Commandant’s Hatch: Cavalry Update

by BG Lee Quintas, commandant,
U.S. Army Armor School
Slide 1
Figure 1. Cavalry capabilities review.
Slide 2
Figure 2. Cavalry-formation evolution.
Slide 3
Figure 3. Scout platoons lack integrated OSRVT capability to download UAS feeds, such as from the Shadow, during operations.

Based on recent trends observed at the National Training Center, the Army Chief of Staff asked the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) to answer a poignant question. Our goal was to determine if today’s cavalry squadron is manned, trained and equipped to accomplish the reconnaissance and security (R&S) missions required of a brigade combat team (BCT).

On April 29, 2014, in a collaborative effort with our teammates at MCoE, Army Capabilities Integration Center and Training and Doctrine Command staffs, we provided the Chief information and recommendations on short- and long-term solutions to man, train and equip cavalry squadrons to accomplish their R&S missions as part of combined-arms maneuver (CAM) and wide-area security (WAS).

As the Army transitions focus to decisive-action training environment (DATE) rotations in preparation for the next potential conflict, it is imperative that all branches understand the cavalry’s capabilities. Cavalry squadrons, through the execution of R&S missions, provide critical support to the BCT because they:

  • Identify opportunities and dangers;
  • Enable discriminate use of force;
  • Create and preserve options;
  • Facilitate transition;
  • Ensure freedom of maneuver and action;
  • Develop the situation in contact;
  • Determine enemy intent; and
  • Provide time and space.

DATE rotations across the three combat training centers (CTCs) and all three BCTs reveal mission challenges for the cavalry squadron, which can be organized into related problem sets. These problem sets reflect the cumulative impact of an over-reliance on technology and subsequent adoption of flawed doctrine, organizations and concepts following Operation Desert Storm – continuing with the Army’s transformation to modularity.

Evolution on how we got here

In the years following Operation Desert Storm, the fielding of new sensor technologies and the emergence of a digital network combined to provide scouts with significant capability enhancements. With an increased ability to gather and share information from afar, a new contact paradigm emerged that assumed cavalry formations could gain contact and develop the situation mounted from unarmored or lightly armed platforms – all while remaining safely outside the enemy’s direct-fire engagement range.

This contact paradigm shaped the organization and employment principles of the reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) squadrons of what was then our interim formation, the Stryker BCT (SBCT), and subsequently, of the brigade reconnaissance troops organic to the armored brigades of our mechanized divisions.1 These formations possessed minimal combat capability relative to their parent organizations; they were designed to serve primarily in an information-collection capacity at a distance from and out of contact with the enemy.

The contact paradigm proved problematic under the demands of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the 2003 march to Baghdad initially raised concerns about this detrimental influence. Standoff information collection from light platforms proved unrealistic in high-tempo operations characterized by a series of movements-to-contact and sudden, sharp encounters with Iraqi conventional and paramilitary forces. In the complex operational environment in which they operated, brigade commanders required formations with the ability to develop the situation through close contact with enemy forces, capable of providing early warning and security for the main body.2

Despite recent combat experiences to the contrary, the Army retained the contact paradigm and RSTA influence during transition to modular BCTs and elimination of division cavalry squadrons and the armored cavalry regiment (ACR). The deactivation of these formations left the force structure without an organization that possessed the organic assets, doctrinal underpinning and specialized training to execute the broad range of traditional cavalry missions (zone, route, area reconnaissance, guard, screen, cover, etc.). The compounding factors of flawed modular cavalry squadrons and the loss of the aforementioned traditional cavalry capability were not readily apparent as the force entered focused and extended counterinsurgency and security-force-assistance campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only when BCTs addressed the challenges of full-spectrum of warfare would cavalry formations fully expose their limitations. This realization occurred because of our ongoing shift to an Army of Preparation and the ensuing DATE rotations in echelons-above-brigade (EAB) warfighter simulations, and at our respective CTCs.

The following discussion describes the most significant challenges to the cavalry squadron and recommends actions that will create formations consistent with the organizing principles of appropriate leader-to-led ratio; capable of conducting simultaneous mounted and dismounted operations in close proximity to enemy and civilian populations; and organized with both the flexibility and the depth required for mission success.

Problem Set 1: BCTs do not effectively employ cavalry squadrons or apply mission command in support of R&S operations.

Despite the importance R&S operations play in setting the conditions necessary for tactical and operational success, the Army’s BCTs struggle to effectively employ their organic cavalry squadron. Inadequate leader development, flawed doctrine and understrength organizations combine to create a generation of leaders who lack the knowledge, skills and experience to effectively plan and execute R&S operations within the context of CAM and WAS operations.

