.The Future of Reconnaissance

Brandon E

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To those who've earned the wisdom to answer this intelligently: Given the current state of ISR platforms, where do you see Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in twenty years? Also, new to this profession, I frequently ask myself where Marine Reconnaissance fits into the "tiers". What, other than the physical aspect, makes us different? Any wisdom, knowledge, experience, or 25&5's will be greatly appreciated.

-Brandon

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The Hate Ape

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A lot of professions (outside of the military especially) are perceived to be at high-risk for being replaced by growing technologies. The trouble that many individuals fail to understand, is that not only is human verification in all things necessary - but those newly technology advanced professions are only aided by the developments not replaced. Look at accounting for example, rather than hours wasted on mundane and repetitive tasks, accountants will eventually be able to wipe their time cards of scheduled internal audits and focus more on analysis and advisory capacities.

Reconnaissance Marines are not accountants obviously but the concept overlaps. No matter what sort of ISR platform, long range optic or insertwhatevertech you have - human interpretation will never be replaced. Looking at the Reconnaissance mission, having guys on the ground on an objective is always a necessity because machines can only be programmed to the imagination of the programmer and the complexity of the code. Technology will never replace human initiative in complex roles because intangibles are necessary to navigate through the gray areas that require an understanding that extends beyond a model number.

Just because some technologies can better analyze certain wickets on the obj better than previously, doesn't mean you've cleared the slate for prepping the objective or performing an emergency assault the way guys greened up can. Armed ISR can't support assaulting elements who may be conducting actions in the area the way emplaced long-guns can with such precision. You may even have a situation where armed ISR can't support you at all - either by way of asset availability or risk to force (EOD scenario or NBC on site). We can discuss every facet of the objective be it the insert, to actions on, to follow on procedures, to exfil and I can point out 3 more ways an efficient human will be more effective than the 1 thing technology provides.

Looking deep into the future and as we expand our technologies, we pioneer uncharted territory - one day, maybe not in my life, space Marines will exist. Despite the rock hard erection I have thinking about being a space Marine who do you think is going to enter that arena? Yes, you and your brothers. Brother.

The sooner human beings learn to embrace the fuck out of technology as a true enabler through and through, the more they realize their own potential as a force multiplier. Skynet will never happen and if it did, you'll have a wicked awesome job shooting IBM machines in the face too.

No matter what's going on, remember that you're a Recon Marine and every society has a job opening for a bad motherfucker.

H/A
 
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Ocoka

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In 20 years? Doing the same shit you guys do now, and have been doing for decades, with better gear, cooler weapons and, yes, more technological assets and options. Until drones are taught to reason, analyze, interpret, assess, smell, touch and taste, the human element will retain its importance in ISR.

The same goes for humint.
 
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Teufel

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Tomorrow's battlefield will be full of complex problems for our future Reconnaissance Marines to solve. Technology bites both ways unfortunately and our enemies will have access to advanced night vision devices, thermals, and long range missiles in the future. Many of our competitors already do. This will significantly and dramatically increase the threat to reconnaissance teams, as well as aircraft and naval shipping.

Some of these risks can be mitigated with technological solutions and manned/unmanned training. For example, Recon Marines still do hydros like our forefathers did in WWII, albeit it with the aid of GPSs. Unmanned underwater vessels can accomplish this task in a fraction of the time and free up Marines to scout the beach, conduct surf reports, and guide in assault waves. At the end of the day though, machines will never replace people in war and we will ask young men to bear the brunt of this risk and difficulty
 

Il Duce

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Speaking strictly from an intelligence perspective I've found the increasing reliance on overhead ISR to be detrimental to the development of solid situational understanding - and that's been consistent with Army CTC observations as well. I'm very distrustful of the idea technological collection will ever hold a candle to what a well trained, properly resourced reconnaissance unit can do - agnostic to service.
 

104TN

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I mean...didn't the Army just axe it's Ranger school-coded LRS units in favor of overhead ISR?

While grunts and those in the units saw their value, Big Green didn't...so they went away.

I'm not saying the Marine Corps will shutter it's BN and Force Recon units, but there could be a corollary there. @Teufel and the other FR pipehitters keep me honest, but weren't 1st and 2nd Force disbanded at one point?
 

Kraut783

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Speaking strictly from an intelligence perspective I've found the increasing reliance on overhead ISR to be detrimental to the development of solid situational understanding - and that's been consistent with Army CTC observations as well. I'm very distrustful of the idea technological collection will ever hold a candle to what a well trained, properly resourced reconnaissance unit can do - agnostic to service.
Didn't we learn from the past when we started to reduce human intelligence in favor of the new wiz bang satellites? You always need the person on the ground......
 

