‘Hunters’ Aim to Win: Small Units Would Roam, Skirmish on Modern Battlefield
Multi-Domain Operations are an increasingly discussed topic in the Army, highlighting trends and developments on the battlefield. While counterinsurgency remains relevant, the Army acknowledges it also will likely face enemies with equal or near-equal battlefield capabilities in the future.
Recent events reveal potential enemies with growing capabilities in precision-guided munitions (PGMs), longer-range artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare systems and sensors, and cyber warfare capabilities. These developments reveal forces with increasingly integrated and even automated systems, designed to mitigate and overcome advantages possessed by the U.S. military.
Tactical implications of this could be severe, as U.S. ground troops may lack air, electromagnetic, informational and cyber superiority in the next conflict. Tactical units will need to operate in increasingly hostile and contested areas, requiring new tactical approaches and solutions. While Multi-Domain Operations discussions address the need for flexible ground formations with increased capabilities, they often fall short of proposing a real tactical solution to growing battlefield challenges.
Before discussing a proposed solution, it is necessary to consider arising tactical challenges and their implications in greater depth.
Enemy forces are expanding their abilities to locate, recognize and destroy targets at greater ranges with precision accuracy in less time. They have the growing capacity to disrupt or deny usage of modern systems through the electromagnetic spectrum and cyber domain. Further, these capabilities are becoming increasingly mobile and accessible to lower-level units to include the individual soldier.
These factors make it difficult to set the conditions needed to win on the battlefield. The integration of PGMs, long-range artillery and UAVs demands that units have increased dispersion, cover and concealment, confining their ability to mass for a decisive operation. The expansion of electronic warfare and cyber capabilities limits the advantages of certain technologies and systems, rendering command, control and coordination in contested areas more difficult.
Lastly, integration of these capabilities at lower levels has increased the threat of smaller units, complicating intelligence, targeting and mission objectives. Ultimately, the Army must address these challenges at the tactical level in order to maintain battlefield superiority.
Two- to Four-Soldier Teams
One solution that would address several of these areas is creation of a tactical-level unit called “hunters.” As I see it, hunters are small, independent teams of two to four soldiers designed to set conditions on the modern, multidomain battlefield for a decisive operation. Well-equipped with modern systems and weapons, these teams are highly mobile with airborne, motorized and light capabilities. Hunters heavily rely on individual soldiers’ initiative and judgment, operating within a commander’s intent with minimal guidance and control. With this, each team member has extensive training in weapons, call for fire, communications, electronic warfare, UAVs, demolitions, and concealment and protection techniques. At the same time, these units maintain a capacity to operate with minimal technology and support.
On the battlefield, these teams primarily operate autonomously or semi-autonomously while following the commander’s intent. Their primary missions are to disrupt, attack, neutralize, destroy and delay enemy forces with the purpose of enabling decisive or other shaping operations. However, hunters are not meant to hold ground or be decisively engaged by the enemy. Their primary tactic is skirmishing.
In skirmishing, hunters move freely on the battlefield, searching, probing and engaging enemy forces and positions. Much like the skirmishers under Napoleon, hunters engage the enemy with the intention of softening their positions and setting conditions for the decisive operation. In skirmishing, hunters may engage the enemy with fires from artillery or aircraft, with direct or harassing fire, and with electronic warfare jamming.
Hunter teams can also use swarming tactics. With modern communications and tracking capabilities, hunter teams may coordinate and swarm, striking vulnerable enemy targets from multiple directions at once. In using these tactics, however, hunters would still maintain the flexibility to break contact or maneuver as necessary to avoid decisive engagement.
Hunter teams are not meant to be employed individually or piecemeal. While they operate autonomously on the battlefield, they are employed as a hunter platoon of five teams, a hunter company of four platoons, or a hunter battalion of four companies. These units can support company-, battalion- or brigade-level operations as needed. However, it is not the role of the hunter headquarters to control these teams on the battlefield. They serve primarily in a support role, ensuring the teams’ logistical support, as well as in a liaison role, coordinating with the higher commands and other units as needed. The headquarters also aids and oversees administration functions and team training when the teams are not employed on the battlefield.
Advantages to Commanders
Hunters would provide many advantages to commanders on the multidomain battlefield. Their small signature would permit them to avoid detection more easily, giving them increased capability to access and operate within the close and deep maneuver areas. Further, their size and autonomy would allow them to move faster and make quicker decisions, taking advantage of real-time information to act sooner than traditional units against targets of opportunity.
Next, hunters would offer a flexible approach to engaging the enemy in hostile or denied areas. These teams could incorporate capabilities like electronic warfare, UAVs and PGMs to engage, disrupt and even destroy significantly larger enemy units. This would serve as an economy of force mission, allowing commanders to engage the enemy while not exposing their larger unit formations until establishing needed conditions.
Further, their ability to function with limited guidance and technology would enable hunters to operate in areas denied or contested by enemy electronic warfare systems and sensors. Lastly, hunter teams could coordinate with different units as needed, providing their locations and real-time information on the enemy to avoid fratricide and ensure mission success of the decisive operation.
One Potential Solution
Overall, hunters serve as one potential solution, answering the calls among Army leadership for a highly flexible ground formation. They are not meant, however, to replace conventional or special operations forces. While they may resemble other smaller units within the Army, their missions, tactics, level of autonomy and increased capabilities distinguish them.
Hunters are designed to fill the growing capability gap, which is becoming apparent with the increasing strength and effectiveness of enemies on the battlefield.
Hunters would provide commanders with an additional means to undermine and engage enemy forces in denied or contested areas while mitigating increased risk posed by those forces’ growing capabilities.
With hunters, commanders could retake the initiative and set conditions needed for decisive action and victory on the multidomain battlefield.