Research Brief

Several years ago, RAND's Arroyo Center conducted a detailed study of battalion task force scout operations at the National Training Center (NTC). That study uncovered several significant problems, including poor planning, preparation, and communications as well as low availability of assets and low use of those that were available. More significant, most reconnaissance tasks were not done, and the scouts frequently engaged the enemy, losing about half their number in the process. The study also showed a strong correlation between good reconnaissance and success in battle, both for units undergoing training and for the opposing force.

The Army responded to this situation by changing doctrine, training, and equipment, all with an eye to improving reconnaissance and intelligence operations at the brigade and battalion task force level. The Commandant of the Armor School asked the Arroyo Center to revisit scout operations at the NTC to see if the changes had their intended effect. Arroyo Center researchers collected data at the NTC from 10 armor and infantry battalion rotations during 1993 and 1994. After analyzing data from over 40 battles, they concluded that substantial improvement has occurred in many areas but that some troublesome problems remain.

Much Has Improved . . .

The availability of reconnaissance assets has increased substantially. During the earlier study, vehicle availability was poor. Replacing the older vehicles with newer Bradleys and HMMWVs has undoubtedly contributed to the greater availability, but logistical support has also improved. HMMWVs were available 76 percent of the time and Bradleys 81 percent. Communication is also much improved, with nets judged adequate 88 percent of the time. Devoting divisional assets such as retransmission stations has contributed to the improved communications.

The scouts are also more timely. The 1987 study showed lateness as a problem in over half of the deliberate attacks. By contrast, scouts now leave on time two-thirds of the time. Current NTC scenarios allow more preparation time, but better task force operations also seem to contribute to the improvement.

Most significantly, the scouts are getting more done. They complete their tasks at a rate approaching 60 percent. The earlier study found scarcely half this completion rate.

. . . But Some Troublesome Problems Remain

The data also point to some continuing problems. Even though the scouts attempt to avoid engaging the enemy (75 percent of the time), half of them become casualties in any given battle, about the same rate experienced in the earlier study. The difference today is that scouts survive longer, so they accomplish more of their tasks. In the previous study, most of the casualties occurred during the first night. Today, the scouts survive the night (prob-ably aided by the addition of good night-vision devices) but are detected and engaged during the daylight phase. HMMWV and Bradley platoons experience casualties at roughly the same rate.

Equally problematic is the low usage rate of good intelligence reports. While most reports are received, not all contain meaningful or timely information. Prebattle reports get through 90 percent of the time, and 70 percent of those are judged useful. The figures for reports sent during the battle are 83 and 70 percent respectively. But only 65 percent of either set of reports are used. Because the percentages cumulate, it means that only 38 to 41 percent of the reconnaissance reports are received, are useful, and get used.

The main problem appears to lie with battalion staff operations, although the cause of the problem is less clear. Reconnaissance and surveillance plans are almost always prepared, but only 44 percent are judged to be based on adequate situation templates, and two-thirds of them are regarded as not specific enough. Furthermore, reconnaissance assets are not coordinated in about two-thirds of the cases. Given the high casualties the scouts sustain, the failure to bring all assets to bear could have significant implications. Finally, in only half of the cases do scouts receive reasonable missions in terms of named areas of interest to cover.

This happens in spite of the significant improvement that has occurred among S-2 officers in the battalion. The previous study showed that the S-2s were very junior, often second lieutenants, and were poorly trained in the intelligence function. At the time of the follow-up study, more of the S-2s are Military Intelligence captains, and the MI basic and advanced courses accord greater emphasis to S-2 matters.


Clearly, reconnaissance operations have improved. The Army's changes appear to have had an effect. But problems remain, and the data do not suggest a readily identifiable solution. Although researchers lack sufficient data to pinpoint the cause, this study and other Arroyo Center research with similar findings suggest a hypothesis: the formal Army education and career management systems do not prepare battalion and brigade staff officers for managing the reconnaissance activities of their units or responding to battlefield intelligence.

We posit that no specific course or school focuses on the battalion and brigade level of tactical operations at the right time in an officer's career. The Officer Advanced Course tends to focus on preparing lieutenants and captains for company-level command or junior battalion staff positions. The Combined Arms and Services Staff School appears to lack the tactical intensity to develop the requisite skills. And the Command and General Staff College leans toward higher-echelon units such as divisions and corps. Precommand courses focus on the right level but exclude staff officers.

If this hypothesis is correct, it will take a major change to correct the problem. Alternatives include shifting the focus of CGSC to include battalion- and brigade-level issues or instituting a separate program to prepare battalion and brigade intelligence and operation officers.

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