leaving areas of surveillance to refuel.

Long-range surveillance teams are trained to conduct reconnaissance on an objective for days at a time, Scales said.

“Did they account for this? I have no idea,” he said.

Pelak said the Army could have made decisions based on the idea of U.S. superiority against technologically austere enemies such as the Islamic State group and Taliban without considering advanced militaries such as Russia and China.

“With increasing capabilities on both sides like countermeasures and drones, I think that demonstrates need for manned surveillance teams,” he said. “When GPS satellites are knocked out and drones can’t fly, who is going to watch the enemy?”

———

©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Moments before Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia went back into the house, journalist Michael Ware said he was "pacing like a caged tiger ... almost like he was talking to himself."

"I distinctly remember while everybody else had taken cover temporarily, there out in the open on the street — still exposed to the fire from the roof — was David Bellavia," Ware told Task & Purpose on Monday. "David stopped pacing, he looked up and sees that the only person still there on the street is me. And I'm just standing there with my arms folded.

"He looked up from the pacing, stared straight into my eyes, and said 'Fuck it.' And I stared straight back at him and said 'Fuck it,'" Ware said. "And that's when I knew, we were both going back in that house."

Read More Show Less
(Photo courtesy of Philip Stackhouse)

Former Army Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn will plead not guilty to a charge of murder for allegedly shooting an unarmed Afghan man whom a tribal leader had identified as a Taliban bomb maker, his attorney said.

Golsteyn will be arraigned on Thursday morning at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Phillip Stackhouse told Task & Purpose.

No date has been set for his trial yet, said Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Read More Show Less
Taran Tactical Innovations

John Wick is back, and he's here to stay. It doesn't matter how many bad guys show up to try to collect on that bounty.

With John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, the titular hitman, played by 54-year-old Keanu Reeves, continues on a blood-soaked hyper-stylized odyssey of revenge: first for his slain dog, then his wrecked car, then his destroyed house, then ... well, honestly it's hard to keep track of exactly what Wick is avenging by this point, or the body count he's racked up in the process.

Though we do know that the franchise has raked in plenty of success at the box office: just a week after it's May 17 release, the third installment in director Chad Stahleski's series took in roughly $181 million, making it even more successful than its two wildly popular prequels 2014's John Wick, and 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2.

And, more importantly, Reeves' hitman is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest action movie heroes in recent memory. Few (if any) other action flicks have succeeded in creating a mind-blowing avant garde ballet out of a dozen well-dressed gunmen who get shot, choked, or stabbed with a pencil by a pissed off hitman who just wants to return to retirement.

But for all the over-the-top acrobatics, fight sequences, and gun-porn (see: the sommelier), what makes the series so enthralling, especially for the service members and vets in the audience, is that there are some refreshing moments of realism nestled under all of that gun fu. Wrack your brain and try to remember the last time you saw an action hero do a press check during a shootout, clear a jam, or actually, you know, reload, instead of just hip-firing 300 rounds from an M16 nonstop. It's cool, we'll wait.

As it turns out, there's a good reason for the caliber of gun-play in John Wick. One of the franchise's secret weapons is a professional three-gun shooter named Taran Butler, who told Task & Purpose he can draw and hit three targets in 0.67 seconds from 10 yards. And if you've watched any of the scores of videos he's uploaded to social media over the years, it's pretty clear that this isn't idle boasting.

Read More Show Less

The Navy's electromagnetic railgun is undergoing what officials described as "essentially a shakedown" of critical systems before finally installing a tactical demonstrator aboard a surface warship, the latest sign that the once-beleaguered supergun may actually end up seeing combat.

That pretty much means this is could be the last set of tests before actually slapping this bad boy onto a warship, for once.

Read More Show Less
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The Justice Department has accused Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) of illegally using campaign funds to pay for extramarital affairs with five women.

Hunter, who fought in the Iraq War as a Marine artillery officer, and his wife Margaret were indicated by a federal jury on Aug. 21, 2018 for allegedly using up to $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

In a recent court filing, federal prosecutors accused Hunter of using campaign money to pay for a variety of expenses involved with his affairs, ranging from a $1,008 hotel bill to $7 for a Sam Adams beer.

Read More Show Less