It Takes More than Technology

By Dallas E Shaw

The two areas I saw tested during the hunter/killer team portion of the Sea Dragon experiment were communications and land navigation. On the good side, the troops were using a hand-held Sat-Comm radio not much bigger than an MX 300 (hand-held Motorola radio). I did not see any major malfunctions with the squad's communications, but then they were not using satellites but rather landbased relay stations. Reliable long-distance communication is the heart of Recon, and the lack of it means mission failure. If this "Leatherneck" radio actually works on real satellites and the average infantry battalion is able to lock down time as its own on a reliable satellite, then the Marine Corps is headed in the right direction. An accessory to this radio was a small hand-held computer that acted as a global positioning system (GPS), as well as keeping track of other friendly forces in one's area of operations. The GPS worked very well, if not as accurately as the "plugger" (precise lightweight GPS receiver).

The weapons and equipment that were part of this experiment are another step in the right direction. The M-4 or new version of the CAR-IS (shortened version of the M-16) is an outstanding weapon for use on a Recon patrol. The exercise called for its use by the teams that would be operating deep behind enemy lines. With the M-16A2's improved gas system, adjustable rear sight, and knotted pistol grip, this carbine is a compact, lethal weapon, accurate to at least 300 yards. The M-4/CAR-15's shortened barrel and collapsible stock make it ideal for parachuting and diving and in the cramped spaces of a hide site. The squad also was able to field Mountain rucksacks instead of the normal, smaller ALICE packs. This is a necessity because of the enormous weight carried by an individual Marine on a typical three-to-five-day patrol.

Master the Basics

People who have mastered the basics in their field seem to be the ones who are most proficient in the use of a technological advance. A good example of this is our snipers. They do not pick up a scoped weapon and then become masters. On the contrary, before they lay hands on the M-40 they already have proved themselves experts at iron-sighted firing. The addition of a scope only makes a great marksman better. Sure, a scope would help every Marine, but what happens when it breaks or gets knocked out of alignment? If that Marine is not already well versed in the use of iron sights, we will have an ineffective shooter. A similar situation occurs when we toss a lot of high-speed gear and a complex mission on some basically trained grunts and then pray for good results.

When I mentioned to the team I was mentoring what was expected of each team member-down to the lowest private-in the way of knowledge while on a long-range recon patrol, one of the Marines asked, "Isn't that too much to ask anyone to know?" I told him that these are the basic standards for several hundred Recon Marines within our Marine Corps and anything less would be training to fail. I'm not questioning the capability of our grunts, but even career Force Recon Marines will tell you that after ten or more years they still have weak areas and that many skills are perishable.

Force Recon has been testing a real-time computerized digital imaging system, called SIDS, for sending back reconnaissance photos over radio waves. But what do they do when that does not work? They draw military and panoramic sketches or use a 35-mm camera. How many people outside of Recon know the basics of field sketching and keeping a photo log? During the Sea Dragon patrol, I asked members of the team why they did not range estimate all possible points of reference in their field of view and make a range card so that when it came time to direct supporting arms they would be ready. After looking at me strangely, they told me that they did not have a laser range finder and had never been taught how to make a range card. If these grunts were taught the WERM (width = range x mils) rule they would have a capable method to back up the laser range finder and supporting arms computer.

If we are serious about long-distance patrols on a large scale, why not use Force Recon-the units that pioneered these operations in the Corpsas a template? During Desert Storm, the Marine Corps was given a refresher in electronic warfare by the Iraqis when they jammed a large part of our communications. One of the few units consistently talking was Force Recon, because it was able to go back to the basics and bring continuous wave Morse code out of mothballs. Now each embarking platoon must learn Morse to varying degrees of mastery.

Simply giving a squad high-tech gear will not make it capable of long-distance reconnaissance patrols, and to prepare our infantry under only best case scenarios, where high-speed gear never fails its operator, is training for failure. I have a great deal of faith in our infantrymen, if they are able to receive advanced instruction and the underachievers are weeded out for less-demanding tasks.

Our surveillance and target acquisition platoons, for example, often are as capable at reconnaissance patrols as anyone-not because of super-duper high-speed gear, but because of demanding indoctrination, long hours mastering land navigation, communications, and the use of supporting arms.