AWP

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Man vs. machine in the military is less about capabilities and more about risk avoidance. Dead people make for bad press, but a failed op due to bad intel is shrugged off as a lack of proper tech that can be fixed if you'll give them (pinky to mouth) 1 billion dollars.

Tech will never be a 100% answer, but to policy makers concerned about "optics" it is the only answer. Hopefully the Marines stay the course. As an outsider I can't imagine Recon going away, but politics is a strange thing.
 

Il Duce

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Didn't we learn from the past when we started to reduce human intelligence in favor of the new wiz bang satellites? You always need the person on the ground......
I agree, but I'd argue it's even more nefarious than that - with overhead ISR, specifically full motion video (FMV) being the best example.

So, FMV collects at about 30 frames per second at varying resolution. It's a major bandwidth hog - the main reason much of the uplink/downlink is unencrypted, thus easily hackable by adversaries as was proved a few years ago. What's commonly referred to as 'immersive video' is about one pic every 1-3 seconds. So, almost 100 times less dense in terms of data.

From a geospatial analysis perspective immersive video is every bit as good as FMV. In fact, you could go with an even lower frame rate for a lot of persistent surveillance and pattern of life. The high framerate is only really useful when loitering over an objective looking for squirters or trying to do real-time vehicle interdiction.

But, the Army loves FMV and won't even contemplate immersive video because CDR's love FMV. They watch objectives, TICs, or just what's going on like they're watching OJ fleeing in the Bronco (just watched the people vs OJ Simpson - which was fucking awesome - but seem to have the 90s trial of the century on the brain). It's a terrible way to collect intelligence (if you can really call most of it intelligence), very vulnerable to enemy interdiction (the orbits make UAS or manned aircraft a sitting duck), and the PED requirements are done by humans - and are never ending, so there's an enormous back-end requirement. Meanwhile, what CDR is actually leading better by being able to watch his traffic copter? I would say in 90% of cases (exception being those mentioned and a few others) it's a total waste of CDR's and staff's energy and attention. They're caught up as voyeur's to a squad leader's job when they need to be leading BNs, BDEs, and DIVs.

Not to derail the thread but it's so dumb it makes me crazy. The intelligence corps just stood up a 500 man BN to do PED - mostly FMV. We've cut platoon leaders and XOs from companies, cut analysts in S2s at every echelon, shifted interrogation BNs 100% to compo 2 and 3, and put 25% of DIV and Corps G2s into compo 2. But we've got 500 people to turn 'data into information' - which is the real translation of PED.
 
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Devildoc

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I'm not saying the Marine Corps will shutter it's BN and Force Recon units, but there could be a corollary there. @Teufel and the other FR pipehitters keep me honest, but weren't 1st and 2nd Force disbanded at one point?
Certainly in @Teufel's wheelhouse, but I think when MAARSOC was stood up and got its nucleus from Recon it went away, but the Corps realized their value and reinstated Recon.
 

Teufel

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I mean...didn't the Army just axe it's Ranger school-coded LRS units in favor of overhead ISR?

While grunts and those in the units saw their value, Big Green didn't...so they went away.

I'm not saying the Marine Corps will shutter it's BN and Force Recon units, but there could be a corollary there. @Teufel and the other FR pipehitters keep me honest, but weren't 1st and 2nd Force disbanded at one point?
The Army, in my humble outsider opinion, has never fully bought off on conventional forces conducting special reconnaissance. I've been to several Army courses and in my experience reconnaissance in the Army is conducted by armored vehicles, not small LRS teams. I believe the SF are tapped to support big army in a major conflict. I think this made LRS seem redundant to a lot of senior leaders. I don't think the Army invested much into that community either. They didn't have a primary MOS or community wide training continuum.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, was forced to join SOCOM and not given a lot of time to do it. The service had no choice but to convert the structure of the two active duty Force Recon companies, Foreign Military Training Unit, and 4th Anti-Terrorism brigade to create MARSOC. Two platoons from 1st and 2nd Force were moved to 1st and 2nd Recon Battalion to form deep reconnaissance companies and maintain that capability within the MAGTF.

The Marine Corps originally believed that MARSOC would assume the Force Recon mission on the MEUs. This obviously didn't happen. The Marine Corps subsequently re-activated the Force Recon companies as subordinate units of their respective recon battalions.
 

104TN

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The Army, in my humble outsider opinion, has never fully bought off on conventional forces conducting special reconnaissance. I've been to several Army courses and in my experience reconnaissance in the Army is conducted by armored vehicles, not small LRS teams. I believe the SF are tapped to support big army in a major conflict. I think this made LRS seem redundant to a lot of senior leaders. I don't think the Army invested much into that community either. They didn't have a primary MOS or community wide training continuum.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, was forced to join SOCOM and not given a lot of time to do it. The service had no choice but to convert the structure of the two active duty Force Recon companies, Foreign Military Training Unit, and 4th Anti-Terrorism brigade to create MARSOC. Two platoons from 1st and 2nd Force were moved to 1st and 2nd Recon Battalion to form deep reconnaissance companies and maintain that capability within the MAGTF.

