From the Screen Line: Cavalry Scouts in the Army of 2020

A ‘Spot Report’ on Scout Platoon Reorganization to Standard Scout Platoons

Slide 1
Figure 1. Transition to standard scout platoons.

“The scout must be capable of finding the enemy and knowing what he sees. He should be able to go forward to find the enemy and have the firepower with and behind him to get out of trouble. Most of all, he must be capable of semi-independent operations on the battlefield. He must be the most clever of all fellows. He takes individual actions that are not dictated by the actions of what other squads or platoons are taking; no one is constantly looking over his shoulder.” –GEN Crosbie Saint

The Army must field the right combination of forces to enable commanders to seize, retain and exploit the initiative across the full range of military operations. To partially satisfy this requirement, the Army is moving forward with the design of the brigade combat teams (BCTs) that will make up the Army of 2020. BCTs and maneuver battalions require mounted and dismounted reconnaissance as a basis for success in unified land operations.

Reviews of reconnaissance and security (R&S) capabilities conducted at the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE); recent observations from combat training centers (CTCs); past Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Analysis Center studies and analysis; and consultation with corps, division and BCT commanders have collectively revealed deficiencies across the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities (DOTMLPF) domains that limit the Army’s ability to conduct R&S operations. The MCoE and TRADOC are working collaboratively in conjunction with the Army Staff to meet the Army’s current and future needs for scout platoons. The result is the standard scout platoon (SSP), which is in the final stages of the Army approval process; we anticipate implementation to begin in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016.

We are close to fully standardizing scout platoons at 36 scouts and leaders with common equipment, with the exception of the scout platforms used in the armored BCT (ABCT), infantry BCT (IBCT) and Stryker BCT (SBCT). Cavalry-squadron scout platoons are expected to begin adopting the new modified tables of organization and equipment (MToEs) in FY16. With any new force-design change, some small adjustments maybe necessary after we field the dismounted scout squads for the first time. It has taken a deliberate seven-year process, conducted in a resources-competitive environment, to reach this point.

The shortcomings of the current scout designs came to the fore in Iraq and Afghanistan with unanimous comments from commanders, platoon leaders and noncommissioned officers (NCOs). Their comments were reinforced by Department of Defense, Army and TRADOC leader visits to deployed or deploying Army units. All stressed that scout platoons had organizational challenges that limited their ability to perform their doctrinal missions, an assessment verified by the Center for Army Lessons-Learned in 2007.

Armor Warfighting Conference

In May 2007, the Armor Warfighting Conference convened a working group comprised of combat veterans with extensive scout-platoon experience in ABCTs, IBCTs and SBCTs. Their purpose was to examine the organization of the mounted scout platoon, identify deficiencies and recommend solutions. At the conference’s conclusion, the workgroup presented a recommendation to its attendees and to TRADOC’s commanding general that became the genesis of the “6 x 36 standard scout platoon.” The group corroborated feedback from the field and recommended that the TRADOC commanding general direct his director of force development to determine how to implement 36-man scout platoons across all BCTs.

Developed six years after the 2007 Armor Warfighting Conference, today’s reconnaissance and security forces’ imperatives (see sidebar) reflect in great part the combat experience the 2007 working group applied to their process.

One of the primary focuses of the 2007 workgroup was examining the tasks and personnel requirements for a scout platoon organized into three sections (two sections in the case of the SBCT mounted scout platoon). The group performed the analysis examining the requirements similar to those reflected in combined-arms maneuver (CAM) and wide-area security (WAS). The 2007 workgroup considered a scout squad to include the vehicle crew and the scouts who dismounted from the vehicle. The workgroup considered the section to be the grouping of scout squads based on mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available, time available and civil considerations (METT-TC). Today’s SSP concept, on the other hand, describes a scout section as having a mounted scout squad with two or three scout vehicles and their crews, and a dismounted scout squad of six scouts. The important commonality between today’s SSP concept and the 2007 workgroup’s interpretation of “scout” was that both descriptions indicated the same general capabilities in terms of scouts and equipment.

The 2007 workgroup determined that if a two-squad scout section could accomplish its doctrinal tasks associated with a screen and dismounted reconnaissance from the short halt in mounted operations, a platoon with three sections would also be able to accomplish its doctrinal missions of route, zone, area reconnaissance and screen. In other words, the group considered the scout section consisting of two scout squads as the essential building block of the scout platoon. Postulating a screen mission lasting for more than 24 hours, they assessed that a scout section should provide:

  • A dismounted observation post (OP) (two to three Soldiers);
  • A local security team (two Soldiers);
  • Two dismounted patrols, each less than less than six hours in duration (six personnel each);
  • Minimal crewing of vehicles (operating weapons, optics, Blue Force Tracker and radios: two personnel); and
  • Six hours’ duration for rest, hygiene, sustenance, maintenance, resupply and preparation for future operations (all personnel).