Brigade commanders and their staffs lack leader development and training to plan and execute R&S missions. Brigade staffs ideally comprise subject-matter experts with a variety of skills, including fires, aviation, intelligence, engineering and logistics. In the case of R&S operations, however, no designated staff officer possesses the unique training and experience required to assist the brigade commander to properly employ and use his R&S assets in answering his priority information requirements.

The lack of updated R&S doctrine and related education and training for leaders above the company level compounds the lack of R&S expertise for commanders and staffs at BCT and EAB. Currently the Cavalry Leader’s Course (CLC) provides the most advanced functional course taught at MCoE, targeting company-grade officers and senior noncommissioned officers serving at the troop- and cavalry-squadron level.

Problem Set 2: Cavalry squadrons lack the training and the leader development and education to conduct R&S operations and to integrate all arms and enablers (e.g., fires, aviation, engineers, chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear-explosives).

Related to challenges encountered at BCT level, the squadron command team and supporting staff also suffer from a lack of knowledge, skills and experience in conducting R&S operations. Compounding the lack of experienced senior leaders, cavalry squadrons contain a generation of Soldiers and junior leaders more comfortable conducting counter-improvised-explosive-device and presence patrols, or a four-man stack, than they are conducting a zone reconnaissance or screen mission. The demands of 13 years of operational deployments to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom focused time and resources very specifically to these theater and missions. The tempo of Army Force Generation also caused leaders to forgo sending subordinates to critical functional training such as the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leader’s Course, Army Reconnaissance Course and CLC. The cumulative effect of this deployment-focused training over 13 years has resulted in scouts unfamiliar with R&S operations.

In addition to a general decline in individual- and collective-task proficiency, modular cavalry squadrons face limitations in their structure and manning. As currently organized, the various cavalry squadrons of the BCTs are unable to conduct the security missions of guard and cover normally associated with a cavalry formation. As an unintended casualty of modularity, cavalry squadrons now also lack historically organic relationships with aviation, fires and intelligence enablers. The resulting lack of habitual relationships in training and deployments creates training shortfalls in our cavalry leaders, and this results in cavalry organizations not fully capable of conducting all their doctrinal tasks and missions.

Problem Set 3: Cavalry squadrons cannot conduct appropriate combinations of simultaneous mounted and dismounted operations in close contact with the enemy and civilian populace.

As previously mentioned, rapid increases in technology contributed to an erroneous belief that future cavalry formations could conduct reconnaissance operations either dismounted or mounted, and that technology would allow units to conduct security operations out of direct contact with the enemy. Overwhelming success in Operation Desert Storm proved to be a poor example of future war, contributing to the thought that future war would be easy and that technologically superior U.S. forces would dictate the nature of the conflict. Instead, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq confirmed that future enemies will fight asymmetrically – choosing to fight our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Recent history also validated that formations conducting R&S operations will require the capability to fight and develop the situation through close contact with the enemy – a fight that is oftentimes complicated by proximity to indigenous populations. Accordingly, our scout formations must be able to conduct R&S operations both mounted and dismounted, and able to fight for information in close contact with the enemy and among the people.

Problems 4 and 5: Cavalry squadrons are equipped with inadequate vehicles, weapons and communications.

Cavalry organizations lack equipment required to conduct R&S operations. Based on ongoing and future force-design updates (FDUs), cavalry formations require the increased broadband over Internet Protocol of Nett Warrior and associated advanced voice and data long- and short-range systems for mounted and dismounted R&S missions. Also, scout platoons lack integrated One System Remote Video Terminal (OSRVT) capability to download unmanned aerial system (UAS) feeds during operations.

Infantry BCT (IBCT): The uparmored humvees (UAH) fielded to the IBCT cavalry squadron lack the passenger-carrying capacity, protection and mobility required for R&S operations. UAH cannot survive direct-fire engagements against enemy heavy machineguns or anti-tank guided missiles, and they lack the firepower to fight for information. Ironically, the limitations of UAH restrict the number of personnel available for dismounted operations across the IBCT cavalry formations. The IBCT also lacks the organic mobile, protected firepower (MPF) required for security operations and to support successful transition operations.

SBCT: The Stryker-recon variant and the Stryker-infantry carrier variant lack stabilized optics and stabilized weapons systems required for R&S operations.

Armored BCT (ABCT): For the reasons previously stated, the UAH fielded to the scout platoons of the ABCT’s combined-arms battalions lack the passenger-carrying capacity, protection, lethality and mobility required for R&S operations.