The Marine Corps originally believed that MARSOC would assume the Force Recon mission on the MEUs. This obviously didn't happen. The Marine Corps subsequently re-activated the Force Recon companies as subordinate units of their respective recon battalions.
Thanks for the knowledge bomb sir. Much obliged.
 

Teufel

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Certainly in @Teufel's wheelhouse, but I think when MAARSOC was stood up and got its nucleus from Recon it went away, but the Corps realized their value and reinstated Recon.
The Marine Corps, just like the other services, has a personnel cap. The SECDEF wanted the Marine Corps to contribute 3,000 Marines to SOCOM but didn't increase the personnel cap. These Marines had to come out of the Marine Corps existing personnel structure. This means billets across the service were converted into MARSOC billets. This same process had to occur again to reactivate the Force Recon companies.
 

Ocoka

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One of the harshest sources of criticism for American ISR tech-dependence is the Mossad. In its many dealings with US counterparts during the GWOT and before, they've seen the limitations. The Israelis depend heavily on HUMINT. A drone or a satellite can't drink Turkish coffee with the locals in the bazaar, can't pick up the nuances. I know this isn't really comparable to Recon, but there are similarities.
 

Ocoka

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The Marine Corps, just like the other services, has a personnel cap. The SECDEF wanted the Marine Corps to contribute 3,000 Marines to SOCOM but didn't increase the personnel cap. These Marines had to come out of the Marine Corps existing personnel structure. This means billets across the service were converted into MARSOC billets. This same process had to occur again to reactivate the Force Recon companies.
I remember when Det One was being formed. I started seeing Marine officers showing up at MacDill and more Marine gear/uniforms/devices showing up in the BX as time went on.

Two rumors I heard at the time: That Big Marine Corps didn't want to put a unit subordinate to the largely Army-led (at the time) SOCOM; and looked upon it as a knee-jerk reaction from DoD. And also that Marine leadership historically resisted forming more elite units within an already elite force. The other, that many in the Corps wanted a piece of the special operations action now that events were requiring that kind of response.
 

BloodStripe

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Having been a part of 4th MEB at the time they started to move assets over to MARSOC, it's amazing it is still around. That is how big of a cluster fuck the 4th MEB was.

Back on topic, nothing will ever fully ever replace man's ability to analyze a fluid environment that is not controlled.
 

Diamondback 2/2

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The Army, in my humble outsider opinion, has never fully bought off on conventional forces conducting special reconnaissance. I've been to several Army courses and in my experience reconnaissance in the Army is conducted by armored vehicles, not small LRS teams. I believe the SF are tapped to support big army in a major conflict. I think this made LRS seem redundant to a lot of senior leaders. I don't think the Army invested much into that community either. They didn't have a primary MOS or community wide training continuum.
I think in the last 15 years or so, it's had more to do with lack of higher command groups understanding LRS and or how to use it in a asymmetrical battle space. LRS historically was a Division and Corps asset. With the individual modular brigade combat team concept, LRS was being attached to other unit's or being used by a higher HQ as a PSD or in a Force Protection role. Basically BCT commanders normally weren't aware of the LRS capability or simply didn't know how to use them in their battle space.

On my first trip, we had a need for LRS, yet the asset wasn't available, so we were using our Recon platoon or squads from our line companies. Under trained, and under equipped didn't exactly meet the requirements.

I think Army tried to address this with the RSTA concept, but honestly fucked up making them primarily cavalry scout units. Basically a squadron of cav scouts, with one company of light infantry, all of which are supposed to be specifically trained in reconnaissance. Yet, outside of a few Ranger tabs (not reconnaissance training) and NCO's and Officers attending RSLC, there is not much training in reconnaissance, as far as professional development outside of unit level training. This is not a hit on Cav scouts (all though I enjoy fucking with them) but their role is cavalry reconnaissance, not deep and or special reconnaissances. The same way light infantry recon teams are not trained to do SR, that was why we had LRS. I completely disagree with big Army's doing away with LRS. But I understand why they did. They simply didn't know how to use them, and saw them as a wasted asset. It's foolishness.

Even on the SF side, your not just grabbing any ODA and handing them a SR mission. And honestly if commanders were using ground reconnaissance assets as they should, SF wouldn't be able to meet that demand, nor would they want to. So your left with undertrained, underequiped personnel, or you rely on other assets (current ISR with limited to no ground).