The 2007 warfighter analysis determined that during dismounted reconnaissance at the short halt in mounted operations, a scout section could perform its key duties if it had enough personnel to provide two Soldiers crewing each vehicle, two personnel providing local security and six Soldiers conducting a dismounted patrol, for a total of 12 scouts.

The presentation to TRADOC’s commanding general and assembled conference attendees produced nearly unanimous agreement with the warfighter troops-to-tasks analysis. The assemblage concluded that a 36-man scout platoon, if designed with six squads, also offered the versatility of operating in two three-squad sections when METT-TC factors compelled.

Force-structure resourcing challenges delayed implementation until 2010, when scout platoons began to transition. ABCT scout platoons grew to 36 personnel while retaining their three Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs) and five uparmored humvees. IBCT cavalry-squadron mounted scout platoons grew from 18 to 24 personnel while retaining their six uparmored humvees. SBCT cavalry-squadron scout platoons grew from 17 to 23 scouts, lost their four human-intelligence Soldiers and retained their four Stryker reconnaissance vehicles (RVs).

TRADOC’s long-term plan was to complete the standardization when IBCTs fielded scout vehicles with a capacity for six or more personnel and SBCT scout platoons could be resourced with two more Strykers per scout platoon. Both of those outcomes were challenged by the lack of available platforms. The Army’s scout platoons first saw the six-scout increase in 2010 when tables of organization and equipment (ToEs) and MToEs were updated.

Remaining gaps

While the mounted scout platoon’s six-man increase across the BCTs is a significant step forward, several major gaps remain in BCT scout platoons. The ABCT’s scout platoon humvee-Bradley mix precluded the full range of bounding techniques, successive and alternating; the design also inefficiently resourced scout squads at five personnel and two squad sections at 10 scouts. Stryker scout platoons with four squads and four Strykers were not capable of conducting route reconnaissance – given the doctrinal requirement to simultaneously reconnoiter adjacent terrain and lateral routes on both sides of the route. IBCT mounted scouts lacked cross-country mobility and sufficient dismounted reconnaissance capability. Their humvees did not have the ability to carry the required number of scouts or other personnel that augment the platoon’s capabilities.

The next step in creating standardized, sufficiently manned and equipped mounted scout platoons is embodied in a force-design update (FDU) (recommended ToE changes) currently in staffing at Headquarters Department of the Army (see Figure 1). The goal is to standardize 36-man mounted scout platoons with six squads and six scout platforms.

For the ABCT, in Phase I, only the cavalry squadron’s 36-man scout platoon with 19D scouts trades in its five Long-Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System-equipped uparmored humvees for three more BFVs. Scout-platoon BFVs will require bench seating to allow the platform to carry the six-man scout squad and, when required, one or two augmentees. The M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle (CFV) to M2 BFV conversion begins this year and concludes in FY16. ABCT battalion scouts will have to wait a little longer for Phase II of the FDU providing the additional three Bradleys; we are not sure when this will occur.

The SBCT cavalry troop reorganizes from three scout platoons of four Stryker RVs and 23 personnel to two scout platoons, each with six Stryker RVs and 36 scouts (35 19Ds and the 19C platoon leader). Stryker battalion scout platoons increase from four Strykers and 24 Soldiers (23 11Bs and the 11A platoon leader) to six Strykers and 36 Soldiers (35 19Ds and the 19C platoon leader).

The IBCT cavalry squadron consolidates its two mounted troops and a dismounted reconnaissance company into two mounted cavalry troops. The troops’ scout platoons with 19Ds grow from 24 Soldiers and six uparmored humvees to 36 personnel with nine uparmored humvees. The MCoE is working to replace the nine humvees with six light reconnaissance vehicles, an advancement that is several years away from occurring. Each light recon vehicle will have a capacity for six scouts and one or two augmentees. The Army is beginning the process to examine the requirements of the IBCT’s battalion scout platoons. While the rationale for scout-platoon standardization is compelling, the demand signal for the change does not appear to be strong in the IBCT community.

Each BCT to some degree trades off a current capability to achieve the ability to adequately conduct the full range of scout-platoon missions while, for the first time, gaining standardization and improved Soldier and leader interoperability. In all cases, each BCT eliminates scout-platoon capability gaps.

