A heightened pace of military operations and the nature of the
threats confronting U.S. troops call for improvements in personnel
rescue techniques and equipment, said officials.
Although each service has specially-trained personnel recovery
forces, the Pentagon is pushing for joint tactics and procedures.
A new multi-service computer program to manage personnel recovery
missions, for example, is now in use, and a new Defense Intelligence
Agency analytic cell has been established to work cooperatively
on personnel recovery issues.
“Personnel recovery is critical to our nation and to our
forces. It also denies the enemy a key source of intelligence,”
said Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, director of operations
for the U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for the war
He spoke at a conference sponsored by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing
in Action Office (DPMO) and the National Defense Industrial Association.
In the Afghan conflict, the United States Central Command has conducted
the highest number of rescues since the Vietnam War. More than 170
individuals have been rescued so far, said Renuart.
CENTCOM combines the services’ capabilities with various
other joint capabilities, to assist in what is “an uncertain
operational environment with a low- to medium-threat risk,”
he said. Elements from all sectors of the military have been employed,
such as search and rescue (SAR), combat search and rescue (CSAR),
joint combat search and rescue (JCSAR), and non-conventional assisted
Renuart cited the challenges posed by the Afghan terrain, which
is extremely mountainous—49 percent of it is 2,000 kilometers
above sea level. Helicopters often lose their effectiveness at that
altitude, he said, which can impede operations. Climate factors
also have made certain recoveries difficult. “It was an extremely
cold winter with little rainfall,” he explained.
A successful personnel recovery last November occurred when an
MH-53 helicopter was forced to conduct a hard emergency landing.
“An 11-man crew was isolated behind enemy lines,” he
said. Using near real-time notification, recovery forces took action
in a dangerous terrain at a 3,000-meter elevation. “It took
three hours, but joint recovery forces recovered all personnel,”
he said. “In earlier times, this would have taken many hours
or days,” he said.
There were four serious injuries and cases of hypothermia. The
aircraft was unrecoverable, but troops managed to destroy the aircraft
so that it could not be used by enemy forces to gather intelligence
or for any other purpose.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, in September 2001, launched a prisoner
of war/missing-in-action analytic cell to improve the intelligence
involved in soldier rescue. The move “represents a new direction
in the intelligence community’s support to the warfighter,
the policy maker and the joint staff,” said Tom Brown, of
the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The cell provides “direct intelligence support [to help recover]
isolated captured or missing personnel,” he said.
Brown said the cell was established because of shortfalls in coordination
between the national intelligence community, the operators and the
soldiers on the ground.
The mission of the analytic cell is to establish and maintain an
interagency, joint capability to support activities relative to
prisoners of war and missing personnel, as well as provide baseline
assessments. One goal is to establish a “crisis surge capability,”
The cell is “up and running,” and has been working
in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the war on terrorism,
The POW/MIA analytic cell has been preparing studies on potential
adversaries, Brown reported. “We get there by predictive analysis,”
he said. The cell identified four basic scenarios that characterize
personnel recovery missions. So far, it has developed approaches
to the following situations:
The cell is composed of representatives from various U.S. intelligence
The leadership of the analytic cell resides within the regional
assessments group, of the directorate for analysis and production,
of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The Institute for Defense Analyses, a think-tank in Alexandria,
Va., recently published a new installment of a report outlining
the challenges of personnel recovery in coalition operations. According
to retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Devol Brett, the study assessed the
ability of allied and coalition forces to recover U.S. personnel
stranded in enemy territory. It took into account some lessons learned
during Operation Allied Force in 1999.
Language barriers don’t cause significant problems in personnel
recovery operations, he said. Since English is the international
language of aviation, in a recent international personnel recovery
exercise in Central Europe, “most of the young officers spoke
good English,” Brett said.
However, military terminology and acronyms do generate barriers
to communication, he said. There is also a fear that “under
the stress of a survival or evasion situation, survivors may revert
to their native language.” The IDA report recommended that
rescue forces have the option to bring in linguists for radio communications.
Brett noted that the study found shortfalls in personnel recovery
readiness, especially in relation to international training practices.
“There is a training gap between U.S. and partner nations’
personnel recovery forces,” he said. In addition to a “training
gap,” the “interoperability pile-up is really a major
problem,” he said.
Some issues, he said, “go beyond the personnel recovery community.”
There is a reluctance by nations to share and release classified
information, and withholding information fosters an environment
of distrust, Brett said. “Our coalition interoperability problems
mirror our joint and interagency interoperability problems,”
The study also found that rescue units in the field lack the manpower
to create and sustain viable personnel recovery programs, and that
there is little continuity between regions of the world. “Theaters
need to address all areas and develop a viable personnel recovery
umbrella,” Brett said.
Brett said that the U.S. does not currently depend on other nations
for personnel recovery, because “the strategic impact is too
Services’ Rescue Assets
The Army does not have a dedicated force for personnel recovery,
but Special Forces, special operations aviation units and specialized
ground forces can be deployed at a moment’s notice for personnel
recovery operations, said Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s
director of operations, readiness and mobilization.
“The truck driver is as likely to be isolated as the scout,”
he warned, making it necessary for the Army to have forces ready
who are knowledgeable about and aware of their surroundings. “A
lack of situational awareness can be costly to recovery forces,”
Chiarelli said that the Army plans to enhance its organic capabilities
to conduct security, fire support and extraction for personnel recovery
The Air Force has a strategic plan for personnel recovery, said
Maj. Gen. Mark Schmidt, assistant deputy chief of staff for air
and space operations.
At least two-thirds of the Air Force personnel recovery units are
in the reserve component, he said. Over the past year, the Air Force
has been increasing its rescue force equipment. A Portland, Ore.,
reserve rescue unit will soon move to the active force, he said.
That unit has five HC-130 aircraft and eight HH-60 helicopters,
he said. The Air Force plans to buy a new medium-lift helicopter
during the next decade, Schmidt said. The goal is to “reduce
the reaction time and be more survivable,” he said. Frontrunners
competing for the CSAR helicopter contract are the Sikorsky’s
S-92, EH Industries/Lockheed’s US-101, Sikorsky’s H-60x,
Bell-Boeing’s CV-22 and Sikorsky’s CH-53.
Air Force leaders announced recently that the ‘Combat Rescue
Officer’ is an approved career field. “We hope to have
a fully manned specialty by fiscal year 2007,” said Schmidt.
The Navy’s policy on personnel recovery is part of a broad
initiative called Sea Strike. Sea Strike is part of an “organic,
robust, responsive, joint-capable, scalable-networked sea-based
force that can be task organized for missions including personnel
recovery,” said Rear Adm. Joseph Krol, deputy chief of naval
operations for plans, policy and operations.
Personnel recovery needs also were considered in the initial design
of the Navy’s MH-60, a new armed multi-mission helicopter
that will be compatible with the next-generation combat survivor
evader locator (CSEL) radio, now in development, Krol said.
The Navy’s future small surface-combatant vessel, the littoral
combat ship, will operate near the coast, which can potentially
enhance the Navy’s role in personnel recovery operations,
The Marine Corps focuses significant resources on rescue and recovery
operations, said Maj. Gen. Kevin Kuklok, assistant deputy commandant
for plans, policy and operations. Kuklok said the Marine Corps personnel
recovery approach involves “speed and access, flexibility
and momentum.” The Marine Air Ground Task Force operates a
TRAP unit, or Tactical Recovery of Aircraft Personnel. “The
key to success is in detailed planning,” he said. TRAP complements
“the Marine Corps’ other CSAR capabilities,” he