As far as the Army is concerned, what really needs to happen, is someone with a serious bio, needs to 1)brief the higher ups on reconnaissance importance, how it's not being used and how it should be in today's modern era. 2) That same dude needs to develop a week (however long) long senior leaders reconnaissance "use" course and get that shit pushed out across big Army. And 3) put together a RECONDO styled course and start training the RSTA dudes (at least their light infantry company or troop, or whatever they call it) to actually do light dismounted special reconnaissance. Maybe even talk a few General officers into bringing back LRS...

I don't know, someone, who might possibly do the same for the USMC to ensure Force Recon has a future in the modern era and going forward. You know, like someone with an impressive background commanding Force Recon platoons and companies, who has the chest salad to prove it...;-)
 

Teufel

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I think in the last 15 years or so, it's had more to do with lack of higher command groups understanding LRS and or how to use it in a asymmetrical battle space. LRS historically was a Division and Corps asset. With the individual modular brigade combat team concept, LRS was being attached to other unit's or being used by a higher HQ as a PSD or in a Force Protection role. Basically BCT commanders normally weren't aware of the LRS capability or simply didn't know how to use them in their battle space.

On my first trip, we had a need for LRS, yet the asset wasn't available, so we were using our Recon platoon or squads from our line companies. Under trained, and under equipped didn't exactly meet the requirements.

I think Army tried to address this with the RSTA concept, but honestly fucked up making them primarily cavalry scout units. Basically a squadron of cav scouts, with one company of light infantry, all of which are supposed to be specifically trained in reconnaissance. Yet, outside of a few Ranger tabs (not reconnaissance training) and NCO's and Officers attending RSLC, there is not much training in reconnaissance, as far as professional development outside of unit level training. This is not a hit on Cav scouts (all though I enjoy fucking with them) but their role is cavalry reconnaissance, not deep and or special reconnaissances. The same way light infantry recon teams are not trained to do SR, that was why we had LRS. I completely disagree with big Army's doing away with LRS. But I understand why they did. They simply didn't know how to use them, and saw them as a wasted asset. It's foolishness.

Even on the SF side, your not just grabbing any ODA and handing them a SR mission. And honestly if commanders were using ground reconnaissance assets as they should, SF wouldn't be able to meet that demand, nor would they want to. So your left with undertrained, underequiped personnel, or you rely on other assets (current ISR with limited to no ground).

As far as the Army is concerned, what really needs to happen, is someone with a serious bio, needs to 1)brief the higher ups on reconnaissance importance, how it's not being used and how it should be in today's modern era. 2) That same dude needs to develop a week (however long) long senior leaders reconnaissance "use" course and get that shit pushed out across big Army. And 3) put together a RECONDO styled course and start training the RSTA dudes (at least their light infantry company or troop, or whatever they call it) to actually do light dismounted special reconnaissance. Maybe even talk a few General officers into bringing back LRS...

I don't know, someone, who might possibly do the same for the USMC to ensure Force Recon has a future in the modern era and going forward. You know, like someone with an impressive background commanding Force Recon platoons and companies, who has the chest salad to prove it...;-)
The SF are tapped to support big Army in several O-plans.

The Marine Corps will never get rid of recon. The two services are very different. We have never experienced the problems that LRS has.
 

Il Duce

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I think the Army ran into a lot of problems looking at LRRS when it came to the distances in the Deep fight Divisions and Corps were looking in their battlespaces. When you go into a warfighter most units fail to synchronize their collection efforts with fires just in the close fight - much less the deep fight. The planning and assets required to insert, collect, and recover LRRS were kicking the shit out of almost every unit. I think the decision they came to was they weren't practical in terms of effectiveness.

Plenty of arguments on the other side to say - 1. Something is hard to do, doesn't mean it's not worthwhile, 2. Units sucking at something doesn't mean give that up - means train your units better, 3. How much does a WFX really replicate the FSO and multi-domain environment, 4. What do you lose from the force in 2nd and 3rd order capabilities (like experienced recon personnel moving back and forth through conventional units).

Also, I think the amount of jostling for resources in the Army when Infantry and Army merged into 'maneuver' shouldn't be underestimated. Infantry might be winning the promotion and CSL fight but Armor pretty decisively won the fight over reconnaissance.
 

AWP

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3. How much does a WFX really replicate the FSO and multi-domain environment,
Watching the deconfliction that takes place between fires and airspace managers, my outside opinion is that we STILL don't know how to effectively perform that task. Not just people, but the tech required as well. The latter exists, but integrating Army and AF networks is convoluted and often not possible. The latter forces other measures to happen for the mission, but it could and should be so much easier.
 
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