A key feature of the SSP design is the designation of dismounted scout squads and mounted scout squads. For the first time since mechanization, our Army will have standardized scout squads. The 18 dismounting scouts will be organized into three six-Soldier scout squads – organized, trained and equipped to conduct dismounted reconnaissance. The scout platoon’s vehicles and crews will be organized into three mounted scout squads as well with two vehicles per squad in an ABCT or SBCT mounted scout squad and three vehicles in the IBCT mounted scout squad. Scout platoons will have the flexibility to organize into two scout sections or three scout sections, depending on the factors of METT-TC.

The SSP FDU provides all three BCTs’ cavalry-squadron scout platoons and SBCT battalion scout platoons with the means to perform all their doctrinal missions by resourcing what many believe to be their foundational functions of scout-section dismounted reconnaissance at the short halt and scout-section establishment of a long-duration OP as a part of a platoon screen. The ABCT squadron’s scout platoon becomes fully capable of developing the situation through action, employing appropriate combinations of mounted and dismounted forces, and fighting for information. Key to mounted tactical movement is the ability of one BFV to overwatch another. The Stryker scout platoons and IBCT cavalry-squadron scout platoons gain the ability to conduct route reconnaissance; execute security operations in depth; employ appropriate combinations of mounted and dismounted forces; and rapidly deploy dismounted forces forward.

The SSP’s doctrine, training, personnel and leader-development implications are significant. From the standpoint of doctrine and training, standardization simplifies training and operations for scout platoons. With similarly manned organizations, doctrine can describe a uniform set of operations and tactics for any dismounted element of any scout platoon. Doctrine and training products can be simplified. Training will become standardized, as each type of platoon will perform similar tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that are no longer adjusted to ToE/MToE equipment and manning differences. Standardization will allow newly arrived leaders and Soldiers to more rapidly integrate into their new units as they are able to apply the doctrine and TTPs practiced in their former units. Commanders, leaders and staffs will have an improved understanding of scout-platoon capabilities.

Proof of principle

The U.S. Army recently concluded the SSP’s proof of principle (PoP). The study’s purpose was to determine whether the following hypothesis of the SSP proved correct in a decisive-action training environment at the National Training Center (NTC). The hypothesis was that an ABCT scout platoon equipped and manned using the SSP organization demonstrates increased capabilities to perform reconnaissance and security missions during CAM and WAS.

The 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment (Garryowen), from 1st Cavalry Division served as the test unit and reorganized all six of its scout platoons into the six Bradleys and 36 Soldiers formation. From September 2013 through March 2014, the SSP analysis team collected more than 600 discrete data points with the goal of conducting an operational assessment to validate the organization’s operational effectiveness in versatility, survivability, protection, mobility and firepower. The PoP also identified shortcomings in DOTMLPF as they pertained to the 6x36 force design. Data collection occurred primarily by field observations, interviews, surveys and panel discussions with the Soldiers, NCOs and officers assigned to the unit. The analysis team also used on-site observations of home-station training events and operations at NTC. These observations were augmented by interviews and surveys conducted with observer/coaches/trainers assigned to 1-7 Cav during NTC Rotation 14-04.

The PoP results were overwhelmingly positive. The change allowed the entire platoon to traverse terrain inaccessible to uparmored humvees and facilitated the rapid emplacement of the platoon during reconnaissance and surveillance operations. The three more BFVs dramatically increased platoon lethality with three more 25mm cannons, more anti-tank missiles and 50 percent more dismounted Soldiers. The additional Bradleys improved scout-platoon protection and survivability, and increased dismounted scout coverage for local security, patrolling and manning of OPs. Finally, the change increased scout-platoon versatility in CAM and WAS missions and clearly improved mounted/dismounted integration. The report can be accessed at

The process of designing the most capable ABCTs, IBCTs and SBCTs during a period of significant fiscal limitations continues with the Army focused on meeting its global force requirements while retaining the lessons-learned from 12 years of war. All BCTs depend on effective reconnaissance to ensure mission success. These capabilities and the associated capability gaps across all the DOTMLPF domains remains one of the MCoE’s main efforts. Providing the force with properly equipped, competent, trained scouts and leaders will ensure their success as they conduct the missions that will paint a picture of the modern battlefield for the combatant commander.

Our staff welcomes your feedback and the opportunity to discuss the analysis, findings and recommendations. We continue to work as the user representative to Department of the Army for the R&S community. We look forward to providing observations, insights and lessons and TTP collected during future unit visits to home station and the CTCs.

“You can never have too much reconnaissance.” –George S. Patton Jr., War as I Knew It, 1947.