We must hold the infantry community to the same standards and avoid becoming lazy with overdependence on technology. At one point in the Sea Dragon patrol, I asked a squad member which way his objective was. He replied, "Heck, I don't know; I ain't the one with the map." Then I asked him which way was east. He informed me, "I ain't got the compass, either." This was at 0800, so I told him that on planet Earth, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I was amazed that several other stargazers in the squad also were not aware of this bit of info. It is a shame that with all the great gear the squad was carrying, time couldn't be spent showing these Marines several simple ways to determine the Cardinal directions on their own, nothing fancy involved.

In late 1993, some Navy bubbas attached to the 31 st Marine Expeditionary Unit had problems stemming from their overreliance on technology. They were assigned to take out an antiaircraft artillery site in support of a raid by 5th Force Recon Detachment. En route to their objective on combat rubber raiding craft, their only GPS went down. With no backup, they had to be guided in by another unit. Force Recon uses GPS but backs it up with Richie compasses and lensatic compasses in each boat. The lesson to be learned here is that every plan and piece of gear is liable to failure the first minute after insert, so semper paratus.

Then Add the Technology

There are places where technology-some of which is in our inventory but has yet to be widely employed-is sorely needed to keep the Marine Corps competitive on the modern battlefield. The ANPRC-119 very high frequency radio, for example, is great, but seldom is it used in any capacity other than single channel and sometimes secure voice. Then there is the PAQ-4, the ANPVS-7B with SX adapter, and the OEG. The PAQ-4, an infrared laser sighting system, is currently in the Corps but little used. If a Marine has ANPVS-7Bs, he is capable of highly accurate fire at night. With the addition of the 5X adapter the 7Bs become capable of vision extended perhaps another 100 yards.

Compasses, although not very high speed, should be issued to every grunt. Another less high-speed item is the M-203. I can't think of a more versatile or devastating personal weapon than the M-16/M-203 combination. Imagine a foe running into a squad armed with nine of these weapons-in the first seconds of fire, the enemy receives a volley of nine 40-mm grenades in or around his position. That probably would dampen his spirits a tad.

The OEG is a opaque tube that mounts on an M-16 and is filled with a red gas that creates a dot. This aids in day and night firing, as long as one keeps both eyes open. This also is in the Marine Corps inventory.

Gear not already in the Marine Corps inventory includes Class IIIA body armor, which is capable of stopping a NATO 7.62-mm round. The downside is the vest with ceramic trauma plates weighs approximately 30-40 pounds, but there are lighter, less bulky versions that will stop a variety of rounds. Our current flak jacket will not even stop a .22 long rifle.

Another piece of gear sorely needed by our Corps is the ANPVS-10. It used to be that our snipers were untouchable in long-range shooting, and for the most part that is still true during the day. At night, however, SEALs and other groups with access to a better version of Simrads night-vision gear are beating our snipers-because you cannot hit what you cannot see. The ANPVS-10 would put our snipers back on top once again.

One final area in which new technology would take Recon teams to even higher levels of capability is communications. There are two radios available now that can do the jobs for which a Recon team now carries four radios. The ANPRC-117 already is in use by Navy Special Warfare. It has Sat-Comm, ultra-high frequency, and very high frequency, as well as krypto. The second is the ANPRC-138, a high-frequency radio that actually puts out the full 20 watts of which it is capable, unlike the 104. It also has some lower band frequencies and krypto, and best of all, once one has done a propagation study and entered the frequencies, the radio scrolls through them to find one that works with the radio one is trying to communicate with. These two radios would drop a Recon team's load by 50 to 100 or more pounds while covering the entire spectrum of military frequencies.

Are grunts capable of the hunter/killer team scenario, 150 miles behind enemy lines? Maybe, but only if they are trained intensively and screened prior to being handed the bells and whistles. If we are not capable of this level of training, then the answer may be to increase the size of Force Recon and reestablish the Recon battalions. Another idea might be to hold infantry to our Super Squad and surveillance and target acquisition platoon standards. Last, is the School of Infantry the equivalent of Ranger school, and if not, why not? We have the right men; let's get the right training and then give them the best gear.


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