Actions underway

Many of the initiatives necessary to address the shortfalls in R&S-related training, leader development and education are underway.

An initiative has commenced to review and revise the live, virtual, constructive and gaming materials designed to train BCTs and EAB formations. This effort seeks to ensure that units and the elements designed to externally assess units (CTCs, Mission-Command Training Program, etc.) employ scenarios that address R&S operations critical to success in the DATE.

Complementary to unit efforts to train leaders and formations, the MCoE has reinvigorated R&S-related leader development and education to enable cavalry squadron leaders and staff. The MCoE has aligned functional courses to allow attendance following professional military education (PME). Also, the MCoE has initiated revision of modified tables of organization and equipment, coding positions in support of the R&S functional training and reinforced by an R&S career path as reflected in updates to Army regulations 600-3 and 600-25.

While current R&S functional training covers operations at the squadron echelon and below, Intermediate-Level Education will pilot an elective this fall to teach field-grade officers how to plan and execute R&S operations at BCT and EAB level. Similarly, the MCoE proposes designing R&S electives to afford training opportunities at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Pre-Command Course and, eventually, for distance learning. Collectively, these efforts will provide future leaders and staffs with the training, education and experience to man and conduct R&S missions at echelon.

Finally, revisions and improvements to doctrine underpin future cavalry squadron and R&S operations. All maneuver doctrine now includes an R&S chapter. A rewrite of Field Manual 3-98, Reconnaissance and Security Operations, awaits final draft review. Future initiatives include similar R&S chapters for all related doctrinal publications – both at EAB and of our sister branches and centers.

Recommended actions

Army 2020:

  • FDU 13-01: A set of three related documents that standardize the scout squads and platoons of the three cavalry squadrons with no personnel growth – recommend immediate approval. As of this publication, the FDU standardizing the ABCT has been approved; we expect the standardization of the IBCT and SBCT to happen in the coming months.
  • The decision to assign the R&S mission to one ABCT and two SBCTs was made Sept. 24, 2013 – while further drawdown announcements are likely, the corps-level R&S capability gap endures – recommend immediate implementation.
  • An acknowledged vehicle shortfall exists in the IBCT cavalry squadron – recommend expedition of a government-off-the-shelf/commercial-off-the-shelf solution for the Lightweight Reconnaissance Vehicle.
  • Improved manned/unmanned teaming – both air and ground (e.g., OSRVT, UAS, etc.)
  • Improved capabilities at the squad level to achieve tactical overmatch (e.g., Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System, Maneuver and Fires Integrated Application, etc.)

Army 2025 and beyond:

  • A pending FDU further standardizes scout platoons of the IBCT infantry battalion to consist of 36 Soldiers – recommend approval for fielding as the opportunity presents itself.
  • Consistent challenges experienced by cavalry squadrons conducting R&S operations support a standardized squadron design – recommend validation and resourcing of the requirement for cavalry squadrons to reflect a standardized 6 x 36 x 32 – squadrons consisting of three cavalry troops, with each cavalry troop consisting of three scout platoons.
  • Develop the future cavalry squadron with enhanced capabilities (UAS, unmanned ground vehicle, MPF, etc.).

In conclusion, cavalry squadrons require agile and adaptive leaders and the appropriate formation composition to enable Army brigades to operate as part of joint and multinational task forces – to seize and retain the initiative in diverse operational environments across the range of military operations. Cavalry organizations and their brigade headquarters require appropriate training, manning and equipping to achieve their R&S objectives. To achieve their objectives, cavalry squadrons fight for information and simultaneously conduct mounted and dismounted operations, employing critical enablers such as aviation, fires and MPF.

Cavalry squadrons organized in a 6 x 36 x 32 configuration and supported by task-organized and habitually related enablers – complemented with comprehensive institutional and organizational training, leader development and education – are best prepared to accomplish the mission. Preparation includes adherence to an R&S career path that develops leaders through repetitive cavalry assignments, alignment of PME and functional training and an emphasized maneuver leader-development strategy. Finally, continued refinement of R&S doctrine, practiced through the implementation of the DATE scenario at home-station training and CTCs, sustain readiness in an evolving and dynamic environment.


1Mark, Daniel MAJ, "Effective or Efficient: The Conundrum of the Armed Reconnaissance Squadron," AY 08-09, master’s thesis, U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College.

2Cameron, Robert S. Dr., To Fight or Not to Fight: Organizational and Doctrinal Trends in Mounted Maneuver Reconnaissance from the Interwar Years to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2010.